Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1954–1959

This is the tenth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we finish off the 1950s.

The Mennonite

In general, except for a brief flurry of mostly noncommittal articles in the late 1940s, The Mennonite seemed to steer clear of the topic of war tax resistance thereafter, with a few exceptions.

In the issue, Lloyd L. Ramseyer wrote of “The Sin of Just Being Good” — that is of “people who are content to just be good without concerning themselves very much with the evil about them.” One way this might display itself?

Do we sometimes shift the responsibility to others, saying this is no business of mine? May it be that we sometimes even employ others to do what we think it is wrong for us to do ourselves, and then seem to feel that it is not our affair?… If three-fourths of my tax dollar goes for war, can I have a conscience clear of it?

An article on “Taxes” in the issue gave some very middle-of-the-road advice:

In the classic passage, Matthew 22:17–22, Jesus states that He expected His followers to pay taxes.

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Very briefly, we want to say four things:

  1. Christians ought to be honest in filing tax returns…
  2. Christians should not pay too much tax…
  3. Christians ought to take advantage of deductions and through contributions…
  4. Christians ought to study best ways to give as to tax…

There was not even a hint of a suggestion that a Christian ought to be concerned about what use Caesar puts the tax to, or might have to draw a line somewhere and refuse. The “Render Unto Caesar” episode is portrayed as though when Jesus was asked whether Jews ought to pay taxes to Caesar or not, he had simply replied “yes” but in a more wordy way than necessary. (“When they heard this, they marvelled…” perhaps this is just a mistranslation for “they yawned and checked their wristwatches.”)

The issue also had an article on the income tax that uses a different verse to also counsel tax obedience:

The time of year has come again when the citizens of our country will have to pay income tax. The question is sometimes raised, should Christians pay this tax? A large percentage of the income tax money goes for war purposes. A Christian obeying the new commandment of Jesus to love his neighbor as himself cannot possibly be in accord with hatred, strife, and bloodshed resulting from war. What then shall we do about it? Refuse to pay and come in conflict with the laws of our country?

Jesus our Lord has given us a very clear teaching on this subject in Matthew 17:24–27. The collector of the tribute money asked Peter if Jesus paid tribute. Peter answered, “yes.” Jesus preventing Peter from telling him the incident, asks Peter “of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?” Peter said of strangers. Jesus answered, “then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast a hook, and take the first fish thou catchest, open his mouth and take out the coin therein and give it to the tribute collector.”

The Roman tribute money was used mostly for military purposes. The Roman Empire was then ruling the major part of the then known world. It required large armies to subdue and occupy these many nations. The money consumed for military purposes was a large sum. Jesus asked Peter to pay for both of them.

Tax was again the subject of an article in the issue, but this time the message is much changed:


Daniel Graber
Pastor, Silver Street Church, Goshen, Ind.

Dear Quiet of the Land;

PAX… VOLUNTARY SERVICE… 1‒W… What does it all mean? Yes, it means a positive witness for peace; but in a vision the other night I heard 1000 angels shouting, “Awake! Awake! Ye Quiet of the Land!”

And then the angel Gabriel went on to explain: “Ah, yes, you Mennonites are righteous, peace-loving, law-abiding citizens of your land; but what are you doing at this time so near the death of your Lord? Does not your Christian conscience move you at more points than that of nonresistance to war and your interest in finding a peaceful alternative?

“You who proclaim to the world that you are Christ’s disciples would now also deny thy Lord! Ah, yes, my Lord did boldly say, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s’; but are you living under the Roman Empire where you have no political freedom? No, you are citizens in a free republic, a land founded with an appreciation for your conscience. Did you not hear the words of John Milton: ‘The passage “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” does not say “Give Caesar thy conscience.”’

“You, the Quiet of the Land, are ordering a huge portion of that which crucifies your Lord when you pay your federal taxes. Did you know, fine Mennonites, that you are ordering H-Bombs which will destroy cities of a million men, women, and children?… Did you know you are ordering massive retaliation which will destroy most of mankind and cause more mass suffering than our world has ever known?… Did you know you are ordering nuclear bomb tests which poison the atmosphere for a hundred generations yet unborn?… Did you know you are ordering the top secret horror weapon, by paying in advance for it, to be delivered any day now?”

As Gabriel finished, the chorus of angels replied from the background; “No! Gabriel, No! Most Mennonites did not order these horrible weapons. They were ordered for them unawares — yet we must admit they did give silent consent. Most of them didn’t realize that Washington sent all of them a bill for these macabre instruments of suicide and moral degradation in the name of democracy.”

That bill for the coming year amounts to $43,300,000,000 for Defense, or 60 per cent of the total estimated expenditures of the national government. Over half of the total budget is raised from individual income taxes, Mennonites included.

In 20 per cent of the budget went to the War and Navy Departments to defray the cost of national security. In this item went down to 14 per cent of the budget. Possibly these figures do not mean very much now, but taken in comparison to the present amount, it is ten times less than the 43 billion dollars now at our doorstep.

At what point, my dear friends, does one cease to add a pinch of incense and begin to engage in idolatrous worship, and thus deny our Lord? The cost of the Federal Government operation in the budget was $55 per person, even then more than what many people gave to the church. The budget will cost about $455 per person. If you wish to put this into the Mennonite picture, here is an up-to-date report.

In Elkhart County, Indiana, where the population is 84,512 ( Census), there are over 8,800 Amish and Mennonites (Mennonite Encyclopedia). Elkhart County will pay $43,642,912 as their share of the cost of federal government spending. It is assumed that Mennonites of Elkhart County will pay at least their share, which amounts to more than 10.4 per cent, or $4,538,862 plus.

If we could believe that even 40 per cent of the budget would be legitimately used for democracy, it means that the Mennonites of Elkhart County alone are putting into preparation for future wars close to three million dollars a year. That amount of money would be sufficient to operate the entire MCC program for more than a year, or to build several new Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, or a number of hospitals, old people’s homes, colleges, high schools, etc.

From the soldiers of the cross we hear these testimonies concerning taxes. John Woolman, who refused payment in : “To refuse active payment at such a time might be construed to be an act of disloyalty, and appeared likely to displease the rulers, not only here but in England; still there was a scruple so fixed on the minds of many Friends that nothing moved it.”

Bishop Andrew Ziegler, a Mennonite, in the Revolutionary War period; “I would as soon go to war as to pay the three pounds and ten shillings.”

A.J. Muste (Secretary Emeritus of the Fellowship of Reconciliation): “The two decisive powers of government with respect to war are the power to conscript and the power to tax. In regard to the second I have come to the conviction that I am at least conscience bound to challenge the right of the government to tax me for waging war, and in particular for the production of atomic and bacterial weapons.”

Ernest and Marion Bromley (Sharonville, Ohio): “We regard it as the prerogative of every individual to refuse to aid this government or any other government either to prepare for or to engage in war. The time has come when men ought no longer to depend solely upon their spoken witness against war. They ought to prepare themselves for outright resistance by a thorough-going dissociation with the war-making system. No testimony for peace can afford to become a timid shadow. No matter what one may say against our armaments, if he is still paying for armaments, it seems to be talking peace and preparing for war.”

“Awake! Awake! Ye Quiet of the Land!” Think before you begin paying Defense dollars. Convert them to Peace and the Church today.

―From The Christian Evangel.
(slightly condensed)

An article on “Christians and Bomb Tests” in the issue touched on war tax resistance briefly:

Christians have responded to the challenge of this issue in various ways. A few have refused to pay the proportion of their tax that is used for military purposes. Some have voluntarily limited their income to the low level that is tax-exempt…

The issue included Don and Eleanor Kaufman’s letter to the IRS:

Can Christians Pay for War?

As Mennonite Christians filed their income tax returns for , more than one was disquieted to realize that tithing Christians were not giving nearly as much to further God’s kingdom as they were paying for military preparation for war! Two Mennonites decided to give voice to this concern in the following letter.

U.S. Treasury Department
Internal Revenue Service
Washington 25, D.C.


In filing income tax returns for we believe it is necessary to clarify our concerns. Like others who have been perplexed by the irresponsible use of tax money for military purposes, we are earnestly seeking for a constructive way in which to be honest with what we understand about the issue. Personally, we are unable to acquiesce easily to the present military expenditures of our government which we believe, are irrelevant to the problem they are trying to solve. One cannot change ideologies or correct evil by destroying those in whom these forces reside.

In an effort to reduce our cooperation in a warmaking system to a minimum, we seriously considered refusing payment of that portion used for military expenditures (which we understand is about 73 per cent of federal taxes). Since we object on religious grounds to participation in war and military preparation in any form, we believe, like Milton Mayer, that we are denied the free exercise of our religion (guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution) when forced to pay income taxes used for military purposes.

If money represents a part of a person’s life, as we believe it does, then it logically follows that a Christian will have ambivalent feelings about professing peace and good will while at the same time supporting explicitly destructive forces within a government. As there are provisions for conscientious objection to military service, there should also be provisions for conscientious objection to making H-bombs or paying for the making of them.

Consequently, in the interests of our government and all people, we are looking for some alternative whereby it would be possible to channel that portion of tax money to those causes which contribute to the welfare of people — those legitimate functions which are constructive and not destructive of human value.

We hope that the United States government will accept our offer to pay the equivalent or more of the military tax to some mutually agreeable agency, organization, or institution, like CROP, MCC, Church World Service, or the United Nations (UNESCO, Technical and Economic Assistance Program, etc.), which is committed to a peaceful program for all men. We feel that a voluntary arrangement something like Edith Green’s bill H.R. 12310 is necessary if we are to make possible the conditions of a lasting and abiding peace.

(This was the earliest of the “peace tax fund” legislative proposals. It set up a fund to be used to give aid developing nations, and would have allowed taxpayers to get up to a 2% deduction on their taxes by donating to the fund.)

As Christians, we are not seeking exemption from the payment of taxes, but we are searching for a right to determine how those taxes are used, especially those which we contribute personally. It is clear to us that a Christian has a responsibility to government, significantly because in a democracy he is a real part of the government. Because the Christian knows something of the value and importance of community he will do everything he can to contribute to the stability and welfare of government on all levels.

Yet if this person realizes the destructive character and devastating results of all military preparation, he will consider it his patriotic duty to do what he can to avoid collective disaster. We believe responsible citizenship implies that there is no blanket endorsement for what a government does. Its actions must be tested and if they are found to be outside of the purpose of God they are to be challenged.

We hope you will feel with us the urgent need to recognize the priority which God always deserves in every human decision. We would appreciate your thoughtful response to this crucial issue.

Don and Eleanor Kaufman
Moundridge, Kansas

The issue reported as follows:

War Tax Concern

Concern for payment of war taxes has been expressed by the General Brotherhood Board of the Church of the Brethren. Board Executive Secretary W. Howard Row writes, “The concern is real and the problems to implement (an alternative to payment of war taxes) are great. However, probably no greater than that of securing an alternative to military service.” In a resolution shared with MCC and similar organizations the General Brotherhood Board states: Because there is a growing interest among Brethren and others in finding a positive alternative to the payment of that portion of federal income taxes that go for war preparations, the General Brotherhood Board voted that explorations be made with the appropriate agencies of government to the end that an acceptable constructive alternative be provided for all those persons who, by reason of religious training and belief, conscientiously object to the payment of that portion of income taxes going for military defense. These explorations might be made in concert with one or the more of the other organizations with which we are associated or if necessary by Brethren alone.”

A similar reaction was recently expressed by two Mennonites. Mr. and Mrs. Don Kaufman (Moundridge, Kan.) who are under appointment as MCC workers in Indonesia [and who] assert in a letter to the U.S. Treasury Department: [quote from above letter omitted]

On the MCC Executive Committee met, and, according to a later article on the meeting, “[r]eferred to Peace Section the invitation from the Church of the Brethren to study whether there might be a positive alternative provided by the U.S. government for persons conscientiously opposed to paying that portion of income taxes going for military defense.”

The Mennonite Central Committee annual report for included a report from this “Peace Section.” They noted that “throughout our constituency… [c]oncern is evident in discussions about possible participation in various protest actions and about the propriety of paying income taxes that are used so largely for war purposes…”

Our next episode will pick up as the tumultuous 1960s begin.