American Brethren and War Taxes in 1981

In , Brethren continued to resist war taxes, and a new “777 Club” campaign attempted to nudge non-resisters into a small, baby-steps form of war tax resistance.

Church of the Brethren: Messenger

The issue of Messenger covered the legal battle of war tax resister Bruce Chrisman:

Christian tax resister appeals conviction

“Our hearts go with our treasure to war when we must pay war taxes,” said Bill Faw of Reba Place Fellowship. He was speaking at a worship service in support of Bruce Chrisman and his appeal for the right to refuse to pay war taxes.

Chrisman appeared before the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago in . He was appealing his conviction for failing to file a proper income tax return. Bruce and his wife, Maryanne, farm near Ava, Ill.

The argument against Chrisman (and others in similar cases) is that he broke the law when he failed to file the proper income tax return. Chrisman believes that such an argument misses the point — that his freedom of religion is violated by the court’s insistence that he pay even those taxes that go towards war.

Chrisman’s attorney, A. Jeffrey Weiss, argued that the first amendment of the Constitution prohibits laws that interfere with the “free exercise” of religion. Weiss contended that the US government violates this clause by requiring full payment of taxes from citizens whose faith demands that they not pay for war.

The General Conference Mennonite Church (GCMC) filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in Chrisman’s behalf. The brief gave historical precedents for withholding war taxes. It also stated the GCMC officially supports “Christian pacifists who refuse to pay taxes to be used for military purposes.” Although Chrisman is not a Mennonite, he is closely associated with the GCMC.

After his conviction, Chrisman expected to receive a two-year prison sentence. But , when he stood before the judge for sentencing, he explained that he didn’t mind paying taxes. In fact, he said, he would not object to paying more than his share of taxes if those taxes relieved human suffering. The judge gave him the unusual sentence of one year’s service in Mennonite Voluntary Service. He spent the year doing peace work and visiting prisons. He and Maryanne plan to serve another year.

Chrisman does not expect word on his appeal before since a written ruling from the court usually requires between three and six months. If his conviction is upheld, Chrisman intends to carry his appeal further.

U.S. military support of the government of El Salvador became another reason to refuse taxes, when in the issue Jorge Lara-Braud was quoted addressing Church of the Brethren higher-ups (source):

“To what extent,” he asked, “will we US Christians be used to finance the repression of those who are seeking the Kingdom of God?” He urged tax resistance as one way of resolving the agony of giving the government money to kill other Christians.

That issue also reported on a new “Brethren Discipleship Group” and noted, somewhat vaguely, that “They also refuse to pay ‘willingly those taxes which support war’ ” (source).

The Annual Conference reaffirmed its support for the World Peace Tax Fund legislation (source), but:

An amendment urging refusal to pay military-related taxes was ruled out of order, although recognized as a related issue. Concern was raised that the WPTF represented an “easier way to be Christian” than direct refusal to pay taxes.

But war tax resistance was still a going concern. From the issue:

Taxes held in protest by General Board staff

Three General Board staff families have taken a stand against war by withholding part of their federal income taxes.

Chuck and Shirley Boyer, Ralph and Mary Cline Detrick, and Miller and Phyllis Davis protested the use of their tax dollars for defense spending by giving the amount withheld to other organizations. Miller Davis, director of the New Windsor Service Center, and Phyllis withheld $100, which they sent to the General Board.

Peace consultant Chuck Boyer said that he and his wife, Shirley, had periodically withheld income taxes . , they and the Detricks, of life cycle ministries, each gave $50 to the local school board to demonstrate their support of public non-military programs.

“We don’t mind paying taxes,” says Mary Detrick. “That’s why we chose to pay the same amount to a public institution. It feels like a little bit of leaning toward justice.”

Adds Ralph Detrick: “It’s a symbolic protest of how the government spends our money. We choose to make a nuisance.”

Like the Detricks, Boyer acknowledges that tax resistance currently is little more than a “nuisance” to the federal government. But he points out that such a protest could have an impact “if 20,000 or 30,000 Christians did involve themselves.”

Boyer and the Detricks stress that their personal decisions are not intended to tell others what to do. Rather, they hope to raise questions and to give support to other Brethren families who have chosen to take the same stand.

“It’s not the kind of thing I like to do. People probably think I’m a real radical,” says Boyer. “It’s a struggle within me to find what it means to be faithful,” he concludes, “but something has to be done, and this is it for now.”

And there was this attempt to get some more-timid Brethren to take symbolic baby-steps into tax resistance, from :

Deciding Caesar’s share

Jesus does not tell us to give Caesar everything he asks for. Nor does he specify what is Caesar’s and what is God’s. The 777 Club is one way to resist war taxes and maintain one’s Christian integrity.

by Karen Zimmerman and Bill Puffenberger

What started out as a sharing experience for a few Sundays at the Eiizabethtown Church of the Brethren expanded into a class lasting 12 weeks. The Topic? “War Tax Resistance.” After a brief initial discussion of the topic we began an in-depth study of several key biblical passages. This led to other experiences — a visit with Paul and Loretta Leatherman (originators of a 777 plan of war tax resistance); a visit to the Mennonite Central Committee Headquarters to share with a group of Mennonites who have been practicing various types of war tax resistance; the sponsorship of a Sunday morning mini-workshop in the local congregation; and a Sunday morning dialog with our local congressional representative, Robert Walker. As a result of these experiences, some members of the class have offered to share their time and ideas on this issue with other churches in Atlantic Northeast District.

As newcomers to the field of war resistance, it was rewarding to have the opportunity to talk with the Leathermans — 10-year veterans. Over the years they have tried various methods to withhold the portion of their taxes that are used for war. Eventually, the Internal Revenue Service got its money, but it was not an easy process and it provided the Leathermans an opportunity to witness to their local IRS agent, their bank representative, their employers, and others about their opposition to war and their necessity for funding it.

In an effort to have more people join them and hopefully to attract the attention of law-makers in Washington, the Leathermans initiated a 777 plan. They propose withholding a symbolic amount of $7.77 (or some variable thereof) as a war tax deduction. Because present US tax laws do not provide for this kind of deduction, many members of the class used the 1040 long form and wrote in the words “War Tax Credit” on line 46. A brief letter of explanation was then attached to the form. In addition, more detailed letters explaining our views were sent to our local congress members and to the President. We recognize that this is indeed a symbolic protest since in most cases the government has already taken the taxes or will take unpaid taxes from our future paychecks. Even though the taxes will eventually be collected, we think it is a matter of integrity to say by our actions, words, and letters how we feel about this issue.

The number 777 was chosen for its biblical significance and symbolism. Seven is the biblical symbol for perfection. Seven is the numerical framework for God’s Creation, especially the Sabbath. Jesus tells us to forgive “seventy times seven.” To us Eiizabethtown tax resisters the number had even greater significance — our church address is 777 Mount Joy Street.

We studied in detail two biblical references on taxes: Mark 12:13–17 and Romans 13:1–7. Our study convinced us that we cannot assume that the law of the land is the sole judge of our moral decisions. We must see obedience to government in the context of the command to live in peace with all persons.

In light of the increasing militarism of the present administration in Washington it is particularly urgent that Brethren consider the issue of war tax resistance. Can we be satisfied that conscientious objection by only our 18 to 26-year-old youth is an adequate stance to maintain? What is to be required of us who are outside this age classification? In a world that is warring with a technology fueled more by money than by personnel, most of us are relatively unaffected by the draft. While our bodies are not being used, our dollars are being conscripted for war purposes. What kind of integrity is this? How can we conscientiously pray for peace and at the same time pay for war?

We urge Brethren to take another look at Christ’s teachings as well as our denomination’s peace position. We feel we have a convincing argument that the current military build-up is diametrically opposed to God’s law to love one another. We are hopeful other Brethren join with us who are taking this symbolic war tax deduction of $7.77 (or $77.77 or $777.77) as a way of maintaining our Christian integrity and at the same time letting our government know that there are some people out there who oppose the current excessive military build-up.

We are not in principle opposed to the payment of taxes (which support many worthwhile endeavors). We are opposed only to the payment of taxes for war-like means (which we see as destructive and unchristian). We all have a choice: We can quietly pay our war taxes and support preparations for war or we can noisily refuse to pay (even a symbolic amount) and work untiringly for the cause of peace. We members of the 777 Club probably cannot arrest the current military build-up, but we will have at least set the record straight that we cannot mouth the words of peace and at the same time willingly pay into an ever-growing war chest. We seek to avoid a kind of Christian schizophrenia as we refuse to pay for that which is destructively unchristian.

Bible Monitor

The Bible Monitor never flinched from its strict if somewhat blinkered interpretation of render-unto-Caesar. From “Serving God and Caesar,” the lead article in the issue:

The Christian’s duty includes paying his taxes. Even Jesus paid his tribute money. The money of our land is very clearly marked as the legal tender of the land, therefore it should be rendered back to the government. Although we may not approve of all uses made of our tax money, we dare not be selective in what we pay. We do indirectly receive a benefit, at least in the eye of the world, from our taxes.