Our Peace Testimony stands out as central to our faith. Simply stated, we commit ourselves to not participating in the taking of human life. It seems impossible for Quakers and other peacemakers to uphold this commitment. Nearly 50 percent of the money we give to the government through income taxes goes for the military: killing, destruction of homes, schools, businesses, and other sources of income. We don’t follow what we believe. How can we do that?
There is an answer. In the early days of Quakerism, William Penn, a prominent Quaker whose father held a high military position, went to George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, and explained how impossible it was for him to give up wearing his sword. When he asked, "What shall I do?" George Fox answered, "Wear thy sword as long as thou canst." It is that simple. Something inside of us may well be saying, "Pay your income tax as long as you can." It may not be very long if the Spirit is speaking to you and the message doesn’t go away.
My experience has been a challenging one. I learned gradually about the power of nonviolent direct action and love as exhibited by Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and A.J. Muste. In World War II, I was taken from my job helping people in the slums to survive and put into prison for not cooperating with the military stand of our government. Following the war, I was drawn into social welfare programs with the federal government and had to pay large amounts of income tax. Gradually, it dawned on me that a large percentage of my tax money was going into the military budget. First it was about 35 percent, but it kept climbing to nearly 50 percent. I had worked to the top of the federal payroll and was getting a good salary.
I finally woke up! I was blatantly contradicting all my belief in the power of love in human relations and the power of nonviolent direct action. At the height of my career, I knew that if I was to have faith in the power of the teachings and the example of Jesus and other spiritual leaders, I would have to resign from my job, give up my retirement security, and find a way to live below the income tax level where one does not have to pay the tax. I resigned my position in 1974. I have been living below the tax line ever since, though tempted by good job offers.
It hasn’t been easy by some standards, and I had a lot to learn about how to live simply, buying used clothing, doubling up in housing, and driving a 15-year-old car. The result? I felt a great relief. I was no longer, indirectly, taking human lives. My three children went to college and succeeded on their own. I had the freedom to be more creative and effective in my social reform projects. No salary needed. At 84 years, I feel it is useless to spend a lot of energy worrying about how long I am going to live. I just want to be doing what I love and feel led to do.
We have spent trillions preparing for possible or extended wars. Many millions have been killed by war and organized violence. Now, the very survival of our planet is at stake. There is another way. If 15 percent of our adult population openly took such a stand for peace and refused to pay income tax for the military, the masses could become convinced—and our planet could be radically changed. Let us wait in deep silence until God speaks to us. Then we will know what is right and we will be miraculously supported.
Kent R. Larrabee