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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Maybe it's time for churches to forfeit their tax exempt status?

Growing up, particularly during my teenage years, my parents would use whatever leverage they had on me to get me to do what they wanted.  Granted these days I understand it was largely a necessity because in order to threaten discipline for doing, or not doing, something, you have to actually have control of something that person uses, likes, or believes they need.   At the time though, I hated it and found the practice loathsome.  And some times, the parents can get it wrong by being too heavy handed with "holding something over" their kids' heads.  But alas, I understand that parents are not perfect having been one for almost 15 years now and as such, having that leverage and wielding it effectively is part of being a parent.

The idea to take away from this is that when someone provides you something, usually if you do not pay for it in some fashion, they have a certain amount of leverage, or power, over you.  Should you do something they do not like or refuse to do something they want you to do, they can threaten to alter or cease whatever it is they're providing to you.   And depending on how valuable this thing is, it might force you to reconsider your position.  This is nothing profound or new and is an innate part of human nature when it comes to conflict resolution.  It's just always important to remember that though: if you're dependent on someone, they have leverage and power.  How they use it depends on the person, but the idea is pretty universal.

So lately, the left has been waging lawfare against Christian business owners that will not service homosexual weddings.  And even a state DA has sued a business for the owner's stance on not servicing a gay wedding. We've also seen the federal government try to compel Christian and Catholic employers to pay for their employees' birth control or morning after pills.  These are examples of "small ball".  They're intended to test the legal waters of an agenda they're pushing by going after smaller, potentially more vulnerable targets and areas of law. And if the results go as they want, then the small ball will eventually lead to bigger agenda pushes.  Remember, the left continually will build upon small victories to gain the momentum they need for their overall agenda push.  So the small ball you see today regarding Christians businesses refusing business based on principle can lead to bigger things such as forcing churches to marry and recognize homosexual unions.  And that's not even the end game.  Gay marriage is just a wedge issue.  The real goal is scrub the Church of professing any beliefs that the left does not agree with, essentially destroying the Church's foundation and marginalizing into irrelevance.  Hopefully I do not need to explain why doing so would be a very bad idea.  Not just for Christians, but for humanity in general.

And you don't think the government won't go there with gay marriage?  Think again. While we're allowed to practice religion freely in this country, it doesn't mean the government doesn't have any leverage to try.  Looping back to the beginning about the inherent leverage/power lending provision has, the government indeed has that leverage in place.  Most churches enjoy a 501(c)(3), or non profit organization, tax exempt status meaning they're exempt from most federal income taxes.  While churches being tax exempt has been around for centuries and that churches are 501(c)(3) by default without having to fill out an application, the fact of the matter is by nature of having this special privilege, the Church has given, involuntarily or not, the government some leverage over it.  So while the government isn't likely to walk in with gun toting soldiers to shut down a church, they do have their fingers in the pie by virtue of allowing them to operate as a 501(c)(3).

And even though there's no rule in the tax code now that says a church must marry anyone according to federal government's definition of marriage (should marriage becoming redefined), it doesn't mean there won't ever be.  Keep in mind, before 1954, 501(c)(3) organizations were allowed to participate in political discussion and endorsements.  It wasn't until then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, introduced legislation that would prohibit 501(c)(3)'s from participating in political activities and endorsement, thus severely limiting the Church's influence on elections. So it's not much of a stretch to imagine the government adjusting the requirements for a church to retain their tax exempt status to other things such as "respecting everyone's civil rights" (as the language would go), which would, of course, mean not refusing to marry a couple solely on the basis of them being gay.

While I can't speak for what the impact of losing tax exempt status would have on a church, I find the fact that it gives government the potential to dictate what a church can or can't do in order to retain that status odious.  With the leftist controlled government revving up their small ball game, it may be time for churches to consider trading in their tax exempt status for freedom from that leverage the government could wield against them.  Having to pay taxes, while no small matter, is at least is a broader scale such that attempting to adjust the tax code to punish "rogue" churches would be more difficult to do and would hopefully raise more resistance since it'd be seen as an aggressive move to restrict 1st Amendment rights.

You could argue that adjusting 501(c)(3) requirements would be seen as such as well, but I think it's a tougher sell.  Tax exempt status isn't a constitutional right, so the government can pretty much offer it to whomever they want with just about any requirements they wish.  However, actively creating tax law that would attempt to punish, via increase in taxation, churches that went "rogue" is a more clear example of violating freedom of religion.  In other words, I think that a government can get away with forcing a church to pay taxes like everyone else by revoking tax exempt status, but would not be able to get away with making them pay more just because of the have conflicting beliefs.

But, mark my words, if the left's small ball plays out as it's looking to play out, you can bet the federal government over these next few years will attempt to strong arm churches into doing things against their beliefs by holding their 501(c)(3) status over their head.  I say let's just opt out now and send a message that "No, we don't need your tax benefits to Extend His Kingdom and we will never compromise our beliefs for anything, especially money."