SHOULD CHURCHES REMAIN TAX EXEMPT? By Agnes Ocran

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The exemption of taxes for churches dates back to the Roman Empire. It was Constantine, emperor of Rome from 306-337 that first granted the Christian church a complete exemption from all forms of taxation. He thought requiring churches to pay taxes would endanger the free expression of religion.

Fast forward to today. In these times that government conspicuously seems hard pressed for cash, the debate as to whether churches should pay taxes or not has been reignited. When the Bible said; come all ye that are weary and heavy-laden, was the government of a state also called? Just as weary men seek refuge in the church, the Government considers vehemently whether to seek financial solace in the Calvary cross especially when left; right and center churches are becoming showpieces of opulence.

However, how would you feel if the church you worship with is closed down due to non-payment of taxes? It is said that the power to tax involves the power to destroy. Has any man the power to destroy the temple of God or what belongs to Caesar must just be given Caesar?

Churches play philanthropic roles by building orphanages, providing educational scholarships etc. This in a great way relieves government of its many responsibilities. Poor people who rely on the church will suffer if churches are taxed. Even though exempting the church from taxes is akin to turning a blind eye to a goldmine, there are practical ways to make some amends.

Since taxes are collected for the development of the nation, churches could be obligated to do specific projects especially in the educational sector. This could be an either or situation. Say, a church must run a school, a hospital, an orphanage, provide x amount of scholarships or something else equally worthy. This is to ensure that the Church actually gives back to society and not to its head pastors or is it head prophets. The Church should not have been forced to give back to society but these days, one cannot be too sure.

Decades ago, when missionaries were in Ghana, they did well to build many schools which today have groomed most top men and women; talk of Mfantsipim, Wesley Girls, Pope Johns and the like. These churches were able to manage these schools well and brought youngsters up in classy discipline and in the fear of the Lord whilst providing good facilities for them with little or no government help.

Candidly, the government rather than taxing churches should encourage them to build more of such facilities. This I advise should not be an option but an obligation.

Nana Esi Ocran

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