Wednesday, 27 September 2006


Should churches be allowed (as they are presently in certain arenas) to be exempt from various legal requirements? Churches, for example, may get certain tax breaks; they are also exempt from certain aspects of discrimination legislation.
By and large, denominations such as the one I belong to keep fairly quiet about this, and tend to play it down.
We do not, for example allow ministers to claim they receive no salary or stipend and then to channel money through Fringe Benefit exempt accounts (as it is rumoured some other religious groups do). We have sometimes chosen in the immediate past to act above and beyond the requirements that the law may strictly require, for example in this Diocese although clergy were not legally required to be Mandatory Notifiers of child abuse we now have a policy that requires us to act as if we are. [This will become irrelevant in the very near future when clergy and other leaders will be required legally to act as such]
All this begs the question as to whether such community obligations should be avoided.
The tax exemptions, for example, are effectively a way of the state subsidising the church's policy of poorly remunerating its ministers. By careful application of these policies the paucity of stipends can be supplemented by fringe benefits which are tax exempt. The rationale for this is that churches do offer the community at large services (and here I would highlight family counselling, grief care, marriage preparation etc) which are of significant benefit to the society . But they are exposed in the abuse that some churches make of them (as above).
Do I as a Christian actually want to avoid my social obligations? Should the churches be actually trying to help society to embrace these rather than avoid them?
I have rather mixed feelings about all this as I oscillate between self-interest (often painfully aware of how a policy of low pay has impacted on my family's life) and a competing desire to be a social exemplar (most of us just ignore this). What do you think?

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