Some readers considered me alarmist when I spoke out so strongly against the Senator Charles Grassley investigation of 6 major media ministries. Certainly some of the ministries are pushing the limits in a number of ways, and I don’t personally agree with much of what some are doing. Should they be called on the carpet? Absolutely. But even if you strongly dislike these or other ministries, I’m not sure it’s the place of the government to decide the boundaries of what constitutes church or ministry. Besides, we already have the IRS to deal with, so do we really need more government intrusion into religious affairs?
Now, the Wall Street Journal, in yesterday’s addition cites numerous stories of government intervention in church and ministry affairs across the country in other ways. Particularly as churches or ministries grow and try to make a community impact, tax assessors are getting greedy and wanting a cut of the action. Granted, some of these operations are big, but I still wince when I hear of a local tax guy trying to score points by taxing a local church or trying to limit their operations.
We are in a changing time for religious expression – no question about that. Some ministries own TV stations or networks, churches own shopping malls, and still others work closely with government programs for relief work. So local tax agencies are trying to figure out how all this impacts the local economy and what should and shouldn’t be interfered with.
But that bothers some religious scholars. James Vaughn, law professor at Texas Tech University says, “When you have a taxing authority trying to decide what’s your ministry and what’s not, I see a problem here.”
I couldn’t agree more. The numbers are significant. According to the Journal:
Joyce Meyer Ministries was hit with a $372,000 tax bill in Fenton, Missouri.
Heartland Community Church in Rockford, IL was presented a $132,000 bill.
Evangel Cathedral in Maryland faced a $66,212 assessment. … and the growing list continues. Mostly spurred by aggressive, local, tax accessors.
I worry that if we can’t assemble a group of religious leaders and scholars to make a case of what is and isn’t ministry, and where the limits should be drawn, the government will do it for us. And trust me, the government’s opinion won’t match ours…..