Afraid of the Daylight?

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…

3 thoughts on “Afraid of the Daylight?

  1. It’s sometimes hard to evaluate from the outside what the community benefit of a church is.

    There are multiple reasons for the Church getting a free kick. Mostly because we’re considered to be generally good for the community, but also because church income comes from donors. If ministers paid tax the same way as everyone else, the church would set up arrangements for members to buy the minister a car, rather than pay a salary that gets taxed. It could get messy.

    It would be good to tighten things up – so people like yourself could feel justified in taking everything that was allowed and so the world doesn’t have anything they can cry foul about (like Sanitarium).

  2. I’d love to see what the kpi’s are going to be, and who is going to be responsible for ensuring they are measured and recorded ‘properly’ (what ever that means).

    Eric – there are already a heck of a lot of financial-based perks for ministers under the current system. These perks are often set up by the senior ministers (with the aid of their head of finance) for themselves and fellow pastors. Most people in the congregations wouldn’t have the slightest clue just how good some ministers can have it.

    This is possibly most notable in the area when it comes to doing a few extra speaking engagements here and there for friends and other pastors. Airfares, hotel stays, meals, and “love offerings” are all taken with thanks, without ever seeing the light of the tax-collector’s microscope – these goods are often not ever declared as income, or they get added to the minister’s non-taxed expense account. Added to this – many times when the minister is doing this speaking engagement, he/she is also still getting paid by their home church for the time they are away speaking (ie, done during their work schedule time).

    While this is not the ‘norm’, it is often the perks enjoyed by those who need it the least – ie, the ones who run the big churches, with regular tithers and who get full-time wages already. These are the areas that can get tightened up for sure.

  3. of course it’s kept quiet… it’s hard enough getting people to give as it is!! do you reckon people would still be compelled to put money in the bucket if they knew that their pastors new 4WD was mostly free, and their holiday property was subsidised by the government?

    I’m with hamo/otherendup… in fact, i think i might fashion me a whip and start turning over tables the next time i’m in a church service, whilst raving about tax breaks and ! 🙂

    but seriously, more light can only be a good thing. anything when shrouded in secrecy runs the risk of becoming tainted… and we all know that mammon is a very subversive master!

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