American Brethren and War Taxes in 1983

In , Brethren churches had to make tough choices of how far to go to support their war tax resisting pastors in battles with the government. At the Annual Conference , the Church approved a position paper recommending that congregations consider civil disobedience in such cases.

Church of the Brethren: Messenger

The issue of Messenger reported on how, in the wake of a discouraging Supreme Court decision in an unrelated case, “[t]he General Conference Mennonite Church has put on hold a war tax lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service.” (source)

, the magazine reported on a Brethren congregation that struggled to decide how far to go to support a war tax resisting pastor:

Church votes to comply with IRS in tax case

After agonizing debate. Prince of Peace Church of the Brethren, South Bend, Ind., voted to comply with an order to pay the Internal Revenue Service part of the wages of pastor Louise Rieman, a war tax resister. Prince of Peace is the first Church of the Brethren congregation to be faced with the tax-resistance issue.

Louise Rieman and her husband, Phil, have been withholding a percentage of their taxes to protest military spending, and have also withheld information about bank accounts from which the IRS could take tax money. When the church was asked to hand over part of her wages, the Riemans asked the church board to refuse.

The board passed a resolution that supported the Riemans and denied the IRS request. But the resolution was defeated 20 to 16 when it was sent to the church council for consideration by the entire congregation.

The debate focused on the biblical basis for and against tax resistance, the moral implications of breaking the law, and preservation of the congregation amidst the controversy.

, in response to a Northern Indiana District query, Annual Conference formed a committee to study war tax resistance. A report is expected at the conference in Baltimore.

An Oregon congregation, however, decided to take a stronger stand (from the issue):

Church denies IRS for tax-withholding pastor

Peace Church of the Brethren, in Portland, Ore., has voted unanimously to refuse to comply with an Internal Revenue Service effort to collect war taxes owed by pastor Rick Ukena.

The congregation also voted to issue a public statement explaining the decision, and to raise funds to pay any fine arising from noncompliance with the IRS.

Ukena and his wife, Twyla Wallace, have withheld taxes , and the government has seized the money each of those years. IRS actions against war tax protesters have become speedier and more severe under the Reagan Administration, and this year a levy was imposed against the church.

After a committee explored alternatives with an attorney and with Chuck Boyer, Church of the Brethren peace consultant, a special congregational meeting was held to consider the options.

“Most inspiring was the way the church took it on without my insistence,” said Ukena. “People were really trying to discern the Spirit.”

Earlier this year, Prince of Peace church in South Bend, Ind., voted to comply with an IRS order regarding pastor Louise Rieman (see [above]).

Ukena was a conscientious objector in and says tax resistance has become a way of life for him. “I would encourage people to not take the action,” he cautioned, “unless they’re aware of what they’re doing.”

“It was a really scary decision at first,” he added. “We really prayed and talked to others and read the Bible to determine what was right. It’s nice to fear God more than the IRS.”

Shirley Whiteside wrote in to applaud the Peace Church’s stand (source):

I rejoice to see this kind of integrity supported within the church.

I hope that one day the greater church will realize our hypocrisy. To officially proclaim “All war is sin,” while we are party to war with no visible resistance, decries our loyalty to the gospel we claim.

At the Annual Conference, the Church of the Brethren decided whether or not to take a stronger stand that might include corporate civil disobedience. By a supermajority, they voted to do so:

War tax holdback recommended act

What started out at the Annual Conference as a study on war tax resistance came out of the Conference as a position paper.

The job of the study committee on war tax consultation was to answer the basic question of how an institution should respond to employees who object to payment of the part of their taxes that goes for military support, said Phillip Stone, General Board member and chairman of the committee.

In its list of recommendations, the committee suggested that “congregations and church-related institutions give consideration to a range of extra-legal options.” Included is the option of corporate civil disobedience by supporting an employee involved in war tax resistance.

Moderator Paul Hoffman said that by recommending civil disobedience the study paper became a position paper, and needed a two-thirds majority — which it did receive from the delegate body.

Preceding the listing of extra-legal options was a listing of legal means by which institutions could support employees involved in tax resistance. The committee stated that only after legal means were exhausted should an institution enter into civil disobedience.

In conclusion, the committee called on the larger church community to give support to any church-related organization involved in civil disobedience.

This statement is conspicuously absent from the Church of the Brethren Resolutions & Statements listed on the official Annual Conference website today. I’m not sure how to explain that. Maybe we’ll find out as I continue to hunt through the archives.

Dale W. Brown wrote in to the issue:

Unite for Tax Resistance

We need to name the huge expenditures for weapons for what it is, blasphemy against the goodness of God’s creation, a sin we commit together.

In light of this reality I would like to pass on a suggestion from the New Call to Peacemaking Conference at Elizabethtown College : Instead of focusing on the division between those who pay and those who resist war taxes, let’s all join together in witnessing against war taxes even though we do this in different ways.

Some will witness to people in government through letters accompanying or sent concurrently with their tax payment and returns. Some will reduce their income or increase their giving in ways as to decrease or eliminate war taxes. Some who pay under protest will support by word and deed brothers and sisters who withhold a portion or all of their taxes. Some of us will continue to witness our strong concern through withholding monies in civil disobedience to the tax laws. This attitude and these actions are consistent with our Annual Conference decisions on this issue.

The issue reported on the war tax resistance debate as it was taking place in the General Conference Mennonite Church (source), and the issue followed up with a report of Church employees who had asked the church to stop withholding war taxes from their salaries (source).

Another news brief in the issue described the World Peace Tax Fund as a bill that “would amend the Internal Revenue Service Code so that conscientious objectors could have their tax payments spent for nonmilitary purposes,” and reported on lobbying efforts.

The issue gave another example of corporate tax resistance in the Church of the Brethren:

Phone tax endorsed by Michigan District

The Michigan District board has instructed its district personnel to withhold the Federal excise tax on district telephone bills. It is forwarding the resolution to the Internal Revenue Service and to congressional representatives.

The withheld funds will be redirected to a Michigan District Peace Tax Fund and used by the district witness commission.

The action was based on Annual Conference statements of , , and . The board “commend(s) this witness to all Brethren, local congregations, the General Board, and Annual Conference for their study and prayerful consideration,” and also encourages other forms of witness, such as lobbying for the World Peace Tax Fund Bill.

A profile of Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers Steve & Sue Williams in the issue included this detail:

Another attraction to volunteer service for the Williamses was their desire not to pay taxes for war purposes. Before they married, Steve was a tax resister, withholding a certain amount of money as a protest against the government’s using his taxes for the military. But Sue was uncomfortable with tax resistance and, after they married, they began looking for an alternative. One was simply to make a lot of donations to charity.

“Before BVS we were working full-time and giving a lot of money away,” Steve said. “We began looking for a way to give away time and not money.”

I also found this article in The Morning News of Wilmington, Delaware (). Excerpt:

Brethren still withholding taxes

How to protest “sin of war” is on denomination’s conference agenda

by Eileen C. Spraker
and Stephanie Whyche
Staff reporters

In , the Vietnam War sparked members of the Wilmington Church of the Brethren not to pay the church’s federal telephone excise tax for a year.

Although that war is dead, tax-withholding among members of the Church of the Brethren is very much alive.

How to support Brethren institutions and individuals who choose to withhold “war taxes” will be on the denomination’s agenda during their national conference, which opens in Baltimore.

Traditionally, the denomination has held to the belief that all war is sin.

Brethren 35 years ago established the Brethren Volunteer Service for conscientious objectors as an alternative to military service.

Some members of the church, for reasons of conscience, have chosen to withhold part or all of their taxes to avoid supporting the military.

A paper to be presented at the Baltimore meeting will discuss the lawful choices available to such people, the church’s position on civil disobedience, and support for institutions and people pursuing tax resistance.

“This is one of the most timely issues we have right now,” says the Rev. Allen T. Hansell, pastor of the Wilmington Church for the Brethren.

According to Hansell, some employees of the six Brethren Colleges and employees in at least one of the Brethren retirement homes are currently involved in tax resistance efforts.

But some are less than successful because their employers are withholding taxes from their employees’ pay in accordance with regulations.

“The issue is these employees, on the basis of conscience, don’t want this money withheld. Legally, the employers are bound. That’s why this issue is coming before the conference,” Hansell said.

What’s more, Hansell said, although there’s “no war right now, the telephone excise tax continues,” even though Congress promised to discontinue it once the Vietnam war had ended.

During the Vietnam War, members of Hansell’s church, in Richardson Park, stirred up a lot of controversy because they refused to pay the church’s federal telephone-excise tax.

The action was because of their belief that part of the tax was financing the war. “Our concern was to make a witness of the issue that this money was going directly to the war effort,” Hansell said. “It was a matter of principle.”

The proposal to be presented before the conference calls upon employers of employees involved in military tax-resistance efforts to take the issue seriously and maintain open dialogue with their employees.

It does not recommend that church institutions get involved in tax resistance efforts, but if they do, it calls upon the denomination to support that effort through such methods as legal assistance.

Other recommendations will suggest that Brethren seek voluntary wage reductions, and that they work with the Mennonites and Society of Friends to bring about changes through legislation.