Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1970

Irlanda Jerez, leader of the tax strike among mer­chants in Ni­ca­ra­gua’s Mer­ca­do Ori­en­tal, was seized by masked police officers , held in­com­muni­cado, and swiftly given a three-year sen­tence on what strike me as trumped-up charges un­re­lat­ed to the pro­tests.

Calls for more wide­spread tax refusal and for a general strike are growing louder. there was a pro­test at the offices of COSEP [Supreme Private Business Council], a sort of private sector business union that rep­re­sents various in­dus­try and chamber of com­merce groups. The group, while nom­i­nal­ly opposing the Ortega/Murillo crack­downs and pro­moting protests, has been drag­ging its heels when it comes to chal­lenging the regime with stronger action. It is under pres­sure from citizens who want it to be bolder.

This is the seventeenth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we enter the 1970s.

The Mennonite

The edition noted: “Tentative plans are being made for a professor from Bethel College… to work with a seminar group for six to ten weeks in a study program for six hours of college credit. The topic for study is ‘The Draft, Income Tax, and Defense Spending.’” More details could be found in the edition. “The seminar will emphasize a total learning experience through study, action, and group living.” Tax refusal was one of the topics on the agenda.

A meandering letter from Theodore Janzen dated and published in the edition complained of dancing in public schools, trashy sex talk in The Mennonite, and “the Mennonite hippie problem” on the way to having this to say about war tax resistance:

Sure, I am against war and at the same time I pay my taxes. Contradictions! You bet! I’m not going to fight the great white father in Washington. If I did nobody would help, and everybody would laugh and tell me, “You never had it so good!” That’s what happens when I have a crop failure; nobody helps.

But then read the Bible. Give unto Caesar which is Caesar’s, unto God which is God’s.

Right now, I am more concerned about the dancing than the war…

The edition included a brief item about the American Friends Service Committee’s lawsuit asking “for the return of funds which were paid to the government in lieu of federal income taxes collected from employees conscientiously opposed to war.” (See ♇ 15 July 2013 for more about this case.)

Who Dare to Say MENNO

The issue covered a mutual aid fund to help “financially support those whose conscience leads them to break the law.” The Mennonite Central Committee’s Peace Section was spearheading this new “Mennonites Engaged in Nonviolent Noncooperative Obedience (MENNO)” fund.

The purpose of the MENNO fund is to help with the following:

Legal costs because of conscientious civil disobedience (tax refusal, noncooperation with draft, refusal of induction) related to militarism, civil rights, and religious freedom.

Aid to dependents and families of persons engaging in conscientious civil disobedience.

Fines and bail for persons engaging in acts of conscientious civil disobedience.

Grants or loans for personal items (college debts) to persons engaged in conscientious civil disobedience.

The edition included a long essay by Phil Kliewer entitled “Did the cat get Menno’s dove?” that took Mennonites to task for becoming too blasé in their opposition to violence and war. Some excerpts:

People tell me that the government recognized us by legislating the alternative service program and respected us for our good use of it.

That is all very fine, except that the recognition and respect has not gone much further than this. Were we only looking for recognition and respect?

A few of our people are saying no to violence, and sacrificing family life, wealth, social relations, or personal freedoms. They have refused to render unto Caesar what belongs to God, in the form of war tax resistance and draft resistance.

Just a few of these Mennonites are: Dan Clark, who has just recently turned in his draft card, and is awaiting court procedures; Dennis Koehn, who is awaiting jail sentence; John Howard Yoder, whose bank account has been frozen for tax resistance…

What is creative, radical, nonviolent commitment? Can it work? To answer these two questions, perhaps we can take a look at recent history.

During Franz Josef of Austria tried to subordinate Hungary. The people of Hungary refused to recognize Austria, and boycotted Austrian goods. When the Austrian tax collectors came around, they were treated very kindly, but given no tax money. Austrian police confiscated property, but could not persuade the Hungarian auctioneers to sell it. When they brought in their own auctioneers, no one would bid, and to bring in bidders was not worth the trouble. The Austrian government then declared boycotting illegal, but the persistent Hungarians refused to recognize this and soon the jails were overflowing.

Austria then offered partial government, but the Hungarians insisted on full claims. After trying a compulsory military service, which was destined to fall flat, Austria gave up. Throughout, the Hungarians remained nonviolent but unswayed. Their creative, radical, nonviolent commitment was effective.

In , the Bombay provincial government raised the tax rate to 60 percent, for the people of Bardoli. Vallabhai Patel led a tax-resistance movement to nonviolently prevent this economic injustice from actually taking place. This took a lot of planning. Sixteen camps were put up in the district, where 250 volunteer leaders printed daily bulletins and trained the eighty-eight thousand peasants to withstand the punishment they received. The government tried flattery, bribes, fines, flogging, imprisonment, confiscation, and other means to persuade the peasants to comply, but the peasants, with their nonviolent methods, eventually persuaded the government to comply to their wishes. Again, creative, radical, nonviolent commitment won out.

The edition carried two articles that came out of the Western District Conference meeting of the General Conference Mennonite Church :

Should Christians pay war taxes?

Government should be God’s servant for man’s good. Its role is to maintain order and to preserve life. Christians should appreciate and support the worthy functions which government performs. They should willingly pay generous proportions of their incomes for taxes which finance education and other functions which are for man’s good.

But when government is not God’s servant for man’s good, Christians should seek to be a correcting force. Christians are not called to submit to every demand of every state. When Paul instructs the Roman Christians (Rom. 13:7) to give “tax to whom tax is due, toll to whom toll, respect to whom respect, and honor to whom honor,” he is saying that we are to discriminate and give to each only his due, refusing to give to Caesar what belongs to God.

Mennonites throughout history have refused when a government demanded that they go to war. Our conscientious objectors today carry on this vital tradition. But how can we, in clear conscience, pay someone else to do for us that evil which we refuse to do ourselves?

In earlier days men were the primary tools of war. But now the primary tool of war is money. Military technology needs only a few men. This is making conscientious objection to military service less and less meaningful. Conscientious objection to killing will have to take new and different forms if it is to retain its vital significance.

James Stauffer, missionary to Vietnam under the Eastern Mennonite Board, wrote recently in the Mennonite Weekly Review: “The time has come for the peace churches to request a plan whereby our tax dollars could be channeled directly to some constructive cause. Campus protests, street demonstrations, draft card burnings have not been effective in stopping the war. But choking off the funds that feed the military-industrial complex could bring results.”

Sixty to 70 percent of our income tax dollar is spent in payment for past and present wars, or in preparation for future wars. The average Western District congregation of two hundred persons, in , paid $65,000 in war taxes to the Internal Revenue Service. Western District members paid $4,250,000 to buy guns, napalm, and hand grenades. We pay two and one-half times more in war taxes than we give to our church and its outreach. What is the meaning of Christmas bundles given to refugees when we bought the bombs that destroyed their homes?

Let us ponder the words of our late President Eisenhower, who was not a pacifist: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

Is paying war taxes responsible Christian stewardship? Ought we not as brothers of those who are hungry and cold, refuse to give up our resources for destruction, and give our war tax money to authorities who will use it as God’s servant for man’s good?

We move that the Western District Conference ask the Peace and Social Concerns Committee to:

  1. Provide information to local congregations and individuals on the following ways in which Christians have through word and deed sought to witness against the destructive functions of government made possible by war taxes:
    1. Pay the income tax, but include a letter of protest to the Internal Revenue Service explaining why payment of these taxes makes us violate the law of love that Christ gave us to follow. The letter can urge the government to use tax money only for peaceful and constructive purposes either through the United Sates Government or through the United Nations. We can send copies of this letter to our Congressmen and our President, among others.
    2. Refuse to pay that portion of our income tax which goes for war and contribute the same amount to some constructive service agency, such as Church World Service or UNICEF of the United Nations. We will not make obstacle nor withhold any information which IRS might need to collect these taxes.
    3. Refuse to pay the federal telephone tax which was instituted in to pay for an escalated war in Vietnam. A brochure is available and titled, “Hang Up On War.”
    4. Reduce or share our incomes so that they will be below the income-tax level, and, thereby, we will avoid payment of war taxes by legal and sacrificial means. This method also diminishes the amount of indirect taxes we pay by a higher level of consumption, and puts us nearer to the world average standard of living.
  2. Petition appropriate legislatures or in some way seek to create an alternative peace tax to which conscientious objectors to war (of any age) could pay the military portion of their income tax. This alternative fund would be comparable to alternative service and would be used for such projects as promote world peace by nonmilitary means.
  3. Help Mennonite agencies and employers to investigate alternative structures of operation so that they will not be required to withhold income tax from their employees’ pay. John Howard Yoder, president of the Goshen Biblical Seminary has said: “There is something very questionable about the willingness with which Mennonite church agencies, by withholding their employees’ income, serve as arms of the federal government for tax collection which thereby relieves the individual of any conscious choice concerning the bulk of his tax money… We would object to the states collecting taxes to support the church, yet without compunction we let church agencies collect to support the state (and the military).”
  4. We also ask the Peace and Social Concerns Committee to help employees whose income tax is already withheld to find appropriate ways of making a witness against the payment of war taxes.

Recommended reading: What Belongs to Caesar? by Donald D. Kaufman, Scottdale: Herald Press, .

The above statement was prepared by Ardean L. Goertzen Max Ediger, Howard Snider, David H. Janzen, Dennis Koehn, Stan Senner; and recommended for adoption by the Peace and Social Concerns Committee to the Western District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church which adopted it at its annual meeting at Hillsboro, Kansas, .

Western District takes stand on war taxes

Should Christians pay war taxes?

That’s a hard question. One Mennonite body studied a soft answer to this question, and made it softer after forty-five minutes of cautious debate.

The Western District Conference meeting in Hillsboro, Kansas, in , was told that its members “pay two and one-half times more in war taxes than we give to our church and its outreach.”

Another question: “What is the meaning of Christmas bundles to refugees when we bought the bombs that destroyed their homes?”

And Western District members through their war taxes have bought quite a few bombs, guns, napalm, and grenades. One estimate set the figure at $4,250,000 per year.

“I heartily endorse the idea of protesting taxes,” said Curt Siemens, Buhler, Kansas, as the topic of nonpayment of war taxes was introduced.

But along with other delegates, he was concerned about the practical consequences of nonpayment of war taxes since the government could deprive a family of its livelihood as a penalty. Then, how would the church and the conference raise the funds to support its missions and schools?

Others saw the demands of Christian obedience as prior to the practical questions.

“What is the meaning of asking these kinds of practical questions about raising our budgets and educating our children, yet we make pious speeches about wanting to be biblical and obedient?” asked Peter Ediger, Arvada, Colorado. “What is the meaning of seeking first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you?”

Several persons testified that they had withheld a portion of their taxes as a protest to war or would do so if given encouragement.

“I can’t see eye to eye with those who don’t want to pay taxes,” said one delegate. “All I say is, ‘Go ahead. Why don’t you do it?’”

“That’s just the point,” replied Wendell Rempel, Newton, Kansas. “What is going to be our relationship to those who take that step?”

At this point, the Western District Conference waffled.

The resolution presented for adoption said, “We move that the Western District Conference recognize nonpayment of war taxes as a valid Christian witness” and thus asked for a program of education and actions based on the assumption that tax refusal was a “valid Christian witness.”

This was seen by some delegates that “everyone ought to [withhold his war taxes] as a Christian.”

Said Marvin Zehr, Moundridge, Kansas, “It may give encouragement, but it will also cast judgment. Even if I do it, I don’t know if I want to cast judgment on someone else,”

So the conference considered a motion that struck the words “valid Christian witness” from the resolution’s enabling clause. Delegates voted 93 to 63 to drop these words. The resolution thus weakened was then quickly passed by a voice vote.

The resolution thus adopted still calls for a broad program of education and action. It asks the Western District’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee to provide information on the ways of tax refusal which have been used by various individuals. Such methods include the filing of a letter of protest with full payment of income tax or withholding a portion of income tax and contributing it to a service agency. Withholding the telephone tax or reducing one’s income below the taxable level were also methods in which more information was requested.

The Peace and Social Concerns Committee was further requested to petition government agencies for an alternative peace tax for conscientious objectors. And Mennonite agencies and employers may expect to receive counsel about their role in collecting income taxes.

The resolution quoted John Howard Yoder as saying, “There is something very questionable about the willingness with which Mennonite church agencies, by withholding their employees’ income, serve as arms of the federal government for tax collection which thereby relieves the individual of any conscious choice concerning the bulk of his tax money.”

The statement saw the tax refusal as a natural extension of the traditional position of conscientious objection to war.

“Mennonites throughout history have refused when a government demanded that they go to war,” it said. “Our conscientious objectors today carry on this vital tradition. But how can we, in clear conscience, pay someone else to do for us that evil which we refuse to do ourselves?”

James Stauffer, missionary to Vietnam under the Eastern Mennonite Board, was quoted as saying, “The time has come for peace churches to request a plan whereby our tax dollars could be channeled directly to some constructive cause. Campus protests, street demonstrators, draft card burnings have not been effective in stopping the war. But choking off the funds that feed the military-industrial complex could bring results.”

The resolution as presented to the Western District Conference was prepared by six interested individuals: Ardean L. Goertzen, Max Ediger, Howard Snider, David H. Janzen, Dennis Koehn, and Stan Senner.

The Western District statement adopted on represents the first time that any Mennonite body has taken a public position on war taxes.

At the annual assembly of the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section in another such resolution was tabled, asking the assembly “to make a declaration to be taken to Vietnam pledging Mennonite support to end the war through tax refusal, draft resistance, and other forms of civil disobedience.” An article about the assembly framed the debate in a generation-gap way, with younger, more radical students pushing, and older delegates reluctant to go along. In any case, “[a]fter the statement was debated with considerable emotion, the activists changed the document from one representing the Mennonite church as a group to a statement to be signed by individuals.”

A letter from Wanda (Steven) Schmidt to President Nixon lambasting the Vietnam War appeared in the edition. It included these thoughts:

I am against war and will not give you my children. Nor will I pay my federal income tax as sixty-five cents out of every dollar goes for defense. Nor will I pay the U.S. tax on my telephone as it goes entirely for Vietnamese War expenditures.