This is the seventeenth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of Gospel Herald, journal of the (Old) Mennonite Church.
In the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church cosponsored a seminar on “Civil Religion: True and False Patriotism” According to the Gospel Herald coverage, “[a] number of special issue groups were formed in which persons struggled with questions raised during the seminar [such as l]egal implications of nonpayment of war taxes and other forms of resistance…”
The issue brought news of Mennonite-inspired war tax resistance sprouting in Japan:
A war tax resistance movement is beginning in Japan.
Started by Michio Ohno, a United Church of Christ in Japan pastor who attended Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Ind., , an organization for “Conscientious Objection to Military Tax” was formed on in Tokyo. About sixty people attended the first meeting, and a “general assembly” was planned on at the Shinanomachi Church in Tokyo.
The objectives of the organization are (1) reduction and eventual abolition of Japan’s self-defense force (Japan’s constitution prohibits a military) and (2) encouraging nonpayment of the 6.4 percent of income taxes that support the self-defense force.
Mr. Ohno, who is now working with Mennonites and Brethren in Christ in the Tokyo area, started the movement out of his religious convictions. But support has now grown beyond Mennonites, the Society of Friends, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation to include other Japanese citizens who question the constitutionality of the self-defense force.
At the organizational meeting, speakers included Gan Sakakibara, principal of the Tokyo English Center, "The Historical Development of Conscientious Objection”; Yasusaburo Hoshino, professor at the Tokyo University of Liberal Arts, “How to Live Nonviolently — A Theory of Peaceful Tax-Paying”; and Shizuo Ito, a lawyer who sued the government for having unconstitutional armed forces, “Struggle for Peace — The World of Zero.”
Mr. Sakakibara told of the history of the Anabaptists and said that nonpayment of military tax has a long history. Mr. Ito remarked that “the nuclear reactor of the conscience is being lit today.” Mr. Hoshino compared the cost of food in social welfare institutions with the cost of the self-defense forces.
Mr. Ohno called Conscientious Objection to Military Tax the first organized movement of this kind in Japan.
“The time was ripe when we started the campaign,” he said. “We consulted several scholars of the constitution, and one of the professors said he himself had wanted to start a movement like this. Somebody else may well have started a movement like this anyway, even if we did not. We should not just sit back and wait for the peace to come, but be the peacemakers.”
Mr. Ohno said one of the decisive factors in his becoming involved in conscientious tax objection in was an article in The Mennonite last year on the proposed World Peace Tax Fund legislation in the United States.
Deadline for filing taxes in Japan is in . “Then we will know how the tax officials respond to the objection,” Mr. Ohno said.
Another meeting for tax refusers is planned in , and members of the steering committee were to itinerate in Kyushu and Okinawa in .
A followup in the edition read:
On , Japanese Christians founded a new movement of persons who refuse to pay that part of their taxes allotted for military purposes. Newspapers have since reported that an association of lawyers has promised to work with the group. Susami Ishitani, secretary of the Christian pacifists, wrote: “We have invited the cooperation of others who share with us the principle of nonviolence.” He also pointed out that the Japanese constitution contains articles which could provide the legal base for refusing to see a military or violent solution as any solution at all. ―Algemeen Doopsgezind Weekblad.
And a report on the “Third Anabaptist Seminar, Japan” () noted:
Brother Ohno of Tokyo shared out of his conviction for peace and his current experience in nonpayment of the military tax portion of his personal income tax.
A letter to the editor from Titus I. Lehman in the edition addressed war tax resistance in a sort of scattershot way:
Our government’s “permanent war economy” policy should rank high among reasons peace-making Christians have for (1) finding simpler lifestyles, (2) telling their congressmen about their continuing opposition to military spending madness, (3) continuing to reduce their taxable income, (4) finding more ways to resist the war, (5) allowing the IRS to check individual deductions for contributions.
Join the club. If they check my deductions when my Federal tax is over $200, will they also check me when it falls under $200? They probably will. Time will tell.
Remember the stability and value of the U.S. dollar is related directly to how wisely or stupidly our Federal tax dollars are spent.
Allen R. Mohler, in a piece entitled “Caesar or God?” () didn’t have much positive to say about war tax resistance, and introduced the “why stop at war tax resistance” line of attack:
If we refuse to pay our portion of taxes that go for military spending, we had better hold back the “murder tax” (whatever tax money is spent on abortions) and the immorality tax” (the tax money that is helping unwed persons live immorally without the responsibility of being parents).
When Jesus was asked the question about paying taxes to the Roman government. He asked whose image was on the coin? Answer: Caesar’s — and Caesar represented the political power and leadership of a pagan and militaristic government. Jesus then said, “Render… to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” I think we often miss the meaning of this last part of Jesus’ statement. What has the image of God is God’s — that is, you and I. The only object or thing created in God’s image is the human family.
As I understand the teachings of the Bible on taxes, it is to pay — the governments will ultimately be responsible, whether it is used right or wrong. To do otherwise is to get our images and rendering all turned around.
In the course of discussing a survey of Mennonite opinions, Jim Juhnke wrote (in a article) that “Hundreds of thousands of Mennonite tax dollars went to support the war in Vietnam, but Mennonites were more critical of war protesters than they were of official government lies.” It’s unclear from the context whether this is something learned from the survey or just Juhnke’s own independent impression.
The issue having only recently come to life, it was odd to see the following headline in the issue. I expect the end of the Vietnam War was probably what was being alluded to.
In connection with his presentations of Mennonite history and principles throughout the church, Jan Gleysteen has been involved in a lot of study groups and discussions. He reported that one question which has recently come up with greater frequency and which has provided the reason for additional meetings and prayer sessions is the problem of war taxes.
Congregations or fellowships studying Anabaptist heritage this year are discovering the statements of Grebel, Riedemann, Felbinger, Simons, and others on this subject and are wondering what a Christian’s contemporary response to war taxes might be, especially since today’s technological armies need vast sums of money more than they need men. Individuals and small groups here and there are actively engaged in studying the issue, but not much help and information is as yet available from the denominational level. Yet in one congregation the statement was made: “How to deal with war taxes is an issue that affects far more of us than the issues of abortion or a study on the role of women.”
A bit of historical revisionism was at work in a note titled “Ancestor Worship?” by Wayne North () that made much stronger claims for early Mennonite war tax resistance than I have been able to discern from the record:
If we are glorifying our ancestry… why do some modern-day Mennonites urge the payment of war taxes and advocate the death penalty when both were condemned by their early leaders?
Levi Keidel, in the issue, suggested there was a “Mennonite Credibility Gap” that expressed itself in the way Mennonites were approaching the war tax question:
Now with the proliferation of technological weaponry, the annual U.S. budget is dominated by a hydra-headed military appropriation. We Mennonites who have set our affection upon things of earth, relished the pleasures and conveniences of affluence, amassed material wealth like everyone else, now say that we will refuse to pay income tax as our peace witness to government. We are selecting to apply the principle of nonparticipation in violence, but not of self-imposed poverty for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.
Is a government official wrong in accusing Mennonites of accepting their historic principles which concern the state, but rejecting their historic principles which touch themselves? Is it proper for us to make a corporate witness to government against payment of income tax when there is little else which distinguishes us as citizens of another kingdom who give primary allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ? How can we justify the selective application of Anabaptist beliefs to our contemporary lives?
Helen Lapp responded, in a letter to the editor:
Levi Keidel makes a good point against selective discipleship… From what I observe, however, those who take seriously the idea of nonpayment of war taxes are often the same Christian disciples who are most conscientious about their lifestyles. How many affluent Mennonites consider war taxes to be at all inconsistent with a peace witness? Perhaps the worst “selective” problem we have is in letting a “select few” be our conscience on both these Anabaptist concerns. I am grateful for this minority voice which may help others of us to return to fuller application of the total biblical ethic.
“A war tax conference, sponsored by Mennonite and Brethren in Christ conferences and the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section…” that would cover “theological and practical discernment on war tax issues” was held on . Gospel Herald reported:
Speakers for an inter-Mennonite and Brethren in Christ conference on war taxes have been named.
The conference, sponsored by the General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Church, Brethren in Christ Church, and Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section, is scheduled for at First Mennonite Church, Kitchener, Ont.
Included among the speakers are:
- Colonel Edward King (ret.), director of the Coalition on National Priorities and Military Policy (U.S.), and Major General Fred Carpenter, Canadian armed forces, on “Militarism in Today’s Society.”
- Marlin Miller, president of Goshen Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind., on “The Christian’s Relationship to the State and Civil Authority.”
- Walter Klaassen, associate professor of religious studies at Conrad Grebel College, Waterloo, Ont., and Donald Kaufman of Newton, Kan., author of What Belongs to Caesar? on "Anabaptism and Church-State Tax Issues.”
- Willard Swartley, chairman of the Bible and Philosophy Department, Eastern Mennonite College, Harrisonburg, Va., on “The Christian and Payment of War Taxes.”
Workshops are planned on such topics as “War Taxes and the Bible,” “The Christian and Civil Disobedience,” “World Peace Tax Fund Act,” "Forms of Resistance and Legal Consequences,” “Mennonite Institutions and the Withholding Dilemma, and “Voluntary Service and War Tax Options.”
The conference, intended for “theological and practical discernment on war tax issues,” is open to all who wish to attend.
Initiative for the conference came from a resolution passed by the triennial convention of the General Conference Mennonite Church in in St. Catherines, Ont.
Those planning to attend the conference should register by …
Co-moderators of the conference are Peter Ediger of Arvada, Colo., and Vernon Leis of Elmira, Ont.
After the conference, Gospel Herald carried the following report:
Unlike in some Mennonite peace gatherings of the past decade, the under-thirty set did not predominate at Kitchener. Laborers, pastors, homemakers, and teachers shared their concerns. Students from as far as Swift Current Bible Institute and Eastern Mennonite College made the pilgrimage to First Mennonite.
Two retired military men gave background for the concern about war taxes at the first session. Col. Edward King, U.S. Army (retired), summarized the ludicrous contradictions between stated U.S. foreign policy and actual U.S. military practice, and tallied up the cost in tens of billions of dollars.
Major-General Fred Carpenter, Canadian Armed Forces (retired), who traces his martial ancestry to Napoleon, pointed out political and military differences between the U.S. and Canada. Stressing the dangers of nationalism, Carpenter called for a view of land resources which sees them as international property just as the ocean and the air.
Conference participants were characterized by a keen sense of urgency about the international arms race and felt some personal accountability for national policy in their respective countries, the United States and Canada. A basic cleavage of viewpoint became evident however over the degree of accountability which Christians have for the nuclear immorality of the governments under which they live.
The historical record of Anabaptists on war tax issues was reviewed by Walter Klaassen of Conrad Grebel College and Donald Kaufman of General Conference Home Ministries Personnel Services. The evidence suggests that most Anabaptists did pay all their taxes willingly; however, there is the early case of Hutterite Anabaptists who refused to pay war taxes that were to be used against the invading Turks.
During the American Revolution some Mennonites did object to paying war taxes; yet, in a joint statement with the Church of the Brethren (German Baptist Brethren) they agreed to pay taxes in general to the colonial powers “that we may not offend them.”
In a biblical/theological paper. Marlin Miller, president of Goshen Biblical Seminary, defined the relationship of the Christian to civil authorities as one of subordination rather than obedience or subjection. Subordination, he said, requires the exercise of discrimination regarding what is due the state (Rom. 13:7) within a basic stance that rejects rebellion and violent revolution.
In the second major biblical/theological paper of the conference, Willard Swartley of Conrad Grebel College examined the New Testament texts on taxes. “Scripture does not speak a clear word on the subject of paying taxes used for war. While taxes generally appear to be Caesar’s due, the statements on the subject contain either ambiguity in meaning (Mk. 12:17) or qualifications in the texts that call for discrimination in judgment,” he concluded.
Conference participants felt that the ethical directive as to whether to pay or not to pay must be found by the community of believers led by the Spirit to understand the imperative of the total revelation in Christ Jesus.
The summary statement of the conference issues an appeal to the churches and church institutions to “recognize the extent to which we are subject to the industrial-military complex” and to “pray for those in authority, that they will rule justly.” It calls on the church to “awaken a consciousness of the extent to which our lifestyles are affected by the standards of our consumer society, and extend a new call to the lordship of Christ in lifestyle issues.”
A response included a call to “bring taxable income below the taxable level by adjusting standard of living through earning less income, through donating up to the maximum allowable 50 percent of income to charitable causes, or through other types of deduction and/or dependent claiming which are legally allowable.”
Responses recommended for Canadians included to “call upon our government to legislate against the export of military weapons and systems” and to “affirm and support individuals who feel led to actions (actual or symbolic) that focus conscientious objection in particular ways.[”]
Conference planners Harold Regier and Peter Ediger, editors of God and Caesar, a war tax newsletter from Newton, Kan., and Ted Koontz of MCC Peace Section (U.S.) indicated plans to carry on efforts to raise consciousness about war tax and military issues.
And a follow-up added:
Cassettes of the proceedings at the War Tax Conference held at Kitchener… are now ready for circulation. The entire set includes six cassettes with presentations by Col. Edward King (ret.), Major General Fred Carpenter of the Canadian Armed Forces, Marlin Miller, Walter Klaassen, Donald Kaufman, and Willard Swartley. The discussions after the presentations are also included.…
A couple of history lessons followed. The issue reprinted the petition sent by Mennonites to their state Assembly in in which they begged for conscientious objection to military service, noted that they were dutiful taxpayers, and enclosed a “small gift” as protection money. And the issue told the story of the Funkite schism that happened around the same time:
by Richard K. McMaster
Bicentennial reenactments usually emphasize powdered wigs and antique muskets to the exclusion of ideas, but a 200-year-old sermon repeated at First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this summer put a current issue in sharper focus.
Costumes and candlelight could not detract from the timeliness of the Reverend John Carmichael’s sermon, because the payment of war taxes is no less a problem for us than it was for 18th-century Mennonites. The Presbyterian pastor had little sympathy with those who questioned the morality of war, but his sermon tells us what Mennonites were doing about war taxes 200 years ago.
“Had our Lord been a Mennonist, He would have refused to pay tribute to support war, which shows the absurdity of these people’s conduct,” he said.
“In Romans 13, we are instructed the duty we owe to civil government, but if it was unlawful and anti-Christian and antiscriptural to support war, it would be unlawful to pay taxes. If it is unlawful to go to war, it is unlawful to pay another to do it.”
Lancaster County Mennonites refused to pay taxes for military purposes in , according to the Presbyterian preacher, forcing the authorities to seize their property.
“What a foolish trick those people put on their consciences who, for the reasons already mentioned, will not pay their taxes and yet let others come and take their money.”
When the dispute between England and her American Colonies turned to bloodshed and farmers and storekeepers began drilling at every crossroads, Mennonites refused to join their neighbors in these “military associations” or to make contributions for the purchases of rifles and gunpowder.
Instead of helping the war effort, Quakers set up an elaborate system for distributing aid to war victims in besieged Boston. Mennonites also donated money for the relief of the poor of Boston. In the Continental Congress recognized the rights of conscientious objectors and asked no more of them than voluntary contributions “for their distressed brethren.”
But the peace churches were not allowed to stand aloof. Patriot leaders wanted their contributions to be an acknowledged equivalent for military service, not a free gift to the poor. A letter from a Church of the Brethren pastor in Lancaster County tells how his congregation required the collector to sign a receipt that the money was intended “for the needy,” but he was afraid it would be used for military purposes.
When the Pennsylvania Assembly decided to put a direct tax on everyone who would not join a military unit, with the money appropriated for defense of the state, Quakers insisted that the tax violated the liberty of conscience guaranteed in William Penn’s charter. Mennonites and Brethren explained in their petition to the Assembly:
“The Advice to those who do not find Freedom of Conscience to take up arms, that they ought to be helpful to those who are in Need and distressed Circumstances, we receive with Chearfulness towards all Men of what Station they may be — it being our Principle to feed the Hungry and give the Thirsty Drink; — we have dedicated ourselves to serve all Men in every Thing that can be helpful to the Preservation of Men’s Lives, but we find no Freedom in giving, or doing, or assisting in any Thing by which Men’s Lives are destroyed or hurt. We beg the Patience of all those who believe we err in this Point.”
Mennonites of that generation saw no distinction between fighting in war and paying for the weapons of war. “I would as soon go into the war as pay the 3 pounds, 10 shillings, if I did not fear for my life,” Andrew Ziegler, bishop in the Skippack congregation, declares in .
Since Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren objected on conscientious grounds to paying war taxes, while making it a matter of conscience to pay other state and township taxes, as many documents make clear, forcing them to pay for war as an equivalent to military service was as much a violation of religious freedom as forcible induction into the army would be.
The Pennsylvania Constitution guaranteed the right of conscientious objectors to refuse military service, provided they made an equivalent contribution in money. But an equivalent of any kind of military service made exemption on conscientious grounds a sham. The Mennonite and Quaker refusal to pay war taxes during the American Revolution was thus an integral part of their refusal to participate in war. If they could be exempted from militia duty for this reason, it was illogical and a violation of liberty of conscience not to exempt them from paying war taxes.
The experience of an earlier generation need not be normative, but we would do well to ponder the witness of the Mennonite Church in the crisis of the American Revolution and its meaning for our generation.
Paul… continued in [Romans] chapter 13 to call upon all Christians to be subject to the powers — not to resist the powers, to be subject for conscience’ sake, and to pay taxes cheerfully. Here we can see how the citizens of the other world maintain relationships with the nations of this world and continue their faithful loyalties to the King of kings. One parenthesis may be in order. (This does not mean that Christians who belong to the new order will unquestioningly pay war taxes. They may even determine what really is Caesar’s rightful portion and may even decide to withhold that portion which is designated for military purposes!)