10/06/2034 7:51 AM ET

OPINION

Yes, Churches Are Businesses

Rian Sifkis
Associate Religion Editor, Huntington Courier

CC BY 3.0 Lakewood Church, Joel Osteen Ministries, Inside the church by ToBeDaniel | Writer image: CC BY 4.0 DSC01128.JPG by Rolands Lakis | Images were cropped. Images used for illustration purposes only.
The amount of money passing through megachurches each week is staggering.
May saw Congress pass the Defined Religious Contributions Act, in a rare moment of sanity.

Also sane: ignoring Republican complaints about the common sense measure.

By any standards, the DRCA is a good law. It takes from religious institutions, which could absolutely pay tax without feeling it at all, and gives to the people marginalized for centuries by religious bodies.

It's good all round!

But it doesn't go far enough. We need to press on in this country to fundamentally see the way we view religion.

I want to talk about Christian churches mainly, which comprise more than 98% of all houses of worship in this country, and have been by far the most culturally influential (and have been the most harmful for minorities).

You see, churches have been getting a free pass on taxes for a long time, because they're considered some squishy entity that doesn't fit for taxation purposes in any other peghole reserved for say, oh I don't know, businesses for example?

Which is exactly what they are.

Let's review: they take money. This is undisputed. And in return, you get a sermon/message/story/lecture on Sundays, maybe on Saturdays too. You might get some weekly activities too, some sort of small group type situation in which smaller groups of the church's members get together.

You might get a camp or a "retreat" or you might have to pay extra for that. Maybe a CD or a book or maybe you need to buy that too.

You see where I'm going with this? It's transactional. You pay money. You get something in return. How is this different from a commercial transaction?

It's a service (for the most part), you say? Well, so is the carpenter who comes to fix your front porch. Or the electrician who fixes your wiring. That's a service too. What's different?

"Ah", you say, "but when I go to church, it's a message being delivered, no-one's replacing my bathroom tiles."

Fine, but when people pay money to a motivational speaker, aren't they getting largely the same thing? Someone to appeal to a philosophical motive, for you to live your life by? What makes your "Reverend" or Pastor or Priest any different? Because you're living your life via messages from a book written by people a long time ago?

Churches are businesses. They all need to be taxed accordingly.

This doesn't mean they all need to be shut down - unless of course they don't pay their taxes, that is. I'm all for people being able to sit and listen to whatever stories make them feel warm and fuzzy inside. You can go to a church and listen to Elvis records if you want. But if you're paying money for a service, the business providing that service needs to contribute to society.

Three years ago, churches took more than $500bn in income. If they gave back just 10% of that, we could house the homeless, feed children in poverty, give single mothers a stipend to keep the heat on in winter...y'know, all the stuff that Jesus would have hated.

We need to fight to get this utterly logical point rammed home with the American public. Especially those that are non-Christian, so they understand that they are paying taxes and churches in their neighborhoods are not. Those churches? They're subsidizing them.

It's important to note, as the DRCA is tied to historic injustices toward certain minority communities (almost exclusively committed by Christians), that a philosophical extension of this concept should apply in avoiding taxation upon other religions.

Which is to say, I've never seen Sikhs protesting to deny other Americans their civil rights, so let's leave them be. The Wiccans? Not out there lynching black people. And so forth.

But institutional churches represent an obvious - albeit religious - commercial interest, and since they do have a history, let's see them for what they really are.
Correction/Broken Link?