In the early 1800’s Mennonites were scratching out a living in the wilderness of the Twenty (now Lincoln); cutting down trees, making homesteads and starting a community. They were also paying taxes.
Mennonite leaders had negotiated with the British even before settlers started coming to Upper Canada, discussing exemption from military service because of religious beliefs. Mennonites were not the only group asking for this; Dunkers (now Brethren in Christ) and Quakers were in the same boat. In 1792 the Militia Act exempted all these groups from personal militia duties. In exchange for this exemption, these religious people paid special fines. That amounted to $20 (5 pounds) per year in times of war, and $5 (20 shillings) per year in times of peace, for every male aged 16 to 50.
The money went directly to support the militia. The taxes were heavy and if you didn’t pay them, you were put in jail. Quakers resisted this tax, and many had their property confiscated and some were jailed. Mennonites followed this law, but were persistent in challenging it, continually sending delegates with petitions to the government. Mennonites from our congregation were active year after year in having this tax removed, even going to court to make their case. It took until 1849 to have the tax removed.
It’s tax time now, and as Christians who follow the Prince of Peace, every year part of our taxes supports the military: last year it was 8.4% of our federal taxes, this year it’s 9.2% of federal taxes. That’s an increase, and we can expect the percentage to keep increasing for the next ten years. Not many of us want to go to jail or have our property confiscated, but I think it’s time for Mennonites to be more faithful in petitioning the government about these military taxes. You can learn more about the movement to allow for peaceful re-direction of the military portion of our taxes at http://www.consciencecanada.ca
This week’s prayer: We want to bring life into the world; right now our tax money is used to purchase weapons and support wars. Direct and guide our actions as Christians who follow the Prince of Peace.