Stan Bohn believes in writing letters-to government officials, to local papers-about peace and justice issues. But that's not quite enough.
For the past 25 years, Stan and his wife, Anita, have practiced "war tax diversion"-they take a percentage of their federal taxes that would go to military spending, withhold it from the IRS, send it to a local service agency such as Offender-Victim Ministries or the free clinic, and write a letter explaining what they've done. After a series of letters go back and forth between the Bohns and the IRS, the latter eventually takes the diverted funds out of the Bohns' bank account.
"Why do we do it?" Stan muses. "Not to get results. But it's one way to witness beyond going to peace demonstrations and writing letters"-both of which Stan has done plenty.
Stan currently serves as interim pastor of First Mennonite Church in Hillsboro, Kan. He and Anita live in Newton, Kan., where they are "retired" from a lifetime of service to the Mennonite church.
Stan has been a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation for at least 50 years. His activism began when he was a student at Bluffton (Ohio) College and he gave a speech about why he was a conscientious objector. His primary motivation, then and now: "Following Jesus."
Stan served his first pastorate in Kansas City, Kan., at the newly established Rainbow Boulevard (now simply "Rainbow") Mennonite Church, from 1957-65. This was, of course, right on the cusp of the Civil Rights movement. Stan observed that schools were not being segregated, although it was federal law that they should be, and that real estate agents were illegally refusing to show homes in white neighborhoods to black buyers. He joined the NAACP, and he got in trouble, he says. "Someone painted a hood on our door. There were threatening phone calls-they told us that our children wouldn't be safe."
When the Bohns were ready to move to Newton for Stan to direct the peace and justice office of the General Conference Mennonite Church, Stan went to an African-American real estate agent to sell their house, and an African-American war veteran bought it. "The neighbors were mad," Stan says, "but when I went back two years later, they were proud of Henry. He was a model neighbor."
After three years in Newton, the Bohns moved to Bluffton, where Stan was pastor of First Mennonite Church there. Stan got in trouble again, this time when the church put a float in the local parade. "It said 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' Remember, this was during the Vietnam War. A carload of guys drove right into the parade and offered to beat us up. We smiled at them and we talked to them and in the end they went away."
After the time in Bluffton, Stan went back to the GCMC for nine years as executive secretary for the Commission on Home Ministries. As he was nearing retirement, he thought he wanted to do one more pastorate, and so went to another newly organized church there in Newton, aptly named Shalom.
After Stan had officially retired, he and Anita spent three years in Kingston, Jamaica, with Mennonite Central Committee. Stan taught conflict resolution and peace studies at Jamaica Theological Seminary.
Stan's peace activism has taken him to other parts of the world as well. In the early '70s, when the war in Vietnam was still going on, Stan joined a delegation to Paris sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Delegation members talked to representatives of the four warring factions-the North Vietnamese, the South Vietnamese, the Viet Cong and the United States-and came back to talk to others about the experience.
Stan went to Palestine near the beginning of the second intifada, in 2000, with Christian Peacemaker Teams. He is involved in CPT activities closer to home, too, such as Christmas-season actions against violent toys at the local Wal-Mart and graphic demonstrations of "what your taxes really go for," held near the post office on April 15-which has not made him popular with all the post office employees.
In fact, "getting in trouble" seems to be one of Stan's ways of witnessing. In early 2003, when there were massive worldwide protests against the looming possibility of a U.S.-led war with Iraq, Stan was interim pastor of Manhattan (N.Y.) Mennonite Fellowship. He joined a group of mostly clergy and religious leaders in a protest in front of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, across the street from the UN.
"We were standing outside the building, and we were asked to leave, but we refused," he says. "So the police handcuffed us and put us in the paddy wagon and took us to jail."
"There was no suffering involved at all," Stan says. "We were there five or six hours, and then released, and we sang and prayed and had a wonderful time. I met Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, who's quite a peace activist, and Daniel Ellsberg [who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971] and his son, and the president of FOR, and several rabbis, and the pastor of the Riverside Church."
Stan remains active in the witness against use of taxes for military purposes. He is a member of the Heartland Peace Tax Group, made up of Newton-area tax resisters and tax diverters. "We support Marian Franz in her efforts in Washington, D.C., to establish a Peace Tax Fund. We made a 'tax refusal study kit' and sold some, and put one in the Western District [Mennonite] Conference library for others to use."
For the last three years, the Heartland Peace Tax Group has sponsored a special Good Friday Stations of the Cross in downtown Newton. People walk to different sites in Newton. Some, like a bronzed cannon near the library, represent the military. Some, like the Big Brothers/Big Sisters office, represent all the good that could be done with the money spent on making war.
Retired or not, it seems unlikely Stan Bohn will stop being active-in a variety of ways-any time soon. "We can witness this way," he says. "It's just a witness."
[Editor's note: To learn more about the Heartland Peace Tax Group, e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>. To learn more about the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, visit <http://www.peacetaxfund.org>.]
[Would you like to nominate a peace hero? If you know someone who is working for peace and justice locally, nationally and/or globally, who is actively involved in a Christian congregation, and who is not widely known for the work he or she does, e-mail PeaceSigns editor Melanie Zuercher at <email@example.com>. Please include your full name and your hero's name, where you both live, and an e-mail address or other contact information for the nominee, and write a few sentences that tell why you think this person is a peace hero. We can't promise to cover in this column all the peace heroes whose names we receive-because we know there are lots!-but we will try to be as representative as possible.]