I am not aware of tax regulations in any country other than the United States. Here in the U.S., churches do not pay taxes because they are exempt. Their 501(c)(3) status prohibits them from paying some federal income taxes, property taxes, and/or sales taxes. Before we answer whether they should pay taxes or be exempt, let’s look at a quick history of tax exemptions.
Ancient History of Church Tax Exemption
The first example I have found of religious tax exemptions is found in Genesis 47:26 when the priest’s land was exempt from paying the Pharaoh’s tax.
And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt to this day, that Pharaoh should have one-fifth, except for the land of the priests only, which did not become Pharaoh’s
This passage is by no means a biblical mandate to require tax exemption upon any religious institution. This is just an example of tax exemption in world history.
There are many more examples of tax exemption in our ancient history, but let’s move forward into the medieval ages
In medieval times the Roman Catholic Church and the English throne were in marriage with one another, so therefore, the Catholic Church was exempt from paying taxes. The Church and the government were essentially one organization, so if the Government were to tax the Church, they would be taxing themselves.
The tax exemption that was imposed upon the Catholic Church would lay the foundation and traditions that we find in our modern laws today.
Modern History of Church Tax Exemption
The marriage of the throne and the Church is one of the main reasons our forefathers declared in our constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. They wanted the Church to operate apart from the state (although the phrase “separation of Church & State” is not found in the Constitution)
Although the Church and the State no longer operate as one entity, these tax exempt laws seem to have been ‘grandfathered’ into our common laws.
David M Andersen in Brigham Young University Law Review writes, “In 1894, Congress passed the first income tax on corporations but exempted from the tax those “corporations, companies, or associations organized and conducted solely for charitable, religious or educational purposes.”
Now we see our government providing a unique status to Churches, but what is their reason for allowing this privilege? Were they afraid God was going to strike them with lightning if they didn’t? The reason for providing tax exempt status may not seem obvious.
Erik Stanley from LaTimes.com says, “In general, governments believed that churches along with other types of community groups enhanced and supplemented government services such as feeding the hungry, housing those in need of shelter and in general using private funds for public good. (Although this is a debate for another time, I note that more and more religious groups are now asking for a government bailout through the “faith-based initiative” and to keep their tax exemptions.)”
The reason why the Church has been privileged with its tax-exempt status is because the government expected us to supplement the need for humanitarian services. Basically, our responsibility for the welfare of the people relieved this burden off of the backs of the government.
Questioning the Church’s Eligibility to be Tax Exempt
I realize that there is no official list of social qualifications that we need to maintain in order to keep our tax exempt status, but one cannot wonder why our eligibility remains as the government takes on more of our social responsibilities? Is there any form of social criteria that we have to meet in order to keep our tax exempt status other than preaching out of some religious book once a week?
If the Church does not provide for the poor, the indigent, the homeless, or the sick do you think Korea, Japan, U.K., or Canada would want to apply for that responsibility? Of course, people run to their own government for help. Listen, somebody has to help these people. I don’t care if you are a democrat, republican, or libertarian, Marxist, or environmentalist, these people need help.
We can debate about whether their situation is their own fault. We can say that they chose their own path. I am not disagreeing with you, but that isn’t an excuse for us to overlook their desperation. Their choices are never, ever an excuse for our negligence for their basic needs.
It sickens me that as the government relishes the opportunity to take on more social responsibilities while the Church gladly passes on the torch. Now that we are free from taking care of people’s needs, we can spend more money on ourselves, on our church buildings, on our programs, on our stage design, and on our sound equipment. We relish the opportunity to beautify our image while the government relishes the more Godly response. While the government is taking on the responsibility of being a savior, and we spit in our the real Savior’s face who once said, “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” and also “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
I’m going to say it right away – Take away the tax-exempt status of the Church!
As the government takes on more and more social responsibilities, i am sick of seeing my taxes go up and up. If churches started paying property taxes, I wouldn’t doubt if my taxes would actually decrease. Believe me, i wish i could say the opposite, the problem is that the Church is extremely ill. We have been sick for a long time. Giving statistics state that the Church spends 85% of the funds it receives on internal operations and only 3% of our money goes towards aiding and ministering towards the unsaved.
Do I blame the poor for crying to the government? No Way! When they come crying to the Church, they get turned away, so where else should they go? Should they get a job? Why don’t you go trying to get a minimum wage job as a single parent. Let’s see how well you survive providing for your family while doing that?
I am a fiscal conservative, but I believe the Church should handle spiritual as well as social responsibilities. But the problem is that we aren’t, so I’m done fighting against social health care, and welfare. Let it happen. Republicans fight and fight about socialism this and socialism that, but we don’t do a stinkin thing about it! Until the Church gets its act together and takes care of our responsibility there’s nothing else for me to say. Right now, I am just furious! We have no right to be tax exempt!
Now add your input
Should Churches be Required to Pay Taxes?
- No (51%, 333 Votes)
- Yes (49%, 321 Votes)
Total Voters: 654