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. Oro Lee:

    I know plenty of Christians who walk the walk almost and keep striving. And I know plenty who dont strive and who dont walk the walk. But what does that have to do with religion or God? Man is the one who falters. If you go to church because you think the minister or the priest is a real swell guy or that the people of this congregation/parish really have their act together, you are going to be disappointed with organized religion every time.

  2. “Social/cultural surveys indicate that despite their talk, there is not much in the Christian’s walk to distinguish him from his heathen neighbor. And quite a few things which causes the non-believer to stand there smirking.” ~ Oro Lee
    I believe that you have identified a real continuum amongst peoples…..from the un-charitable smirking unbeliever to the ‘only a few’ folks. In Christianity all on Earth are considered ‘sinners’ and there was only 1 who was without sin. He was the Lamp. So whether you are a smirker, a shirker, a lurker or a worker, a lover, a fighter a stealer, a smiter, or even a spiter…a believer, a deceiver, a give and receiver….you exist on the continuum and there is probably room for improvement….and a need in the world for the gift that you have …(especially if you’ve crossed paths with some un-evolved blighter, spiter, stealer, or fighter…..)….but as far as surveys go I’d probably need to see the statistically compararative data before inferring such a broad statement.

    but a lovely thing about most Christians is that they have at lest spent some time looking at the possibility that they are not, in fact, G*d….

  3. Part 3 of 3

    Many charitable organizations have multiple missions; in the church they are referred to as ministries. One ministry is the leading of others to [a particular brand of] spiritual truth. Another ministry is the instructing of the new converts to live according to these spiritual truths. The most important truth among Christians is love.

    St. James (the stepbrother of Jesus and also known as “Camel” for the callouses on his knees from kneeling while praying) wrote, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27 (NIV)

    St. Paul declared Christians “are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8 (NIV) The word translated “handiwork” expresses the idea of a beautiful piece of art specifically fashioned to do good works.

    Pure religion is about the care and comforting those without hope. Pure religion is remaining unpolluted by the world in order to tend to the world. The Christian is a beautiful piece of art. The Christian has been re-created to perform good works – works which God prepared at Creation. Works of love – agape love; the sort of love which leaves the non-believer standing with mouth agape.

    Do you know anyone like this? I know thousands of Christians. I only know a few folks like this, and they ain’t all Christians.

    Social/cultural surveys indicate that despite their talk, there is not much in the Christian’s walk to distinguish him from his heathen neighbor. And quite a few things which causes the non-believer to stand there smirking.

    I believe Nal would be thrilled to sing the praises of the church and its members if only they were the church described in the Bible.

  4. Part 2 of 3

    So . . . there are many types of “charitable organizations” and the tem includes those whose purpose is the advancement of religion. In that sense, Woosty is correct – churches are, in the common vernacular, “charities.

    The term also includes those whose purpose is the “relief of the poor and distressed or of the underprivileged.” These are organizations whose primary purpose is philanthropic, a humanitarian concern for the general welfare of all people, but especially the least among us.
    In the common vernacular, these organizations aren’t just charities (a noun), but also charitable (an adjective).

    If the question is whether churches are charitable – whether Christians are humanitarians – maybe Nal’s observation are not only pertinent but also damning.

  5. Part 1 of 3

    Internal Revenue Manual
    Part 7. Rulings and Agreements
    Chapter 25. Exempt Organizations Determinations Manual
    Section 3. Religious, Charitable, Educational, Etc., Organizations (02-23-1999)
    Charitable Organizations— Definition

    Reg. 1.501(c)(3)–1(d)(2) provide that the term “charitable” is used in IRC 501(c)(3) in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor and distressed or of the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erection or maintenance of public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening of the burdens of government; promotion of social welfare. . . .

  6. Hey! I happen to be a big fan of Mumbo Jumbo…

    financial hanky panky? not so much….(I just don’t know if the churches aren’t a bit of a scapegoat here…given the financial frolics in other places….)

  7. Rafflaw,


    The first time I remember you posting here you were “biting my a– ” so “what you talking about Willis?”

    You remember it, I don’t. So why did you wait to now to mention it. And the Willis-allusion doesn’t work on this side of the Atlantic.

    Giving excuses seems meaningless unless you are positively inclined to receiving them. So my writings are explainable. But doubt you care to hear them.

    On general principles, and aware of my problems here, I can offer an apology if you feel I was “bad”.

    If you are just looking to abuse me, fine, we’ll stop at this.

    Sincerely hope you feel better. Carrying hate is a heavy burden.

    Try feeding the good wolf. Remember him?
    He is licking my feet right now.

  8. Bob Seidensticker,

    Many churches are 501(c)(3)s; my understanding is that federal law permits public inspection of its exemption application, its annual return, and information re unrelated business income all filed with the IRS.

    Almost all churches are non-profits under state law. State law may permit outsiders to examine certain records of a non-profit

  9. Nicely said. My own focus is simply on forcing churches to open their books. Every other nonprofit does it in return for nonprofit status, why not churches?

    Do churches have something to hide? They’re OK with God looking over their shoulder at their finances; how about showing the rest of us who are picking up the slack and supporting churches?

    There’s a more thorough discussion of the issue (with references) here:

  10. Gene,
    regular ratios I know about. Golden showers I have heard about, but I have never heard of the Golden Ratio! 🙂
    You could be right. It is all about the money for far too many religions and their leaders.

  11. Mumbo Jumbo has always been a great business. I represent some Gypies/Rom fortune telling businesses. Other than the store front it’s pure profit. I see very little between what they do and organized religeon does.

  12. W=^..^

    It’s hard not to like a video that starts off with the Golden Ratio. Unless you’re raff. 😀

  13. id707,

    You mistake indifference to your protests over illogic and factual inaccuracy as malice or anger. If you don’t like having your illogic and factual inaccuracies pointed out, don’t be illogical and wrong about facts. Speaking of which “I did not support Bron, I was acknowledging his support of mine.” Really. “idealist707 1, July 2, 2012 at 3:06 am [. . . ] To Bron, I support your first supposition” sounds exactly like you supporting Bron right down to the verb choice.

    Good luck on telling me what to do.

  14. Captain Earlobe:

    I’d be interested in seeing a source for the Catholic church figure of 0.9%.

    Since the post didn’t mention the Catholic Church and the sources didn’t mention the Catholic Church and none of the commenters mentioned 0.9%, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  15. I’d be interested in seeing a source for the Catholic church figure of 0.9%.

  16. I’m excited to share this. Sorry if it’s in there and I missed it: can I get a citation on the origin of this data?

  17. Bob Esq:

    ““Pure reason has its limitations” — general idea proven by Immanuel Kant”

    If reason has limitations how do we know Kant is right?

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