Tax Resistance in “Gospel Herald”, 1976–1977

This is the eighteenth 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.

“Gospel Herald” logo, circa 1973

The returned us to the new war tax resistance movement in Japan:

Japanese War Tax Publication Issued

Conscientious Objection to Military Tax, a Japanese war tax-resistance organization, has published five issues of a four-page publication called Plowshare.

The latest issue includes an account of Ishihara Shoichi of Shimizu City, a newspaper dealer who withheld the 6.39 percent of the tax for his shop that would have gone for military expense in the national budget. While he was appealing to the tax tribunal, saying that the levying of military tax was unconstitutional, his bank account was seized. This was the first legal action against any of the dozen people who have withheld their tax money.

The periodical also includes a report of a speech by Professor Kobayashi Naoki of Tokyo University, in which he says that “military forces do not defend the land or the people. What the former Imperial Army really shielded was a handful of military executives and the imperial family. The present Self-Defense Forces are deficient for a nuclear warfare or even a conventional war.”

Another article by Otomo Michio attacks poverty as one of the reasons people enlist in the military.

Other information includes a guide for filing tax returns and publication notice of an 80-page booklet “A Shoot of the Olive” on the history of tax resistance, philosophical and biblical questions, how to file tax returns, and how to appeal.

The publication, in Japanese with an English summary, is available from Michio Ohno, 2‒35‒18 Asahigaoka, Hino, Tokyo 191, Japan.

A compilation of Mennonite responses to world hunger, printed in the issue, included this one:

  • “Enclosed find a check for $40 for world hunger. Rather than paying income taxes, we are sending this check so that we may help to build peace and support causes that help our troubled world.” (A letter from Colorado to MCC)

That same issue also carried this note:

A packet of resources on war taxes has been published by the Commission on Home Ministries of the General Conference Mennonite Church. The majority of articles in the packet are speeches given at the inter-Mennonite and Brethren in Christ war tax conference… in Kitchener, Ontario. Also included are a report of legal research by Ruth Stoltzfus on institutional withholding of the portion of income taxes going for war purposes, brochures explaining the World Peace Tax Fund Act now before the U.S. Congress, and statements about war taxes adopted by the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section and the Church of the Brethren annual conference. The packet is available for $1.50 from the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section…

In the issue Sem and Mabel Sutter shared the letter they sent when they paid their taxes under protest.

Rhoda M. Schrag reported on a conference of Iowa peace churches that took place in :

More than 150 persons from Iowa peace churches met on at William Penn College, Oskaloosa, Iowa, to consider the theme “Peacemaking: Living Heritage and Living Challenge.” The main purpose of the conference, sponsored by Mennonites, Quakers, and Church of the Brethren, was to introduce materials and ideas that congregations could use in promoting peace.

Donald D. Kaufman, of Newton, Kan., gave the keynote address: “Our Taxes Buy Wars? The Peace Church Heritage.” He traced the history of the three denominations’ struggles over whether Christians can pay for war when they refuse to participate in it.

Some early church leaders in America advocated not offending the government, and thus paying all taxes. In others groups, especially among Friends, members were disciplined for supporting war in any way. The decision not to support war was not easy, and it was often accompanied by persecution.

Kaufman is author of the book What Belongs to Caesar?

The issue reprinted Don Blosser’s article from The Mennonite (see ♇ 27 July 2018) in which he put in a word for war tax resistance.

The Mennonite World Conference was held in . According to Gospel Herald, “the Council of Moderators and Secretaries… Shared issues currently facing their groups: biblical interpretation, eschatology, work of the Holy Spirit, role of women, and war taxes.”

In Canada, a new Peace and Social Concerns director was appointed. According to the issue: “Among the current issues Mr. Zehr expect to tackle in the first year of his position are… war taxes.”

“A Study-Vacation Seminar is planned for at Camp Colorado,” the magazine announced. “War taxes, civil religion, militarism, nuclear environmental dangers, and lifestyle are some of the issues to be studied.…”

Carmen Kenagy wrote about “The Challenge of Discipleship” in the edition, writing in part:

[Disciples] will stand up for the rights of all people. My father and others have refused to pay war taxes, willing to pay a fine instead when IRS came to collect.

A television segment about Mennonites hit British television, and the issue described it this way:

The Mennonite segment begins in Europe with episodes from Martyrs Mirror, then switches to modern Mennonite events… [such as] a Sunday school debate on church-state issues with such topics as war taxes, Vietnam, and growing up as a conscientious objector in a public school.

Mennonites were urged to lobby their representatives to support the World Peace Tax Fund bill in the issue. The National Council for a World Peace Tax fund had prepared pre-printed cards for this purpose, reading “I oppose paying taxes for war. Give me a legal alternative. Support the World Peace Tax Fund bill. It would allow conscientious objectors to have that portion of their taxes which would normally go for military purposes used instead for peace projects.” Marian Franz was quoted as saying “an estimated 5 percent of Americans… could probably qualify as conscientious objectors.”

The issue announced a meeting of the Mennonite Historical Associates of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which would include “Walter Klaassen, recent editor of Mennonite Quarterly Review speaking on ‘War Taxes from the Anabaptist Perspective.’ ”

The Lancaster Mennonite Conference met , and, according to Gospel Herald:

The delegates took action on two statements presented by the Bishop Board, one on “Funeral Practices” and another on “The Christian Conscience and Tax Dollars.”

More controversial was the statement on taxes which included two proposals: 1) increased giving to the church with the resultant increased tax deductions; 2) seeking an alternative tax provision similar to alternative military service. The second statement included a reference to the World Peace Tax Fund, which made some persons uncomfortable and so this was eliminated from the text. The statement was passed with some negative votes. In addition to those who felt the statement went too far were several who thought it was simply not radical enough in dealing with the “problem of wealth.” “It amazes me,” said one, “that though we can make money, we have trouble getting rid of it.”

Titus Martin returned with his summary of the traditional scriptural excuses for taxpaying in the issue:

Paying war taxes seems to be a problem for some. In Romans 13, after giving some of the duties of the “powers that be” including the use of the sword, it follows, “for this cause pay ye tribute.” To be consistent, those that withhold war taxes must withhold all other taxes, including local, that are not spent right. I do not believe at any time we have to break one Scripture to keep another one.

The Mennonite Church magazine reported on the triennial conference of their cousins the General Conference Mennonite Church, held in :

The war tax issue generated the most lively discussion. Cornelia Lehn, a Foundation Series writer, gently forced the issue when she asked headquarters not to withhold that portion of income tax she felt helps the government prepare for war. An amendment to the resolution, “A call for congregational study on civil disobedience and war tax issues,” would have permitted headquarters to honor her request. But the conference turned down the amendment 1,190 to 336. The issue will continue under study for the next 18 months.

A brief note in the issue read:

Phil M. Shenk, student at Eastern Mennonite College, has been awarded first prize in the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical contest with an oratorical essay entitled “The World Peace Tax Fund and Faithfulness.” He challenges the fund as a means of faithfulness. He says the fund would not reduce the military budget and may lull the consciences of nonresistant persons. … The C. Henry Smith Trust, named for a leader of another generation, makes prize money available, and the Peace Section of MCC arranges for the judging of entries.

Shenk’s essay was reprinted in the issue (it is given there in roughly the same form as it appeared in The Mennonite — see ♇ 28 July 2018 for the text).

Elmer Borntrager threw some cold water on things in an off-handed way when he wrote in the issue:

In answer to a question regarding the paying of taxes, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caeser’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”… There have been some questions raised as to the propriety of paying war taxes by those of us who do not believe in war. I suppose there is no easy answer to this question, but it seems the majority of the people of the non-resistant faith quite literally pay all the taxes required by Caesar.…