Tax Resistance in “Gospel Herald”, 1993–1994

This is the thirty-third 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

By things had slowed to a crawl. It was only a few years back that talk of war tax resistance had risen to a frenzy, and the subject was a regular topic of debate in the Mennonite Church General Assembly. Now: not so much.

The annual “Taxes for Peace” redirection fund update appeared in the issue:

Peace fund gifts welcomed.

Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries invites contributions for the Taxes for Peace fund. The fund, established in , gives people who withhold war taxes a way to give their money to peaceful purposes. Contributions will support the creation of peace education materials and education about pastoral sexual misconduct by the Women’s Concerns desk and Mennonite Conciliation Services.

Remnants of the old passion were preserved on videotape ():

Videos about war taxes available from Mennonite Central Committee. In “Paying for Peace,” war tax resisters share why they resist paying war taxes and the impact of that decision on their lives. “Compelled by Conscience” explains how the Peace Tax Fund would allow people to designate the portion of their federal taxes used for war to a fund for peacemaking programs. Contact MCC

A historical study of Mennonites and war taxes was released ():

MCC occasional paper, “Silence and Courage: Income Taxes, War and Mennonites, ,” by Titus Peachey, explores the connection between income taxes and war in both U.S. and Canadian history, with particular emphasis on the World War Ⅱ period. This is the 18th in the Mennonite Central Committee Occasional Papers series. Available from MCC

That’s it for . I racked my brain for more possible explanations for the sudden fall-off of war tax resistance content in this period.

One possibility I didn’t consider before is that perhaps those who promoted war tax resistance were at first an easy-to-ignore minority, but when they began to organize and exert influence this prompted “the silent majority” (or perhaps just a more-influential or more-politically-skillful minority) who were against war tax resistance to begin to organize and throw their weight around too. Once that group finally got organized and active, the war tax resisters lost the advantage they had gained by being the first movers on the issue and ended up getting thwarted.

I’m not convinced that’s the answer, but it’s another possibility, or maybe part of the answer.

Magical and wishful thinking might also be a partial explanation for the decline. There’s the Peace Tax Fund scheme, which has its own fantastic ideas associated with it, and then there’s something like this “dream” Nancy Brubaker shared in the issue:

The U.S. government has sent Internal Revenue Service investigators to find out why so many people no longer owe any military taxes. The Mennonites explain to the IRS about the fund they have created with the money they are saving by living more simply. This money, they say, is to be used, not to defend the United States against other nations, but to defend Mother Earth against human beings. Already the money is being used to save endangered species of whales, to educate people on the dangers of plastic, and to teach Christians how to put on more sweaters when it is cold.

This announcement could be found in the issue:

Grants available.

The Heartland Peace Tax Fund is offering grants of up to $500 (U.S.) to local service agencies or to individuals. It invites application from organizations or individuals who serve underprivileged people (especially those underserved by governmental agencies), and from those who work for non-violence and for community and environmental improvement. Application deadline is . To receive an application, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Newton [Kansas] Area Peace Center…

I thought the follow-up report () contained a noteworthy example of reinforced helplessness. Note that the article is describing a ceremony in which war tax resisters redirected taxes to charitable causes right there and then but then the article goes on to say that this is a demonstration of “what a national peace tax fund could do if passed by Congress” (emphasis mine):

Peace fund grants given.

Three Heartland Peace Tax Fund grants of $250 each have been awarded by the Newton (Kan.) Area Peace Center. The recipients are the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Association of Harvey County, Offender Victim Ministries (both of Newton), and the Samaritan Counseling Center of Hutchinson. The Heartland Peace Tax Fund was instituted a year ago; these are its first grants. They demonstrate locally what a national peace tax fund could do if passed by Congress — allow people conscientiously opposed to war to direct their tax dollars to meeting human need, says Susan Balzer, Hesston, who chairs the Peace Tax Group (a focus group of the Newton Area Peace Center).

Donald B. Kraybill and Leo Driedger co-wrote an article that appeared in part in the issue, on Mennonites and “peace”, that gave the lay of the landscape:

Peacemaking sounds like a natural, noble expression of the gospel which Christians of many stripes will applaud. But its modern ring may have more to do with assuring social and ecumenical acceptance than with a willingness to make a costly and distinctive witness for the gospel. Many Christians may be willing to extol the virtues of peacemaking, but few are willing to sit in jail for refusing to pay taxes for warfare.

In the issue, Jane Yoder-Short invented a dialog in the style of the Mennonite classic Martyrs Mirror. Excerpt:

Friend Ira Hess:
You need to be more supportive of the laws of this great nation. We can’t accept people making selective payment of taxes. You should be happy to pay for your defense.
Minnie Knight:
I give to God what is God’s. My loyalty belongs to the Lord. I want no one killed in my name.

The Clinton administration was pushing a health industry overhaul at this point, and there was lots of buzz about the possibility of “taxpayer-funded abortions,” and so that and war tax resistance got tangled up in each other in a couple of letters to the editor:

“Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites” ()

It is more than passing strange that Mennonite leadership has favored withholding taxes for the military but now supports a health care program which may pay for the murdering of pre-born babies. If we are opposed to this abominable aspect of the Clinton health plan, why not say so in no uncertain terms?

Lawrence Burkhholder ()
This took the point of view of a Canadian looking over the proposed U.S. health industry law:

Yes, I do resent seeing my tax dollars help pay for abortions. However, if the criterion is that we should avoid paying taxes which fund death, then all of us on both sides of the border must stop paying military taxes immediately.