American Brethren and War Taxes in 1986

The hows and whys of war tax resistance continued in the pages of the Messenger in , as Cliff Kindy made the case for voluntarily simplicity and living on an income below the tax line.

Messenger: Church of the Brethren

In the Messenger printed an opinion piece by Barry Shutt that had attacked war tax resistance on the grounds that it was ineffective. This somewhat novel argument prompted some rebuttals in the issue (source). L. William Yolton (of the National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors) wrote that Shutt’s arguments were of the same sort that conscientious objectors to military service hear — 

“Are there not other evils to be resisted? So don’t resist this one.” “There are differences of opinion among Christians about an issue, so let us wait to do the good until all are agreed.” “If you do not do this evil, then someone else will be drafted in your place to do it, so you must do evil.”

 — and Brethren know by now not to bend to such arguments. David W. Fouts said that his own experience was proof that writing protest letters was a poor form of witness compared to resistance:

For years I enclosed a carefully composed letter with my tax return protesting the use of my tax dollars for military purposes, but I have yet to receive a single reply from an IRS or other administrative official. My actions apparently spoke louder than my words.

However, when I withheld 10 percent of my income taxes to protest the proportion spent on nuclear weapons, I received repeated attention from the IRS in the form of letters demanding payment and threatening to confiscate my property.

Cliff Kindy wrote in for the issue to recommend a non-disobedient form of tax refusal (source).

It has been good to see the issue of paying taxes for war highlighted in Messenger. The issue for our family has been “Who is Lord?” Is Caesar Lord, through the channels of IRS? Or is Jesus? Caesar calls for our money and our life, and, yet, Jesus calls for our all. To which will we respond in obedience? (We cannot have two masters.) We fret about the consequences of breaking the law, and yet seem unconcerned about the possibility of falling into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). Certainly God, who asks us to stand over against the powers of death, will care for us in our obedience. We must venture obedience.

It is too easy to assume that in this instance obedience to God leads directly to disobedience to Caesar. For those who struggle over that concern, there is a possible answer. To limit one’s income to below the taxable level is not illegal, and, although still extravagant by the world’s standards, is moving in the direction of standing with God’s little people. We as a church have not examined seriously the results of living at an income level that does not require missiles, bombers, and Trident submarines to protect it. You might like to try it for a few years.

Several questions for those who pay taxes for war: 1) Do you give more money to the church than you pay to IRS? More than you pay to IRS for the 50-to-70-percent portion of your tax that is military-related? 2) How large would that military-related percentage need to get before you would say “No”? 3) If that percentage of the federal income tax were going to finance houses of prostitution or liquor warehouses, would you pay it? 4) If it would be proper for a Christian to channel monies to the Peace Tax Fund (if such a proposal is ever passed for conscientious objectors), does that not imply that we should feel some urgency even now to pay those dollars toward similar purposes? (Does the law of the land ever define the Law of God?) 5) If we spoke the passages of Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, and Luke 20:25 with the same emphasis Jesus probably had, (“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”), might we not also find “…this man… forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar…” (Luke 23:2)?

The following news came from the issue:

Kalamazoo Christians make tax-day peace witness

Ten Christians in Kalamazoo, Mich., gathered in front of the courthouse to voice their opposition to military funding. Representing the Catholic Church, the Mennonite Church, and the Church of the Brethren, they withheld a total of $6,400, the portion of their income taxes that they claimed would help fund the military budget.

Deanna Brown, pastor of the Skyridge Church of the Brethren, thought twice before joining the peace demonstration, since she didn’t want to be misunderstood by other Christians. “But because of my vocation as a disciple of Christ,” she said, “I feel called to make this witness and to say there is another way — the way of reconciliation, humility, service — and that’s the way of Jesus Christ.”

Added Steve Senesi: “We are not opposed to taxes. The point today is to speak to where those funds go and how they are spent.” The withheld tax money was given to five local social service agencies: Center City Housing, Loaves and Fishes (a clearinghouse for emergency food pantries), Habitat for Humanity, Kalamazoo Diaconal Conference, and Kalamazoo Youth Ministry.

about ten people stand in a circle on the sidewalk, one holding a banner reading “truth + justice + freedom + love = peace” while in the foreground is a mailbox labeled “Federal and State Income Tax Returns”

“Deanna Brown and Terry Ciszek (to left of banner), of the Kalamazoo Church of the Brethren, joined others who were opposing the use of tax dollars for military purposes.”

The issue brought news of Brethren who had been arrested in demonstrations opposing U.S. militarized foreign policy (source), including:

Phil Rieman, co-pastor of the Ivester church in Grundy Center, Iowa, was part of an effort to link the payment of tax dollars and US funding of the contras [Nicaraguan insurgents]. He and 10 others were arrested after refusing to leave the IRS building in Waterloo.

In the subsequent 2-day jury trial all 11 defendants were found “not guilty” by all six jurors on the grounds that the demonstration was justifiable. “Unlike the recent sanctuary trial (in Tuscon, Ariz.), we were allowed to say why we did what we did. And the jury agreed that we were right,” Rieman said. “It was unusual.”

The previous year, the Messenger had hosted a thoughtful theological debate about the possible biblical basis for tax resistance or obedience. Mark Wilhelm wanted to remind people that this wasn’t just a theoretical concern:

Tax resistance is crucial now

A few Brethren have been discussing war tax resistance, trying to attain a New Testament view. The theological complications of this discussion and the possibility of confrontation with the government have resulted in the neglect of the issue by the majority of Brethren, even those who otherwise adhere to the nonviolent teachings of Jesus. Instead of neglect, we Brethren should urgently consider our position on war-tax resistance.

We Brethren are failing to realize that the military is depending more on technology and less on people. It is this growing dependence on technology that makes the war-tax issue vital. The military is always seeking to use fewer personnel with sophisticated weaponry to carry out major operations. The military goal of this latter work is to replace human soldiers in the battlefield with computer-controlled robotics that are capable of making complex human-like decisions.

Greater military dependence upon advanced technology has its drawbacks. It requires expert scientific research, extensive engineering design, skilled manufacturing, and elaborate testing. This extremely costly work must be begun many years in advance of the intended use of the weapons. Therefore the military needs a large amount of money, and it needs it today for the next decade’s weapons.

It is this shift in the military’s dependence from human soldiers to expensive, advanced-planned technology that makes the payment of war taxes a vital issue to Brethren. The military is less in need of Brethren young men, but more in need of the war taxes paid by all Brethren well before the occurrence of a war. War-tax resistance not only withholds the funding that the military relies upon, it also exposes the sin of the quiet, deadly weapons buildup. War-tax resistance is therefore a vital part of a holistic peace witness.

To be conscientiously opposed to war and to pay for the advanced weaponry that is the life blood of the modern military is a difficult discipleship dilemma, the resolution of which is made increasingly urgent by the pace of technology. To wait until global hostilities begin to practice nonviolent resistance is of no use. At that time the weapons systems that we currently fund will be in the hands of those committed to using them.

At this moment our incomes are being taxed to fight future wars. The income of every brother and sister is being conscripted by the military that it might do tremendous violence. The crucial question each of us must face is: “Would Jesus have me resist this evil?”