Image: "Join the Campaign!"

Image: "Contact Congress."

Witness to the Dilemma of Conscience,
Marian Franz, Dies at 76

By National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office and Mennonite Weekly Review staff.

WASHINGTON DC – Marian Franz, a witness for peace in the halls of power, died Nov. 17, 2006. She was 76.

Marian directed the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund (NCPTF) for 24 years. As a lobbyist, she called upon members of Congress to enact legislation extending the right of conscientious objection to include taxpayers. Establishment of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund (RFPTF) remains unfulfilled to date, but the movement is regaining strength, and Marian believed no witness for peace and conscience is ever lost.

She stepped down from the directorship in January due to a struggle with an aggressive, recurring cancer. Unfortunately, outward success in regaining physical health also eluded her.

"Marian was a tireless voice for religious freedom and the rights of people of conscience," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. "Her energy and persistence in advocating for the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund was a reflection of her deep commitment to our democracy and to the cause of peace."

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., called Marian "a longtime and effective advocate for peace and human rights. She believed in the dignity of every human being, and that's how she treated everyone she met."

Dr. David Bassett, the founder and honorary chair of the Peace Tax Campaign, visited Marian a month before her passing. He notes that “Marian gave dedicated leadership to NCPTF throughout her time as its Executive Director, carrying a myriad of responsibilities with determination, grace, and courage. She worked vigorously and faithfully to gain support for the RFPTF legislation and for the Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation (COMT) concept, and to advance these concepts in local, national, and international arenas. Her life remains a beacon for us all.”

J. Daryl Byler, director of the Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office, described Marian as "a pastor-prophet to the U.S. Congress, combining gifts of compassionate listening with passionate advocacy. Her vision and energy were contagious, and her life's work was a powerful illustration of Paul's words to the church at Galatia: 'So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.' "

Marian was born Oct. 12, 1930, in Newton, Kansas, to Ernest G. and Justine Claassen of Whitewater. She received a bachelor's degree in social sciences and religion from Bethel College in North Newton in 1954. Also that year, she married Delton Franz.

After brief pastorates in Kansas, the Franzes moved to Chicago to attend Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She earned a master's degree in religious education in 1957. In Chicago, the Franzes began an interracial Mennonite church. They were active in the civil rights movement and coordinated rallies and speaking engagements with Martin Luther King Jr.

In the 1950s and '60s, Marian worked for the Church Federation of Greater Chicago and became director of Weekday Religion Education - then run in cooperation with public schools - for one-third of the area of Chicago. She wrote articles for the International Journal of Religious Education.

In 1968, the Franzes moved to Washington to open the MCC office there. In 1971, Marian helped found Dunamis, a Christian organization that spoke to policymakers about political issues facing the nation. She became its first director.

In 1982, Marian became the first full-time director of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund.

Marian believed that war taxes have enormous consequences. "They kill twice," she said. "First, they directly enable war . . . particularly paying for weapons. Second, taxes allocated for war represent a distortion of priorities. Money is taken away from the important work of healing and is spent to destroy and kill."

Marian was a founder of the Faith and Politics Institute and served on its board for 14 years. The non-partisan, interfaith organization was founded in 1991 to help public officials stay in touch with their faith and deeper values as they shape public policy. In recent years, she commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Selma Civil Rights March with President Clinton and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Marian authored “Questions That Refuse To Go Away” as well as countless materials for the Peace Tax Campaign and Foundation. She was recently working on a book of collected columns, giving a glimpse of her witness to Congress and peace/civil rights movements.

Marian made numerous trips to Europe to attend international conferences which promoted conscientious objection to the payment of military taxes. She gave testimony before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in New York.

She was one of the founders of Conscience and Peace Tax International (CPTI), which works through international movements and institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union to obtain full legal recognition for those seeking to consistently practice nonviolence. CPTI asserts as a human right that no person shall be compelled to participate in military violence, directly or indirectly. Marian would have led CPTI's October conference in Berlin, Germany, but was unable to due to her health. Family-suggested memorials are yet to come, but as Marian's heart was clearly in the international movement, tax-deductible checks made out to “CPTI” may be sent to the Peace Tax Fund office (2121 Decatur Place NW, Washington DC 20008). These will be forwarded to CPTI's Belgium office.

Marian was a member of Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church, where a memorial service will be held 2pm Feb. 17, 2007.

Marian was preceded in death by her husband, Delton; and siblings Vernon Claassen and Doris Claassen. She is survived by two sisters, Edith Graber of St. Louis, and Joanne Claassen of Fresno, a son, Gregory Franz of Los Angeles; two daughters, Gayle Franz of Newton, Kan., and Coretta Franz-Eby of Lancaster, Pa.; and two grandchildren.

Friends wishing to send a note to Marian's family may write:
Gayle Franz, 415 E 10th St. Apt. C, Newton KS 67114
or email Corey

We close with words of her friend Rev. Osagyfo Sekou: “Prophets always die too soon. Marian's Peace Tax Fund ministry to members of Congress and the peace and religious liberty movements was more than salient; it was sacred. Scriptures teach us one's heart is where one's treasure is. With a military budget exceeding all the nations of the world combined, our national heart is broken with the violence of weaponry and war. To spend one's life attempting to heal a nation's heart is Marian Franz's act of holiness. She was swift with pen, principle and stories. May we be wise enough to become baptized in the waters of her words.

For the November 29 Mennonite Weekly editorial honoring Marian, click here

For the Washington Post obituary, click here