When religion is truly taxing

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A recent Associated Press feature story described Germany’s nine percent tax on religion.

This isn’t a tax on the church; it’s a tax “for” the church, a government collection plate forced upon the officially Christian faithful.  Germans desiring a church wedding, funeral, absolution, communion, or plain old membership, must pay to pray.

Astounded, I went online and dug for more background.

The tax has a complex litany of definitions, inclusions and exceptions.  But bottom line, in the name of the German government, Christians must pay the tax or disavow church membership.  While religious education is required in German schools (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Ethics), religious neutrality, not tolerance, is strictly enforced.  A female Muslim teacher, for example, doesn’t have to pay the tax but may not wear a head scarf in school.  Christian church members must pay the tax, but Christian symbols are similarly verboten in schools.

Germany’s “church” tax is codified, evidently, so as not to include Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and certain other faiths.  Obviously, a Synagogue or a Mosque or a Kingdom Hall is not a “Church,” but the point here isn’t the nature of church but the nature of tax, and by extension, the reaction of man.  What would chase people out of a church quicker than a government tax on membership?

Perhaps the grandest irony is that in Germany, the home of Martin Luther and the 16th century Protestant Reformation and split with Rome, Roman Catholics today receive more government funds than the Protestants.  And to think Dietrick Bonhoeffer died a martyr under Hitler in WWII defending the Lutheran capital-C Church.

The German tax is said to be rooted in pre-Christian Teutonic tribal tradition – which sounds a whole lot like the Levitical tithes of the Old Testament – and exists to “help” the mainline Church.  God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), but man’s joy and generosity reside in his heart, not a tax code.

Whither America?  Everyone I know has an opinion on whether America is or should or must or must not be a “Christian” nation.  We should be a nation of free individuals loving God and others.  I also think that it is very, very apparent that freedom in Jesus Christ provides the essential, animating moral foundation for democracy.

A global missions team recently told our Sunday school class that Europe has the lowest Christian conversion and baptism rate on the planet.  What could be a better advertisement against “official,” government-taxed religion?

God’s grace, mercy and love are free gifts through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  That’s freedom, and no government should tax it.


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