The nation’s tax system offers many benefits to every citizen and none is more important than a sense of contributing to America’s greatness that is shared by ever person who is not a 10-year-old child who is unable to work or purchase anything with their own funds. Although taxpayer dollars fund the military, police and fire protection, roads, bridges, and myriad other government provided benefits, the sentiment of investing in America should help bring people together with a sense of mutual participation in maintaining a great nation. Ever since the rise of the teabagger movement, there has been a fallacy that half of Americans do not pay any taxes and it has led teabags and their ultra-conservative brethren to decry the lack of involvement by the poor in having any value to America. Last Monday, a super-wealthy Christian preacher joined teabaggers in criticizing poor people, seniors, and many lower-middle class Americans for advocating raising taxes on the top 2% of Americans who continue receiving tax cuts regardless that the country’s economic status is less than wonderful.
The preacher, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, posted a short message on social media outlet Twitter that said, “HALF of America pays NO taxes. Zero. So they’re happy for tax rates to be raised on the other half that DOES pay taxes.” The twitter post caused immediate outrage and Warren quickly deleted the post, but not before several people captured it for posterity and dissemination around the Internet. Warren has been lampooned for his claim that half of America does not pay taxes, and he could have saved himself some much-deserved grief if he had only said that 47% of Americans pay no income taxes; but his hateful sentiment toward the poor and seniors prohibited him from exercising the slightest discretion. As is often the case, when a person is so full of contempt and hatred for the least fortunate, their mind’s thoughts become manifest in outward displays of dishonesty and vile derision.
Every American pays some form of taxes whether Warren likes to admit it or not. Myriad bloggers have pointed out that if a person works at any job, they pay FICA (Social Security), Medicare, and state disability taxes on every penny they earn. Every American who drives a car pays gasoline tax and DMV license tax as well as sales tax (if a state levies sales tax) on every purchase. Senior citizens and retirees who own a home pay property taxes as well as various bonds to build and maintain schools, hospitals, parks, and in some areas they pay separately for fire protection in they live in unincorporated parts of a city. The list of taxes all Americans pay is extensive, but the point is that Warren’s contention that half of the population pays no taxes is fallacious. It is true that many Americans pay no income taxes and it is not limited to the poor and seniors. Many corporations pay no taxes and some of the largest oil companies in America pay no taxes, but Warren would never bemoan their lack of contributions to America because his hatred is limited to Americans who live in near poverty.
It is understandable that a vile, hate-filled man would criticize poor and retired Americans who do not pay taxes, but it is curious that he is not consumed with self-loathing for not contributing his fair share of taxes. If Warren is outraged at 47% of Americans for not paying taxes, he should be livid that 100% of American churches pay absolutely nothing in taxes. For the record, Warren’s church is the 8th largest church in America and it pays absolutely nothing in taxes because the federal government has deemed “ministers of the gospel” do not have to contribute to America even though they drain communities of resources just by existing. Any half-wit with a bible in America can form a church in their living room and sign a simple government form to receive tax-exempt, non-profit status and avoid paying any taxes. Many people are aware that churches are considered non-profits regardless that the clergy drives around in luxury cars and live in upscale homes, but there is more to the story.
First, Warren is not a poor follower of Christ and in December of 2010, he made an ‘urgent plea” for contributions to cover a $900,000 budget shortfall at his church and ended up receiving $2.4 million from many of the same “no-tax paying” poor people he criticized in the notorious Tweet. Warren’s Saddleback Church is replete with high-tech churches, gymnasiums, courts, restaurants and a music school situated on nine campuses of prime California real estate. In California, churches are exempt from paying property tax as well as any other tax because they are “non-profit.” It is ridiculous that churches do not pay taxes, but it is ire-inspiring that the clergy gets extra tax breaks that no other American can claim, and like the tax-exempt status his church enjoys, Warren avoided revealing the special treatment “ministers of the gospel” receive from the American people.
The clergy also benefit from a little known tax break called “the minister’s housing allowance” and it is one of the most important benefits the clergy gets from the government. In Section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code it says, “ministers of the gospel are allowed to exclude some or all of their ministerial income, as designated by their church or church-related employer, as a housing allowance from income for federal income tax purposes.” Why any person, whether a preacher, politician, or corporation gets to exclude their income because they retitle it “housing allowance” is beyond reason and should infuriate Americans who pay their taxes. But wait, that is not the end of the clergy’s special treatment. When a preacher takes that housing allowance and is buying the house they live in, they get a double tax break. The same preacher who reduces his income by calling it a housing allowance also gets to exclude any income spent on housing. Expenses like a monthly mortgage payment, mortgage interest, furnishings, insurance, and repairs are also deductible from W-2 wages and they get to use mortgage interest as a deduction again if they itemize deductions. Preachers call this free government benefit double-dipping and are outraged when anyone questions why the get special treatment.
There are various other legal scams the clergy takes advantage of besides tax-exemptions; they get steep discounts at golf courses, country clubs, gyms, or any business that seeks god’s blessings in return for reduced rates for preachers and their entire families. So as despicable and fallacious as Rick Warren’s statement demeaning poverty-level Americans was, it is the hypocrisy he displays that really define the man as a typical Christian preacher. For a “man of god” and a “follower of Christ,” Warren’s attitude toward the poor is the opposite of Christ’s teachings. Jesus said that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25: 41) in describing how Christians are supposed to treat the poor as they would treat him.
There are chapter and verse in the Christian bible where Jesus commanded his followers to feed, clothe, protect, and nurse back to health any human less fortunate than themself, and he also told his followers to sell all their belongings and give the proceeds to the poor; not belittle them for not paying taxes. Regarding paying taxes, when Jesus was asked by his disciples if they should pay taxes, he told them to “render unto Caesar what is Caesars,” and yet Christians make up a majority of Republican and teabag supporters who oppose paying taxes or paying their share.
If Christians wonder why their numbers are dwindling, they should consider that when someone reads Jesus’ words and then sees the clergy doing the opposite they know that Christianity is hypocrisy. Rick Warren typifies the clergy’s support of conservative issues, but he is no more hypocritical than a small church preacher who supports cutting programs for the poor, children, and seniors or supports depriving gays and women their Constitutional rights. Hypocrisy and hatefulness toward the least fortunate among us is what conservative Christians do best and Warren is just more visible than the bigot, tax evader from the community church on the corner.
The message for Warren and the thousands of ministers of the gospel who get tax-exempt status for their church or double-dip on their income tax returns is; instead of demeaning the poor, how about taking some of the tax-free money you get and start supporting the government that gives you advantages no other American is entitled to. Conservative Christians and preachers like Mike Huckabee and Rick Warren decry entitlements as a waste of resources that would be better spent promoting Christianity, but the reality is that every preacher who double dips or has tax exempt status gets religious entitlements.
However, when you are a minister of the gospel and hypocrite extraordinaire, deriding the poor, cheating the government, and making fallacious remarks with impunity is what you are entitled to because you are a follower of Christ. It is too bad for you that Jesus will say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” because, “as you did not do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did not do for me.” If only it were not a fairy-tale, it would definitely be something to look forward to.