In the United States, churches are considered non-profit organizations and thus do not have to pay taxes to the IRS. Some people take great issue with that and believe many churches abuse their tax-exempt status for self-gain or political influence. Others seem willing to die on the hill to keep the tax-exempt status. Should churches be tax-exempt? How important should this issue be for Christians?
It Makes Sense
In general, churches being tax-exempt makes perfect sense. The church is not a business trying to turn a profit. In most cases, they just want to keep their doors open and serve their communities. If all churches suddenly had to pay additional taxes every year, it would add extra financial strain and likely close many doors. It would certainly be nice not to have the government making the church’s mission more difficult.
Should Some Lose that Exempt Status?
However, it would be naïve to think that no church will step outside of that mission. A frustrating number of “churches” seem more focused on either gaining money or power. It’s easy to be sympathetic when looking at the small local church trying to keep a community of believers together. One can’t help but be cynical when looking at the big megachurch that has no shortage of funds and seems to have its priorities off. We’d all love to see pressure put onto a cult organization hiding behind the church banner or a con artist abusing the name of Christ. However, I am not convinced that blanket taxation of all churches is the most appropriate answer.
Political Involvement and the Johnson Amendment
The other reason some oppose having churches be tax-exempt is when they get involved in politics. I’m not going to comment on whether or not churches should be highly political or endorse policies and candidates. I will just add a few things. First, the Johnson Amendment, which serves as the main law regarding this issue, was originally written because of churches opposing Johnson’s election. It was hardly neutral legislation to begin with. Second, despite the constant debate, the amendment is rarely ever enforced. Even if it was enforced how bad would that be? How committed are you to your political views within the church? Are you committed enough to pay for them? Maybe that shouldn’t be required, but it wouldn’t be the end of the church. If being political in church isn’t worth paying for, how much is it worth?
The Church Will Survive
In my opinion, this should not be our hill to die on. The tax exemption is nice but hardly the foundation of the Christian church in America. This entire question has less to do with scripture and theology and more about politics and modern church practice. Those are important but should not be the primary focus of the church. Christianity has endured far worse than extra financial cost. If churches cease to be tax-exempt, God’s grace and his gospel will continue to be shared.
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