Altar Welfare: Churches Steal $71 Billion A Year From Taxpayers, Spend Little On Charity

By Colin Taylor | 19 October 2015
Occupy Democrats

Christ Cathedral, formerly known as Crystal Cathedral. Since 2012, the Cathedral has been in possession of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. The redesign of Christ Cathedral by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, which is set to cost close to $113 million, will feature an illuminated sanctuary and host up to 8,000 people during outdoor mass. (Image: Dave Reichert / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0)

There is a lot of hypocrisy going on in Washington, but none worse than what’s perpetrated on the American public by Republicans in the name of religion and vague appeals to “fiscal responsibility”. The Republican Party has the mendacity to stand in the way of legislation that would close hidden corporate and personal tax loopholes that are estimated to cost American taxpayers $38 billion a year. However, what always slips right through the cracks are the tax benefits to religious organizations, which overwhelmingly support Republicans, and are estimated to cost taxpayers nearly double those of hidden off-shore havens. The Secular Policy Institute estimates: “If religious organizations (ie. churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.) were taxed like for-profit agencies, it was found that this could generate upwards of $71 billion per year in tax revenue…even if churches were merely held to the standards of other non-profit agencies, this could generate $16.75 billion in tax revenue per year.”

According to Pew, folks affiliated with ties to religious organizations also overwhelmingly support the Republican Party: “Republicans lead in leaned party identification by 48 points among Mormons and 46 points among white evangelical Protestants, with younger white evangelicals (those under age 35) having similar partisan affiliation as their older counterparts.” This religious fervor can easily be seen in the recent battles over the fraudulent Planned Parenthood videos. Of course, their anger is exacerbated by the fact Planned Parenthood also provides family planning and contraceptive services, which also confound Republican religious sensibilities. Interestingly, government support for Planned Parenthood represents less than 0.5% of the more than $100 billion in combined tax benefits to religious organizations and off-shore tax havens.

What is particularly egregious about the tax benefits going to religious organizations is that they receive these benefits, ostensibly, because they are charities. Researchers at Secular Humanism have calculated: “The Mormon Church, for example, spends roughly .7% of its annual income on charity. Their study of 271 congregations found an average of 71% of revenues going to ‘operating expenses’…Compare this to the American Red Cross, which uses 92.1% of revenues for physical assistance and just 7.9% on operating expenses. The authors also note that Wal-Mart, for instance, gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities each year, or twenty-eight times all of the money allotted for charity by the United Methodist Church and almost double what the LDS Church has given in the last twenty-five years.”

Charities, whether they are religiously affiliated or secular, give for the benefit of those less fortunate – they give to whom they give by addressing the needs of the poor without compensation. There is no quid pro quo. While one might feel good about giving, one gives charity for the sake of giving – itself.  On the other hand, religious organizations hire people whose purpose is to give salvation out of obligation “…for these religious functionaries,” are paid to do so. It is no more “charity” than a doctor performing a surgery to save a life or a social worker intervening in an abusive family situation. If the people you are helping are paying you to help them, it’s not charity, it’s labor, and these pastors are well compensated by their congregations – take as an example the recent story about the pastor who said of asking his congregation to pay for a $65 million jet: “Jesus wants me to have this jet.”

Religious organizations are not non-profits, and if they conduct charitable activities, those activities should be separated out from their normal finances, which should not be financed by the government. However, we know the Republican worldview is all about distorting religion to support their bizarre vision of science and reality – supported by a tax policy that enables their wealthy constituency to support their political efforts.

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  1. I cannot speak for other church denominations but I know for a fact the leaders of the LDS church do not make profit from the church. Why would the church give it’s Tithing to other “charities” instead of cutting out the middle man and using its own resources. The church is a charity in its own right and it uses the tithe on a local level to help those that seek assistance. I’m not saying that anybody is perfect but just because any church is not giviving money to any of the high profile so called charities does not mean they aren’t giving more than enough to the less fortunate.

    • You haven’t looked closely enough. The church won’t even pay for janitors anymore, they guilt members into volunteering their time, while the guys at the top live very comfortably, to say the least, and are worshipped wherever they go. Open your eyes.

    • Local church leaders, no. But the prophet, quorum of 12 apostles, and first quorum of the seventy (at least) are compensated what they call a “modest” 6 figure annual stipend plus health insurance, transportation, etc. They boast the lay clergy of the church over the pulpit but never mention their own compensations.

    • You seem to have missed the point. Yes, churches are taxed as if they were charities. The problem is that most protestant churches don't actually perform charity work. The typical church budget allocates less than 2% for charity.

    • Somehow some of these churches need to be taxed. The Mormons own retail businesses and they are under their umbrella and pay no taxes on their profits.. Many churches do this.
      The church I attend is small and rely on it’s congregation for it’s existance. Our church is a simple building and we concentrate on missions. This should not be taxed but too many of them are for profit and should be taxed.

  2. Require churches to distribute an accounting to its members of how all the money is used. Make the individual salaries and perks publc to its members. Let the members know that churches do little to help those in need. Once the members see what’s going on they’ll move to churches that do some good for people in need.


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