Saturday, September 12, 2009

A church's dirty little secret

I have a couple of friends who work for churches. They work full-time, pay into Social Security, and pay assorted taxes through their employers. One friend is employed by a small local non-denominational church, one is employed by a rather large Lutheran church and school in Torrance.

Both are unaware they can't collect unemployment insurance if they become unemployed.

Why? Non-profit religious organizations are exempt from paying Federal Unemployment Tax.

What does it mean to be exempt? It means churches and their affiliate schools cannot be compelled to pay unemployment tax. But does that mean they can't participate?

No. It means they choose not to pay.

Many churches do pay into the system. In an article from the National Catholic Reporter, many diocese voluntarily pay for unemployment compensation. According to a Richmond, Virginia diocese's chief financial officer, "It was a matter of justice."

For a small church, paying unemployment taxes could force them not to hire employees at all. But what about larger institutions, and those operating schools? What about mega-churches, and churches undergoing massive expansions? What's their excuse?


In God's name, he'd pay. According to the New Testament, the Pharisees declared Jesus "a friend of tax collectors and sinners." (Luke 7:34) He even chose a tax collector to be one of his disciples - Matthew/Levi. In Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus directs Peter to pay taxes for them both - of course, with a little help from above.

But wait, there's more. (Who knew there were so many Biblical references to employees and money?)

"There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Deuteronomy 15:11

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." 1 Timothy 6:17-19

"You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning." Leviticus 19:13

"A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight." Proverbs 11:1

"He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty."
Proverbs 22:16

"Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, who uses his neighbor's services without pay and does not give him his wages." Jeremiah 22:13

"Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty." James 5:4

The bible isn't just a tool to collect tithes from church members, or a book of laws for the great unwashed. The rules apply to churches - that is, if they believe themselves the harbingers of christian values.

If I were a member of a church, or a parent of a student attending a christian school, I would be putting the heat on the minister/priest and church administrators to pay unemployment insurance tax, or pay for private unemployment insurance for their employees - not because they have to, but because it's the christian thing to do.

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