One of the benefits those of us in religious work receive is the ability to take around 50% of our salary without paying tax. (Some take far more – often inappropriately so and other far less. Such is the fluidity of the criteria determined for assessment.)
But there is an undeniable tax break for those in churches and the like.
A couple of weeks back Senator Nick Xenophon introduced a bill to make church’s accountable for their receipt of that exemption. You can read his bill and some of the discussion .
As one who receives benefit from this system I have no problem with it being audited and regulated, but what I found interesting was the criteria for assessment.
Part of the document reads:
(2) The public benefit test must include the following key principles:
(a) there must be an identifiable benefit arising from the aims and activities of an entity;
(b) the benefit must be balanced against any detriment or harm;
(c) the benefit must be to the public or a significant section of the public, and not merely to individuals with a material connection to the entity.
Essentially if a religious organisation is going to get a tax break because they are serving the community, then they need to make sure they are actually doing that. Point C could have come from the mouth of Jesus himself I reckon.
If we as churches claim that we exist to love, bless and serve the local community then this bill would be of no concern. If we exist simply to be a religious club then we have reason to fear. While Senator Xenophon’s bill grew out of a concern over the Church of Scientology specifically, I see his test as being a healthy one and one that will actually serve churches as they orient their mission in the community.
For those that want nothing more than a Sunday gathering and some midweek Bible studies this will be a scary prospect.
As Xenophon says – this is simply a way of ‘letting in the daylight’ and making sure everything is above board and as it should be.
Pretty sad that we would even need to be tested in this way, but perhaps its a wake up call to the church, to refocus on our core business again…