Archbishop Says Tax Avoidance is Sinful. If Only Someone Would Remind the Churches…

When British Archbishop John Sentamu (pictured below) isn’t busy slamming gay rights or denouncing atheists, he likes to lecture people about fairness. Easy to do… I mean, who doesn’t like fairness, right?

Sentamu, the second-highest authority in the Church of England, confidently trained his sights on tax avoiders the other day:

Tax avoidance is “sinful” and tantamount to robbery, one of the UK’s most senior clerics has said as G8 leaders prepare to discuss the issue. Dr. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, told the BBC that individuals and companies needed to be held accountable for their actions when it came to tax. Tax avoidance was hindering efforts to tackle hunger and malnutrition in developing countries, he suggested.

The bishop is specifically talking about tax avoidance (which isn’t illegal), not tax evasion (which is). Basically, if you hire an expensive accountant to help you figure out how to pay not a penny more than you’re obligated to, that’s tax avoidance (a.k.a. tax planning); no problem. But if Amazon or Apple or Walmart do the same thing, that’s evasion, and it’s an outrage.

I kid (kind of). We’ll leave the political discussion for another time. Suffice it to say that Archbishop Sentamu simply wants everyone to pay their fair share, most especially big multinational entities. People and businesses who aggressively try to minimize their tax bite are criminals, the 64-year-old prelate thundered.

Those not paying their full tax liabilities are “not only robbing the poor of what they could be getting, they are actually robbing God, because God says ‘bring into my store house all the tithes’. So if God has told us to be just, to walk humbly and to be merciful and then we behave in a very strange way — God is being robbed, the world is being robbed, your neighbor is being robbed.”

Tax minimizers are also killing kids, he added:

“They (companies) should have a conscience which says that a child is dying tonight because of some of their actions,” he said.

You know what they say about how, when you point a finger, three of your digits are pointing back at you?

For each of those fingers, here’s a data point that His Excellence might like to contemplate:

1) The Church of England, which has yearly revenues of well over a billion pounds ($1,570,000,000), is given huge tax breaks on major repairs to its buildings. It also receives grants from the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England (English Heritage), and proceeds from the National Lottery. The state Anglican Church is one of Britain’s biggest landowners, with 112,000 acres. Regional Church organizations own more land; the Diocese of Oxford, for instance, holds 6,000 acres in its portfolio. Donations to the Church, which account for roughly half of its income, are tax-deductible, despite an ultra-fat investment portfolio that the New York Times recently estimated to be worth some £8,000,000,000.

You’d think that church authorities would be pretty chuffed about the largesse they receive from the citizenry, but you’d be wrong. When, last year, they were asked by the U.K. Treasury to pretty please pay value-added tax (VAT) on alterations to churches and parish houses, spokesmen for the church were up in arms, blustering that their poor institution could ill afford it and that such a request was a dunderheaded affront.

I wonder why the archbishop wasn’t insisting then that “all must pay their fair share.”

2) His cousins in the Catholic Church enjoy lavish tax advantages all over the world, and they display the exact same sense of entitlement about it. No financial concession is ever enough, and every tax obligation is potentially an attack on God’s people. For instance, the Vatican took illegal tax exemptions on thousands of buildings from 2006 to 2011. When Italy’s fiscal authorities got ready to send a bill, indignant padres took their protest to the European Commission last year; and though no one seriously disputed that the Catholic Church did in fact owe billions of euros, the Commission members decided it would be too hard to arrive at an exact number… and forgave the entire debt.

If archbishop Sentamu condemned the Vatican’s tax-evasion chutzpah, I guess I missed it.

3) The Church of England fought an 18-year legal battle against the owners of a farm in Warwickshire, eventually extracting £230,000 from Gail and Andrew Wallbank in 2009. The Church’s case rested entirely on a 16th-century feudal law, long considered dead, which held that certain landowners, no matter their religious beliefs, must help pay for the upkeep of Anglican churches. After the matter was decided, at least a quarter of Anglican dioceses began looking for ways to screw private-property owners in the same manner.

No worries from the archbishop, apparently, despite his professed commitment to “financial fairness.”

If His Excellence is going to voice his concerns about numbers and morality, I’d like to suggest that he take these numbers to heart: 40, 1.6, and 19:21. Let me explain.


Forty percent of those polled [in a survey commissioned by Britain's Sunday Times] said they did not trust priests, vicars and other clergy to tell the truth, and overall doctors, teachers and judges were rated as more trustworthy.


That’s the percentage of Britons who attend an Anglican church on any given Sunday. Is it “fair” to give the so-called State Church massive benefits paid for by all taxpayers if only one in 63 citizens care enough to show up for Sunday service?

Matthew 19:21:

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

I wonder how many of those poor children archbishop Sentamu cares so much about could be saved by even just a fraction of the Church’s impressive wealth.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • fsm

    Wow, a Xtian hypocrite, how unusual.

  • Tim

    wearing a stupid philic hat as well. Who would have thunk it?

  • Cyrus Palmer

    What do they even do with all that money? They just seem to hoard most of it. Religions need to loose their tax exempt status. Hopefully that will be the final nail in the coffin for religion and man will live in peace. Or at least more peacefully.

  • sailor

    Many years ago, when I was kid, there was a story in the British press. Some poor man had been allowing the church of England to use his field for sports events and other activities. He was supposed to collect some nominal annual rent which he failed to do. The church then claimed and got the land as squatters and won he case in court. Ever since then I will have nothing to do with organized religion. They are money making enterprises of very dubious value that are allowed to promise stuff they cannot deliver, and exist solely to advance their own ends. The probably should not b allowed, and if they are allowed they should definitely pay taxes

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Say, that is a spiffy outfit!

  • 7Footpiper

    If only trading standards would pay them a visit.

  • Tim

    He has a Masters in soft furnishing. That was his end of year project.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “Forty percent of those polled [in a survey commissioned by Britain's Sunday Times] said they did not trust priests, vicars and other clergy to tell the truth, and overall doctors, teachers and judges were rated as more trustworthy.”

    Which explains why so many hospitals and schools are becoming catholic organizations. I guess this is the RCC’s way of getting ahead of the issue, realignment with industries that are trusted.

  • Blacksheep

    Always seemed odd to me… as Christians, our heroes (at least I thought) are guys like John the baptist (who dressed in camel hair and was broke) and of course Jesus and the disciples who were also poor and wore sandals. I’m not sure how it got so tarted up.

  • Oranje

    That’s a sweet wardrobe he’s got there.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Maybe the Anglican church should spend less money on outfits and more money on basic health care, like dental work.

  • Steve UK

    I live in England and I’m a proud atheist, Sentamu and his ilk talk a good game but like all clergy, he’s a hypocrite, it’s about time all churches paid their taxes. Then, we get the spiel of how they are important to the local community, no problem, knock all the churches down! Wouldn’t worry me in the slightest!

  • Art_Vandelay

    I think it’s all part of the child indoctrination process. “Wow, that guy is dressed like a clown and nobody laughs at him. He must be special. I better unquestionably accept everything he says and grant him more authority over me than my own parents.”

  • Cyrus Palmer

    Aw snap!

  • Lee Miller

    Badass clothes. Too bad only idiots get to wear them.

  • Carmelita Spats

    John the Baptist? Really? He dressed in itchy clothing that comes in grotesque colors. My faith-based heroine is TBN’s Jan Crouch
    because she’s the ONLY woman brave enough to walk in Tammy Faye Bakker’s Guccified footsteps. Praise! Janice Wendell Bethany Crouch has upped the stakes for being a wild and wacky joyride of a televangelism hag: giant mop of pink hair, Ronald McDonald makeup, frilly tablecloth dresses with fringe hanging from every limb on her body. Put on the full armor of God? Hell, Jan is silicone armored, manicured and uber-wigged! I’ve watched her in recent years cackle through the
    program, sit at the far side of the stage and throw confetti at people
    which makes her a God-fearing woman who scares the hell out of the rest
    of us. John the Baptist needed a make-over! Even Jesus could have been tarted
    up like Jan Crouch. If that had happened, he would’ve had my complete attention.

  • Carmelita Spats

    It’s real purty and it goes with his job description: shit salesman with a mouthful of samples.

  • Rain

    Everybody should wear them. Then everyone could have automatic authority and esteem for no good reason. Plus we would all get to call each other “your excellency” all the time. Then the other bishops wouldn’t look so out of place.

  • Blacksheep


  • Blacksheep

    That’s what I thought – then I read this:

    “Like other luxury wools, camel hair is extremely soft, durable, lustrous, lightweight, and warm. Clothing manufacturers prefer the fabric in its natural state (a buttery, golden brown)…”

  • Michael W Busch

    Most of it goes to paying the expenses of their ministers and maintaining their property. Something less than 10% goes to charitable activities. e.g.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Are you talking a line out of The Incredibles?

    “If everyone wears badass clothes, then no one is.”

  • Rain

    Haven’t seen The Incredibles but I figured it wasn’t exactly original, lol.

  • closetatheist

    Outside of OT times, since when has a nation’s treasury been the storehouse of god’s tithes?

  • baal

    This is the reason why I remind folks to only donate money to non-profits who can prove they have at most a 15% overhead (office space, employee salaries, etc). Religious Orgs. use the majority of donations for overhead.

  • baal

    I want to wear the silly hats.

    Do I have to become a believer to get them?

  • thebigJ_A

    He…. he slams gay rights…. in *THAT* hat?!?

  • SilverSmith

    Well it would seriously worry me. Many churches are important and beautiful works of art and architecture. They are a valuable testament to the works of…. Man.

    If the C of E business model can’t maintain them without tax breaks then they have the wrong model and should no longer be the custodians of such significant elements of our national heritage.

    Aside from that, in many communities, the church and church hall serve as the community gathering place. As communities become less and less religious this retention of local practical power in the hands of the organised religions becomes less and less supportable.

    The best need to be transferred to some organisation like English Heritage or the National Trust (because of the special skills required to maintain them) and the rest into the ownership of the communities they are supposed to serve. Some of the C of E’s wealth should be distributed to support the continued maintenance of those buildings according to need.

  • Mr Billiards