Presbyterian Church (USA) wants to raise your taxes, though it pays none


The Presbyterian Church (USA), which pays no Federal Income taxes or property taxes as a non-profit religious organization, wants to see your taxes raised.

Produced by the denomination’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and backed by the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the tax reform proposal entitled “Tax Justice: A Christian Response to a New Gilded Age” would make the U.S. tax system:

          “more progressive, taxing those with greater wealth at higher proportions of their income, wealth, and inheritance;

          “more transparent, which includes both simplicity and accountability for all tax preferences and tax expenditures;

          “more solidarity-focused, which means reducing the use of tax expenditures, shelters and havens, and supporting more adequate international standards to reduce tax competition within and among nations;

          “more sustainable for current and future generations, which means avoiding unproductive financial and ecological indebtedness; and

          “more adequate, effectively addressing broader objectives of economic and social health than efficiency alone, such as meaningful employment, improved family life, and restored public trust. The tax system must be characterized by both efficiency in tax collection and revenue sufficient for the common good.”

The recommendation section of the Presbyterian proposal threatens to bite off the very hand that feeds it as it seeks the elimination of all deductions for charitable contributions. “Charitable contributions are only deductible by the approximately 25 percent of taxpayers who itemize deductions. Although tax-exempt charitable organizations (including religious bodies) play a critical role in our country, the nonprogressive means by which most tax-exempt organizations are financed means that nonprofits have a great responsibility to provide social benefit, broadly conceived, and to prevent leaders and managers from receiving undue personal gain.”

The recommendations target high-income Americans which are also the people who traditionally populate Presbyterian pews. The denomination’s proposed tax overhaul includes other tax hikes for its own members:

          “The mortgage interest deduction as currently constructed privileges those who borrow the most; it should be limited to one residence and capped at a level that has a meaningful relationship to average home costs (i.e. that reflects reasonable housing needs rather than luxury market subsidies);

          “Rules governing tax exempt ‘social welfare organizations’ (501(c)(4)s) should exclude or strictly limit the eligibility of donations for partisan political purposes, parties and candidates, and the individual and corporate donors to or through such organizations should be made public due to their influence on the political process.

          “The exclusion of capital gains on home sales privileges high-value property owners who can make maximum use of exclusion.

          “The exclusion of certain foreign-earned income (up to $95,100 in 2012) and housing benefits privileges income earned out of the country and encourages the movement of United States citizens to foreign jurisdictions.

          “The capping of property taxes for senior citizens privileges many elders while burdening younger citizens of similar income. This tax expenditure does not appear to adhere to the principle of progressivity; means testing is one solution to this, as is raising the cap, depending on jurisdiction.

          “Work to cap deductions for state tax, and municipal bond interest exemptions, for very high net worth households.”

The PCUSA will vote on the proposal at the meeting of the denomination’s General Assembly, June 14-21 in Detroit.

The PCUSA’s 2012 statistics report 10,262 congregations with 1,849,496 members nationwide, and the denomination is headquartered in Louisville, Ky.


Additional Resources:

Tax Justice: A Christian Response to a New Gilded Age (pdf file)

Presbyterian Mission Agency 2013-2014 budgets

2012 Annual Report of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (Financial information begins on page 23)

Per capita budget for 2013

The Board of Pension’s Financial Report 2012

Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation, Consolidated Financial Statements, Years Ended March 31, 2012 and 2011




Comments 12

  • This graph from the state of Minnesota shows the percent of income paid in all taxes by income decile. It is but one reason why this is a moral concern for the church.

    The fact that a few very wealthy individuals and some corporations are able to legally hide their earnings in off-shore accounts (the money is invested here) and avoid taxes while benefiting from our great country’s military, infrastructure, legal system, educated citizenry, etc., is another reason why this is a moral concern for the church.

    The deficit we are passing on to our children would be yet another.

  • Coming in late to this discussion with two points. Churches should be taxed for they benefit from many public services paid with public funds. For many of us who are retired, living off interest, dividends, capital gains our top rate is 15 percent. While a a person still working with dependents earning the same income can pay as high 30. percent. Fair? Taxes should be assessed on ability to pay.

  • I am not rich, never have been (the highest I ever earned was $35,000), but have almost every year since I started working have benefited from itemizing my deductions. It really galls me how liberals so hate the rich that they propose policies that will have negligible effect on the rich but will really hurt the middle-class people who benefit from those policies.

    • When all is said and done they will stick it to the middle class. Howard Dean has already admitted as much. At least he’s honest. There aren’t enough rich people to tax, poor people don’t have any money, and we all know they won’t make any real cuts in any spending. Tax policy is none of the church’s business. Think of what a world transformed by the gospel would look like. We’d need a lot less military and social spending. That should be the business of the church.

  • Carmen,
    I am amazed that you stooped this low in your reporting Carmen. Most of the time I agree with the concerns raised by the Laymen. However, this type of writing is terrible. The PCUSA may not pay taxes but every member on the committee that proposed these recommendation does. Do I agree with every recommendation that the committee proposed, No but I agree with the intent and probably the majority of them. Taxes on certain income need to be both assessed and raised. Will it put a ding in some of the bank account of some of our members maybe, but is it good for the country? I tend to affirm the latter. Those members who are hurt by it will just have to take one less ski vacation to Colorado.

    The economic issues that we face as a nation will not be solved through budget reductions in our social service programs, so unless you want to support radical reduction in weapons development and/or troop deployment, Congress will never reduce the deficit. New tax revenue will be necessary.

    We are long overdue in changing our perspective on economic policies. We must stop thinking about how a particular tax law will only effect me and ask how will it effect the entire country. Had you shown in your article Carmen how these new tax proposals would be detrimental to the economic climate of our nation, you would have at least contributed a valuable discussion on the subject. Instead you contributed to a smear campaign that reinforces an anti-PCUSA mentality. This approach has contributed to the demise of our church rather than build unity and peace.

    • John, you seem to be saying that Carmen should not have written an article reporting that this committee advocates income redistribution, because you agree with the idea of income redistribution. Very confusing.

  • They say “more progressive, taxing those with greater wealth at higher proportions of their income, wealth, and inheritance;” How much more should they pay? 30% of all federal taxes are paid by the top 1% wage earners in the US; 90% of all federal taxes are paid be the top 20% of the wage earners. The bottom 50% of wage earners pay virtually nothing.

    To look at this another way, for 2012 according to the US Census bureau, 86 million private sector workers are paying the taxes that support 148 million people! It’s an old cliché but true – sooner or later you run out of other peoples money.

  • This is beyond pathetic. The people at the Presbytery seem hell-bent on destroying the very organization that they work for. Why?????

    From now on, my offerings to my Presbyterian church will be designated gifts ONLY. I can’t stand the thought of one dime of my money supporting these baboons. I’d say to hell with them, but that would be redundant.

  • If those who pay the bills for a local church or the presbytery get wind of this, the giving will be diverted to
    obvious religious causes: missionary outreach and missions [local and overseas]. Only in the heights of
    an Ivory Tower do pronouncements and advocacy of this type surface.

  • I agree with the comments of Jim and David. PCUSA is a nakedly political organization, championing uniformly liberal causes.

    Here are just a few phrases the “Social Witness” committee needs to quantify. If it doesn’t do that, its proposal is nothing more than demagoguery.

    “more adequate”
    “more sustainable”
    “social health”
    “common good”
    “reasonable housing needs”
    “high-value property”
    “means testing”
    “very high net worth households”

  • The UCC has been into “tax justice” for a while now. Denominations such as the UCC and PCUSA are, as someone put it on here once, “just left wing political organizations that use Jesus words”.

  • The large grey area of theology which allowed people to give “the benefit of the doubt” was shrunk in recent decades to now a very thin line. One of those related grey areas was the PCUSA’s liberalpolitical bias. There is no reason for the PCUSA to get into tax issues — apart from being a co-opted entity of the Democratic Party. The grey area is now gone and any pretense that would allow a benefit of the doubt has been eliminated. When the DNC itches the PCUSA scratches.

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