Brethren and War Taxes before World War Ⅰ

I continue my search through the archives of old Church of the Brethren periodicals, this time from the early years of the 1900s, until the brink of the U.S. entry into World War Ⅰ.

The Inglenook

a magazine called The Inglenook was marketed to the Brethren. Although I saw occasional mentions of the tax burden of war listed as one of war’s unfortunate consequences, I saw no hints that direct action against war taxation ought to be considered nor that taxpaying represented a problem of complicity for the taxpayer.

An article about the Shakers in one issue (source) noted that “They are averse to war and so do not vote, believing it to be wrong to take part in a government which supports an army and navy. For the same reason they do not like to pay taxes for military purposes, although they promptly pay… civil taxes.”

A article commented on a proposal made at a peace conference that it be made illegal for neutral nations to float war bonds for other countries at war (source). The article enthusiastically endorsed the idea, but still no mention was made of whether individual investors might be concerned about their bond purchases.

I also looked through issues of The Missionary Visitor from this period, but found nothing worth reporting here.

The Gospel Messenger

A edition of The Gospel Messenger noted that the United States was leading the global arms race, but also said resignedly that there was nothing Brethren taxpayers could do to lessen their contribution to it (source):

This country is rapidly moving to the front, if front it can be called, in war preparations. The last Congress provided for the building of nine large fighting ships and five auxiliary vessels. The total appropriation for all naval purposes amounted to nearly $160,000,000. This means over $2 for every man, woman and child in the United States. In the Brethren families, counting the children, there are not far from 300,000 souls, hence towards this department of war preparations we must pay at least $600,000. To carry on our mission work, the spreading of the Gospel, both at home and abroad, we pay, all told, not to exceed $100,000 a year, and yet we must pay six times as much in the interest of military preparations. Just at present there is no way of avoiding it, for it is our duty to pay tribute to whom tribute is due.

A similar note that stopped short of the necessary a-ha moment appeared in a issue (source):

Japanese credit was shown recently by the way in which Americans applied for the bonds of a new loan, the applications amounting to several times the amount of bonds assigned to the United States. The London part of the loan was also a success. At home the condition is good too. An interior loan of one hundred million yen was to be floated, and about five times the amount was subscribed, seventy million at a price higher than the issue price. An internal loan in Russia was also oversubscribed, which shows that the people in the countries at war and also those in foreign countries have more money that they are willing to invest in slaughter. If the money were not forthcoming, the war would not continue long. But men are not particular for what purpose their money is used, if the returns promise to be satisfactory.

The cause of peace was continually raised in the Messenger, but mostly as a political issue that was to be addressed by international law and arbitration, or by the people successfully lobbying their government to reduce arms expenditures. Rarely did I see reference to conscientious objection to military service, and never to military spending. Here is one example, from a edition, which shows that the orthodoxy here had remained much the same as in decades previous, or perhaps a bit more relaxed (source):

Among us there may be those who do not have clear conceptions regarding the relation that a non-resistant people should sustain to the civil government under which they live.… The Christian is taxed the same as any one else, and, since the paying of tax is in keeping with the teaching of the New Testament, it becomes his duty to pay all that is legally assessed against him. Should he, however, be drafted to serve in the army, it becomes his duty as a Christian to refuse to respond to the call of his government in this particular. War is forbidden in the New Testament, and since he is under obligations to obey God rather than man, he should kindly inform those in authority just why it is not proper for him to take part in anything that would lead to the killing or maiming of his fellow-man. If persecution should follow, his faith in his Master should enable him to endure whatever punishment may be laid upon him. But, should his government have respect for his conscientious views regarding war, and show a disposition to assign him tasks that in no manner clash with the teachings of the New Testament, it becomes his duty, as a subject of an earthly kingdom, to perform these labors to the best of his ability. In New Testament times there were Christians who served in Cæsar’s household, but they did not serve as soldiers in his army. As civil governments become more enlightened, and more considerate, they will make better provisions for those whose conscience will not permit them to take part in war. Should they be drafted, they can then be assigned duties that in no manner conflict with nonresistant principles.

In the issue, Charles W. Eisenbise made a case for voting (many Brethren did not vote for conscientious reasons, and this was a frequent topic of debate over the decades I have been reviewing). Part of the case against voting was that office holders rule by the sword, and Brethren are forbidden the sword, and so they should not vote for office holders to do so by proxy. But Eisenbise noticed the disconnect between this and Brethren practice around taxpaying, and decided to make it explicit (source). Excerpts:

Suppose I refrain from voting, feeling that if I would vote, to be consistent, I must help to enforce the laws (by physical force if need be) if called upon for that purpose. Holding this view am I less consistent in paying my taxes that, knowingly, go to support the State Militia, who, by physical force and murder enforce the present wickedly-inclined laws? But Christ teaches me to pay my taxes.

When World War Ⅰ began in Europe, the United States did not enter the war right away, but did institute new taxes in anticipation, which the Messenger called “A War Tax in Time of Peace.” Still no talk of war tax resistance, though.

An essay on “The War and the Church by H.M. Fogelsonger also brushed right up against confronting the war tax issue, without quite being willing to go there. (Fogelsonger seemed mostly interested in working to get more Christians into positions of political power.) Excerpt:

How long will good Christian people allow their hard-earned dollars, with which they pay their taxes, both direct and indirect, in the form of tariffs, to be spent for unholy causes and for machines, — the sole purpose of which is to take human life?

“How Much Do We Believe In Peace?” asked an editorial in the edition. The editorial pointed out a Christian who had said of the war, “It does not concern me in the least. I pay my taxes, pray for peace, and trust in God,” calling such a hands-off response “impossible.” But after a lot of rhetoric about taking a strong stand at this time of crisis, the practical advice mostly came down to write-your-congressman, and, again, nothing about the taxes.

An editorial on “The State and the Church in the issue was another missed opportunity. It attempted to rally the reader to help “establish[] the background of moral sentiment and conviction that will one day sweep militarism and carnal warfare from the face of the earth” and to “array himself uncompromisingly against all preparation for war” and yet to somehow do this while rendering those taxes unto Cæsar as usual.