American Brethren and War Taxes in the mid-1950s

Interest in war tax resistance in the Church of the Brethren continued to simmer through the mid-1950s, and more war tax resisters emerged into the limelight.

Church of the Brethren: Gospel Messenger

The war tax resistance of Marion Frenyear again made it into the Gospel Messenger in the issue (source):

Woman Pastor Deducts “War” Tax

A woman pastor in Great Barrington, Mass., paid only twenty-five per cent of her federal income tax because she is opposed to the large percentage of the national income used for war. Marion C. Frenyear, now a supply pastor for churches in the Great Barrington area, said she had paid voluntarily only twenty-five per cent of the federal income taxes since . Miss Frenyear explained her partial payment in a letter to the director of internal revenue at Boston. In the past two years a lien was placed against Miss Frenyear’s salary to collect the unpaid taxes and it is expected the same method will be used this year.

James Berkebile, dean of McPherson College (a Brethren institution) wrote an article on “Christians and Citizens” for the edition. In the past, this would have been the occasion for the usual render-unto-Cæsar boilerplate when it came to taxes. This time, though, things were a little more nuanced. Excerpt:

In these days of high taxes many illegal methods of evading payment of income tax have been used. It is just that one make every means provided under law to reduce his income tax to that value determined by legislation, but often there is no reporting of income that cannot be checked on readily. Devious methods are used to avoid one’s well-defined financial obligation to the government. Certainly, we should protest the use of so much of our public money for war purposes. We should compliment and encourage those who strive to divert our tax money to productive enterprises for the good of men. But for our own soul’s sake we must be honest in our reports for taxation purposes while we strive to change the taxation procedure if it is unwise and unfair. We respect those who refuse to pay that portion of their tax going for war purposes in order to make their testimony for a cause because they make clear what they are doing and accept the penalties of the law for their failure to comply. We do not respect those who are dishonest in their reporting. We owe the government, of which we are a part, our honesty and integrity, whether we move through normal channels or whether we move contrary to established legislation. In the latter case we owe our submission voluntarily, willingly and freely to the penalties involved with the hope that our suffering for the cause of the kingdom may result in changes for the better.

In the issue, Donald Royer passed along some early results of his historical study of the beliefs and practices of the Brethren (source):

I am completing a study on the factors in our culture which are related to the changing peace position of the Brethren, and one of the tentative conclusions I have drawn is this. Up to World War Ⅰ the heart of our peace position was conscientious objection to war. Since World War Ⅰ the heart of our peace position has come to be the Brethren Service program of relief and rehabilitation. We have lost the protesting witness almost completely, and have put in its place a positive witness. With this positive witness there has come something we may not have anticipated. According to my study an increasing number of Brethren are saying that in case of another war they would increase their giving to Brethren Service, but that they would also buy war bonds and work in a defense industry if needed. Under our new emphasis it is becoming easier to play both ends against the middle, or to serve both God and Caesar at the same time.

A.J. Muste was quoted in the issue (source):

A.J. Muste, on refusing to file a Federal income tax return: “A stupendous percentage of the Federal budget is devoted to war purposes, an increasing percentage to the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, and there is no way of separating the income used for war and that used for other purposes.”

A new Brethren war tax resister shared his protest in the letters column of the issue (source):

Obliged to Protest

I am informing the Bureau of Internal Revenue that since the major item on the Federal budget is military expenditure I, therefore, cannot conscientiously pay all of my income tax. Because of religious conviction I could not myself bear arms, nor could I assist in the manufacture of armaments. Neither can I pay a substitute to bear arms for me or invest time or money in any company or corporation which manufactures or supplies armaments. Therefore, I do not feel able to supply voluntarily any part of the money to be used to support a military establishment or to create super-bombers, guided missiles, and nuclear weapons, all of which things clearly contradict God’s will for mankind and cannot help but bring terrible judgments upon their creators.

With five dependents I have not until this year been affluent enough to be liable for this tax. Now, although the amount of money is small, I feel that I can voluntarily pay half, which will more than include that spent for all of the necessary and valuable functions of the federal government. For I have no desire to deny either the government’s existence or its value, except in that its military function has become so pathologically exaggerated.

Also as a member of the Church of the Brethren I feel obliged to make this protest. For it is shameful and demoralizing that the whole weight of the important witness against war and warmaking is being laid on teen-age shoulders while their elders too easily content with a false security conveniently look the other way and refuse to assume their moral and spiritual obligation to their community, their church, and God.

It may be objected that by saying, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” Jesus thereby obliged his followers to pay every tax for any purpose. The truth is that this saying places the problem squarely upon one’s discrimination of what belongs to Caesar that does not belong to God, and contrariwise. The image and legend which made that particular coin legal tender were certainly Caesar’s and not God’s. Any ultimate claims upon the actual metal would, of course, pose more difficult questions. My situation is not like that, however. What Caesar demands of me is a check, a mere piece of common paper which is not given currency value by Caesar’s image and legend but rather by my own private signature which is a particular and intimate image of my own personal mind and body.

The claim whereby Caesar would use my personal image and signature in order to create weapons of total destruction is not supported by the gospel or by any divine right but rather by the very force and violence which I as a pacifist and a Christian must and do refuse to acknowledge as binding or just in the sight of God.―Fred W. Smith, W. Alexandria, Ohio.

Lottie M. Bollinger wrote a letter supporting Smith’s stand that was published in the issue.

The Pilgrim

Over several issues in and , The Pilgrim reprinted Daniel Musser’s Non-Resistance Asserted: Or the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the World Separated. Musser was a Reformed Mennonite, but apparently his point of view was harmonious with that of the Pilgrim editors.

Musser believed that Christians should stay aloof from the government, but should obey it, including in taxation. Christians “are duty bound to be obedient to all their laws and regulations, and to pay all taxes, duties, fines, or whatever rates or levies the government may see fit to impose upon them,” he wrote.

On the other hand, voluntary contributions for war or to raise money to help hire armed forces were out of the question:

Since the commencement of the present war, when the War Department called for fresh levies of troops, and when our State was threatened with invasion, people have collected money to arm and equip militia for local or State service, and also for bounty to induce men to volunteer in the National service. This is not inconsistent for the world, or such as profess that it is the duty of Christians to take up arms in defense of their rights and country. But it is certainly inconsistent for those who profess to be nonresistant to pay or arm others to go and do what they say is wrong to do themselves.

It would be a very gross violation of this principle [of non-resistance] for non-resistants to show their reliance in or dependence on an arm of flesh by joining in with the world to contribute money for bounty to induce men to volunteer, or to arm and equip men to go forth and defend their person and property.

[H]ow can those who profess to be disciples of Jesus Christ, and who say as such that Christ has forbidden them to fight, join in with our opponents and pay men to go and fight for them, or in their stead? It is said, “It is to avoid the draft,” but by what means? By inducing other men to go in our stead! Anyone can see that there is no consistency here. If it is wrong for me to go, it is wrong to pay another to go for me.

And hiring substitutes directly is also forbidden:

We do not recognize those as true non-resistants who profess to have conscientious scruples about bearing arms… as will not go to the battle-field themselves, but will hire substitutes to go and do that for them which, they say, they dare not do themselves.

What about the special tax that conscientious objectors were supposed to pay in lieu of service? Mennonites and Brethren were typically okay with paying that; Quakers were not. Musser’s opinion:

[T]he powers again ordered a draft without exempting any for conscience sake. The request was personal service or money — three hundred dollars. The personal service they could not render. The money belongs to the kingdom of this world, and they had a right to demand it as their own. Paul said that we shall pay tribute and custom to whom it is due, and said we shall do so because of the duties the Government has to discharge. They now ask for our person or the money. The latter is theirs and we make conscience of the duty to pay it, and feel that it would be wrong to refuse to do so.

It is alleged that, when we pay the commutation fee and the war tax, these are used for war purposes, and that the case is parallel with that of paying to induce volunteering, or buying substitutes. The world does not profess to be willing to suffer loss and inconvenience if it can be avoided by personal resistance or defense. When they take such measures, as before alluded to, they act rationally and consistently. The government is founded on this principle and cannot exist without the sword, and, whenever necessity requires it, must use the sword. Paul said that for this purpose we also pay tribute. It is due to the government, and we shall pay to all their dues. The commutation fee and what is called “war tax” are no more a “war tax” than any other tax we pay to keep up the government; and I am no more violating my non-resistant principles, if I pay one, than I do if I pay the other.

I have said before, all the estate or property we own, we hold only by the tolerance and authority of the powers that be. The powers have authority over all property, and have right to demand so much of it as they have need of. This we acknowledge, and have no right to refuse giving it to them, or to ask what use they intend making of it. If I buy property with a ground rent, or lien of any kind on it, that part or amount is not mine any more than if I had not bought the property. I have no right to withhold the payment of that money any more than I have a sum of money that I have borrowed, or other debt that I have contracted. Thus it is with land, and all property. The government originally owned all the land. It sold it to settlers, under its patent; they hold it on condition of paying such rates and levies as the Government may demand. Then, when we pay whatever tax is asked of us, we only give to it its due, as we would pay any other debt due; and for this reason Paul said we shall do it for conscience’ sake. Every honest man makes conscience of withholding anything which is due to another, and so every true Christian makes conscience of returning his property, fairly and faithfully, to the officers of government, and punctually paying what it requires of him, with as little right to ask or inquire what use they design making of it, as they have to ask what use the person proposes to make of the money he has lent to us. There is therefore a very great difference between what we pay voluntarily, or without sanction of law, and what we pay on demand of the powers. If a person comes to me, and solicits a donation to give as a bounty to induce men to volunteer in the army, or to equip men to go and fight, by giving it I testify that I am interested in the cause and desire it to progress — when, at the same time, I do not know that I am not arming men to fight against what God designs to do. But if I owe a man a sum of money as a debt, and he comes and demands it, and tells me he intends it to arm and equip himself to go to war, I have no right to withhold payment. It is his, and he has a right to do with it as he pleases.

I would make no difference between paying a man to go to war, and going myself. I would not consider that I would any more violate the spirit of the Gospel in one case than the other; neither do I consider that I am any more violating the command of the Savior if I serve as a General in the field, or a soldier in the ranks, than I do if I serve as sheriff of the county, or justice of the peace, or cast my vote for member of Congress, Governor, or President of the United States; and would not make one iota more conscience to one than the other. I say more: those who vote for officers in the government, and use its power and authority to protect their rights and property, or appeal to law for justice, and yet refuse to defend the government in the time of need, are neither faithful to the kingdom of Christ or that of this world.

Musser’s book was inspiring to Leo Tolstoy, who quoted from it in his The Kingdom of God Is within You.