American Vision: The real path to Pulpit Freedom is to eschew 501c3 status

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wkessel1's picture

The author of the article is the one who is misguided on a couple of things.  Just because a church doesn't file form 1023 to be recognized as a 501(c)(3) entity, doesn't mean they can avoid the rules of 501(c)(3).   Churches are exempt from tax because of IRS Code Section 501.  Code Section 501(a) "An organization described in subsection (c) or (d) or section 401 (a) shall be exempt from taxation under this subtitle".  Churches do not have to file for 1023 to request to be exempt under 501(c)(3), they are automatically qualified if they are truly a church.  Without application of that section churches would potentially be subject to tax (income and sales).

He is also wrong when he says peoples donations would still be deductible.  There are many, many tax exempt organizations listed in section 501(c), only ones that are considered exempt are allowed to give tax deduction receipts for donors.  If churches don't want the 501(c)(3) exemption, donations to them would not be allowed to be deductible.

Not to mention the pastor's housing allowance (for as long as it lasts) would most likely be lost, if a church does not wish to be defined by the IRS definition.

Personally I don't think political statements from the pulpit are a hill worth dying on. The pulpit should be reserved for proclaiming God's Word.  Pastors can be very influential to their members without have to say it from the pulpit.  I believe there will come a time in the not to distant future where church and pastors will loose all tax benefits because they will have to take a stand on a Biblical positions.  I suggest waiting for something worth giving up these benefits for comes knocking.

 

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

A few years back I was doing some research to see if our church documents were in order. What I read from multiple reputable authorities is that churches are presumed 501c3. In other words, they are 501c3s, whether they seek that or not. Presumably, then, they can lose it as well by violating the requirements of that exempt status.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jay's picture

I believe - but you'd need to check with a tax attorney on this - churches are presumed 501(c)(3) at their inception, but it is still imperative to go through the registration process and get a determination letter from the IRS that explicitly states such.  Otherwise, you'd have people opening 'churches' all over the place in order to dodge taxes.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Mike Harding's picture

I agree that we should not be overtly endorsing candidates from the pulpit.  I don't think, however, it is "political" per se  to address many of the issues facing our nation.  Gay marriage, acceptance of homosexuality, criminal/suicidal forms of debt incursion, social gospel issues, capitol punishment, drug and prostitution legalization, obscenity laws, governmental responsibilities assigned by God, marriage and divorce.  The list goes on.  I was thinking as the last remnant of Christianity was recently forced out of Mosul by ISIS, where all professing Christians lost their churches, homes, businesses, livelihood, possessions, and thousands of lives, should the Christians there have been more active and involved in government?  The same goes for Nazi Germany in the 1930's. The pulpits there were largely silent while the Nazis murdered millions of Jews and Christians.  Contrariwise,  Baptists had a strong role informing the Bill of Rights in this country and fighting for its freedom from totalitarianism.  We need to encourage our heavenly citizens to be good citizens here as well.  That we can do from the pulpit.

Pastor Mike Harding

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Yes, historically the line has been between advocating for a right view of issues vs. endorsing a candidate for office. I can't really see why the latter is necessary if a pastor-teacher does a thorough job of the former. There have been times where I pointed out that two candidates had two fundamentally and profoundly different views of the role of government, then argued at length for a biblical understanding of what gov. is supposed to do for citizens and (not necessarily intentionally or vocally) for God. There was no need at that point to indicate which candidate had the correct the view and no need to say "vote for so and so."   In any case, it was/is a bit more complex than that because we have to look at multiple issues.

It's sad that so many go to one extreme or the other: either flouting the law by directly endorsing candidates or neglecting to even apply Scripture to the issues.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

wkessel1's picture

Speaking as a CPA with over 20 year experience helping churches and non-church entities get set-up; I can tell you that churches are not required to file the 1023 and get a determination letter from the IRS in order to be tax exempt and accept tax deductible contributions.  They are considered (or presumed) tax exempt under 501(c)(3) whether they register with the IRS or not.  In some cases it is helpful to file and get the determination letter from the IRS.  I have assisted several churches in getting them so they accept donations from secular employers who match funds or apply for grants.  In other cases paying the $800 user fee to the government would just be waste of money.

wkessel1's picture

Another point to keep in mind is the prohibition is against basically campaigning on behalf of candidates.  Per IRS website:

“Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

Speaking out on the issues that Pastor Harding mentions are things churches and Pastor’s can and should do.

 

Steve Davis's picture

Mike Harding wrote:

......

 I was thinking as the last remnant of Christianity was recently forced out of Mosul by ISIS, where all professing Christians lost their churches, homes, businesses, livelihood, possessions, and thousands of lives, should the Christians there have been more active and involved in government?  The same goes for Nazi Germany in the 1930's. The pulpits there were largely silent while the Nazis murdered millions of Jews and Christians.  Contrariwise,  Baptists had a strong role informing the Bill of Rights in this country and fighting for its freedom from totalitarianism.  We need to encourage our heavenly citizens to be good citizens here as well.  That we can do from the pulpit.

Do you mean active and involved like under colonial Western powers that divided up the region according to their interests, or like under the dictator Saddam Hussein when Christians were protected and allowed to worship before Iraq was liberated by the US, or active and involved during civil war between Sunnis and Shiites following mission accomplished? The comment betrays a fundamental  misunderstanding of just about everything in Islamic lands where Islam is one and there is no separation between “church” and state. I hope none of our Iraqi friends read this.