The Church, Politics, and the IRS

Jesus and his disciples traveled unto the outskirts of Jerusalem where they would rest for the night before heading into the city. When they were settled, Jesus told two of his disciples to go into the city and procure an ass and a colt, which he knew was available for them. They did as they were required and returned. [1]

It is a popular biblical story of Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem. Clearly if he was moved to do so, he could have acquired a chariot, decorated steeds, and arrived in the best comfort and luxury the era had to offer. However, in his legendary way, he humbly entered the city on this hybrid equidae and began healing, teaching, and moving closer to his crucifixion.

How the story would be different if Jesus had acquired a chauffeured Lexus to pick him up after his private jet with “JC” on the tail wing arrived at Jerusalem International where he would talk about piety, working for daily bread, and doing without in the name of charity.

A mule was all Jesus needed but many of the celebrity “disciples” of the modern day use their church’s tax-free revenue to buy toys and be politically active, in Jesus’ name.

Of course, if the givers are pleased with how the money they donate is spent, then no harm no foul. However, the other givers to churches are those in the communities that make up the property tax difference.

Scrolling through archives of articles on church taxation, I came across a New York Times article published on November 4, 1901. [2]

“Oppose Amendment to the Constitution” the non-biased newspaper headline read, “It will permit the taxing of church property if passed.” The amendment was a single line work of a surely self-proclaimed “clever” wordsmith who wrote “legislature shall not pass a private or local bill granting to any person, association, firm, or corporation an exemption from taxation of real or personal property.”

This would not only affect churches but benevolent associations as well. Many pastors, ministers, rabbis, and priests took to the podiums the Sunday prior to the vote to clearly tell their congregation to “vote no.”

Churches have always been exempt from taxation in the United States. The need for documenting revenue of churches was not something on the minds of the forefathers as churches were generally small congregations made up of the residents of the small communities in which they were built.

A church can simply be a church and be tax-exempt without filing a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, tax deductible, status; however, most of the modern day mega churches sign up to receive a gift from 1954’s Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. [3]

It was in 1954 that the churches could receive the benefit of becoming a registered 501(c)(3) organization. By becoming 501(c)(3), a church does not have to pay income tax, they do have to file a return if grossing more than $25,000, and their property (buildings, land, vehicles and airplanes) are tax-exempt.

Church Owned Property

As previously stated, what a church or non-profit organization does with their donated money is solely the business of the contributors to the organization. What many proponents of church taxation want to see is property tax.

Even the loudest of the church taxers generally do not wish to impose income tax on an organization. It is the property tax which has had some people lobbying for church property taxation for 135 years.

In 2008, the Tampa Tribune did a series of articles on Without Walls International Church and their co-pastors, Randy White and Paula White. From their Bayshore home, to their plastic surgery, to their ensuing divorce, the newspaper outlined the ins and outs of the couple and the ministry. [4]

The report led to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) doing an inquiry on the church’s finances as well as financials of other mega churches across the country. The exposé led to financial problems within the church and ultimately the church had to liquidate properties and their Gulfstream jet.

Churches do have to pay a tax on some property that may not be tax-exempt such as property not solely used for religious purposes. In this case, Without Walls is paying close to $3,000 a year to the Hillsborough County Tax Collector for their 52,000 square foot establishment. [5]

Comparably, their neighbor Jerry Ulm Dodge Chrysler Jeep of 2966 North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa is paying the county nearly $100,000 a year for their 30,000+ square foot property. [6] They also pay taxes for separately registered addresses surrounding the main dealership.

To better organize an estimation of the amount of money counties lose on 501(c)(3) properties, we also took a sample of several other churches in Hillsborough County.

About CPCFoundation

An unprecedented, nationwide movement of praying Legislators and citizens who are taking action to protect our Judeo-Christian heritage and religious liberty.
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