Why do taxpayers continue to pay for something that violates their deepest beliefs?
A recent public penny poll, conducted in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania, indicated that the 84 participants wanted just 10% of their federal tax dollars to support the U.S. military and homeland security. Yet current military spending accounts for almost 50% of discretionary expenditures in the federal budget. In 2022, the average U.S. taxpayer spent $2,375 on the military, $1,087 of which went to military contractors.
Paying taxes that support war and militarism — often at a higher rate than we give to our church budgets — affects our faith. So are we being the faithful witnesses that Jesus calls us to be?
While withholding war taxes for moral reasons is currently illegal, the U.S. Constitution outlines this right as one of religious freedom. In response to Jesus’ exhortation to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), it is appropriate for Mennonite Church USA to support, enable and equip those who, because of conscience, are unable to pay taxes that underwrite war and militarism.
The MC USA Church Peace Tax Fund exists as a way to redirect the payment of federal taxes that underwrite killing, war and militarism. In 1983, a “War Tax Alternative Fund” was approved by the General Conference Mennonite Church at its delegate assembly in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. That fund was set up for employees of the denomination who wanted to redirect their federal income tax withholdings toward peacemaking. In 2019, that fund was renamed the “Mennonite Church USA Church Peace Tax Fund” and now accepts deposits from any MC USA member or congregation that would like to participate.
Bearing witness to the good news of Jesus Christ, amid a world involved in endless war in pursuit of imperial control, the MC USA Church Peace Tax Fund channels these funds toward meeting human needs and helping save the planet, while providing a faithful testimony of reconciliation to the world through Jesus’ way of nonviolence and peace.
The MC USA Church Peace Tax Fund is rooted in the historic teachings and practices of Anabaptist churches, providing support to those whose consciences have not permitted them to cooperate with militarism.
Perhaps the most significant legacy of Anabaptist war resistance in the U.S. comes from four Hutterites from South Dakota. These Hutterites were part of a 400-year tradition of resistance to war, and they understood that Jesus said not to participate in war. So, after being drafted, they refused to serve in the military. Consequently, they were court-martialed and sentenced to 20 years of hard labor. In prison, they were subjected to torture; two of them died.
As a result of that experience, the U.S. Mennonite churches, in cooperation with other North American Historic Peace Churches compelled the U.S. government to make provisions allowing “conscientious objectors,” during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, to serve in Civilian Public Service (CPS) and later in Voluntary Service, Pax, 1-W, the Teachers Abroad Programs (TAP) and other church-related alternative service programs. However, with the abolition of the draft and the mutual accommodation of the church to the state regarding issues related to conscientious objection and religious freedom, I fear that contemporary Anabaptist Mennonites are at serious risk of losing our allegiance to the kingdom of God.
Why does the Pentagon get more and more money every year, when military might cannot take on the climate crises or public health emergencies? In fact, military spending aggravates those challenges. Massive ongoing military budgets fund wars and covert operations that target and harm so-called “enemies” — often civilians — around the world, while simultaneously displacing funds needed for critical programs at home. This leads to a greater toll on domestic communities in need.
The costs in countries where the U.S. wages war are even higher. Overseas invasions have killed hundreds of thousands of people and caused tens of millions to be displaced or flee their homes. There is a reason that most countries polled by Gallup in 2013 called the United States the greatest threat to peace in the world. In military spending and weapons dealing, the U.S. government has no match.
The MC USA Church Peace Tax Fund provides the spiritual resources, human solidarity and material support that enables U.S. Mennonites and others to follow the prompting of their Spirit-led consciences and publicly object to paying taxes used for killing and militarism by:
- Providing a way to redirect resources from warmaking to problem-solving programs, which, unlike war, are a realistic path to peace.
- Modeling what the U.S. government has not yet been able to enact — the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund legislation.
- Supporting individuals and families who experience loss as a result of war-tax resistance.
- Providing resources for the peace and justice education of future generations.
- Acknowledging and honoring courageous peacebuilders who have faithfully paved the path of peace.
- Providing scholarships for youth to participate in annual Mennonite Central Committee Peace Camps.
The MC USA Church Peace Tax Fund is producing helpful dialogue and careful discernment regarding our support of warmaking, our identity as 21st century Mennonites and the true nature of our historic faith, as followers of Jesus. It helps us determine how to continue to respond to the call of Christian discipleship in our time.
“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” — Isaiah 2:4 (NIV).
This article originally appeared as part of Mennonite Church USA’s MennoSnapshots blog series. A longer version of this article appears here. Used with permission from Mennonite Church USA.