War tax resistance started with the words of Christ and continues today

By Titus Peachey
Thursday, March 22, 2018

From the April 2012 issue of PeaceSigns

"Until the late 1960s, taxes were raised mainly to fight wars."

Understanding Taxes, 1983, U.S. Dept. of Treasury, IRS Publication 21.

At a minimum, Jesus raised a question about paying taxes when he said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's." In the minds of his hearers, clearly everything belonged to God. The point is that the question of paying taxes for war is a deeply spiritual one, and one that has been with us for centuries. Some brief highlights follow.

1500s: One of the earliest and most persistent cases of resistance to the payment of war taxes by an Anabaptist group occurred among the Hutterites in Moravia. Between 1596 and 1622, the Hutterian Brethren in Moravia refused to pay taxes for war. Each year, the authorities confiscated livestock, wine grain, and other belongings from their communities. In the Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren, they explained, "We could only lay it all before the Lord our God and choose to suffer robbery than willingly give anything and defile our consciences … We say this in the fear of God, for we pay no taxes for vengeance, nor do we give anything as substitute for such taxes." ("No Taxes for Vengeance," Seeking Peace, Titus Peachey, Linda Gehman Peachey, Good Books, Intercourse, PA, pp. 45-47.)

1600s: One of the earliest known instances of war tax refusal in what is now the United States took place in 1637 when the Algonquin Indians opposed taxation by the Dutch to help improve a local Dutch fort.

1755: In an "Epistle of tender love and caution to Friends in Pennsylvania," John Woolman and John Churchman wrote: "… as we cannot be concerned in wars and fightings, so neither ought we to contribute thereto, by paying the tax directed by said act, though suffering be the consequence of our refusal." (Donald D. Kaufman, What Belongs to Ceasar?, Herald Press, Scottdale, PA, 1969 p. 75.)

1775: Mennonites and Dunkards wrote to the General Assembly of Pennsylvania: “… we have dedicated ourselves to serve all Men in every Thing that can be helpful to the Preservation of Men's lives, but we find no Freedom in giving, or doing, or assisting in any Thing by which Men's Lives are destroyed or hurt. (Kaufman, p. 77.)

At the time of the revolution, some Mennonites paid taxes while others did not. Some felt that citizens are responsible to pay the taxes, and the government then assumes the responsibility for what it does with the taxes.

1860s: During the Civil War, many Mennonites paid the fee required of those who refused induction into the army.

1918: R. W. Benner and L. J. Heatwole, two Mennonite leaders, were tried and convicted under the Espionage Law for advising Mennonites in West Virginia, via letter, not to purchase war bonds or stamps. An Old Order Amish bishop, Manases E. Bontrager, from Dodge City, Kansas, and Samuel H. Miller, editor of The Weekly Budget, were also fined when a letter by Bishop Bontrager expressing sorrow that some Mennonites purchased war bonds, was printed in the Budget. (Pressure on the Home Front, Peachey and Peachey, pp. 129-131.)

April 22, 1918: George Cooprider in McPherson, Kansas, Groveland Township, was tarred and feathered for refusing to buy war bonds. A Mennonite minister, D. A. Diener was also tarred and feathered that same night. He was later beaten and his house ransacked. He finally yielded and purchased bonds. (Mob Violence and Kansas Mennonites in 1918, by James C. Juhnke.)

1940s: In order to pay for the war effort, the number of U.S. taxpayers required to pay income tax increased from 4 million in 1939 to 43 million in 1945. In 1942, MCC Peace Section urged the government to issue U.S. Civilian Government Bonds, isolated from the national war effort. By December of 1944, Peace Section acknowledged that all efforts to secure the issue of civilian bonds had ended in failure. (Silence and Courage: Income Taxes, War and Mennonites, 1940-1993, p. 8.)

1989: “A Resolution on Military Tax Withholding,” by the Mennonite Church stated the following:

That the Normal 89 General Assembly delegates (a) support the Mennonite General Board in establishing a policy that federal income taxes not be withheld from the wages of any of its employees who make this request because of conscientious objection to the use of their taxes for military purposes, and (b) support other church boards and agencies that may adopt similar policies.

1997: In a statement on violence, both Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church urge members to: Be steadfast in our refusal to participate in, train for, pay for, or directly profit from the use of military violence. (“And No One Shall Make Them Afraid,” approved by the General Boards of Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church, in Denver, Colorado, November 22, 1997.)

2010: In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a largely Mennonite group formed to urge U.S. citizens to withhold $10.40 from their income tax returns. The Heartland Peace Tax Fund in Kansas, formed earlier, also supports the exercise of conscience against war via withholding war taxes.






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