Debating Quaker Tithe Resistance

In , Patrick Smith published an anti-Quaker book called A Preservative Against Quakerism in which he attempted to refute various distinguishing characteristics of the Quaker creed. Among these was the Quaker practice of resisting legally mandatory tithes owed to the establishment ministry (or to tithe farmers who had bought the right to the tithes from the church). Here’s what Smith had to say about that:

And their not approving of the Use for which the Tithes are now given, will no more justify their not paying them, than their not approving the Use of Taxes which are given for carrying on a vigorous War, would justify their not paying them, which yet they do not refuse to pay. And for the Quakers to condemn and annul, as to themselves, the Laws that enacted Tithes, to be paid to the Ministers as antichristian, and a grievous Oppression, is a most unreasonable and seditious Principle, and highly destructive of Government.

, Joseph Besse wrote a thorough fisking of Smith’s book under the title A Defence of Quakerism. Here’s how he responded to Smith’s criticism on this point:

The paying of our Taxes impos’d by Law, for the Service of the Government, is consistent with the Precept of Christ, “Render to Cæsar the Things that are Cæsars,” to which we yield a ready Obedience; nor does it concern us, what Purposes Cæsar shall apply them to. But the Case of paying Tithes is quite different, where the Law, as we think, enjoyns us to do what Christ hath prohibited. We therefore chuse therein, “to obey God rather than Man.” This is a Principle neither unreasonable nor seditious, unless the preferring Christ’s Precepts to Men’s Injunctions can merit those Epithets.

The remarkable thing about this is that both authors are willing to take as a given that Quakers do not resist war taxes — this in , when Quaker war tax resistance was already established in Britain’s American colonies (with some Quakers as early as even refusing to pay any taxes at all because so much government spending was for war).