Harold Penner

Harold Penner, shown in this 2016 file photo, offered a proposal to establish a Church Peace Tax Fund at the 2019 Mennonite Church USA convention.

Harold Penner is willing to put his money where his faith is. Next week, he will be urging other Mennonites to do the same.

For years, Penner has withheld a portion of his federal taxes because of his opposition to U.S. involvement in war. The amount he deducts is instead earmarked for peace and justice organizations.

At the biennial Mennonite Church USA Conference, set for Tuesday through Saturday in Kansas City, Missouri, he will offer a resolution to create a Church Peace Tax Fund “to resist the payment of federal taxes that underwrite killing, war and militarism.” The proposal will be offered during a seminar titled “Equipping and enabling the church to resist war taxes.” The seminar will take place on Independence Day.

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If approved, it would allow U.S. Mennonites to redirect that portion of their taxes to an alternative fund through their local church.

As Penner and John Stoner, both of Akron, began to look into an alternative war resistance tax fund, they discovered that the Mennonite Church already had approved a War Tax Alternative Fund in 1983. That fund was established for employees of the denomination who wanted to redirect their federal income tax withholding toward peacemaking.

The idea of withholding taxes as a protest against militarism is not new. Penner is a coordinator for 1040forpeace.org, a national movement in which people underpay their federal taxes by $10.40 as a form of symbolic tax resistance.

In the past, the Internal Revenue Service has collected the back taxes when a refund is due or the agency has attached a lien to the resister’s bank account.

Among the benefits of creating a Church Peace Tax Fund is the belief the funds could be securely held against IRS seizure because the deposits would be held in a common account under an organization’s name, rather than in an individual’s name.

Other proposed advantages include:

— Holding resisted taxes in escrow until the government allows taxpayers to pay taxes without any of that money going to war. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, has proposed legislation to create the Peace Tax Fund for that purpose, but Congress has not acted on the measure.

— Offering interest-free loans and/or grants to community self-help, social change, peace and human service programs using deposits of resisted taxes and interest earned on those deposits.

— Giving tax resisters a way to emphasize that they are not simply keeping the resisted taxes to profit from their resistance.

Lincoln Rice, coordinator of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, estimates that 10,000 to 15,000 taxpayers annually withhold some or all of their taxes for that reason.

In an email, he pointed out that the Northern California People’s Life Fund, in Berkeley, California, celebrated Tax Day 2019 “with a granting ceremony in which they distributed $16,000 in redirected tax monies to 12 organizations.”

Penner said making the Church Peace Tax Fund available to all members of Mennonite Church USA “is a big deal for a democracy in this day and age.”

The idea, he said, “is to establish a fund ... for the good of humanity as opposed to the military.”