The “religion” section of the Pittsburgh Courier was full of information on the upcoming “New Call to Peacemaking” conference at which Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers were due to discuss war tax resistance.
Washington — Can the tax revolt be turned against the cost of maintaining the military establishment and preparations for war?
Members of three of the smallest but most influential religious denominations in the country hope so and when some 300 of them gather for the national “new call to peacemaking” conference in Green Lake, Wis., tax resistance will be high on the agenda.
The three Anabaptist denominations, the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonites and the Society of Friends (Quakers), are known as the “historic peace churches” and have a long tradition of protesting war by refusing to accept military service.
Modern warfare, however, relies less and less on manpower and more and more on technology and automated weapons — weapons that cost money and thus the “new call to peacemaking” and the challenge it poses to peace church members:
“Are we going to pray for peace and pay for war?”
The new call was initiated by Friends’ Faith and Life Movement but endorsed by members from all three of the denominations and seeks to breathe new life into the peace witness of the churches.
[“]In the context of both humanistic peacemaking and biblicist support for killing, there is an urgent need for the biblically-oriented witness of the peace church traditions,” says a paper prepared for the Green Lake meeting.
“Although the popular peace movement of the Vietnam-era has waned,” the statement adds, “There remains a greater legacy of activity and groups than the current interest of the media would have us believe.”
For almost two years, the new call has been discussed in regional meetings of the denominations focusing on task force reports dealing with the biblical and theological bases of the peace witness, peacemaking lifestyles and disarmament.
Within the three denominations, the new call is “fostering dreams that our internal unity may be strengthened both within and between our constituencies,” according to Dale W. Brown, professor of christian theology at Bethany Theological Seminary in Oak Brook, Ill.
Brown, writing on the peace churches in a recent issue of the Christian Century, also said the new call has given members of the denomination the hope that “a sound biblically and theologically oriented theology of peacemaking can be boldly proclaimed in Christendom.”
The Green Lake conference is expected to make what has been essentially an internal discussion become a witness to the rest of the churches and indeed, to the world.
Tax resistance appears as if it will be one of the major programs and strategies of the new call.
“Effective disarmament strategy must be based on citizen action at the local level,” says Robert Johansen.
Lois Barrett, a Mennonite writer, notes that while none of the peace churches have recommended tax resistance on the national or conference level, “most groups have recognized refusal to pay war taxes as one among many valid witnesses against war.”
For the most part, members of the three denominations have always paid their taxes without question and the issue of tax resistance was largely dormant until the Vietnam War made many Americans aware of the cost of maintaining the U.S. military machine.
The issue has become more urgent for the peace churches since the Quaker relief agency, the American Friends Service Committee, agreed with two of its employees that the “war portion” of their federal taxes not be withheld from their paychecks.
The case went into the courts but was not resolved on its merits and new court tests will have to be brought.
In addition, several of the regional new call groups have asked the churches and their agencies to stop collecting taxes from their employees “so they can have the option to follow their consciences in war tax resistance.”
According to those involved in the leadership of the new call, the number of those in the peace churches withholding a portion of their taxes is still quite small. The Internal Revenue Service will not release figures on the number of tax resisters in the United States.
But it is the belief of the organizers of the new call that “when the tax revolt touches the cost of the arsenals of terror, the prayers for peace may have an answer.”
The Courier did a follow-up :
The 400,000 members of the nation’s historic peace churches — Mennonites, Friends (Quakers) and Brethren — have been challenged to renew their peace witness with radical acts, including civil disobedience and tax resistance.
In a statement issued at the end of a four-day national conference of 300 delegates, members of the three denominations were urged “To seriously consider refusal to pay the military portion of their federal taxes as a response to Christ’s call to radical discipleship.”
The conference was the culmination of a two-year process called “The new call to peacemaking” in which Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers explored the meaning of their historic peace witness and sought new forms for that witness for today.
“Because our security is in Jesus Christ, we reject reliance on ‘National security’,” the delegates said in their common statement. “We reaffirm our membership in Christ’s kingdom and in the global community by denouncing the pervasive idolatry of the nation and of military strength.”
Among the proposals most likely to be vigorously debated within the Anabaptist tradition the three churches represent is that of tax resistance.
Already being practiced by some members of the three groups, the new call conference asked agencies of the denominations “to consider the request of employees who ask, for reasons of moral conviction, that their taxes not be withheld.”
The conference suggested that as an alternative to paying what it considered “Military preparation” taxes — about 50 percent of all tax revenue — “Payments be channelled into a peace fund initiated by the new call to peacemaking.”
During the four-day national conference, Ronald J. Sider, a member of the Brethren In Christ Church and professor of Theology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, re-examined the Biblical and Theological framework for the peace churches’ witness.
“To announce Christ’s Lordship to the principalities and powers is to tell governments that they are not sovereign,” Sider said. “Merely to witness in a biblical way to the principalities and powers is to engage in dangerous, subversive political activity.”
“Precisely as we plunge deeper into the centers of power in secular society,” he added, “We will need ever more urgently the strength of the church as a counter-culture of christians whose visible commitment to the radical values of Jesus’ New Kingdom is so uncompromising that the church’s very existence represents a fundamental challenge to society.”
The conference also decided to seek to carry its concern for disarmament to President Carter “to lay before the president our concerns about military spending, nuclear weapons, arms sales, and related matters.”
Carter, they noted, has said that “nonviolence is at the heart of his concept of Christianity.”
In committing themselves to “The goal of worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons,” the new call delegates said the United States should reduce military spending by 10 percent a year on a scheduled basis, “transferring those funds to programs to meet human needs.” Other nations should do the same, the statement said.
Sider, in closing the conference, challenged the delegates to consider even more radical action.
“We must, regardless of the cost, confront our entire constituency with the nature of systemic injustice and the extent of our involvement in it,” he said.