Years ago in a conversation with my Mormon bishop regarding tithing as a worthiness question, I asked him about being worthy if – instead of paying tithing to the church, I were to express my tithe to God in the form of buying groceries or other needed items for anyone I could find who had need of them; and doing so on a regular basis consistent with my paydays. His answer was honest but dogmatically linked to LDS concepts of theology and priesthood stewardship:
“Brother Ruger, you would then presume to know better than your leaders what to do with the Lord’s money.”
Must we satisfy our psychological need to please an unseen God who divinely asks for church charity ?
Or do we directly love our neighbors as ourselves without the middleman managing the Lord’s money while looking out for themselves at the same time?
Like most charities asking for donations, churches routinely justify “middleman expenses” as does for example, The United Way who have long acknowledged that there are operating and office space expenses involved in soliciting and managing donated funds.
However, the middleman costs expended by churches seem to have more to do with real estate and maintenance of church holdings, not to mention salaried ministries.
(Would we not like to see the justified income-versus-expenses of TV evangelists who seem to live like wealthy CEO’s including private jets and huge estates?)
Looking only at the real estate holdings and financial management costs that must be met before churches seem willing to then offer charitable giving to the needy, I would like to make the same point made by *Charles Eastman, whose authentically written The Soul of the Indian includes the following alternative to institutional church real estate:
There were no temples or shrines among us save those of nature. Being a natural man, the Indian was intensely poetical. He would deem it sacrilege to build a house for Him who may be met face to face in the mysterious, shadowy aisles of the primeval forest, or on the sunlit bosom of virgin prairies, upon dizzy spires and pinnacles of naked rock, and yonder in the jeweled vault of the night sky! He who enrobes Himself in filmy veils of cloud, there on the rim of the visible world where our Great-Grandfather Sun kindles his evening camp-fire, He who rides upon the rigorous wind of the north, or breathes forth His spirit upon aromatic southern airs, whose war-canoe is launched upon majestic rivers and inland seas—He needs no lesser cathedral!
Real Estate tax exemptions are significant to churches, whose chapels, immense cathedrals, megachurch buildings and temples dot the American landscape. Such is one reason why church participation in politics is already alive and real.
The head of the richest Christian church in the world seems to agree.
Pope Francis Smacks Churches: “If You Don’t Help the Poor and Needy, then Pay Taxes Like a Business”
With Pope Francis coming to the United States just a little over a week away, he has sent a very clear message to churches that use their tax-exempt status as a way to exploit their property for economic gain. Some churches are refusing to accept refugees into the buildings they own, instead preferring to use it to make money on rentals.
“Some religious orders say, ‘No, now that the convent is empty we are going to make a hotel and we can have guests and support ourselves that way, or make money,’” said Pope Francis. “Well, if that is what you do, then pay taxes! A religious school is tax-exempt because it is religious, but if it is functioning as a hotel, then it should pay taxes just like its neighbor. Otherwise it is not fair business.”
The practice of renting space in religious buildings is very common in Europe. The philosophy behind it, that Pope Francis describes, could very well undermine what many televangelists do in the United States. Rather than practicing their religion, these charlatans run lean businesses and make fat profits. If the church isn’t engaged in the business of the Church, as Pope Francis explained, then it’s time for them to pay their fair share of taxes!
What might that look like if believers then lobbied governments regarding the charitable use of church taxes?
The Yearly Cost of Religious Tax Exemptions – Patheos.com
Churches do use funds to lobby Congress and have been doing so for years. Corporate Lobbyists use part of their profits to keep their profits flowing … and to get the government to help protect their interests. This seems to be true for churches, especially regarding protection and imposition of their moral values.
Americans are leaving religion. Why are we still subsidizing it? – Washington Post opinion
Moreover, relying on churches to provide social services is hardly the mark of an enlightened society. A homeless person who happens to be a non-Christian should not have to depend on a local Christian church for help. In a modern pluralistic society, public resources should be available for social services. Instead, in America we use the tax code to prop up churches under the pretext that religious charity is essential.
As we reassess religious privilege in America, even the notion of having churches pay income taxes should be on the table. Critics say requiring churches to report income and expenses would somehow be an improper intrusion, but this argument fails under scrutiny. Such reporting, which virtually every person and organization in America does routinely, is minimally intrusive and no great burden. It’s hard to see how such basic accountability would be detrimental to the public good, though we can be sure that religious leaders, from televangelists preying on society’s most vulnerable to the nation’s leading bishops, will argue otherwise.
As Americans increasingly gravitate away from organized religion, it only makes sense that public policy will follow suit. Government need not be hostile to religion, but neither should it bestow upon it special privileges. The nonreligious are now one of the largest categories of religious demographics and growing, and that means changes are on the horizon in the business of religion.
And if the churches think taxation of their income is unfair … then let us express it in the same sacred religious terminology that is expressed to the people – as a tithe instead of the going tax rate …
Churches then should obey God and tithe 10% of their gross income as a deduction..
Gross, not Net. Net income isn’t allowed.
Then the churches should have a public yearly tithing review in which the tithing funds are receipted as proof of charitable giving
… Sauce for the goose.
**Charles Alexander Eastman (born Hakadah and later named Ohíye S’a; February 19, 1858 – January 8, 1939) was a Santee Dakota physician educated at Boston University, writer, national lecturer, and reformer. In the early 20th century, he was “one of the most prolific authors and speakers on Sioux ethnohistory and American Indian affairs.”
Eastman was of Santee Dakota, English and French ancestry. After working as a physician on reservations in South Dakota, he became increasingly active in politics and issues on native American rights, he worked to improve the lives of youths, and founded thirty-two Native American chapters of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). He also helped found the Boy Scouts of America. He is considered the first Native American author to write American history from the Native American point of view.