A New Call to Peacemaking, and a New Call for Peacemakers

In , members of the three historic “peace churches” — Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers — held a series of regional conferences and then a national one under the “New Call to Peacemaking” banner.

Among the more newsworthy things to come out of the national conference was a call to renew and strengthen the tradition of war tax resistance (though the conferences covered a larger range of issues than this). The findings of the national conference included these:

We urge the development of support groups within congregations and meetings for those individuals who are working at peace issues such as war tax resistance, simple lifestyles, and nonviolent action.

We call upon members of the Historic Peace Churches seriously to consider refusal to pay the military portion of their federal taxes, as a response to Christ’s call to radical discipleship.

We challenge ourselves and also our congregations and meetings to uphold war tax resisters with spiritual, legal, and material support.

We call on our church and conference agencies to enter into dialogue with employees who ask, for reasons of moral conviction, that their taxes not be withheld.

We suggest that alternative “tax” payments be channeled into a peace fund initiated by the New Call to Peacemaking or into existing peace funds of constituent groups.

We call on our denominations, congregations, and meetings to give high priority to the study of war tax resistance in our own circles and beyond.

In keeping with our past support of alternative service provisions for conscientious objectors to the draft, we urge support for congressional enactment of a World Peace Tax Fund as an alternative to compulsory financial support of war and preparation for war.

I found a copy of New Call for Peacemakers: A New Call to Peacemaking Study Guide by Maynard Shelly at the delightful Internet Archive lending library. Here are some excerpts concerning the movement’s discussions and conclusions regarding war tax resistance:

Wealth and violence go together — a root of war often overlooked and often denied. Wealth depends on the violence of oppression for its earnings. And once gained, wealth needs the threatened violence of armies to protect its profits.

Since most of us share in the wealth of the western world, we’re caught in this trap. “Is it right to refuse to go to war or to complain to Congresspersons about the military budget or to refuse to pay the military portion of the income tax,” LeRoy Friesen asked the California New Call to Peacemaking meeting in , “when it is the protection of the standard of living which you and I share which makes such an army necessary?”

[T]he New Call to Peacemaking has called on its members seriously to consider refusal to pay the military portion of their federal taxes. Such action would be a response to Christ’s call to radical discipleship. Those responding in this way would soon find that in confronting a powerful government that has widespread support, they need congregations and meetings to uphold them in spiritual, emotional, legal, and material ways.

The Evangelism of Tax Resistance

The call to resist paying taxes that support war and preparations for war remind us that peace and justice go together. And tax resistance is also an opportunity for evangelism as well as a proclamation that Christ is Lord of all creation. “It is for this reason that the question of tax resistance has become an important symbol,” says Dale W. Brown. “For it involves our pocket books, raises questions of support for the church, and defines the peace witness in broader terms than what our seventeen or eighteen year old youth do in response to the coercive power of the state.” Does tax resistance express love for the poor and oppressed? Does it make a clear statement about obedience to God? Is tax resistance a hindrance to evangelism or a support to it?

Stem the Growth of Militarism

One of the current concerns about militarism relates to the large amount of money being spent on military budgets. Efforts need to be made to redirect the use of these resources into programs that meet human needs. Tax resistance is one strategy receiving growing support. “We call on our denominations, congregations, and meetings to give high priority to the study of war tax resistance in our own circles and beyond,” said the New Call to Peacemaking at its national meeting in . Christians who take tax resistance seriously express condemnation of the world arms race. “For the foreseeable future,” says John K. Stoner, “war tax resistance will be an action that is taken at some cost to the individual or the church institution with no assured compensation except the knowledge that it is the right thing to do.” Is tax resistance an expression of servanthood? Is it a way to identify with the cause of the poor? How can we demonstrate the urgency of our concern and the dedication of Christian peacemakers to stemming the growth of militarism?

Revolution in the World Peace Tax Fund

Other persons support the World Peace Tax Fund as an alternative to compulsory support of war and preparation for war. This proposal, yet to be made into law, would allow concerned persons to designate their tax money for peaceful use rather than for war. Thus, they would register a conscientious objection to the financing of war in much the same way that objectors to the draft register a protest against military service. The World Peace Tax Fund appeals to those concerned for proper ways to make their concerns known. If enacted, and if large groups of people voted for peace with their tax money, it could have a revolutionary and radical impact. What are the prospects of the World Peace Tax Fund being seriously considered by the United States Congress? Does its passage not wait until a larger proportion of the population has engaged in war tax resistance assuring that they will not be turned back by penalties and even imprisonment?

[W]hat can we do that will have immediate impact? Tax resistance has important meaning for peacemakers and the powers they confront. “We call upon members of the historic peace churches seriously to consider refusal to pay the military portion of their federal taxes,” said the national meeting of the New Call to Peacemaking in , “as a response to Christ’s call to radical discipleship.”

The Pittsburgh meeting of the New Call to Peacemaking suggested a further step. “The peace churches should consider refusing to withhold income taxes from their employees for ultimate payment to government. This should be done in a manner to lay the responsibility upon the churches and not the individual employees.”

Civil Disobedience as Divine Obedience

Tax refusal as one form of protest to militarism is one of a number of ways available to peacemakers to show that their supreme loyalty is to the Risen Lord. For them, it is also a tool to change the policies of a warmaking government. “War tax resistance,” says John K. Stoner, “might just be a cloud the size of a man’s hand announcing to the nations that the reign of God is coming near.” Though even in the peace churches, tax refusal is sometimes viewed with suspicion, it is receiving wider acceptance and understanding. “As the church has grown in its discernment of what the Bible teaches about slavery and the role of women,” says Stoner, “so it must grow in its discernment of what the Bible teaches about the place and authority of governments and the payment of taxes.” For through tax refusal, the peacemaker makes a statement of faith. “War tax resistance means accepting the discipline of submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the nitty-gritty of history,” says Stoner. “Call it civil disobedience if you wish, but recognize that in reality it is divine obedience. It is a matter of yielding to a higher sovereignty.” Is civil disobedience the method of last resort, the action taken when no other ways are open? Would you advise draft resistance for young men and women facing conscription? Why? Or, why not?

We have been inconsistent in praying for peace while continuing to pay for war. Our contributions to the violence of the world are obvious at many places. Our complicity with the affluent lifestyle of life all around us is one place of compromise. Another failure of integrity has been in our willing payment of taxes which support the war-making power of our country.

“It is, at the root, a simple question of integrity,” says John K. Stoner. “We are praying for peace and paying for war. Setting euphemisms aside, the billions of dollars conscripted by governments for military spending are war taxes, and Christians are paying those taxes. Our bluff has been called.” He notes that the church has not tried tax resistance and found it ineffective. It has rather found it difficult and left it untried.

If we step back a bit and view ourselves, we will often see how much we are like those we want to change. The reasons generally given for not taking such radical action as tax resistance are much like those excuses given by German Christians who refused to resist the excesses of Nazism. “It was always a matter of waiting for some new, more obvious proof that the regime was evil, of believing explanations of what was happening when such explanations were couched in religious or semi-religious language,” says Stoner, “of expecting some person in a position of authority to make the break first and of hoping that right would ultimately prevail without requiring any personal sacrifice beyond the ordinary.”

The lesson from history is not an easy one to learn. Says Stoner, “We expect more from others than we do of ourselves.”

In a law went into effect ordering the State Department to revoke passports from and deny passports to anyone if the IRS tells them that person has a significant tax debt (defined now as a debt greater than $51,000, I believe), if that debt isn’t being resolved or disputed through legal channels. That law also requires the IRS to notify the State Department of any such taxpayers. It’s taken them a long time to start coming into compliance with this law, but they said they would be starting earlier this year. I have yet to hear of any examples of tax resisters being targeted by this, however.

I’ve had a tax debt greater than than the trigger amount for some time now. In addition, the IRS filed a tax lien against me earlier this year for a bit over that amount.*

So I was a little nervous when I traveled to South America on vacation . But I didn’t have any passport trouble coming or going.

Acting on a hunch that the government might be quicker to deny passports than to revoke passports they’ve already issued, I decided to try to apply for a renewed passport immediately upon my return, even though my existing passport still had a few years to go before it was to expire. I thought maybe I could get a new one before they succeeded in rolling out their process.

Long story short: my new passport came in the mail. So from the looks of it, they still aren’t enforcing this law with much rigor.

* Between the time the IRS filed the tax lien and the time I applied for the renewed passport, one of the years of tax “delinquency” on the lien became unenforceable because it passed the ten-year statute of limitations. That may have dropped the amount still enforceable via the lien below $51,000, though my total tax debt remained higher (for obscure reasons, the lien did not include the total amount of tax debt the IRS is pursuing me for). I’m not sure whether that’s relevant, but it could be. I kind of doubt it, because for that to have made a difference the government would have to have been keeping a closer eye on things and reacting more rapidly to things than the other evidence suggests they’re capable of.