Friday, April 27, 2012

Paying War Taxes

Recently, the Mennonite World Review (MWR, formerly Mennonite Weekly Review) published an online article titled "Top 10 reasons Mennonites no longer resist paying war taxes."  The article was written by Steve Ratzlaff originally for PeaceSigns, a monthly e-zine of the Mennonite Church USA Peace and Justice Support Network.

This article made its rounds, and a couple of my fellow Bluffton graduates bemoaned the article; alas, in my opinion they didn't back up their complaining with compelling arguments or evidence.  I've been thinking about this article and decided to write my own brief commentary on each reason.  First, I encourage you to read the article in full before reading what I have to say.

Here it goes:

10. It would make me look bad with my non-Mennonite friends.
I agree that Mennonites are much less likely to identify as being a separate people compared to even 50 years ago, but paying taxes isn't something that people really discuss in intimate detail (at least in the circles I hang out in).  Everyone agrees that paying taxes is annoying thanks to the complicated tax code, and getting their tax return is a great thing.  Beyond that, (not) paying taxes isn't held up as a public standard of who we are, and therefore this argument is more or less mute.

9. As citizens of this country we need to support our government with our taxes.
Mennonites have always paid taxes, even if they thought of themselves as "sojourners in this land."  Taxes go towards many public projects that benefit all.  It's just that over time, more and more tax money has gone towards war and violence, and lack of Mennonite political engagement simply allowed that to happen without us voicing our concerns.  It's not that Mennonites don't want to pay taxes, it's just that we would like them to go towards constructive projects rather than destructive war and violence.  Also, more and more Mennonites today are influenced by nationalism and don't question governmental authority in constructive ways, and/or completely separate their Mennonite faith from living as a U.S. citizen and see those two identities as mutually exclusive, making it normal to pay war taxes while being opposed to war.

8. Jesus would never ask me to break the law by refusing to pay for war.
Not only did Jesus' followers end up in jail or killed, Jesus himself broke the law by healing on the Sabbath.  Again, it's not as if Mennonites want to pay less taxes, we just want the money to go towards projects that won't violate our faith and conscience.  Also, the lack of support for the Peace Tax Fund seems to come more from a lack of knowing it exists and what it really will do rather than apathy from the denomination (although that also plays a role).  So wake up and educate yourself and your fellow Mennonites about what you can do to resist war in all forms.

7. Conscientious objection to war doesn't carry over to paying for war.
This is true for some conscientious objectors (COs), but certainly not all.  I know multiple Mennonites (and others) who are COs and war tax resisters.  Also, the draft today is not "paying taxes for war"; the draft today is registration with the Selective Service System (SSS).  War taxes have always existed and been paid by Mennonites.  Registration (or refusal to do so) with SSS carries a heavy burden for some Mennonites, including myself.  Check out this guide on registration with SSS from the Center on Conscience & War (CCW, formerly NISBCO and NSBRO).  Again, war tax resistance can be a part of conscientious objection.

6. What would my children think? What kind of example is that for them?
I would like to think our children will ask us why we didn't step up and seriously call out war taxes.  I think future generations will be ashamed as the complacency and apathy Mennonites today had at the extremely high amount of war taxes and how few of us resisted and worked to change this reality.  We can give no better example than staying true to our conscience and our faith.

5. War and defense spending are necessary in today's world. Pacifism really doesn't work.
Such defeatism.  True, working for pacifism isn't an easy task, and many days seems like taking one step foward and two steps back.  Again, complacency and apathy are the real enemies, so we must work to become more engaged with the government, telling our nation's leaders how we really feel and what ways they can work to better serve the consciences of all their constituents.

4. Matters of conscience have been trumped by our accommodation to our culture of materialism/consumerism.
I'll admit I like certain aspects of materialism/consumerism.  We have been caught up in the vicious cycle, a cycle that is built on much violence and war.  War taxes do play a part in this, but not as much as the general violence undertaken by large corporations and subsequently apathetic consumers.  Therefore, I find this reason mostly crap for why we pay war taxes.

3. Jesus changed his mind - sacrificial living is no longer required of Christians.
To believe this is to practically disregard all four Gospels and more.  Just because Mennonites are no longer physically persecuted as a religious minority doesn't mean that the persecution isn't still there.  Our consciences and faith were greatly violated during WWI, and we worked to rectify that by the time WWII was in full swing.  Although the draft is no longer around, that doesn't mean we can just sit back and think things are okay.  The military accounts for over half of the federal budget, and our tax dollars make up that budget.  We've got a long way to go before we can think that we don't have to sacrifice anymore

2. The government can use my tax money any way they want, so I really have no control over where they are used.
I agree this sounds like a copout.  We must actively engage the government.  Mennonites used to be "the quiet in the land" because for centuries we had been persecuted violently for vocalizing our faith.  We no longer face the same persecution, so we must again vocalize our faith and make it heard.  If we don't, then it's true the government will continue to spend our tax dollars any way they like.  Jesus didn't sit on the sidelines, and neither should we.

1. Let the Quakers do it.
What does this even mean?  Someone else will do it so I don't have to?  This is utter crap.  Our ancestors (for most of us, our fathers and grandfathers) didn't have this attitude towards the draft.  Mennonites like Orie O. Miller, Harold S. Bender, and Guy F. Hershberger, they didn't think the Quakers would solve all the problems concerning provisions for COs.  Neither should we.

Ultimately, Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren aren't the only people who are, or should be, concerned about paying war taxes.  There are COs and war tax resisters in every denomination, and most likely in every major religion and faith beyond Christianity.  Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Christadelphians, Buddhists, Sunnis, Shi'ites, Unitarian Universalists, agnostics, atheists, Reform Jews, Orthodox Jews, and more can all find reasons not to support war, including financially through our tax dollars.

Check out the Peace Tax Fund's website for more information about war tax resistance and what you can do to help champion the cause for a better way to spend out tax dollars.

Peace always . . .


Jacquelineand.... said...

Checking out the website now; thank you for sharing.

Jake said...

I should've mentioned I currently pay taxes that go to war. But that doesn't mean I want to. I registered with SSS because I needed federal money for university; if that and other punishments weren't waiting for my refusal to register, I never would've. Excuses? Perhaps, but such is also the life of the poorer people in this country. I've had to compromise my conscience more than I've wanted to in the past, and guarantee it will continue into the future. As long as we keep trying to make the world a better place, I think that is what's most important.