Mark Oppenheimer is the first out of the gate in suggesting that it is now time to remove the tax exemptions on churches and other religious groups (synagogues, mosques, etc…). He writes, “It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses.”
For from being the destroyer of worlds, Oppenheimer has some solid points. Sometimes, these non-profit institutions invade the public political arena (contra state laws) a little too much. Second, and this is really important, Oppenheimer writes, “…the religious exemption has forced the IRS to decide what’s a religion, and thus has entangled church and state in the worst way.”
However, his history is a bit off. The tax exempt status did not begin in 1909 as a response to charitable giving. Indeed, tax exemption for churches is quite early and follows a rather Constantian view of religion. The Founders interpreted the first amendment very straightforwardly, avoiding the taxation of churches for very particular (and non-Christian) reasons.
First, St Constantine the Great, Equal to the Apostles, far from being the bad theocratic monster modern conspiracy theorists paint him to be, preserved the religious freedom of the Empire to a very large extent. He famously said, “The struggle for deathlessness must be free,” while embracing something of a modern notion of religious pluralism. While he did support the Christian church, he did not enforce it nor did he exclude — through the power of the purse or otherwise — other expressions of the race to deathlessness.
The Constitution solved this problem by abolishing European-style church establishment, but it hardly ended the accordance of benefits to churches, particularly in the area of taxation. Virginia exempted churches from paying property taxes in 1777, followed by New York in 1799 and the city of Washington in 1802. The Seventh Congress also passed a property tax exemption in 1802…European rulers had used taxes to prohibit the free exercise of religion before, and Americans didn’t want it to happen here.
In Europe, since long after the time of St. Constantine the Great, the power of the purse has been used to subdue rival religious claimants. Christians have waged economic war against other Christians. (Christians are not the only ones to use economic weapons to squash religious dissent.) The Founders, aware of this, attempted to remove this obstacle to religious pluralism. This is why tax-exemption started so early and was approved by a Congress so close to the Founders. While it has been expanded, it stems from the religious wars of continental Europe.
So, I guess, the question is: Would taxes prohibit the free exercise of religion?
Our case law, American/European history, and the history of religion as a whole says yes.
I wonder how many people who support taxing churches likewise hated the Citizens United decision because they recognize that it can be used to end freedom of speech…
But, with that said, shouldn’t there be a way to prevent bilking organizations like Scientology from claiming religion status? Likewise, maybe Churches should respect the legal boundaries they adopt when using tax-exempt status. Further, at some point, millionaire pastors and multi-millionaire ministries should consider their own status, taxed or otherwise.
People are struggling with the Supreme Court decision yesterday. Many Christians who support it are not showing the grace Scripture requires of them. There is barely a calming voice in this.
So let me point this out:
And from David Dunn, and Orthodox Christian:
Such efforts demonstrate a fundamental – even idolatrous – misunderstanding of the meaning of “holy matrimony,” effectively denying Christ by vesting the state with divine authority.
Orthodox Christianity has survived far longer and far more antagonistic homelands than what evangelicals face today.
They demanded nothing from their governments in regard to protecting their sacraments. And yet they survived and have grown and have lived and have worshiped God. Not even Stalin could destroy the Orthosox Church.
Anyway, maybe people should actually understand the separation of Church and State… And be sure to read Allen Bevere‘s The Politics of Witness to see how badly both sides of the American political spectrum misuses the Church.
In 1857, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the Dred Scott decision. Within a few years, this “law of the land” was changed to reflect the new political reality — that slavery was constitutionally forbidden, specifically by the 13th amendment.
Today, 26 June 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States, handed down the decision that says that the equal right to marry is a constitutional right. They used the 14th Amendment, an amendment used several times in equality issues.
I see a lot of my friends freaking out about this, unnecessarily. Many believe that religious freedom is now over. It is not. Justice Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, state,
Those who adhere to religious doctrines may continue to advocate with utmost sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.
We have already covered current state laws in regards to protecting denominational stances, not that any evidence, logic, or reason matters to either side.
But, I want to quickly address ways to overtune it if you are so inclined.
“Marriage equality” is based on the 14th amendment. This amendment is the amendment that “brought the Constitution down” to street level. It required States to then be bound by the rights guaranteed under the US Constitution. One could try to overturn it. There is a small movement, usually based on “birthright citizenship” in existence. At least one current GOP presidential candidate sort of supports that.
Write a constitutional amendment to say that marriage is between one man and one woman. This is actually a long considered thought — but can’t get off the ground.
Remove the State from the marriage process altogether.
Some consider it possible that you could remove this judicial review from SCOTUS, but others disagree.
None of these are likely, to be honest. The real question is, in a pluralistic society, should you move to forbid it?
One of the things Christians need to realize — they have used the State to preserve the status of “marriage” (except for preventing divorce, it seems) but the State is neutral in such things, especially in our Republic. This is not a redefinition of marriage any more than allowing the State to first define it is.
I find it troublesome that so many American Christians think that this is the end of the world. And I find it so disheartening the logic on both sides. Love doesn’t win; the 14th amendment “wins.” This is not mocking God, but the logical conclusion to the 14th amendment and the modern notion of rights.
Frankly, if you are a conservative Christian, you should “rejoice.” If you are a Christian that supports equal monogamous marriage, then rejoice.
And for the love of all that is holy, this is not a mandate for the Church. The Church should never bow to the State. The thing about political realities is that they can change by a vote.
I get it. We all are concerned with that monolithic and often misunderstood thing called “social justice.” I get it, we all want what is best for not only ourselves, but for each other and indeed for our world in general. I even get that we are all going to often have differing opinions about how to get to the point we are all traveling toward. I especially understand the desire to, as a matter of civil law, try to ban those things which we find offensive and hurtful. We have no desire to harm people, to marginalize people with our public policies and laws, to restrict rights, etc. Some things make sense to ban. Even while I was a smoker, I supported the ban on smoking in public buildings. When you go to a court house, a public school, etc. you should not have to deal with cigarette smoke. Public government buildings are places that, in theory, any and all of us may have to visit, so no one should be subjected to the bad habit, let alone the health risks associated with it. In private business however, I did not support it. We live in a country that values freedom. Should you desire to go to a restaurant where there is no smoking, then do so. If the restaurants in your area allow smoking then gather like minded people, form a boycott and stop going. Given that those who smoke are in the minority, the effect desired can be attained without legislation. Private business should be able to make those decisions for itself. I support allowing same sex couples to marry under civil law because committed couples should have equal protections under the law.
The latest is calls for banning the Confederate battle flag. Some have called for the ban legally, which is really a terrible idea. We, as the church, should look to our own beliefs and history and realize that. When and where the Christian church has been banned and actively persecuted, it has flourished. When and where the symbols of the Christian church have been banned, new symbols arise. If we think that racism is not a belief system so powerful to not survive under bans, then we have not studied history well at all. Banning symbols of an idea does not ban the idea, and often actually helps the idea gain traction and grow. It has also been suggested by some that the flag is somehow inherently a racist symbol and that anyone who has one must be somehow nominally racist. Yes, I agree that there is a huge negative connotation to the flag and that connotation has everything to do with slavery and how vile it was (and in some places still is). I also understand that there is a culture that has grown around the confederate battle flag that has nothing to do with race. We need to recognize and understand both. What if the calls to legally ban the symbols of an idea only results in the proliferation of the idea? What if, out of the best of intentions, we are making the problem worse by calling for the ban of this that or something else?
Now, this is not to say that we, as people of faith, should turn a blind eye to the evils of the world that we live in. In fact, quite the opposite. Due to market pressure (public, not legislative) several retailers have decided they will no longer sell confederate merchandise. Perhaps we can continue that pressure to convince them to stop selling memorabilia glamorizing other oppressive regimes and dictators as well. That is, after all, our power as consumers. Think now of how much money Christians actually spend on everything from food to entertainment, etc. Think of the enormous power that gives us in this market as consumers. What if instead of demanding that there be a higher minimum wage for example, we simply quit going to the places that do not support what we believe to be a living wage (whatever that is). What if we, as Christians simply said to, say Walmart, we will no longer shop here because of how you treat your workers. We believe they should make a minimum of $9 an hour (for sake of argument only) and until they do, our business will go elsewhere. What if, instead of calling for banning this that or something else, we, as Christians, simply said these things are so far outside of what we find acceptable, we will not give you our business while you sell them or engage in the practices. Let’s face it, calling for an end to child labor in a blog typed on our Apple product is not just ineffective but also hypocritical.
There is, of course, the danger that we will need to spend more money somewhere else. It would require for Christians to actually have to share resources with each other I imagine. There is the danger that we might actually have to go without some of our comforts. Don’t think McDonald’s pays enough? Stop going, and beyond that, actually organize your Christian brothers and sisters to do the same. Think that a Starbucks barista is underpaid? Stop getting your latte. Organize your brothers and sisters to do the same. What if, we as Christians, are calling for bans, for wage increases, etc. because we are unwilling to exert the pressure ourselves? What if we are trying to get the world to do what we should be doing on our own? What if we simply don’t want to give up our comforts to bring about change? What if we by calling for bans, etc. we are trying to force our belief on the world instead of sharing our belief with it? What if by calling for this that and the other, we are using the ways of the world and not the ways of God?
Now, certainly there is a need for balance in this. The civil rights movement is a good example. There are, on occasion, laws that actively discriminate and cause harm. Christians should speak out against those laws and stand in solidarity with the people who suffer under those laws. The act of protest has deep roots in American history and I suspect will always be deeply rooted in our identity. The question then becomes what is the balance between law and moral action. I defer to R.M. MacIver (1882–1970), Scottish sociologist and what he said in his work “The Modern State”
“What then is the relation of law to morality? Law cannot prescribe morality, it can prescribe only external actions and therefore it should prescribe only those actions whose mere fulfillment, from whatever motive, the state adjudges to be conducive to welfare. What actions are these? Obviously such actions as promote the physical and social conditions requisite for the expression and development of free—or moral—personality…. Law does not and cannot cover all the ground of morality. To turn all moral obligations into legal obligations would be to destroy morality. Happily it is impossible. No code of law can envisage the myriad changing situations that determine moral obligations. Moreover, there must be one legal code for all, but moral codes vary as much as the individual characters of which they are the expression. To legislate against the moral codes of one’s fellows is a very grave act, requiring for its justification the most indubitable and universally admitted of social gains, for it is to steal their moral codes, to suppress their characters.”
What if our responsibility as Christians is not to ban things under law, but rather to live in such a way as to encourage what we know to be correct moral behavior? What if all we need to do is, as an expression of what we have been taught as proper moral behavior, act like Christians? What if that is actually how we are supposed to go about making disciples for the transformation of the world? What if what we need to do as Christians is simply ban banning and start doing the work ourselves?
I love the argument that Christians have to obey the Word of God above the Constitution of the USA. Although I revere the U.S. Constitution, the Bible and The U.S. Constitution are not one and the same. However I’ve been thinking on it again and I realized that this is the same argument that ISIS makes about their Holy Book and Muslims in general use to defend Sharia Law! How then is it fair for Christians to condemn Muslims for believing that religious rules supersede the standing laws of a country? Is Christian absolutism, even prejudicial, the answer? Is “freedom from religion the answer?” Any thoughts?