Tax Returns

I’m sitting here musing on what would happen to church giving — and charities in general — if everyone had to make their tax returns public? Here’s a few paragraphs from the CNN Money news story:

“It’s between you and God,” you might say. I don’t blame you for saying that. Romney’s and Obama’s are not. And many were urging to see Romney’s — for criticism fodder.

But the real question for Christians is this: What happens inside you when this question is asked? “What would happen to your giving if your taxes became public?” 

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Mitt Romney made $13.7 million last year and paid $1.94 million in federal income taxes, giving him an effective tax rate of 14.1%, his campaign said Friday.

His effective tax rate was up slightly from the 13.9% rate he paid in 2010.

The majority of the candidate’s income came from his investments….

Romney took $4.7 million in itemized deductions and $102,790 in foreign tax credits, which likely represents taxes paid on foreign investments to other sovereign governments.

Romney and his wife, Ann, gave just over $4 million to charity, the campaign said. The amount includes more than $1 million in cash to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and more than $200,000 to the Tyler Foundation, which serves families of children undergoing treatment for epilepsy. They also reported more than $900,000 in noncash contributions.

But the couple chose to deduct only $2.25 million of their charitable contributions. The reason was “to conform” to Romney’s statement last month that he never paid less than 13% in income taxes over the past 10 years, Brad Malt, a lawyer who presides over the Romneys’ blind trust, said in a statement.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Paul W

    So what would happen if tax returns were a matter of public record? Well, I just can’t imagine how that would affect our household practices in any way. I don’t think it has ever even entered my mind to take into consider how somone might evaluate our family’s charitable contributions.

    So what did I feel internally when reading the question? Mostly curiosity. Why would anyone care?

  • Paul D.

    One church I served used to publish every member’s giving in the annual reports — right up until about 1960. It was the most eagerly read part of the reports, referred to as the scandal sheet. Since it was a small community, dominated by a large mill, most people already knew each other’s income level.

  • Pat

    I don’t claim deductions for my giving, so it wouldn’t matter to my one whit.

    I did however, grow up in a church that published members’ giving like Paul D. said above. I remember as a child my mother and I looking at the list sometimes with raised eyebrows at the professionals in the congregation who gave paltry amounts. Then there were those who gave substantially, and we were impressed with that. I think this kind of thing brings out the worst in people.

  • RobS

    It’d be interesting to see what people focus on & discuss. Two cases:

    1) Romney (or any person) pays 14.1% in taxes (as per law) but gives 29.4% to charity (as per his own desire and motivation). Is the tax rate wrong? Is the giving rate wrong? … and who am I to judge the middle of the road situations?

    2) Joe Biden must have known this whole reporting was coming, yet gave 1.5% to charity. So, it seems some people will not even give to make themselves look better in the public eye. Will he be judged for that and how?

    Personally, I’m between Biden and Romney… and don’t feel pressured either way to change if things were public or stay private.

  • Joe Canner

    If it is indeed true that Romney turned down some of his charitable tax deductions in order to back up previous statements about his tax rate, I think he missed a big opportunity to score some political points.

    Yes, his overall tax rate would have been less than previously advertised, but if it’s because of charitable giving, how could anybody hold that against him? Moreover, he could have obscured his actual tax rate (% of taxable income) by claiming that the rate was lower because of charitable giving, and he could show that he puts his money where his mouth is by using the money he saves in taxes to give to charity. This, after all, is the classical conservative mantra, that the individual should get to determine how much of their money goes to charity, not the government.

  • http://www.eric-michael.com EricMichaelSay

    I’d be fine with having mine released, I make so little that even those theologically for a tithe would almost excuse my not tithing.

    What is of interest to me, though, is how churches stewardship stack up against other non-profit charities…


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