The sentiment against paying taxes that go for the government’s armament program and war involvements is rapidly gaining momentum in the larger body of Mennonitism. Seminars are being held in different places and articles challenging the payment of war taxes are appearing in different church periodicals. It is pointe d out that “70 percent of the income taxes and all of the 10% telephone tax goes to pay for war.”
In an editorial entitled “Taxes for War” appearing in the June 27, 1972 Gospel Herald the consistency of paying war taxes is strongly challenged with the suggestion that “we are at the point where we must somehow come to grips with what we will do about giving our money to support war.” It is further suggested that dealing with the problem (by refusing to pay war taxes) may be costly, resulting in “the loss of property and institutions.”
Earlier in the article it is suggested that some people justify paying their full tax and simply dismiss the whole question by referring to the words of Jesus, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” The suggestion is then made that maybe Christ was “laying upon us the obligation to decide what is Caesar’s and what is God’s.”
But did not Jesus prove what He meant by His example when He was careful to see to it that His own taxes were paid?
While every person living on this earth is, and always has been, involved in money needs, the money system is always designed and managed by the kingdoms of this world. Images of leading national personalities still appear on coins and money certificates just as they did in Jesus’ time. If we were to put the name of Jesus, or the supposed picture of Jesus, on a coin or certificate, it would be absolutely worthless. Jesus was telling the people that they must recognize the claims of the power that designs and manages the money systems of this world.
When we owe people for labor, or merchandise or property, Etc., it is our duty to pay what we owe and not our responsibility to withhold some of the pay because they may not use their money properly. It would be thievery on our part to do this even if we would give the rest of the money we owe them to MCC to feed the hungry. Samuel’s message to Saul might apply here: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” Let’s pay our taxes because we owe them and not be guilty of stealing from Caesar because we think he isn’t using the money properly.
Another argument against paying war tax is made by the writer when he asks, “Since Casear receives all his rights from God, does he forfeit these rights when he violates them?” But how do we know what Caesar’s rights are? The New Testament does not give on single directive to Caesar. There are no ordinances or doctrines or patterns of behavior outlined in the Bible for he kingdoms of this world. Paul does, however, tell us that we are to pay our taxes to help Caesar terrorize evil even to the point of exercising capital punishment. (Rom. 13:1-7). Old Testament Bible history also proves to us that God does at times use one ungodly nation to bring judgment on another ungodly nation. Certainly God would have a right to have the Caesars of today do the same thing. The New Testament would teach us that the Caesars are to reign over the kingdoms of this world and that they are not a part of the kingdom of Christ.
Perhaps it should be noted that Caesar’s highways are also used for war purposes and can even be denied civilians in favor of war needs. Maybe we should withhold part of our toad tax, too. And shouldn’t we refuse to pay our school tax because of the militaristic and other unchristian aspects of the nation’s schools? Or perhaps since the nation is not directed by Christian ethics we should just not pay any tax. Maybe Jesus and Paul were wrong in ordering any taxes to be paid!!?
Perhaps the writer’s most appealing argument against paying war taxes is found in his question: “Suppose Caesar would levy a 10 percent tax to pay for the extermination of Mennonites. Would we encourage everyone to ‘render unto Caesar what he asks for?’ Would such a 10 percent tax be any different than paying a 10 percent tax for killing Vietnamese?
In answer to this we would simply say that Jesus was facing the most ruthless torture and death under the authority of Caesar when He issued the mandate to render unto Caesar the tax which he levies. Perhaps a part of the tax money Jesus ordered Peter to pay for Himself and for Peter, (Mat. 17:27) was used to pay the Roman soldiers that nailed Him to the cross. The Apostle Paul was also living when tax money was used to torture and to put to death the Christians. Paul lived under the reign of one of the most tyrannical Caesars of time and had his head chopped off by men whose wage was paid with tribute money he had by divine inspiration, ordered to be paid.
By God’s enablement, this writer will continue to pay all the taxes imposed upon him without feeling responsible for how Caesar will use that which belongs to him. He intends to do so as long as he lives whether Caesar uses that tax money to chop off his head, or not.
LET’S PAY OUR TAXES, brother, because the Bible tells us to.
This article was first printed in August 1972 in the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church Testimony. It was reprinted in the February 2003 Pilgrim Witness