Tax Resistance in “Gospel Herald”, 1992

This is the thirty-second 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.

“Gospel Herald” logo, circa 1991

In I felt the tide start to recede. The war tax resisting faction had gotten thoroughly distracted by the promise of Peace Tax Fund legislation, and the conservative taxpaying faction went back on the offensive in favor of paying taxes without concern.

One of the symptoms of the decay of the war tax resistance position (that I’ve also seen exhibited elsewhere) was the plea for new resisters to refuse to pay some tiny, safe token amount of taxes in lieu of more firmly-motivated and whole-hearted resistance. From the issue:

CPT urges $3 off.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is asking U.S. taxpayers to deduct $3.03 from their federal taxes, as a symbol of their objection to the $303 billion Defense budget. CPT would like congregations to collect withheld money and send it to become part of the offering at the organization’s conference in Richmond. Va. The offering will go to school districts such as the one in Petersburg. Va., which cannot afford to buy textbooks.

The issue had a big article on the push to get a Peace Tax Fund law enacted. There was no real mention in the article of war tax resistance as a good course of action to take in the meanwhile, and support for the bill seemed tepid even among its ostensible base of supporters:

“The Peace Tax bill is not going to be passed anytime soon,” says [Marian] Franz frankly. “Not enough people have said they care — and that includes Mennonites.

“I see a bitter irony in that,” she continues, “because if there were such a fund, pacifist Christians would say that it was God’s will that they use its provisions. Yet these same people are doing little to make this fund a reality.”

The issue printed this syndicated short news item:

Massachusetts man jailed, loses home for tax resistance

Peace activist Randy Kehler has been jailed and his family’s house confiscated because of his decade-long refusal to pay U.S. taxes.

Kehler and his wife, Betsy Corner, have withheld their federal taxes since the late 1970s. Instead, they have sent their tax dollars to nonprofit organizations that assist war victims and the poor.

The Internal Revenue Service laid claim to the couple’s house in Colrain, Mass., to recoup some $32,000 in back taxes, interest, and penalties.

The included a letter to the editor from Titus Martin harping on his favorite anti-war-tax-resistance themes.

The issue brought this news:

Tax meeting held.

Discussion by a panel of war tax resisters highlighted a Lancaster, Pa., meeting sponsored by the group Taxes for Life. Some 20 people attended the meeting, which also included a showing of the video Paying for Peace. Taxes for Life urges individuals to withhold a small, symbolic amount from the payment of their U.S. income taxes and to give the money instead to a local school project. More information is available from Taxes for Life…

The Illinois Mennonite Conference was held in . The Conference passed a statement of support for war tax resisters:

The statement on “Christian Conscience and Military Taxes” says that Illinois Conference “will seek to support our members who feel a genuine call from God to withhold payment of military taxes.”

The statement cites examples of this support as including prayer and personal encouragement, finances, and witness to “political and social powers.”

The resolution also calls on Illinois congregations to contribute a minimum of $5 per household to the Peace Tax Fund campaign.

The “Taxes for Peace” tax redirection fund gave its annual report and plea for new funds in the issue:

Peace gifts welcome.

The U.S. Peace Section of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is inviting contributions for the Taxes for Peace fund. Established in , the fund gives people who withhold war taxes a way to give their money for peaceful purposes. This year’s contributions will go to MCC U.S. peace education projects. More information is available from MCC U.S. Peace Section…

John K. Stoner tried to blow on the fading coals in the issue:

The war tax question just won’t go away

The voice of the victims of war keeps rising up. The cry of children, abused and traumatized by war, will not be still.

by John K. Stoner

Last Thursday my phone rang. The voice at the other end of the line asked for John or Janet Stoner. “I’m John Stoner,” I replied. “Hello. I am Charles Price of the Internal Revenue Service. I am calling about the letter you sent indicating that you are withholding part of your income tax payment.”

We talked for about ten minutes, as I explained why Janet and I had said no to paying the full amount of our income tax. The man could not understand why anyone would invite the collection pressures of the IRS upon themselves by withholding some taxes. But by the time the conversation was over, he was a little closer to understanding that this was for us a matter of faith and a question of the practice of our religion.

It was a Mark 13:9 kind of experience of being called before the authorities. By the sound of Mark 13, Jesus expected this kind of thing to happen regularly to his followers.

“Why do they have to keep bringing up this business about taxes for war?” someone asks after a congregational meeting. “Why doesn’t this war tax question just go away?” asks another at a session on strategies to reduce the military portion of the U.S. budget.

The reason war keeps coming up and won’t go away is because the voice of the victims of war keeps rising up. The cry of the children, abused and traumatized by war, doesn’t go away.

Every discussion about peacemaking in these times must face the question of how taxes are collected and spent. Americans watched their tax dollars at work in Iraq. They killed between one and two hundred thousand people in a month’s time. They left a nation of 17 million people strangled — its water polluted, its hospitals without electricity, its homes dark, and its classrooms cold. Today malnutrition, disease, and destitution are the continuing results of this man-made plague of death and despair.

Since then, an international study team on the Gulf crisis found that the mortality rate of children under five years of age was almost four times greater then than before the Gulf War. More than 75 percent of Iraqi children feel sad and unhappy, worry about the survival of their family. They are haunted by the smell of gunfire, fuel from planes, fires, and burned flesh.

Taxes paid for all this. It is for those of us who are Christians, as taxpayers, to sidestep our share of the responsibility. We can choose to “just say no” (how simple that sounds when we prescribe it to someone else’s moral choice and how difficult it sounds when it is ours).

I believe God is cal­ling us to plead for the end of the de­struct­ive social in­sti­tu­tion of war by re­fu­sing to pay for it. We are called to this as clearly and in­es­ca­pa­bly as our fore­bears were called to abol­ish slavery. The ques­tion is not whether we can achieve that goal in a year or decade. The question is whether that is our goal — and whether the world knows that it is our goal. It was Jesus’ goal, and it should be ours.

One way to enhance this witness is through a symbolic war tax refusal called Taxes for Life. Sponsored by the Christian Peacemaker Team, this plan would have taxpayers redirect an amount equivalent to one penny for every billion dollar of the U.S. military budget to education. For , this is $3.03.

If you do this, and the IRS calls, tell them that it makes you a little bit nervous to break their law. Go on to say that you are far more apprehensive about breaking God’s law. Tell them that you hear God’s warning rising up from the victims of war, and that you have decided that you will not take their blood upon your hands. Then leave the outcome with God.

This was followed by a lukewarm some say / others say editorial:

For U.S. Mennonites, one way we can work at it at this time of year is to take yet another look at the tax question. As John Stoner reminds us…, it is our taxes that keep the military going, that make possible aggression and belligerence.

Because of this, some choose not to pay a part of their taxes as a protest. Others consider that overreaction.

But let us not make that our battle. While we do, more people starve. Let us rather join hands to find all the ways possible to address the huge military expenditures of our country, and of the world.

Susan Balzer sent in the following notice:

Tax group meets.

Members of a Newton, Kan., group heard reports on the U.S. Peace Tax Fund bill in a meeting. The Peace Tax Group also discussed ideas for creating a local alternative tax fund. Carla Morton and Stan Bohn reported on their visits to Washington, D.C., in connection with a Congressional hearing on the tax fund bill. In addition, group members talked about starting a local fund for such projects as environmental protection, mental health care for veterans, and retraining of military workers.

The following disheartening news was carried in the issue:

Quaker magazine agrees to pay back taxes for war tax protester

Friends Journal, a Quaker monthly published in Philadelphia, has agreed to pay $31,343 to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

The payment covers back taxes for the magazine’s editor, who had refused to pay them because of religious objections to their use for military purposes.

The magazine’s board had refused IRS demands that it pay the taxes on behalf of the editor, Vinton Deming.

However, the Justice Department warned the board that it would face legal action unless the matter was settled, and the magazine’s lawyer advised the board that it could not win such a case in court.

Now that the pro-taxpaying conservatives were no longer on the defensive, they apparently no longer felt the need to promote the Peace Tax Fund legislation as an alternative to lawlessness for Mennonites concerned about their taxes paying for war. Now they could attack the Peace Tax Fund as being also scripturally unsound. Or so said Ernest E. Mummau in a letter to the editor that evoked the usual Romans 13 / the government is divinely ordained to bear the sword / Christians are told to pay taxes without complaint / the Church should stay in its own domain and shouldn’t meddle with the state line of argument to tell Mennonites to stop trying to tell the government what to do with their taxes.

The fourth international conference on war tax resistance and peace tax campaigns was held in Brussels in . The Gospel Herald article, and especially the quotes from Peace Tax Fund activist Marian Franz, tried to spin it as though it was more or less exclusively a Peace Tax Fund promoting event, with very little mention of actual war tax resistance:

Conference participants came with at least one thing in common, [Marian] Franz said: “We all find it a clear violation of conscience to pay the military portion of our taxes; we seek statutory recognition of conscience against paying for arms as an extension of the right to refuse to bear arms.”

The conference, which draws primarily European and North American participants, has met every two years .

The gathering allows participants “to hear stories of resistance and to compare our progress in gaining conscientious objection (CO) status to payment of military taxes within our respective countries,” Franz said.

For instance, NCPTF hopes to convince Congress members to pass a law permitting people conscientiously opposed to war to have the military portion of their taxes allocated to peacemaking.

“Most countries have a similar approach to war tax resisters,” Franz noted. “The standard response of governments, when they do respond, is to add civil penalties and collect the unpaid taxes forcibly. Imprisonment for war tax resistance is rare.”

Court responses to these cases are usually predictable as well. “The issue usually raises a ‘political’ question which the courts cannot address, or the courts decide that the constitutional guarantees of freedom of conscience or religion do not outweigh the duty of the citizen to pay taxes,” she said.

[Franz said:] "Most European war tax resisters entered the scene in . The presence of Cruise and Pershing missiles woke them up. They suddenly realized that Europe had become a giant football field on which the two superpowers could bounce their nuclear weapons.”

This prompted another letter to the editor, this one from Russell J. Baer, which also used the Render-unto-Caesar / Romans 13 beef to complain about activists who have an issue with paying war taxes.