One of the Malawi’s renowned atheists, George Thindwa, last week made headlines on social media with his call for government to establish a tax mechanism on churches and other religious institutions which, in his view, are making huge profits at the expense of the poor.
Thindwa claimed free duty has led to the increase in formation of churches, especially Pentecostals which, he said, are making money “out of false healing claims”.
“Religious organisations are potential areas where government can generate resources”, said Thindwa.
It appears he has some support, going by what Lilongwe-based economist Grey Masolo says about taxable income.
“Any income is taxable and in economics, income is defined as money received on a regular basis. My view is that tithes or offerings fall into that category” ,says Masolo.
He further argues that churches and other religious institutions are “becoming business-like nowadays” and therefore, they should be treated like any other business.
“It is only fair that the cost of government be shared equally because we are equal under the law. These exemptions create inequality. I find it sad to see that even donations to churches or mosques are not taxable, including the land they occupy. Exempting religious organisations from property taxes encourages land ownership by them which could otherwise be put to productive use”, Marolo argues.
According to him, the separation of religious institutions and the State should not imply any special treatment to the former.
“Religious organisations have become political. They should be taxed because they are making money from the weekly offerings and other means. Religion shapes societal opinion and political discourse; hence, the need for the churches to pay taxes because this could help reduce government’s huge debt burden” ,Masolo says
But Evangelist Canaan Mumba of Lifeline Ministries thinks religious organisations’ contribution to individual well-being, family health and social cohesion is incalculable, hence; he finds the idea to tax them as betrayal of common bias which makes people think attending a religious association is just a hobby and is of no relevance to society.
“The church has to have a claim in the public domain and should not be government’s conduit to God but His instrument for the common good.
I find one flaw in the idea and that is the strange notion that religious organisations are not charitable institutions. We need to understand that almost every church or mosque provides some social service along with its rites and rituals”, he says.
According to Mumba, religious organisations are exempted from paying taxes because they are non-profit making entities and it would be unfair to make them pay taxes while other non-profit organisations remain untaxed.
“Forcing them to pay tax would legally allow churches to be classified as business enterprises, but without receiving benefits” ,he argues.
Mumba also fears that taxing religious institutions would give government full control over them.
“That would jeopardise freedom of religion because there has to be that separation between the Church and the State.
Much as I agree that churches are making money weekly, the kind of charity work they do is astounding. Churches do more to help the needy than government and I do not think that should change”, affirms Mumba.
I on the other hand, aren’t feeling this angle of thinking.Politics & religion don’t easily mix, & I don’t want to be part of those that defy God’s Word & steal from Him..
Malachi 3:10 says
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse , That there may be food in My house , And try Me now in this , ” Says the Lord of hosts , “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.
Also Proverbs 3:9
What say you ?