James Holmes

What If Churches Paid Their Taxes?

Filed By James Holmes | October 15, 2012 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Catholic church, church and state, Italy, nonpartisan, Pulpit Freedom Sunday

Church-and-State.jpegDue to growing economic woes, Italy is preparing to remove the tax-exempt status of the Catholic Church. The income from Church property taxes, "[C]ould net Italy revenues of 500 million to 2 billion euros annually across the country."

In the United States, religious organizations receive tax-exemptions on income as long as they remain non-partisan organizations. But what if that changed? Would the money be worth the shift in politics? Or would it actually change anything?

While most churches stick to the IRS guidelines for tax-exempt status, there are ways to get around the law. On culture war issues such as gay rights and abortion, the hate filled sermons of some right wingers take a side without putting a name to the damned liberals.

I was raised a United Pentecostal, and growing up, I never remember politics being discussed over the pulpit. Around election time, local politician usually made the rounds at the local churches, but our pastor always made the disclaimer - "We are non-partisan and open our pulpit for anyone that wishes to speak." It wasn't until I was older that the silent truth showed through, and I feel it has only grown worse.

The first inkling of this shift came during a trip home in the lead-up to the last presidential election when my grandma made the statement to me, "The pastor says Sarah Palin is filled with the Holy Ghost." Oh really granny? The PASTOR said that? From the pulpit?

Once Sunday rolled around, I forced my partner David to go to my home church with me (I consider it a cultural experience and reminder of the good and the bad of the religious right). I many times have defended people of faith in debates with David. Most are non-partisan, and while informed by their faith, it is kept private, and like many Americans, they are politically apathetic and harmless.

And then a local politician takes the platform. Our new pastor gave no disclaimer, and I mostly ignored her until she brought up gay marriage. Seriously? What the hell does a city treasurer's stance on gay marriage have to do with the job she will do?

David gave me an "I told you so," look, and I held in my fury. I knew what to expect about the personal beliefs of the church, but I had respected their removal from the political process. Had it been there the entire time? Or are churches beginning to stand in defiance to the law in the need to defend themselves from Muslim presidents and married gay abortion doctors?

Are churches now "coming out" as political? Yes they are, and they even have a special day in October to celebrate called Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

So if they are coming-out Republican, isn't it time for them to show us the money? I think so. But if they are completely open to make political donations and sway their flock, is the political damage worth it? I don't think it would really change that much.

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