Ending Tax Exemptions Means Ending Churches

Ending Tax Exemptions Means Ending Churches

A call for ending tax exemptions for churches and religious institutions is a call to close them down—or at least to plunder them of their property.
Denny Burk
By

Mark Oppenheimer of The New York Times is now calling for the government to remove tax-exempt status from churches. After I posted a link to his article on Facebook, a pastor friend commented: “I’m not sure our small church could survive.” That, my friends, is the point. And Oppenheimer knows it.

Legal gay marriage is not the endgame for the gay-rights movement. It never was. Moral approval is the endgame. The agenda is not tolerance for different beliefs and lifestyles. The agenda is a demand that everyone get on board with the moral revolution or be punished. That means if you or your church won’t get with the program, then the revolutionaries will endeavor to close you down.

But they aren’t going to say,”We’ll close you down,” in so many words. They will cover it in propaganda that conceals their real aim. They’ll say, as Oppenheimer does, that taxpayers are “subsidizing” churches, that ministers make fat-cat six-figure salaries, and that government should get those rich priests and preachers off the government dole.

Never mind that the average base salary of a full-time senior pastor ranges from $33,000 to $70,000 (source). Never mind that ministers do pay income taxes. Never mind that it is absurd to suggest not paying taxes is a subsidy. Never mind that exemptions do function to keep church and state out of one another’s business. That doesn’t fit the fictional narrative activists wish to advance—that these churches don’t deserve to have their “subsidy” continued in light of their intolerable views on sexuality.

The real intent of removing tax-exempt status is to cripple the institutions that continue their dissent from the sexual revolution.

No, the real intent of removing tax-exempt status is to cripple the institutions that continue their dissent from the sexual revolution. When tax exemptions are removed, donors will give far less than they are giving now. Churches will become liable to property taxes. That means that many churches will have to forfeit their property to the government because they won’t be able to afford the taxes they have to pay on it. Many of them wouldn’t be able to pay them now. If donations went down, they would be that much further from being able to pay them. As a result, churches that reside on valuable properties in urban locations would be immediately vulnerable. Eventually, so would everyone else.

Oppenheimer knows this. That is why he argues that if churches can’t raise the money for their new tax burden, then they don’t deserve to retain their property. After all, he argues, the government would do a better job than churches at meeting the needs of their community. He concludes, “So yes, the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions… When that day comes, it will be long overdue.”

A call for ending tax exemptions for religious institutions is a call to close them down—or at least to plunder them of their property.

So let’s put aside the propaganda and say clearly what Oppenheimer is calling for. A call for ending tax exemptions for religious institutions is a call to close them down—or at least to plunder them of their property. That is what is going on here. Think of the irreparable harm that would follow if and when these many small churches are effectively forced to close their doors—harm that will come not only to these ministers and parishioners themselves, but also to the poor and vulnerable: lost foster-care services, tutoring of teens, material and spiritual relief for the poor, and character development, often in the places it is needed most.

I am wondering if the average gay-marriage supporter flying the rainbow on his or her Facebook profile knew he or she was signing-up for this when agreeing to support gay marriage? I doubt it. Surely we can come up with more sensible ways for people of good will to hold their differing views—ways that don’t involve annihilating one another. Oppenheimer’s suggestion is not an encouraging sign. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.

When some of us warned of the religious-liberty implications of making gay marriage a fundamental constitutional right, we were told that such things would never happen. What they really meant was, “That will never happen, but when it does you Christians will deserve it.” Oppenheimer is making the case for why he thinks we deserve it.

Oppenheimer says the Supreme Court has now “settled” the issue. Hardly. This is far from over.

Denny Burk is a Professor of Biblical Studies and Ethics at Boyce College.

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