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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

When a Church Becomes a Non-Church - Possible Consequences of My Proposed Change to Tax-Exemption 

Followup to a comment left on my research interlude - and no, I didn't even dig down to the Presbyterian atheist story yet.

I'll kick this off by quoting something that I wrote over a year ago in "It's the End of the World As We Know It":

...I would fully support the taxation of churches. This would get rid of people who claim to be churches solely for the tax benefits....

(I also belief that this would remove the muzzle that the government has established by buying off the churches, but that's another matter.)

After reading a post in Infinite Wisdom or Absolute Idiocy, I wrote the following:

[T]here's something that I still need to work out in my mind. One of the examples that I cite is the "Church" of Scientology, which has become a religious organization so that it can receive the tax exempt status. Should tax exempt status be removed, this "church" could simply become a non-profit organization and keep its tax exempt status. Likewise, the [Dr. Dino] theme park [owned by Kent Hovind's Creation Science/Evangelism Ministry] might become a tax exempt "educational organization." Not sure how to handle this yet...

Well, perhaps we could eliminate all tax exemptions? The complete flat tax? Let's review the theory of tax exemption:

Tax exemptions are usually meant to either reduce the tax burden from a particular segment of society in the interests of fairness or to promote some type of economic activity through reducing the tax burden on those organizations or individuals who are involved in that activity.

Maybe I'm misreading this, but I believe that the tax exemption for churches falls under the former category (some type of "fairness" idea), while the tax exemption for other non-profits falls under the latter category (encouraging charitable services). Obviously one can argue that the government wants to encourage church charities (or, using that inaccurate term, "faith based organizations" - most are, frankly, works-based), but much of the debate about the church tax exemption has nothing to do with its charity work. However, both organizations are covered under the same law.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

While I agree that the church should not proclaim America as our savior, I disagree with the idea that the church should get involved in politics.

There was a period in our history in which a portion of the church was heavily involved in politics, supporting specific changes in legislation, disrupting the economic power in various locales. For these actions, members of the church were accused of being political extremists, and were arrested and sometimes killed for getting involved in secular affairs.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. I am speaking of the civil rights movement, which was guided in part by a number of southern pastors who frequently mentioned their religion in their activities. Sure they used non-violent, heart-changing tactics, but the results of their work were legislative changes.

One other comment - some would claim that the loss of 20% of church membership indicates that the church did the wrong thing. Based upon the story of Gideon, I suspect that the church did the right thing.
Let me clarify - I agree that church members should most definitely get involved in secular affairs. The Civil Rights movement is a great example, as is the Quakers starting the Underground Railroad. The people of God need to get out of the pews and into the world to affect positive changes. But bringing politics into the church is an entirely different thing. Promoting specific candidates, for example. I don't think this is biblical. But, if a church disagrees and chooses to do those things, that's their choice. But they should lose their tax exemption status if they do. Just my humble opinion. :)
I agree with you that a congregation who promotes candidates should not be tax exempt. However, I can visualize cases in which a congregation could support a particular candidate. Not often, though - as the New York Times article agrees, a diverse congregation often does not have a single view on a political issue.
Then let's tax every organization. Do not allow any organization to claim itself "exempt" if it takes income, pays salaries of staff members, it's a company, and should be taxed.

Whether we think it's right or wrong for churches to be political organizations, the fact is, they're made of people who have political views that will get expressed. The extent to which it's done blatantly is most often a factor not of how politically opinionated those in power are, but of how safe they feel from opposing views. That's why in the south there are so many relatively politicized churches. They're homogenous! God forbid you go to one of these churches and openly admit you're a Democrat. I know from experience it can create long silences and uneasiness, as they size you up, and squint at you as they try to see tiny horns poking out of your forehead.

So, tax them all. Every single one.

Hrumph! ;)
I suspect it goes the other way too - imagine walking into a San Francisco church with a Bush button.

I avoided near death almost 40 years ago, when I lived in the Chicago suburbs. While visiting my grandparents in Alabama, my grandmother told me, "Our governor's running for President, you know." Luckily I didn't start a Wallace '68 club at my school, the Martin Luther King Jr. Laboratory School. It might not have gone over well at the time.
Because of my current problems with posting at Blogger (see comments on my topmost post), I've continued this thread here.
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