The Myth Of Religious Charity

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

The concept of charity most people have in mind is “serving the people’s physical needs.” How do religions stack up in performing this work? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church), which touts its charitable work, spent 0.7% of it overall revenue on charitable causes. Compare that figure with the American Red Cross which spends 92.1% of its revenue on the physical needs of those it helps.

The other side of this coin is the estimated $71 billion in annual government subsidies that are granted to religious establishments.

The $71 billion doesn’t include property taxes from which religious institutions are exempt. States are estimated to subsidize religion to the tune of $26.2 billion per year on property worth $600 billion.

The $71 billion doesn’t include religions’s exemption from investment taxes (such as capital gains taxes) on their investment portfolios. For example, the Presbyterian Foundation manages $1.9 billion in assets.

The $71 billion doesn’t include the exemption from sales tax when religions purchase goods and services.

The $71 billion doesn’t include the “parsonage exemption.” That’s where ministers are allowed to deduct mortgage or rent, utilities, furnishings, upkeep, etc. from their taxable income.

The best of the worst appears to be the United Methodist Church which allocated about 29% of its revenues to charitable causes in 2010. Any secular charity that posted a 29% rate would be given a score of “F” by CharityWatch.

Religions are quick to point to their “spiritual charity” that addresses the spiritual needs of their parishioners. However, “charity is the giving of something, not the exchange of something for something else.” Addressing spiritual needs is what religious functionaries are paid to do. The fundamental nature of a priest’s or preacher’s job is to provide the spiritual services in exchange for pay and benefits.

These tax breaks are laws and clearly directed at religious institutions and establishments in violation of the First Amendment.

H/T: Council for Secular Humanism, PharyngulaCharityWatch.

129 thoughts on “The Myth Of Religious Charity”

  1. I would really like to know your source for the claim that the LDS church “spent 0.7% of it overall revenue on charitable causes.” I’m an ex-Mormon, and I have searched and searched for a figure on this, but the LDS church has not published it’s revenue in half a century, and it doesn’t really reveal numbers on how much it gives to charity, either. In other words, how much they spend, in either dollars or percentages, is never anything more than a guess. Have you found some hard figures that none of us ex-Mormons have seen? We’d all love to hear about it (I know that might sound sarcastic, but I mean that seriously).

  2. Foundations, churches, nonprofits and tax exempts, it could be argued, accumulate wealth as their primary business using philanthropy as the excuse for tax exemption. so many fine and large estates receive tax exemption that they easily acquire more real estate, and accumulate more wealth with the accompanying ability to exert political pressure upon others. the pattern was set long ago, and as a method of against alienation nothing could be more clear.

    If tax need not be paid upon it, government chooses winners and losers for perpetuity. If philanthropies are so wealthy they must buy land to preserve that wealth, they cannot be primarily philanthropists. If they were, they would be giving away more, not buying more land.

  3. Oro Lee,

    Thanks for bringing this up.

    A couple of personal questions at your discretion to answer of course.

    With your expectations of churces as expressions of Christianity, how did you choose a church?

    More specifically a conservative evangelical?

  4. Oro Lee,

    Not all non-believers smirk. I hope you don’t believe so. Some non-believers search also. Some feel that joining an organization that prescibes and
    circumscribes would not aid them in their search. Somea slso wish their Christian brethen well in their search and in their good works. For all men are brethern, are they not.

  5. Blouise, Sorry for painting with a wide brush. You’re right, not all churches work as I depicted.

    Woosty, LOVE the fibonacci video. You posted one awhile ago explains a steady percentage of growth is an exponential function. I can’t find it and I want to view it again. Can you provide a pointer. Either a repost or pointer to where you posted it before?

  6. I consider almost all of the church as it exists in the United States to be the epitome of organized religion, and I am never disappointed with organized religion. I expect nothing of it. I hope to be surprised by it, but I’m not going to hold my breath while waiting.

    What I do expect is that a man’s walk have some semblance to his talk. Other’s experience may be different from my earthly sojourn in a conservative, evangelical denomination, but I find that if most folks would display 1/10th the love which they profess they have for Christ, the world would sit up, take notice, and exclaim, “See how they love one another.”

    BTW, the early church father Tertullian recorded the quoted words as spoken by pagans of the early Christians. Tertullian was a trained lawyer.

    Today folks are more like to say, “See how they fight one another.”

    Big, fat “sigh.”

  7. Woosty,

    It was in federal prison that I heard an inmate make the profoundest statement concerning a believer’s place in the church. He said that he didn’t know what his position was in the church, but he figured it was somewhere from the neck down.

    The churches which I have attended are basically volunteer organizations. There are some paid ministerial positions and support staff. But the heavy lifting is done by volunteers.

    Like all volunteer organizations, 20% of the folks do 80% of the work and giving. Most of this group exists at the extremes — about half are in the extremely selfless and self-giving Paul and Priscilla group, and the other half in the extremely insufferable selfish and self-righteous Ananias and Sapphira group. The remaining 80% live somewhere between these two groups.

    I really believe that for about 90% of church members, Matt 7:22-23 have to be the scariest two verses in the Bible.

    BTW, I bet you do make a great barber

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