In the late 1950s, the Gospel Messenger covered the war tax resistance of Maurice McCrackin, and the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference took on the issue of war taxes and decided to try to work out some form of legalized conscientious objection to military taxation with the government.
The edition of Gospel Messenger introduced Maurice McCrackin’s war tax resistance:
Pacifist Clergyman Indicted
A Presbyterian pacifist minister who has refused for ten years to pay part of his federal income tax he felt was for war purposes, was indicted by a grand jury in Cincinnati, Ohio, for failing to answer a summons from the Internal Revenue Service. He is the Rev. Maurice McCrackin of West Cincinnati-St. Barnabas church, a racially integrated mission congregation jointly supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio and the Cincinnati Presbytery. Recently twenty-eight ministers requested the two groups not to yield to pressure for the minister’s removal from his church.
This follow-up comes from the issue (source):
A Presbyterian pacifist minister who refused to pay part of his federal income tax he felt would be used for war purposes has been sentenced to serve six months in a federal prison camp in Pennsylvania. Following his conviction thirteen clergymen appealed to President Eisenhower to intervene in the sentence.
A somewhat more in-depth news brief appeared later in the same issue (source):
Pacifist Minister Jailed for Contempt
Maurice F. McCrackin, a pacifist minister who has refused to pay the part of his federal income tax he felt would be used for war purposes, was convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to jail for an indefinite period after ignoring a summons from the Internal Revenue Service.
Mr. McCrackin is pastor of the West Cincinnati-St. Barnabas church, a mission congregation jointly supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio and the Cincinnati Presbytery. He has refused to pay income taxes for the past ten years because some of the money goes for military purposes.
And this update comes from the issue (source):
Clergymen Ask President’s Intervention for Imprisoned Minister
Thirteen clergymen appealed to President Eisenhower to intervene in the “persecution” of a Presbyterian pacifist minister who has refused to pay part of his federal income tax he felt would be used for war purposes. In a message sent by the Fellowship of Reconciliation the clergymen asked the President to bring Mr. McCrackin’s case immediately to the attention of the Justice Department and urged that he be freed of the contempt conviction so the charges may proceed “in orderly fashion” to try him on the tax charges.
W. Harold Row, secretary of the Brethren Service Commission, was one of the twelve Protestant ministers who signed the appeal. The message stressed that the signers were not associating themselves with the position Mr. McCrackin had taken or with the means he employed to appeal to the conscience of his fellow citizens to renounce war.
A letter-to-the-editor in the issue took inspiration from McCrackin’s stand (somewhat mangled source):
Objection to War Taxes
In the issue, you questioned the way the tax dollar is spent, and in another section you mentioned the plight of Rev. Maurice McCrackin, imprisoned for not paying the war taxes. To me it seems that McCrackin and others like him are pointing the way out of a basic dilemma for all who profess to be pacifists, namely how to effectively oppose war when tax dollars are taken from us that go four fifths for war.
It is time that the Church of the Brethren and the other peace churches come out in favor of conscientious objection to war taxes and alternative service for the dollars we get for our labors in the form of giving an identical amount or more than the amount of taxes to the Brethren Service Commission, CARE, and other such organizations that are doing the needed job that the war-minded government of the U.S. refuses to do: help the needy and suffering and undeveloped people all over the world.
The early Brethren did not pay taxes for war, and we are a poor shadow of our forebears if we let our dollars be spent to maintain the cancerous military machine of the United States. ―John Forbes, Castañer, Puerto Rico
Jeanne Jacoby of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was in turn inspired by Forbes, in her letter in the issue (source): “I sincerely believe that we Brethren should oppose war taxes. If we oppose war and preparation for war, why should we pay money for war.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the war tax issue came up at the Annual Conference that year, though the focus seemed to be on trying to convince the government to accommodate conscientious objection to military taxation rather than on taking action in the here and now. From the issue (source):
From the Brethren Service Commission came a recommendation to the Board urging that the Church of the Brethren begin making explorations with agencies of government in order to find some acceptable alternative for persons who, because of religious training or belief, are conscientiously opposed to the payment of the portion of their income taxes that goes for military defense. It was pointed out that there is a growing interest among Brethren in finding such an alternative and that there is an increasing concern with regard to the large amount of tax money that is used for war preparation and various forms of military defense. The Board recognized this interest and approved the recommendation that came to it. It was pointed out that the difficulties confronting such a proposal would be extensive, but that a start should be made. The church will attempt to work with other organizations having a similar concern, but if necessary, the church will proceed by itself to try to find some alternative to paying war taxes.
This evidently gave the editor of the Messenger permission to be somewhat more forthright about advocating war tax resistance. In an editorial (source), Kenneth Morse wrote:
, the anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb, should not pass without every Christian deciding to take personal responsibility for some form of protest or non-violent action against the continuing arms race. Some concerned persons have kept vigil at launching bases, others have demonstrated against policies by engaging in “walks for peace,” others have refused to pay taxes for war purposes.
W.A. Ogden of Grace Seminary (Indiana) wrote an article on “Separation” for the issue of The Brethren Missionary Herald in which he set out his idea of the Brethren orthodoxy on how the Christian ought to behave toward the state. When it comes to war bonds: “We recognize that there are many areas, such as purchasing bonds, war stamps, and so forth, which the individual must settle alone with his God.”
In the issue of The Brethren Evangelist, Percy C. Miller reviewed the chapter on the Civil War from Rufus Bowman’s The Church of the Brethren and War (source). He summarized the Brethren position on war taxes and related issues this way:
In the early days of the war, some of the Brethren hired substitutes. The church members preferred to pay fines instead of using the system of substitutes. But the records do not indicate that the Brethren clearly recognized the inconsistency with their peace position of employing substitutes or paying heavy war taxes to keep free from participation in armed conflicts. The Society of Friends protested continually against war taxes. The Brethren and Mennonites took the position that they [sh/c?]ould pay what the government required. The brethren felt that the gospel required the payment of fines and taxes. They based their opposition to war upon the teachings of Jesus but related their opposition more to the overt acts of war than to the whole war system. They felt that the Brethren Church, for Biblical reasons, [sh/c?]ould not use the sword, but that the civil government, likewise because of Biblical reasons — “for the punishment of evildoers” (Ⅰ Peter 2:14) — might have to use material force.