Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Should Churches Pay Taxes?

A conversation has been going over at Presbyterian Bloggers that has taken an interesting turn. The question initially had to do with the involvement of churches in political campaigns. A few cases have come up in which churches have been threatened with losing their tax-exempt status for involvement in one way or another.

I think that threat is what keeps churches from being prophetic and speaking truth to power. The best way to counter that threat is to give up the tax-exemption. Perhaps it is time for churches to stop feeding off of the government.

When I look at huge buildings being constructed I think either that it must be a bank or a church. Churches are more like businesses today. They operate on business principles, they should be treated as businesses.

Churches do not pay property tax or sales tax. Donations to churches provide a tax break to those who donate. Clergy, while considered self-employed, do not pay income tax on their housing allowance. Yet churches expect fire and police protection and other services a local government may provide. At the federal level, these church businesses siphon off billions of dollars that could go to government programs that would benefit all Americans rather than simply church going ones.

One may argue that churches do good things for communities. That may or may not be true. One could argue that businesses do good things as well. Great. That is beside the point. The only difference between churches and businesses is that businesses pay taxes. Churches would do far more for their communities by paying their fair share of taxes and not expecting a free ride.


  1. If you and your church want to send more money to the government, please go ahead and do so. I won't stop you from sending in a donation equivalent to the tax differential on your housing allowance. I won't speak against your session sending money to government based on property or other taxes that would be assessed to a business.

  2. First of all, any church that preaches politics from the pulpit is, in fact, not a church at all. They become a PAC of sort at that point and should share the tax burden with everyone else.

    No real church would ever replace the Gospel of Jesus with the gospel of Bush. Such is blasphemy.

    If they drag the name of Jesus/God through the political mud the way slime like George Bush, David Davis and Harold Ford did they should pay full institutional taxes. Anyone who pimps Jesus for personal gain should. Organization and individual alike.

    Such a price would pale in comparison to the price they will pay on judgment day. :)

  3. I agree with you completely, John. Churches should pay taxes both to benefit the greater community and to be less beholden to government oversight. We should be able to say whatever political endorsement we want without the fear of having our tax-exempt status revoked.

    Presbyman's offer to allow you to make a donation to the government, while kind and broad-minded, is not an accurate description of taxation.

    I have to disagree with tn420 when she says that churches that preach politics from the pulpits are not churches any longer. I would hold almost the opposite. A church disengaged with the world is maybe nothing more than a gnostic enclave.

  4. Was the "she" comment supposed to be an insult, or is your brain misfiring?

  5. No insult intended, tn420. I apologize; I just picked a gender at random since I don't know you.

  6. Thanks all. I wonder if this discussion is being held anywhere else on any serious level.

  7. I think politics and church should not mix so well (to be honest) - and I tend to agree if churches are pushing a political agenda I can see the reason for them to be revoked tax status (since they may take a biased stand in politics). But you think I give two pennies about tax exempt status - they'd just move into houses anyways and leave a bunch of empty buildings - now I am not sure if that is nice for the community either?

    IT's a moot issue - and not really the one at the heart of the matter irregardless (it's a sort of trick). The issue is churches helping the community - which doesn't have to be taxes - whay can't churches start programs in the neighborhoods they are in that will help the community (irregardless of faith or not) in issues of concern. I think churches could just take the money they take in and use it to invest in their communities (in the betterment of people). I think this is the bigger issue.

  8. Do other NGOs pay taxes?

    Do organisations like Boy Scouts, amateur sportsclubs and the like pay taxes? Should they?

    If they are supported by taxpayers who have already paid their taxes, then it is income that is already taxed.


    I'd be more comfortable with regular non-profit status for our churches rather than an exceptional status based on religious activity. I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not sure what the differences are in terms of corporate law, but it'd be interesting to discuss. Are there any legal eagles chatting this over elsewhere?

  10. Chris! Yes! I knew that if we beat each other over the head with our foam rubber bats long enough we would find common ground!

    C'mon, brother, give me a hug!

  11. You being a modern or progressive liberal and I being a liberal conservative, we're going to see eye-to-eye on lots of stuff - including the siblinghood of humanity.

    And thanks for wrapping your bat with foam - I'd hate to have to wait until my body is resurrected to wince at your next post.

  12. Hi Steve,

    Welcome. Other NGOs would be an issue as well. I am just thinking of church. But good points

  13. Didn't respond yet to TN420. As we are from the same neck of the woods, churches and politics yield some pretty nasty results. is what it is.

    Progressive churches can influence the political process as well with an emphasis on social justice, peace, etc.

  14. If churches want to get involved in political decision, such as campaigning for or against elected officials, like the pastor of my former church did right from the pulpit during the Clinton campaign ("Clinton will bring judgment down on this country"), or campaign against issues like same-sex marriage then they should be required to pay taxes to the government they want to have so much power within. I'm part of a non-profit, charitable organization and one of the rules for non-profits is that there is to be no political affiliations or campaigning under that group's name. The Mormons in particular have raised millions and are sending its members out to canvas the state of California to make sure the proposition banning same-sex marriage is passed. If a member of the church did this of their own accord, then it would not be an issue, but the churches are organizing their members and are providing them with materials and scripts to deliver the word to the citizens of California. Religious organizations like The American Family Association are constantly asking its members to petition Congress on various issues, most recently the lifting of the off-shore drilling ban and now the indeceny ruling that was struck down against CBS and the Janet Jackson incident. These organizations should lose their tax exempt status if they wish to pursue political aspirations and help form policy that affects everyone in this country, whether we share their beliefs or not. I have to pay taxes to support governmental programs I don't believe in, and I also don't get the full support of my government when it comes to equal rights, so why should I have to pay taxes if I don't get the full benefits available to most people in this country while churches don't pay taxes and help influence voters and lawmakers to pass even more laws that discriminate against me?