My solution: Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren, and whomever else wants to participate refuses to pay war taxes for a few years, and we suffer the consequences. I think we should campaign for a war-tax-free 2010 in all Quaker meetings and Mennonite/Brethren/etc. communities. What are they going to do–throw us all in jail? Maybe. But they can’t do that forever. No one wants to pay their taxes for a bunch of Quakers and other pacifists to sit in jail for not paying taxes. It doesn’t make sense.
A commenter chimes in with a warning about Friends who were hit by heavy tax penalties a quarter century ago. But I know of someone who didn’t pay taxes for twenty years and recently volunteered the information to the Internal Revenue Service. The collectors were nonchalant, polite and sympathetic and settled for a very reasonable amount. If this friend’s experience is any guide, there’s not much drama to be had in war tax resistance. These days, Caesar doesn’t care much.
What if our witness was directed not at the federal government but at our fellow Christians? We could follow Quaker founder George Fox’s example and climb the tallest tree we could find (real or metaphorical) and begin preaching the good news that war goes against the teachings of Jesus. As always, we would be respectful and charitable but we could reclaim the strong and clear voices of those who have traveled before us. If we felt the need for backup? Well, I understand there are twenty-seven or so books to the New Testament sympathetic to our cause. And I have every reason to believe that the Inward Christ is still humming our tune and burning bushes for all who have eyes to see and ears to listen. Just as John Woolman ministered with his co-religionists about the sin of slavery, maybe our job is to minister to our co-religionists about war.
But who are these co-religionist neighbors of ours? Twenty years of peace organizing and Friends organizing makes me doubt we could find any large group of “historic peace church” members to join us. We talk big and write pretty epistles, but few individuals engage in witnesses that involve any danger of real sacrifice. The way most of our established bodies couldn’t figure out how to respond to a modern day prophetic Christian witness in Tom Fox’s kidnapping is the norm. When the IRS threatened to put liens on Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to force resistant staffers to pay, the general secretary and clerk said all sorts of sympathetic words of anguish (which they probably even meant), then docked the employee’s pay anyway. There have been times when clear-eyed Christians didn’t mind loosing their liberty or property in service to the gospel. Early Friends called our emulation of Christ’s sacrifice the Lamb’s War, but even seven years of real war in the ancient land of Babylonia itself hasn’t brought back the old fire. Our meetinghouses sit quaint, with ownership deeds untouched, even as we wring our hands wondering why most remain half-empty on First Day morning.
But what about these emerging church kids?: all those people reading Shane Claiborne, moving to neighborhoods in need, organizing into small cells to talk late into the night about primitive Christianity? Some of them are actually putting down their candles and pretentious jargon long enough to read those twenty-seven books. Friends have a lot of accumulated wisdom about what it means the primitive Christian life, even if we’re pretty rusty on its actual practice. What shape would that witness take and who would join us into that unknown but familiar desert? What would our movement even be called? And does it matter?
Anyone interested in thinking more on this should start saving up their loose change ($200 commuters) to come join C Wess Daniels and me this November when we lead a workshop on “The New Monastics and Convergent Friends” at Pendle Hill near Philadelphia. Methinks I’m already starting to blog about it.