Tax Resistance in “Gospel Herald”, 1866–1900

This is the 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.

“The Herald of Truth” logo, circa 1898

The American Civil War had prompted Mennonites to make more explicit and precise the contours of their “nonresistant” conscientious objection policy. In the post-war years, in the pages of The Herald of Truth (Gospel Herald’s predecessor), they continue to articulate this.

The edition, under the title “An Appropriate Address” quoted an “address… said to have been sent by the society of the Mennonites in Lancaster Co., Pa., to John Penn, Governor of that state, on ” and advised: “Let us imitate their example.” The quoted address explained that Mennonites could not take up arms, but:

As Christ commanded Peter to pay tribute to Caesar, so shall we always pay our taxes.

An anonymous author wrote, in the issue, about whether it would be “consistent with the principles of non-resistance to buy substitutes and send them into the army”:

If… such things [as war] are repulsive and sinful to me (as they are to the true Christian), how can I conscientiously and willingly pay a substitute and send him to do these things? for, by so doing, I would also make myself a partaker in such wickedness and help to promote the same.

When a news report suggested that a new Mennonite sect in Europe was promulgating anarchistic views, the Herald of Truth editor set the record straight about Mennonites’ willingness to pay taxes ():

A New Sect.

A new order of the Mennonite sect is gaining ground in Hungary to an extent that threatens considerable embarrassment to the Aduninistration. These so-called Nazarenes not only disown all clerical organizations and refuse to take any oath or enter any military service, but they dispute the lawfulness of taxes that go to support a State, Church or army. All assessments made on them are therefore levied on protest. They are said to be an offshoot of Calvinism, but have of late been largely recruited from among the working Catholic population, so that their numbers, estimated a few years since at 6,000 only, are now officially stated at 30,000, and said to be really much larger.

The above item we find in an exchange, but cannot endorse the fact that they belong to the Mennonite sect. The Mennonites never resist the authority of government; they respect governments as ordained of God, and as Jesus directed Peter to go and get a piece of money which he should find in the mouth of a fish, Matt. 17:27, to pay for their taxes, in order to avoid offense, without asking any questions as to what would be done with the money so paid, and with the full consciousness that he was not even subject to tribute. So the Mennonites hold that it is their duty to meet all the demands of government, and to pay tribute or taxes to whom they are due, and whosoever assumes to protest against and act in opposition to this doctrine, which the Savior and the apostles taught, contradicts and opposes the faith of the Mennonites, and consequently cannot claim to be acknowledged as a Mennonite. Calvinism is another doctrine which does not in any manner coincide with the “free grace principles” always taught and cherished by the Mennonite church.

They do, however, decline most decidedly to perform military service, and could in no wise maintain institutions to promote war and bloodshed, or to repel any demands made upon them by force or violence.

A story about “The Mennonites in Europe” in the edition made the same point:

Another circumstance disposed the famous Turenne [Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne?] favorably towards the Mennonites. M. Van Buenig, the Dutch Ambassador, was in a carriage one day with Turenne, who blamed the States for “tolerating Anabaptists.” The former defended them as excellent citizens. There was no fear, he said, of a revolt, with a weaponless people. What repose of mind this gave to a Sovereign! They paid their taxes without any trouble, and with these taxes he paid his troops… Instead of dissipating their property in luxury and riot they strengthened the State by their steady labor.

As did this unsigned article in the edition:

…[T]he Russian Government seems to be awaking to the fact that the Mennonites and other dissenters are not and never have been detrimental to the best interests of the country, that they are in fact among the most loyal subjects in all the empire, paying their taxes, living in peace and quietness, with no thought of doing anything to injure the Government.

The first hint of broader war tax resistance thinking (beyond the “no hiring substitutes” level) that I found was in the edition, which reprinted a sermon delivered by Menno Simon Steiner during the Spanish-American war, titled “The Christian’s Duty in Times of War and to Spain”:

We build ourselves pleasant homes, help our children to nice homes, hoard up money, keep a tight grip on our pocketbooks, and have as a Christian people and nation done comparatively nothing for the cause of Christ in foreign lands. I accuse myself for not having done more, and now God has permitted this war to be and we pay into the treasury of the United States in taxes, revenue, tariff, and stamps what we ought long ago to have given into the treasury of the Lord.

But a war tax resistance interpretation of this passage in context is a bit of a stretch. Steiner seems mostly to be saying that Mennonites ought to have been spending more resources on converting the Cubans to Christianity in the hopes of averting such a war. If Mennonites had invaded Cuba and the Phillipines first, with an army of nonviolent missionaries, they could have headed off such a later military intervention.

Finally, here’s a typical war-is-bad but taxes-are-good expression found in an anonymous letter-to-the-editor from :

Bro. Geo. R. Brunk has preached twice for the Spring Valley congregation on the subject of non-resistance. One man present at these meetings said such sermons ought to be preached oftener and the Gospel given in the way it was by Bro. Brunk, in every city and village in the country, to show that Christians will not fight and kill their fellowmen. The apostle Paul says, “Be subject to the powers that be,” but in the same chapter he warns us not to kill anybody — “Thou shalt not kill.” Rom. 13:9. To pay tribute or taxes seems allowable in this chapter, but not to kill any one.