The taxation in the United States is multilevel and separated according to local governments and state governments. These include income taxes, payroll and property taxes, taxes on sales, capital gains, and dividends, import taxes, taxes on estates and gifts along with taxes on various fees. However, there are also tax exemptions that reduce or eliminate income taxes. Tax exemptions occur in duty free shops at airports or are valid for veterans and taxpayers with children.
Though there is more to it. The 1861 federal income tax exempted religious, charitable, educational, and scientific organizations, thus making churches and the parsonage tax exempt. The time of this decision was the peak of conservativism and Christianity, but seeing these laws in action today raises many concerns.
Within the past several decades, Christianity has become a source of high incomes and controversy. Televangelists like Robert Tilton may be a target for ridicule by many but they are still thriving in the US. Take a look at one of his performances below.
Many pastors use the prosperity gospel arguing that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and donations will result in wealth coming back to the giver in order to get money from their followers. But as experience shows, this money is mainly spent on luxurious private goods. In the Old Testament, priests were exempted from taxation by Pharaoh (Gen. 47:26) and by King Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:24). Under the laws of Israel, Levites, the priestly tribe, actually received some sort of a tax. God decreed, “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting” (Num. 18:21). As one scholar said, “churches are more private club than public good, so why do they need tax exemptions?”
When the same-sex marriage was fully legalized in the US, it seemed like equality of opportunities and rights would win in all aspects of the society and state. Nevertheless, religious institutions received assurance that regardless of their support or opinions on same-sex marriages they would not lose their tax exemptions. Even though this is not a hot topic of discussion today, debates about whether churches should be taxed or not still continues. Defenders of tax exemptions argue that getting rid of this right, charitable giving would drop immensely. Even though it would, it really is a non-issue. Most of this charitable giving goes to funding pastors and leaders to buy themselves jets and other luxurious goods. On the other hand, if churches do pay taxes, the government revenue would go up and that money would help to house the homeless, for instance, or feed the poor.
The study conducted at the Anglo-American University shows that around 70 percent agrees that all organizations should be taxed, while only 52.6 percent thinks that all non-profit organizations should be taxed as well. Considering the fact that 64 percent asked were aware of US churches being tax exempt, 74 percent agreed that they should pay taxes with 6 percent marking unsure. The hypocrisy of Christianity and the intactness of churches is gradually being noticed by the public’s eye and as this and many other surveys show, the inclination is more towards abolishing church’s and clergymen’s tax exemptions.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily represent the stance of the Lennon Wall staff or Anglo American University.
Cover image by Tim Dallinger