Overview:

Some Christian political organizations might be wrongly reclassifying themselves as churches in order to reap the tax benefits.

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Christian organizations like James Dobson’s Family Research Council (FRC) have recently taken action to reclassify themselves as churches—and the IRS has obliged. Now Congress would like to know why.

Other non-church ministries granted “church” status include the Daystar network, even though they do not meet the clear IRS definition of a church, which is grounded in court precedent. Dobson’s Focus on the Family played the same shell game in 2016:

Focus on the Family said its employees were “ministers,” and its members were the “congregation,” and its cafeteria was a “place of worship,” and its board of directors were the “elders,” and its president was the “head deacon,” and its radio shows were just an “extension of its congregation.” The IRS bought it. 

Such a reclassification permits Christian organizations to have the benefits afforded to churches such as the right to not report their finances to the IRS, a privilege not granted to 501(c)(3) nonprofits. As per IRS’s Tax Guide for Churches & Religious Organizations, the FRC should not be granted tax-exempt status due to their attempts to influence legislation along with their direct involvement in political campaigns. 

This congressional action brings to mind Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) high-profile investigation of spending by televangelists. This investigation ran from 2007 to 2011 with no penalties for the pastors who refused to cooperate and no definitive findings of wrongdoing.

SCOTUS ruled in Bob Jones University v. United States (1982)  that the IRS may deny tax-exempt status to institutions whose policies are contrary to established public policy, even if those policies are based on religious beliefs.

But the IRS continues to turn a blind eye to events such as Pulpit Freedom Sunday, despite their clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.   

As a freelance writer with dual MDiv/MSW degree from Yale Divinity School/Columbia University, I focus on the rise of secular spirituality, religious satire, spiritual health & wellness, faith &...