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 Mennonite

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, including:

Turning Toward Peace program redirects war taxes ()
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 MCC’s “Summer Service” program. In addition, “MCC 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 U.S. government uses the income taxes of MCC U.S. employees to pay for war…”
Conscientious objection to military taxation ()
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.

The Mennonite and the Christian Evangel

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.

There is not much to report from those volumes. In a youth-oriented section of the edition, it is stated matter-of-factly that “In Mark 12:14–17 [the ‘render unto Caesar’ episode] Jesus teaches that taxes should be paid.”

A more adult-oriented meditation on that chapter, but one that even more frankly shot down war tax resistance as a Biblically-justified option, is found in the . Should we render taxes to Caesar?

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 edition:

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 did?

I also eventually tracked down the missing 1953 volume that for some reason wasn’t showing up in my Internet Archive searches.

“The Mennonite” logo, circa 1952

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.)

An editorial in the edition reflected on tax season, and said:

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.

In , the General Conference adopted “A Declaration on Peace, War, and Military Service” that included the following:

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.