War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 2002

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

In mentions of war tax resistance in the Friends Journal were few and far between.

In the issue, Cliff Marrs (a British Quaker) gave his interpretation of the “Render Unto Caesar…” koan from the Bible, and in particular what guidance it offers to those war tax resisters who take advice from scripture. His point-of-view:

  • The idea that Jesus was circumscribing a political realm that was Caesar’s domain, and a sacred realm that belonged to God, is anachronistic. Jesus, and his Jewish listeners, “regarded God as the Creator, and the whole universe as God’s domain — including politics — and would not have distinguished between the political and the religious.”
  • The tax in question “functioned as a kind of rent that assumed that all land belonged ultimately to the Roman Empire,” while core Jewish scripture makes it clear that Israel belongs to God.
  • The fact that Jesus had to ask someone else for a coin to use to illustrate his point may be significant — perhaps he did not carry such a coin because its use of a graven image that represented a member of the Roman ruling class as a divinity was idolatrous, or perhaps he had rejected Roman money and so (by the logic of his epigram) its taxes as well. Maybe he was suggesting that it’s not sufficient to refuse to pay Roman taxes, but you ought to reject Roman money as well: give it back to Caesar and be done with it.
  • Would Jesus, who cared for the poor, really promote a regressive poll tax?
  • Paul’s unmistakable pay-your-taxes command in Romans 13 isn’t necessarily an interpretation of Jesus’s instructions, or even good advice in general, but was just a pragmatic, common-sense instruction to Christians living in Rome.
  • Since Jesus was ultimately charged with promoting resistance to Roman taxes prior to his execution, this seems to indicate that at least some of his listeners interpreted his message that way.
  • In short, biblically-oriented tax resisters should not be frightened off by the “Render Unto Caesar…” episode, as its interpretation is not so simple as its vulgar usage may suggest.

An obituary notice for Edith Carlton Browne in the same issue noted that “[s]he and [her husband] Gordon became military tax resisters in , and she continued that witness throughout her life.” Another obituary, for Lorraine Ketchum Cleveland, said that “[i]n she became a war-tax refuser in a case that eventually went to the Supreme Court (Cleveland, Cadwallader, and the AFSC vs. U.S.A.). Lorraine continued throughout her life to deduct from her federal taxes that portion that would be used for war, and sent it to a worthy cause.”

The issue mentioned the tax resistance of Robert Purvis, who refused to pay his Pennsylvania state taxes in protest against the state’s denial of equal voting rights to black citizens around , and then refused to pay “that portion of his property tax that went to support the schools” in when his children were refused admission to the whites-only classrooms. Purvis wrote:

I have borne this outrage ever since the innovation upon the usual practice of admitting all the children of the township into the public schools, and at considerable expense, have been obliged to obtain the services of private teachers to instruct my children, while my school tax is greater, with a single exception, than that of any other citizen of the township. It is true, (and the outrage is made but the more glaring and insulting): I was informed by a pious Quaker director, with sanctifying grace, imparting, doubtless, an unctuous glow to his saintly prejudices, that a school in the village of Mechanicsville was appropriated for “thine.” The miserable shanty, with all its appurtenances, on the very line of the township, to which this benighted follower of George Fox alluded, is, as you know, the most flimsy and ridiculous sham which any tool of a skin-hating aristocracy have resorted to, to cover or protect his servility.

An article in the issue mentioned in passing that “Quakers withdrew almost as a single body from the Pennsylvania legislature in rather than vote taxes for war.”

An obituary notice for Wally Nelson (not, I believe, a Quaker, but the obituary says he “demonstrated the values and commitment of a Friend; by his loving manner and unwavering integrity, he shaped an ideal for Friends to aspire to”) mentions his war tax resistance activities:

In , he cofounded Peacemakers, a national organization dedicated to active nonviolence as a way of life. In , he and his wife, Juanita Nelson, began their lifelong practice of refusing to pay taxes used for armaments and killing.… During , the couple was among the founders of the Valley Community Land Trust, Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters, and the Greenfield Farmers Market. He was well known as a regular market vendor in downtown Greenfield and as a participant in the annual war tax protest in front of the Greenfield Post Office on tax day.

The issue noted that the Northern Yearly Meeting had “approved a minute expressing support for the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill and for those who are conscientiously opposed to war taxes.”

At this point, those Quakers who cannot pay for military and weapons are subject to great sacrifice. Some have refused employment that would result in a taxable level of income. Others have exposed themselves to confiscation of their homes and other possessions. We seek a legal mechanism whereby we may pay taxes and be responsible citizens without funding human death and suffering. We view adoption of [the Bill] as providing religious freedom to many of our Society currently suffering for their faithfulness to their Quaker beliefs.

Add that all up and we get:

  • one abstract discussion of whether war tax resistance conflicts with Jesus’s teachings
  • three mentions of American war tax resisters recently deceased
  • one mention of a tax resister from
  • one mention of American Quaker war tax resistance from
  • one contemporary American Quaker Meeting advocating the latest Peace Tax Fund scheme and alluding to the acts of contemporary Quaker war tax resisters

Which is to say: next to nothing about actual real-life American Quakers doing actual, honest-to-goodness war tax resistance in .