This is the nineteenth 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.
The Mennonite Church Peace Section (U.S.) met on . I found this cryptically-worded note in a Gospel Herald report about the meeting:
The arms race and war tax questions remains a vital one. Its focus seems to be shifting from tax withholding to the issue of civil disobedience for conscience and God’s sake.
The issue reported on war tax resistance ferment in the General Conference Mennonite Church (a cousin to Gospel Herald’s own Mennonite Church):
A Christian’s response to civil authority will be given concentrated emphasis by the General Conference Mennonite Church during . The study is an outcome of a resolution at the triennial conference in Bluffton, Ohio, . That resolution called for a thorough study of civil disobedience leading to a special conference , which is intended to state an official position of the General Conference with respect to that portion of income taxes which are used for funding military expenditures, and in general, to research the whole question of obedience-disobedience to civil authority.
Responsibility for the study has been given to the peace and social concerns committee of the Commission on Home Ministries. They, however, requested that a special obedience-civil disobedience committee be formed to give general direction and leadership.
To date three major aspects of the study have been planned — an attitudinal survey, an invitational consultation in , and a study guide to be ready by the fall quarter.
Included in the survey are 28 questions chosen to provide an inventory of congregational attitudes toward the authority of the church and of the state. It will also indicate attitudes to particular issues such as abortion, capital punishment, and payment of taxes for military purposes. A copy of the questionnaire will be sent to every congregation. If the congregation decides to use the survey it will be duplicated locally to save on costs. After the conference the same questionnaire will again be used to determine whether the churchwide discussion on obedience-civil disobedience has generated any changes in attitudes.
A second major happening is scheduled for at Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind. An invitational consultation will bring together about 30 participants, including persons not committed to civil disobedience. The gathering will include administrative personnel from the General Conference, lawyers, biblical scholars, as well as representatives from Mennonite General Committee and the Mennonite Church.
It is expected that the study guide will evolve from the proceedings of the consultation. Five of the 13 lessons in the guide will focus on peacemaking in a technological society. What sort of peacemaking should Mennonites be about in an age of nuclear warfare and worldwide arms shipments? The remaining eight lessons will center in the meaning of civil disobedience. Was it practiced in the Bible? Is nonpayment of taxes a case in point?
The study process will culminate in the special midtriennium conference scheduled for . That gathering will be an official decision-making conference to which congregational delegates will come. At that point a decision on the meaning and practice of civil disobedience will be made.
There was a followup in the issue. From the coverage, I get the impression that the Mennonite Church was playing spectator and taking a wait-and-see attitude:
If debate among members of the General Board of the General Conference Mennonite Church is the litmus test of what it means to be a discerning church, then the denomination is pointed toward an exciting future. The two issues, war taxes and fundraising, were the preeminent concerns during meetings in Newton, Kan., .
Although thorough reports were heard by the 16-member board on all aspects of programming — overseas mission, education, home ministries — and dozens of decisions were made, the two keynote issues were civil disobedience and how to communicate the need for increased giving.
During the first session on , Board members locked onto the planning for the midtriennium conference on war taxes and civil responsibility. Uneasiness about the process erupted quickly. The structure of the invitational consultation on the issue was strongly faulted, as was the conference itself.
Board member Ken Bauman, pastor of First Mennonite Church in Berne, Ind., galvanized his colleagues with his allegations. “The consultation is not structured for dialogue — it is monologue. The way it has been set up upsets me deeply.” Later he declared that the Commission on Home Ministries should not serve as the launching pad for the study and the planning leading to the conference in . “Why ask CHM? The image of CHM is stacked. It should be the responsibility of the General Board.”
His assessment was the beginning of a fruitful debate which occupied several more sessions of the General Board, one session of CHM, hallway discussions, and coffee confabs.
The debate crystallized about several key questions. What is wrong with the study process initiated by the obedience-civil disobedience committee of CHM? Is the issue of war taxes so divisive that a schism in the General Conference is inevitable? Is the delegate conference viable?
By , perhaps symbolically, the hard-hitting process of charge and counter-charge had evolved into understanding and affirmation of the original plans. On paper little had changed, but in the minds of those who spoke for the “unheard” — the “conservatives,” the “common person,” and the Canadians — there was a restoration of confidence in the process. Tenseness was dissipated.
The consultation will meet at Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind. About 25 persons are invited. These include theologians and biblical scholars, attorneys, administrative staff of the General Conference, several MCC staff, and representatives from the Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Brethren Church. The proceedings of the consultation are to serve as the basis for a study guide on civil disobedience.
Asked about his personal goals for the peacemaking initiative, the pastor listed: 1) a more radical community in all three denominations that will break down barriers in talking about peace with other Christians and non-Christians, 2) a radical change in our attitudes toward material things, and 3) a unified position on the problem of war taxes.
Fahrer has recently finished work on a four-unit war tax Bible study guide. He anticipates its publication by Ohio and Eastern Conference.
Mennonites and War Taxes is a 28-page booklet by Walter Klaassen which traces the history of the war tax issue in Anabaptism and suggests how Mennonites might relate to that history. It was first published by the Lancaster Conference Mennonite Historical Society but is now published by the Commission on Education of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Copies of the booklet may be ordered from Faith and Life Press…
“Honoring God with My Tax Dollars” is an excellent little pamphlet that deals with some big questions. Produced in (and revised in ) by the Peace Committee of Lancaster Mennonite Conference, this piece was prepared as “a study guide to be used in congregational or group discussion settings.” A bibliography of related resources is included at the end. Available at no cost from Lancaster Mennonite Conference…
The U.S. Peace Section met again in . This time the Gospel Herald coverage was more coherent:
The world arms race, nuclear threat, and militarism were the backdrop for a discussion of war tax resistance. The Section reaffirmed its recommendation to Mennonite institutions “to study the conflict between Christian obligations and legal obligations in the collection of federal taxes, especially when employees request that war taxes not be withheld from their wages, and that institutions be encouraged to honor such requests.”
Some disappointment was expressed that, with a few exceptions, constituent conferences and congregations of MCC have not wrestled with the war tax question.
A cross-organizational consultation on how Christians ought to behave in relation to the governments they live under was held in :
Five themes — the nuclear menace, taxes for military purposes, the lessons of biblical and Anabaptist history, faithfulness, and effective witness — dominated a consultation on civil responsibility in Elkhart, Ind., . In its sharpest focus the issue was how Mennonite institutions should respond to those employees who request that the military portion of their income taxes not be withheld by the employer. Under current law employers must deduct income tax from payrolls and remit the tax to the government.
Several Mennonite organizations are facing the issue. The General Conference is seeking the will of its 60,000 members in answering such a request from one of its employees, Cornelia Lehn. The consultation in Elkhart was one part of the discerning process leading to a delegate assembly, and a decision in .
Bible scholars, theologians, pastors, administrators, attorneys — twenty-nine persons in all — presented papers, exchanged insights, and probed the issue. Much of their analysis will be incorporated into a study guide to be published by .
A findings committee — Palmer Becker, Hugo Jantz, Elmer Neufeld, John Stoner, Larry Kehler — drafted a statement. After hours of discussion and subsequent changes the persons at the consultation agreed that the statement fairly represented their thinking.
Some excerpts from the statement are listed below:
- “Our Christian obedience has to find new and creative responses to the proliferation of military weaponry and technology…
- “Christians respect the governing authorities… which leads to a broad range of activities in support of the public good. Nevertheless, at times our call of prior obedience to God’s sovereignty leads us to disobey the claims of the state…
- “We… have differing convictions about refusing to pay taxes for the military.
- “Let us be open to the possibility that the Spirit of God may lead some of us in a direction that is both prophetic and full of risks.
- “We agree that a way should be sought which will facilitate the expression of the convictions of conference employees who request that their taxes not be withheld.
- “We need to seek the counsel of and work with other Mennonite groups and denominations, particularly the Historic Peace Churches, in developing the most appropriate response to this issue.”
A follow-up was published in the issue:
While delegates from nearly every government in the world met at the United Nations to debate whether they should continue the arms race, some 30 Mennonites representing North American conferences met at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries to debate whether they should continue to pay for it. Most Mennonite delegates likely knew something of the U.N. Special Session on Disarmament although probably none at the U.N. knew about the Mennonite meeting. The two groups had in common a deep concern about the crushing momentum of the arms race which places in jeopardy the very survival of the human race.
The Consultation on Civil Responsibility was initiated by the General Conference Mennonite Church with the support of the Mennonite Church and MCC Peace Section (U.S.) for discussion of paying taxes used for military purposes. Christians living in nations with nuclear weapons face a crisis of faith and morals. Such Christians live amidst wealth that is heavily generated and protected by military/economic systems whose focus is the perfecting of weapons for massive, indiscriminate global destruction. How can the church give a faithful and credible witness that its trust is not in these powers of death but in the life-giving power of Jesus Christ?
Mennonite Central Committee was represented at the consultation by four staff persons — William Snyder, Reg Toews, Urbane Peachey, and John Stoner. MCC’s interest in the war tax question grows out of (1) Peace Section’s assignment to explore issues related to the historic Mennonite and Brethren in Christ testimony of peace and nonresistance, (2) MCC’s administrative problem with war tax withholding, and (3) the relationship between the arms race and world hunger. Janet Reedy of Elkhart, Ind., attended in a dual role as a member of MCC Peace Section (U.S.) and as a representative from the Mennonite Church.
The issue came up again when the Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries met :
The question of tax collection came up as a part of the report from Peace and Social Concerns secretary, Hubert Schwartzentruber. In increasing numbers, workers in church institutions have asked that their federal income taxes not be deducted from their paychecks so that they may refuse voluntary payment of the part of their taxes that goes for military purposes.
The Board reacted to this possibility with caution. For one thing, to fail to collect taxes is a federal offense. All persons responsible for such refusal are liable to prosecution, from the lowest to the highest in terms of responsibility. Also there was expressed a strong opinion in favor of positive instead of negative witness for peace, a position separated from civil disobedience on the one hand and civil religion on the other.
The question of tax withholding was designated for further study.
Wilmer Martin matter-of-factly put forward the traditional Christians-pay-their-taxes viewpoint in a meditation on patriotism:
We readily pay our taxes. In paying our taxes, we not only pay for the many services we receive from the government, but we also pay to help care for the needy among us and beyond our borders. In willingly paying our taxes, we still have the opportunity to be critical and communicate our concerns about how the money is being used such as in military spending. We remember it is through paying our taxes that good is promoted and evil restrained.
And in an interview with John Howard Yoder in the same issue, he complained that the church had been lagging on coming to a sensible consensus about war taxes:
- Where is our Mennonite peace testimony in danger?
- We are not any clearer than before on the old problems such as separatism, civil disobedience, and tax resistance. We have made no progress in fashioning creative responses to these issues. They are talked about but there is no united action.
War tax resisters in Japan were back in the news as well. Michio Ohno spoke at the Mennonite World Conference, Peace Interest Group, giving his talk a provocative title:
A follow-up article gave more details:
Japanese pacifists witness aggressively
Over 80 Japanese citizens did not pay all or part of this year’s income taxes or asked for refunds, says Michio Ohno, Japanese minister who spoke on war tax resistance in Japan at the MCC-sponsored Peace Interest Group at Mennonite World Conference. Ohno is chairman of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Evangelical Cooperative Conference.
Ohno was introduced to pacifism while studying at the Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., in . He was pastor of a church in Kyodan for six years and for the past year has taught English and led Bible studies in his home.
Ohno says he became involved with war tax resistance in when he owed the U.S. [sic] $4.40 in taxes. “I was troubled by the table on the back of the income tax form which stated that 6.5 percent of the tax money had been used for the military’s so-called “Self-Defense Forces” during the previous year.
“Shortly before, I had read in The Mennonite periodical about the World Peace Tax Fund Bill, a U.S. legislative measure, which if approved would allow conscientious objectors to rechannel their tax money to nonmilitary purposes. This idea impressed me because I knew that as a pacifist, I could not pay for war and war preparation.
“The next day I visited Gan Sakakibara, one of Japan’s leading Anabaptist scholars, to discuss this. I remembered his answer to a high school boy who had once asked him why Christians were not persecuted like the early Anabaptists had been.”
He answered, “That is because we are not true Christians. We are not good or bad. We are not the medicine or the poison. If we were, we would be persecuted.”
Ohno said he visited the tax office and explained why he could not pay the tax. “I told them I didn’t mind if they took my possessions.”
A group of people favoring conscientious objection to war taxes began meeting in Sakakibara s home.
When a civil lawyer sued the state for repayment of his tax money, believing that conscientious objection to war taxes was legal, he was invited to speak to the group. The lawyer’s visit resulted in the formation of Conscientious Objection to Military Tax (COMIT), a citizens’ group of 250 members including Mennonites, Quakers, Catholics, Buddhists, and nonbelievers. COMIT now holds summer study seminars and publishes “The Plowshare,” a bimonthly paper.
The 80 people who have not paid their taxes for this year have received notices demanding payment, but none has been arrested and no property has been seized. Additionally, 120,000 members of the General Conference of Trade Unions in Japan have asked for a tax refund to express their desire for peace.
“A huge olive tree grows up from a tiny pit,” he concluded. “We are sowing olive pits and tending seedlings. Someday there will be a stout olive tree, and one of the big branches, I hope, will be conscientious tax objection.”
The “New Call to Peacemaking” initiative was ramping up, with Mennonite participation:
During the last year, 26 regional New Call to Peacemaking meetings, involving more than 1,500 persons, took a new look at the teachings of their churches with special attention to violence, war, and peace.
The Wichita, Kan., group gave its encouragement to “individuals who feel called to resist the payment of the military portion of their federal taxes. The Wichita meeting also asked its churches and agencies to discontinue collecting taxes from its employees so that “they can have the option to follow their consciences in war tax resistance.”
When the national New Call to Peacemaking conference convenes in Green Lake, Wis., , it will be receiving requests from the regional meetings for a strong position on tax resistance proposals. It will also be asked to give guidance to individuals and church organizations on approaches to tax resistance.
The Green Lake Conference, which will be attended by some 300 members of the three sponsoring Peace Churches (Brethren, Friends, and Mennonites), will look at theological issues as well as matters of economic and social justice, including respect for human rights.
A follow-up appeared in the issue:
The New Call to Peacemaking conference is just around the corner. It is scheduled for at Green Lake, Wis. Invited to the meeting are 300 Brethren, Friends, and Mennonites. Leaders of the conference have called for effective steps toward international disarmament and support for the United Nations,” saying that “mutual trust and cooperation are the only bases for long-term national and international security.” Citizen action, refusal to pay war tax, and other measures will be considered as ways of undercutting war. The Green Lake meeting, according to Dale Brown, Brethren theologian who will open the conference, will issue a call to the peace churches and those who sympathize with their aims to take new risks.
Two films on television commercials and a slide/cassette set on war taxes have recently been added to MBCM Audiovisuals, the rental library of Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries… “Conscience and War Taxes” is an excellent 20-minute color slide set/cassette presentation produced by the National Council for a World Peace Tax Fund. It traces the history of the U.S. income tax, gives information on the military budget, and examines some of the economic consequences of military spending. The World Peace Tax Fund is discussed as a legal alternative to paying for war which could provide more than two billion dollars for funding peaceful solutions to world problems and at the same time provide more jobs for peaceful pursuits than are currently provided by war-related industries. The “Conscience and War taxes” slide set, cassette tape, and a resource packet can be obtained from MBCM Audiovisuals…
Later, the magazine gave a report of how the “New Call to Peacemaking” conference went:
“New Call to Peacemaking generated 26 regional meetings in 16 different areas of the U.S. during ,” reported Maynard Shelly to the conference in a summary paper, “A Declaration of Peace.” The records showed that more than 1,500 people were involved in those meetings and they generated 170 pages of reports, statements, and resolutions.
When asked what he expected to come out of this conference, before the sessions began, Peter Ediger, of Arvada, Colo., said, “Words, plenty of words.”
A number of delegates, for instance, were calling for “dramatic action,” whatever that might have been. As it turned out, because of the task orientation of the conference, the “action” was a statement agreed upon by the assembled, which covered the waterfront, but probably pleased only a few.
One of the central themes which stirred the most emotions turned out to be war-tax resistance. This was an issue the Mennonites felt strongly about. Those presenting the issue wished for action that would have given them a context for action. As in the case of the “dramatic action,” so much desired by some, this desire was also frustrated.
A follow-up asked “Which way for the ‘New Call’?”:
Organizers and conference leaders had projected the Green Lake meetings to be a working conference. The meetings were set up to assure some kind of action and/or product. Finally, after much careful shifting on the part of the findings committee, and public discussions that were sometimes hotter than illuminating, the conferees agreed to approve a revised statement of the findings committee. This heavy emphasis on task fulfillment almost restricted the creative work of the conference too much, according to some observers. But, of course, the conferees had been informed of the nature of the conference beforehand.
The findings statement was accepted by most participants, yet could count on ownership by few. Besides the document, inspiration, fellowship, and sharing that went on, there was little to show for everyone’s efforts. Nevertheless, “We see this not as the end of our journey but as the beginning stage of a continuing pilgrimage,” read the statement.
A world alternative to taxes for the military was endorsed and encouraged. And while the “children of the sixties” worried about war taxes, the younger set was most concerned about conscription, which seems to be looming over the horizon.
A article mentioned a “24-hour prayer vigil at the IRS building to protest taxes for military purposes. Leaflets distributed by those present stated, ‘It is time to cease paying for war while praying for peace.’” Protesters met with IRS officials to discuss their concerns.
In a midbiennium report on the Mennonite Publishing House () I found this quote:
“We’re releasing a new focal pamphlet in titled The Tax Dilemma: Praying for Peace and Paying for War. Peace is central to our theology, not an option added on.”
The issue gave a preview of the upcoming General Conference Mennonite Church midtriennium meeting which they had convened especially to hash out the war tax withholding issue:
The program for the midtriennium conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCMC) has been finalized.
As an official meeting of the denomination delegates will discuss the nature of a Christian’s civil responsibility, particularly the question of a Christian peace position in a militaristic society. For some participants the question is whether the withholding of payment of the military portion of their income taxes is justified. If so, then several employees of the GCMC would like the denomination to stop remitting the military portion of their taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
For , the issue will be debated in the Leamington Hotel in Minneapolis, Minn. If the conference delegates decide that nonpayment of military taxes is justified the decision is binding on the administrators of the GCMC.
Impetus for such an assembly began in when GCMC employee Cornelia Lehn requested the General Conference business office not to remit the military tax portion of her paycheck to the IRS. Prior to , the issue of “war taxes” had been discussed, and as early as , delegates at the triennial sessions in Fresno, Calif., passed a statement protesting the use of tax monies for war purposes. The delegates also said, “We stand by those who feel called to resist the payment of that portion of taxes being used for military purposes.” However, the General Board of the GCMC did not think that directive from the delegates authorized them to stop remitting Lehn’s military taxes. Her request was refused.
Three years later, St. Catharines, Ontario, was the location for the next conference. There delegates called for education regarding militarism, reaffirmed the statement, and agreed that serious work be done on the possibility of allowing GCMC employees to follow their consciences on payment or nonpayment of military taxes.
Educational materials have included the periodical God and Caesar and two study guides. The Rule of the Sword and The Rule of the Lamb. In addition to these efforts two major consultations were convened in and in . At these consultations scholarly papers were presented on militarism, biblical considerations for payment or nonpayment of military taxes, and Anabaptist history and theology related to war tax concerns.
Despite the protracted input, the General Board could not reach a consensus on the issue. Consequently the problem was brought to delegates at the triennial conference in Bluffton, Ohio. At this juncture the delegate body committed itself to serious congregational study of civil disobedience and war tax resistance during . The delegates also decided to discuss the issue in detail at a midtriennium conference in .
In an effort to implement the Bluffton resolution an eight-member civil responsibility committee was formed. Several actions were taken by it to encourage serious study. an attitude survey on church and government was conducted. Approximately 2,500 responses were received, including 463 from a select sampling in 31 churches. A scholarly consultation was held in . One of the key ideas which came out of this consultation was whether those who feel strongly about not paying military taxes should be encouraged to form a separate corporation within the General Conference. To assist churches in their study of the issue two study guides were published. The Rule of the Sword deals primarily with facts and concerns related to militarism. The Rule of the Lamb centers in the sovereignty of God and biblical texts on taxes and civil authority.
Each of the more than 300 congregations in the GCMC is being encouraged to prepare a statement to bring to the conference. It is evident from the sale of the study guides that a minority of congregations are actually making an effort to study the issue, although all congregations have received sample copies of the guides. Many Canadian churches feel the issue is strictly an American problem, and there is a considerable diversity of conviction and thought among American congregations. Some congregations do not intend to send delegates.
What this means for the Minneapolis conference is difficult to assess, except for one feature. There will be a lot of stirring debate. After of searching will there be some resolution of the withholding question? No one is predicting the outcome.
D.R. Yoder was getting fed up with all of this, and wrote an article to decry the war tax resistance “propaganda” he was reading in Gospel Herald ():
Exposition, not news.
My job is managing public communications for a large organization. In simple terms, I’m a propagandist — one who, according to my dictionary, spreads ideas, facts, or allegations deliberately to further a cause.
Interestingly, the root of this widely misunderstood word is in a division of the Catholic Church established to propagate the faith, i.e., to ensure that the church membership continue to be convinced of the church’s teachings and that others might become so convinced. Church-owned periodicals, such as this one, can thus rightly (and proudly) be said to be propagandistic.
As a propagandist, I am writing to point out some of the things I see in the current reporting by the Mennonite press of the war-tax-resistance movement. Not surprisingly, the reason I am writing is because I do not agree that resistance, nonviolent coercion or force, etc., are highly ethical strategies for Christians or that, specifically, war-tax resistance is an effective tactic in achieving peace.
Please understand that, while I personally think that war-tax resistance is getting considerably more than equitable coverage in the Mennonite press, that is not my point of concern. Rather, it is the aspects of that coverage that I believe Mennonites should question. These are:
First, source. The articles seem overwhelmingly to originate in the several information offices of Mennonite boards and agencies. Like me, the authors are propagandists who, it can be assumed, for whatever reasons, are producing releases representing their own biases or those of the persons employing them.
Second, style. The articles on tax resistance are written as news stories, not as expository pieces which are the common vehicle for the expression of both majority and minority opinions in the Mennonite press.
The last concern, and closely related to the second, is perspective. By adopting the news-reporting style, the tax-resisting position is presented as a given, accepted method of Christian witness. This style boldly assumes that not paying one’s taxes is widely held among Mennonites as Christ’s way, as well as that tax resistance is a rational means of bringing peace to the world.
Am I suggesting that Mennonite papers quit giving space to the tax-resistance movement? Definitely not. Nor, even that such coverage be necessarily reduced. For, despite my personal feelings, I am interested in the faith of my brothers and sisters who feel Christ is calling them to resist taxation.
Rather, I’m suggesting that coverage continue, but in the form of exposition, advocacy, and response; that brothers and sisters who are tax resisters be invited, even urged, to present the scriptural and other bases of their convictions and actions. And the same goes for other practitioners of nonviolent direct action: marching, sitting-in, disruption.
While the rest of us are waiting for these articles to emerge, brother editor, I would not want to be guilty of demanding that this or any other subject be suppressed. But, I know at least a few of us wonder sometimes if demonstrations and acts of resistance are really the most newsworthy events going on in the Mennonite subdivision of Christ’s kingdom.
In the U.S. Peace Section met, and considered adding a full-time volunteer staff person to work on promoting World Peace Tax Fund legislation.
Hubert Schwartzentruber with a commentary in which he wrote:
It is no secret that our nuclear capabilities have brought the whole world to the brink of suicide and murder. Yet only a few people are blowing the trumpets of warning. There is still strong resistance by most Christians even to think of becoming war tax resisters. There seems to be little urgency to adopt a lifestyle which would model peace for all the peoples of the earth. The courage to confront the principalities and powers seems to be lacking.
Was it true that the growing war tax resistance movement in the Mennonite Church was beginning to lose its momentum?