This is the thirty-first in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of Gospel Herald, journal of the (Old) Mennonite Church.
General Board Follies
So if you remember from our last episode, the board of the Mennonite Church was dragging its feet about supporting employees who did not want war taxes withheld from their paychecks. Then the whole Church, in its General Assembly, forced their hand by voting to honor the requests of such employees.
But apparently the board still saw that as advisory and not binding, because they kept right on dragging their feet:
After several years of study and discussion, the Mennonite Church General Board brought the military tax question to a vote — and tabled it. Normal attenders will recall that a majority of General Assembly delegates voted to “support” the efforts of church board employees who do not wish their taxes deducted so that they can deal with the government in regard to military taxes.
The issue came back to the General Board as such issues will and it was given extended attention at the spring meeting which convened at Kalona (Iowa) Mennonite Church, . An early straw vote strongly favored going ahead, but when decision time came, a majority voted to table the motion.
As presented, the motion called for agreeing “in principle” to honor requests of employees who ask that their income tax not be withheld. However, such approval was intended to be reviewed in the session of the board after a congregational study process which is now being initiated. No taxes were to be withheld prior to .
Motion to table, it was suggested, was related to the pending congregational study process. The board was concerned not to prejudice the case before the study process. Also there was concern that the possible consequences of such withholding be better understood. What action might the government take toward board officers?
Moderator George Brunk Ⅲ and Executive Secretary James Lapp indicated that they were not unhappy about the motion to postpone action. “Some of us thought ‘in principle’ could be helpful in the study process,” said Brunk. “The board position has been in the direction of the proposed motion,” he continued. “But there are different ways to capture this.”
Yet another Military Tax Consultation was held to allow for more jaw-exercise and to cover for the delay:
Mennonite Church General Board is holding a Military Tax Consultation in response to actions taken by General Assembly at Normal . It will be held at Goshen College. Mennonite Church conferences are invited to send teams of persons to the event. Since General Assembly called for “continued study of issues raised by taxation for military purposes,” General Board is currently preparing a study guide for use by congregations. It is being prepared under the direction of Robert Hull and will be ready in time for the consultation. The most controversial — and potentially illegal — action taken by General Assembly was its permission to denominational agencies and schools to honor the request of employees who don’t want taxes withheld from their paychecks so they can refuse to pay the portion (about half) that goes to the military. More information about the consultation is available from General Board…
Daniel Hertzler reported on the consultation:
Some 30 people met at Goshen College, , for a “Consultation on Military Tax Withholding.” The military tax question has been on Mennonite Church agenda , General Board executive secretary James Lapp told the group. But now it has become focused on the issue of “tax withholding” by church agencies for people who wish to deal with the Internal Revenue Service on their own.
Avowed purpose of the consultation was to introduce a study guide, “As Conscience and the Church Shall Lead,” being prepared for use in congregations. To this end Marlene Kropf of Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries led the group in an educational experience.
In the beginning, and alternatively throughout, there was story telling. Military-tax resisters told how they got into it. All referred to a variety of spiritual influences and life-changing experiences. Seven persons told personal stories. Among them was Dan Hunsberger of Hesston College, who worked one summer for a contractor without taxes withheld and got a tax bill for $1,700. “I considered this use of money wrong, not only from a peace standpoint, but also bad business.”
David Weaver, a teacher at Central Christian High School, grew up in a family that eschewed political involvement. But in he went on a student tour to the Middle East and spent some time on the West Bank of the Jordan River, the home of persecuted Palestinians. Then, in , he wrote a paper on the issue of war taxes and in the same year he went to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace. “I saw the Nicaraguan people and looked into their eyes,” he said. That year he decided to withhold 55 percent of his income taxes.
“At the beginning I felt very heavy about this. In November when they came and took money from my account, it was like a burden was lifted. What really can they do to harm me? We’re in the world for a short life. There are little things we can do. This doesn’t mean my hands are clean. But it is a small action.”
Ray and Wilma Gingerich from Harrisonburg, Va., gave a joint report which recounted a decades-long, growing concern over the issue of war taxes. When they first became aware of the issue, they had no income taxes to pay. But by they finally had enough income to be taxed and began to withhold 50 to 59 percent. “Our son Andre refused to register under Carter,” they said. “We saw some relation between this and middle-aged people not paying for war. We cannot continue to pay taxes while applauding our young who resist the draft.”
Ray expressed concern that Mennonite Church leaders have not been more forthright about the issue. “We need to try to draw our leaders into the discussion. Leaders generally get their authority from the people, not from the poor or the Bible. In some respects, tax resisters must lead the leaders.”
Among the leaders present was Paul Gingrich, president of Mennonite Board of Missions. He acknowledged that MBM first faced this issue , when John and Sandra Drescher-Lehman asked that their taxes not be withheld. The MBM board of directors is divided. Some threaten to resign either way.
But Gingrich concludes that some corporate action needs to be taken as an object lesson, a parable so that younger Mennonites may learn firsthand about resisting militarism. “We have a generation that only hears the stories of those resisting World Wars Ⅰ and Ⅱ and the Korean conflict,” he said. “The institution can become a symbol. In the action is a tremendous teaching moment.”
He continued, “In every generation we need to discover the issue on which we will not compromise. For what will we be ready to die? Is this the place to stand? Is this the way to stand? If an institution takes such an action, it may be that the institution will not survive. But maybe that is not the most important thing.”
No clear-cut answer to Gingrich came out of the consultation. But from small-group settings a cautious consensus emerged. Most groups encouraged church agencies to respect the consciences of persons who do not wish their taxes deducted by the agency, even though such honoring would involve the agency in illegal action.
Several groups pointed out, however, that there are ways for persons to gain access to enough tax money to make a symbolic protest without implicating their agency in illegal action. It was urged that they explore these first.
James Lapp, who called the consultation, and Marlene Kropf, director of the educational experience, both expressed satisfaction with the session. “We need to recognize that there is a complex set of issues here,” said Lapp. “Our goal is to help people to see that there is more than one way to be faithful.”
All this dithering prompted a letter to the editor from Dannie Otto ():
Although I have not been involved in the issue, I believe the issue of military tax deductions of church employees has been around for at least a decade. I am concerned about the continued reluctance of General Board to implement the will of General Assembly to support church board employees who as a matter of conscience do not wish to have their taxes deducted.
As reported in “General Board Tables Military Tax Question”… the eagerness with which the board embraces broad “visions” while avoiding concrete actions is striking. Whatever the possible actions of the government toward board officers if tax withholding is stopped, it would surely be mild in contrast to the price paid by Mennonite leaders during World War Ⅰ who refused to financially support the war effort. “A Pastor Pays a Price for Peace” in the same issue of Gospel Herald is an illustration. [See ♇ 1 September 2018]
Discussion of visions is fine, but no vision is more catching than one demonstrated through faithful action. My sympathies are with the General Board employees who have patiently gone through the lengthy process required to have their concerns embraced by General Assembly, only to have the issue kicked back into a “study process” by General Board.
The board’s apparent relief at being able to postpone action on this issue should be juxtaposed with Moderator George Brunk Ⅲ’s concern stated in his “state of the Mennonite Church” address that “We are not facing conflict as a people of God. The question of our faithfulness calls for eternal vigilance.”
Daniel Hertzler tried to put the whole thing in context with a editorial:
The issue of paying military taxes has been knocking about in the Mennonite Church for close to a generation. At the “Consultation on Military Tax Withholding” (Goshen College, ) it was reported that John Howard Yoder was writing about this already in .
Perhaps these writings were not published. The earliest material on this subject which I could find in the Gospel Herald was “Dare We Pay Taxes for War?” by John Drescher (). I found this editorial with help from Swartley and Dyck’s Annotated Bibliography of Mennonite Writings on War and Peace: (Herald Press, ). This book has 16 pages on the topic “War Tax Resistance,” so the subject has clearly been one of concern among us. Some of the references go back into , but not in the Gospel Herald.
Drescher’s editorial indicates that concern about the issue arose during Mennonite General Conference and that “delegates asked for direction on the matter of paying taxes designated for war purposes.” A resolution was passed calling for “a fresh study of the biblical teaching”! Has anything changed among us in 23 years?
At the Goshen consultation I listened to Willard Swartley declaim on Romans 13:1–7, and I suddenly got a clue as to why this issue keeps grinding on with no resolution in sight. “Pay all of them their dues,” writes Paul, regarding the authorities, “taxes to whom taxes are due…”
So there it is. If Paul wrote to the Romans that they should pay their taxes, why do modern Mennonites sit around debating whether they may pay the military part of their taxes? We are known as people of the Bible. Isn’t the Bible plain enough?
Not so fast. At Goshen, Willard Swartley presented a 12-point outline entitled “Method for Bible Study.” The first three points were entitled “Observation: What does the Bible say?” The second five he captioned “Meaning: What is the text saying?’ The final four he called “Significance: What says the text?” Beyond these I think the most important thing he said was that Romans 13:1–7 should be interpreted as part of a longer unit in the letter (certainly a basic Bible study principle) and that probably there was a local controversy in Rome over the payment of specific taxes. Paul’s counsel to the Romans was to pay these specific taxes and was not intended as a general principle, regarding all taxes in all times and all places.
Willard pointed out that the New Testament has a number of normative texts on this subject. He mentioned the following: Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 1:19–23; 3:10; 1 Peter 3:22; 1 Corinthians 15:24–26; Romans 8:35–39; Ephesians 6:12–20. Romans 13, he said, should be interpreted in dialogue with this longer stream of texts. In the end, said Willard, there is “ambiguity in the biblical tradition over the place of authorities: respect for their responsibility for order versus awareness that they represent evil.” In other words, by simply paying taxes without thinking, we may be selling out.
Two others at Goshen discussed the issue from a theoretical standpoint: ethics professor J.R. Burkholder and Pastor John F. Murray. Murray proposed that the answer to the war tax problem is to be found in generous giving to the church. Since in the U.S. one can contribute up to 50 percent of one’s income, or $50,000, he proposed that reducing our income through contributions is a more effective response than tax resistance. Further, he pointed out, anyone who saves money and puts it in the bank is supporting the military just as much as the person who pays taxes. “When we give only 5 percent of our income as a denomination, we are not faithful.”
Burkholder stressed the reality of ambiguities. “We will have to learn to live with pluralism in the Mennonite Church,” he asserted. “We do not have the same position on war taxes.”
Clearly we do not. And as James Rhodes responded to Burkholder, “There is danger in an emphasis on ambiguity of diluting our basic foundation of biblical obedience.”
So it is important that we not give up just because we come with different perspectives on the issue. It is urgent that those with different points of view listen to each other under God and under the Scriptures. We have no other place to go.
- Robert V. Peters ()
In response to your editorial, “Why is it so Hard to Get to the Bottom of the War-Tax Question?”… and the news article piece on the war-tax consultation in the same issue, let me note the following: Why is it that the Mennonite Church can so easily reach clarity that homosexuality is a sin and ban any dialogue whatsoever with gay members of our community but yet find the war-tax issue “contains a complex set of issues” and that it is “filled with ambiguities”?
Why must we accept pluralism and ambiguity on this issue when we can so easily reach apparent consensus on the gay question? Is this not rather self-serving and hypocritical, for on the one hand our church fathers tell us we must accept differing biblical interpretations, pluralism, and ambiguity on war taxes but somehow the gay issue is crystal clear!
It seems to me that there is no ambiguity, for as you note, Romans 13 is not intended as a general principle that we must pay all taxes to government. Further the whole text seems to make clear that we must clarify our loyalties and choose whom we serve, God or Caesar. Further it seems clear that if we follow the way of peace, we can have no part in allowing our money to pay for killing and war. If there is room for ambiguity I think it is more apparent on the gay question. On war taxes it seems clear.
Perhaps our leaders wish to keep it plural, for only a minority can support our historic peace witness these days, while they know that pluralism is unacceptable for the gay question given the majority in our community who are convinced that homosexuality is sin. Wake up, leaders, and be fair! You can’t have it both ways. Either we seek clear standards and follow them or we become Unitarians or Quakers, where everything is ambiguous.
- Robert J. Schultz ()
- Schultz started off with the typical Render-unto-Caesar / after all Rome
was a militaristic government / Jesus never complained about paying taxes
line. Then he finished off with the “silent majority” gambit:
I urge all of those conservative Mennonites who usually remain silent to “send the General Board a message” — mainly, not to be tempted into politicking with the liberal pacifist elements, and to remain within the boundaries of biblical nonresistance. If there are those who want to withhold taxes, let them do it without having the actions of the General Board as a shield.
- John M. Eby ()
“Why Is It So Hard to Get to the Bottom of the War Tax Question?”… Maybe because there is no bottom — only a bottomless chasm between two irreconcilable views.
In my own imagination I see the story told in Matthew 22 in modem “dress.” The Pharisee digs through the pockets of his custom-tailored suit. From a jumble of temple contribution receipts and credit cards (Pharisee-controlled banks) he produces a $50 bill.
“Whose portrait is on that bill?”
“General and President Ulysses S. Grant.”
“If you deal in portraits of deceased generals and presidents, you owe a commission to those who occupy their offices today. But don’t forget that you owe even more to God.”
Again, we know that Caesar does not divide his tax collections between two baskets labeled “war” and “peace.” It all goes into one basket, and then is divided out as Caesar wishes. And so, if 50 percent (or whatever) goes for “war,” then 50 percent of anything that an individual deposits into the basket goes for “war.” The persons who pay 50 percent of their taxes are in fact paying half of their “war” tax and half of their “peace” tax.
I admire those who for conscience’ sake voluntarily live at the “poverty” line so that they do not owe the tax that they object to paying. They have adjusted their lifestyle to put their (lack of) money where their “mouth” is. I’m not willing to do that — a character flaw, perhaps, but one that I seem to share with many others. Is it wrong to want to share in at least part of the standard USA lifestyle without paying for Caesar’s expenses in maintaining conditions that promote this lifestyle?
Do we want a “free lunch”? And, of course, Caesar’s money can do God’s work, or so we are told by those responsible for keeping church agencies and institutions in the black. Those who have the spirit of generosity also need something to be generous with. And Caesar pays a part of the gift.
If we deal in portraits of deceased generals and presidents, what do we owe to those who occupy their offices today?
- Richard E. Martin ()
Over a number of years I have read articles, pro and con, on the war-tax issue. Your editorial on the same subject has rekindled my interest. A large percentage of the arguments have been of a theological or theoretical nature. However, I have not seen the following point of view mentioned.
Many of us in the Mennonite Church are no longer independent farmers and/or businessmen or self-employed.
(At age 48 I have witnessed this transition.) Therefore, we have little or no control over the deductions from our pay checks. No company, business, or public institution that I know of would seriously consider a request not to withhold a certain percent of taxes due. Some firms that are operated by Christians may grant us their understanding and be sympathetic in attitude, but simply are not willing to get into the legal and business ramifications of a tax fight with the federal government.
Consequently, the war-tax issue, while perhaps valid, is to many simply a moot point lingering in a gray mist on the edge of our consciousness. Could this be why the General Assembly vote on the General Board war-tax recommendation went 142 for and 100 against?
For me, if the federal government would institute a special, separate, extra-budget war tax (as done in the American Revolution, for example), that is a horse of a different color. I would try to resist in some way as my ancestors collectively did in Lancaster County, Pa., in the Revolutionary times. Having written my Indiana senators and representative on the war-tax issue, I see no change in federal tax regulations to be soon in coming.
The issue announced that if “continued study” was the order of the day, the Mennonite Church General Board was equipped:
Study guide on military tax withholding from Mennonite Publishing House. Prepared at the request of Mennonite Church General Board, it is designed to facilitate discussion of the General Assembly request for “continued study of issues raised by taxation for military purposes.” It is entitled As Conscience and the Church Shall Lead. A response form is provided so that Sunday school classes, small groups, and individuals may provide feedback.
The Mennonite Church General Board met in and tried to pretend that the General Assembly hadn’t voted to go ahead with corporate tax resistance:
Question was also raised about the Normal decision regarding war taxes. Board members noted a lack of clarity on what the decision meant. Slightly more than half the delegates had agreed that churchwide agencies need not withhold the military portion of taxes for employees who request this. Moderator George Brunk Ⅲ noted the decision is valid but that it can be reconsidered following a churchwide study on war taxes currently underway.
They also issued a “Statement to our Mennonite churches on the Persian Gulf situation” that included this:
[T]he Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church General Boards take the following action:
That the General Boards express deep concern about and opposition to the military buildup and the growing threat of war in the Persian Gulf, reaffirm their biblical understanding that the will of God is for humankind to live in peace and harmony and that war and militarism are counter to God’s intentions, and call our congregations to the following:
To confess our own complicity and selfishness in utilizing more than our share of the world’s supply of oil and other resources and for our limited concern for long-standing injustices in the Middle East, and also to confess and reexamine our complicity in paying for the military buildup through our taxes.
The Mennonite Church General Board met again in and continued to put off making a firm decision in response to the mandate given them by the General Assembly:
They focused on the question of withholding war taxes for their employees. delegates to Mennonite General Assembly had authorized churchwide boards to honor requests of employees not to withhold the military portion of their income taxes; final decision was up to each board. Though it had been previously discussed in several meetings, General Board had made no decision on the issue.
Nor did it come easy this time. Board members raised questions about their financial liability. They acknowledged the burden of leadership: other churchwide boards were awaiting the General Board decision for help with their own.
In the end General Board agreed “to honor the request of an employee who for conscience’ sake requests that the military portion of his or her federal income tax not be withheld.” But they hedged. They made the action subject “to development of acceptable policies for implementation approved by the board.”
There was also plenty of content around this time that wasn’t directly prompted by the Mennonite Church board’s inaction.
For example, there was a series of letters-to-the-editor debating war tax resistance. Here are a pair of them, side-by-side:
Why I willingly pay my taxes
While paying taxes may be an economic burden to some, may be a question of conscience to others, and may be an accounting nightmare for many more, I willingly pay my taxes. Why?
―Robert D. Wengerd, Coshocton, Ohio
In response to “Why I Willingly Pay My Taxes”…, I feel I must prayerfully challenge the author’s unquestioning willingness to pay all taxes while he in no way addresses the tax issue as it pertains to the military budget. In fact, the author’s own reasons for paying taxes are some of the same reasons I can no longer pay the portion of tax that finances the war machine.
The first point being a matter of submission, the author concludes that the only time he can refuse to obey the governing authority is when God’s law requires him to do otherwise. The law of God is that we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. How can I love my neighbor if I willingly pay for his murder? Hitler was able to do as much evil as he did because so many Christians submitted to human authority rather than God’s authority.
Second, it is a matter of conscience. I willingly and conscientiously give taxes, customs, fear, and honor to whom they are due (Rom. 14:5–7), but only as I can do so with a clear conscience before God. To willingly contribute to a system of oppression and murder under any nation’s flag is in conflict with what God calls me to do.
Third, it is a matter of integrity. To say that our firstfruits tithing goes to God and our taxes go to Caesar is to miss the point of what Jesus says in Matthew 22:17–21. Such an understanding puts God and Caesar on equal footing as though each is due equal allegiance. To be a person of integrity, I must offer all I have to God first, including my awareness of how my tax dollars are spent. I cannot with integrity refuse to bodily take part in killing another human made in God’s image, but be willing to pay someone else to do so.
Fourth, it is a matter of honesty. I don’t believe that refusing to pay for war is stealing from the government. Indeed, we pay for war by stealing from the poor. We have the choice to either help bring hope of a better life to our neighbors with needed services, housing, and education or take part in their oppression by buying weapons to protect us from them when they tire of watching their children starve to death.
Fifth, it is a matter of credibility. The author pays all taxes because he wishes not to lose his credibility and Christian witness. Of what and to whom are we witnesses? Are we credible witnesses to Jesus’ presence in our hearts to our brothers and sisters in Central America, such as the priests and church workers in El Salvador who were murdered by death squads trained and armed by our tax dollars? I might be willing to pay all my taxes if Congress passes the Peace Tax Fund bill which would allow those who are conscientious objectors to have their taxes used for nonmilitary purposes. But until that opportunity is available, I will no longer pay war taxes, but instead will put that money to use where it will nurture life and not poison it.
―Karl R. Yoder, Americus, Ga.
The “Taxes for Peace” fund gave its annual update in the issue:
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Peace Section is inviting contributions for the Taxes for Peace Fund. The fund, established in , gives people who want to withhold war taxes a way to contribute their money toward peaceful purposes. While contributing to this fund is a symbolic action and not a legal alternative to paying the tax, many people have found it a meaningful way to demonstrate their commitment to peace.
Last year, $5,750 in Taxes for Peace money was divided between the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund and Christian Peacemaker Teams. This year’s contributions will be divided the same way.
The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund seeks to enact the U.S. Peace Tax Fund Bill, which would give those conscientiously opposed to war a way to pay 100 percent of their taxes by designating the military percentage to a separate fund for peace-enhancing programs. Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative of North American Mennonite and related churches to develop and support more assertive peacemaking.
MCC constituents have contributed more than $75,000 to the Taxes for Peace Fund. Among other projects, the money has funded reconstruction efforts in Indochina, aided victims of violence in Guatemala, and supported the MCC U.S. Peace Section.
The following excerpt is from one of several dozen letters sent to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in by contributors to the Taxes for Peace Fund: “We will sleep better tonight than if we would be helping to keep the murder machine going for the United States. And hopefully, all the people of the world will sleep better when we can all stop financing their death threats and death squads.” (John and Sandra Drescher-Lehman, Richmond, Va.)
Checks for the Taxes for Peace Fund should be made payable to “MCC, Taxes for Peace.”…
An information packet on military-tax opposition is available for $3 from MCC U.S. Peace Section. It contains varying theological positions on the war-tax issue and materials about tax laws and legal concerns for the tax resister. Updated materials are available for those who purchased earlier editions of the packet.
The issue announced a “Standing Up for Peace” contest in which young people (ages 15–23) “are urged to interview someone who has refused to fight in war, pay war taxes, or build weapons and then write an essay or song, produce a video, or create a work of art.” The MCC (U.S.) Peace Section was one of the sponsors.
One Mennonite congregation decided to take the lead and begin resisting the telephone excise tax as a group ():
St. Louis (Mo.) Mennonite Fellowship has decided to stop paying its telephone tax as a form of protest against military spending. Federal phone tax revenues, first collected in , contribute directly to the U.S. Armed Forces. “Though the biblical basis for such action has been debated, we wish to respect the convictions of our members and Anabaptist forebears and foremostly to be disciplined followers of Jesus Christ,” said Scott Neufeld, who coordinates the congregation’s peace witness. The congregation will send its tax money instead to Mennonite Central Committee.
Five European Mennonite theologians are proposing changes in a World Council of Churches statement that is being discussed at WCC’s Convocation on Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation in Seoul, South Korea, . One of them, Andrea Lange of West Germany, took the proposed revisions to Seoul as a representative of the Dutch Mennonite Church and the North German Mennonite Church, both of which are WCC members. The Seoul statement grows out of an extended “conciliar” process by WCC member churches. The Mennonite revisions call for the rejection of force and support for conscientious objectors to military service and those who refuse to pay war taxes. The revision also calls for the full use of women’s gifts in the church — and to “admit them to all church offices.”
The issue included an article on Mennonite martyrs of the World War Ⅰ period who were persecuted for refusing to buy war bonds (see ♇ 1 September 2018 for that article).
The Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries board of directors met in , and took their cue from the Mennonite Church board by putting things off for another time:
The issue of military tax withholding for MBCM employees was discussed at length. However, no action was taken. Since no MBCM employees are currently requesting that the military portion of their taxes not be withheld, the board agreed to wait for such a request before responding to the military tax withholding question.
In J. Lorne Peachey took over from Daniel Hertzler as editor. We haven’t heard from Peachey yet so I don’t know if he took any position in the war tax resistance debates that might influence his editorial positions.
A letter to the editor from John F. Murray used the war tax resistance issue as a rhetorical hook in the course of trying to prompt readers into tithing more to the Church.
Another letter, from Jim Leuba, in the issue, gave taxpaying Christians a pointed edge:
In reference to your suggestion in your editorial that we spend a day praying for “Peace in the Persian Gulf”…, I feel the following is an appropriate prayer:
“Lord, today I am praying for peace in the Persian Gulf. I pray our armies do not use the weapons I helped pay for with my tax dollars. Never mind. Lord, that I could live at an income level that did not require paying war taxes. And, Lord, a war will only increase the price of oil. I am so addicted to oil that I can’t imagine life without it. Never mind. Lord, that I use at least 10 times more fossil energy than 75 percent of the earth’s human population. Protect me. Lord; I am a North American Christian.”
The following syndicated news brief appeared in the issue:
A Philadelphia Quaker organization must garnish the wages of its employees who fail to pay income tax for religious reasons, a federal judge in Philadelphia ruled. But Judge Norma Shapiro also said the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends cannot be penalized for failing to honor the levies imposed by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The case involved the refusal of three Friends employees to pay the full amount of their taxes because part of it would go to the military, and that would violate their religious antiwar beliefs.
In her decision, Shapiro cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year in Employment v. Smith, the controversial Oregon peyote case. In denying unemployment benefits to two residents, the high court ruled that since ingestion of peyote was a crime in Oregon, “the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion proscribes (or prescribes).”
Eastern Canada Conference of Mennonites was struggling with the same issue of tax resisting employees that had troubled the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church (Ron Rempel reporting, ):
Canadian conference responds to military tax objectors
Waterloo, Ont. (Mennonite Reporter) — Two Ontario Mennonite leaders have declared their conscientious objection to the payment of military taxes. However, their employers have not yet decided whether or how to cooperate with the request to redirect military taxes for peaceful purposes.
Fred Martin, the student and young adult minister for Eastern Canada Conference, first raised the issue in . Jean-Jacques Goulet, pastor of Wilmot Mennonite Church, took a similar stand the week that the Persian Gulf War started. His church is waiting to see how the conference will resolve the matter.
, at its fall delegate meeting, the conference gave notice of a recommendation that will be dealt with at the annual meeting . That recommendation called on the conference to support Martin not forwarding to Revenue Canada the portion of his income tax used for military purposes.
Since the meeting, the executive board of the conference has looked more closely at how to proceed if the recommendation is accepted. The board has prepared an alternative resolution, calling on the conference: (1) to “withhold no income tax from the salary of any conference employee who requests this on the basis of conscience”; (2) to inform Revenue Canada and members of Parliament of the decision; (3) to ask the government to introduce legislation recognizing conscientious objection to payment of military taxes and to provide peaceful alternatives for use of these tax dollars; and (4) to support other church boards, agencies, and congregations that may adopt similar policies.
“As far as we know, no one in Canada has gone this route,” commented Sam Steiner, secretary of the conference. Others who have asked for the cooperation of employers in not paying military taxes have become “contract employees,” or “self-employed contractors.”
Eastern Canada Conference, however, is proposing to treat military tax objectors as full employees, and to continue all regular benefits and deductions, except for income tax deductions. It would be left to the employee to remit income taxes to Revenue Canada after redirecting the military portion.
This procedure has been used by the General Conference Mennonite Church after that denomination decided in to support military tax objectors. The Mennonite Church has made a similar commitment in principle, but has not yet decided on a procedure to use.
According to Steiner, the conference would technically be Hable for breaking tax laws by deciding not to collect income taxes for the government.
Reporter Ron Rempel followed up on that report with this:
Baden, Ont. (Mennonite Reporter) — After a vigorous debate, delegates to the annual meeting of Eastern Canada Conference, , defeated a proposal calling on the conference not to deduct income tax from employees who want to redirect the military portion for peaceful purposes. They also tabled an alternative resolution.
The conference executive board developed its proposal in response to a request from its student and young adult minister, Fred Martin. He indicated in that he objected on the basis of conscience to paying military taxes. He asked the conference — which is required by law to deduct all income taxes and remit them to Revenue Canada — to help him find a way to express his conscience.
In the recent Gulf War, “my body was not being conscripted, but my money was,” commented Martin in a brief presentation before delegates. “How can I pray for peace but pay for war?”
In introducing the proposal, conference secretary Sam Steiner said the executive board had not been unanimous. Some abstained from voting; others were against the proposal. He also said the proposed action could make the conference legally liable for breaking the Income Tax Act.
The legal question dominated the discussion by delegates. For example. Ken Musselman said military tax objectors should use other options, like increasing charitable donations or cutting back their overall income to reduce taxes. A number of delegates said that individuals who want to redirect military taxes should assume the legal liability themselves — for example, as contract employees — rather than expect conference to bear it. Others supported the proposal. They cited historical precedents such as World War Ⅰ conscientious objectors choosing jail rather than the military uniform.
A number who lined up at the open mikes said they liked the second part of the executive board’s proposal — to seek legislation recognizing conscientious objections to payment of military taxes — but objected to the first part — asking conference to defy current income tax laws.
The delegates then faced two choices: either table the executive board’s proposal or look at an alternative resolution.
The alternative, presented by Margot Fieguth, began with the second part of the original proposal: an attempt to work through legislative and legal avenues to secure recognition of conscientious objection to payment of military taxes and to provide peaceful alternatives. This resolution also suggested that conference offer Fred Martin a contract position, so that he, rather than conference, would be responsible to make income tax payments.
Delegates decided not to table the original proposal. But before they started debating the alternative, there were voices calling for a vote on the executive board’s proposal.
“I would like to hear the truth of where the conference stands on this issue,” said Jean-Jacques Goulet, pastor of Wilmot (Ont.) Mennonite Church. During the Gulf War he had declared himself a conscientious objector to military taxes. And his congregation was waiting to see how conference would respond to Fred Martin.
In a ballot vote, the executive board’s proposal was defeated 159-48. It was late in the evening. The alternative resolution was on the floor. But someone proposed that it be tabled till the next session of conference. The motion carried.
The “Taxes for Peace” war tax redirection fund gave its annual report in the issue:
The Peace Section of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. is inviting contributions for the “Taxes for Peace” fund. Established in , it gives people who want to withhold war taxes a way to contribute their money to peaceful purposes. Donations last year totaled $3,700, and they were sent to the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund and to Christian Peacemaker Teams. More information is available from MCC U.S. Peace Section…
Nathan Zook Barge was quoted in a article as saying: “Can we say that we are pacifist when we are still paying taxes in support of war? Unless we are actively stopping that kind of support, I don’t think we are being heard as pacifists in Central America.”
Another General Assembly was held , and I’m sure the board of directors were on tenterhooks hoping that the Assembly would let them off the hook about implementing the decision they’d made at the previous General Assembly to begin refusing to withhold war taxes from the salaries of objecting employees.
Unfortunately, I see nothing in the Gospel Herald coverage that indicates that issue was addressed at all. Instead, there was a lot of talk about encouraging Mennonites to contribute more to the Peace Tax Fund lobbying effort.
Delegates did look to themselves in reconsidering a statement on the Peace Tax Fund. The statement had called on individual Mennonites to contribute to this fund. Noting that less than one percent had done so, this time delegates took action to urge conferences and congregations to put the Peace Tax Fund in their budgets.
The Peace Tax Fund would allow conscientious objectors to pay their taxes by diverting the military portion to a special trust fund. Efforts are currently underway to have the Fund be considered by lawmakers in the U.S.; a comparable campaign is also being considered in Canada.
Weldon and Marg Nisly of Cincinnati told how they are refusing to pay the portion of their taxes that goes to the military. The Internal Revenue Service has frozen their bank accounts and life for them has become more inconvenient, but Nisleys said this is one way for them to “say no to the military monster.” Their call for 100,000 other Mennonites to join them was met with applause.
In Mennonite General Assembly went on record to encourage individuals to contribute to a peace tax fund campaign. Less than one percent of us did. So in Oregon delegates made their action stronger: they are now “urging” district conferences and local congregations to put the peace tax fund into their annual budgets.
So your congregation will need to make a decision about that “urging” some time in the next two years. Will you give expression to your belief in peace by supporting a congregational budget item to contribute to a peace tax fund? The contribution will be used to help sponsor legislation in both Washington and Ottawa to legitimatize a peace tax fund as an option for persons opposed to having their tax money used for military purposes.
The issue profiled “Seniors for Peace” and included this detail:
Some Seniors for Peace withhold the military portion of their income taxes and contribute it to a peace fund. Many actively support lobbying for legislation for a peace tax fund to provide alternative service for tax dollars.
And finally, a letter to the editor from Tim Nafziger urged Mennonites not to stop, satisfied by redirecting their taxes to a peace tax fund. “The Mennonite Church is called to do more than be morally pure,” he wrote.