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Pay To Pray?


NORM
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As I was exploring the Jewish faith a few years back, I discovered that many Jewish communities voluntarily pay property taxes to the local communities where they reside. This was quite a radical concept to my formerly fundy-stained sensibilities.

 

Their reasoning is thus: often, church property occupies prime real estate in the community in which it exists. As a people concerned with the health, welfare and happiness of their fellow man, to rob - yes; they used the word "rob" - the local community of the just portion of property taxes would be an affront to G-d.

 

I also discovered another truth about the Jewish community. Tithing among MEMBERS is not optional! Now, if you are not a member of the synagogue and community, then you were not required to pay tithes. However, if you wished to partake of the communal events, celebrations, have your children Bar / Bat Mitvah'd - you were required to pay up! Some synagogues would actually retain copies of your W-2 forms to make sure your tithe was accurately calculated. There were accommodations for those suffering job loss or other hardship, but generally; if you were a member, you had to pay.

 

I thought this made a lot of sense.

 

I mean, I am a member of many local organizations such as Rotary, for example. There are dues to pay. If you don't pay your dues, you can't wear the pin. Simple enough.

 

So, I once brought this to the Church Council for consideration.

 

You would have thought I had just asked the church to sacrifice their first born! My motion was unanimously voted down and the Chair of the Church took me aside and suggested I was spending too much time with the Jews in town. I taught a Sunday School class on Judaism, and often brought in the local Rabbi much to his consternation.

 

So, my question to this community is this: why is it moral to occupy prime real estate in our cities without paying our fair share in support to the poor, elderly and infirm? And, in the case of many evangelical churches these days, they aren't exactly burning up the world in humanitarian outreach.

 

On a related topic: with so many churches these days barely able to pay the light bill, why do we not require members to tithe?

 

NORM

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So, my question to this community is this: why is it moral to occupy prime real estate in our cities without paying our fair share in support to the poor, elderly and infirm? And, in the case of many evangelical churches these days, they aren't exactly burning up the world in humanitarian outreach.

 

On a related topic: with so many churches these days barely able to pay the light bill, why do we not require members to tithe?

 

NORM

 

Norm,

 

Just to start the ball rollin....

 

I personally think Churches should be required to pay real estate taxes just like other businesses and individuals who own property. Perhaps our legislators will someday change our current policy.

 

As far as Christian churches requiring tithing, in my view that would be putting oneself back under the law. It is recorded that Paul wrote "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, [so let him give]; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver." Obviously, if it were a requirement, it would be given out of necessity and for many probably grudgingly.

 

Joseph

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As far as Christian churches requiring tithing, in my view that would be putting oneself back under the law. It is recorded that Paul wrote "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, [so let him give]; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver." Obviously, if it were a requirement, it would be given out of necessity and for many probably grudgingly.

 

Joseph

 

The following is not considered part of The Law, but rather a direct commandment from G-d:

 

י הָבִיאוּ אֶת-כָּל-הַמַּעֲשֵׂר אֶל-בֵּית הָאוֹצָר, וִיהִי טֶרֶף בְּבֵיתִי, וּבְחָנוּנִי נָא בָּזֹאת, אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת: אִם-לֹא אֶפְתַּח לָכֶם, אֵת אֲרֻבּוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַהֲרִיקֹתִי לָכֶם בְּרָכָה, עַד-בְּלִי-דָי. Malachi 3:10 - Bring ye the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now herewith, saith the L-RD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall be more than sufficiency.

 

So, the Bible is most definitely conflicted on the subject. I've never quite understood why Christians seem OK with ignoring the commandments of the Tanakh, yet hang on every word that comes out of the mouth of Paul.

 

I think that if churches wish to survive, they ought to look into making tithing a requirement of membership. That's just my opinion. I know it will never happen. Actually, I'm kind of glad. It doesn't bother me in the least that every year I visit Chicago I see another church converted into a hip, new night club!

 

Imagine if taxes were voluntary!

 

NORM

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There is a large evangelical church in our community which requires tithing if one is to participate in any of their activities. The senior pastor also lives in a very large mcmansion and drives a fleet of expensive cars. Of course, each church has the right to require whatever they wish of their congregation. But, I would not attend a church with compulsory tithing.

 

George

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There is a large evangelical church in our community which requires tithing if one is to participate in any of their activities. The senior pastor also lives in a very large mcmansion and drives a fleet of expensive cars. Of course, each church has the right to require whatever they wish of their congregation. But, I would not attend a church with compulsory tithing.

 

George

 

Would you consider it were the church more responsible and had a really aggressive mission to the poor in the community? That's what I had in mind when I made my proposal. I wanted to set up a food pantry and job counseling center at our location.

 

NORM

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There is a large evangelical church in our community which requires tithing if one is to participate in any of their activities. The senior pastor also lives in a very large mcmansion and drives a fleet of expensive cars. Of course, each church has the right to require whatever they wish of their congregation. But, I would not attend a church with compulsory tithing.

 

George

 

BTW, what's the name of this church? I've never heard of an evangelical church that had mandatory tithing. I searched for one as an example to present to the Council. I couldn't find even one.

 

NORM

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Would you consider it were the church more responsible and had a really aggressive mission to the poor in the community? That's what I had in mind when I made my proposal. I wanted to set up a food pantry and job counseling center at our location.

 

NORM

 

Another problem with compulsory tithing is the burden it would impose on poorer members. Fixed rate, compulsory giving is much like regressive taxes (flat or relatively flat-rate taxes). If I oppose regressive taxation (which I do), I should also oppose regressive charitable giving for the same reason.

 

As an example, a person on the line of poverty who gives 10% would fall below the poverty level. On the other hand, Bill Gates can give 10% and remain among the richest persons in the world.

 

George

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Another problem with compulsory tithing is the burden it would impose on poorer members. Fixed rate, compulsory giving is much like regressive taxes (flat or relatively flat-rate taxes). If I oppose regressive taxation (which I do), I should also oppose regressive charitable giving for the same reason.

 

As an example, a person on the line of poverty who gives 10% would fall below the poverty level. On the other hand, Bill Gates can give 10% and remain among the richest persons in the world.

 

George

 

As I said previously, those less fortunate are taken care of. Below a certain income level, there would be no tithe. The more well off would cover their portion.

 

NORM

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I think the reason churches historically have been exempt from taxes in general is every dollar they paid in taxes was a dollar that wasn't used for mission. These days that is still somewhat true in most situations. Since the 60's the government has taken over many of the projects traditionally supported by the churches. Many churches especially the "mega church" abuse this by paying mega salaries and supporting a questionable mission field.

 

Should churches be exempt? If the municipalities see benefit to the community then yes. If not then no.

 

I would never belong to a congregation that requires tithing. I think something important occurs when a person sits down to decide who and what he/she will support.

 

steve

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I think the reason churches historically have been exempt from taxes in general is every dollar they paid in taxes was a dollar that wasn't used for mission. steve

 

Steve, there is also a legal question related to the First Amendment. Taxing churches would give the state power over religious practice.

 

George

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I think the reason churches historically have been exempt from taxes in general is every dollar they paid in taxes was a dollar that wasn't used for mission. These days that is still somewhat true in most situations. Since the 60's the government has taken over many of the projects traditionally supported by the churches. Many churches especially the "mega church" abuse this by paying mega salaries and supporting a questionable mission field.

 

Should churches be exempt? If the municipalities see benefit to the community then yes. If not then no.

 

I would never belong to a congregation that requires tithing. I think something important occurs when a person sits down to decide who and what he/she will support.

 

steve

 

Steve,

 

This is true. The government is doing what the churches used to do. We attended an inner city church a while back that had a huge, commercial size kitchen and dining hall. They used it for church functions and coffee hour after church. Once I asked why it was so huge. A senior member of the church said that at one time, the church served hot meals every day to the poor in the community.

 

I agree with Steve. If you don't use it, you should lose it. A church should have to justify its occupation of prime real estate.

 

BTW, the First Amendment does not protect churches from taxation. That only developed because of what Steve said - communities felt that churches were of value.

 

NORM

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BTW, the First Amendment does not protect churches from taxation. That only developed because of what Steve said - communities felt that churches were of value.

 

NORM

 

I think you had better recheck the law.

 

George

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BTW, the First Amendment does not protect churches from taxation. That only developed because of what Steve said - communities felt that churches were of value.

 

NORM

 

Norm, I decided to go back and check my memory about the 1st Amendment issue in taxing churches. I didn't do an extensive review, but found that it is an issue although not as clear cut as I remembered (as with most Constitutional issues).

 

There is quite a discussion of the legal issues in the Supreme Court case WALZ v. TAX COMMISSION OF CITY OF NEW YORK (1970). The question in this case is more about whether an exemption is constitutional than whether taxing is prohibited.

 

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=397&invol=664

 

It states "It is significant that Congress, from its earliest days, has viewed the Religion Clauses of the Constitution as authorizing statutory real estate tax exemption to religious bodies."

 

The court concludes, "It appears that at least up to 1885 this Court, reflecting more than a century of our history and uninterrupted practice, accepted without discussion the proposition that federal or state grants of tax exemption to churches were not a violation of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. As to the New York statute, we now confirm that view."

 

It seems that courts have decided that church exemption from taxes does not violate the Constitution. However, it also doesn't seem that they are prohibited from taxation under the 1st Amendment.

 

George

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If I understand the rules correctly, churches are exempted from paying taxes because they're classified as charities and charities aren't required to pay taxes. This is also why churches are banned from endorsing political candidates as secular charities are also banned from endorsing political candidates. There was a recent case in the news where the Interfaith Alliance sued a church for endorsing Bobby Jindal. Many evangelical churches complain about how this takes away their freedom of speech but it doesn't really. The churches can endorse the candidate if they wish. They just have to lose their tax exempt status if they do. My position is that if churches wish to be exempt from taxes on the basis that they're charities, churches should be held to the same standards as secular charities. I think the rules should be extended to include political issues and not just candidates. Like if the Mormon church donates lots of time and money to supporting Prop 8, they should be stripped of their tax exempt status for endorsing a political issue. Churches should also be banned from discrimination against minorities like they are in the UK. If churches wish to be counted as the same as secular charities, they should be banned from firing employees simply for being gay like churches are in the UK and they should also be banned from refusing to give to someone simply because of their sexuality or religious belief. I also think that rather than requiring all members to tithe, I think churches should be banned from using donations for personal usage. Like televangelists should be banned from using love offerings to buy that new Mercedes they've wanted and donations should be required to be used for charity work only.

Edited by Neon Genesis
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I think you will find that churches do not need to be classified as a charity to be exempt from federal taxes. There is no requirement to be a 5013C to be classified as a church even though many do so. They usually do so they can get a certificate of exemption to display to contributors and there is no question that they qualify as a church. From my understanding and study It is indeed the first amendment as originally interpreted that gives churches freedom from control by state. And to me it is certainly a perceived fact that when an entity such as a government has the power to tax you, they certainly have been given power over you that can potentially destroy the separation that the first amendment intended to protect. While there are requirements to be considered a church, there is no requirement to be a charity or for a church to file a church tax return. This does not however exclude filing paperwork and tax documents where personal wages are paid.

 

This link , if read in its entirety, makes it fairly clear that even though most all churches file for 5013c tax exempt status and then come under its rules, it is and has never been a requirement to be considered tax exempt for churches.

 

Joseph

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Neon,

 

Bob Jones University lost its tax-exempt status because it banned inter-racial dating.

 

The involvement of churches and politics is a sticky issue. It is clear that churches cannot endorse candidates or contribute to campaigns. However, it becomes, I think, more problematic on social issues that have also become political issues. It is hard, I think, for churches to divorce their values from their religious services and activities. Should a church be prohibited from supporting gay rights or pro-choice laws? Must a church remain silent on a war that its members think is unjust? If these are allowed, then shouldn't the opposite values be allowed to be expressed?

 

George

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I think whether liberal or conservative churches all-together have been too political as a whole and churches should let individual members decide for themselves whether to support gay rights or abortion rights rather than having a preacher on the pulpit telling them what to think.

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I think whether liberal or conservative churches all-together have been too political as a whole and churches should let individual members decide for themselves whether to support gay rights or abortion rights rather than having a preacher on the pulpit telling them what to think.

 

It is hard for me think of political issues that don't involve our value system (or vice versa) - universal health care, the burden of taxation, food stamps, foreign aid, where budget cuts should be made, etc., etc., etc.

 

During the health-care debate, I went to several meetings advocating universal health care at churches and the speakers were pastors of different Christian denominations. During the Iraq war, I went to several rallies against it with my pastor. Virtually all the heads of mainline churches spoke out against the Iraq War.

 

I prefer that churches advocate for the poor, for social justice, against unjust war and the like. They are, or should be IMO, a moral institution and should take stands on moral issues in the public domain.

 

George

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You can take a stand on moral issues without bringing politics into it. Jesus took moral stands all the time yet he never told his followers which politicians they should support or what political issues they should be against. The only time Jesus addressed politics directly was when he was asked if they should pay taxes to Caesar and even then he responded with his "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" non-answer. The mainline churches may have spoke out against the Iraq war but then fundamentalist Christians used the bible to justify it and Bush claimed God told him to invade Iraq as his justification. Preachers are often all too eager to use God to back up their side in a debate and more often than not invoking God is more of a conversation stopper in political debates than a bridge builder. When a preacher invokes God to back their side in a political debate, what they are saying is that the creator of the universe agrees with them on this and if you disagree with the preacher, you're not only disagreeing with them but you're disobeying God and how dare anyone try to disagree with God. Just like Jesus took moral stands without taking political stands, churches can do the same too.

 

You don't have to tell the congregation to vote for gay marriage to make your church as welcoming to gays as possible. You don't have to require your denomination to take a stand on the morality of abortion to provide the flock with reliable info on how to prevent pregnancies by using condoms and birth control. These days one's Christian label is tied to their political label and you can tell what a person's political beliefs are simply by asking where they go to church. If you go to a UCC or the Episcopal church, it's a sure bet you're probably going to have more liberal political beliefs whereas you can bet that someone who goes to a Southern Baptist church or a Pentecostal church is probably a Sarah Palin fan. The negative result of this is that Christians who have liberal religious beliefs but conservative political beliefs may feel unwelcome in liberal churches while fundamentalist Christians who have liberal political beliefs but conservative religious beliefs feel ostracized in conservative churches. Many churches have this idea that unless they can tell their members how to vote that this will lead to the moral decay of our nation and we won't be able to figure out who to vote for next election. I frankly find such a view to be rather patronizing and insulting to my intelligence that churches think I can't figure this out on my own. I don't see why preachers are needed to tell me how to vote when they aren't any more of an expert on sexuality or reproduction than I am and more often than not, I feel like I know more about the issues than most preachers do.

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Neon,

 

A few points in response.

 

First, I think there is no comparability between the relationship of government and citizens today in a modern democracy with Roman rule two thousand years ago. Further, the social issues we face today were nonexistent as public policy issues in Jesus' time. Jesus never had, or imagined, the opportunity to vote on gay marriage, universal health care, etc.

 

No, you don't have "to tell the congregation to vote for gay marriage to make your church as welcoming to gays as possible." Welcoming gays in the congregation is a positive beginning. But, the other part, IMO, is advocating for their rights in the wider society.

 

You say, "I don't see why preachers are needed to tell me how to vote when they aren't any more of an expert on sexuality or reproduction than I am and more often than not, I feel like I know more about the issues than most preachers do."

 

I have not suggested that preachers "tell me how to vote." But, I do appreciate preachers who are strong advocates of gay rights, social justice, universal health care, programs to help the poor, etc. and opponents of unjust war. To me, this is what makes the message of the Gospels relevant in our lives.

 

You say, I don't see why preachers are needed to tell me how to vote when they aren't any more of an expert on sexuality or reproduction than I am and more often than not, I feel like I know more about the issues than most preachers do." Their field of expertise is in the moral issues involving reproduction. And, it is worthwhile, IMO, to hear their views from a moral perspective.

 

If we are to check our moral values at the door or to deal with them only on some abstract level, I am not interested.

 

George

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No, you don't have "to tell the congregation to vote for gay marriage to make your church as welcoming to gays as possible." Welcoming gays in the congregation is a positive beginning. But, the other part, IMO, is advocating for their rights in the wider society.

What if you're a gay libertarian who thinks the government should stay out of marriage and that they should have civil unions for all sexualities? Would you be welcomed in a liberal church that promoted the legalization of same-sex marriage?

 

 

 

I have not suggested that preachers "tell me how to vote." But, I do appreciate preachers who are strong advocates of gay rights, social justice, universal health care, programs to help the poor, etc. and opponents of unjust war. To me, this is what makes the message of the Gospels relevant in our lives.
If the gospel should be reduced to a political rally, what becomes of the gospel when those social justice issues are legalized?

 

Their field of expertise is in the moral issues involving reproduction. And, it is worthwhile, IMO, to hear their views from a moral perspective.

Given the significant number of Christian preachers who get caught having sexual affairs or raping children, I don't see how preachers are any more of an expert on moral issues than Joe the Plumber.

 

If we are to check our moral values at the door or to deal with them only on some abstract level, I am not interested.

 

George

Lots of Americans would disagree with you on this. According to the Christian polling group, Barna, one of the biggest complaints non-Christians have about Christianity is that Christians are too political and this is one of the biggest reasons why non-Christians stay away from churches.
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It seems that courts have decided that church exemption from taxes does not violate the Constitution. However, it also doesn't seem that they are prohibited from taxation under the 1st Amendment.

 

George

 

Exactly. That's what I said. (BTW, I studied Constitutional Law for my Masters Degree). There are many things that are merely traditional that have the smell of constitutionality about them simply because they have been in place for so very long.

 

NORM

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If I understand the rules correctly, churches are exempted from paying taxes because they're classified as charities and charities aren't required to pay taxes. This is also why churches are banned from endorsing political candidates as secular charities are also banned from endorsing political candidates. There was a recent case in the news where the Interfaith Alliance sued a church for endorsing Bobby Jindal. Many evangelical churches complain about how this takes away their freedom of speech but it doesn't really. The churches can endorse the candidate if they wish. They just have to lose their tax exempt status if they do. My position is that if churches wish to be exempt from taxes on the basis that they're charities, churches should be held to the same standards as secular charities. I think the rules should be extended to include political issues and not just candidates. Like if the Mormon church donates lots of time and money to supporting Prop 8, they should be stripped of their tax exempt status for endorsing a political issue. Churches should also be banned from discrimination against minorities like they are in the UK. If churches wish to be counted as the same as secular charities, they should be banned from firing employees simply for being gay like churches are in the UK and they should also be banned from refusing to give to someone simply because of their sexuality or religious belief. I also think that rather than requiring all members to tithe, I think churches should be banned from using donations for personal usage. Like televangelists should be banned from using love offerings to buy that new Mercedes they've wanted and donations should be required to be used for charity work only.

 

There's an awful lot of banning and requiring going on in there! ;)

 

NORM

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I have not suggested that preachers "tell me how to vote." But, I do appreciate preachers who are strong advocates of gay rights, social justice, universal health care, programs to help the poor, etc. and opponents of unjust war. To me, this is what makes the message of the Gospels relevant in our lives.

 

You say, I don't see why preachers are needed to tell me how to vote when they aren't any more of an expert on sexuality or reproduction than I am and more often than not, I feel like I know more about the issues than most preachers do." Their field of expertise is in the moral issues involving reproduction. And, it is worthwhile, IMO, to hear their views from a moral perspective.

 

If we are to check our moral values at the door or to deal with them only on some abstract level, I am not interested.

 

George

 

I agree with George here. A church becomes boring if all they do is focus on themselves and micromanage 66 books. Nothing keeps me awake more on a Saturday morning than a politically bold sermon by the Rabbi, or on Sunday with a rousing rant against gay-bashing by Preacher Fred.

 

There is a very vibrant church in our downtown that employs a gay minister. She takes part in the annual Gay Pride festivities and is leading the way toward normalization of our gay brothers and sisters in the church community and the community at large. To me, this is what leadership in the church means.

 

To that end, I think it would be wise for churches to voluntarily give up their tax exempt status to stay out of church / state issues, and require those who wish to associate themselves with the work of the church to pony up their cash to make their voices more powerful in the community.

 

NORM

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