Thursday, March 08, 2007

Megachurch, Megabusiness: an Impossibly Wide Berth

"Maybe churches aren't so different from corporations."

Leftist, god-hating rant? Hardly. It is the opening line from an article in (linked via the title of this post) about certain enormously successful non-Catholic churches in the United States. Some, like Joel Osteen's Lakeland Church (Houston, TX) draw as many as 25,000 worshippers to a typical Sunday service. That's about average for a middling major league ballclub, and an awful lot for a preacher.

Big news! Americans like baseball, and some of them even like church. What's the issue? For me, it's taxes. Or lack of them. It goes back to a little thing we call "separation of church and state."

Many of these huge churches operate businesses: record labels, publishing companies, real estate. They make lots of money. They pay no income tax. According to the article, they do sometimes pay other kinds of taxes (sales, real estate). They also employ armies of volunteers.

So far, so what? Jealous? No (at least not much). Threatened, maybe. Here's why.

Watch the telecasts beaming out of any megachurch. You'll be hard pressed not to notice these preachers have a sharply-honed agenda. And if you're a so-called liberal, or gay, or woman, or non-believer, or Bush-questioner, you're going to notice that their agenda is aimed square at your midsection. They want you out--and not just out of power. Some of them can't wait until "the rapture", when you, o godless one, will be fried like batter-dipped halibut while they are bodily lifted up to a sweetly imagined place called "heaven".

Silly Preacher! But what isn't silly, and what makes their nontaxation pernicious, is that these same megachurches spend lots of time and effort trying to influence public policy. The kind that results in laws that affect all of us. Witness Roe v Wade (to be abolished); the war against gay marriage (fomented); our own Mess o' Potamia (crusaded); stem cell research (prevented); and rational thought (shouted down).

They use their nontaxation as a base for assaulting reason, fairness and peaceful co-existence--not just in peoples' hearts and minds, but in people's legislatures. Plus, many church leaders are getting plenty rich personally (and so might more of us, if only we didn't have to fork over tax dollars to keep the streets clean).

So, if churches are like corporations, why aren't they taxed like corporations?