American Brethren and War Taxes in 1980

A “Christian Life-style Task Force” presented its report at the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, and gave war tax resisters the encouragement they had been looking for.

Church of the Brethren: Messenger

The cover story of the issue was an interview of Ruby Rhoades, head of the World Ministries Commission and an associate general secretary on the General Board of the Church of the Brethren (source). Excerpt:

How do you look upon the status of the denomination’s peace witness at all levels: Is it growing or diminishing? More importantly, considering the biblical foundation, is the witness faithful and prophetic?

I believe there is a growing consciousness among individual members of the larger issues of peace. By that I mean beyond the draft and conscientious objection, which have been our traditional concerns. Our support for the World Peace Tax Fund, broad involvement in the New Call to Peacemaking, participation in the United Nations disarmament rally, the coming together last winter in bitterly cold weather to protest the arms bazaar in Rosemont, Ill., rallying against the possible resumption of the draft… all are evidence of a vital peace concern among Brethren. And pockets of persons all around the country continue to meet regularly to work at the issues more decisively.

But it is not enough. When I read statistics about our weapons stockpiles and the destruction capability of new weapons systems I get scared, depressed and angry all at once. We must make it clear that we will not tolerate such inventions and production levels and military spending.

Now to the second part of your question: Are we being prophetic? I think we are, though I’m not sure what Micah or Jeremiah would say about us.

In what ways do you mean?
We’re trying to speak to the principalities and powers through our work in Washington and at the United Nations. It was a Brethren on a World Council of Churches committee who got a strong peace statement through that body on combating militarism and arms proliferation. We’ve worked and are working in reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East. We’ve given major leadership to the New Call to Peacemaking. As a body, we haven’t moved into tax resistance as some of our individual members have. Maybe that will finally be the way to convince our government that we are not willing to keep paying for war preparations.

Arlene & Cliff Kindy contributed “Eight questions on war taxes” to the same issue:

We recognize that the issue of taxes used for war purposes is but one of many issues facing the church today. We share some questions with the expectation that similar ones on other issues might be put to us to upbuild all in the way of faithfulness and draw us together in the bond of unity.

  1. Should Christians pay those taxes which are used for war-related purposes?
  2. How large can the percentage of taxes going for war purposes become before it would be our Christian obligation to refuse them?
  3. Does God get the glory when our church institutions are collecting taxes for “Caesar” (through withholding) and about 50 percent of those taxes are going for war-related purposes?
  4. If the same percentage of our taxes were going to support a network of houses of prostitution, would we pay those taxes?
  5. Is it not a much more awesome breach of faithfulness to have prostituted our souls to the god of war to the extent we have than to have given our bodies to a whore or our money to support a prostitution network?
  6. If it will be right not to pay war taxes when (and if) the World Peace Tax Fund Act becomes law, why is it not now?
  7. If Jesus Christ is Lord and we are convinced that there is something inconsistent with the Christian life and paying taxes for war purposes, then what authority does “Caesar” have to say we must pay those taxes?
  8. Should the threat of persecution/prosecution ever deter the Christian from an act of faithlessness to Jesus Christ and God’s kingdom?

The issue reported that “[u]nanimously and without comment” the Supreme Court had turned down an appeal by pacifists who argued that they had a Constitutional right (on 1st and 9th Amendment grounds) to refuse to pay taxes for war (source).

The issue included a contribution from Delia Miller, who wrote about her war tax resistance (source). Excerpts:

I claimed a “military tax deduction” on my income tax return. I claimed this by exercising my rights guaranteed under the first amendment to freely practice my religion. Most Americans don’t see how paying income taxes interferes with religion. I believe paying the 47 percent of our income tax, budgeted for military use (past, present and future) is in profound opposition to God’s commandment to worship and serve.

I have rejected the false security of militaristic muscle and the belligerent way of relating to others, next door and around the globe. As a member of the Church of the Brethren, a historic peace church, I join the tradition of refusing to participate in killing my brothers and sisters, either by carrying a gun myself or paying my government to make and launch missiles. In my attempt to be a faithful servant of God I try to be obedient to commands in all areas of my life, to make allegiance to the kingdom primary, and allegiance to earthly kingdoms secondary. If my life is committed to peacemaking, that must include my money. Today, especially, our money is more necessary than our bodies for preparing for and fighting a high-technology, nuclear war.

The issue noted that the Church of the Brethren General Board was considering joining forces with the General Conference Mennonite Church in its planned lawsuit “seeking exemption from withholding taxes from the income of its employees” who conscientiously object to military taxation (source). Excerpt:

Robert W. Neff, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren General Board, said, “We must seriously consider joining them in this historic action.” He pointed to the paper on Christian life-style passed by Annual Conference delegates in Pittsburgh [see below]. That paper calls on the General Board to “place high priority on study and discussion” of “exploration… for release from the current legal requirement to collect taxes by withholding the income taxes of employees…” He believes Brethren will favor this test case because it “attempts to work within the law.”

The Christian Life-style Task Force Report

War tax resistance was again on the Annual Conference agenda in . After the Conference, a “Christian Life-style Task Force” was put together to study and make recommendations regarding war tax resistance and voluntary simplicity. Brethren war tax resisters who were upset at the tepid Church statement on war tax resistance (see ♇ 9 June 2020) hoped for something stronger this time (and they got it).

The issue reported on the debate over the Task Force’s report:

First included in the Conference Booklet as a study document, the report was amended in its section on “taxation and militarism” by the General Board meeting and passed on to Annual Conference for adoption as a position paper.

Debate on the floor centered on that amended section. In it the task force encourages high priority on study and discussion of consideration of refusal to pay that portion of federal taxes used for militarism. It affirms withholding of war taxes as a legitimate Christian witness. A “peace fund” could be one way to handle alternative “tax” payments.

The magazine did not give details about the substance of the debate on the floor. You can find the statement that the Conference approved here: Christian Lifestyle: Church of the Brethren Statement.

New Call to Peacemaking

The joint Quaker/Mennonite/Brethren “New Call to Peacemaking” conference met again in , and the Messenger covered it (source). Excerpt:

New Call to Peacemaking participants urged other Brethren, Mennonites, and Friends to be faithful to Christ’s spirit of peace by confronting militarism through war tax resistance, opposition to registration and reinstatement of the draft, and renouncement of the belief that security lies in arms.

While stating their “common conviction that peace is the will of God and that Christ calls us to be peacemakers,” delegates were divided about whether the call to peacemaking requires war tax resistance.

The conference finally reaffirmed the call made by the first NCP conference in that “members of the historic peace churches seriously consider refusal to pay the military portion of their federal taxes…” and said, “If we believe that fighting war is wrong, does it not follow that paying for war is wrong?”

Members of the three churches were encouraged to engage in forms of tax resistance ranging from withholding that portion of their taxes that would be used for military purposes to paying “war tax monies under protest.”