War Tax Resistance: By Whose Authority? And for What Purpose?

NWTRCC Gathering, May 2, 2009

Ray Gingerich

What is war?

War is a societal attempt to resolve a conflict by killing the opponent, killing on a massive scale. Yes, but it is more than that.

War is legalized murder; war is killing that is sanctioned by the state and made legal in its courts.

But war is much more than state approved killing (or more accurately, state approved murder). War is nationally institutionalized, culturally conditioned, legally legitimated murder at an immense cost that includes the following:

To the question then of whether we of NWTRCC should be supporting the Peace Tax Fund Bill (by whatever name and number it receives), I raise two concerns: By whose authority are we war tax resisters? And for what purpose do we resist?

Is it because my civil government grants me this permission—that I am now free to be a war tax resister?

Or is it rather because I hold war and all the machinations of preparation for war to be wrong? Simply straightforward: Wrong! Evil! Destructive! Demonic! Wrong under any label, regardless of pretext and pretense.

If it is the latter, then I do not wait on the government to grant me the permission to resist paying for war. Yet this is precisely the reasoning that many of my Mennonite friends are giving me because of the “Peace Tax Fund Bill that is now in process.” If it is the latter, then I reject war as a mechanism for resolving conflict, not only for myself and for my own Mennonite people but for all Christians and for all followers of Jesus. If it is the latter, then war is destructive and counter-productive. Period. Then the payment of military taxes becomes a destructive and counter-productive activity not only for Christians but for all peoples whether they think of themselves as Christians or as other than Christian, religious or non-religious.

Governments, therefore, should not be solicited to exempt from war taxes certain groups of persons who because of their experiences have a conscience opposed to the payment of war taxes. Governments in our modern global system with weapons of global destruction, should be delegitimating and out-lawing all wars and all preparations for war—whether defensive or offensive (a thin line that is impossible to maintain by a Super-Power).

We then of NWTRCC should be promoting both the socio-political concept and societal model by which and through which no government on earth has the legitimate authority to wage war or in any way to prepare for the waging of war!

We should not be granting our government the implicit authority to wage war by asking its permission not to participate. By requesting special privileges to be exempt from participation in waging war, we are implicitly saying to our government and all its people: “While you do not have the authority over us to say whether or not we should go to church on Sunday morning, we recognize and respect your authority and the right to wage war together with your gracious generosity to exempt us from participation in war.” This is the mentality of a people enslaved to the institution of War. NWTRCC should be a people and a movement of another caliber! NWTRCC should not enjoin the hypocrisy of the church in its attempt to persuade the State to exempt a few war resisters from participation in war, while allowing the Powers of war-making to perpetuate the nation’s seduction to war.

This then leads me to my second question: War tax resistance: for what purpose, to what ends? To assuage my conscience? To wash my hands before the crowd and say, I’ve had a bad dream; I shall have nothing to do with this affair (with allusions to Pilate before Jesus)? Well of course, seeking a “clear conscience” is a legitimate end. But how inadequate! How selfish. How puny in light of the immensity of what is at stake.

To protect the identity of a people and a nonviolent way of life—demonstrated by the monks and the monasteries throughout our current epoch in history; and by the Mennonites, the Quakers, and the Brethren in more recent times? Well, of course that’s a legitimate end! I would hardly be where I am today had not some people given their lives to protect and to enhance a heritage of nonviolence—my heritage. But in light of what is at stake today, such ends are far too limited.

To what ends do we carry on this matter of war tax resistance? To spare the earth and all its peoples from destruction! Nothing less is at stake. Symbolic as it may be, war tax resistance is a flickering candle of hope in a world of great darkness.

War tax resistance is a postmodern form of prayer that the God of the Universe—whoever she may be and however we may conceptualize such powers—might spare Earth with all its beauty, and the human race with all its virtues, promise and potential for yet another generation.

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