American Brethren and War Taxes in the early 1950s

Today I’ll share what I found in the archives of American Brethren periodicals from the early 1950s concerning war taxes and war bond purchases.

Church of the Brethren: Gospel Messenger

I found most of the items of interest in the Gospel Messenger again, and for the first time these included specified war tax resisters from within the Church of the Brethren. The edition gave readers this short notice:

Floyd M. Irvin of Eustis, Fla., sent in only that part of his income tax which would not be used by the Federal government for war purposes. The rest of it, he informed them, he was turning over to a useful church program. He believes that if many more people would do this it would have a telling effect upon military expenditures.

This was the first I’d heard of Irvin. There was a follow-up about his resistance in the issue (source):

A series of articles in a Lake County, Fla., local paper call attention to the activities of Floyd M. Irvin of Eustis, Fla., on behalf of world peace. While the articles tell a few facts concerning Bro. Irvin’s life, they give special attention to his advocating nonviolent techniques in place of war, and especially to his refusal to pay the share of income taxes which goes toward supporting the military program. Through Bro. Irvin’s efforts a recent article in the Gospel Messenger was used as the basis for a feature in his local paper.

They don’t come right out and claim Irvin as a member of the Brethren here, but they do call him “Bro.” and make the Gospel Messenger connection. I think this is the first explicitly war tax resisting member of a Brethren church named in a Brethren periodical from the modern war tax resistance era.

Another small note was found in the issue (source):

Again this year various people, who have conscientious feelings against the tremendous amount of our budget which is being spent for war, are withholding from their income tax the percentages which are used definitely for war purposes. The rest of it they are paying.

I assume this refers to the Peacemakers, who were putting out press releases about organized war tax resistance around this time.

The issue included a note about the Monteverde Quaker emigrants (source):

Quaker Group to Leave United States

Twenty-five Quaker residents of Fairhope, Ala., have decided to emigrate to Costa Rica so that they may be free from military demands and from paying “war taxes.” This announcement came from Hubert Mendenhall, the spokesman for the group who range in age from twenty to eighty years. Most of them are farmers.

“Our economy has become so involved with military effort throughout the world,” Mr. Mendenhall said, “that a person can hardly make a living here without being a part of that system.”

A spokesman for the American Friends Service Committee said that this would be the first instance in American history that a group of Quakers had left the country because of their religious pacifist convictions.

A letter to the editor from Mart Sheaffer, in the edition suggested that tax resistance was more Christian than the alternative (source):

Tax Refusal

Why do Christians continue to pay the government that portion of tax which is used to support war, since war is contrary to the teachings of the New Testament?

It seems that it would be more Christlike to refuse to pay that portion of tax and to give the same amount — or more — to some worthy Christian cause such as the program of the Brethren Service Commission or some other Christian denomination’s project.

We could then take a receipt for the amount given and turn the receipt over to the government. If it is permissible to teach the gospel, it also should be permissible to live it and practice it.

the magazine printed a letter in response, disagreeing by giving the old taxes-are-debts argument, and recommending instead prayer rather than civil disobedience (source). Floyd M. Irvin responded in the issue (source):

Taxes and Our Responsibility

I would like to express my disagreement with the brother from Grantsville, Md., who states that “taxes are a debt… when we pay this debt our responsibility ends.”

I would say rather that, as a citizen, I am a partner with other citizens both in managing and in financing the affairs of our government. A citizen of a democracy has a definite responsibility in determining the purpose for which his tax money is used. The denial of this privilege by the English government was one of the chief reasons for the revolt of the American colonists and for the birth of our republic. Now that we have this privilege, it becomes a responsibility.

If the fathers of the American Revolution in their day felt an inner compulsion to refuse to pay taxes for the use of which they had no directing voice, ought not followers of the Prince of Peace in our day feel an urge to refuse to pay taxes which are used to finance the killing of our fellow Christians?

This is a question which needs careful consideration. The following questions may stimulate our thoughts on the matter.

Do we as citizens have a responsibility in regard to the use of our tax money which should direct our actions beyond our choice of representatives? In other words, after we have voted to the best of our ability, are we guiltless if our taxes are used to kill our fellow men?

Does the Scriptural injunction to pay taxes apply without exception, or is the payment of taxes to finance a war that destroys God’s children an exception when we should obey God rather than men?

How can we order our lives and finances so that if we refuse to pay taxes the government will not take more than we withhold? Is it time for Christians to organize a non-violent resistance movement against war?

The edition again covered the Peacemakers (source):

Group Refuses to Pay “War” Taxes

Fifty-nine men and women, including four Protestant clergymen, in various parts of the country have refused to file federal income tax returns because they find it impossible to support the Korean or any other war. This announcement was made by the tax refusal committee of Peacemakers, a national pacifist group, which released a statement by the fifty-nine saying:

“We are particularly concerned at this time about the situation in Korea, where a civil struggle has been provoked and aggravated by two power states to the point where it is already a major war — one which may be the spark that will set the world afire.

“We find it impossible to support policies and activities of this kind with our allegiance or with our money. We must, therefore, refuse to give money for such purposes of conquest and massacre, and must give it instead to causes which build understanding and world community.”

A.J. Muste of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, sent a separate letter to the collector of internal revenue in his district, declaring that this is the third successive year in which he has refused to file a return or pay taxes. He contended that “anyone who contributes to arming the United States today also contributes to arming Russia — which is the last thing I want to do — in the same way that Russians contribute to American armament, for each government mechanically matches the military preparations of the other.”

The issue brought this news (source):

At the auction sale of her husband’s car, Mrs. Arthur H. Emery, Jr., begged those attending the sale not to bid. She said she feared the proceeds might be used for war. The U.S. bureau of internal revenue, which had seized the car, will apply the $145 on the income tax owed by Mr. and Mrs. Emery. They had refused to pay it because they thought it might be used for military purposes.

This letter from Ernest Bromley comes from the issue (source):

Tax Refusal

Many people who have been deeply concerned over the large and growing percentage of federal taxes going to war purposes have been prevented from taking any definite action because all funds paid to the federal government go into a common treasury, whether this money is for war purposes or for constructive purposes to which citizens willingly contribute.

The Tax Refusal Committee of Peacemakers calls attention to the fact that if the increased military appropriations now being voted by Congress under various heads are added together, this will mean a total of around seventy billion dollars for war purposes out of a budget of around ninety billion. The increased appropriations will reflect themselves in a percentage increase in taxes, and this increase will be for purely military purposes and nothing else. We would welcome correspondence from persons who feel a concern over this matter, which should be addressed to Rev. Ernest Bromley, Golay Road in Gano, Sharonville, Ohio.

Another war tax resister from outside of Brethren circles was featured briefly in the issue (source):

Woman Pastor Refuses to Pay “War Taxes”

A woman pastor in South Hartford, N.Y., paid only twenty-five per cent of her federal income tax because she is opposed to the government’s “warlike ventures.” The Rev. Marion C. Frenyear, pastor of the South Hartford Congregational church, said she is a Christian pacifist and “cannot support war in any way,” that in her belief war is against religious principles and taxes should be used to bring peace and disarmament to the world.

For the same reason Miss Frenyear paid only twenty-five per cent of her federal tax bill. Walter R. Sturr, collector of internal revenue at Albany, placed a lien against her salary and indicated the same method would be used this year to collect the unpaid taxes.

The delinquent taxes were paid by the treasury of the church and the amount was deducted from the pastor’s salary.

The Brethren Missionary Herald

The Brethren Missionary Herald seemed to trend conservative. It complained about high government spending and taxes (and saw creeping socialism at every turn), and didn’t hesitate to put the blame for this on the military budget, but this was about as far as it was prepared to go in protest:

The child of God will… pay his taxes…. It is our judgment that the general tenor of the teaching of the Bible allows for protest and even revolt against unjust and exorbitant taxation. Beyond these considerations, however, the Lord’s servant will not try to evade the payment of tribute. []

The Brethren Evangelist

The Brethren Evangelist was also largely sticking to its guns and not entertaining any newfangled tax resistance ideas. But the magazine’s intolerance for legalized alcoholic beverages was intense enough that, in the midst of what was otherwise a standard render-unto-Cæsar article, they let this slip in the issue (source):

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” What things does Caesar have a right to claim? Taxes? Yes, we should expect to pay taxes for the privilege of living in such a land as ours. We expect protection of life and property; good sanitary living conditions, and the like — and these cost money. But there is, of course, a limit to which the Christian should be forced to go. For instance, to be forced to pay taxes for the upkeep of hospitals for the criminally insane and penitentiaries where are housed the results of crimes brought about by a government-supported liquor program, is going beyond what any government has a moral (even if it has a legal) right to demand. We could go on at great length with many other examples, but space forbids. You think about them.