As a former minister, and still a Christian, I can’t think of anything more damaging to the model and message of Biblical Christianity than a professional ministry relying on tax breaks from the government. The professional ministry killed Jesus in His day, and it hasn’t stopped, especially when in bed with politics (which it was then, too).
Tax Benefits to Ministry Organizations
Allowing organizations to register as 501(c)(3) non-profits does a few things for them, none of which are essential to promoting their ”message”.
First, they are allowed numerous tax exemptions, including exemptions on real estate holdings.
That’s right. A church in the US can buy prime real estate, erect large buildings on it, conduct business on that land, and pay no property tax, corporate income tax, and usually no state or local sales tax.
Second, they can hire and pay a ”ministry” class granting them FICA tax exemptions on ministerial earnings.
What, you ask? A minister can elect to pay no payroll taxes on ministerial income into the Social Security system. This election also means they cannot draw Social Security Administration benefits at retirement age on income elected for this deferral. But the tax savings in the present puts more money on the minister’s ”bring home” check.
Remember, these FICA payroll taxes are matching funds. The employer and the employee both pay a share of the gross pay towards satisfaction of these amounts all non-minister workers and their employers pay. So the ministry benefits in real money saved from ministers making this election to defer.
Third, ministries can also pay ministers a ”housing allowance” as part of their salary package. Ministers do not have to report this ”allowance” as ”earned income” in tax filings. Yet, if they are purchasing the home for which they receive an ”allowance”, they are allowed to deduct the interest. This is one of a hand-full of ”double-dips” in the IRS tax code.
It is this benefit that allows the Joel Osteen’s of the world to own mansions and pay no taxes on the income earned to pay the payments. And if the church is on the mortgage, no property taxes are paid either.
Jesus had no housing allowance…He had no house
Astute Bible readers will remember that Jesus said of himself,
”Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”~ Matt. 8:20
The fourth advantage ministries have from the IRS tax code is the ability to grant tax deductions to donors for their gifts of cash and property.
There is no way to know, but I am curious how long ministries could stay open for business if this benefit was rescinded. To be sure, some church goers give for reasons other than a tax deduction, but what about the largest donors? Would they still give so ”charitably” if they couldn’t take a write-off?
The reason I’m writing about this
Ministers who receive these tax benefits from the government are forbidden by law to use their position as ministers to influence the government from whom they are receiving the benefits. Put simply, they are forbidden by the IRS tax code to intermeddle in politics. Neither they, nor their ministry organizations are to support or promote a political candidate or party…as a minister.
Unscrupulous ministers skirt this law by claiming their political pronouncements are their ”personal” views. They expect us to believe they are taking off the collar and ministerial frock when they stump for their favorite politician. Yet, these same ministers would have no platform, no name recognition, and no voice except for their ministry. This is disingenuous, at best.
Please don’t associate Jesus with corrupt politicians, or unscrupulous “ministers”
And the danger of this practice is that a listener will naturally associate Jesus, or God, with the politician being endorsed by the unscrupulous, wannabe politician minister. This is a mistake. It kills the truth about who Jesus is. He endorsed no political leaders during His brief tenure on Earth, and I don’t believe there is a politician in the history of mankind that Jesus would have endorsed.
Once, when asked about paying taxes, Jesus said,
”Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give God what belongs to God.”~Mark 12:17
Does that sound like a politician to you?
I agree with Him, and I believe Congress should take Him at his Word, too, by immediately revoking 501(c)(3) status for all ministries, and/or by immediately prosecuting every so-called minister who steps into the political arena for IRS tax code violations.
Well known, well-funded minsters are alienating half of the national demographic by their politically or financially motivated endorsements. In so doing, they are breaking the laws of God and man. Jesus’ message concerns a different Kingdom entirely. For these reasons, I say professional ministry killed Jesus in his day, and hasn’t stopped.
These political ministers could not be doing the work of satan more effectively if they tried. Even if ol’ Scratch gave them better tax breaks.