By Claire Mom
“When I retire from work, I would love to open a church’’, Uncle Michael (not real name) began. I was dumbfounded. On a good day Uncle Michael could not recite Psalm 23 to save his life so I wondered where the inspiration for his retirement plan came from. ‘’Why?’’ I asked. ‘’Why not? There’s a lot of money to be made besides I don’t have to worry about the government sinking my business in the name of taxes, it’s really a win-win’’, he shrugged.
Uncle Michael’s pension plan wouldn’t be the first nor the last of its kind. Marketplaces masquerading as churches have existed from the days of its founder. Sadly, if the Lord Jesus had known cleansing the temple of cattle rearers and money merchants was a futile step in a never ending game of hurdles and steeplechase, He would have stayed home that day.
Frankly, with global debt reaching a record-breaking $226 trillion, the urgency of establishing a fool proof, time tested and highly successful business model is understood. As such, establishing these high generating revenue non-profit organisations that require little capital and low maintenance costs is very understandable. Asides favourable cost structures, access to staggering weekly revenue inflow stemming from offerings, vow redemptions and other kingdom investments (depending on the lyrical prowess of the preacher) remains one of the stimulators for this venture.
However, the driving force behind the success of these religious cartels is its exemption from tax payments. Or for some people, divine favour from God. By definition, churches are non profit organisations and are not taxed by their net income for a rather obvious reason; they do not have net income. I find this rather ironic given that in 2016, the faith economy in the US had a net worth of a staggering $1.2tn, worth more than Apple and Google combined and more than the amount needed to solve world hunger.
In Africa where religion is opium to the masses, churches are homes to some of the wealthiest owners of schools, chains of businesses, fleets of cars and planes who double as pastors on Sundays. Now, I am not against ministers enjoying the fruit of their labour, afterall ‘’the blessing of the lord maketh rich and addeth no sorrow’’, what tugs at my imagination is the amount of profit raked in by a supposed non profit organisation.
While I admit the church has been instrumental to the saving of souls from eternal damnation, providing moral guidance and occasional grand gestures of philanthropy, the question of what other contributions this organisation makes to the society is begging to be answered.
When exemptions are created for some organisations because of the sacred nature of their duties despite their overwhelming ability to contribute to economic growth, it is puzzling. Hospitals save lives yet they pay taxes so why can’t churches? Surely there must be some other contribution to society other than providing a hot link to God.
Claire Mom is a Nigerian journalist who is passionate about social reforms in Africa. She is known for her strong unconventional opinions that cut across social development, health and faith.
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