Has religion become just another big business? Is it time to end religious institutions’ tax-exempt status?

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-I’m a highly religious individual.  In fact, I’m so devout that I’ve dedicated my entire life to a course of preaching, so that people can enjoy the hope and happiness I have. Getting to know God is wonderful!  Since we received everything from God, I believe that we should give freely. That includes those so called religious leaders, of which the majority are spreading false doctrines to swindle people of the hard earned cash. In fact, some religious leaders profess that they are able to provide miraculous healing (for money), to rid individuals of their ailments. What garbage! If they had the power to heal, why are so many individuals dying from cancer?

This is my opinion, the majority of what is uttered from the mouths of these religious leaders is done in an attempt to get paid.  I’d also like to add that I don’t believe pastors and other highly regarded so-called devouted men and women should be paid to preach. That should be done voluntarily, without cost. Like I said, the Bible says we have received freely so we should give freely! Yes, so many religious organizations are focused on making money rather than spreading the word of God. Might I add, these religious leaders will have their reward in full.  They will reap what they sow.

On that note, should the government allow these institutions to pay taxes?  It depends. There are some religious organizations that are strictly about doing God’s work.  In fact, they are not paid for their services but they volunteer.  These religious establishments should not be allowed to pay taxes when they don’t benefit monetarily. However, for the ones that do, their taxes should be doubled!

Prescott Valley, NV Correspondent- Many people today are inclined to believe that religion has become another big business and that the tax exempt status for ministries, churches and other institutions should be eliminated.  Making decisions about religious entities does not fall in the same category as a large corporation or businesses, as leeway needs to be given to those who legitimately represent religion in a positive and charitable fashion and are not related to mega churches, televangelists, religious hucksters or others trying to make a fast buck off the name of a monotheistic god, no matter the religion.

Most average Christian churches have small member numbers, meet in simple moderate structures, and probably owe monthly mortgage payments that they have difficulty paying.  A majority of ministers are technically underpaid as they dispense the word on Sundays and selflessly comfort, support, teach and console their parishioners (whom they truly care for) the rest of the week.  They are more likely preparing sermons, scurrying for food pantry donations, or planning and heading retreats and camps for adults, youth and children.  Wearing different hats is the role of most pastors today and they are not in the business of running a corporately structured mega church and certainly deserve a tax exempt status for the work and services they provide.

Mega churches, prominent mega church leaders, and well-known schools of theology probably do profit exceedingly well, but at the same time, these churches, leaders and schools are providing a church atmosphere for believers as well as numerous educational opportunities along with support services to communities that local city and county governments are simply not dispersing.

The established and more organized denominations, such as the Catholic and Baptist Churches, expand their outreach even further through world-wide missions, international charities, hospitals, research facilities and other service-related work.  Not only do these larger denominations and non-denominational mega churches provide necessary community support, but they also provide services through their properties, assets and structural basis.  Many in the public find employment, counsel, relief and stability through these churches.  Today, religious institutions furnish both public service and an established belief system to those who want to be part of it.

Perhaps those religious institutions that are strictly making money and distributing it in a non-traditional sense should be investigated and their tax-exempt status questioned, probed and investigated   if improprieties are present.  If a mega church head or televangelist is absconding with funds, then investigations should be made by church members and leaders within the church (elders and deacons) to determine whether the pastor is indeed violating church law and should be relieved of his or her duties, properly investigated and prosecuted.

As far as ending the tax exempt status of religious institutions, the disallowance of the exemption should be completed on a case by case basis and seriously considered when an institution is using funds fraudulently, breaking laws at the federal and state levels, or using the institution for reasons other than the Great Commission.

Anyone can avoid organized religion for any number of reasons. No one is twisting the arms of those who are involved in and supporting those institutions, mega pastors and other highly prominent religious organizations, but relinquishment of the tax exempt status has to be seriously considered on an individual basis.

If tax laws for corporations and other businesses are going to face legislative changes in the coming months and years, religious institutions may face the same fate with changing tax structures, and there may be no exemptions at all.  Those criticizing the tax exempt status of religious institutions need to remember the often profound benefits that these organizations selflessly provide to others and the community at large.

 

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-When I lived in Houston, Second Baptist Church set about building an obscenely huge edifice on some prime real estate in near west Houston that I came to refer to as “the God barn.”  The sanctuary building dominated the landscape, and there was the sort of parking setup around it that one would associate with a sports stadium, not a church.

Six months after it opened, news came of homeless people walking on to church property looking for help and being arrested.

Contrast that with the small Episcopal church I attended in high school in Beaumont, Texas.  We were dwarfed by First Baptist and Trinity Methodist, but we were also the only church where people in need could ring the “monk’s bell” at any time day or night and receive food, clothing, assistance with shelter or even a few bucks to buy a bus ticket.  The roof occasionally leaked, the kitchen in the meeting hall was barely functional, but we always had help to give.

The reason I cite these is that taking away the tax-exempt status of churches shouldn’t be a blanket operation.  Instead, treat them like any 501c(3) charity and make them open their books.  If their charitable work doesn’t qualify them, then back on the tax rolls they go.  And while I’m at it, work needs to be done on the laws concerning charities. When my local United Way head honcho is making a half-million dollars a year, there’s something badly wrong with the system.

I’ve never been much of one to trot out “What Would Jesus Do?” to move a debate forward, but in this case I think it’s warranted. All these “prosperity gospel” pulpit-beaters and evangelists who live lavish lifestyles and excuse it by saying it’s OK with God need a reality check.  I think Jesus would likely tip over their tables and run them out of the temple.

 

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-Since the days of the first Catholic popes, nearly 2,000 years ago, religion has meant big business. Therefore, the question of whether religion in modern American society has become just another big business is only valid from the standpoint of how much power and influence religion wields in our society. That answer is definitely yes. One only needs to look at the polarization of politics with regard to social issues: abortion, gay marriage, immigration, racism, sexism, and public safety.

Moral conservatives, by many estimates, have hijacked the Republican Party either through their ability to amass large donations from wealthy individuals to fund conservative causes or through churches using their tax-exempt status to advocate political positions to their parishioners without being subject to the same financial and tax rules as non-religious groups.

Curtailing tax-exempt status for religions is a thorny issue because of the Constitutional clauses regarding separation of Church and State. Under the law now, any religious group, no matter how crazy, radical, or small, enjoys tax-exempt status. Ending tax-exempt status would probably induce large, established religions with well-entrenched memberships and infrastructures to lobby aggressively in Washington, D.C. for political favors that weren’t needed when they were tax-exempt. This would either force out smaller religions, just as big businesses lobby for onerous regulations that hamper small businesses; or force them to form coalitions with other small religions that would put them on equal footing with large religions.

This shift of parishioner dollars from donations intended for a church’s ministry to lobbying dollars intended to curry political favor will only impoverish any church’s religious mission. The losers will be the poor, the needy, and the unfortunate—those who are currently served most by churches. The winners will be lobbyists and politicians who will consolidate even more political influence and power by adding religious institutions to their donor list. Until our country comes up with a better solution to keeping Church and State separate, religious institutions should keep their tax-exempt status.

 

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