Nel's New Day

August 25, 2013

Christian Groups Not Charitable

Tax-exempt status for churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples on the basis of being charitable institutions allow religious groups to collect a fortune without any responsibility to the state that they try to control.  Dylan Matthews summarized a report from the University of Tampa that investigated how much money religious groups are declaring tax-free. The total, which doesn’t include local and income and property tax exemptions or charitable deductions worth addition tens of billions of dollars, is at least $71 billion. No one is exactly sure because religious groups are not only exempt from paying taxes but also exempt from reporting donations.

“When people donate to religious groups, it’s tax-deductible. Churches don’t pay property taxes on their land or buildings. When they buy stuff, they don’t pay sales taxes. When they sell stuff at a profit, they don’t pay capital gains tax. If they spend less than they take in, they don’t pay corporate income taxes. Priests, ministers, rabbis and the like get “parsonage exemptions” that let them deduct mortgage payments, rent and other living expenses when they’re doing their income taxes. They also are the only group allowed to opt out of Social Security taxes (and benefits).”

People who participate in a religion claim that the organization does charitable work, yet it’s almost entirely for people of their own religion. And the percentage is much less than most people realize. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) gave $1 billion to charitable causes between 1985 and 2008, but that munificent sum is .07 percent—less than 1 percent—of its annual—not 23-year—income. The United Methodist Church did better, giving about 29 percent of its revenues to charitable causes in 2010.

“Operating expenses” totaled 71 percent of all expenditures in 271 U.S. congregations, most of it paying the ministers’ salaries. By comparison, operating expenses for the American Red Cross is 7.2 percent. Even Wal-Mart annually gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities, 28 times the money that the United Methodist Church allocates for charity and almost twice as much as the LDS Church gave in the past 25 years.

If religious groups want tax exemptions for their charitable work, then that should be separated out from the rest of their expenses. Others may claim that these groups are tax-exempt because of separation of church and state, but religious subsidies favor religion over nonreligion. Because religion is favored, it has more resources to change legislation, create widely consumed media, and influence public policy. Religious groups, as Barb Dempsey, mayor of Mount Clemens (MI) pointed out, get a free ride for all infrastructures that they use such as fire protection, police, and roads.

Fundamentalist Christians want the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom, but see nothing wrong with having taxpayers provide money to support them. A common way for a group to control all people is to paint itself as the victim. In that way religious groups can victimize others, usually by forcing their religious views on others. Christian groups complaining about these issues are actually taking “freedom of religion” from other people:

  • Christian groups complain that banning “gay conversion therapy” for minors violates parents’ “freedom of religion” to psychologically warp their children through an abusive practice. The true victim is LGBT youth who are threatened by their parents, forced back into the closet, and lose their own religious freedom.
  • Christian business owners complain about the new regulations requiring insurance plans to cover–free–preventive care including contraception. They want the ability to deny earned benefits to employees if the owners disagree with the employees personal choices. The true victim is the person who pays into health insurance while the business owners cheat the government that tries to maintain savings through lack of unwanted pregnancies and childbirth.
  • Christian groups complain that they are oppressed by secular expressions of holidays instead of having their personal faith affirmed by everyone.  The true victim from the Christian obsession is the 25+ percent of the people in the United States who do not identify as Christians and all the other people who would prefer that holidays represent diversity.
  • Christian groups complain about the ban on schools leading students in prayer, calling it “government tyranny” and declaring it the reason for society’s moral decay. The true victim is the person who doesn’t share the exact religious view as the person who leads the prayer. Any official or official-seeming prayer is an endorsement of one view over another, indicating that those who fail to share those views are less worthy.
  • Christian groups complain that marriage equality is gaining strength in the United States because marriage should be only for opposite-sex couples. The true victim is the LGBT person or their children who don’t receive equal rights; excluding LGBT people from the right to marry cannot protect heterosexual marriages. No one’s life is affected by marriage equality except the people who choose to engage in same-sex marriage.

Some of the recent events in the name of religion:

  • People who attend a Catholic Church in Fresno (CA) are convinced that the liquid coming from a tree in front of a cathedral is God’s tears. Tree experts say that the liquid comes from aphides, tree lice, that suck the sap and then excrete honey dew.
  • RidgedaleThe Ridgedale Church of Christ (TN) forced Linda Cooper out of the congregation, despite her family’s membership in the church for the last six decades, because she sat with her lesbian daughter, a local police detective, at an event on same-sex benefits for the local police department.
  • After a youth minister was charged with sex offenses, Spring Creek Baptist Church (Clarksville, TN) promised to protect its children. The church offered an optional first aid course for Sunday School teachers, and a second employee sexually abused another child.
  • Vineyard Community Church Camp Counselor, Zachary Anderle climbed, naked, on top of a 13-year-old boy and put his penis on top of the boy’s crotch while other boys were watching. A committee from the Tennessee church determined it was “horseplay” while Anderle’s lawyer explained that Anderle was disciplining the boy.
  • Chicago Cardinal Francis George has pulled funding from a coalition of immigration groups that support same-sex marriage in Illinois.
  • The Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark (TX), run by Kenneth Copeland Ministries, has long been a strong anti-vaccination stronghold. Currently church members are experiencing a major outbreak of measles.
  • Pastor Terry Holcomb has started wandering through Huntsville (TX) carrying an AR-15 Bushmaster rifle to to protest a Texas law which permits gun owners to openly carry long rifles but not handguns, which must be concealed and can only be carried by individuals with valid concealed carry permits. He is also posting videos of himself doing so on YouTube.
  • As conservative Christian legislators move funding from legitimate women’s clinics to right-wing “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs), more women are forced to seek help from these places. An investigation into Virginia’s CPCs has revealed the lies and shame-based information that their employees disseminate about the risks of hormonal birth control and contraceptive devices as well as judgmental messages about a decision to be sexually active before getting married. The falsehoods include chances of getting breast cancer, carcinogens in contraception, and the chances of aborting a fetus after using hormonal contraception. “The only safe sex is no sex,” the employee said and added, “Confined to a marriage, of course, sex is expected — you believe in God, that’s the whole plan of God.” The proceeds of Virginia’s DMV license plate, “Choose Life,” directly fund CPCs.
  • The state of California has no secular drug treatment program. This might change after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state should compensate an atheist parolee for returning him to prison because he refused to participate in a religious-based drug treatment program. The court also ordered a district judge to reconsider whether to stop state officials from mandating treatment programs that emphasize God or a “higher power.” [This may be a small step toward “freedom of religion.”]

school is armed rightAnd a bit of black humor to start the week:

The Arkansas Christian Academy near Little Rock posted signs notifying the public that school staff is now armed. One sign in particular warns, “Any attempt to harm children will be met with deadly force.”

For the map lovers, BuzzFeed has mapped out the religions of the 435 U.S. House members by district. Of the 31 religions, including 26 different Christian sects, Catholics, with 136 members, make up the largest group, followed by Baptists (66), Methodists (45), Anglicans/Episcopalians (35), Presbyterians (28), and Jews (22). There is one atheist. The majority of Catholics and Jews are Democrats with the other religions have a majority of Republicans.

religious demoniations


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