War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 2004

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

In , Quaker Meetings were still wrestling with whether to go on the record in support of war tax resistance, and, if so, whether to do so in an explicit, uncompromising way, or one that played it safe and left a lot of wiggle room.

In an op-ed in the issue of the Friends Journal, Nadine Hoover urged Quaker Meetings to take a concrete stand opposing the payment of war taxes:

Should War Tax Resistance be a Corporate Testimony?

At New York Yearly Meeting in , I was given a message: The Spirit calls Friends to claim a corporate testimony against the payment of war taxes and participation in war in any form. Of course, we have had a testimony against war since George Fox’s declaration to Charles Ⅱ in :

Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace, and ensue it, and to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God, seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all. All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world.

Yet there is what British Friends in Quaker Faith and Practice call “Dilemmas of the Pacifist Stand” (24.21–24.26), which opens with a quote from Isaac Penington, :

I speak not against the magistrates or peoples defending themselves against foreign invasions; or making use of the sword to suppress the violent and evil-doers within our borders — for this the present estate of things may and doth require, and a great blessing will attend the sword where it is borne uprightly to that end and its use will be honourable — but yet there is a better state, which the Lord hath already brought some into, and which nations are to expect and to travel towards. There is to be a time when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.” When the power of the Gospel spreads over the whole earth, thus shall it be throughout the earth, and, where the power of the Spirit takes hold of and overcomes any heart at present, thus will it be at present with that heart. This blessed state, which shall be brought fotth [in society] at large in God’s season, must begin in the particulars [that is, in individuals].

New York Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice, under which I currently reside, advises (p. 60–61):

Friends are earnestly cautioned against the taking of arms against any person, since “all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons” are contrary to our Christian testimony. Friends should beware of supporting preparations for war even indirectly, and should examine in this light such matters as noncombatant military service, cooperation with conscription, employment or investment in war industries, and voluntary payment of war taxes. When their actions are carefully considered, Friends must be prepared to accept the consequences of their convictions. Friends are advised to maintain our testimony against war by endeavoring to exert an influence in favor of peaceful principles and the settlement of all differences by peaceful methods. They should lend support to all that strengthens international friendship and understanding and give active help to movements that substitute cooperation and justice for force and intimidation.

NYYM corporately advises against taking up arms against another person, yet more vaguely warns to “beware of” voluntary payment of war taxes. The yearly meeting calls Friends to examine their own actions and “accept the consequences of their convictions” (emphasis is mine). This is about individual conviction, not the corporate conviction we have against bearing of arms. We are squarely in the Penington tradition of advising Friends to testify against war by “endeavoring to exert an influence in favor of peaceful principles.” We commit to the conversion of hearts and minds, one at a time, “seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all.” Patience and persistence are employed in our participation with government.

As late as , it even seemed that our experiment would come to fruition. Larry Apsey of New York Yearly Meeting called out, “the time is at hand.” The Gandhian, civil rights, and women’s movements made it clear that patience and persistence were about to pay off; we were about to come into this blessed state, not just as a people, but as a nation. What a far cry we are from that now! Fruits of the Spirit are a significant test of discernment for Friends, a test that our path has failed. We cannot put new wine into old wine flasks. We cannot be in that blessed state and support a military for those who have not yet arrived. We are called to choose, we are called to choose now, and we are called to choose as a people.

When we get quiet, every Friend I know says that payment of war taxes violates their conscience. It’s been a long time since we acknowledged a new corporate testimony; this practice has fallen away. So let us remember. Friends experience a Living Presence among us and commit to being taught, guided, and shaped by the Living Spirit, placing great reliance on spiritual discernment. Meeting for business was organized to test the spiritual discernment of its members, affirm or suggest further laboring, and support those suffering for conscience’ sake. If a Friend’s testimony were affirmed, the question was, “Is this true for them alone, for others as well, or for all of us?” If it were true for everyone, then it was a corporate testimony.

If we are quiet and ask the question, “Does the payment of war taxes violate my conscience?” and the response is yes for all of us, then, Friends, this is no longer a personal act of conscience but rather a corporate testimony of the meeting. I am not suggesting we all do any particular thing. I am asking a question of faith. What we do about it will only be sought once we are clear on what we believe. We may pay in protest, become vocal, or resist payment, but whatever we do, we do, not only as an individual, but also as a religious body.

The Spirit is calling us to unite in the Power of the Living Spirit to give life, joy, peace, and prosperity in the world through love, integrity, and compassionate justice among people and to acknowledge that paying for war violates our religious conviction. It will be a long, hard, humble road, but it is the only road that promises a future for humanity. Life will go on with or without us. Let us stand up for our children and grandchildren and say we chose peace.

The response to Hoover’s plea — at least from the record of it we have in the Journal — was muted. There was a single letter-to-the-editor from William Ashworth (who describes himself as a former war tax refuser) in the issue that began: “Friend Nadine Hoover asks us if war tax resistance should be a corporate testimony among Friends. The answer is ‘no.’ ” Ashworth argues that because taxes are mixed, and not specific war taxes, there’s no grounds for refusal to pay; furthermore if we did refuse to pay, Congress would probably cut beneficial spending before military spending; and in addition there’s the familiar slippery slope argument wherein other churches might apply the Quaker precedent to refuse to pay for “family planning, education, environmental protection, and a host of other government services that we value.”

A feature on Lillian Willoughby in the issue mentioned her war tax resistance as follows:

By the time of [the] Vietnam [war], Lillian, a lifelong tax resister, had become well acquainted with the Internal Revenue Service; she liked to speak of herself as “educating the IRS.” In one celebrated incident, after the IRS seized the Willoughbys’ car, the couple raised sufficient funds to redeem it at auction. Indeed, they raised much more than enough, and so they could claim their car and a refund as well. Lillian had brought a cake and lemonade to the IRS offices on the day of the auction. Once their bid had been declared the winner, she staged a party outside the auction room; one or two of the agents shared refreshments with [PDF cuts off here].

When she was summoned to trial, she and another Quaker wrote a letter to the judge advising him that they would not rise at a judge’s entrance, although they meant no disrespect. The bailiff instructed everyone to remain seated when the court came into session and the judge seemed predisposed to leniency. When he asked Lillian to account for her actions, she gave what had become her standard statement, that “we [the United States] should not be making war on people, and we [Lillian and like-minded taxpayers] should not have to pay for it.” The judge levied a $250 fine; she announced that she had no intention of paying it; he gave her 30 days to think it over. As George put it many years later, “She’s still thinking about it.”

The article ends with Willoughby, at 89, facing trial for a civil disobedience action in protest of the Iraq War and contemplating how she would confront the system: “One thing was certain, she told her family as they sat in daughter Anita’s New York apartment : she would not pay the fine. None of them seemed surprised.”

A review of Robert Turner Shaping Silence: A Life in Clay in that issue calls it “the story of a conscientious objector, a tax resister, a generous donor of his time, skills, and possessions,” among other things.

An obituary notice for Susumu Ishitani in the same issue noted that “[i]n , Susumu introduced tax refusal into Japan, and was one of six plaintiffs who sued the Japanese government over the issue of military spending.… , he was a member of Citizens Group of Conscientious Military Tax Refusers, sometimes serving as clerk.”

The annual gathering of the Northern Yearly Meeting approved a minute giving its interpretation of the Peace Testimony, which included this statement:

We will continue to stand and work for peace and justice. We will continue to support those who for conscience’ sake refuse to participate in the military. We support those who, for conscience’ sake, refuse to pay taxes for war. We support those who are involved in nonviolent peacemaking.

A minute approved in by the South Berkshire (Massachusetts) Meeting quoted from the New England Yearly Meeting’s “Advice on Peace and Reconciliation,” which said:

Friends are urged to support those who witness to their governments and take personal risks in the cause of peace, who choose not to participate in wars as soldiers nor to contribute to its preparedness with their taxes.

Though the context in which this was quoted did not concern taxes, but merely an expression of “appreciation” for those Canadian Quaker organizations who were helping Americans who had fled to Canada to avoid military service.

A retrospective on the Friends World Committee for Consultation’s Peace Conference the previous year — which had been entitled “Friends Peace Witness in a Time of Crisis” — mentioned “ ‘Conscience and War Tax Witness’ with Rosa Packard” in a long list of “Other workshops.”

The issue included a review of Henry Climbs a Mountain — a children’s story based on Henry David Thoreau’s night in jail for tax refusal.

That issue also included an article about Mary Stone McDowell, who is the only person I know of who was a war tax resister through both World Wars (she was fired from her job as a teacher in part because she would not participate in urging her students to buy “Thrift Stamps” — a sort of junior version of the Liberty Bonds the U.S. government was using to fund its participation in World War Ⅰ). Unfortunately, the brief paragraph about her war tax resistance is cut off in the PDF in the archives, but it ends “…income taxes each year and, according to Vernon Martin [a conscientious objector McDowell had helped], the IRS dutifully ‘attached part of her pitifully small teacher’s pension, out of which she also gave to charity.’ ”