For some people attending the 2019 Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City, Missouri, last week, Akron resident Harold Penner’s suggestion that the denomination create a Church Peace Tax Fund wasn’t new.
“We’ve had a tax deferment plan for years,” said Glen Guyton, executive director of Mennonite Church USA. “But H.A. helped us to remember this fund. It’s led to a renewed passion.”
The fund Guyton referred to was named the War Tax Alternative Fund. It was approved by the denomination in 1983. The fund was established for employees of the denomination.
In response to Penner’s proposal, it has since been renamed the Church Peace Tax Fund and is expected to be available to any member of the denomination in the future.
Robin Schrag, controller for Mennonite Church USA, said the logistics of the fund still must be worked out.
Penner, who also goes by the initials H.A., is a local coordinator of 1040forpeace.org, whose mission is to encourage U.S. taxpayers to express their opposition to U.S. military spending when they file their federal income tax returns (Forms 1040) each year by redirecting $10.40 to peace organizations.
His proposal, offered during a seminar at the conference on July 4, did not require a vote of the delegation.
Merv Stoltzfus, executive conference minister of the Atlantic Coast Conference of Mennonite Church USA, based in East Lampeter Township, said Mennonites do not oppose paying taxes, but “they would prefer that those taxes be used for immigrants or asylum-seekers or to help others” rather than paying for military spending.
Stoltzfus said that while he believes Penner’s proposal needs additional tweaks, “it would solve a conscience problem for people.”
He suspects that other Anabaptist denominations, including members of Church of the Brethren and Brethren in Christ denominations, might also choose to redirect taxes to the Church Peace Tax Fund.
The Rev. Rachel Nolt, pastor at Akron Mennonite Church where Penner is a member, describes the fund as “potentially another resource for individuals looking for ways to witness against the many costs of war.”
In an email, she noted that her church has “a group of people ... who are currently resisting war taxes in some form. I am excited that (Penner) continues to teach about war tax resistance or redirection within our congregation and denomination” and that she will encourage him to “work with denomination leaders to continue to educate the broader church” about the fund.
Penner also supports H.R. 1947 — legislation authored by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. — to create a federal Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund that would allow those opposed to military spending to funnel a portion of their taxes to that fund. Those moneys, the bill states, would be allocated annually to “any appropriation not for a military purpose.” Lewis’ proposal also would protect the privacy of individuals using the fund.
Congress has not acted on Lewis’ measure.
Penner believes his proposal will provide a way to redirect resources from war to problem-solving programs that “are a realistic path to peace,” underwrite peace education and action in the church, support individuals and their families who experience material loss as a result of their refusal to pay federal tax assessments and “provide a model for doing what the U.S. government has been unable or unwilling to do through the proposed Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act.”
He acknowledges that this is a work in progress, but added it also is “a big deal for a democracy in this day and age.”