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:


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:


Priests should pay taxes.


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


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


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


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


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


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?


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


The current religion is rotten. Make them pay taxes.


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.


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


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


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


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.


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


Even a pastor persuades his son to be a pastor.

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