This is the twenty-second 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.
was marked by heated debate in the pages of Gospel Herald about war tax resistance, while Mennonite Church institutions continued to struggle with whether or how to take a stand.
The issue reported on Mennonite war tax redirection:
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Peace Section’s Taxes for Peace Fund experienced a substantial increase in contributions during 1980. The amount of $10,400 was contributed in , compared to $6,200 in .
The Taxes for Peace Fund was established in late . “Persons whose consciences forbid them to yield money on request to the government’s death-by-technology militarism are contributing the military portion of their income tax instead to the life-supporting work of MCC U.S. Peace Section,” says John K. Stoner, executive secretary of the section.
During , the U.S. budgeted $138 billion for current military spending. Thirty-two percent of the income tax paid by every American during contributed to raising this money. An additional 15 percent went to veterans benefits and the portion of the national debt related to past wars. Thus, nearly half of the federal budget, raised almost entirely by individual and corporate income taxes, is military related.
A recent preliminary census taken by U.S. Peace Section found that over 200 Mennonite families and individuals are refusing to pay a portion of their income taxes and are instead contributing that money to organizations working for peace.
Withholding a portion of one’s income tax is only one of many ways to witness against military spending. Some Mennonites are using other methods, such as reducing income below taxable level, increasing charitable contributions, refusing to pay the federal telephone tax, and actively supporting the World Peace Tax Fund.
The Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries was distributing a war tax study packet by this time, according to the issue:
A revised and updated War Tax Packet covering a variety of issues related to the question of payment of taxes for military purposes is available. The packet contains articles by Willard Swartley, Marlin Miller, David Schroeder, Donald Kaufman, John Stoner, and William Durland; the stories of some persons’ own experiences; several brochures and other reprints; an issue of God and Caesar newsletter; a list of peace organizations; and a bibliography. Copies of the War Tax Packet are $2.00 and may be requested from MBCM… or MCC…
In the cover story of the edition (“Focusing Mennonite missions in the ’80s”), John Driver wrote:
If the church wants to speak to the peace and justice issues of our day with credibility, we will need to live out more radically our status as God’s children. We must really be, in fact, the peacemakers we are called to be. This goes for the church in all parts of the world, but most importantly, it is for all of us who are citizens of a nation which insists on being number one in the world.
After hearing my views on peace, a student leader in Spain asked me what I intended to do about paying taxes to support the armament race. I personally do not see how Christians can proclaim the gospel of peace with integrity while intentionally supporting America’s desire to be the number one military power. This contradiction is compounded when we realize that, in the eyes of the rest of the world, the United States is the great bastion of evangelical Christianity.
Things really began to heat up starting in the issue, which featured this commentary (I corrected the numbering of items 5–7, where the numbers were missing from the original, but there was some ambiguity so I might have gotten it wrong):
by Daniel Slabaugh
Editor’s Note: The question of war taxes has been a subject of discussion among Mennonites for years. It does not appear any nearer solution than before. Should we then cease discussing it? On the contrary, the issue is so important that we should listen to all who have insights, especially those who not only speak, but practice their convictions.
This is a blunt article, but I believe it is written with love. Can we receive it as such? See also the author’s personal note at the end of his article.
Introduction For years I have struggled with the knowledge that there are in our Mennonite Church many pastors, educators, theologians, seminary professors, and writers who have condoned, justified, and rationalized the payment of war taxes, even placating those whose tender consciences were bothering them every April 15.
Many times I have argued with the Spirit when confronted with the request that I witness against this inconsistency. I had good excuses too! Except for a year of junior college Bible at Eastern Mennonite College, my academic training has been in engineering and natural science. I can’t read Greek or Hebrew! How then could a non-seminary, practically illiterate nobody have any influence? These little dialogues were nearly weekly experiences (some more detailed), while driving the car, alone in the field, reading Scripture in sermon preparation, even in silent prayer.
Finally on , while husking corn, a terrible dread came over me. I stopped the husker right there in the middle of the field and shouted: “Okay God, if You want me to make a fool of myself. I’ll do it, I will, I will.” (No one heard me above the noise of the John Deere, else they might have questioned my sanity.) What a relief and joy I felt! I think I sang all the hymns I knew by heart the rest of the day!
It was my day off at the hospital, but that evening I was just “too tired” to “start anything,” and for two weeks I was just “too busy.” Always when I come home at 12:30 or 1:00 a.m. I fall asleep the minute I get to bed. Then one night I was wide awake! After an hour of tossing I finally got up, picked up my Bible and came down to the kitchen, dropped it on the table rather disgustedly, got a drink of water, and sat down. The Bible had fallen open and the first words I read were Ezekiel 3:20, 21. That did it for me! (Don’t bother to tell me that is not the proper way to read the Bible. I already know that; I’m just telling you what happened to me.)
I thought I should share these experiences with you so that you may know the motivation for this communication.
Come then, my brothers and sisters, let us reason together concerning the payment of war taxes!
The United States Internal Revenue Service has stated: “The IRS can only collect income taxes because of the voluntary cooperation of the citizens.” Let no one say that they voluntarily pay income taxes, because they have no choice. That is not true! The payment of war taxes is viewed by the government as voluntary cooperation; the final endorsement of their policies.
If you choose not to pay voluntarily, and make no other deduction arrangements, then the IRS will eventually try to collect in some other way. We have never paid war taxes and are now giving our entire farm to the church so that we will pay no income tax. It is costing us something. The burden of proof is upon you who approve of war taxes because it costs you nothing.
Now I know that many of our people are not in a position to do as we are doing, so I have with many others been working for seven or eight years to get the World Peaee Tax Fund passed. The only reason it has not passed and will not pass is because of lack of concern. United States senators and representatives have told us many times that except for the few of you, “There is no evidence that anyone else has any problem paying war taxes; so why are you bothering us with this bill?”
A highly educated theologian of our denomination said to me, “You can’t hang a guilt trip on me about war taxes, because we aren’t in a war.” Doesn’t everyone understand that this is a “Pay now, go later plan”? I doubt that we will ever again pay for a war during a war. When the atomic destruction comes it will be no consolation for the victims to remember that these atomic bombs were paid for by peace-loving Mennonites, not some terrible heathen Russians! If I should live to see that total destruction (may God spare me that) I will know that my own brothers and sisters in the faith have helped make it possible!
It has been pointed out to me that Menno Simons said “we should pay our taxes” as justification for paying war taxes today. Based on Menno’s life and teachings, how can anyone even suggest that he would voluntarily pay our war taxes? I don’t know how it would be possible to dishonor the man more than to hang that on him, when he was hunted like a criminal for things a whole lot less contradictory to Jesus’ life and teaching than voluntarily paying for killing!
In Luke 13:10–17, the ruler of the synagogue was correct in calling attention to the laws of the Sabbath. Sabbath observance was a good rule of conduct to obey, but when it interfered with meeting human need, Jesus demonstrated that meeting human need took precedence over Sabbath observance.
Now, suppose for the sake of comparison, I allow you to take Romans 13:1–7 as universally applicable for today’s world. Now you have the same difference that existed between Jesus and the Pharisees, namely literal observance of the law versus human good and well being. You are opting for the former (as the Pharisees did), but Jesus opted for the latter.
Even verses 8, 9, 10 of the same chapter make it impossible to obey verse 7 if “their dues” are whatever they ask, because today the payment of war taxes and loving my neighbor as myself are mutually exclusive!
Certainly Jesus would not view preparation to kill someone as the proper way to express God’s love.
Some of you say, “The Bible specifically says, ‘Pay your taxes,’ so that’s what I do and what the government does with it is not my responsibility.” That was the position of the church during Hitler’s extermination of the Jews, a position which some of you have criticized very severely even though to “be faithful” then was much more disastrous than to be so now. Personal responsibility is such a consistent principle throughout the Holy Scriptures that I should not need to belabor the point. Even the worldly legal system has affirmed personal responsibility regardless of government demands!
If you really behaved in such a simplistic literalism, then you ought to advocate hatred of parents, because Jesus Himself said that if you don’t hate your father and mother you can’t be His disciple. Since this is completely opposite to all His teachings, we know that He said that for comparison, for emphasis. In the same way, I wished to pay all my taxes (and always had) until doing so became completely contrary to the life of Christ!
Some of you argue, “The government will get the money anyway,” or “Withholding my war taxes won’t stop the arms race.” The exact same reasoning should put you into a military uniform! I could have reasoned (as many did) that if I didn’t go into the military, they would just get someone else to take my place. The day that I was drafted into Civilian Public Service, I didn’t really notice any lessening of hostilities! I didn’t take conscientious objector position because I thought it would be successful (nor is that why I am writing this). The words I want to hear from my Lord are: “Thou hast been faithful.”
Our citizens are told that all our “defense” (?) budget is to protect our life and property. (Even if I were in favor of that, I wouldn’t approve exceeding that by at least 25 times for the personal profit of special interests.) Some years ago a Mennonite bishop wrote in the Gospel Herald, “We shouldn’t criticize our government because they protect our property.” The logical honest extension of that is: “There is nothing more important than our property.” What could be more contrary to the essence of the gospel, or the faith of the Anabaptist martyrs? Didn’t Jesus specifically teach in Luke 9:24 that if your overriding concern is to save your life, then you will lose it? Certainly you can already see the beginning of the financial destruction of our country because of the irresponsible and insane spending of the military! How pathetic that the Mennonite Church, because of our worldview, our concept of discipleship, and our persecution history, could have been in the strength of the Holy Spirit, a powerful mover toward peace and sanity, but instead has become a farce instead of a force! History (if there will be any) will say of us as Jesus said of the Pharisees: “They say, but they do not.”
Is it any less a sin to kill someone than to ignore human need? If not, then it seems very appropriate to paraphrase 1 John 3:17 for today. “If any of you have this world’s goods and voluntarily allow some of it to be used to prepare to kill your brothers and sisters and to destroy all that God has made, how is it possible for the love and spirit of the God and Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to dwell in a heart like that?”
What a horrifying possibility that any one might some day tell Jesus, “Haven’t we held many evangelistic meetings, preached many great sermons, written wonderful books, healed the sick, spoken in tongues, sang your praises with great fervor?” and Jesus will have to say to you, “Depart from me, ye workers of destruction!”
Have you ever considered this question: What effect will my being an accomplice to the American military have on our worldwide witness to God’s love and His saving power?
If I were an unbeliever in some Third World country and knew that “Christian America” is the only country that ever dropped an atomic bomb on a civilian population, and that “Christian America” supports and arms 42 repressive dictatorships in order to maintain the highest standard of living on earth for themselves, and that they sell six times more weapons of violence and destruction than any other country, and that the church justifies all that, I am sure that I would never want to become a Christian or have anything to do with such a God!
I fully expect that you will be able to put me down with theological arguments, or discredit me with a self-righteous application of Scripture taken out of context to justify and rationalize your position; but, at least, ask yourself this pragmatic question: If everyone did as I do, regarding war taxes, what difference would it make? If everyone (or even all so-called pacifists) would respectfully decline to pay for war, what difference would that make?
Why are Mennonites unable to take an official position against paying for war? Is it because we really don’t know what the truth is? Is it because we never had it so good and we don’t want to risk anything? Is it because we have become so acculturated, so affluent that we don’t want martyrs anymore. Do we much prefer millionaires now?
It is my firm conviction that, as far as God is concerned, the day that I pay war taxes I effectively discredit all that I have ever said, written, or given for the cause of peace!
The forces of evil do not care what you say, or how you pray as long as you pay!
A personal note, please: None of us is “off limits” to Satan’s deception! I therefore remind you of your responsibility to tell me if you believe that I have been misled in my search for the path of obedience!
Daniel Slabaugh is pastor of Ann Arbor (Mich.) Mennonite Church. He is a laboratory supervisor at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and has a farm as a hobby.
This prompted many responses, including:
- Henry Troyer ()
I have only one point of disagreement with Mr. Slabaugh; that is the matter of paying our war taxes voluntarily. I pay taxes, but not voluntarily. I happily pay the portion of my taxes which go for human services and running the government (even if some is wasted), but I do not happily pay the portion that goes for military support. We have a Quaker friend who once “arranged” not to pay his war taxes and the IRS showed their “appreciation” by “arranging” for him to spend several months in prison. Some years ago, we refused to pay our telephone surcharge tax but later found that our checking account had been debited for that amount, which they claimed we owed. We then refused to pay that tax by having our telephone removed.
I would like to “arrange” not to pay war taxes, but the consequences for exercising that “freedom” would be too harsh for me at this Hme. I, therefore, pay my war taxes “under protest,” and may God have mercy.
- Lewis A. Fogg ()
- I thought this was a pretty extraordinary example of tying yourself in
knots to justify continuing to pay war taxes:
Does a Christian have to pay all of his taxes? I don’t believe that he can be taxed on what he does not have; and I don’t see any compelling reason why a Christian should have to accumulate things just so as to pay more taxes. In fact, a Christian who in his work gathers a great amount of money to himself probably is doing more harm in participating in whatever is bringing him the money than is being done by whatever portion of the money is going to taxes.
But, what happens if we withhold part of the taxes on our incomes? If we do not pay all of the taxes, people who are employed by defense contractors and defense-related industries as well as military personnel may be thrown out of work. Unemployment will be a hardship to these people; it will be suffering caused by the actions of nonresistant Christians.
I should think that the appropriate method to be used by nonresistant Christians to close the defense plants would be to convert such a large part of the population to the discipleship of Christ that there would not be enough people remaining to man the defense plants. The fact that this is not now the case may very well be the fault of Christians, past and present, and not the fault of the defense workers.
Of course, the easy answer is to cause suffering to someone we don’t like so as to alleviate the suffering of someone we do; or to see the problem in terms of things (money and bombs) rather than people. We Christians are not to seek vengeance on the defense workers because of their production of bombs, but it seems easier to overcome evil with evil than to attempt to overcome evil with good. In this evil world we would like to keep just a little evil for our own use, just for self-defense.
We in our human fear forget that man has no more power to destroy himself than he has power, of himself, to draw his next breath. So we abandon the methods of Jesus Christ and allow Satan to win the decisive battle and so rob us of our share in the assured victory of Christ.
- Ralph Yoder ()
- Took the traditional Render-unto-Caesar / Romans 13 line, asserting that U.S. currency belongs to the U.S. government, which can reclaim from Christians it at will.
- Ed Benner ()
I found myself cheering enthusiastically when the article by Pastor Slabaugh on the payment of war taxes appeared… I hope there will be more and more freedom in church papers to deal with this up and coming concern.
Considerations of conscientious war-tax resistance point up some larger problems that we as the Mennonite Church live with but don’t necessarily resolve. These problems have to do not with the ample biblical teaching supportive of noncompliance with war support, but rather, with the lack of practical models as well as awareness of support resources and groups. These facilities would greatly enhance our ability to work out responsible individual witness stances. Several kinds of practical questions seem to emerge.
In the first place, what ranges of governmental receptiveness (especially IRS receptiveness) have been encountered by members of our faith and what constructive follow-up responses have we Mennonites explored after we are categorized as tax-evaders? Second, and more specifically, what kinds of deduction possibilities have been attempted and upon what rationale? Third, how may we relate the quality of committed Anabaptist peace perspectives to the degree we withhold tax dollars? Finally, what types of congregational support models have emerged and what growth has occurred in each process?
I seem to hear the Apostle Peter speaking across a vast expanse of time and firmly addressing not only a failing government but a growing church as well with a burning perspective — “One should obey God more than men” (Acts 5:29). Yes. Now how does it happen within the war-tax arena in practical terms?
- Amos J. Miller ()
There is much discussion about the war tax. Maybe we should also give some thought to the balance of our tax money. We can name the education tax, the research tax, welfare tax, road tax, regulatory tax, as a few. We can also identify the abortion tax, tobacco subsidy tax (although maybe this isn’t a concern since we accept the fact that a lot of grain goes to the liquor industry), the waste and fraud tax, and of course the congressman salary tax that pays the people that vote for the war tax. On the local scene we have others, including the state, county, and city police tax. I wonder if paying the tax for local law enforcement could be understood to say that we recognize that the state needs to carry a stick. Is it possible that it’s the church’s responsibility to decide how big that stick should be? All this gets somewhat complicated and confusing. It would be much simpler if taxes were just taxes.
- Clarence Y. Fretz ()
- I thought Fretz’s commentary was a good demonstration of how much the
terms of the debate had shifted, even from the point of view of the
Nonresistant Christians pay taxes
Jesus’ kingdom is one of testimony to truth, saving truth, truth that changes lives, truth that builds character. Caesar’s kingdom was one that used the sword to restrain evil and even to crucify the innocent.
And yet Jesus had told inquirers to show Him the coin used for paying taxes to Caesar.
Then He asked them, “Whose portrait is this? and whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Jesus did not discuss what percent of the tax money was spent for soldiers or for war, even though He knew this. There was no implication in His teaching that taxes paid to Caesar should be called “war taxes” or that nonresistant Christians should try to avoid payment of such taxes because they knew they would be used for military purposes.
In reference to payment of specific taxes for support of the military enterprise such as were imposed by the Continental government in the time of the Revolution, one can understand that nonresistant Christians found themselves unable to pay them and especially so since it was revolutionaries who were asking for them — to subsidize their rebellion.
Then, too, one can understand the attitude of the nonresistant Hutterites in Moravia who were asked to pay a special war tax to support the war against the Turks in the 1500s. Peter Riedemann, their leader, said: “For war, killing, and bloodshed (where it is demanded especially for that) we give nothing but not out of wickedness or arbitrariness, but out of the fear of God (1 Tim. 5) that we may not be partakers in strange sins” (“Taxation,” The Mennonite Encyclopedia, p. 688).
I do not agree with Daniel Slabaugh that the federal income tax is a war tax, per se. His entire article is based on calling it that… However, it is a good thing to give one’s farm to the church (and so reduce one’s payment of a tax that is partly used for military purposes). But should such gifts be given to the church only to reduce payment of federal income tax? Would not a more scriptural reason be to help the church in its mission of testifying to the truth?
When I was a young man of 18, I was graciously healed from a critical attack of pneumonia, and I decided to devote my life to full-time service to the Lord, wherever and whenever He would want me to serve. For fifty years I have served in mission work or Christian school teaching on an income basis that took care of my needs (Phil. 4:19), but often exempted me from payment of federal income tax, especially if I was faithful in support of the Lord’s work and diligent to claim other exemptions and deductions.
But I do not call federal income tax a war tax, nor think I should promote nonpayment of it on this basis. Should others want to follow my example of devoting their lives and income to the Lord’s work I would encourage them to do so, not primarily to avoid payment of federal income tax, but in order to build Christ’s church on earth.
- Alma Mast ()
I think we need to watch that we don’t lose our salvation in going overboard in some subjects. I do appreciate a country where we have freedom of worship to our God. The best way to show our appreciation is to pay our taxes. To hold some back and refuse to pay, saying, “We don’t want to pay for war” is not the answer. How do you know that the remaining taxes you pay can also be put in the military? The taxes are for the government to use and it is theirs. The responsibility of how and where it is used is theirs also.
- Clyde G. Kratz ()
I have become increasingly aware of the fact that the issue of payment of war taxes is dividing the Mennonite Church. I have indeed found myself pulling for both sides at different times and I realize that much study in the Word of God is required.
As far as Daniel Slabaugh’s article… is concerned, he raised some very good questions and made us more aware of our need as a church to come together on this issue. I am not sure that our problems will go away by all of us turning our properties over to the church but I do believe Daniel made an honest response.
I’m not convinced that war taxes is the real issue. Right now this is the issue that is surfacing, but somehow I believe that God is speaking to all of us about how we use His money. We are living in an age where luxuries are now necessities, and giving is done when it is convenient. That doesn’t add up to the teachings in the New Testament at all.
My suggestion would be to try to live a simpler lifestyle. It is very obvious only those that make increasing amounts of money pay taxes. Could we lower our standard of living and give more thereby reducing our taxable income? My suggestion would include taking a look at the Macedonian church as Paul talks about them in 2 Cor. 8:1–7. He tells us that they have given as much as they were able and even beyond their ability. It would be good to learn a lesson from them. Also let’s look at what Paul says to the Corinthians in 2 Cor. 9:6–7: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (NIV).
- Peter Farrar ()
- Farrar saluted Kratz’s letter, and added: “we must first really tithe all of our incomes… a life of voluntary simplicity… would make all talk or tax resistance superfluous. Indeed, I believe the only radical response to war — that which strikes at the root causes — is voluntary poverty.”
- John Otto ()
Shall we tell our Caesar that he is wrong? Peter and Paul both said that we should submit to the authorities and that we should show them honor and respect. Since we live under a democracy instead of a dictatorship I would like to suggest that we show respect and honor to our president by sending him a message. No, not just a letter or a phone call, but a money message. You know, money speaks!
Let all Mennonites and any others that care to join them send their tax monies to the Mennonite General Board to forward to the IRS in one lump payment with the message, "We, the people, request these monies be used for people programs and none be used for military purposes.” That would be democratic and respectful, would it not?
- Anna M. Buckwalter ()
- Disagreed with war tax resistance on the grounds that Jesus willingly paid taxes to Rome.
- Peter Farrar ()
Stop evading responsibility
On the eve of a new decade and of a new federal administration it would be well for the church to reflect on these words of Henry David Thoreau…
“Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so the most serious obstacles to reform.”
The implications of this statement for the Mennonite Church today are enormous. Most Americans, believing what the popular media and the government propaganda tells them, are not really aware of the dangerous path we are walking as we pile up arms and simultaneously arm other nations involved in active wars — both internal and international. Mennonites have been well informed for years about these things but have done far too little, even symbolically, to redress the imbalance. There is no excuse for this. When will the church recoil from the unavoidable fact that our taxes and our greed are destroying our brothers and sisters while we read these lines? When will we give a strong, clear “No” to the government’s growing demand for funds for war?
There remains but one immediate response that will suffice — that of voluntary poverty (living below the federal tax line) and personal service to those we have wronged. The list of places to work is staggering and growing longer: Somalia, Cambodia, Italy, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, Bangladesh, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Mississippi, the inner city, Appalachia…
Mr. Reagan proposes to cut taxes while increasing the war budget drastically. He knows there is a real economic crisis simmering in the U.S., yet is blind to the fact that our military dominated economy is the single greatest cause of inflation and unemployment. While he officially opposes the draft he wants more sophisticated instruments of mass slaughter, costing enormous amounts of money.
I call the Mennonite Church to stop evading responsibility and challenge her to stand up publicly, and by word and action, witness for peace and justice and a nation more ready to welcome the kingdom of God.
Refuse registration! Refuse war taxes!
- Keith Helmuth ()
- Helmuth made a long-overdue frontal assault on the traditional
interpretation of Romans 13:
Is one government ordained as much as another?
Taxes and the faithful church
Twenty years ago efforts to introduce ideas of war-tax refusal into the Mennonite church met with little response. Times have changed and Daniel Slabaugh’s “Testimony Regarding the Payment of War Taxes”… indicates how deeply we are now being challenged on this issue.
No one who endeavors to live in the spirit of Christ can feel easy while helping to finance the machinery of war. We all want to feel our lives are a consistent witness for the truth of Christ’s love and are, therefore, made increasingly uneasy as the testimony against war taxes gains currency within the church.
The standard method of reasoning, to put at ease those whose conscience has grown tender on this point, is to remind them that the government is ordained of God and that Christians, therefore, are to obey the government. (An exception to this reasoning is made in the case of personal military service. Having allowed this exception we must, it seems to me, allow that growth in moral sensitivity may well lead to further civil disobedience. )
What exactly does it mean to say “the government is ordained of God”? To approach this question we need to distinguish two levels of ordination. First, we hold the church to be ordained of God in a unique way, quite distinctly different in origin, character, and mission from other social institutions. Second, because God is the origin and sustainer of all life, it may be said that, in general, social institutions are ordained of God. Plainly, the idea of government being ordained of God belongs to the second level.
Now, it seems to me, that when someone argues that I must pay my taxes because the government is ordained of God, they are confusing the two levels. They are talking as if the government was as uniquely and as specifically ordained of God as the church. This is plainly not true, and a good many of our ancestors laid down their lives to avoid this confusion.
Government is born out of a human predisposition to organize and control. Slavery, being derived from the same human predisposition, may also be regarded as having once been ordained of God. Slavery evidently gave the apostle Paul no moral pause. He did not foresee that it would become intolerable to Ghristian morality. Nor did he foresee that governments would fall and rise through a wide variety of processes, including representative assemblies, constitutional conventions, force of arms, and subversive manipulation.
To regard all governments as somehow equally ordained of God is to sever the concern for social justice from its biblical mandate. A large talent for political naivety would be required to see the government visited on Uganda by Idi Amin and the government of Switzerland as equally legitimate.
It is possible to argue that one’s own government is “more ordained” than others, but such a self-serving view brings with it the whole baggage of civil religion, and ill befits the world-servant role to which we understand ourselves called. Governments may be ordained of God in some general naturalistic sense, but people who care about social justice and human well-being must judge whether they are legitimate or illegitimate.
Perhaps because Mennonites have a traditional aloofness from politics, the matter of legitimacy in government often seems poorly understood. I have seen it argued recently in the Mennonite press, and supported by biblical proof texts, that opposing the government on the war-tax issue is the same as opposing God.
It is important to understand that the political framework needed to support this argument is something very close to the “divine right of kings.” Why this antique political notion, deriving from ancient and medieval despotisms and seriously confusing church and state, should be used against the testimony of tax refusers in the Mennonite Church is, indeed, a curious matter. Perhaps others, better equipped than I, can delve lovingly into the motivations of this desperate argument.
Life in North America has been so good to our people that it is difficult to imagine Mennonites becoming an outlaw church on the issue of war taxes. Yet the teachings of Jesus and the demands of faithfulness, if taken seriously, plainly move us in that direction. The conviction that the faithful church must, at times, become an outlaw church should not be shocking to those acquainted with Anabaptist origins and history.
If we don’t draw the line at paying for nuclear weapons (or conventional weapons, for that matter), will we draw it at their use? Military planners no longer regard nuclear weapons as of deterrent use only. They are openly talking about a limited use of their offensive first-strike capacity.
What if a nuclear bomb had been dropped on Hanoi in an effort to end the war in Vietnam? What if the American government uses nuclear weapons to maintain access to Middle East oil? Would the church then draw the line and move into a position of active tax refusal? Or will we sit tight, no matter what the government does?
Is there any threshold of violence or oppression which the government might cross that would cause the Mennonite Church to advocate tax refusal?
- D.R. Yoder ()
- Yoder was having nothing of such scriptural revisionism:
“The teachings of Jesus and the demands of faithfulness, if taken seriously, plainly move us in that direction [of resisting taxes which may be used for military purposes],” writes Keith Helmuth…
Whatever teachings he has in mind, however, he neglects to identify. Of course, that is a common omission among Mennonite writers who advocate tax, draft, and other forms of “resistance” and “civil” disobedience. Bold assertions, sharp reasonings, and generalized allusions to Scripture. But, no direct quotes or citings of passages.
I feel the teachings of Jesus plainly move us in a direction radically different from tax resistance. I find those teachings in such places as Mt. 5:41 where Jesus is quoted as instructing those who would seriously seek the kingdom to, if forced to go a distance, continue on an additional distance.
It is my understanding that this teaching likely referred to the practice of the Roman army to conscript civilians, literally off the street, and force them to carry military supplies for perhaps a mile or so. From that it seems logical for me to conclude that Jesus did not even exclude forced assistance of the military (such as by taxes) from the compensatory love response he prescribed for those who are beaten, stolen from, forced to do things against their will.
Certainly the faithful church will often also face becoming an outlaw church. The Scripture makes that plain. But, search as I may, I can’t find any scriptural evidence that resisting taxes is something our Lord would call us to. Rather, I can only conclude tax resistance to be a symptom of the philosophy of those seeking a political kingdom and a social salvation through the exercise of earthly power.
It seems to me that it is only fair that Mennonite editors ask writers supporting tax resistance to document all supportive references found in Scripture for their points. I think we readers are by now quite familiar with their reasonings and rhetoric. If they have a scriptural basis, let’s hear it.
- Keith Helmuth ()
- Helmuth responded:
D.R. Yoder is correct. I cannot cite a specific teaching of Jesus on war tax refusal.
The case for war tax refusal, however, rests not on proof texts, but on the fact that Jesus introduced a profound moral vision, with an extraordinary potential for growth, into the stream of human consciousness. When Jesus was asked about the “greatest commandment” He replied: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Starting from this masterly summation of spiritual life, faithfulness, it seems to me, depends on our growth in moral sensitivity and not on our ability to correctly analyze all the cultural idiosyncrasies to which Jesus was necessarily responding. Should we help finance the defoliation of our neighbor’s rice fields or the massacre of her family just because Jesus never had the occasion to comment on those situations? I think it entirely fair to say the “teachings of Jesus” move us away from such behavior.
It was recognized by the early Anabaptists that personal military service was seriously out of harmony with “the teachings of Jesus.” The refusal of state ordered military service is not a specific injunction of Jesus, but the growth in moral sensitivity which accompanied the Anabaptist movement drew out this inherent aspect of the gospel. The same process, apparently, kept the Anabaptist settlers in the New World from making use of readily available slave labor, though Jesus nowhere condemns the institution of slavery. It is this same growth in moral sensitivity, …which is now focusing the issue.
As for “seeking a political kingdom and a social salvation through the exercise of earthly power,” I doubt that very many who support the witness of war tax refusal have any such aspirations. “Political kingdoms” can only exist on the conscripted lives and resources of our communities and it is exactly this that tax refusal opposes. The concept of “social salvation” has, by now, lost even its nostalgia value. Our dreams are far more modest. We hope to avoid nuclear holocaust and keep the planet habitable. We want the resources now being wasted in military budgets to help feed, house, and clothe the poor of the world. This is not “social salvation.” It is only good sense and common decency.
One final note: The issue of war tax refusal is one that all persons have to weigh in the balance against all the other important factors in their lives. Judge not is the rule here. What makes no sense from the standpoint of a growing family might come to make good sense after 50.
Our lofty discussion is probably beside the point. If we could see the anguish that brings people to the point of tax refusal we would be inundated with images of napalm and herbicides raining down on Vietnam, families massacred in El Salvador, and the chilling vision of the neutron bomb grinning over empty cities.
All our rhetoric, all our proof texts stagger and fall in the face of a dead child and screaming mother with helicopters thundering overhead. The crucifixion of Christ’s flesh is ever before us. Our sins roll across the landscape. We do what we must and pray for strength.
In the Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries board of directors met. Among their decisions:
In harmony with the General Board action to support the General Conference Mennonite Church in their judicial challenge of the collecting of taxes by church agencies, the board acted to encourage staff “to publicize among our congregations the issues involved in the judicial action and the need for funds for this purpose.”
The organizers of the Smoketown Consultation (which was in part a conservative Eastern Mennonite backlash against war tax resistance and other innovations) met again in in what was called the “Berne consultation.” This time, however, according to Gospel Herald: “Little attention at Berne was given to war taxes, a dominant theme at Smoketown…”
…neither the Mennonite Church nor the IKV feels comfortable with individual radical action. Example: Dirk Visser, a Dutch Mennonite journalist working for the equivalent of the Associated Press wire services in the Netherlands, called my attention to Willem-Jan Maas, a Mennonite minister serving in Opeland. This minister tried to funnel what he considered the war-taxes portion of his income tax to the Dutch Mennonite Peace Group via the local income tax office.
This effort was fraudulently aborted by the tax officers, but even had it been successful, the minister would not have been applauded by the IKV, according to Visser. The IKV has taken the political action route and with that the churches can cooperate.
In a Peace Tax Fund-boosting article in the issue, it was noted that war tax resisters acted as the “bad cop” to the “good cop” of lobbyists: “[David] Bassett and others cited the ‘inconvenience factor’ of current war tax resistance to the IRS as further incentive for change in the tax laws.”
Richerd Lewman, Jr. went back on the offensive with a forceful rebuttal of Christian war tax resistance for the issue:
To accept the statements that justify the nonpayment of war taxes is to accept the statement that Jesus was a hypocrite.
After reading much about the war-tax issue and listening to much discussion, both pro and con, I wanted to find out more about the issue, so that I could take a stand consistent with God’s teachings. I read all that I could that justified not paying taxes. Then I read as much as possible justifying the payment of taxes. Both of these included much Bible reading and prayer. I then did a lot more praying and asking God to guide me to what his truth is. He led me to more reading and research.
After all of this, I was led to only one conclusion. If we believe Jesus taught that we should not pay taxes to a government in the process of or planning to slaughter people, then Jesus was a hypocrite because he paid his taxes. If Jesus was a hypocrite, because he taught one thing and did another, then Jesus sinned and he was not the unblemished lamb suitable to die for our sins. So there cannot be salvation through him.
The first point made by those who would condone, even encourage, the nonpayment of war taxes, is that income tax is voluntary, because it requires citizen cooperation and to pay it is to agree with the government’s policies. Using this same line of thinking we could say that all laws are voluntary, and to obey them is to agree with them. I may not agree that I should not drive any faster than 55 miles per hour, but if I decide not to obey the law I will be penalized for it. If I pay my taxes I do not necessarily agree with how my tax money is spent. But I still must pay.
A second point that is made is that the personal responsibility of loving my neighbor comes before the law. I agree. But, I ask this question. What were some of Jesus’ actions and how did they coincide with his teachings? Many instances of civil disobedience and tax evasion have been justified using Jesus’ teachings. I feel that his teachings are removed from their context if they are not in agreement with the example of his perfect life. Do we read in the Bible that Jesus went to Rome to picket in front of the Senate about the atrocities committed against Jerusalem. Do we find Jesus lobbying to have the Roman troops withdrawn from the temple, or for the exemption of the Jews from paying the many taxes levied on them largely for the support of the bloodthirsty Roman army? Or do we find Jesus not paying his war taxes? The answer to each of these questions is a very clear “No!”
But wait, you say it was different back then. Was it?
They say that we must not pay our taxes, in order to make a witness, since we as Mennonites are not drafted anymore. Well, the Jews in Jesus’ time were not drafted either. They say they did not have conscription back then. Wrong. Conscription dates back to the earliest civilization. They say that our government needs our money more than our bodies. Well, the Roman government needed money, because many of the soldiers were professionals and they fought for the money. They say today we have the atom bomb, the most destructive war machine ever devised by man, up to this time. Back then it was the Roman army, the most destructive and bloodthirsty war machine ever devised by man, up to that time.
How do we know that Jesus paid his taxes? The Tribute Coin referred to by Jesus was a coin used to pay the poll tax which had to be paid by every male person, ages 14–65, and by females, ages 12–65. If Jesus had not paid his tax, would not the Pharisees and Sadducees have brought this to the attention of Pilate when Jesus was before him, since they were looking for something to convict him of?
If you say that Jesus’ teachings are that we should not pay our war taxes, I cannot accept this. I believe that Jesus was the perfect example of the Christian life and that his life was consistent with his teachings and that he was not a hypocrite. If Jesus paid taxes to the government of his time, then I can do no less. In fact, I must pay those taxes if I am to be in accordance with Jesus’ life and teachings.
You say that we must follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. I agree, but how do we discern the leading of the Holy Spirit? We must go to the Bible. If the Bible and Jesus’ example contradict what we thought was the leading of the Holy Spirit, then it can’t be the leading of the Holy Spirit. The leading of the Holy Spirit, if it is authentic, will always agree with the life and teachings of Jesus.
You ask. Why doesn’t the Mennonite Church take an official position against payment of war taxes? I ask you. How can we take an official position condemning something that Jesus did? I am in no position to question Jesus’ actions!
If we are to be consistent about not paying our war taxes because we disagree with their purpose, then let’s stop paying that portion of our taxes that goes for abortion and subsidizes the tobacco industry. But then, why not withhold our property taxes if the schools teach evolution or sex education? Once the pattern of nonpayment as protest is begun, there will be no logical place to stop.
Jesus taught us to pay our taxes and his example showed us we must do the same. If I am to be a Christian and desire Jesus to say to me someday, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” then I can do no less than pay my taxes.
A letter from Elvin Glick fired just about every arrow from the traditionalist quiver: “there is no such thing as a war tax” — “The government has a right to its armies and police forces.” — “Governments have a right to levy taxes.” — Render unto Caesar, two kingdoms, go the extra mile, Romans 13, Jesus & Paul never resisted their governments, war taxes are different from military service, etc.
In the Mennonite Church held its churchwide delegate meeting. Gospel Herald reported:
[One extreme of the feedback:] In 22½ hours of business sessions, 266 delegates who answered the roll call “dragged their feet in giving women equal leadership opportunities in the church, in speaking with a clear voice on nuclear armaments and war taxes, and in preparing a relevant and up-to-date confession of faith.”
In their business sessions delegates… in the longest discussion of the week — struggled with how to realize reconciliation with a delegate who denounced them for continuing to pay war taxes.
Most of the floor discussion centered in the letter to President Reagan… “There’s an unfortunate philosophy behind this letter,” said James Hess, Bethel, Pa. “It’s that because I’m a Christian, I’m qualified to advise the government how to go about its business. That goes against our historic doctrine of the separation of church and state.”
Said Dan Slabaugh, Whitmore, Mich.: “The president will laugh when he reads this letter — if he reads it at all. He’ll laugh because he knows that every payday we disavow what we say when we continue to pay our taxes for war.”
A sidebar to that article read:
A prophetic voice?
How does the assembly process minority viewpoints? That became the focus in an intense discussion engaging assembly delegates for 2½ hours beyond their scheduled closing time in the final business session.
Impetus for the discussion came when Dan Slabaugh, Whitmore Lake, Mich., asked permission to make a four-minute statement on a concern of his. He confronted delegates with their failure to back up their sentiments about peace, as stated in their letter to President Reagan, with their actions. “Why do you continue to pay taxes that go for war purposes?” he asked. “The religious community in America could stop the arms buildup if it wanted to; I can’t understand why this doesn’t excite us.”
Slabaugh reported he had wanted to put two motions on the floor but had been advised by assembly leaders not to. (Later discussion revealed one motion would have called delegates to acknowledge that paying war taxes was sin but that they planned to continue doing so anyway; the other would have called for all Mennonites to stop paying war taxes immediately.) In frustration Slabaugh concluded: “I joined the Mennonite Church because of its stand on peace and nonresistance. I will leave it for the same reason.” He then walked off the assembly floor to participate in a seminar on war taxes.
In subsequent discussion, many delegates voiced concern about the incident and called for reconciliation to be effected between Slabaugh and assembly leaders. There was also discussion on how the assembly can hear a prophetic word and what is the process by which it is determined whether or not a minority opinion is prophetic.
After long discussion, delegates approved a motion which (1) made Slabaugh’s concerns about war taxes a part of the official record of the assembly; (2) asked the Council on Faith, Life, and Strategy to bring proposals to the next assembly for dealing with the war tax issue and for discerning “prophetic voices”; (3) called for immediate steps to be taken to bring about reconciliation between Slabaugh and the assembly.
This led to a letter to the editor from Betty Ann Keener in which she asked: “If the Bible says in three different passages to pay our taxes, why do we even question it?”
The issue carried this report:
For Suzanne Polen, a part-time research microbiologist in Pittsburgh, President Reagan’s recent decisions to increase arms spending mean that she will no longer pay that portion of her taxes she says would fund national defense. “The government is buying weapons which will eventually kill me,” said the 45-year-old tax protester. Instead of paying her full tax bill to the government, she plans to deposit about 50 percent of the money into the newly created Pittsburgh Fund for Life, which describes itself as a peace and justice ministry.
Since the Vietnam War ended, Wildon Fadely of the Internal Revenue Service said, the number of those who have withheld taxes to protest Pentagon activities has been “minuscule.” The category is so small that no separate records are kept, he added. But he admitted his general impression was the “protests of all kinds are on the rise.”
A conservative Anabaptist conference on “Basic Biblical Beliefs” was held in . Among its concerns for the church: “There is a growing alignment with ‘leftist elements’ who advocate civil disobedience, demonstrations, and nonpayment of taxes used for military purposes.”
Driving that point home, in the readers would see “An open letter to our brothers and sisters within the Mennonite, Mennonite Brethren, Brethren in Christ, and General Conference Mennonite Church(es)” that read in part:
We call for acts of tax resistance to be undertaken since our federal income taxes fuel the arms race. We suggest giving funds denied for use in building nuclear weapons to groups working for peace and disarmament, and to groups meeting human needs.
The Mennonite Central Committee’s Peace Section (U.S.) held its assembly in .
Jim Longacre, Peace Section chairman, brought a statement of concern to the group for possible adoption. After the document was criticized for not being specific enough, the group moved to add a paragraph on the war tax issue. Although there was some dissent regarding the usefulness of a statement (one person noted: “It’s easier to assent to a piece of paper than to be accountable”), and the initial voting process was confused and had to be repeated, the majority of the participants approved the statement.
That section of the statement read:
We were repeatedly reminded in this Assembly that the conscription of our income supports the nuclear arms race. Moreover, we saw that the government is increasing expenditures for nuclear and other weapons by decreasing expenditures for human services for the poor and oppressed. We encourage people to consider ways to witness against this evil use of the power of taxation, such as refusing to pay the military portion of the federal income tax.
The issue brought this news:
Episcopal Bishop Robert H. Cochrane of Olympia, Wash., while denouncing the worldwide buildup of nuclear arms, stopped short of condoning a tax revolt as did his Roman Catholic counterpart.
“Please know that I shall continue to pay to my government every penny of my income tax, but at the same time every penny that I save under our president’s new tax plan I shall give away to meet the needs of the poor and uncared for,” Bishop Cochrane said in his annual address to the diocesan convention. “I invite you to do the same.”
Bishop Cochrane s diocese covers western Washington, the same area taken in by the archdiocese of Catholic Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle. The archbishop has become a rallying point for a growing anti-nuclear movement among leaders of nearly a dozen denominations in the Pacific Northwest.
Archbishop Hunthausen has said that people would be morally justified in refusing to pay 50 percent of their income taxes in nonviolent resistance to nuclear “murder and suicide.” He also said he favors unilateral nuclear disarmament.
Truman H. Brunk, Jr., snuck a war tax resistance message into his article “Disarmed by his peace”:
Neither can Christians hide their eyes from the evil insanity of the arms race. Christ came to signal peace on earth, not preparation for war. Christ’s peace means that we cannot participate in the crime of preparation for nuclear war. The obedience of Christians to their government is not absolute and unconditional. We need the courage to avoid adding even a particle of evil to our broken creation. How long can good Mennonites pray for peace and pay for nuclear readiness with our tax dollars?
And to finish off the year, an article on the Ames Mennonite Fellowship in the issue included this news about organized war tax resistance there:
[T]here are three things God is doing in Ames, Iowa… [including] the formulation of guidelines for a war tax alternative fund.
[Ames Mennonite Fellowship] is taking the lead in establishing a war tax alternative fund for persons in the Ames area who are conscientiously opposed to paying taxes for war. In , AMF took formal action to establish the fund. Since then, some $300 has been contributed to it. On seven persons gathered and drew up guidelines for participation in the fund.
In brief, the group determined that contributors to the fund need to pay “an equivalent to the amount actually withheld from Internal Revenue Service.” Participants are expected to sign a “statement of purpose and guidelines” at the time of the first deposit. Keith Schrag, Dan Clark, and other AMF participants in the fund welcome questions and counsel from the broader church in this matter.