Maurice McCrackin on War Tax Resistance

I’ve reproduced a number of old news articles here concerning Maurice McCrackin, a mover and shaker at the birth of the modern American war tax resistance movement. Here are some of his own words on the subject, in the form of an address to the Cincinnati Presbytery (in which McCrackin was a pastor), while he was on trial for his tax resistance:

Pray for Peace but Pay for War?

I do not think of the defense in this trial as a defense of me as a person, but rather the defense of a principle and that, the right of a Christian, yes, a Presbyterian Christian to follow what he believes to be God’s will as it has been shown to him in Jesus Christ.

In I was offered the position of co-pastor of the West Cincinnati St. Barnabas Church. Since the church was in a racially inclusive neighborhood and because of my deep interest in church union and cooperation, I gladly accepted the opportunity to share in this venture undertaken by the Episcopal and Presbyterian denominations, and began work in August of the same summer. Two months later we opened a settlement house at what was the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church building. Before the federation of the two congregations Negroes were not welcome at either church, and so children and teenagers came by the hundreds to enjoy the activities at the new settlement house. Soon we organized a community council and tried to come to grips with community problems. Ties in church and settlement house were growing strong and meaningful. Camp Joy opened to children of all races and creeds, and with integrated camping and a racially mixed staff, children and teenaged young people grew in self-awareness and in respect and love for one another.

All the while our community work was expanding, cold war tensions were increasing. Nuclear bombs were fast being stockpiled and reports were heard of new and deadlier weapons about to be made. Fresh in my mind were the bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the crowded, deprived areas of these two cities were people working as we were now working in Cincinnati to build a happier, healthier community. There were nurses, teachers, domestic workers, laborers, and secretaries. There were babies, children, young people, and adults living together, playing and working together, and praying together. The bomb fell and they, their institutions, their community organizations, all were destroyed.

It came to me that if churches, settlement houses, schools, if anything is to survive in Cincinnati or anywhere else, something must be done about the armaments race, a race which has always resulted in war. I preached against violence, against hatred, against wars, cold or hot. I preached about the dangers which the entire world faced and which had been made so vividly clear by renowned scientists. I was preaching, but what was I doing? We must build peace in our local communities; this we were doing but what about the international community? When I thought of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of other cities in so-called enemy countries, which we were preparing to incinerate with even more deadly and devastating weapons, I said to myself, “I can no more give consent to the committing of this terrible atrocity against cities in Japan, Russia, or any other country than I would give my consent to such acts of barbaric cruelty being committed against my friends and neighbors surrounding the church and neighborhood house.”

Long before, I had decided that I would never again register for the draft nor would I consent to being conscripted by the government in any capacity. Nevertheless each year around March 15 without protest I sent my tax payments to the government. By giving my money I was helping the government do what I so vigorously declared was wrong. I would never give my money to support a house of prostitution or the liquor industry, a gambling house or for the purchase and distribution of pornographic literature. Yet year after year I had unquestionably been giving my money to an evil infinitely greater than all of these put together, since it is from war’s aftermath that nearly all social ills stem.

Income tax paid by the individual is essential to the continuance of the war machine. Over 50 percent of the military budget is paid for by individuals through their income tax payments and 75 to 80 percent of every dollar they pay via income tax goes for war purposes.

Again I examined what the principle of personal commitment to Jesus meant to me. Through the years I have tried to achieve a personal relationship with Jesus. This is the burden of the Christian gospel, that Jesus can be known personally and that he can bring a saving power into a man’s life. For us Christians to know Jesus personally has reality only as we try earnestly to grow more like him “unto the measure of the stature of his fullness.” If we follow Jesus afar off, if we praise his life and teachings but conclude that neither applies to our daily living, what are we doing but denying and rejecting him? Jesus speaks with authority and with love to every individual. “Follow me. Take up your cross. Love one another as I have loved you.” What would Jesus want me to do in relation to war? What must I do if am his disciple? This was the conclusion I reached: If I can honestly say that Jesus would support conscription, throw a hand grenade, or with a flame thrower drive men out of caves, to become living torches — if I believe he would release the bomb over Hiroshima or Nagasaki, then I not only have the right to do these things as a Christian, I am even obligated to do them. But if, as a committed follower, I believe that Jesus would do none of these things, I have no choice but to refuse at whatever personal cost, to support war. This means that I will not serve in the armed forces nor will I voluntarily give my money to help make war possible.

Having had this awakening, I could no longer in good conscience continue full payment of my federal taxes. At the same time I did not want to withdraw my support from the civilian services which the government offers. For that reason I continued to pay the small percentage now allocated for civilian use. The amount which I had formerly given for war I now hoped to give to such causes as the American Friends Service Committee’s program and to other works of mercy and reconciliation which help to remove the roots of war.

As time went on I realized, however, that this was not accomplishing its purpose because year after year the government ordered my bank to release money from my account to pay the tax I had held back. I then closed my checking account and by some method better known to the Internal Revenue Service than to me, it was discovered that I had money in a savings and loan company. Orders were given to this firm, under threat of prosecution, to surrender from my account the amount the government said I owed. I then realized suddenly how far government is now invading individual rights and privileges: money is given in trust to a firm to be kept in safety and the government coerces this firm’s trustees into a violation of that trust. But even more evil than this invasion of rights is the violence done to the individual conscience in forcing him to give financial support to a thing he feels so deeply is wrong. I agree wholeheartedly with the affirmation of Presbytery made in , that, “A Christian citizen is obligated to God to obey the law but when in conscience he finds the requirements of law to be in direct conflict with his obedience to God, he must obey God rather than man.”

Disobedience to a civil law is an act against government, but obedience to a civil law that is evil is an act against God.

At this point it came to me with complete clarity that by so much as filing tax returns I was giving to the revenue department assistance in the violation of my own conscience, because the very information I had been giving on my tax forms was being used in finally making the collection. So from this point on, or until there is a radical change for the better in government spending I shall file no returns.

The nations seem unable to agree on any negotiated disarmament, and certainly there is little hope that in the foreseeable future any will do so unilaterally. At no time in human history, therefore, has there been such an acute necessity for individuals to disarm unilaterally, to behave as moral and responsible human beings, and to do what they know to be right, beginning now. Some have said that this is the age of the common man. However, if we are to survive, it must become the age of the uncommon man. Unilateral, personal disarmament means that we will accept only work which contributes to the peace, welfare, and uplift of mankind. One by one people are responsible for the most horrible crimes. These are not bad people; they are good people, many socially concerned, pillars of church and society. Yet, with little or no inward protest they respond to the state’s demands to do all kinds of ghastly jobs — to perfect the H-bomb or the more terrible cobalt bomb, to work in laboratories to perfect still more deadly nerve gas or to help spawn insects which will be more deadly germ carriers. The state persuades these and others that they are not really responsible for what they are doing, that they are only small cogs in a big machine and if they have guilt it is so slight they shouldn’t worry over it.

Leo Tolstoy described this evil process of rationalization in his book The Kingdom of God Is within You. He asks, “Is it possible that millions of men can go on calmly committing deeds which are so manifestly criminal, such as are the murders and tortures they commit, simply from fear of punishment? Surely these things would not exist were not the falsehood and brutality of their actions hidden from all classes of men by the system of political organization. When such deeds are committed, there are so many instigators, participants, and abettors that no single individual feels himself morally responsible. The rulers of the state always endeavor to involve the greatest number of citizens in the participation of the crimes which it is to their interest to have committed. Some demand it, some confirm it, some order it, and some execute it.”

This evil chain of violence and death must be broken and it will be broken when enough individuals say to the state, “You may order me to do something I believe wrong but I will not execute your command. You may order me to kill, but I will not kill nor will I give my money to buy weapons that others may do so.” There are other voices that I must obey. I must obey the voice of humanity which cries for peace and relief from the intolerable burden of armaments and conscription. I must obey the voice of conscience, made sensitive by the inner light of truth. I must obey the voice heard across the centuries, “Love your enemies, pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.” In obedience to these voices lies the only path to brotherhood and peace. And these are the voices I must obey.