Mennonites in Harrisonburg hold forum on War TaxesBy Margaret Foth
How is it that we — Mennonite Church USA — do not believe in physically participating in war but we cooperate in paying our taxes — about 46 percent of which pay for war and related military spending?
The Anabaptist Center for Religion and Society of Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Va.) invited lead pastors of three local Mennonite Churches to address this question in a Feb. 28 afternoon forum: Jennifer Davis Sensenig of Community Mennonite Church, Duane Yoder of Lindale Mennonite Church and Craig Maven of Harrisonburg Mennonite Church.
Speaking from a variety of personal experiences and perspectives, two of the pastors described the tensions inherent in our struggle to follow Christ in this particular concern with two references. The Luke 20 story where Jesus concluded: “Give to God the things which belong to God, and to Caesar, the things that belong to Caesar,” is one text which sets up this tension.
“It calls for discernment; if I believe that all things belong to God, what really belongs to Caesar?” Maven asked.
In her reading from Romans 13, Davis Sensenig also highlighted Paul’s version of this dilemma and his summary: “… but love does no wrong to a neighbor.”
Yoder began with quoting Menno Simons’ “the regenerated do not go to war.” He described his changing understanding of how he lives out the historical Anabaptist position: “If God is the author and creator of life, I cannot take a life… . I am a follower of Jesus… . I don’t take a life. I see a continuum on which I take a stand, but I continue to see opportunities … including looking at ‘war taxes.’ ”
In response to a second question, do you personally withhold any of your taxes, Davis Sensenig described her actions, beginning with living under the taxable income while she was in school, but choosing a variety of options after becoming salaried.
“We have withheld the portion of our taxes, made symbolic withholdings, and paid under protest,” she said. Neither Maven nor Yoder has actively withheld income tax, although both choose to make charitable contributions which reduce the level of taxes.
When forum moderator Rick Yoder, who with his wife Carolyn are long-time war tax resisters, posed the third question — what do you teach about war taxes in your congregation — all three pastors stated that they are not presently teaching on this subject. Along with the ending of the military draft, the question of taxes has slipped out of focus.
Following the panelists, a number of questions and comments from the audience brought out concerns that the Mennonite Church no longer becomes the community which supports war tax resistance.
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