Opinion: Perspectives from readers
Conscripted daily to pay taxes that underwrite killing and warmaking, many U.S. Mennonites are seeking ways to refrain from paying for war. This proposal, if adopted by the Mennonite Church USA and implemented by local congregations, would provide the spiritual resources, human solidarity and material support to enable more Mennonites to follow the prompting of their Spirit-endowed consciences and not pay the taxes used to support killing, warmaking and militarism.
This proposal is rooted in the biblical commandment not to kill (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17), in Jesus’ teachings to love God, the neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39) and the enemy (Matthew 5:44) as well as in the historic statements of our churches.
During this era of perpetual war, when our national government spends as much on military force as the rest of the world combined, we fail in our Christian calling if we only recall our legacy of witness. We must find ways in our time to support those whose consciences do not permit them to offer their funds for warmaking. We are compelled to address this in our congregations, teaching one another the ways that make for peace.
Mennonite Church USA needs to do these:
1. Establish and publicize a “Conscientious Objectors’ Peace Tax Fund” to help underwrite peace education and action in our congregations and support individuals and their families who suffer material loss as a result of their refusal to pay all of or a portion of federal tax assessments allocated to present or past military purposes.
2. Call upon and equip congregations in Mennonite Church USA through its area conferences to redouble their peace education and action endeavors and to support individuals seeking alternatives to paying for war through federal taxation.
Under this proposal, the “Conscientious Objectors’ Peace Tax Fund” would be funded by designated contributions received from individuals and local participating congregations. Fifty percent of annual contributions to the fund would be used by Mennonite Church USA to conduct peace education and action as well as to administer the Fund on a national level.
The other 50 percent would be invested in socially responsible interest-bearing instruments and used as requested to meet up to 90 percent of the material needs of the war tax redirector and families including, but not limited to, amounts seized by the Internal Revenue Service from bank accounts and wages. Should the war tax redirector be jailed for refusing to underwrite the U.S. military, this fund would be available to provide financial resources to support family obligations while the redirector is incarcerated.
Through the centuries, Anabaptist churches have taken various positions on what faithfulness to Christ means with regard to payment of taxes for war. This mixed history is reflected in the variety of views held in our congregations. Although we are not all of one mind on this matter, we must continue to teach one another the ways that make for peace and covenant to support those who act at personal risk to not pay for war.
Some may refrain from paying the entire portion of the assessment allocated by the government to military purposes. Others may hold back 10.4 percent of the amount assessed or only $10.40 as a symbolic witness. Others may decide to lower the tax assessment by using legal tax avoidance techniques.
This proposal seeks to strengthen and inspire the partnership between conscientious objectors and Mennonite Church USA to do the following:
- bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in a world involved with endless war in the pursuit of imperial control;
- encourage and strengthen the witness of Mennonite Church USA regarding Jesus’ way of nonviolence and peace;
- provide opportunities for war-tax redirectors to channel their “conscripted” income toward meeting human needs;
- persuade Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill;
- reduce annual U.S. military budgets;
- decrease the carbon footprint of the military-industrial complex on our planet;
- increase federal spending on legitimate human needs worldwide;
- have conscientious objection to military taxation included as a human right in the First Amendment “free exercise of religion” clause of the U.S. Constitution and
- care for all of God’s creation, promote the nonviolent life and teachings of Jesus, enhance the mission of the church and advance the development of the human race.
Harold A. Penner is a member of Akron (Pa.) Mennonite Church.