Sunday, June 15, 2008

"Franchising" Churches

An interesting story in the Wall Street Journal about how some U.S. churches are expanding overseas through the use of satellite TV links, DVD's and "franchise marketing." Serious questions about whether churches should be tax-exempt already exist. Not an insubstantial number of folks who work and write in the nonprofit field believe that many (if not most) churches are nothing more than clubs for the faithful (contributions to which mostly directly benefit the congregation) and that they should not be tax-exempt at all (or if exempt, they should be treated like trade associations or social clubs, who don't get the benefit of tax-deductible contributions under I.R.C. Section 170). Another major debate concerns the role of churches in the political process and the seeming unending violations of the prohibition on political campaign activity in Code Section 501(c)(3). Add this story's component (the mass franchising techniques used by some mega-churches), and one begins to wonder if churches (at least some of them) are charities or slick mass entertainment. Another illustration of why the lack of agreement on the core definition of "charity" for tax-exemption purposes is a major policy problem.


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