Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1964

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

The Mennonite

A letter to the editor from Don Kaufman in the edition worried that “we have allowed conscientious objection to war to become meaningless by default” in the modern age when war is fought more by machinery than by troops. He made note of John Howard Yoder’s essay on war tax resistance (see ’s post), and said “it would be interesting to know how many individuals in Mennonite congregations would qualify as authentic C.O.’s if examined on the basis of the U.S. position “which has through its courts held several times that any substantial contribution for war by an individual is legal proof that he is not a genuine objector to war.”

If Christians courageously refused to have their income tax money used for military purposes they would discover that it costs a person something to be a conscientious objector to war, even in the United States of America.

Judging by or record as a Mennonite Church it would appear that we are confused about what it means “to obey God rather than men.” For example, in our personal life we oppose war (as most Mennonites have throughout their history), but with the money which we earn we support it (as most Mennonites have throughout their history). Who can honestly say that this is consistent with “the Way of the Cross”? I suppose the majority of Christians in our day consider it either presumptuous or scandalous when a person refuses to pay war taxes. And yet if, as Ernest Bromley has observed, the taxpayer now plays the part the soldier used to play, then it becomes imperative that we examine more carefully what it means to pay taxes. When paying taxes, are we really being faithful citizens of God’s kingdom of love?

A letter in the edition responded that tax resistance, like conscientious objection to military service, probably would have little effect on the government’s ability to wage war.

Further, it is a naive mistake to believe that because a person has not served in the army or paid taxes used for defense, he has not participated in or contributed to what used to be called the war effort. The maintaining and developing of our defense system is tightly interwoven with our “peaceful” economy. The company that makes light bulbs also makes jet engines and electronics equipment for the government. The airplane that takes our Mennonite leaders to meetings and conferences around the world is likely to have been made by the same company that furnishes the Air Force with B‒52’s loaded and ready on the alert pad.

I believe that we support our government indirectly merely by participating in the economy of the country, and that it is now our duty to try to affect policy making, not merely by the indirect methods of “ban the bomb” and alternative service (and perhaps taxes) but by constructive, dynamic participation in government itself.

Melvin D. Schmidt continued this conversation in the edition. Excerpt:

[D]oes not an ethical decision sometimes involve simply saying “no” to evil as we understand it? “We mean to do good if possible, but in no case do we intend to do harm” (Milton Mayer). This seems to be central in the tax refuser’s philosophy, and it may be a lot more realistic and a lot less sentimental than the noble alternative of “dynamic participation in government itself” — whatever that phrase means.

The National Council of Churches convened a conference on church & state issues in . A Mennonite attendee noted:

In the plenary sessions most discussion centered around the question of civil disobedience. Can the church ever encourage Christians to refuse payment of income tax?…

The issue reported on the jailing the previous year of Quaker war tax resister Arthur Evans on contempt of court charges for refusing to file an income tax return.

Finally, the edition reprinted “A Call to Income Tax Protest” by four members of the Church of the Brethren: Dale Aukerman, John Forbes, Merle Crouse, and Jerry Royer. Here is the text of that Call:

The per capita military expenditure of the United States rose from less than $8 in to $268 in . The Government has been spending less than one million dollars yearly on the problems of disarmament, in contrast to $47 billion on arms, a ratio of one to forty-seven thousand.

C.P. Snow, the eminent British physicist and novelist, has indicated that by some twelve countries, including China, might have nuclear weapons at their disposal. He warns that, unless much progress is made toward disarmament, “within ten years from now some of those bombs are going off. We know, with the certainty of statistical proof, that if enough of these weapons are made by enough different states, some of them are going to blow up — through accident, or folly, or madness.”

This letter, primarily to members and friends of the Church of the Brethren, is an appeal that we consider anew as Christians whether we can without protest go on handing over our income tax money when 75 percent of it is used in a way that makes more likely a general destruction of human life on the earth.

Hans de Boer has written, “He who sees a wrong and does not raise an outcry makes himself guilty of the wrong.” We may feel uneasy about that word outcry. The effectiveness of protests does not necessarily increase with their loudness. But to the essential meaning we can perhaps agree: When we see wrong, we should give a strong No. Our lives should be an agape Yes to God and men and a radical No to evil. Jesus Christ is God’s Yes to us and His No to sin; and we are called in Him to embody that Yes and No.

American Christianity no longer tends to be a chain of narrow negativisms, but rather a blur of cushiony positives. This shift has affected American pacifism. The lament is still often heard that pacifism is understood too negatively. We might do better to regret that pacifism has become so mildly and acceptably positive. Alternative service is a highly significant long-range witness. Its sorry failing is that in America it has so little potency any more as a No. Draft refusal in France is a jabbing barb in the national conscience. But America is quite content and even in a way reassured about its moral idealism to have handfuls of 1‒W’s working here and there.

With every lost year thrusting us much closer to the point of no possible disarmament return in the nuclear race it is imperative that we give a far more drastic No to nuclear madness than we have been giving by alternative service. From Nazareth’s synagogue through the last week in Jerusalem Jesus proclaimed and lived a jolting emphatic No to the folly of His countrymen. When a building filled with people has caught fire, drastic measures are in order.

Refusal to pay federal income tax for war (matched by a self-imposed alternative tax for peacemaking) has a potency for jarring the public conscience which draft refusal has lost. For ICBM’s our money is far more necessary than our manpower. Subservient brainpower is always there. Along with it the government needs more and more money and can get along with fewer yielded bodies. When we deprive the government of our tax dollars (even though the amounts and numbers involved be small), we prick the central vital nerve of the military Leviathan, because money — not manpower — is the crucial basis of its present spread.

In earlier periods the draft refusal No of the historic peace churches had considerable impact. But we in these churches have been slow to see that this No does not at present any more than begin to express the intensity of the No we should be declaring against nuclear war. It is past time for us to turn from our suburban coziness and discover together new Golden Rules to set forth in. We should be engaging in more than tax protest but in the deepening crisis, tax protest would seem clearly to join draft refusal as part of the Christian’s minimal No to mass annihilation.


  1. George Macleod of the Iona Community has pointed out, “This is the first age in all Christian history where the majority of Christians have no conscience at all, no principle, nothing to go on, except fear and political consideration.” And we who can lay claim to having some conscience, haven’t we become pretty insensitive? Remember the horror you felt in those . There is little of it left. Years of living with the ghastly prospects and the all-pervasive deceit of the mass media have lulled us. The Church of Christ desperately needs horror at what the ultimate nuclear act would mean for man, at what it would be under God.
  2. If we continue right on complacently paying federal income tax, with seventy-five cents out of every dollar going for the Pentagon “answer,” aren’t we lacking in horror, in conscience?
  3. In colonial times and during the Revolutionary War there was much tax refusal by Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren. An irate critic of the Church of the Brethren charged, “They not only refused to take up arms to repel the savage marauders and prevent the inhuman slaughter of women and children, but they refused in the most positive manner to pay a dollar to support those who were willing to take up arms to defend their home and their firesides, until wrung from them by the stern mandates of the law. They did the same when the Revolution broke out. They might at least have furnished money. But no; not a dollar!” It is not certain whether this writer referred to taxes or only to the substitutionary sum paid in lieu of the militia draft. In either case the Brethren then had an alert ethical sensitivity about turning over their money for war.
  4. “But the New Testament says we should pay taxes.” It does indeed. But if we hold that, just as it says that we are to obey the state, there are times when we must obey God rather than the state, may there not be times when, lest we go against God, we must not give to Caesar? Is the exhortation to pay taxes any more an absolute rule than the exhortation to obey the state? Was it right in the Civil War when conscientious objectors paid the sum the Government demanded of them for the outfitting of substitutes? Was Thoreau wrong in refusing to pay the special tax levied for fighting the Mexican War? May there not be at least some situations where tax refusal is justified, and if some, then isn’t the present surely one? [There were typesetting errors in this paragraph that I have tried to correct, but I’m not confident I got it right. ―♇]
  5. It is true that a portion of national taxes has always gone for war. Taxes have been a part of the Christian’s involvement in the good and evil of society. Christians are not to flee from taxes or tainting involvement. But when the $8 has jumped to $268 and the ratio for arms and for disarmament is forty-seven thousand to one, when preparation for colossal evil has become the central endeavor and expenditure of the state, pressing us further and further along a course leading to the extermination of mankind, isn’t there then for the Christian a freedom and an imperative to say No with all that he is and has?
  6. “But what else can you do?” say most pacifists. “The Government will get your money anyway.” That attitude seems suspiciously similar to the one the big majority of people hold about the draft. Even those whose taxes are withheld can still protest. No one need be complacent. To take a stand, in the monetary context, against the nuclear blasphemy is a possibility for us all. And even if the Government prosecutes (which it usually does not) and takes the tax objector’s money (if he has any), the crucial thing is that the lulled masses hear an incisive Christian No.
  7. “But tax refusal is too extreme. People just won’t understand.” Most won’t maybe; but instances of tax refusal will hardly make them blinder about war than they already are. The prospects are dim for enough people coming to enough common sense to prevent World War Ⅲ. Yet it is heartening to see how in England the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has been rapidly gaining wide popular and political support. A great many formerly indifferent people are getting their eyes opened. This can happen in America too, especially if we reach the phase when the arms race begins to force severe alterations in our opulent pattern of living. If we can find ways of bringing to people’s attention that the nuclear race is a ghastly dead end, there are many who will listen. If we bob right along in the whole affluent military-geared rush of society, income taxes and all, can we be expressing a No that will really be noticed?
  8. And if you say for yourself, “Tax refusal is too extreme,” — why? Are you doing more than indicating an emotional disinclination? What reasoned Christian case can you make for paying federal income tax in present circumstances?

Possibilities for protest.

  1. Some have changed work so as to get out of the withholding tax setup. This is nearly out of the question for most in the setup. Clearly, tax protest is not to be the axis of our lives — nor is peacemaking. But Jesus Christ, our axis and our peace, can guide us into more forceful witness to His Yes and His No.
  2. Persons of a given area whose taxes are withheld could go together to hand in their returns and protest against the use of their money. Where such group action is not feasible, the individual can send a letter of protest along with the return and give his protest circulation otherwise. A person in religious or service work whose tax is being withheld could discuss with his organization what might be done.
  3. Many pacifists keep (or find) their income at a level where they do not need to pay income tax. This tax avoidance is good in respect to not supporting war; but it usually has little effectiveness as a clear protest.
  4. If a person’s taxes are not automatically withheld (in full), then, whether income be taxable or not, the most forceful stand lies in not filing a return and in making this refusal a focus of one’s broader public No against nuclear war.
  5. Most tax objectors figure that through various indirect taxes they pay their share toward the constructive fraction of governmental activity. If one pays a fourth of the income tax stipulated, 75 percent of that fourth goes for war.
  6. As a symbol of the Yes that overarches this urgent No the tax objector will certainly want to give a corresponding voluntary payment, plus no less, say than 20 percent, to some peacemaking program, preferably non-sectarian, like a phase of UN activity or the work of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. This emphasis on giving for peace rather than for war can be crucial in enabling others to see what really is at stake. The Brethren Service Commission and representatives of the Mennonites and Quakers have begun working for federal legislation allowing an alternative tax. A Quaker group has drafted “A Proposed Bill” under which it would be national policy in working for enduring peace, and in recognizing freedom of conscience, to provide a proper means by which Federal income taxes of individuals having sincere convictions against military preparations may be designated for the United National International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). (Single copies available free from Peace Committee, Pacific Yearly Meeting of Friends, Box 61, Claremont, California.) Such legislation will almost certainly not be passed unless there are far more objectors than now. The present anti-permissive atmosphere does in fact afford better acoustics for the imperative No.
  7. It could be asked, If such a bill becomes law, would you definitely feel that you should take advantage of it and pay the alternative tax? If so, on what basis can you now decline to take the stand which many must take for such legislation to come?
  8. Isolated tax objectors have at times made a notable witness. But so much more can be done by groups of Christians acting in concert. If we are called to act, we are called to act together. Consider what an impact there might be if twenty — or fifty — Brethren ministers and many others would join in a declaration on why they believe they must refuse lo hand over their money for nuclear war and are giving it for peacemaking. Might not such a declaration prove to be the most resounding Brethren word against war in a long time?