Tristero: It’s Not the Politics, It’s the Collection Plate

Tristero correctly points out those churches that are concerned that they will lose their tax exempt status have a solution to their problems:

…this is a lie because the reverend knows very well that the IRS is not banning him from endorsing a candidate. He is quite free to do so. Likewise, his church is also free to endorse whoever they want to.
All they need to do – and it’s no big deal, really, unless the reverend and his church worship filthy mammon above all – is to forgo tax-exempt status…

Where I kind of disagree with Tristero is with this:

Maybe, but it is an indication of how desperate christianists are becoming that they would solicit churches to lose their tax exemptions. For many christianist “churches,” that is the holiest of sacraments.* And there is no better illustration than this that there is nothing religious about the so-called “religious” right. This is first and foremost a political movement that has co-opted religious symbols and tropes merely for secular gain.

I think some, if not many, of the theopolitically conservative churches engage in political advocacy because it helps raise funds for the church. It’s not that these churches–or at least their leaders–have been suckered into politics. The decision to engage in political advocacy is a fundraising strategy–they’re using the politicians as much as the other way around. I have no doubt that these leaders actually believe in this crap, but a church ministry needs money.
Just as environmental groups will show baby seals, health groups will show sick children, these churches will wave the Bloody Fetus. When I worked at a non-profit policy group, I (and my colleagues too) were very aware that an opportunity to promote our messages was also an opportunity to increase our fundraising profile. There was overhead and salary to pay, after all.
For a large church (or a national ‘ministry’), the organization has to have a little meter that clocks how much money they’ve raised on a daily basis–there’s no Church (or Non-Profit) Fairy. So whipping your supporters into a frenzy over The Bloody Fetus, the Darwinists, and the Homosexual Agenda is a superb fundraising tool. The problem is that if you engage in actual political advocacy, it’s illegal, unless you relinquish your tax exemption.
And there’s no money in that, which is what’s causing these churches to panic. Remember that many of these guys are the lineal descendants of Elmer Gantry…

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10 Responses to Tristero: It’s Not the Politics, It’s the Collection Plate

  1. PhysioProf says:

    Yeah, those lying sacks of shit are just afraid they’re going to have to use after-tax money to buy their fucking private jets and mansions.

  2. Art says:

    I have never understood the whole tax exempt status thing for religions and non-profits. Perhaps it goes back to times when the state and local governments had very few services and so it could be assumed that the financial burden on the municipality created by these groups was either so small it was negligible or nonexistent.
    The problem is that the burden posed by even a small church on a municipality is not insignificant. The traffic burden on the roads, the need to provide police and fire protection, the use by the churches and nonprofits of pubic school trained people and the removal from the tax roles of otherwise taxable property is indeed a burden. A burden that these organization shirk and force to be carried by the taxpayers.
    To me tax exempt doesn’t make sense. Instead there should be tax neutrality. Everyone pays the same basic tax load. Churches and nonprofits should be protected from any additional tax burden over and above this basic load but they shouldn’t be able to get a free ride on the backs of other taxpayers. Or be tax exempt.

  3. CanadianChick says:

    Art, that’s basically correct – exemption for churches originally came about because they provided most of the social services we now pay taxes to fund. Before income tax, property taxes would have accounted for a large portion of a district’s revenues, therefore churches were exempt, as they were seen to be providing a general “good” to the community.
    the other rationale is because donations to churches come from tax paid money (again, before tax credits for donations arose) to tax churches on their revenue would result in double taxation (the income tax rationale).

  4. Janne says:

    CC, that last argument doesn’t really work. By the same token, anything any private person buys is being bought by money already taxed, and you could argue the same for corporations (that do pay taxes as well). With that line of thought, anything except income should be tax exempt – and as personal income is paid via already taxed corporate earnings, probably not even that.
    Probably sounds great for some libertarians out there, until you have to start figuring out how to finance anything with the resulting level of tax income.

  5. drdrA says:

    Ok, sorry- with or without engaging in political advocacy churches should pay taxes. Full stop. Why all the sensitivity to ‘religion’ these are businesses and should be treated as such.
    If they want to enjoy tax exempt status – they should become non-profit corporations, and the salaries of their leaders should be capped.
    I mean SERIOUSLY.

  6. tristero says:

    I agree with you: sometimes – probably more often than not – politicking is a fund-raising tactic. Regarding the taxing of churches, I think it is the only leverage the gov. has to keep the churches out of the state. If they paid taxes, they would rightly demand formal, full representation. Given the numbers, this country could very quickly become a full-bore theocracy.

  7. Ross says:

    Satisfying as it is to imagine all these churches as a bunch of corrupt fatcats looking to get rich, I think it’s disingenuous to ignore the fact that ,at least for *some* of these churches, or, perhaps more accurately , for some of the people in most of these churches, it’s rather less about the money per se, and rather more about the fact that losing your tax exempt status has a sort of implicit sense of “The Government is saying that your religion does not count as a “real” religion.”

  8. drdrA says:

    ‘If they paid taxes, they would rightly demand formal, full representation. Given the numbers, this country could very quickly become a full-bore theocracy.’
    Ok, sorry again- but the dominant Christian religions in this country right now at this moment and for the last 7.something years have the PRESIDENCY. They have already bought representation, that ship has sailed. The national policy of this country IS being made on religious principle- for many many areas- (stem cell research, faith based initiatives, etc.).
    And regarding ‘formal’ representation- not that it matters that much right now but the establishment clause of the first amendment would (and should) prevent that. Not that it’s doing much good at this moment, but nevertheless.

  9. Ross says:

    drdrA: “And regarding ‘formal’ representation- not that it matters that much right now but the establishment clause of the first amendment would (and should) prevent that.”
    That’s kind of the point. Part of the reason churches get a tax-exempt status is that the constitution basically says “You don’t get representation.” If you take away the tax-exempt status, you’re saying “You have to pay taxes, but you don’t get any say in how those taxes are used.” Or, to put it succinctly, “Taxation without representation.” You don’t have to be religious to find that a bit problematic.

  10. drdrA says:

    Hmm. where to start. I’ve only got a minute- so let’s just say this. Corporations that pay taxes in this country do not generally get to decide how their tax dollars are spent by any formal mechanism, large corporations DO NOT HAVE A VOTE. ‘taxation without representation’ that you refer to traditionally means no taxation by parliament without representation in parliament. If we go by this definition, tax paying corporations don’t get this either. They do however, exert influence legislators to shape policy in their favor in other less formal ways, of course… they lobby legislators, they write policy that gets incorporated into legislation etc.
    So explain to me how any of these religious establishments is different then? They are in fact more powerful in that they have the votes (of their members that they clearly influence), but they don’t have to pay for that. And we KNOW that they participate in politics- to pretend that they don’t is just complete ignorance. So they have actually got representation without taxation.

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