Volume 20, Number 3
In recent years there has been a growing sentiment among certain groups of people who are opposed to war, that they should refuse to pay taxes which might be used for military purposes. Many Brethren have been espousing this point of view.*
In fact, the Church of the Brethren General Board, in 1984, asked the Annual Conference (meeting at Carbondale, IL) the same year, to appoint a committee “to study and recommend how Brethren should respond to the dilemma of paying for war.” The rationale for such a study includes the fact that, according to the General Board statement, “U.S.A. federal funds spent for present and past military efforts currently total approximately one-half of all federal expenditures” (page 724, 1984 Annual Conference Minutes). Furthermore, in response to a query from the Michigan District, it was decided that a study committee should prepare “a specific recommendation regarding the General Board’s payment of the Federal Telephone Excise Tax” (which has long been known as a symbolic war tax because it was levied to pay for past wars). A Committee of five was appointed to study TAXATION FOR WAR and will report at the 1985 Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Committee chosen to report to the 1985 Annual Conference has studied previous documents and position papers produced byhe Brethren, and in essence says that it does not feel the need “to write yet nother position paper at this time.” The recommendation related to General Board’s paying the Federal Telephone Tax is that the tax payment should be withheld “only with the full and voluntary consent and support of the Board officers.” (Board officers could possibly be required to bear a legal burden for any refusal to pay). The Committee does encourage the thorough study of earlier Church of the Brethren position papers on war tax issues, and the diligent searching of related key Bible texts for new insights and understandings. Thus we have prepared the article on “War Taxes” which is featured in the current issue of the BRF WITNESS.
*One pamphlet distributed at Annual Conference more than ten years ago even advocates telling an untruth about the number of our dependents, so as to avoid paying Federal Income Tax. It says, “One more way to deal with the problem of withholding is to claim enough dependents (so) that no tax is owed, usually more than one is legally entitled to claim. Some people choose not to use this method because they cannot conscientiously provide false information even to a warring government.” (The Question of Tax Refusal/Bob Gross).
Should Nonresistant Christians
Pay War Taxes?
By Harold S. Martin
Brethren Revival Fellowship firmly adheres to the long-established position of the Church of the Brethren, that all war is sin, and that the Gospel calls us to the way of peace. We believe that faithful Christians cannot learn the art of killing nor participate in military service. Yet we believe that those who are loyal to Christ are bound by the Biblical mandate to respect the government of the land in which they reside, and should pay their taxes when due. What the government does with the money is no longer our responsibility.
Very few persons really like to pay taxes. If one earns only a small income, it is more difficult to make ends meet after paying taxes. If one’s income is large, then the tax-bite taken out of the paycheck is much larger too. Yet taxes are an economic and a social necessity. God has authorized governments to collect taxes and He has commanded Christians to pay them without complaint.
1. THE MANDATE TO PAY TAXES
When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with their questions, they asked Him, “is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” Jesus asked to see a coin, and responded with the words, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:17-21).
God has given certain authority to the state, and some authority has been withheld from government. The question, “Who determines what is Caesar’s and what is God’s?” – is a difficult question to answer but surely Jesus was saying that tribute money to Rome was to be paid. Money is minted by Caesar and bears Caesar’s image; therefore taxation is within Caesar’s God-given prerogative. The government has the right to levy taxes and collect them, and believers are directed to comply.
Romans 13:6 removes all doubt that Christians are to pay taxes. The mandate of Scripture is clear: “For, for this cause pay ye tribute also; for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.”
The Anabaptists influenced Alexander Mack and the early Brethren. Walter Klaassen says that the “Anabaptists were prepared to pay taxes and dues to the governments without complaint since such levies were necessary to the governments in the exercise of their mandate” (Mennonites and War Taxes, page 11). Historically, the Brethren were firm in believing that the Christian should pay his taxes. The Annual Meeting Minutes from 1864 say . and to pay the fines and taxes required of us, as the Gospel … indeed requires (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:7).”
In recent years, the attitude of many Brethren has changed. Before the present decade, the Brethren did not officially by Annual Conference action, advise the general refusal to pay taxes. The Annual Conference Minutes of 1980, however, say, “We call on congregations to place high priority on study and discussion of war tax resistance … (and) ask our members to consider the refusal to pay the portion of their federal taxes used for militarism.”
The most comprehensive statement on Taxation for War was approved by the Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren at Fresno, California in 1973. It concludes that there is no specific biblical counsel directing that taxes should be withheld. Instead, the report says, there are some Scriptures calling for the payment of taxes even to a sinful, militaristic government. It allows for those who withhold payment of part of their taxes because of Christian conviction, but appeals to such persons asking them not to consider those who do pay their taxes as being any less dedicated to the Prince of Peace than those who decide to withhold. Brethren Revival Fellowship considers the 1973 Church of the Brethren decision to be a careful and fair study of the issue, and at the same time it is sensitive to those who in good conscience cannot pay all their taxes.
2. TAXES USED FOR IMMORAL PURPOSES
We pay taxes because the government needs money to operate. Policemen need to be paid; judges need to be supported; clerks and secretaries are a necessity and must be reimbursed for their work. It costs money to build and repair roads, to erect courthouses, to maintain public institutions, to repair typewriters, to maintain the protection of its citizens, and to conduct the essential business of government.
It is true that tax money is frequently used for purposes which are sub-Christian in value, and for purposes which are clearly out of keeping with the high standard which God expects of human beings. None of us likes to see tax dollars wasted by government officials, or illicitly grabbed up by dishonest companies that produce products for the state – but as long as sinful human beings comprise society, there will be some abuse of otherwise legitimate activity. Albert Knudson (in Principles of Christian Ethics/Abingdon) says, “Political morality is generally not semi-Christian, nor even relatively Christian, but wholly pagan.” Thus nearly every human government will allocate whatever funds it feels are necessary to maintain the armed forces, and other needful programs will suffer for a lack of funds.
Tax money was misused in Jesus’ day and in Paul’s time. The Roman government of New Testament times deified Nero, ran a welfare state, and sponsored many pagan practices. Rome was a police state; there were wars; slavery was commonly practiced; there were foreign-imposed taxes to support occupation troops; there were state-controlled amusements such as the gladitorial fights – yet Jesus ignored these problems and looked at the real problem – man’s deep spiritual need.
Rome surely did not use its tax money as Christians would have desired. Furthermore, the tax collectors of Jesus’ time were not paid a salary, but became rich by overcharging and cheating people, and thus were looked upon with disfavor by most citizens. Zacchaeus was a “chief among the tax collectors” (Luke 19:2), and he was one among many who needed to repent. But even though the Roman government misused tax funds and tax collectors were notorious for their cheating and dishonesty – still Jesus and the Apostles spoke very clearly on the subject: The Christian is to pay his taxes. Jesus was not an anarchist trying to overthrow Rome, nor did He spend His time protesting the political sins of Rome.
The command to pay taxes does not mean that the Christian is to pay more than his fair share of tax money. He may limit his income so that his federal and state income taxes will be a minimum. He may avoid buying expensive and luxury items and thus restrict the amount of sales tax he must pay. The telephone is often an unnecessary nuisance and one can well get along without a phone (as the majority of the world’s population does), and thus there is no telephone excise tax to pay. One of the best ways to curb the amount of federal income tax one must pay, is to give generously to religious and charitable causes. In short, the Christian may save taxes in every legal way permissible, but all of us must gratefully pay that which we rightfully owe. This is our Christian duty.
3. TAXATION AND A WITNESS FOR PEACE
There has been a growing sentiment in recent years that Christians should refuse to pay taxes used for military purposes. Many who advocate this position are from the historic peace churches, and claim that they are in this way making a positive witness for peace. They often appeal to the prophets of Old Testament times.
When the Old Testament speaks of the prophets and their burning message to kings and to civil authorities, we must remember that (except for a few instances), the message of the prophets was given to the Children of Israel -the “people of God.” It was God’s messenger cleaning up God’s people. (The one notable exception was Jonah’s message to Nineveh. He didn’t take a message of social action, welfare reform, liberation of women, or proper representation of minorities but instead, a warning of impending judgment… “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown”).
It is strange that Brethren (who chide fundamentalists for going to the Old Testament to prove that war is justifiable)–do the same thing to prove that we should “witness to the state.” They refer to the Old Testament prophets, ignoring the fact that Israel was a theocracy, and that the prophets were “witnessing” within the structure of Israel as a church-state. And the prophets always had a hopeful note, promising that someday Israel would prevail. Modern-day “prophets” would hardly want to say that America will eventually come out on top!
The CHURCH is called to proclaim the Gospel to all nations the message of God’s love, of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of the New Covenant people. The Church must not engage in any task that will rob her of energy and effectiveness in this area of urgent priority. John Calvin said, “When the Gospel is preached in plenitude and power, people will be converted, and through them the institutions of society will be permeated with the mind, manners, and morals of Jesus.” It is becoming more and more evident that failure on the part of the church to build in individuals a conviction against evil – is increasing the duties and problems of the state.
The STATE, by way of contrast, is God’s agent of force and vengeance directed primarily toward an unregenerate world which rejects the message of Christ. Our Anabaptist forebears saw correctly that these two agencies (church and state) are basically incompatible. The ethics of the Sermon on the Mount cannot be reconciled with the duties of the state. The Anabaptists said that the state operates “outside the perfection of Christ” and functions on principles of its own (John 18:36; 1 John 5:19). So then, if the state does not operate on Christian principles, how does the Christian know what to tell the officers of state? There is no special revelation which we possess that gives instructions about how to solve the political, social, and economic problems of society. The problems existing in the world today are complex, and no simple solutions exist. It is obvious too that when Christians attempt to speak to the state, they will not speak with a united voice, since no one can be sure that a given method will solve a problem.
Many in the peace churches have serious reservations about disobedience to our government – which since World War 1, has been very good to conscientious objectors to war. We believe that it is the Christian’s responsibility to obey the state up to the point that government demands of us action which is intrinsically evil in itself. Jesus, who is the true Prince of Peace, lived under a government structure that was almost totally militaristic. Yet He commanded His disciples to pay their taxes.
We are aware too that the president (or premier) of a nation often is in possession of relevant information which modifies his decisions, and he is not always free to share that information publicly. It is easy to denounce the action of a government (especially in lands that have preserved free speech and a free press), but Jesus never showed signs of withholding funds from the state. The arrogant view of government which makes frequent critical comments about most of its moves, is not manifesting the spirit of Jesus.
It is interesting to observe that most “war tax evaders” are quite vocal on the subject of military spending, but are strangely silent on the matter of tax dollars going to fund abortions, the slaughter of innocent infants. They say nothing about tax money which goes for the operation of family planning clinics (which sometimes disseminate literature to unmarried young people so that they can be sexually active but at the same time avoid pregnancy – and often the literature is given without even consulting parents). The tax resisters say little about paying the taxes which subsidize tobacco farmers. Which is more evil – slaughter on a battlefield, the murder of unwanted infants, helping to pay for that which increases lung cancer, or the corruption of the morals of minors?
It is painful to note that many who refuse to pay lawful taxes in the U.S.A., at the same time, volunteer to send gifts of food to Vietnam. And none of us has any objection to such giving of food, but Vietnam has the third largest army in the world, whereas the United States of America (with a much larger population), has a smaller cluster of armed forces. This is another example of the inconsistency that sometimes characterizes the tax ref users.
Jesus was not willing to withhold money from the government (Mark 12:13-17), though He knew that by a miscarriage of justice, the government would permit its citizens to crucify Him on the Cross. We who are followers of Jesus will do well to follow His example.