At this time of year, most religious organizations and nonprofit charities make major appeals for an end-of-year, tax deductible contribution. My faith colleagues and I encourage our congregants to channel those deductions to houses of worship. Whether we are tithing or paying monthly dues, December beckons us to stretch our financial resources a bit more.
The question now is whether 2017 be the last year of robust, end-of-year charitable giving?
The answer may come down to one’s politics.
Some say the new congressional tax reform legislation will enhance charitable giving.
Others warn it will likely redirect our giving to other priorities rather than religious ones.
The first concern is the proposal to double the standard deduction for tax payers as opposed to filing an itemized tax return. Individuals will receive $12,000 and couples $24,000 in deductions.
Will people choose to stay with the itemized tax deductions or go with the new format? If they choose the new option, it could have a serious and deleterious effect on charitable giving.
The second concern is the potential repeal of the Johnson Amendment. Signed into law in 1954 and named after the then-Senate majority leader and future president Lyndon B. Johnson, this amendment to the tax code prohibits non-profit groups and houses of worship from endorsing or opposing a political party or candidate for office.
Just think of the implications if that prohibition was eliminated. Could people make political contributions through their houses of worship — rather than through traditional political action committees — and still receive a deduction? Will clergy face new pressure to endorse a candidate in order to receive that end-of-year contribution?
The final tax cut bill’s effect on charitable giving is not now known. However, the non-partisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation predicted that $1.7 billion from political action committees might find its way into the political partisan activities of houses of worship. It is frightening to imagine what our religious communities might look like if the amendment was repealed.
The other side of this argument advocates that with a major tax cut and more money in our pockets, people will give more to charities. It also argues that a tax cut will stimulate the economy, creating more — and better — jobs. That, in turn, will reduce dependency on the federal welfare system, and, in turn, reduce the deficit. Supporters of amendment repeal say clergy should not be restricted from exercising their right to freedom of speech.
I believe if Congress repeals the amendment, the dynamics of religious institutions will change, and that it will be a sea change that will not be good for religion in America.
That said, I urge everyone to include a house of worship among end-of-year contributions.
Do they not merit our support? The religious community is still a critical institution in American life, shaping values and teaching ethics. Religious organizations help make our world a better place. Make a choice and be generous to the organizations you feel are making a difference.
This passage is from the Book of Leviticus:
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”
Promoting and instilling a culture of philanthropy is what God wants us to do.
Our Scriptures teach us that giving is a divine commandment —no matter the tax policy nor time of year.