Should Churches Have To Pay Taxes?: Page 3 of 3

Should Churches Have To Pay Taxes?

Look, I’m not delusional enough to believe that $71 billion a year would wipe out our current debt total of $16.369 trillion. But it might be a start. It would force church leaders to be held accountable for what they claim they do. Of course, one of the main arguments over why churches don’t pay taxes runs along the lines of how, if we want to separate the church and state, the government has no right to collect money from the church. In exchange, the churches cannot use their clout to influence politics. But it’s impossible to believe that none of the 335,000 congregations in the US are using their resources for political purposes, especially when the Kansas governor called for a ‘Day of Salvation’ in his state and President Trump promised to destroy the Johnson Amendment that separates politics and religion.

I’m well aware that this may be the most times the term “church” has been written in one article, and for that, I apologize. Please understand that when saying “church,” I’m really referring to all religious institutions- synagogues, mosques, etc. I think in general, religious tax exemptions may have made sense at one point. During the 20th century, faith groups were instrumental in providing a variety of social services. These institutions were the hubs of most communities, offering not just food and clothing for the poor, but also counseling, values-based programs for young people, crisis intervention, and a meeting place for people of all sorts. However, all of this was done with the unspoken acceptance of religious beliefs at the core of all activities. They were places of teaching and learning to be polite, caring members of society. The majority of volunteers in hospitals, schools, senior homes, and everywhere else were members of the local church or synagogue. In those days, tax-free status could ethically be defended, because to replace the space required by groups that met in the local worship place, and to replace the volunteer hours put in by its members would have cost governments more money than writing off taxes.

Nowadays, religious institutions seem to be focused on four activities: ministering to their members, defining the boundaries of the faith, renting the facilities for profit, or repairing/renovating their buildings. Having grown up in a strict religious household, I can count on my fingers the number of times activities were organized that were focused on the community and giving; instead, it always seemed to be roundabout ways to promote the church and line the coffers. At one point, youth were speaking to the congregation about raising $50,000, so one individual could spend a year on a missionary trip. I work a full-time job, and I still don’t make $50,000 a year, but this 19-year-old wanted to travel Asia “preaching the word of God,” apparently with a lot of disposal income. Seriously? And I haven’t even delved into the fights between religion and homosexuality, sexuality, or other ‘secular sins.' It’s just too much to tackle in one article here.

Religious leaders have every right to express their opinions to their congregation, and to ask for donations to build up their church. Hopefully, some of that money will go to help the community as well. As of late though, too many have been expressing their opinions to craft legislation while influencing public sentiment. But these leaders and institutions don’t play by the same rules as everyone else. If they wanted to help the communities without an agenda, they should be willing to cough up the same amount of money in taxes as the rest of the population, because guess what? That tax money is what’s used to run social programs, build and repair roads (that the church members inevitably use) and actually help support the population.

If churches want to help everyone, they should be willing to end this tax-exemption status and start contributing financially like everyone else has to.