on tax exemption

I had recently read the "Give to Caesar" story in Luke 20 when I noticed an online discussion on tax exemption yesterday (suggesting that churches avoid tax exempt status). It's a relevant topic for me. Here's most of what I wrote:

In general I agree with the arguments about not cooperating with the government when what they demand is wrong. Not too long ago I wrote an article about my experience going AWOL from the Navy (then later turning myself in to accept the consequences of my choice) and how I think that my non-cooperation was better than applying for CO status. (The folks at the Catholic Peace Fellowship asked me to write it; it's available as an RTF file here.)

But of course this all depends on what we think about paying taxes. I know many people here (and in the Catholic Worker movement) advocate tax resistance. But I agree with others who think Jesus said (and demonstrated) pretty clearly that we should pay taxes when they are due, since Caesar's power is what establishes and guarantees the value of money (in people's minds; it has no absolute value) and we should "give to Caesar what is Caesar's." Money seemed to be of little value to Jesus, so he saw no point in resisting or struggling over it. But I don't want to get in an argument here on this subject (I've argued it at length in this forum long ago, and even posted a short story on the topic--if anyone's interested, it's here).

If we as Christians should pay the taxes demanded by the government, then I don't see any problem in accepting their provisions for tax exemption. It's their money, their tax, they get to set the rules. (In a way, I personally accept tax exemption now, since I don't make enough income to have to file, according to the government's rules.) But of course I agree that this shouldn't limit our critical speech or actions, shouldn't stop us from telling the truth. We should be willing to tell the truth even if it means losing tax exempt status. But I would expect that in most cases, the government is not paying much attention to what some little group is saying or printing in it's newsletter. That church that got the IRS inquiry seems like it was very big and pretty influential politically, which is why they caught the government's eye. I would imagine for most of us here, we aren't interested in promoting any political party and maintaining tax exempt status wouldn't interfere much with what we want to do or say.

The Catholic Worker I live at now is non-profit and tax-exempt, and the one I'm moving to this summer is that way as well, as far as I know. I didn't set them up that way, but I don't see any reason to encourage them to change and start paying taxes. (Of course, if people do choose to reject tax-exemption, I have no problem with that--unless they start arguing that Christians shouldn't pay taxes.)