Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1961–1962

This is the twelfth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we continue our trek into the 1960s.

The Mennonite

Frank H. Epp wrote on the topic of the tax for the issue. Excerpt:

When 60–75% of the national budget and a similar percentage of every tax dollar goes for an armament program there is cause for protest. Even an outgoing general-president warned about the power of the industrial-military complex in our society.

The amount Christians pay for things they know are absolutely evil is frightening. In The Christian Evangel estimated (conservatively so) that the 8,800 Amish Mennonites of Elkhart County (Indiana) were annually paying three million dollars toward future wars just by paying taxes!

We have long excused ourselves, saying that we were giving to Caesar what belongs to him. Really, does all that belong to Caesar? Does it become his simply by request? Isn’t Caesar taking more than belongs to him, in fact, taking from that which belongs to God?

We believe in obeying the state, but only when such obedience is not in conflict with our commitment to God. Likewise we believe in paying taxes, but only when such taxes do not do violence to Christian priorities.

In the days when the state asked primarily for men to go to war, we were conscientious objectors. But now the primary tool of war is money. Can we still be conscientious objectors now?

We must protest: 1) individually through our congressional representatives; 2) collectively through our official church channels; 3) by supporting the proposed Civilian Income Tax Act; 4) by refusing to pay the military portion of the tax, directing it for charitable and welfare uses through other channels.

What a wonderful thing it would be for the cause of Christ if folks would be willing to go to jail again for what they believed? Who will lead the way?

In late the Committee for Nonviolent Action began in a “San Francisco to Moscow” Walk for Peace. They had reached Pennsylvania by , and The Mennonite gave them some coverage that month. Among the things they noted:

The walkers ask individuals to oppose militarism and the continuation of the arms race by considering non-cooperation with government policies when they conflict with individual conscience. They urge concerned persons to seriously consider refusal to work in military (“defense”) industries, serve in the armed forces, and pay taxes which support military programs.

A guest editorial in the issue urged people to maximize their tax-deductible charitable contributions as a way of avoiding paying tax for military purposes. Along the way, the author explicitly called out the “civilian bonds” dodge Mennonites had used during World War Ⅱ:

During World War Ⅱ the Canadian Government did provide what was called a Sticker Bond. The conscientious objector, if he desired that his money be used for other than war purposes, could request that a sticker be attached to his bond. While this may have eased his conscience, it was purely a bookkeeping matter as far as the government was concerned.

James C. Juhnke, then an undergrad at Bethel College (where he’s now a professor), wrote a piece on “Youth & Taxes” that appeared in the . It starts with this charming bit of sixtiesism:

Maybe I’m wrong. But sometimes I get to thinking that we young people shouldn’t be so dependent upon our elders to do all the decision-making for our society.

And just between us young people, the reason we ought to do our own thinking is because older people tend to lose their fire.… But we are different. We are young. We can afford to do some bold and dangerous thinking.

Here’s the bold and dangerous thinking Juhnke has in mind:

For a starter, I suggest that we lead the way for our older generation with some creative thinking on the issue of paying taxes to the government.

War isn’t what it used to be when our parents were young. They used to talk quite seriously about winning a war. And in a gruesome sort of way, I suppose we were on the “winning” side in World Wars Ⅰ and Ⅱ. But the next global war won’t produce any winners.

Another thing has changed. Today we are all involved in a fantastic peacetime war effort. The defense expenditures of our government amount to over fifty billion dollars annually, a sum we can’t even comprehend. The principle of military conscription in peacetime has been accepted. Around 75 per cent of the government’s budget goes for military purposes. Nuclear submarines, atomic-warhead missiles, anti-missile missiles, fallout shelters are becoming accepted parts of the American way of life. We are living in a military age.

Now what we should consider is that we are going to be paying for all this. Some of us have earned enough money to pay federal income tax. The rest of us will be paying in the future. And our parents have poured thousands of dollars into the government treasury, three-fourths of which is used for military purposes.

We believe that participation in war is wrong, and we refuse to serve in the armed forces because of our conviction. If participation in war is wrong, what about paying taxes? Aren’t we participating in war when we pay for it?

As Christians we know that we are responsible to God for our money and possessions. We have dedicated ourselves and our lives to God. We are obligated to use our money for constructive, Christian purposes. Most of our money is used to purchase things we need and want. We give up ten dollars and get a pair of shoes in return. We pay 75 cents and receive the privilege of hearing a concert or seeing a play.

Paying taxes is a little like making a purchase. Only this time for our money we get war preparations. But not only do we not want war preparations, but we have serious questions about whether a Christian should be a partner in such a transaction.

Let’s not kid ourselves that we are not responsible for our tax money. No miracle happens as my money travels from my home to Washington, D.C. to transfer responsibility for what I did from myself to the government. I know that 75 per cent of what I sent in will be used for military purposes. And I know that it would not have been used in this way if I wouldn’t have sent it.

But didn’t Jesus tell us to “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”? Right. And if we are serious about this question we will turn to the Bible for answers. However, let’s not expect to find immediate and easy “proof-text” answers there. In this instance, for example, only the first half of the quotation was given. We also are to give “to God that which is God’s.”

The problem for us, then, is to decide what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. We probably are agreed that Caesar and God are not equals and that God’s claims are the most important for us. What, then is to be given to Caesar? Are we ready to say that the government should be given everything it asks of us? Would we enter military service if the government demanded it of us? Would we pay a special war tax which went exclusively for military purposes? (There have been instances in Holland and Prussia where Mennonites did this.) Or do we pay only when less than 50 per cent is used for military purposes?

Toward I attended the Inter-Collegiate Peace Fellowship Conference of Mennonite Colleges. We discussed the relationship of so-called “radical” peace action projects to the church. We talked about peace marches, nuclear testing protests, defense plant pickets, refusal to pay taxes, and similar forms of peace action. I was amazed by the general agreement that the Mennonite church should seriously study these “radical” peace projects with a view toward possible participation in similar forms of witness to the government.

Here is a good program idea for your youth group. Why not initiate a study and discussion of the problem of the Christian and taxes? Find out if anyone in your church or community has done any thinking about this. Write to the Board of Christian Service and the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section to see what they have done in this area. Try to find out exactly what percentage of tax money actually does go for military purposes and what alternatives are available. Plan a Bible study to learn what the biblical position is with regard to taxes. Maybe you could set up a program in the form of a debate with two people taking the affirmative (“Paying taxes is a compromise of Christian principles”) and two people on the negative (“Paying taxes is not a compromise of Christian principles”).

At any rate, let’s start thinking about issues like these. We’ve too often wasted all our enthusiasm on activities and problems that are here today and gone tomorrow. Answers to the taxes problem won’t come easily. But we’re not out to tackle easy problems. We want issues that are worth our consideration. Let’s get busy soon though. The world, the church, and the older generation, need our contribution.

In a letter published in the issue, Mardy Rich Stone applauded Juhnke’s article. Excerpts:

I cannot understand why Mennonites, historically outspoken on pacifism, do not take a stand against the payment of military taxes.

Christ said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” Do Mennonites believe we are to give Caesar whatever he asks? This I cannot accept. Many people say that one cannot escape paying military taxes. Military sources for revenue are numerous — gasoline tax, luxury tax, etc. Perhaps one cannot be perfect, but should this stop one from doing the best possible?

I know of only a few individuals who have refused to pay taxes — and they were the subject of criticism by fellow church members. The least one can do is support them.

Executive secretaries of the General Conference Mennonite Church were asked to write up answers to some of the questions that were asked at that year’s conference. Leo Driedger of the Board of Christian Service answered this question: “Some years ago a request was made for guidance on the matter of the use of income tax for military purposes. Has anything been done?” Driedger’s reply:

Two years of work by the Peace and Social Concerns Committee has resulted in much discussion. Contracts [sic] with the Friends and Church of the Brethren were made. We encouraged the Friends’ bill presented to the United States government asking for an alternative.

Gathering of material resulted in a classification of different approaches by our members as follows: being jailed for nonpayment, evasion of payment, adjustment of income so no need to pay, working for an alternative, payment under written protest, evasion of reporting, payment with uneasy conscience, 30 per cent charity contributions to reduce tax, and payment without question.

Articles and reports of some of these positions appeared in conference papers. We encouraged the Institute of Mennonite Studies, Church and Society Conference, and the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section to study income taxes. The Peace Section held a full meeting to discuss the historical, biblical, and present day concern on taxes.

There is no consensus so far. Individuals are encouraged to act according to their consciences.