Are churches really charitable?

I’m thinking about my taxes, which explains this erratic and perhaps erroneous line of thinking. PeaceBang’s adds fodder to my thoughts.

First, churches are tax-advantaged in two ways: their property and income are usually not subject to tax, and their members get a tax deducation for funding them.

OK, I get the first as a state non-interference matter (more about it in a moment) but what about the later? Charities are tax advantaged because they provide a good to society that (unlike a mutual aid society) does not individually benefit its members. But a whole buncha churches provide only the most nebulous public good — particularly if you factor out the debatable social merit of public worship, which I would expect the state to be neutral towards. These really do serve their members, and only society to a marginal, even ephemeral degree. Why should the members get a tax-deduction for this? I’m quite serious.

Or, concerning property taxation, why should a inwardly-focussed (essentially, antisocial) church be exempt?

3 Replies to “Are churches really charitable?”

  1. I don’t know, but you’ve given all of us great fodder for our Stewardship Sermons. As in “You GET to get a tax exemption for this, ya slackers!”

    But seriously, people don’t think about what you’ve asked.

  2. I’ve thought about this a great deal. As a church we have resisted the governments Gift Aid scheme (where they repay back something like 28% of tax paid on offerings), because of its Christendom-based assumptions. In the UK, the bottom-line is that churches are assumed to be charities because, well, their churches! Our anabaptist sensibilities struggled with that big-time.

    In the end, we’ve gone for it, taking it as a challenge from the Lord and pledge from us to Him and others. What we agreed was that we would only sign-up if we were actually committed to being charitable. Apart from that, no, I don’t think churches should be treated as charities.

  3. Graham — since I don’t know — is the Gift Aid scheme a VAT rebate? Or does it affect tax on wages? (I know almost nothing about British taxation.)

    And this is different than Lottery programs?

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