This is the sixteenth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we wrap up the 1960s.
The edition included a questionnaire from the Peace and Social Concerns Committee who noted that “Inquiries about the payment of taxes going largely to war and the payment of the proposed tax increase have been trickling into the peace and social concerns office” and that “would like to know what is happening among our people and to keep in touch with each other.” Here is the questionnaire:
David S. Meyers was having none of this foolishness, and wrote a letter that appeared in the edition lambasting the Peace and Social Concerns Committee for its “illegal, immoral, unpatriotic, possibly treasonable, and most of all, foolish” ideas. “No one wants or approves of war,” he wrote, but most of his letter approved vehemently of the U.S. government’s “vital” Vietnam war policy. Myers also noted that he had recently abandoned the Mennonites for the Methodists.
War tax resister Marion Deckert responded, in a letter that appeared in the edition. Excerpt:
It means a great deal to me to know that our fellowship is concerned about and interested in those who have felt compelled to make a stand on our financial support of the Vietnam war.
My wife and I have been withholding our telephone tax now for the past year. This tax refusal on our part can only be symbolic since we have no choice about paying our income tax. Still, we have felt we cannot voluntarily pay to support the Vietnam war. The telephone tax was reinstated rather explicitly because of the demands of the war and so we cannot conscientiously pay it. We are certainly aware of the impracticality, even stupidity, of this act. We are also aware that it is illegal. We firmly believe it is not unpatriotic. As for the immorality of this action, we believe quite the opposite, we believe that we can only approach toward morality along this road.
In the Mennonites’ Eastern District Conference met, and war tax resistance was on the agenda, along with a proposal for an “overhaul of the church paper [The Mennonite] because they felt that an undue emphasis was being given in the paper to social and political affairs”. Excerpts from an article on the conference:
[T]he conference hastily debated a resolution censuring the General Conference “Council of Boards” for encouraging members of the conference in tax refusal as a protest against the Vietnam war. With a considerable number opposing the resolution, the motion was adopted.
Said the resolution, in part, “Whereas, we of the Eastern District Conference… confess to the divine inspiration and infallibility of the Bible as the Word of God and as the only trustworthy guide of faith and practice and whereas, the Lord Jesus living under one of the most extensive military systems in history, clearly teaches us in the Gospel According to Matthew that we as His followers should pay the taxes due to the heads of government (Mt. 22:17–22), Resolved, that we recognize as unscriptural the encouragement of the General Conference Council of Boards that constituents of the General Conference Mennonite Churches withhold a portion of their taxes as a means of witnessing against the war in Vietnam.”
The resolution further counseled members to “take full advantage of the 30 percent exemption allowed to us for giving of our income to the work of missions, relief, and service.”
The information on tax refusal had been compiled by the Board of Christian Service and mailed to members of the General Conference earlier this spring.
673 delegates to the General Conference Mennonite Church meeting in were polled about Vietnam-oriented activism. Should Mennonites offer emergency relief aid to civilian war victims in North Vietnam? 76% said yes, they should. Did draft resisters who had fled to Canada deserve Mennonite support? 51% agreed. Then they were asked about war tax resistance:
“Refusal to pay some or all of the taxes for war purposes is an appropriate peace witness.” Of the total respondents, 27 percent agreed, 22 percent were undecided, and 51 percent disagreed. The age group under twenty-five favored the statement overwhelmingly (76 percent), while about half of the other age groups disagreed.
An additional survey at the youth congress, polling 220 young people, showed that 59 percent favored aid to draft resisters, 51 percent considered refusal to pay taxes an appropriate witness, 82 percent were in favor of aid to North Vietnam…
The General Conference Mennonite Church adopted a resolution on nationalism that tried to thread the biblical needle on civil disobedience thusly:
The biblical position is that God has ordained the state for various functions (Rom. 13:1) among which is the maintenance of order. A Christian, therefore, has certain responsibilities to the state. Those that have been stated by the biblical writers are prayer for the governing authorities, the payment of taxes, the giving of respect, and obedience (1 Tim. 2:1, 2; Rom. 13:6, 7; 1 Pet. 2:17). Even these responsibilities which a Christian has toward his government arise out of and are subject to the Christian’s obedience to the will of God (Matt. 22:21; Mk. 12:17). Thus on those occasions when a Christian is confronted by a conflict between what God requires and what the governing authorities require, we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29)
The Conference “further exhort the members of the North American brotherhood to discuss together how they can express concretely, in action, their concerns on these current issues… We suggest the following as possible subjects…” One of those subjects:
Search our consciences on the question of paying taxes for military purposes; support generously international mission and service programs; urge churches to support those who, by reason of conscience, refuse to pay the percentage of taxes for military purposes.
There seems to have been something of a shake-up on the General Conference by its meeting. I don’t know entirely what was going on, but I do notice a big drop-off in war tax resistance content in The Mennonite , so perhaps the backlash had managed to seize control for a time. An article about the new General Conference had this ambiguous note:
One example [of the new Board’s “desire to improve communication and open up lines of discussion”] is in its approach to a question from the Eastern District Conference about last year’s statement on war taxes and tax refusal. The board had on its desk a statement answering the charges made and questions raised. But the statement was left unadopted, in order that conversation on the subject might continue in an atmosphere of freedom.
Representatives from Mennonite, Quaker, and Brethren congregations — the “historic peace churches” — met in New Windsor, Maryland in to figure out what being a peace church was supposed to mean in the less-historic here and now. Why had the peace churches “missed the boat” when so many people were eager for leadership on the question of peace?
“Spurred on by the youth delegates to the consultation, a group at New Windsor prepared a brief statement calling… for ‘counseling on the draft and nonpayment of war taxes for those who need it.’ ”
Donald R. Klassen wrote a letter to the Internal Revenue Service on explaining his tax “resistance”. It was excerpted in the edition:
Sirs: Today is the deadline for filing income tax returns for and, since you already have our tax in the form of withholding tax, which I consider confiscation, my only protest this year can be in the form of refusing to sign the returns. Be it herewith understood that my signature affixed to the end of this letter is a signature of protest as well as affirmation that the returns are correct. The war-tax protests that you have received from me have, by now, made clear my stance in regard to war taxes being forced from people of pacifist conscience, which I consider to be a violation of the first amendment. This violation is made clear by the fact that for , the Mennonites of North America (U.S. and Canada) have paid more in defense taxes than the entire budget of the 130 members nations of the UN, according to Mr. U Thant. Considering that the UN budget was approximately 140 million, according to the world almanac, it is startling to be made aware that the Mennonites of North America paid in over 200 million dollars, computed at the rate of 67 percent and 24 percent of the tax dollar going to defense purposes from the U.S. and Canada, respectively.
Being aware of a number of defense plants and defense stockpiles, for examples; Dow Chemical Company in Michigan, producing napalm; nerve-gas production in Newport, Indiana; stockpiles of nerve gas in Denver, Colorado; biological warfare center of research and stockpiles at Fort Detrick, and chemical warfare center of research and stockpiles at Edgewood Arsenal near Baltimore, Maryland; plus numerous other research centers and defense plants and stockpiles; plus the sixty thousand-plus missiles around the world of which fifteen hundred are located in the U.S. — it is distressing for me to see such an array of defense in addition to the 3.5 million man military force when, at the same time, affirming that “in God we trust.” It is equally distressing for me to say the flag salute containing the phrase “one nation, under God” while, at the same time, considering such demonic warfare as is now being committed in the name of the U.S.
This protest is not considered to be a means whereby I can wash my hands and consider myself free from the evils being committed around the world with my money; rather it is a memorandum to call attention to the fact that the mass-murder techniques used by this country will be accountable before God, and to call attention to fellow Christians who are supporting these atrocities that these atrocities are being committed by means of their support even though granted conscientious objector exemption from serving in the armed forces.
Reconciliation within a world torn by U.S. tyranny is impossible through military methods. In spite of the three meetings that the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam had with the U.S. senators and representatives, plus numerous protests in the past by concerned individuals and groups, war and preparations for war continue. Truly, the militant leaders of our country cry as did the Old Testament false prophets “peace, peace, when there is no peace.” For the cause of stopping slaughter, torture, destruction, and intimidation of millions of my fellowmen around the world, I now refuse to sign the enclosed tax form and am willing to suffer the consequences rather than participate in the continuing rape of the world. I can salve my conscience no longer, henceforth, under the name of Christ and with strength from His Spirit, I refuse the brand of U.S. militarism, as an agent of wrath of global butchers, by my refusal to sell my soul to the devil through cooperation, with the collection agency (IRS) which finances the fire from heaven and hell on earth for the defenseless in brutal slaughter of our poor, weak, naked, and starving fellow human beings around the world “in the name of U.S.” My prayer and purpose is that inconsistently-minded persons may be awakened to the brutalities of war and may turn, instead, their efforts unconditionally to world brotherhood as children of God and of reconciliation in His Name for establishing His Kingdom. ―Donald R. Klassen, 1700 S. Main St., Goshen, Ind. 46526.