American Brethren and War Taxes in 1961

In , suddenly Brethren couldn’t stop talking about war tax resistance.

Church of the Brethren: Gospel Messenger

By war tax resistance had gone from heresy to something that was considered one possible appropriate Christian response to runaway militarism. Take, for example, this mention in passing from Ralph E. Smeltzer’s long essay on “The Church and the World” in the issue of Gospel Messenger:

When the Christian conscience and the demands of the state conflict, as many feel in the case of military service, taxes for military purposes, and defense jobs, the Christian must follow his conscience.

A lengthy war tax resistance letter-to-the-editor on war tax resistance led off that column in the issue (source). The page scan (here and elsewhere in this volume) is difficult to read in parts, but I’ll try to restore it as best I can:

Taxes for War Purposes

The three of us, two ministers and a layman, have come to the conclusion that we can no longer pay Federal income tax for war. This may seem an astonishing stand; but much more astonishing is our general Brethren complacency about paying income tax.

In colonial times and during the Revolutionary War there was much tax refusal by Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren. An irate critic of the Church of the Brethren charged, “They not only refused to take up arms to repel the savage marauders and prevent the inhuman slaughter of women and children, but they refused in the most positive manner to pay a dollar to support those who were willing to take up arms to defend their homes and their firesides, until wrung from them by the stern mandates of the law. They did the same when the Revolution broke out. They might at least have furnished money. But no; not a dollar!” It is not certain whether this writer referred to taxes or only to the substitutionary sum paid in lieu of the militia draft. In either case the Brethren then had an alert ethical sensitivity about turning over their money for war.

In the belief that many Brethren are becoming troubled about paying income tax, we submit for fraternal consideration the following statement on income tax refusal.

Because the per capita U.S. military expenditure rose from less than $8 in to $268 in ,

Because approximately 75% of the Federal budget for the past several years has been annually appropriated for military purposes,

Because the government has been spending less than one million dollars yearly on the problems of disarmament, in contrast to $47 billion on arms, a ratio of one to forty-seven thousand,

Because there is so little national conscience about what nuclear war would mean for man, what it would be under God,

We find ourselves constrained by the love of Christ to refuse paying Federal income tax and instead are giving a corresponding amount, plus no less than 20%, to UN or other peacemaking programs.

We reject, as blasphemy against Christ, the prevailing readiness to exterminate hundreds of millions, or even all mankind, in order to “defend our values, our faith.” Since modern technological warfare is much more dependent on huge amounts of money than on manpower, we believe that refusal to turn over our bodies is not enough; we can no longer turn over our dollars for the present rush t[o our] mass annihilation. Let West an[d East] really take total disarmament a[s our] goal, and not merely toy with it [under] the pressure of world public o[pinion] as till now.

We do not discount the cons[tructive] aspects of Federal activity, a[nd we] welcome governmental endeavo[rs that] do make for peace. But with t[he best] prospects for disarmament fadi[ng fast] and the population of East and [West] mostly unaware of the imminen[ce of] and the certainty of disaster if [these] policies continue, we are impe[lled to] income tax refusal as a way of [calling] others to hear God’s warning: [“I have] set before you this day life and [good, and] death and evil. Therefore choo[se life,] that you and your descendant[s may] live, loving the Lord your God, [obey]ing his voice, and cleaving to [Him.”]

Those interested in discussi[ng this] difficult issue should write Dal[e] [Auk]erman, Bechlinghoven bei [?] Glueckstrasse 3, Germany. [Dale] Aukerman, John Forbes, and [Jerry] Royer.

That letter got an enthusiastic reply from Dale Rummel in the issue (source):

Church Should Take a Stand

I read the letter on “Taxes for War Purposes,” by Dale Aukerman, John Forbes, and Jerry Royer in [the] Gospel Messenger for [. I] feel that they are trying, const[ruc]tively, to reach the answer [to the] problem that has been plaguing Christians since the two world wars. I would like to see Annual Conference take action along the line[s of] their statement.

Our government can crush individuals when they take a stand which is “illegal.” But if an organization like our whole Brotherhood took this stand and backed up [the] individuals who carried it out, [there] is much more chance for its [doing] some lasting good. I believe, [also] that if we take this stand [other] denominations will join us in it[.]

This is no time for the Brethren to become fearful and cowardly [and] be afraid to step forward and [go] where we know it is right to [go]. Let us, with God’s guidance, go [for]ward, regardless of the phy[sical] consequences, in what we know [is] right.

A note in the issue (source) said that the Michigan district conference had asked the Annual conference to “study the possibilities of making the pacifist movement a political force in our country” by, among other means:

Attempting to work out a proposal for an alternative tax arrangement, so that the taxes of those who object to war on conscientious grounds may be used for peaceful and constructive goals of government.

In the issue, J. Robert Boyer encouraged his readers to take more courageous stands for their faith, and not like Peter deny Christ three times before the cock crows. One example he gives of when one might take a stand: “Will you send your tax money to Cape Canaveral, where missiles are launched to kill the enemy?”

The following letter from Charles E. and Cleda P. Zunkel appeared in the issue (source):

No Tax for War Purposes

In keeping with our pronouncements concerning war, the last of which was made at the Annual Conference at Richmond, Va., we Brethren have encouraged our young men to seek alternative service, in lieu of military service. Our young men, who have followed our teaching, have borne most of the brunt of this course of action. Have we, their parents, kept faith with them, as we have continued to pay our income tax money, 75% of which has gone for the support of military preparedness and war? I think we have not.

Some of our young men have challenged us to action, by appealing to us to cease paying the 75% of our income tax which goes to military purposes. It seems high time that we oldsters make our witness for peace, as we have asked our youth to make theirs.

My wife and I have been spurred to action by this appeal of our youth, and by the recent appeal of our President for $2 billion more to be added to an already staggering sum for military might.

The accompanying letter was sent to the Internal Revenue Service and to our President to clarify our position. It seems to us that we are called upon to make clear our faith and our action, in keeping with our historic understanding of the life and teachings of our Lord.

Director of Internal Revenue,
Richmond, Virginia.

President John F. Kennedy
White House
Washington, D.C.

Dear Sirs:

Since the late 1920’s we have been conscientious objectors to war, in the settlement of international disputes. We believe in the historic faith of our church, The Church of the Brethren, that “all war is sin. We, therefore, cannot encourage, engage in, or willingly profit from armed conflict at home or abroad. We cannot in the event of war accept military service or support the military machine in any capacity.”

Believing as we have, we have had guilty consciences as we have seen our nation increase its military preparedness. We have been aware that approximately 75% of all our income tax money has been spent for war, preparation for war, or mainten[ance] of military might. In 1938 the [total] military expenditure was $8 [per] capita; in 1958 it had risen to [$268] per capita.

From time to time, as we [have] filed our income tax returns, we [have] in letters to the government, [pro]tested this use of our money. [We] suggested that there be some [pro]vision whereby these funds now [used] for military expenditures be used [for] peaceful pursuits, such as the fee[ding] of the hungry of the world [and] the aid to underprivileged [people] through technical assistance.

Thus far, our protests have [not] been regarded. On , our local newspaper carried the notice that you, President Kennedy, were asking for $2 [billion] more than the amount already [pro]posed for military defense, ma[king] a total asking of $43,794,300,000[.]

Recently, we learned that two [nu]clear scientists warned the Nat[ional] Education Association in its co[nven]tion that we in the United States already have enough manufact[ured] fissionable material to blot ou[t all] life from the face of the entire [earth] and leave it pock-marked and vo[id like] the face of the moon.

In all good conscience, we ca[n no] longer give 75% of our income [tax] money for the support of mil[itary] might. We are not opposed to pa[ying] tax, but rather, to paying tax for [that] purpose. We feel as guilty as if [we] were giving our lives in the pro[gram] of the military method of settling international disputes.

Therefore, we are filing our income tax report as usual, paying [the] full tax for , but paying [only] 25% of the tax due for the first [quarter] of 1961. The other 75% of our [income] tax will be given in quarterly [install]ments to the church, in addition [to] the 15% or more we already [give.]

We hope the time may [speedily] come when such vast military expenditures may cease, and the [money] so spent may be used to relieve [the] suffering and need in our world. [We] hope, further, that in the [mean] time some alternative tax plan [may] be worked out whereby conscientious objectors may give their [tax] money to peaceful pursuits, just [as] young men may serve in alternative service in lieu of the military service.

The Gospel Messenger editor, Kenneth Morse, endorsed peace protest in general in his editorial, and war tax resistance as one possible protest: “Consider also the personal decision of the moderator of Annual Conference and his wife with regard to taxation for war purposes… It is always easy to criticize the stand that others take. But please note that some have at least taken a stand.”

A response from Jack Kline, however, in the issue, took issue with tax resistance on the usual render-unto-Cæsar grounds (source): “I think it well to protest the high military expenditure. But the type of letter that was written to Mr. Kennedy and to the Internal Revenue Department I think does not show good grace. I am a bit embarrassed that leaders in our own church would write that type of letter and refuse to pay taxes which our Lord distinctly told the Jews, under a military occupation, they should pay.”

There was another dissent, from John L. Mohler, in the issue (source). His objection was more on the grounds of democratic political theory: “[B]y participating on the economic life of our national community and accepting our incomes from it, we obligate ourselves to payment of the tax which, by democratic procedures, a majority of our citizens have imposed upon us.” Mohler felt that if you were going to conscientiously object to the taxes on your income, you should do so by refusing the income in the first place: “It seems to me that, in the case of refusal to pay taxes, the removal [of the dissenter from the democratically-chosen endeavors] should precede and prevent acceptance of the income on which the tax is paid.” But he didn’t think that was such a great idea either. He felt that the tax resister’s quest to morally isolate himself from the decisions of the democratic polis was futile, and that he should instead accept his share of guilt for those decisions and begin from there.

On the other hand, Virgil Rose, in a letter in the issue (source) “was moved with deep spiritual elation” by the news of Brethren war tax resisters. Rose tried to contradict some of the arguments against war tax resistance. For example, the individual contribution to the modern war budget, he says, dwarfs the tiny head tax in Judea that Jesus spoke of, and so they cannot be directly compared; and the idea that he straightforwardly counseled the payment of a tax to Rome contradicts the whole point of the render-unto-Cæsar parable. Rose also wasn’t impressed with Mohler’s democratic theory, though as I interpret it, it seems they were talking past each other on this point (Mohler responded in the issue). His conclusion:

Let us not shrug off the pricks of conscience that disturb us as we witness the courageous decisions these Brethren are marking. What defense have we before God if knowingly and without protest we supply money to buy instruments for the destruction of our fellow men?

Russ Montgomery also chimed in, in the issue (source). “I would like to congratulate [Charles Zunkel] on the courage to take such a stand. When such bold action is taken by leaders it seems to make them worthy of the name.”

The issue brought an update about Maurice McCrackin (source):

Presbytery Suspends Minister Who Refused to Pay Income Tax

The Rev. Maurice F. McCrackin, pacifist Presbyterian minister who for some twelve years has refused to pay a major portion of his income taxes, has been suspended indefinitely by the Cincinnati Presbytery from his ministry. Mr. McCrackin has been pastor of the West Cincinnati-St. Barnabas church, a racially integrated mission congregation supported jointly by the Cincinnati Presbytery and the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio.

A spokesman for the Presbytery explained that Mr. McCrackin was suspended not for his stand on income taxes but for disobeying the law by ignoring a summons from the Internal Revenue Service, an offense for which he served a six-month prison sentence. Many of the minister’s parishioners were reported sympathetic with his refusal to pay most of his income taxes on the ground that they were used for military purposes and that war is a sin.

The lead editorial in the issue (Morse again) again promoted conscientious tax resistance:

Make Some Concessions to Conscience

Just about the time that Valentine Byler, an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania, was ready to start his spring plowing, the Interal Revenue Service seized his three work horses and sold them at auction. The reason was that Byler, who is conscientiously opposed to Social Security, had refused to pay a self-employment tax for that purpose.

Many members of the Amish sect regard Social Security as a form of insurance, and they are opposed to it. They have consistently refused to accept its benefits and do not take a Social Security number. While agreeing to the normal taxes on their property, they object to paying the Social Security tax required of farmers.

Thus we have another of those ironical situations in which the government finds itself [ba]nishing some of its most thrifty and self-reliant citizens. Fortunately, as a result of the Byler case, several bills have now been introduced in Congress which would allow persons who are conscientiously opposed to Social Security to be excused from participating either in its support or its benefits.

We hope that some legal provision can be made for the benefit of those independent persons who have such scruples. Many of us who would argue in favor of Social Security and even urge that it become available to more people still recognize the rights of conscience. We respect the integrity of citizens who, like the Amish, may have some unique ideas as to how they contribute to the general welfare.

At the same time, is it not just as reasonable for the federal government to give some consideration to the scruples of citizens who are conscientiously opposed to paying taxes for war purposes? A friend who is employed in the Treasury Department tells us it should not be too difficult for Congress to set up a general fund for nonmilitary purposes to which the tax payments of peace-minded citizens could be directed. This would not satisfy all the concerns raised by taxprotesters, but it might at least provide an alternative more acceptable than the present arrangement.

A wise government should be able to find some way of conserving the conscientious contributions of citizens who cannot conform to policies they regard as wrong but who still desire to serve in constructive ways.

In the issue, an S. Mohler (no idea if there’s any relation to the John Mohler referred to above) wrote in (source). This letter began by saying that “in recent years I have read about a few Brethren suffering imprisonment for refusing to pay income taxes, because of the government’s military use of them.” I think this cannot be factually correct, as there were not very many Brethren war tax resisters at this point, and I don’t know of any who had yet been imprisoned for it. Be that as it may, Mohler continues by saying that such “imprisonment for nonpayment of income taxes can be honorably and approvedly avoided” by increasing tax-deductible charitable contributions to the point where you do not owe taxes. Mohler suggests that this is the method he or she has been using for “the past ten or fifteen years.”

Andrew R. Shelly, of the Board of Missions in the General Conference Mennonite Church, wrote in to second that suggestion, in the issue (source). “Why should we not adjust our lives so that we can give very much more and at the same time materially reduce that which we pay directly to the war effort?” (See ♇ 5 September and 9 September 2018 for Shelly’s contributions on this theme to the Mennonite Gospel Herald.)

The Brethren Evangelist

The Brethren Evangelist was much more restrained in its coverage. They did publish this wire service piece about Maurice McCrackin in the issue (source):

Presbytery Suspends Minister Who Wouldn’t Pay Income Taxes

A pacifist Presbyterian minister who for some 12 years has refused to pay a major portion of his income taxes, has now been suspended indefinitely by the Cincinnati Presbytery. The move not only halts his ministry but prevents his receiving communion in the church.

The Rev. Maurice F. McCrackin has been pastor of the West Cincinnati-St. Barnabas Church, a racially integrated mission congregation supported jointly by the Cincinnati Presbytery and the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio.

An Episcopal diocese spokesman explained that although the mission is a co-operative project in its religious program, disciplinary jurisdiction rests with the Presbytery since Mr. McCrackin is an ordained Presbyterian clergyman.

A spokesman for the Presbytery said that Mr. McCrackin has appealed this suspension to the Presbyterian Synod of Ohio, but it was reported unofficially that his only hope for reinstatement would be a formal declaration to the Presbytery that he would pay his income taxes in the future.

It was explained that Mr. McCrackin was suspended not for his stand on income taxes, but for disobeying the law by ignoring a summons from the Internal Revenue Service, an offense for which he served a six-month prison sentence.

Presbytery has been studying the case for nearly a year.

I did not notice any mentions of war tax or war bond refusal in The Etownian, The Pilgrim, the Brethren Missionary Herald, or Bible Monitor in .