Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1949–1952

This is the ninth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we watch as The Mennonite participates in the birth of the modern war tax resistance movement.

The Mennonite

In our last episode, I speculated that the arrival of new editor Jacob J. Enz may have been the catalyst for a new interest in war tax resistance at the magazine. Two brief editorials in the issue seem to confirm my suspicion:

…And speaking about transparent honesty, what about our income tax returns, many of which are in the process of being made out? The government has gone to considerable trouble to help people to keep their taxes as low as possible within the law. Yet, how many sell out their souls on a piece of paper on or around March 15! ―JJE

Others who are ready to pay every penny of their tax are asking the question as to whether they may be contributing consciously and directly to the next war when it is known that 60 cents out of every tax dollar goes to military purposes and that the major portion of all government income is from income taxes. They feel it is a matter of personal responsibility. Some have actually taken that percentage of their taxes which will be used for defense and have sent it to relief agencies, notifying the government accordingly. ―JJE

Another such editorial appeared in the issue in which Enz complains that people demand too much conformity from the church to their own opinions before giving the church their support. Excerpt:

The Reformation emphasis on individualism in the Church brought untold blessing, but where pressed to its logical conclusion it makes people do the completely irrational thing of denying their gifts or their interest and prayers to a part of the body of Christ because of some complaint while at the same time uncritically giving large sums in tax money to earthly organizations of a much more questionable nature. The support of the Church is much less optional than the support of these other organizations if comparisons are in order. Yet there are literally thousands of Christians who religiously pay every cent of their taxes knowing that part of it will go for such unquestionably wrong uses as buying whiskey to help the State department entertain foreign diplomats while they draw up agreements that will lead the world straight to war; at the same time they refuse to give to the Church… because some aspects are not quite in line with their own conceptions, and (in this area for some unknown reason) God holds them responsible for every penny. ―JJE

Enz is back with an editorial in the issue. Excerpts:

The almost dogged determination with which our leaders of state are encouraging an arms-for-Europe program is clear evidence of the moral insanity of our age. The way in which Britain is egging on this program is indication of the universality of this spirit. All of this makes it a bit more clear why a number of individuals in this country are putting themselves in awkward positions by refusing to pay income tax, the larger portion of which inevitably goes for war — past, present, and future. It raises the question anew as to the exact nature of a Christian’s relation to the state.… When governments tend to produce chaos rather than order — the kind of order as revealed in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ and in His teachings — then our subjection as Christians will be one of obeying God rather than man and human governments and accepting the suffering that may come as the result of our higher obedience. Just how this higher obedience is to express itself raises a number of questions. In many of our circles non-registration and non-payment of war taxes is questioned as an effective method. It would seem quite obvious that if enough people used this method this wickedness of war would be seriously hindered. It would seem however that something much more fundamental is needed…

Enz again, in the issue:

The darkening picture of world events is calling for radical solutions to the world’s deep problems. Our leaders of state are leading us into policies of foreign entanglements heretofore unknown as their radical answers. The world again needs an Amos, an Isaiah, and a Jeremiah to stand up and speak to his country concerning the inevitable doom that will come when we trust in man and his reliance upon treaties and covenants with man apart from God. At this point the idea of “the universal prophethood of believers” ought to come into play. This will be an extremely costly process as is evidenced by some few who have chosen the method of refusing to pay part or all of their income tax the larger portion of which goes for war. Most people reject this method, but one inevitably hastens to raise the question as to where and how we should take our stand and say “no further!” Is it enough to send resolutions and letters to Congress and preach and talk against a system to whose continued operations we contribute. ―JJE

An unattributed quote used as filler appeared in the edition:

“It is difficult to conceive of a point where a person has the opportunity of a more powerful projection of his beliefs than at this point where he meets the government in the person of the tax collector, and say ‘No!’ ”

Another such filler quote appeared in the edition:

“The use of tax money in preparation for war completely overshadows the consideration of the manner in which taxes are obtained. If one favors paying taxes, no matter for what they are asked… he may just as well favor conscription which is equally democratic in its impressment of men.”

A news brief in the issue read:

In one of the “longest and most spirited meetings in its history,” the Toledo Ministerial Association adopted a set of resolutions supporting the right of Dr. Aleck D. Dodd to follow the dictates of his conscience in refusing to pay a portion of his taxes, and sharply criticized the Toledo Council of Churches for dismissing Dr. Dodd as director of Pastoral Relations. The Council’s action followed the Internal Revenue Bureau’s garnishee of Dr. Dodd’s salary to collect $150.47, the portion of his taxes comparable to the part of the budget which he feels goes for war purposes.

The statement of the Ministerial Association read in part: “While we have not felt impelled to take the step Mr. Dodd has taken in refusing to pay that part of his income tax which he feels is devoted to furthering the cause of war, yet we are of the opinion that he should follow the dictates of his conscience.” ―Fellowship

“For Lent,” in the issue, Jesse Zigler wrote up “A Heart-Searching Confession” in the form of a confession by the “People” to God, with a minister periodically interjecting a prayer for mercy. Among the confessions:

We have been participants in war-making society. We tried to stay out of participation, but thou knowest how far we failed. We helped to maintain high morale, we paid taxes on income, on railroad fares, and in many other hidden places. Our hearts sank when we heard of reverses to our armies and we secretly felt hope when our armies were winning. We had our expenses paid in college or seminary or C.P.S. with profits of war making. And then we looked at the fellows in the army and thanked thee that we were better than they while closing our eyes to our own participation.

Enz, who as “Acting Editor” had reintroduced debate about war tax resistance to The Mennonite readers, stepped aside as a new Editor, J.N. Smucker, came on board in .

The “Young Peoples Union” met at Freeman, South Dakota, in . Among the things they did was to ratify a set of recommendations. Number six on the list was this:

[We recommend] that, in view of the critical and complex problems in the social, economic, and political spheres on both the national and international levels… that a resolution be introduced into the current session of the General Conference calling on the Board of Christian Service to appoint a study group to study the relations and implications of Mennonite principles to such current problems as the Christian position on conscription, registration and cooperation with the draft, payment of war taxes, attitudes toward Communism, Socialism, and Capitalism, church-state relations, etc.

An unsigned editorial in the issue read:

Caesar Is Far Ahead!

On the basis of present tax laws, in every man, woman, and child in the United States will pay on the average $461 in Federal taxes, of which $267 will be required for military services.

The best estimate of benevolent per capita giving for our entire population for the same period is $23.33. In other words, Caesar gets twenty times as much as God, and ten times as much for military services. So for every dollar you give to share the Gospel of peace and express your love for your fellow-man, Caesar demands his ten dollars to run his war machine. Caesar is ahead twenty to one, and Mars, his war-god is ahead ten to one! Will we be content at this inequality? Will God be satisfied with us if we are?

The issue included an article about the sorts of questions draft boards ask people who are applying for conscientious objection status as a way of determining whether their objections are sincere enough to pass the legal test. One of these was: “Do not your taxes indirectly aid the war effort?”

“What Can We Do For Peace?” asked an unsigned editorial in the issue. Excerpts:

The common people of the world do not want war. They are rightly alarmed by the tremendous build-up in military power. They distrust the leaders who seem to think the only way to peace is by preparation for war. They object to giving their eighteen-year-old sons to be trained as killers.

But what can we do? People answer this question in various ways. Some refuse to pay income tax, reasoning that, since much of this money goes for war purposes; this is one way to show our disapproval of war. Some young men refuse to register, regarding this as a first step into the military way of life. Some see little hope in continuing the present major political parties, since both seem drifting towards war.

Perhaps our Peace Committee could give us some directive as to how to best make our strength felt for the cause of peace. We have worked hard to help overthrow Universal Military Training, now let us work even harder for the cause of a Christian peace.

A “Perplexed Reader” wrote in to the issue as follows:

A Dilemma

We are in a dilemma; we do not know what to do.

The Mennonite is emphasizing Christian education, relief, and missions, and is advocating tithing to finance these projects. We agree, that is good. We think God will look with favor on such a program.

Another thing The Mennonite is stressing is peace; that war cannot be justified with Christianity; war does not settle problems, only create more. That also, we think is sound reasoning and is in harmony with the spirit and teaching of Christ.

Many of us feel the best contribution we can make to Christianity is to finance these above-named projects. In order to finance these projects we have to earn money; and if we earn money we have to pay income tax, and very little of that money is used for other than war purposes. In the writer made contributions to these above-named projects. He tried to do his part, but after the year was over, mailed his check to the internal revenue collector, he found that he had contributed more to the god of war than to all church contributions combined.

If a couple without dependents and without any other deductions has a net income of $1,325, they use that money for family living. Many use more. If they have a net income of 52,325, the tithe would amount to $232.50, and the income tax $184. If they have an income of $4,999, the tithe is $499.90 and the income tax is $669. If the net income increases the tithe is higher also, but the income tax increases faster than the tithe.

Shall we arrange our financial affairs so that our income will be so low that there is no income tax to pay and discontinue all mission. Christian education, and relief? Or shall we refuse to pay income tax and have the government confiscate our property? Or shall we give all of our property to these good causes and go on relief, or if we are old enough, ask for old-age pension? Or shall we continue to build with one hand and tear down with the other? What shall we do?