The god problem with taxes

Source, Patheos: Should Churches Be Tax Exempt?

Answer: no.

I started thinking about this years ago because…I lived on Perry Street in the West Village. St. John’s Church on 11th Street–parallel to Perry–owned four or five pretty townhouses on Perry itself. Between the back of the townhouses and the rear of the church was a lovely community garden shared by the church and its tenants in the townhouses.

For a long time, up until the 1980s, similar West Village townhouses had a fairly stable market value of between $125,000 and $150,000. (Yeah, that’s for an entire townhouse, don’t scream in my ears, I’m about to start the serious music season and need those ears ringing only with Bartok, et al.)

Then two things happened: In 1971 St. John’s was destroyed in a fire. By the mid-1980s, the West Village real estate market began its rise.

St. John’s rebuilt. And one by one St. John’s put the townhouses on the market. Don’t know how long the church owned them but let’s hazard a guess that the church bought all those townhouses for less than one of them was worth in the long, stable Village real estate market.

That means that any owner other than a church would have capital gains taxes on the difference between what owner paid for the townhouses and what he sold them for.

The church, of course, was exempt from taxes. Their profit was untouchable.

That’s the first time I thought about religious tax exemptions and, thus, the first time I got really angry.

In fact, whenever I think about it I get really angry.

Trinity Church, on lower Broadway, is a very pretty church with an active serious music program. I’ve been to several concerts there–although it’s my opinion, contrary to the common opinion, that the acoustics of the church are not as good as advertised.

Trinity Church also “owns” (or whatever you call it when one church is in the parish of another and ergo belongs to the church) St. Paul’s, famous for living through the Twin Towers catastrophe, and for offering aid and comfort to everyone working in the vast, steaming pit.

Did you know, though, that lovely acoustically imperfect Trinity Church also owns a huge heap of Manhattan? 

No matter how many good works a religious institution does within a community, no way do those good works amount to a hill of beans when compared to what my city government could do with taxes hugely rich religious institutions like Trinity should be paying on the gross (meant in two ways) profits they’re taking in. It’s one thing for a religious institution to be exempt from taxes on whatever donations or membership fees it takes in from individuals who worship in the church–income that finances the maintenance of the church itself.

But god should not be permitted to rake in profits without paying taxes. What did that bible say about Mammon?



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