Time to Tax Churches?

Times have changed. The human population has skyrocketed, and the need for funding is greater than ever. Continuing to give all churches humongous tax exemptions is an outdated provision, left over from the days of our founding fathers.

This very generous tax-free existence desperately needs to be re-examined in our modern culture.

Before I go further, I am specifically talking about the modern day “mega” churches with enough members to run an entire city, and net profits in the millions. (not the small local church your grandparents belonged to)

In these tough economic times, the American government cannot afford to continue the same old path. The world has changed, and we have to start thinking about the 7.5 billion people on the planet.

It is time for these churches to accept responsibility, support its citizens, and pay taxes… at least some.

A University of Tampa study concluded that granting churches this tax-exempt status is taking an arguable $71 billion or more from our economy every year. Furthermore, US churches own an estimated $300 to $500 billion in untaxed property.

The Lakewood Church in Houston, TX, for example, boasts the country’s largest congregation, and earns $75 million in annual untaxed revenue. The Church of Scientology’s annual income exceeds over $500 million. Pastor Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, leaders of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, live in a church-owned lakefront parsonage, worth $6.2 million, tax free.

According to the Tampa study, 71% of church revenues are allotted primarily to operating expenses. The Mormon church, like many other churches, spends only .7% of its annual income on charity.  Compare these numbers to the American Red Cross, and the numbers are reversed. The Red Cross allocates 92.1% of its annual income for charitable assistance, and only 7.9% on operating expenses.  

U.S. churches have officially received these federal income and property tax exemptions since 1894. Traditionally, the government granted these tax privileges to churches because of the presumed positive contributions they are making to the community.

Another problem? The current the tax code makes no distinction between authentic religions and fraudulent start-up churches. In 2010, Oklahoma awarded tax exempt status to Satanist group, The Church of the IV Majesties.

I am not saying to drowned these churches, or remove all the perks, per say. They do serve a purpose, and need community support. However, maybe some tax should, at least, be imposed on churches who generate these high levels of revenue.

The degree of charity demonstrated by some churches does not equal the amount of financial perks that are freely given by our government. There is so much humanitarian need that continues to be neglected.

Meanwhile the “mega” church up the street has a new Jesus statue, or a ridiculously expensive event to attract new members. (FYI: This is called marketing.)

No matter how humble its beginnings, the church has now become big business. From my perspective, some churches have become a cross between a booming economic business, and a social club.

Often, the amount humanitarian aid that is given, no matter how well intended, is not enough to justify these tax breaks. Why does the pastor of a mega church need to have a million dollar estate? ( …and how do they sleep at night?) Somehow it seems like the priorities are a bit off here.

It just may be time to impose taxes that can be used to feed the world, reduce poverty, and improve the quality of lives of millions of people.

Do we really need another giant Jesus statue on the side of the highway, or could that money be better spent helping aid people in need?