The trouble with tax in churches and mosques – Uzor Maxim Uzoatu


Some hotheads in Nigeria have made some noises on the need to collect taxes from churches and mosques.

Controversial issues do not come any greater than this irreverent call for churches and mosques to pay tax to the government.

The iconoclastic call that sundry worship centres must perforce pay taxes has become a hot debate on radio platforms, television, the internet and allied social media.

The subject is indeed sensitive as religion happens to be a very emotive subject.

There is the nagging fear that if the Christians do not get at the tax promoters, then the Muslims will.

And it will be very bloody!

The mere discourse of the issue requires a very delicate balancing act.

The flamboyant lifestyles of the new generation churches have not helped matters.

The early church found its anchor by the salvation of the soul.

The flashy pastors of nowadays mostly preach material success.

Prosperity is the word and the name of the game is crass materialism.

All through history the church flourishes at the worst of times.

Nigeria today suits the bill.

Christianity has been commandeered for nefarious reasons by the cream of Nigeria’s wannabes.

If we trace the history of the church to the Bible, to wit, when Christ anointed St. Peter, religion was about the salvation of the soul – and not the bastion of materialism.

The Catholic Church was the universal faith until 1517 when in Wittenberg, Germany, Martin Luther challenged its sale of indulgences.

So the issue of material wealth and worldly concerns crept in very early, leading to the fragmentation of the church.

Henry VIII followed Martin Luther’s lead in 1534, breaking from Rome for marital-cum-political reasons.

Thus was born the Protestant Anglican Communion which got a boost when the Protestant Episcopal Church was founded in the United States in 1789.

John Calvin’s efforts during the 16th Century Reformation movements led to the birth of the Calvinists and ultimately to the founding of the Scotch Presbyterian Church by John Knox in 1560.

The history of the Baptists dates back to John Smyth and the English Separatists of 1609; and later, Roger Williams of Providence in 1638.

The Methodists started out within the Church of England, Rev. John Wesley having founded it in 1738.

The Church of Christ Disciples would, in turn, challenge the decline of fervor and the factionalising within Protestantism by carving out yet another faction among evangelical Presbyterians from 1804 to 1832.

Joseph Smith received visions of the Angel Moroni as revealed on the golden tablets of The Book of the Mormons to found the faith of the Mormons in 1827 in New York.

Charles Taze Russell founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses movement in 1870, incorporating the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in 1884; and the church finally adopted the Jehovah’s Witnesses name in 1931.

A major rupture in Christianity occurred in the American cities of Topeka and Los Angeles in 1901 and 1906 when the Pentecostal movement of “speaking in tongues” began as a reaction to the loss of fervor among Methodists and sundry Christians at large.

The advent of Pentecostalism has been quite sweeping across the globe.

There is no escaping the fact that the call for the taxation of religious bodies owes a lot to the money-spinning exploits of the Pentecostal fold.

The orthodox churches such as the Catholics and the Anglicans are even in many ways striving to catch up with the Pentecostals in the worship of ill-gotten wealth.

Corrupt politicians and ill-assorted businessmen and wheeler-dealers are celebrated by the churches and mosques.

The reality that churches and mosques are expanding exponentially in Nigeria yet the country is at rock bottom in morality is quite paradoxical.

It rankles that Nigeria is ranked as the most religious country in the world and contradictorily ranks amongst the top dogs too in the corruption index.

Nigerian pastors should believe in what they profess. Sorry, they actually profess profit-making!

It hurts the country’s image that some of the pastors run into trouble abroad only to flee back to Nigeria with flourish.

Church leaders ought to be circumspect about their lifestyles but this is neither here nor there in Nigeria.

It stands to reason that businesses run as subsidiaries of churches and mosques should be taxed as business concerns.

Many of the members of the churches pay humongous tithes to the pastors only to be found wanting in paying their due taxes to the state.

A situation where there are more churches and mosques on a Lagos road than businesses makes it imperative that big taxes can be collected in the house of God.

The problem though is that because of the pervasive corruption all over the country the tax regime is even compromised across the board.

In the end, it is not just about taxing churches and mosques but ensuring that the entire system works.




Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
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