A lot of people believe that churches should pay taxes. On one hand, churches are considered ‘charities’ and charities are exempt from paying taxes. On the other hand, there are various ‘churches’ that are not really charities–not in the traditional sense, anyway. That doesn’t matter to the tax man, however, as simply being involved in the “advancement of religion” counts as a charitable activity. Is the advancement of religion truly a charitable activity? Should churches pay taxes? A lot of people will say no, but it is complicated.
Churches have used public funds to spread racism and oppress Indigenous peoples:
There are several reasons why exempting churches from taxation is a good idea. Probably the most important reason is that many churches are involved in offering social assistance to people in need. For example, many churches run soup kitchens and shelters for the poor. Governments all over the world rely on the services of churches to provide relief. In return, all the church gets is a sense of superiority and an exemption from income and property taxes.
An obvious problem with this is that governments might be relying too much on churches to deal with social problems like poverty. For centuries, governments have downloaded social services to churches and that has often produced terrible results. For example, governments have provided contracts to churches to run orphanages and Indian residential schools that turned out to becomes factories for child abuse. That is an unacceptable use of your tax dollars–to say the least.
For the tens of thousands of Indians who went to boarding schools, it’s largely remembered as a time of abuse and desecration of culture.NPR
For many decades, governments paid money to various churches to educate Native Americans. The plan was less to teach the children to read and write, and more of a plot to assimilate natives to white culture. Instead of continuing to massacre Native Americans, the government decided they would simply force the children to stop being “Indians”.
“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”Captain Richard H. Pratt on the Education of Native Americans
Indian Residential Schools are just one example of a church believing that it is contributing to the public good while it is actually doing something terrible. One of the main lessons learned from the tragedy of America’s Indian Residential schools is that churches do not have the answer for everything –no matter how strongly they claim they do. Governments task churches with maintaining the social safety net at their peril.
Churches have been in the business of promoting eugenics:
The oppression of Native Americans is just one chapter in the history of American churches spreading harm. Churches in general, especially the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, were instrumental in promoting eugenics. To this end, many Christians were taught by their churches to believe they should assist God to improve humanity through selective breeding. Why do some Christians always believe that an omnipotent God needs their help to do anything?
The widespread acceptance of eugenics as a ‘Godly’ pursuit led to eugenics legislation throughout the United States. For example, 33 states passed forced sterilization laws, which led to the sterilization of such people as ‘the feebleminded, insane, criminals, epileptic, diseased, blind, deaf, and deformed. Furthermore, the sterilization laws were used to deal with orphans, homeless, and people in poverty. All of this terrible legislation was brought about because some faithful Christians learned from their church that God makes mistakes.
Have churches changed their ways?
In fairness, some churches have admitted the error of their ways and apologized for their role in oppressing other cultures and the promotion of eugenics. Still, does that mean they should retain their tax-free status? If churches have made these kind of mistakes in the past, what kind of mistakes are they making right now? What terrible thing do some Christians believe that God needs them to do now?
Right now, churches are accepting charitable donations and using that money to promote political causes. Oh they transfer the money to non-church organizations first and know how to get around all the IRS loopholes. Remember, these people are flying in private jets so obviously they can afford fancy accountants. They just want to keep that sweet money rolling in–especially the government money earmarked for faith-based initiatives to solve social problems.
Clearly, many churches have not learned their lesson after the residential schools and that eugenics mess. Why would they? They didn’t really lose anything and they still have a lot to gain, especially if politicians endorse them back.
Several high profile preachers have outright endorsed President Trump. There are restrictions on churches for how much they may participate in lobbying for legislative changes and they are not allowed to endorse candidates for political office if they want to retain their charitable status. Yet, we see and hear church leaders endorsing candidates all the time.
Should churches pay taxes?
If they are breaking the rules, they are supposed to lose their charitable status. Churches cannot engage in any of the following activities under the federal tax law:
Cannot endorse or oppose candidates for public office
Cannot make any communication—either from the pulpit, in a newsletter, or church bulletin—which expressly advocates for the election or defeat of a candidate for public office
Cannot make expenditures on behalf of a candidate for public office or allow any of their resources to be used indirectly for political purposes (e.g., use their phones for a phone bank)
Cannot ask a candidate for public office to sign a pledge or other promise to support a particular issue
Cannot distribute partisan campaign literature
Cannot display political campaign signs on church propertyFreedom From Religion Foundation
Wow! How often have you seen political candidates endorsed from the pulpit? It is so common that anyone would assume that the IRS doesn’t care about such things. Just watch this entertaining video of Pastor Paula in action. Importantly, Americans need to ask themselves WHY people like Paula White are relevant to the Presidential election in the first place.
Or what about Jim Bakker? He claims that if you do not like Trump it is because you just are not saved! Also, with a large donation to his ministry, he will send you emergency food supplies to get you through the coming Tribulation.
So what happens when ‘churches’ spring up with the sole intention of advancing a religion that is more about contemporary American politics than following the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, L. Ron Hubbard, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Should churches pay taxes? Should they still get those sweet taxpayer funded social services contracts? Does God actually need a tax-exemption to do His Will?
Ultimately, asking if churches should pay taxes is a bit of a trap. There are churches out there that do good work and do not demand conversion or any other reward for their charitable activity. The problem is deciding which churches are truly worthy of tax free status, and which are fronts for a shady business venture.