Mike Huckabee has braved seemingly dangerous ground in challenging the importance of 501c3 laws for Christians and churches. But the truth is way better than he thinks.
Speaking at a Southern Baptist pastors’ conference last week, Huckabee said,
I think we need to recognize that it may be time to quit worrying so much about the tax code and start thinking more about the truth of the living God, and if it means that we give up tax-exempt status and tax deductions for charitable contributions, I choose freedom more than I choose a deduction that the government gives me permission to say what God wants me to say.
Huckabee has the right spirit, but the truth is even better than he apparently knows. Here’s the bombshell:
First, churches don’t need 501c3 status to be tax exempt, they are automatically exempt by virtue of being a church.
Second, churches don’t need 501c3 status in order for their members’ contributions to be tax-deductible.
Why then is it almost universal practice for churches to incorporate and seek 501c3 status? It’s nothing but an unneeded sense of assurance from the government.
Marcus Owens is an attorney who was formerly the head of the IRS tax-exempt division in DC. He has since been defending churches against the IRS. He confirms the sentiments above: churches don’t need 501c3. As to why churches so frequently line up to file for what they don’t need, he said, “Mostly it’s just a matter of extra reassurance.”
So, nothing is actually gained by receiving 501c3 status. On the contrary: much is lost. Peter Kershaw has researched this topic extensively. He notes the following ways in which churches actually hamstring themselves by 501c3 status:
When a church accepts the 501c3 status, that church:
- Waives its freedom of speech.
- Waives its freedom of religion.
- Waives its right to influence legislators and the legislation they craft.
- Waives its constitutionally guaranteed rights.
- Is no longer free to speak to the vital issues of the day.
- Becomes controlled by a spirit of fear that if it doesn’t toe the line with the IRS it will lose its tax-exempt status.
- Becomes a State-Church.
A corporation is by definition a creature of the state. By leaving free church status and incorporating, a church is making itself not a free creature of Christ, the king of kings, but a creature of the civil government. This is actively mingling church and state, and worse, subjecting the church to the state.
When the church goes further and receives 501c3 status, it is doing the same thing at the federal level: subjecting Christ to Caesar. Worse yet, such a church is effectively signing a contract not to preach the Bible in many ways in the public square in “exchange” for the promise of tax exemption—a right it already has to begin with.
This is a federal flim-flam pure and simple. It was a flim-flam designed and promoted by Lyndon Johnson in 1954 to eliminate the influence of conservative churches in the political arena in America. Churches need not apply for this right, and yet are led to believe otherwise. They apply, and they willingly silence themselves in the process.
A very good introductory resource on this is Rev. David Whitney’s lecture, “Why Churches Must Not Incorporate or Become 501C3 Organizations.” Churches, sessions, pastors, and fellowships should buy this and watch it together. Buy multiple copies and distribute them to churches in your area.