Korean Pastors Call Church Tax “Unfair”

For years, churches have been exempt from paying taxes in Korea although pastors receive extravagant gifts such as houses, cars, and money from the congregation when they retire. On August 6th, the Korean government announced an amended tax bill that included taxing the church, leading some in the religious community to raise their voices in opposition.

Article from Hankyoreh:

letreligiousmenpaytax01

Pastors Making Billions, But Don’t Ask About Taxes

#1. Mr. C, a senior pastor at ‘B’ church, received the following “farewell gifts:” an apartment valued at 700 million won, retirement benefits of 300 million won, a car valued at 50 million won, and one year’s maintenance expenses for the apartment and the car. He pocketed the money, an amount more than twice the annual income of his church. Not only this, every month until he dies, he will receive 80% of the honorarium he got as a senior pastor.

#2. Senior pastor ‘J’ at ‘S’ church in Gyeonggi-do resigned from the church this year as the number of members had fallen dramatically. The church had been losing money, and there were issues over the way Pastor J left the church and how much to give him as a severance package. Pastor J resigned after receiving 600 million won, the minimum amount he had requested. A person involved explained that because they had something on him, they were able to wrap up the situation [without spending more on his severance package.]

#3. Mr. P, a senior pastor at church ‘G’, was caught having an affair with one of the church members. He continued working at the church. After receiving 570 million won as a farewell gift, he stepped down. This church has only 150 or so members.

In the protestant churches, if present membership is over 1,500 people, the church is classified as a medium church; if the number is between 3,000 ~ 5,000+ it is classified as a large church. Medium church H gives senior pastor L a church house(apartment), 600 thousand won in apartment maintenance fees, a car, fuel expenses, phone expenses, a corporate card and pays for his children’s tuition. Church benefits provided to pastors vary, with some churches providing even more than church L.

This support for pastors originated from difficult times in the past when church members voluntarily gave contributions and donations to help a pastor as well as his family, and this custom has continued. The farewell gift was initially meant to help pastors, who had lived in church housing and had no retirement benefits, find a place to live.

NCCK(The National Council of Churches in Korea) sent a letter to Choi Kyunghwan, the Strategy and Finance Minister expressing they “welcome” its “tax liability” decision. The Christian Council of Korea, however, “opposes government legislature taxing the church. Churches should be able to pay taxes voluntarily, rather than forced into doing so by law.” Yoon Deoknam, a manager at the Christian Council of Korea said, “Some people see priests as taking advantage of special benefits. The government should not jumping on the public opinion bandwagon and make hasty decisions. Large churches are paying taxes of their own accord.”

Opponents ‘against the church tax’ insist that, “a forced tax regarding a religious calling and dedication is not fair.” However, some Christians who agree with the church tax say that implies that priests are reluctant to reveal their actual income and financial benefits. On August 27, Lee Ji-no, a pastor at Withplus Community church, said, “As pastors at a medium or large church always get paid monthly these days, they should be transparent and report allowances, benefits, as well as their monthly income. The annual income of pastors at medium or large churches is usually over 100 million won. Once the church tax becomes law and an income report is obligatory, their actual income will emerge. Then, people will begin to question whether pastors should be paid that much.” Some of the large churches paying taxes have established foundations to conveniently manage assets. Therefore, they don’t have a choice but to pay corporate and income taxes.

According to an analysis by the Taxpayer Association, a priest only needs to pay 1.25 million won in taxes for his 80 million won annual income to comply with the government’s amended income tax law. However, a person working for a company who receives the same annual income should pay 7.17 million won in taxes, which is 5.8 times higher than what the priest pays.

Kim Ai-hee, the secretary general of the Korean Christian Alliance for Church Reform, said, “Pastors at medium and large churches who receive benefits and farewell gifts outside of their monthly income and do not pay income taxes can be perceived as not doing their duties as members of the community. This behavior may be one of the reasons why trust in churches is declining.”

There are discussions about imposing taxes on ‘income-like bribes’ that are given to pastors personally, such as offerings to express gratitude, marriage officiant fees, and funeral service fees. Kim Jinho, a research director at the Christian Institute for the 3rd Era, said, “Though the church tax has been enacted, if priests do not voluntarily report the wide array of hidden benefits, there is no way to impose taxes on them.” Because of this issue, people think churches should disclose their finances. Mr Kim said “The medium or large churches should be the first ones to make their finances public.”

Comments from Naver:

kkk8****

Priests should pay taxes.

kys1****

Priests are not sons of god. Church taxes should be introduced.

odin****

I saw a pastor in my town driving an Equus VS380, kkkk.

zzib****

Priests are also members of society. They should pay taxes…..

sinj****

This is why I believe in god but don’t attend or believe in church.

chan****

Like tithes, god sincerely hopes you pay 11% income tax.

jhdu****

Catholics or Buddhists are paying taxes or are going to, but why is only Christians object? What group was Christian Yoo Byeong-eon leading? Is it a company?

nubi****

I really don’t understand. They must pay taxes.

gasy****

The current religion is rotten. Make them pay taxes.

room****

They are brilliant swindlers who rake money from people by using a religion and use that money for their wealthy lives. As the cross of the church lengthens towards the sky, the genuine love and sharing is hitting rock bottom. This is what the church is now. A cult that keeps close relationships within its own territory, not helping others in need.

ynh0****

Do not be concerned about what churches think and impose taxes on them. Most people think that they should pay taxes.

akbj****

For me, a big church doesn’t feel like a church but rather a company.

g112****

It’s a good job! Being a pastor is better than being an executive at a big company.

chez****

While I was studying in the US, I made two friends who are the sons of the pastor at a church in Apgujeong. They were rich; they lived in a luxurious apartment in LA, and also had a Benz and Mustang…They were well-off and really greedy.

cano****

There are so many idiots going to church…They will do whatever a pastor says. Let’s meet up in heaven, idiots.

sagi****

Even a pastor persuades his son to be a pastor.

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  • KPProfessor

    South Korea has many unqualified christian churches. All of them should be Taxed.

    • Anonymous_Joe

      What is a qualified Christian church?

  • commander

    One possible way to allay concerns from the faithful over usage of church funds is to ensure through legislation that churches with more than a certain number of believers are subject annually to financial audit and its findings are published to be available to their congregates online.

    Such a move, even without taxation on churches and temples, will significantly increase transparency and boost their credibility and reliability not only among religious followers but also other among citizens with no religious affiliations, though the prospects are still dismally low given the likely vehement opposition and outcry from religious Establishments.

  • James

    religion is a business

  • Claude

    Great comments. Good to see some distain for the church. Get the parishioners to pay the tax. The parish helped build the cathedrals of Europe. If they need it that bad they should pay for what they need like everyone else.

  • risotto

    Agree with the netizens on this one. They should be taxed.

  • Dan

    I don’t know anything about churches… but if people wish to be the kind of people who lavish gifts to religious organization, that’s on them.

    People always get mad at people who treat religion like a business, but in this day and age it’s to be expected, right?

    I realize it’s a bit cynical to say it this way, but I think it boils down to:
    “If people want to be tricked, let them be tricked. It’s on their own heads anyways.”

    As for the legit well-meaning religious organizations… Gotta hang in there. A few rotten apples spoil the barrel, so they’ll have to tough it out until the bad ones are disposed of.

    • x1sfg

      Yeah, ideally, it shouldn’t be a problem. But everyone familiar in Korea know that it’s just financial corruption. Like how everyone knows organized crime members don’t make their money off of restaurants and laundromats.

      They’re using the idea of gifts as a legal loophole to funnel the money to a select few in leadership positions. Korean churches have become businesses.

  • Taxation shouldn’t be subject religious involvement. It’s high time countries separate Church/Temple/Mosque and State.

  • herpeniss

    I wish they would do this in the US as well but middle-america and republicans would never let this happen

    • x1sfg

      ? Neither would any religious group, charity group, or non-profit.

      Churches have had a history of financial corruption all over the world, but the Korean megachurches take it to another level. The tax I can see being reasonable in that environment, as long as all religious groups, including whatever atheist alliance type organization they have, are taxed

      • herpeniss

        what am saying is that churches are exempt from taxes in the US and they should be taxed as well
        churches are corrupt everywhere not just in korea

  • J. Won

    When the pharisees asked if they should pay taxes to ceasar, didn’t he teach that we should all pay taxes? They are trying to disobey what they preach?

    • David

      Actually, he said ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and Render unto God what is God’s.’ This is nto the same as ‘pay taxes’. This means if you OWE taxes pay them with the money you make from the empire. However, if the law states you are tax exempt (which, even in roman times, were the case with most recognized religions) you did not owe any taxes. The Pharisees knew this and were trying to get Jesus to say that ordinary people should not pay taxes, which would have been treason and punishable by death.

  • Smith_90125

    The only surprise about the corruption and greed of pederasts…I mean, pastors is that they get caught. Religion is a financial and social scam, a quick way to power, wealth and social status for the unethical, and unlike ponzi schemes, very few go to prison.

    Everybody else pays income and property taxes. Let the pedophile cults pay them too. And while we’re at it, force them to open their books and make their accounting public.

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