Keep the Church out of Politics and Other Terrible Arguments

Keep the Church out of Politics and Other Terrible Arguments November 6, 2018

“Until they pay taxes they should have no say in any political agenda!”

“I think it’s time to revoke their tax exempt status. It’s clear they’re mixing politics and religion.”

“The LDS Church is a religion and should have ZERO say in state law. I heard about this thing once… I think it was called separation of church and state.”

“If they’re actively involved in government and policy I don’t feel they should have tax exempt status. It’s just an opinion, and one I think many share.”

Every time the Church speaks out about an issue that is also being debated politically, the responses are predictable.

Can a church legally influence politics? As a society, do we want groups that don’t pay taxes to have political say? Should religions be able to lobby politicians?

I admit that “if they don’t pay taxes they shouldn’t have a say,” does have an undeniable populist appeal to it. But it crumbles under even the slightest of analysis.

Is it illegal?

Does a nonprofit organization lose its tax exempt status just because it starts to lobby politically? No.

Any non-profit can lobby for political issues. Political influence can’t be the sole mission of the organization, but it can be a part of what they do.

There is an IRS rule popularly called “The Johnson Amendment” which says a 501(c)(3), which is a type of non-profit organization that includes churches, can’t endorse political candidates. But it’s a rule that is constitutionally questionable and is currently unenforced.

And while it’s a rule that many churches break regularly, The Church of Jesus Christ is very particular about not breaking it.

Sam Brunson at By Common Consent has a much more thorough look at whether or not the Church’s lobbying was legal.

Non-Tax Paying Organizations Politically Lobby All the Time

 

I wonder if those who are upset about a non-tax paying organization meeting with lawmakers is similarly upset when the Friends of the Public Library advocates for increased library funding.

Are they upset when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or Susan G. Komen Foundation advocates for their causes?

If a city is considering closing a local bird sanctuary, do they expect the local Audubon society to butt out? What about labor unions?

Perhaps their argument isn’t really about paying taxes. Perhaps what they want is for the government to target religious non-profits to be treated in a way that is actually unique from the way the government treats every other non-profit organization.

Does it Matter if They Do Pay Taxes?

The Church of Jesus Christ actually includes many entities that do pay taxes. Does this mean that they should have special permission to speak to politicians?

Would we prefer a society where churches that are big enough to invest their funds into businesses that pay taxes can petition lawmakers while small community churches must remain silent?

In the past, the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) has been under fire because of how much money they make selling products to their members. Do we think that the AARP should be able to fight for Medicare, but only if they sold enough car rentals and mutual funds that they lost their non-profit status?

Once we start looking at who actually is and isn’t paying taxes, it becomes clear paying taxes is not really a useful measure for who should be participating in the public sphere.

Do We Want Only Businesses Lobbying?

What if these proponents of “no taxes, no say” got their way? At that point, the only organizations that could lobby would be businesses. Many of which are under a legal duty to only act in their best financial interest.

Do we want to live in a society where the only groups who can legally influence lawmakers are those whose goal is to make money? Making money is the only factor in determining what makes something a non-profit organization. But I hope that making money is not the only factor in determining what kind of society we create.

Does it Matter What They’re Lobbying About?

In 2015, The Church of Jesus Christ was vocal about another matter of Utah politics. They wanted to pass a non-discrimination bill that would protect LGBT+ citizens in Utah. Several previous efforts had stalled out, so The Church used its influence to help pass a bill.

I don’t remember a lot of outcry about the Church’s political influence then.

In January of this year, when the Church released a statement urging Congress to protect “Dreamers” from deportation, I don’t remember a lot of outcry about the Church using its political influence.

It seems to me as though the call to “stay out of politics” really only happens when the Church takes a position that is at odds with those who otherwise have negative feelings towards the Church.

Groups are Just People

And ultimately The Church of Jesus Christ is made up of people. Many of them citizens of the United States, or in this case Utah. Many of them tax paying citizens.

Should those people be able to organize in a group based on shared principles to try and make a difference in the world, including in politics?

This is the freedom of association. It is one of the most treasured freedoms citizens have. And taking away the freedom of association just because the principles they care about are religious is deeply backward thinking.

We should want religious people bringing their values, and their thoughts to politics to try to make our country better. And the foundation of political influence is organizing in groups. But at the very least we should at least recognize that those we disagree with have the fundamental right to participate in politics.

So What Do Opponents Really Mean?

It’s clear that when people say that the Church shouldn’t participate in politics because they don’t pay taxes, they can’t possibly mean that. So much of our political discourse is facilitated through groups that do not pay taxes.

And these same people don’t seem to have a problem with the Church’s political advocacy for progressive positions.

So what do they mean?

Ultimately all these statements are is thinly veiled theophobic bigotry. They don’t usually like what religions stand for and rather than compete with them in the public square on their merits, they’d rather say, “Go away, we don’t like your kind here.”

Fortunately, despite the wishes of those who hide behind the weak “no taxes, no say” argument, not only is it legal for religious organizations to occasionally take moral stands on political issues, but the right to do so is so legally ingrained that it is at no great risk.

"Incidentally, a friend of mine, a former policeman, is wondering whether it really is just ..."

Possible Copycat Arson Target the Church ..."
""It's telling that you won't even provide a link for your readers to learn what ..."

Possible Copycat Arson Target the Church ..."
"I wrote this prior to the New Zealand attack.Clearly possible arson of empty church buildings ..."

Possible Copycat Arson Target the Church ..."
"In the aftermath of the New Zealand massacre of Muslims, I think it is clear ..."

Possible Copycat Arson Target the Church ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Mormon
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • ClintonKing

    Some nice thoughts.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    Your comparisons only seem reasonable because they’re not valid comparisons. You’ve also ignored that some churches DO pay taxes, but that is not what people usually mean when they ask whether churches should have charitable nonprofit status. Allow me to explain.

    There are a number of different types of not-for-profit. Three general categories are: not-for-profits, charitable nonprofits, and churches. Your “friends of the library” are a not-for-profit, in that they do not seek to make a profit. Donations to the “friends” are not tax-deductible, however, so your comparison is more than a little ludicrous.

    Next there are charitable organizations. They also do not seek to make a profit, but donations to them are tax-deductible for the donor. That gives these organizations a huge boost in fundraising. They get this benefit because they provide a valuable public service of some kind, and the American people have been generous in who giving that charitable status. If they are to receive that tax benefit, they are asked not to endorse candidates or to primarily engage in lobbying activities. Churches aren’t singled out in that regard, as much as conservative churches imagine themselves to be persecuted.

    Beyond merely being tax-deductible charities, churches make up a whole separate category of nonprofit. They are given preferential treatment. Churches are largely unaccountable to anyone. Their finances are allowed to be opaque, even when there is obviously criminal activity taking place, such as at the Church of Scientology. Ironically, this lack of accountability is because we have Separation of Church and State, a Constitutional principle that every conservative Republican church is doing their best to destroy. Churches also are allowed to deduct pastoral housing, which is a huge benefit to churches, because it allows churches to pay pastors next to nothing, while making up for it in free housing. No other charity gets that.

    For conservative churches, however, that isn’t enough. They want all of those benefits AND that preferential treatment. They want to be allowed to function as political parties unaccountable under the law. Political parties to whom donations are tax-deductible. It isn’t that you want fair treatment, because you already have preferential treatment. What you want is a different set of rules for conservative Christian churches than for everyone else. And you may get that– for a while. But that kind of system eventually collapses under its own corrupt weight.

  • Morminion

    The corprocult of Mormonism is nothing more than a REIT ponzi scheme. They offer worthless ble$$ings for your time and money and they invest it in Malls and the Stock Market. Presently, the Corporation of the President, a sole proprietorship, has well over $32 BILLION tied up in the stock market. To put that in perspective, 1 million seconds is 12 days long, 1 Billion seconds is 32 years long. The corporation could give away $1/second for 1000 years and they would still have money left over.

  • Kiwi57

    Sorry Maine septic, where did Chris ask for “a different set of rules for conservative Christian churches?” I only see him arguing that the demands for change, mostly from the left, are incoherent and/or inconsistent. Do you disagree?

  • Kiwi57

    Your jealousy is noted.

  • Morminion

    It’s your money. No refunds.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “…I only see him arguing that the demands for change, mostly from the left, are incoherent and/or inconsistent. Do you disagree?”

    We have always had the separation of church and state in the Constitution. People across the political spectrum have disagreed about how that separation should play out in government, so that is nothing new. What IS new is the attempt to permit churches to undermine that separation or pretend it never existed. What these churches who want to endorse candidates seek is the real change: they want political power without accountability. And it’s not a matter of left versus right, because most moderates and some conservatives recognize how toxic that would be.

    Chris clearly didn’t understand tax law regarding churches. My hope is that he also doesn’t realize what the goals he’s supporting would really accomplish.

  • RockwellDidNothingWrong

    HELP! HELP! A church for which I do not attend, donate money to, or even believe in is doing things I don’t agree with!

  • Kiwi57

    MS: “What IS new is the attempt to permit churches to undermine that separation or pretend it never existed.”

    Who is making such an attempt, and how is that relevant to Chris’s post? If he’s supporting such a thing, I seem to have missed it.

    MS: “What these churches who want to endorse candidates seek is the real change: they want political power without accountability.”

    Does Chris want churches to endorse candidates? Where?

    I see him arguing that some churches already do it (and nobody seems to complain, perhaps because they are supporting candidates from the left and not the right) but where does he say that churches ought to be doing it?

    MS: “And it’s not a matter of left versus right, because most moderates and some conservatives recognize how toxic that would be.”

    Evidently not in all cases.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    I’m proceeding on the assumption that you mean these questions sincerely. Do you?

    “Who is making such an attempt (to undermine the Separation of Church and State), and how is that relevant to Chris’s post? If he’s supporting such a thing, I seem to have missed it.”

    Chris wrote an article attacking the straw man argument that “churches shouldn’t get involved in politics because they don’t pay taxes.” No one is actually saying that, so we’re left to figure out what is he actually trying to respond to.

    The only similar issue I’m aware of is the separation of church and state. Many churches are attempting to undermine that Constitutional principle by assuming exclusive privilege for themselves and then claiming to be persecuted whenever anyone objects. Examples: churches given access to students for proselytizing, displaying Christian symbols on government property, sectarian prayers at government meetings, attacks on the teaching of science in schools, attacks on a science-based approach to medical care, and “religious liberty” laws that prioritizing conservative religious feelings over everyone else’s civil rights.

    “Does Chris want churches to endorse candidates? Where?”

    Chris specified the Johnson Amendment and claimed (without evidence) that it is constitutionally questionable. The Johnson Amendment says that if any organization– religious or otherwise– is going to be engaging in partisan politics, donations to it should not be tax-deductible. What do YOU think he’s talking about?

    “I see him arguing that some churches already do it (and nobody seems to complain, perhaps because they are supporting candidates from the left and not the right) but where does he say that churches ought to be doing it?”

    That’s more of a statement than a question, and it’s based on falsehoods. Liberal and moderate churches have been busted for endorsing candidates, and I’m not aware of any churches that have lost their status for discussing social positions– liberal or conservative.

    I’ve answered your questions, and you’ve seeded your questions with falsehoods, but I should point out that you’ve yet to refute anything I’ve said.

  • Kiwi57

    MS: “No one is actually saying that, so we’re left to figure out what is he actually trying to respond to.”

    Excuse me, but people are saying that. I’ve seen that selfsame assertion, in various forms, in a raft of places. It was virtually the mantra of the left in the aftermath of the Proposition 8 controversy in California. If you really haven’t heard of such a thing – in which case, you must have been living under a rock for rather a long time – I suggest you google Fred Karger.

    MS: “The only similar issue I’m aware of is the separation of church and state.”

    Ah, so rather than responding to Chris’s actual post, you’re responding to what you assume he’s talking about instead.

    Just who is making straw man arguments, again?

    MS: “Many churches are attempting to undermine that Constitutional principle by assuming exclusive privilege for themselves and then claiming to be persecuted whenever anyone objects. Examples: churches given access to students for proselytizing”

    Pardon me for interrupting your slogans, but what does that mean, exactly? Are university campuses supposed to be the “exclusive privilege” of the anti-theist left, or something? Or are they just supposed to be “safe spaces” where nobody has to hear any views they’re not comfortable with? What sort of “exclusive privilege” are churches asking for?

    MS: “displaying Christian symbols on government property”

    You mean like Ten Commandments plaques in front of courthouses? This is a new thing, is it?

    MS: “sectarian prayers at government meetings”

    Again, how new is that?

    MS: “attacks on the teaching of science in schools”

    Which churches do that? I haven’t heard of it, myself.

    Or is that a slogan representing something else?

    MS: “attacks on a science-based approach to medical care”

    Oh, there are churches demanding that trained medical professionals be banned from practice, and witch doctors be brought in to replace them?

    Or is that also a slogan representing something else?

    MS: “and ‘religious liberty’ laws that prioritizing conservative religious feelings over everyone else’s civil rights.”

    Oh, you mean laws that prevent government coercing religious believers into supporting activities to which they have a principled objection? If that’s what you are talking about, then you’ve badly garbled what’s going on. They actually prioritise the civil rights of religious believers over the feelings of those who feel entitled to compel conformity.

    MS: “Chris specified the Johnson Amendment and claimed (without evidence) that it is constitutionally questionable.”

    Well, that’s his opinion. If you ask him, maybe he can cite some authorities on that point.

    MS: “The Johnson Amendment says that if any organization– religious or otherwise– is going to be engaging in partisan politics, donations to it should not be tax-deductible. What do YOU think he’s talking about?”

    I don’t see any reason to assume that he wants churches to be endorsing candidates. That’s an important leap of logic. One of the reasons the left and the right keep talking past each other is that whenever the left see something they think is wrong, they think they should immediately remove it, whereas actual conservatives have respect for settled law even if they don’t think it’s well-founded.

    MS: “I’ve answered your questions, and you’ve seeded your questions with falsehoods,”

    No. I have not.

    MS: “but I should point out that you’ve yet to refute anything I’ve said.”

    That’s okay. You’ve yet to even address anything Chris said.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “That’s okay. You’ve yet to even address anything Chris said.”

    You can stop with the “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” nonsense. For one thing, your most recent comment included legitimate arguments (wrong, but legitimate) instead of just insincere questions, so that last sentence was unnecessary and beneath you. You’d already responded.

    For another, I correctly pointed out that Chris’ defense of church politicking was based largely on a misunderstanding of how tax law works. You may not like what I’ve said since then, but those were legitimate criticisms of his article.

    “Excuse me, but people are saying that. I’ve seen that selfsame assertion, in various forms, in a raft of places.”

    OK. I’m open. Post links to organizations saying that, and I’ll look. You look, too, because I think you’ll find they were saying was actually that churches should not be tax-exempt charities if they’re going to engage in partisan politics. If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it.

  • RockwellDidNothingWrong

    Shouldn’t you be off protesting highway crosses?

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “Shouldn’t you be off protesting highway crosses?”

    Shouldn’t you be out burning crosses?

  • RockwellDidNothingWrong

    Oh child, if you only realized how much the Book of Mormon condemns racism. Modern atheist’s have made their great cause going after wedding cake bakers and memorials to fallen police officers. That is a step up from the USSR however.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “Oh child, if you only realized how much the Book of Mormon condemns racism.”

    http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-mormon-church-black-members-20180601-story.html

  • RockwellDidNothingWrong

    >Is told the Book of Mormon is anti-racism
    >Posts a story about the priesthood ban which has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon

    Friendly reminder the Book of Mormon is a story about how racism and treating people poorly because of skin color can destroy a nation.

    “… he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile. 2 Nephi 26:33” What a racist and awful passage!

  • Maine_Skeptic

    Let me be clear that the fever dream afflicting the majority of white conservatives is a human failing, not a Mormon one or a Christian one. No world view or ethnicity makes people immune to irrational fear and groupthink. Atheism was not the motivator for Stalin’s purges, but it also didn’t immunize atheists against their worst and most destructive collective impulses.

    Nor are all white conservative Christians giving in to the “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” that weakens them to the point that they’re afraid of an “invasion” by a few dozen people walking through Central America toward our nation’s southern border.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “…Posts a story about the priesthood ban which has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon…”

    I’m not trying to indict Mormonism. I’m just saying it doesn’t immunize Mormons against bigotry any more than any other religion or world view does. Prejudice is something we each have to recognize and work against in ourselves, regardless of what we believe or don’t believe.

  • RockwellDidNothingWrong

    “Atheism was not the motivator for Stalin’s purges”

    That is the classic denial the atheist crowd loves to throw out:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/League_of_Militant_Atheists
    https://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1463&index=1

    The USSR was an attempt to stamp out religion by the sword. Even praying in public was a crime. Feel free to spit on the millions who were butchered in the name of secularism if it helps you win an internet debate.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    You do realize there’s a difference between being an atheist and wanting to wipe out all religion with violence, right? That atheism does not automatically make people want to punish people who pray in public? In the very comment you’re responding to, I told you that atheism doesn’t make people immune to blind fear and hatred.

    I’m neither ashamed nor proud of being an atheist. It’s a label that happens to fit me, but it fits a lot of people that I have almost nothing in common with. I think the term “skeptic” says more about me. (And no, skeptics are not immune to prejudice or violence, though I think it helps.)

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Keep the Church out of Politics and Other Terrible Arguments”

    If a church IS involved in politics then it is in violation of 501(c)(3) and is supposed to have it’s rel;gious tax emption taken away because it has moved from being a church to being a lobby group.

    In 1954, Congress approved an amendment by Sen. Lyndon Johnson to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity. To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years, it has in fact strengthened the ban. The most recent change came in 1987 when Congress amended the language to clarify that the prohibition also applies to statements opposing candidates.

    Currently, the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

  • believers are so amusing sometimes. this is a good example. “The Church.” newsflash, CC: there are lots and lots of different kinds of xtianity and a long history of literal fighting between them. how would you like a bunch of Southern Baptists running Utah? i’m guessing not so much. or maybe some Hindus?

    the reason for separating government from religion is obvious, and history bears out the wisdom of it. go study some and rethink this post.

  • TinnyWhistler

    “The Church” is new official shorthand for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints since the president said that no one’s allowed to shorten that mouthful to anything but “The Church.” “Mormon” has been officially out of style for a long time though they’re finally cracking down on it but it’s pretty new that they officially object to “LDS” or “LDS church.” The official website is still lds.org but the choir got renamed so they’re at least somewhat more serious about it this time.

  • Kiwi57

    1. The fact is that your first comment did simply talk past the OP.

    2. In none of my comments did I make any “insincere questions.” You are clearly projecting.

    3. You assert that you “correctly pointed out that Chris’ defense of church politicking was based largely on a misunderstanding of how tax law works.” But you merely asserted that, and didn’t show what the misunderstanding was.

    4. You are shifting the goal posts when you demand “organizations.” What I’ve seen is rather a lot of internet commentary from a lot of hostile people, like those who comment in these threads. And the theme has been things like “it’s time to tax churches if they’re going to get involved in politics,” with direct reference to such things as California Proposition 8.

    Not “partisan politics.” Proposition 8.

  • Kiwi57

    It’s generally a good idea to respond to the post, and not merely the title.

    Just a thought.

  • Kiwi57

    Did you actually read the post to which you purport to be responding?

  • Maine_Skeptic

    Your claim that I talked past Chris’ article is difficult to treat as sincere, but here it is one more time: Among other things, I’ve explained that the article was based on a misunderstanding of the law. He also mischaracterized the arguments of those who have a problem with church politicking. In light of those answers, which arguments from the article do you feel are still valid and unaddressed? His claim that anyone who complains about church behavior is a bigot?

    “…you merely asserted that (Chris’s defense of church politicking was based largely on a misunderstanding of tax law), and didn’t show what the misunderstanding was…”

    This is also difficult to take seriously. I was clear. His “friends of the library” example falsely likened church politicking to a friends group appealing to a city council for the budget of the library to be increased. He also falsely claimed the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional, even though it was historically uncontroversial until the GOP and Evangelicals wanted YET ANOTHER preferential treatment for Christian churches. He even gets it wrong when he says the Johnson Amendment was an IRS rule, when it’s actually in the legal code. I also explained in detail why his claim that people think churches should pay taxes is a straw man argument. I explained in detail what the actual problems are when people speak out against church politicking. Again: what argument from his article do you think is unaddressed?

    Your claim that I’m moving the goal posts deserves its own separate response.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “4. You are shifting the goal posts when you demand “organizations (who have said that churches should pay taxes.” What I’ve seen is rather a lot of internet commentary from a lot of hostile people…”

    I wasn’t not shifting the goal posts. Chris’ article was an attempt to respond to the arguments against church politicking, but he mischaracterized those arguments and then responded badly to the mischaracterizations. I explained what some of the arguments actually are.

    The fight is not to make churches pay taxes. The court arguments and demonstrations are not because people think churches should pay taxes. When I said “No one is actually saying that,” I thought we were both talking about the arguments being made by people ACTUALLY fighting to defend the separation of church and state.

    Sincere question: Do you still think there is a serious attempt to limit a church’s free speech unless that church pays taxes?

  • Kiwi57

    MS: “I wasn’t not shifting the goal posts. Chris’ article was an attempt to respond to the arguments against church politicking, but he mischaracterized those arguments and then responded badly to the mischaracterizations. I explained what some of the arguments actually are.”

    It’s a good thing Chris isn’t female, or you’d be done for “mansplaining.” The OP starts by setting out the arguments to which Chris is responding. You’re essentially scolding him for not responding to the arguments you preferred he addressed; those presumably being made by “people ACTUALLY fighting to defend the separation of church and state.”

    I don’t see Chris as arguing with “people ACTUALLY fighting to defend the separation of church and state.” I see him arguing with people ACTUALLY fighting – or at least arguing – for measures that would entangle church and state by making the former subject to the latter.

    The two things are not the same.

    That doesn’t preclude the possibility that some of those who are arguing for such measures might recite the slogans associated with “fighting to defend the separation of church and state,” because slogans are what most contemporary activism relies upon, and they need have little or nothing to do with the actual agenda being promoted.

    If indeed there are any “people ACTUALLY fighting to defend the separation of church and state,” relying upon the arguments you present, then they are clearly not fighting against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, since none of those arguments apply. (Indeed, it’s not clear to me who it is that they would need to be fighting against.) Among other things, the Church is not ACTUALLY trying to entangle church and state. The Church does not endorse parties or candidates. The last time it did so was when a particular party chose to use military force against us, and that was rather a long time ago. Throughout your lifetime, and mine, and indeed for a span exceeding the sum of both of our lifetimes, the Church has confined its activities in the public square to lobbying legislators, and sometimes voters, on matters of public debate where it has a position to defend.

    Some of the matters which have aroused the ire of the censorious left have included California Prop 8, the recent Utah Prop 2 and the ERA back in the 1970’s. Various others, including some Chris mentioned as well as some earlier ones (I recall the Church opposing the siting of ICBM silos in Utah) where the Church’s position aligned with left-wing views, naturally attracted no comment from them. Why should they? In my experience, the left doesn’t care much about principles, only outcomes. But you can be sure of one thing: the very next time the Church takes a socially conservative position on a public issue, the internet water-cooler chat will start up again. “If they’re going to get involved in politics, they should pay taxes!!”

    You may respond that this chatter is unserious and therefore not worthy of being engaged. At one level you may be right; but this is Chris’s blog, and he thought it was worth engaging. Furthermore, it’s my observation that unaddressed assumptions have a way of becoming default positions. Popular opinions don’t have to be well-founded; they just have to be popular.

    I’m going to follow up with an anecdote. I live in New Zealand. A few years ago, the National party (our party of the sort-of right) was receiving support from a small Christian group called the Exclusive Brethren. The then-ruling Labour party treated it like a great scandal, and did their best to milk it for maximum political benefit. For months in a row, our then Prime Minister could be seen on Television, reminding voters about how horrible it was that the Opposition was talking to the Exclusive Brethren.

    In the meantime, every year, the notables of the Labour party would happily toddle off to the Ratana Church to accept their endorsement. You see, the Ratana Church has a mostly Maori membership, and their endorsement carried a lot of weight with a significant number of Maori voters.

    So when I see lefties having seizures about the separation of church and state only when a church takes a socially conservative position, I not inclined to conclude that I’m seeing “people ACTUALLY fighting to defend the separation of church and state.” I’m inclined to think that’s just a slogan.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “I don’t see Chris as arguing with “people ACTUALLY fighting to defend the separation of church and state.” I see him arguing with people ACTUALLY fighting – or at least arguing – for measures that would entangle church and state by making the former subject to the latter.”

    While I could and would strenuously disagree with that claim, I think it would be a more honest expression of the dominant conservative Christian attitude.

    “…then they are clearly not fighting against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, since none of those arguments apply… ”

    This, and the fact that we’re talking about two very different countries, may actually be the heart of our disagreement, and it could be a sincere misunderstanding. Is there a specific incident to which Chris is responding? That narrower context may not be known to the rest of us. It *would* make pragmatic sense for the LDS Church to oppose complete destruction of separation and church and state, because Mormons are a small minority who would inevitably come under persecution if dominionist Evangelicals were successful.

    “Popular opinions don’t have to be well-founded; they just have to be popular.”

    On that we agree. In this case, however, even if it became law that churches must pay taxes, churches would not notice much difference (as long as donations to them were still tax-deductible by donors). The goal of any honest church is to operate at cost, so income tax is not going to be a major factor. Even if a church is growing, it’s expenses are growing with it. That leaves things like sales tax and property tax, and a lot of churches pay those any way. Only the smallest churches would find property tax to be a make-or-break budget consideration.

    A far bigger impact on church budgets would be the revocation of *charity* status, which would mean donors could not deduct donations from their taxes. That would impact the donors more than the church, and budgets would be impacted because people would be able to contribute fewer dollars. Bigger than that would be revocation of the parsonage exemption, which is the only reason most pastors can make enough to live on.

    “So when I see lefties having seizures about the separation of church and state only when a church takes a socially conservative position, I not inclined to conclude that I’m seeing “people ACTUALLY fighting to defend the separation of church and state.”

    That is an understandable position, and in the US, those defending separation of church and state would agree with you. As I’ve noted, liberal churches in the States have been penalized for crossing that line. Here, however, conservative churches are seldom scrutinized. because conservative Christians have an outrageously disproportionate representation in state and federal government.

  • Pongo

    The church is ALREADY treated different from other non-profits. They are treated much more liberally. There are rules in place that apply specifically to churches which make it very difficult to audit them. I would be greatly in favor of churches losing their special status and being treated exactly like all other 501(c)(3) charitable organizations.

  • DeseretShill

    Why? Church’s provide a very different service than a traditional charity. How does one determent if something is a religious expense or not?

  • Pongo

    There are guidelines in the tax code. Every charity has a mission statement and set of goals. If the funds are spent in the furtherance of those charitable goals, then the expense is legitimately deductible. Churches do internal audits all the time. Their number one concern is not God, but cash flow.

  • DeseretShill

    “Their number one concern is not God, but cash flow.”

    You do realize that Church’s need money to operate right? Should the LDS Church stop auditing itself and fire its external accounting firms so they can claim to “be more concerned with God”? Hard to operate a global religious organization without the ability to track your funds.

  • Pongo

    And there you go. By your own admission, the church should be able to pass an external audit with flying colors.

  • DeseretShill

    The Church already has an internal auditing department and employs public accounting firms. Is there is something immoral or wrong about the Church accumulating wealth?

  • Pongo

    Now you’re simply shifting the goalposts. You initially claimed that churches can’t possibly account for how their money is spent. Now you say they can, but what does it matter if they spend it on enriching the church elders and buying political influence? So where do you go next to justify insulating churches from the same auditing requirements that all other 501(c)(3) charities are required to meet?

  • DeseretShill

    “You initially claimed that churches can’t possibly account for how their money is spent.”

    I said trying to determine what is considered a religious expense and what is not is tricky. Is transportation for church leadership a religious expense? What about salaries of church employees? Not that hard to grasp.

    “they spend it on enriching the church elders”

    What evidence do you have that the LDS Church uses church funds to enrich the elders?

    “buying political influence”

    Any large organization, church or otherwise, has political influence. Should non-profits have zero voice in the political sphere?

    ‘So where do you go next to justify insulating churches from the same auditing requirements that all other 501(c)(3) charities are required to meet?”

    Where did I say that? The Church is audited often and they spend a great amount of money to hire the best accounting firms for the job.

    Just lay your cards on the table: you want church’s to be taxed because you don’t like religion and want to use the state as a cudgel against religion. Of course, you don’t really grasp the consequences of such a policy being enacted but you dream of it regardless.

  • Pongo

    You seem to be unaware there is more than one denomination or religion in the United States. When I say “churches” be aware that there are more churches than just those incorporated under the LDS. Oh, I forget—we’re not allowed to use “LDS” anymore. We’re not even allowed to say “Mormon” anymore. Ah well, I suppose I risk the wrath of the Imaginary One. You also don’t seem to comprehend the concept of the hypothetical statement. The word “if” indicates a subjunctive mood, not indicative. Thus “IF they spend it on enriching the church elders” is a sentence in subjunctive mood, indicating a hypothetical situation. Do you grasp the difference, yet?

    The LDS Church is not audited “often.” NOT ONE CHURCH in the United States has been audited since 2009. Even before that, it was extremely rare. Thanks to Rule 7611, initiating an audit required special approval by a high-ranking officer of the IRS and documentation of probable cause that actual malfeasance has occurred (something an audit could normally uncover, but now the proof has to come BEFORE the audit is permitted). That’s a standard of protection that no other class of 501(c)(3) charity in the USA enjoys. Now the IRS has extended 7611 to payroll tax inquiries. Churches enjoy special tax status. They already have their own sections of the tax code protecting them from scrutiny.

  • DeseretShill

    You should be clear you are referring to IRS auditing before you go on another unhinged rant. That would of saved you a lot of time. Then again, you think churchs care about money rather than God since they are guilty of the crime of having funds! The horror!

  • DeseretShill

    I too hate the fact The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is financially independent and cannot be held hostage. Outrageous!

  • Christopher D. Cunningham

    This blog is directed toward those discussing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s not a general interest blog.

    I understand your concern about the insular language, but given the tight focus of what we’re doing here I think it’s appropriate.

  • fractal

    I see no reason for any part of a church, except its building of worship, to be exempt from paying taxes. It is obvious that today’s Christian doesn’t understand the notion of separation of Church and State. Even their “humanitarian” activities are laced with moral pronouncements which affect society.

  • fractal

    “THE CHURCH” used as a nickname for LSD, is wholly pompous and presumptuous.
    Also, it is copycatting the Catholics, who call their linage that, because they think they are the One True Church.

    Best to avoid both if that is the way they view themselves…

  • Kiwi57

    I don’t know anyone who uses “THE CHURCH” as a nickname for LSD.

    Tell us, fractal: when you refer to your car, do you always specify the make, model and plate number, or do you call it “the car?”

    Once we know which church is under discussion, it’s perfectly acceptable to call it “the Church.” No matter which one it is.

    If you really, really, really want to find fault, you will. Even when there isn’t one. As in this case.

  • LightRevolutions dotcom

    Wow. No question where you are coming from, “Maine Skeptic”! I suppose that’s good. You probably hate Trump; despise “conservative” religions, particularly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; and buy into the main stream media spin on current events and historical perspective/ interpretation, oh yes, and hate white males especially! There will be NO agreement, NO resolve between your side and apparently “kiwi57” and the article author Chris, you simply look at things through incredibly different lenses. Is there an objective way to discern between the two views? … Sure, but it requires integrity over agenda, and ironically both sides believe they have that advantage … but both sides cannot be right/ one is wrong & the other right/ both may be wrong together/ both may have elements of truth. … sounds like the conundrum faced by Joseph Smith in 1820! This much I will say: The Constitution prohibits STATE/ Government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion or freedom of speech, or people’s rights to peaceable assembly or petition of Government for a redress of grievances: in First Amendment. NO WHERE in the Constitution is there a directive that would [on its face squarely oppose and neuter this First Amendment to] prohibit a religion from speaking freely, or its assembled people to petition or freely exercise their collective rights of speech & petition. So called “separation of church and state” is NOT a two way-street: it is to keep state out of the business of church while allowing church to speak freely and openly about and to state. This should be the END of this argument! But then there is this “Johnson Amendment” … Trump has openly attacked the sensibility of this legal manipulation by a politician to shut down his opposition. Constitution is the SUPREME LAW of the land. I only express myself for the benefit of truth seekers, for the faithful, for my fellow-patriots and lovers of God / or those who would like to be such. I have only read a couple of “Christopher D. Cunningham” articles, and he seems very sensible and open-minded, as evidenced in his assessment of Nephi’s initial unbelief, so I am happy to lend him support.

  • LightRevolutions dotcom

    RE the dispute below between Skeptic & Kiwi: Wow. No question where you are coming from, “Maine Skeptic”! I suppose that’s good. You probably hate Trump; despise “conservative” religions, particularly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; and buy into the main stream media spin on current events and historical perspective/ interpretation, oh yes, and hate white males especially! There will be NO agreement, NO resolve between your side and apparently “kiwi57” and the article author Chris, you simply look at things through incredibly different lenses. Is there an objective way to discern between the two views? … Sure, but it requires integrity over agenda, and ironically both sides believe they have that advantage … but both sides cannot be right/ one is wrong & the other right/ both may be wrong together/ both may have elements of truth. … sounds like the conundrum faced by Joseph Smith in 1820! This much I will say: The Constitution prohibits STATE/ Government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion or freedom of speech, or people’s rights to peaceable assembly or petition of Government for a redress of grievances: in First Amendment. NO WHERE in the Constitution is there a directive that would [on its face squarely oppose and neuter this First Amendment to] prohibit a religion from speaking freely, or its assembled people to petition or freely exercise their collective rights of speech & petition. So called “separation of church and state” is NOT a two way-street: it is to keep state out of the business of church while allowing church to speak freely and openly about and to state. This should be the END of this argument! But then there is this “Johnson Amendment” … Trump has openly attacked the sensibility of this legal manipulation by a politician to shut down his opposition. Constitution is the SUPREME LAW of the land. I only express myself for the benefit of truth seekers, for the faithful, for my fellow-patriots and lovers of God / or those who would like to be such. I have only read a couple of “Christopher D. Cunningham” articles, and he seems very sensible and open-minded, as evidenced in his assessment of Nephi’s initial unbelief, so I am happy to lend him support.

  • LightRevolutions dotcom

    $32 Billion! Wow, that is a chunk of change! I would be interested in the documentation/ evidence; not to challenge but to be better informed. I have personal issue with the ‘Mall’ expenditures myself.

  • Kiwi57

    If you “see no reason for any part of a church, except its building of worship, to be exempt from paying taxes,” then it’s not obvious to me that you “understand the notion of separation of Church and State.” If the state has power to tax churches, then that’s not separation, it’s subordination.

    Churches aren’t taxed, not as a favour that the state gives out of the goodness of its bureaucratic little heart, but because the state has no right to tax them. Taxing churches would give the state power to regulate, control and effectively destroy churches as institutions. Radical anti-theists might seek such an outcome, but others do not.

  • fractal

    “IF YOU REALLY REALLY REALLY WANT TO FIND FAULT…”
    You mean like dissing someone for transposing S and D?

    And the LDS church isn’t saying we should call it THE CHURCH after we know what we are talking about—it is saying not to use the terms Mormon or LDS at all!
    Please.
    No one is going to use that longarse title, and neither are we going to call Mormonism THE CHURCH.
    Get over yourselves, oh pompous ones.

  • fractal

    Baloney.

    Churches right now are little petty fiefdoms that make the rest of us pay for their wealth.
    We certainly have the right to tax them NOW, if they start getting political, and we should have the right to tax them outright—we can always CHANGE the laws…

    Propagandizing and strong-arming the poor to pray, under the farcical umbrella of “charity” is just plain nasty.
    I saw it happen often in social services.
    I think one of the worst domestic decisions the U.S. has ever made, was to give pubic monies to “faith based” charities, which tend to bully, belittle their clients, as well as providing third class services.

    A lot of my clients would REFUSE to go anywhere near religious social services, because they already knew what it would be like, and didn’t feel like being forced to attend church services, like the Salvation Army does, or listen to a snotty church lady tell them they can only get enough dental services to get a GOOD tooth pulled, instead of a root canal, because that is all they deserve and why aren’t they sufficiently grateful—I saw a Catholic services group do that with one of my clients.

    Nasty business.
    And yet, we let religious organizations do just that, and don’t blink.
    So your assertion that the State wants to “regulate, control and effectively destroy churches as institutions” is just plain paranoid.

    Start paying your way, FREELOADERS.
    Or stop getting sewer services, fire fighting services etc…
    You don’t provide anything our nation needs so badly, that we must treat you as if you are minor royalty.
    Y’all are way too ENTITLED as it is.

  • Kiwi57

    fractal: “And the LDS church isn’t saying we should call it THE CHURCH after we know what we are talking about—it is saying not to use the terms Mormon or LDS at all!”

    Let’s check that claim, shall we?

    In the first reference, the full name of the Church is preferred: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

    When a shortened reference is needed, the terms “the Church” or the “Church of Jesus Christ” are encouraged. The “restored Church of Jesus Christ” is also accurate and encouraged.

    https://www.mormonnewsroom.org.nz/style-guide

    What do you think “the first reference” means, fractal?

    fractal: “No one is going to use that longarse title, and neither are we going to call Mormonism THE CHURCH.”

    You can be as disrespectful as you please, and of course you will. But the prophet wasn’t speaking to you.

    We will use the name given to the Church by revelation in 1838; and people with manners will follow suit, just like they would in all other circumstances. I always call people by whatever name they prefer. How about you?

    fractal: “Get over yourselves, oh pompous ones.”

    It’s not about you. Maybe you’re the one who needs to get over yourself.

  • Kiwi57

    Okay, I get it. You and your nasty statist tovarishchi want to get churches under the thumb of the state.

    Well, that’s been done before.

    Maine_skeptic, please take note.

    But I suggest you stop pretending that you want to do it in order to preserve the separation of Church and State.

    Incidentally, your anonymous anecdote doesn’t make sense. What ethical dentist would pull a healthy tooth instead of treating one that needs a root canal excavation?

    Back when the GW Bush administration announced that they were setting up partnerships with faith-based groups to provide social services, I predicted that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would probably not get involved. The Church’s critics loudly contradicted me, confidently announcing that “the Mormons” would be at the head of the stampede to get their snouts into the government trough. Shortly after this exchange, President Gordon B. Hinckley, then president of the Church, announced that the Church would not get involved in the initiative.

    The scumbag clique never admitted that they were wrong, of course. But they did change the subject, which is as close as they can get to making such an admission.

    I have no trouble with the Church (or any other church) being required to pay for services it uses, such as water and sewage. We don’t expect it to not pay an electricity bill, after all. But taxing churches is a whole different level of religious oppression, and I am confident that no good person anywhere actually wants that.

  • Kiwi57

    fractal: “You mean like dissing someone for transposing S and D?”

    Do S and D stand for Spite and Detestation? Because that’s what I’m mostly taking issue with.

  • fractal

    Fine.
    See if you can get anyone outside of the LDS faithful to do this.
    I don’t think you will…

  • fractal

    I bet you talk just like you write.
    No paragraphs; just rattling on profusely.
    Poor formatting makes for bored readers.
    Try harder.

  • fractal

    I think religion should have free voice.
    I also think churches should pay all the taxes other businesses pay.
    Can’t have it both ways.

  • DeseretShill

    “I also think churches should pay all the taxes other businesses pay.”

    Why is that? Church’s are different than a business as Microsoft makes no promise of eternal salvation.

    “Can’t have it both ways.”

    If you tax church’s you destroy separation of church and state. No taxation without representation.

  • fractal

    I don’t CARE what kind of “eternal salvation” y’all lie about—
    PAY YOUR TAXES.
    Separation of Church and Stated died a long time ago in this country, as preachers throughout play politics daily—and no one monitors or attempts to stop them.

    Religion is just the highest form of politics, since it tries to make its assertions about reality appear to be magical tomes from on high.

    Try taking a social psychology class.

  • DeseretShill

    So your legal argument for taxing church’s is….what exactly? It seems you just want to use the state as a cudgel against religion(shocking).

    What do you think happens if Church’s become taxed? What laws will be effected by this massive shift in tax law?

  • DeseretShill

    “Start paying your way, FREELOADERS.”

    I imagine you are against all tax exempt status for all charities right? I also assume you want the government to stop subsidizing planned parenthood and NPR as well. Unless of course, you really just hate religion and want to punish the very existence of it by that state.

  • LightRevolutions dotcom

    thanks for the insight.

  • Morminion

    Mormonleaks broke the story. They have full documentation

  • fractal

    You are welcome.
    Short paragraphs make a lot of difference.

  • fractal

    Who says dentists are ethical?

    If “the Church” will only pay for an extraction, that is all they were willing to do, even thought their own dentist on site said that the tooth could easily be saved—just more expensive.

    http://www.kcsocialservices.org/

    That is their link.
    I sure don’t mind advertising what mean-spirited Church Ladies they are.

  • Kiwi57

    Fractal: “Who says dentists are ethical?”

    Okay, you got me there.

    Fractal: “If ‘the Church’ will only pay for an extraction, that is all they were willing to do, even thought their own dentist on site said that the tooth could easily be saved—just more expensive.”

    Okay, now that makes more sense. I originally thought you said that they ignored a tooth that needed treatment and paid for a healthy tooth to be extracted. Thanks for clearing that up.

    But here’s the thing: charities don’t have unlimited resources – most that I know about are operating on tight budgets – and a lot of the time they just have to choose between doing something for everyone, or everything for someone. I’ve had crowns, and they’re not at all cheap. If you can afford to pay for one crown or five extractions, and you’ve got five (or more) people needing help with dental work, what do you do?

    Fractal: “I sure don’t mind advertising what mean-spirited Church Ladies they are.”

    Well maybe they are, although I can’t imagine why anyone would want to get involved in charity work just to be mean to people.

  • TinnyWhistler

    “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to get involved in charity work just to be mean to people.”
    Kudos from people they know for doing the charity work giving them license to be mean to people. Good balancing out the bad, keeping people from speaking up about how mean/controlling/whatever they are because they’re obviously a good person for doing the charity work.

  • Morminion

    Go to Mormonleaks. They have full documentation there about the Corporations stock market portfolio. https://kutv.com/news/local/mormonleaks-says-new-documents-link-lds-church-to-companies-worth-over-32-billion