Fifth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Hondarribia, Spain 1994

Workshop 9: Religious Bodies

The preparatory document

The Peace Tax Network: Open Reply to the Protestant Church in Germany

War tax resistors working together in the Peace Tax network, in particular the Christians among us and the Church workers of Ecumenical Action Taxes in Ploughshares, are deeply disappointed by the stance taken by the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) on war tax resistance. On March 26,1993, the EKD Council adopted as its own the position taken by the Chamber for Public Responsibility on war tax resistance.

This statement came in reaction to the opinion presented by the Protestant Research Institute (FEST) on Pacifist Tax Resistance and the Universal Obligation to pay Taxes. It says: Churches...have to recognize that pacifist war tax resistance is an authentic Christian testimony and they have to seek ways of actively supporting those concerned. (page 212)

We believe that the above mentioned EKD bodies reacted too hastily. They did not include war tax resisters in their deliberations. The text contains incorrect statements and inappropriate generalizations and conclusions. There is no theological assessment.

We ask the EKD bodies to stop ignoring us and to open up for dialogue.

Our reply is intended primarily to make our position clear. At the 25th Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag, (a Protestant lay gathering) a resolution was passed by a vast majority, which could be a good basis for further discussion.

No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62)

For the Church, there is no falling back behind the peace ethics of the conciliar process. Covenant I1,5,2 of the Ecumenical Assembly in Seoul, 1990, says, We pledge to commit ourselves and to urge our Churches to Commit themselves...to a culture of active and life-promoting non-violence...by supporting the right to conscientious objection to military service and war tax and by supplying alternatives in the form of peace service and peace tax.

What does it mean for the EKD Council to intend ...to redefine the problems of peace ethics in a way appropriate to today's situation and to declare in the final section of their statement that it is little helpful if on this issue, the Churches promote a discussion which clearly points into a different direction? In what direction? The direction is characterized as follows, An (international) peace order... cannot be developed...without the existence of means of military force. (2.2.)

However, it is also stated that the totality of all relevant questions and issues has to be considered. How can this be done, if certain developments are excluded and the pacifists' position is repressed right from the start?! Indeed, at least since the various synodal decisions of 1991 and the opinion presented by FEST, war tax resistance has become an issue which the Church can and must face.

The Protestant Church of Bremen, for instance, called upon EKD in 1991 demanding that the Council, in discussion with the German government, explore ways of shaping the constitutional right to freedom of religion and conscience in appropriate legislation in such a way that taxpayers are given the opportunity to decide whether or not the taxes they pay may be used for military purposes... We do not know of any action taken by EKD to this effect, instead they are muzzling the regional Churches.

Over the past few years, a great number of Christians, recognizing that the Church has become guilty by blessing weapons and justifying wars, have set out to live their peace ethics in a consistent manner, as taught by prophets and church fathers: Swords into ploughshares, and also: Taxes into ploughshares.

Put your sword back in its place, Jesus said to him, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:52)

A true peace order can only be developed without military force. Killing is incompatible with God's love, and wars cannot be justified for Christians.

In the first centuries of Christianity, this was taken for granted by all Christians. Ever since Constantine integrated Church and State in 325, theologians have tried to contain war-waging by working out criteria for well-defined restricted circumstances under which wars could still be justified. Combined, these constituted the doctrines of just wars. When mixed with misleading information and propaganda, these doctrines could be used to win the consent of Church leaders and Christians to practically any war at hand or at least to paralyse opposition against it. Thus the doctrines of just wars have been misused again and again by warlords.

And the mainstream Churches have come to terms with wars being waged. Up to this day, they have benefited materially form the crimes committed by Christian politicians. Before 1945, Churches used to turn away conscientious objectors to military service who turned to them for help. They treated them as a legal problem. There were no legal provisions providing for this. The public authorities were left to do their murderous job.

Today we see that EKD bodies, in an attempt to catch up with political parties, are once again starting to think about how to justify war, apparently without noticing the misuse made throughout history of all sorts of doctrines of just war.

However, it may well be part of the Church's witness to denounce and outlaw as crimes war, the trust put therein and in military force. This is was done at the World Assembly of Christians in Vancouver in 1983 with respect to nuclear arms. This Christian witness may also include to act upon the fact that your conscience says No, i.e. not to contribute to the crimes, neither by a soldier's own hands, nor financially by taxpayers' money.

The new world order that the American Administration has propagated since the 1991 Gulf War is no peace order. Churches-and individual Christians have to be relentless in their resistance whenever military force or the threat of military force are used to safeguard access to Creation's limited resources for the sake of luxury in rich nations. Military force is wrong and creates new strife. However, the fruit of righteousness will be peace (Isaiah 32:17).

If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:20-21)

We must not relent in exploring and walking the paths of non-violence. To love one's enemy is one of the most important ways of putting Jesus' message into practice. The exhortation to overcome evil with good is a big challenge. The forces of change, of new opportunities become effective in this way. The power of good (‘Gutekraft’) describes the very core of how these forces become effective, of how evil can be overcome by good. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King jr, Lanza del Vasto and many others have recognized this power, described its spiritual roots, developed methods for it and used it successfully. To act upon this power means to actively trust that solidarity with the victims of injustice is within everybody's potential. This does not only involve activities, but a basic change in attitude which becomes effective in many ways, i.e. in a softer way of dealing with nature, in a greater readiness and capacity for consensus and in many other ways, also in our way of life and in the way we behave in conflicts.

Church and Peace, the European Peace Church Association, Peace Brigades International, Eirene, the Association for Civilian-based Defence, Action Reconciliation/Peace Services and other groups have had experiences in mobilising the power of good in violent conflicts. In their Conciliar Process on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, Churches have decided to set up shalom services, to create a service for peace with non-violent means, to be funded by the Churches, as a field of activities for Christians today. The need for such services is growing even in Germany, i.e. to counter xenophobia with the courage of one's own convictions .

The ability to act upon one's own convictions, to stand up to the authorities in everyday life, to show stamina and creativity can be practiced in war tax resistance. It is an act of civil disobedience where those concerned may not get punished, but have to face all sorts of sanctions. Here, pastoral care by their brothers and sisters in faith is of utmost importance.

Why are you trying to trap me?Jesus asked. Bring me a denarius and let me look at it. They brought the coin, and he asked them, Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription? Caesar's, they replied. Then Jesus said to them, Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. (Mark 12:15-17)

Like conscientious objection to military service, war tax resistance is a testimony to Christian faith. What does it mean for us today that we have been created in God's image?

The Pharisees ask Jesus a question to trap him, i.e. whether or not it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus does not solve their problem for them, but lets His reply reflect upon those who ask. He makes them show Him the coin with Caesar's portrait, which they had had in their pockets. In this way He reminds the hypocritical Pharisees of their having been created in the image of God. They themselves belong to Him. Whether they are meeting their responsibility to God when paying taxes to Caesar has to be decided in that light! For Tiberius, the Roman Emperor, whose portrait was on the coin, demanded to be revered as a god. The coin was a widespread symbol for this cult, and the Pharisees carried it in their pockets - unthinkable for pious Jews Luke 23:2, And they began to accuse him, saying, We have found this man subverting the nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king. According to Luke, Jesus was also charged with instigation to tax resistance. This does not mean He actually did do it. However, given His statement on what is God's, this assumption does not seem all that far-fetched.

We can relate the issue which is raised by Jesus' reply to the question on taxes to our own situation by asking: What does it mean for us today that we have been created in God's image?

To be open to others essentially includes an attitude of not primarily asking others to pay the price for necessary transformations. But this attitude means to be ready to make one's own contribution to reducing violence, distress, lack of freedom and fear, even though others may be primarily to be blamed for them.

There are no legal provisions providing for war tax resistance. However, our Constitution guarantees the inviolable right to freedom of religion and conscience. This right is put forward by war tax resisters when confronting public authorities so that their faith and conscience, which the State has pledged to protect, are no longer violated.

We believe that the authors of the statement base their views on faulty assumptions:

  1. This can be seen from the analogy with conscientious objection to military service. Under point 4, the authors try to avert a situation whereby the conscientious decision of individuals is turned into the behaviour of the entire Church. But this is not what it is all about. The Church can support war tax resistance as a testimony to Christian faith without going that far. This is what is done in the case of conscientious objection to military service without making it the norm for everybody else.
  2. The authors believe that they have to avert a situation whereby legal sanctions have to be borne by the Church. For years, the Church has violated the conscience of Church workers by fulfilling the statutory requirement on employers to deduct income tax from wages and salaries. To request the Church to stop doing so and to explore other options is not at all an attempt to get away with things at the Church's expense. But it is the unavoidable result of Germany's income tax legislation which involves employers in income tax payment on behalf of their workforce.
  3. The legal section of the opinion presented by FEST inquires about the borderline between the concerns of war tax resistors, in particular Article 4 of the German Constitution, and existing legislation (page 144). However, it fails to examine a question which is important for the Church, i.e. how the two can be made compatible. So the Church will have to consider this question. There are bound to be competent legal experts in the Church who could make constructive contributions to this process.

There are many more mistakes to be found in the legal section of the EKD statement:

  1. It is not true that war tax resistors demand the right to determine individually, based on their personal assessment, how taxes and levies are to be used. (1.2. in the statement)
  2. Since the money required...would have to be raised by others, a (right to resistance) would not help to eliminate...conflicts of conscience. That is the view taken by the authors in point 3. The analogy with conscientious objection to military service once again helps to show that they have misunderstood. With that argument, any conscientious objection to military service would become pointless as long as there were others who were willing to do it. - Furthermore, war tax resistors do not base themselves so much on article 4, paragraph 3 of the German Constitution (as assumed in 1.1) but on article 4, paragraph 1, the basic right to freedom of conscience and religion.
  3. For religion and conscience are important domains of human dignity. As we Germans have learned from ill-fated times, it is not only important for individuals but for the entire body politic that people can live without violation of their dignity, without being forced into illegality to achieve that end. This is why it is necessary to work for legal provisions providing for war tax resistance, be it by lobbying government ministers, Members of Parliament, or by turning to the courts.
  4. The majority of German Protestants only accepted conscientious objection to military service inwardly and outwardly, after millions of lives had been lost in two world wars. These experiences should make recognition of war tax resistance as a respectable way of living active love for peace come a lot faster. (Prof.Dr. Manfred Josuttis, Evangelische Kommer,tare, January 1992).

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. - Stand firm, then (Gal. 5:1)

We are seeking a dialogue with our brothers and sisters. ?No legal provision can exclude that a conscience may be bound by God's word in such a way that it comes into conflict. The Church will not refuse support to a conscience thus bound. This statement was made in EKD's 1985 Memorandum on Democracy.

War tax resistance is not primarily a legal problem. For many Christians it raises the question of how we can live our faith and testify to it in public. Since they apply other yardsticks to public action than the State, Christians have often come into conflict with it. Civil disobedience can be affirmed both by individual Christians and Church institutions, as shown by many examples in Germany and worldwide. Still, many Church bodies view legal provisions as insurmountable obstacles to war tax resistance. Including the authors of EKD's statement who begin their text with legal matters and these take up most of the room in the statement.

On the other hand, the above mentioned Memorandum on Democracy states (page 16); The State has no ultimate, absolute authority over people. Ultimate unconditional obedience is something that Christians owe God alone. We must obey God rather than men! (Acts 5:29) And in the light of the coming justice of God, any human legal or state system is provisional and in need of improvement.

In 1991, the district synod executive of the Protestant Church district of Cologne-Centre made the following statement on conscientious objection to war taxes, We believe that resistance by Christians through words and non-violent symbolic acts is a necessary testimony to our faith. In our view, the request put forward by one of our employees for a certain part of income tax not to be paid to the tax authorities is such a symbolic act.

Let us come back to the core statement by FEST that was quoted at the beginning. What does it mean to say, Churches...have to recognize that pacifist war tax resistance is an authentic Christian testimony and they have to seek ways of actively supporting those concerned.

  1. First of all it is an epistemic process.
  2. The social traditions of Churches in Germany may be enriched by experiences from the ecumenical movement where, out of responsibility for the community, a constructive social diaconia has been practiced at greater distance from the State. Over the past few decades, this process has also started to evolve in many parishes here. However, Church leaders have hardly noticed it, nor given it any importance. This process is of importance for Church history. It has gained many an impetus from new social movements over the last few decades. It has been practiced by many groups, for instance in non-violent actions to mobilise the power of good in social conflicts.
  3. It also includes creating a culture of conflict resolution without wars or violence. War tax resistance can be a Christian testimony in a field characterized by important conflicts in today's world.
  4. All of these developments have to be seen in conjunction with the conciliar process of Christians, have to be taken up and given a clear shape in local Churches.
  5. FEST primarily calls upon Churches to engage in these important activities:
    • To seek ways of actively supporting those concerned can be important for the Church and even beyond it. It may mean progress for parishes and the Church as a whole, if the impetus for justice, peace and the integrity of creation is put into concrete local action.
    • The State widely recognizes conscientious objectors to military service with arms. The Church's support for these conscientious objectors to military service today goes even further than the degree of recognition by the State. In the same way, FEST recommends, the Church is to promote and support conscientious objectors to military service with taxes. According to FEST, this includes:
    • Churches and parishes have to become places of dialogue about the objectives pursued by the Peace Tax Initiative in their protest (page 91).
    • War tax resistors are to be supported in their activities to raise public awareness and assisted by the creation of appropriate counselling services.
    • In extreme cases, legal aid funds to pay for fines and court proceedings are to be set up. The demands made by war tax resistors for peace policies, i.e. demilitarisation, disarmament, arms conversion and a ban on arms exports, have to be taken up by Churches and reiterated to the political public. (page 212)
    • Furthermore, Churches should make full use of the position that is given to them as employers, as well as to all secular employers, with respect to income tax deduction. They should seek clarification in court whether legal provisions on tax waivers in cases of extreme hardship may be used for the benefit of pacifist conscientious objectors. (page 91f)
    • In this context, they may consider to pay a symbolic (!) part of the income tax of those pacifist employees who so request into a blocked account. However, such a step, which would have to be justified to the tax authorities, would come close to collective civil disobedience. To legitimize it, it would be necessary for the synod to take a decision and for the Church to determine who would be responsible and liable. (page 92)

All options should be openly explored and implemented in the Church in a process of deliberations involving both war tax resistors and Church leaders.

Solingen, September 30, 1993

Siegfried Laugsch, Martin Amold, Reinhard Egel on behalf of the Council of the Peace Tax Network

The report

Present: José Arconada, Martin Arnold, David Bassett, Tulle Elster, Dirk Panhuis, Lawrence Rosenwald, Ger Anjo Van Houten, Christa Voigt, Ursula Windsor

Facilitator: Martin Arnold

Secretary: Lawrence Rosenwald

The workshop was conducted chiefly in English, partly in German.

The first and longest part of the conversation consisted of an exchange of information; various participants spoke at varying length about their experiences in seeking support for wartax resistance and peacetax campaigns from the religious bodies they are affiliated with. The second part of the conversation was held in response to some remarks of Lawrence Rosenwald, on the relation between the energy that religious zeal and religious institutions can offer to participants in wartax resistance and peacetax campaigns, and the dangers of exclusion sometimes associated with that energy. The third part of the conversation concerned the drafting of the letter attached at the end of this account.

-I-

Ursula Windsor said that among English Quakers, questions of wartax resistance are not so well understood as they should be. The London Yearly Meeting accepts her and her husband Arthur Windsor as individual wartax resisters, but rejects the notion that it itself should refuse to serve as tax collector on its employees. (She noted that the Meeting had tested the pertinent laws in 1983, in response to a request from employees; the case was rejected by all relevant British courts and then by the European Commission on Human Rights, and probably, Ursula thought, these rejections had had some influence on the Meeting's policy.) The Meeting is, however, in contact with other churches on this question; and it supports the Peace Tax Campaign financially, and is soliciting members to write letters on the matter to Members of Parliament.

Christa Voigt said that German Quakers support the peace-tax campaign, but aren't for the most part active in it; they too are considering soliciting letters to legislators.

Dirk Panhuis, partly by way of suggesting strategies to engage religious bodies in peacework, told at some length a story from his own experience. He had refused payment of a military tax, and as a result had his furniture seized and sold. He was at that time an elder of his Protestant church. (He noted that Protestants are very much a minority in Belgium - about 1% of the population, fewer than Muslims and suggested that it often proves easier to find support from small religious bodies than from large ones.) His local minister, who is strongly in support of this Christian testimony, contacted a member of the national synodal council of the United Protestant Church in Belgium. As a result, on June 11, 1990, the synodal council sent a letter to the Prime Minister, expressing its concern about the refusal to acknowledge that what was at issue here was a problem of conscience, and asking for swift action on proposed legislation. In its letter, the council also expressed Christian solidarity with the Panhuis family. (There is a German Translation of the letter in Martin Arnold's brochure, Militärsteuerverweigerung. Kirchliche Dokimente von Walpot bis Hunthaussen, von Seoul bis Spandau, Ecclesiastical Testimonies from Walpot to Hunthaussen, from Seoul to Spandau, Spandau 1991).

Dirk pointed out that the least Christians can expect from their church as a whole is pastoral support and solidarity. And this is a natural step for churches to take, with a low threshold of risk. When later VRAK (Flemish Peace Tax Campaign) asked a number of organizations to sign a declaration of support for conscientious objectors to military tax and for the proposed legislation, among the signing organizations was the United Protestant Church in Belgium.

Dirk suggested that those who seek church support might, as he himself had done, present documents like the Seoul Covenant II.5.2 and the brochure Religious Testimonies in Support of Peace Fund Legislation as offering precedents for such support.

David Bassett gave an account of what had been happening in the Quaker bodies to which he belongs: the Ann Arbor (Michigan) Monthly Meeting, and the Lake Erie Yearly Meeting (LEYM), comprising Quaker Monthly Meetings in four Midwestern states. LEYM and a number of the Monthly Meetings publicize wartax resistance cases, and have endorsed the US Peace Tax Fund legislative efforts; many individual members of those Meetings, and some Meetings collectively, have written supportive letters to legislators. It has been more difficult, though, to raise funds from Quaker Meetings in support of these legislative efforts. Some individuals and a few Monthly Meetings have however contributed funds. It needs to be made known, David argued, how central the Peace Tax Fund legislation is to the Quaker peace testimony, and how essential adequate funding is to that legislative effort.

The Ann Arbor Monthly Meeting, along with a few other Quaker Meetings and some Mennonite groups, has considered what it would do if an employee of the Meeting were to request the Meeting not to withhold from his or her pay check, and not to transmit to the government, the percentage of his or her federal tax corresponding to the military percentage of the federal budget. The Ann Arbor Meeting in particular has decided that it is ready to act in accord with such a request, should one be made.

The Ann Arbor Meeting, the LEYM, and some other Monthly Meetings in LEYM are now moving to a greater focus on spiritual life, i.e., the spiritual life of a meeting as a whole and also the spiritual lives of the individual members. Part of this search involves a consideration of the relation between spiritual life and such activities of conscience as conscientious objection to the payment of military taxes.

Martin Arnold spoke at length on his own history and experiences in this area. He formed the group Steuern zu Pflugscharen (Taxes into Plowshares) in 1985, to support wartax resisters, and to encourage employers to refuse to collect the military portion of the tax. He himself was levied in 1988; he then went to his church, which was also his employer, and asked to discuss this matter. His request was refused. He then invited Arthur and Ursula Windsor to come and speak to his church. This led to more meetings, to seminars, and to growing interest - for some of the seminars there was not enough room for the audience that came to take part. Martin and his supporters were then asked by the church to state their expectations, which were: l) for the church to deal more with the tradition of non-violence, and 2) for the church to support wartax resisters.

During the Gulf War, the German government contributed largely to Operation Desert Storm, and raises taxes to pay for these contributions. Some Germans refused to pay these taxes. Some individual churches then supported these refusers, and the Synod then appointed committees to propose a resolution on this point. The committee determined that the Church must acknowledge such refusal as a legitimate witness, expressive of Christian faith.

Martin's own church then got in touch with Pax Christi to ask for support, and received it. Martin described himself as having since that time had real support from his church, both in the form of a committee specifically charged with the matter, and in the form of legal aid with his case.

(Dirk Panhuis then made the point that the bigger the church, and the more closely linked to the state, the less its interest in these matters is likely to be.)

Martin then gave an account of some more recent history in this matter. (Readers who would like a fuller account than that given here are referred to the text printed in the prefatory materials for the Conference.) These mostly concerned appeals made to the EKD (Evangelische Kirche Deutschlands/ German Protestant Church) for support for wartax resisters. Such an appeal had implicitly been made in 1990, in Covenant II.5.2 of the Ecumenical Assembly in Seoul, and was made explicitly in 1991 by the Protestant Church of Bremen. Also in 1991, the district synod executive of the Protestant Church district of Koln accepted the request put forward by one of its employees that a certain part of his income tax not be paid to the tax authorities as constituting a necessary testimony to [Christian] faith. Finally, the Protestant Research Institute has presented the opinion that churches ... have to recognize that pacifist war tax resistance is an authentic Christian testimony.

Despite all this, however, the EKD as of yet holds to the position of the Chamber for Public Responsibility, and asserts that an (international) peace order ... cannot be developed .. without the existence of means of military force.

Attempts have continued to renew discussion within the EKD on this matter; and a decision from the EKD is expected by November on whether to offer wartax resisters some minimal support.

-II-

The second section of the workshop was a free discussion of an issue raised by Lawrence Rosenwald, concerning the character of the Christian theological energy that animates many people and organizations in the peace tax and war resistance movements. On the one hand, he noted clearly such energy strengthens our work. On the other, it can divide and exclude. He himself spoke as a Jew of how it can exclude and alienate Jews, but there were others, especially Tulle Elster, who spoke of how it might exclude others who cannot share in the doctrines associated with it. This is, clearly, not the sort of problem that can be solved in a brief discussion; but participants in the workshop agreed that there was a lot of profit simply in holding the discussion, and the character of the letter we drafted was partly shaped by the discussion we held.

-III-

I attach here a copy of the letter, which we hope will be widely disseminated:

Hondarribia, Spain, 18th September 1994

To all religious bodies who support War Tax Resisters or who are in dialogue with them:

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

We are writing you as fellow Believers from many parts of the world and we have gathered here for the Fifth International Conference on Conscientious Objection to paying taxes for military purposes.We believe that we are called to be peacemakers, and that we should not return evil for evil. Six years ago at our Second International Conference in Vierhouten, Netherlands, we wrote a letter asking you to give recognition to these deeply-held convictions as you engage in the pursuit of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation; and we submitted the draft document for consideration on the European Assembly in Basel. In particular, we asked you to support conscientious objectors to military service and to paying taxes for military purposes. With joy and thanksgiving we noticed already at our third International Conference in Aosta, Italy, that our requests have not been in vain. Both at the Ecumenical Assembly at Basel in 1989 and at Seoul in 1990 our requests have been discussed and taken into the final documents produced there. Beyond that, several religious bodies of different beliefs and countries:

  1. have begun a process of consultation and dialogue with war tax resisters.
  2. have expressed their support for conscientious objection to paying taxes for military purposes as a Christian testimony, even the readiness to juridical assistance.
  3. have declared to the government their support for several war tax resisters who have refused to pay the military element in their taxation.
  4. are supporting the legislation to give the individual the legal right not to pay taxes which are used for military purposes.
  5. have declared their readiness to obey the will of God namely to support employees in case they refuse to pay taxes for military purposes.
  6. have commenced an action of obedience to the will of God by not paying the tax they have deducted from some employees who have made the request and have refused the order of the court to make good their failure to make such deductions.

We thank you heartily. We want to encourage you to go further on God's way of peace which is the way of the power of non-violence.

We are full of hope that in the continuing pursuit of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, namely in the program to overcome violence, God's purposes for all the people will be realized more and more.

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