Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 2015–2018 (and 1934–1935 & 1953)
This is the forty-seventh in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it
was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today
we finally reach the present day.
The most recent volume of The Mennonite in the
Internet Archives collection is , and more
recent back issues aren’t on-line as far as I know. There are a couple of
individual articles from more recent years at themennonite.org, including:
Describes a Mennonite Central Committee program of organized tax
redirection, in this case to “New Profile,” a group that helps
conscientious objectors to military service in Israel, and to
“Summer Service” program. In addition,
U.S. submits a
‘letter of anguish’ with each quarterly report of employee income taxes to
the Internal Revenue Service. The letter laments that the
uses the income taxes of
to pay for war…”
H.A. Penner describes the “moral injury… we suffer when we pay for war
while praying for peace” and describes the evolution of his tax resistance
and his work to get a Peace Tax Fund law enacted. He also alerted readers
to the option of donating money directly from their retirement accounts to
charity in order to take their required minimum distributions without
inflicting a tax liability.
The paucity of content
matches what I found when I did a similar survey of Quaker periodicals. In
that case I called it “The Second
Forgetting” because of an earlier lapse in Quaker war tax resistance
between the Civil War and World War Ⅱ.
In the Mennonite case, though, there was no earlier wave of war tax resistance
to forget, at least as far as I could tell from reading
The Mennonite (this choice of starting points for my
research may turn out to have been an important bias, though — future research
will tell, I hope). There was a murmur of war tax resistance that began in
the magazine , went from
a murmur to a rumble in , then from
a rumble to a roar in , but thereafter quickly subsided, finally fading to a whisper by
, where it has largely remained.
I’d noted earlier that the volumes of The Mennonite
from seemed to be missing. I
assumed the magazine had gone dormant during the Great Depression. In fact, I
later learned, it temporarily merged with Christian
Evangel, another Mennonite publication, and those collected issues
appeared under a joint title that I had initially missed in my searching.
Yes. Christ as our example paid the tribute money required by the Roman
government of His day, “lest he should offend them” (Matt. 17:27).
But some one may protest: “The taxes are too high; they are unjustly
apportioned; they are unwisely spent,”
etc. We are
responsible for the justice or injustice of the apportionment and spending of
the money only in so far as we have a voice in such matters. Christ had no
pangs of conscience in paying His tribute money, though He knew the Roman
government maintained vast armies.
Arthur R. Franz
came closest to touching on a war tax resistance position in the
Hating war means that we will oppose it as zealously as we are convinced that
it is against the spirit of Christ. Using that as a measure for our sincerity,
we might well conclude that we are not Christian. I know that there are many
of us here that are conscientiously convinced that it is wrong to take life.
But is that sufficient? Am I not guilty of the evils of war if I do not raise
a protesting voice against it? I am guilty of killing, of hating, of
destroying, of torturing, as well as the man who goes to the fighting front
and shoots another man or stabs him with his bayonet. I am even more guilty
than he, because he is doing it in the belief that he is doing it for the good
of mankind. I am convinced that it is utterly wrong, that it is sin, and yet
do nothing about it.
This applies even more directly to the Mennonites because to some extent their
principle of non-resistance has become traditional. It is somewhat easier to
escape the pressure of the military machine because our principles are
recognized and because of the moral support that a wonderful heritage gives to
us in times of distress. We are guilty, too, of the evils of war when we
remain civilians, because we are helping in one way or another to carry on the
war; we are raising food, manufacturing directly or indirectly materials that
are necessary to carry on war; we buy bonds that help to buy the materials
necessary to carry on the destruction of property, lives, and hopes.
If I am not actively opposed to war and gain exemption from service when war
comes, I am a coward. I am hiding behind a creed and it is no wonder that the
man who is enveloped by the spirit of war is so bitter toward me. We are
thrilled by the stories of Mennonite Martyrs, but would I undergo what they
I also eventually tracked down the missing 1953 volume that for some reason
wasn’t showing up in my Internet Archive searches.
An article by Hanno Klassen in the edition described how Christian charity has effects that compound
beyond the initial charitable act — he called this a
“chain reaction of love.”
He concluded his article this way:
Which power do you support? Do you pay high taxes for atomic research to
start the satanic chain reaction, or do you link up with the chain reaction of
love where Christ Himself brings everlasting peace?
(Klassen became a war tax resister at some point, see
the 1982 volume for instance.)
We are aware that at least three-fourths of our tax money goes for military
purposes, and we do not approve the military way of life. How consistent is it
to refuse to serve personally in our armies and navies but yet pay our full
share in supporting the war machine? Of course we may try to convince
ourselves that Christ paid His taxes to Rome, even though Rome was a great
military power. In moral distinctions it is sometimes difficult to know where
to draw a definite line, and say this far, but no farther.
While we render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, let us be sure we also
render unto God that which is God’s.
We cannot in free conscience apply our labor, money, or material resources for
the furtherance of military ends. For example, we cannot remain true to our
peace witness if we purchase war bonds or work in defense industries.