The round table question is “Can you make an argument in support of, or against, the tax-exempt status of churches, which some estimate is worth more than $80 billion a year in the U.S.?”
As a taxpayer, community member and founder of a local church I personally and professionally recognize both sides of the argument. However, I fully support churches and their tax-exempt status.
It is important to add context and history to this round table question. The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) classifies churches as 501 (c) (3) nonprofit charitable organizations. This means churches are exempt from federal income tax and can accept tax-deductible donations.
Churches are not only classified as Christian churches, but this also applies to temples and synagogues. Tracing back to early history, as American principles were established, you will find in your research from the Roman Empire to the American Revolution to the 19th century to 2019, churches have always experienced a form of tax relief.
Tax exemption upholds the separation of church and state. The government should not be involved with church finances. Chief Justice John Marshall stated back in 1819 “the power to tax involves the power to destroy.” Upholding the separation of church and state restricting the government’s authority to interfere in the free exercise of religion is a right that belongs to all of us.
Tax exemption was not enacted as legislation until the Tariff Act was passed by Congress in 1894. This exemption provided tax exemptions to “corporations, companies, or associations organized and conducted solely for charitable, religious, or educational purposes."
Later the Tariff Act was declared unconstitutional in 1896, however, the church tax exemption was reinstated by the Revenue Act of 1913 which we use today to define the modern American income tax system.
Churches are pillars of the community. Many people see them as a place of worship. However, churches are much more than a place of worship. Churches serve as a common ground for people to gather as community and learn how marriages can be restored, how families can overcome dysfunction, how soul (mind/will/emotions) can be healed and much more. It’s an institution to educate and inform.
Since Biblical times, churches have been addressing the social determents of health. Churches have tackled the adverse experiences and walked community members through stages of birth to death. Ministry is not clear-cut but we are focused on transformation and ministry outcomes. You cannot put a price on life change, healing or any other impact Christ brings. Tax exemptions allows those dollars to be allocated to advance the mission. Respectfully, the uncompensated care churches have provided over the years, across the country outweighs the $80 billion.
If you are not already a giver in your local church, I invite you to begin working God into your economic equation with tithing and show generosity towards life change by sowing an offering. Your gift is tax deductible and nothing trumps the impact Christ can make in a life and family. You are loved, highly favored, respected, over comer, victorious, and winning in life.