I started seeing a hashtag on Twitter a few weeks ago, and it seemed to show up for several weeks. In some cases, it is a negative response to the work and witness of the Church; in others, a reaction to missteps that Christian people have made.
There is a familiar narrative that churches should not be involved in speaking out on government policy, including the mistaken notion that Christians should not be attempting to save the lives of pre-born children.
There is hostility that is expressed through the hashtag, #taxthechurches. Some know that churches and religious non-profits are tax-exempt and believe they should be categorized as businesses. Certainly, there are some churches and leaders who have shown a propensity for selfishly acquiring and misappropriating financial resources.
That’s not Biblical Christianity, and those who diss the Church ignore the incredible force for good that exists among many believers today.
We do have to make sure that we are not our own worst enemy and engage in unforced errors regarding our witness to the world. We please the Lord first and foremost, and in seeking to please Him, we show the world our devotion to His Word and walk in love toward others.
You may ask: why do churches not pay taxes?
Almost two years ago, Focus on the Family Judicial Analyst Bruce Hausknecht wrote a piece at the Focus website, The Daily Citizen, about that topic. He stated:
Federal tax exemptions for religious donations date back to the First World War. To fund the war, the federal income tax top rate was raised significantly, but to ease fears that charitable giving would dry up because of the higher taxes, Congress added the exemption.
“Churches and religious organizations, like other charities, provide a social benefit to society. They minister to the needy and poor in their communities, and they provide an influence on society that helps to reduce crime and encourage good citizenship.”
Hausknecht notes that,
“Making churches and other religious organizations tax exempt is the cleanest way to avoid government entanglement with (and exercising undue influence over) religion,” and adds, “Keeping churches tax exempt removes the temptation from government to interfere with the free exercise of religion, also guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
He also writes:
By the time of the American Revolution, nine of the original thirteen colonies were giving some kind of tax relief to churches. The idea can be traced back to Roman times when Emperor Constantine granted the Christian church a complete exemption from all forms of taxation. Tax-exempt status for churches and religious organizations serves a continuing social benefit to American society and is consistent with our country’s commitment to keep the government from unnecessary entanglements with religion. It is a policy that is in keeping with the best social and constitutional traditions of this nation.
In the past, taxpayer funding was used for religious purposes. The First Amendment Encyclopedia from Middle Tennessee State University states:
The Congress that wrote the First Amendment also set aside in the Northwest Ordinance public land for churches. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson funded Christian missions for Indian tribes. Government programs for newly emancipated African Americans funneled much of their money through religious schools and social agencies. Local and state governments supported hospitals, medical clinics, orphanages, and homes for the aged operated by religious groups. Both state and federal governments have long granted tax breaks to religious institutions.
Governmental agencies have long recognized the unique positioning of faith-based organizations. This is certainly seen in the case of disaster relief and other areas. So, it is counterproductive for some citizens to advocate for a reduction or elimination of the influence of faith in general and the Christian faith specifically.
Even though our stories will be twisted, dismissed, or corrupted, we have to continue to tell what God has done in our lives and show His love to the world. It can be discouraging when we find ourselves disparaged, but we can continue to be faithful to do what God directs.
I would say that perhaps the margin for error is smaller than ever – He doesn’t call us to be perfect, because we never can achieve that lofty goal, but He does want us to be faithful. Through our faithfulness, we release the power of the Spirit to do His work through us. We can be diligent to keep focused on our mission.
Finally, even though you have those who want to tax churches and ministries which will lessen their effectiveness, we recognize that we can continue to be involved in supporting the work of the local church and ministries that are devoted to serving Christ. We can be involved in using the resources that God has provided in order for the work of Christ to grow.