Monday, 1 October 2012

Pay to Pray?

The faith section of our local newspaper this weekend carried the headline, "No sacraments without taxation: German churches exclude believers who won't pay religious tax." When my wife showed me this article, she asked, "Blog fodder?" Hmm, I guess she knows me pretty well.

Having said that, a caveat is in order. I am NOT interested in a religious or Catholic bashing exercise. I also confess that there is much that I do not know about the German tax system, so I will not presume to have the ability to properly critique it here. Though I have ventured into that arena before (God forgive), I am tired of people who are always attacking people from other faith groups; there is nothing positive to be gained by that. The only thing that proves is that we have not yet learned to love one another with the love of Jesus. I do, however, have more questions than I have answers, and it is my hope and prayer that this is all taken in the spirit in which it was intended.

First, a couple interesting statistics from this article.

It is alleged that Germany's religious tax surcharge for Catholics, Protestants and Jews sits "up to nine percent on their income tax bills." That works out to about $72 per month for a single person with a gross monthly income of $4500.

The article went on to say that, for the Catholic Church in Germany, this represents an income of about $6.5 billion annually. For the Protestant camp (I assume they're referring to mostly to Lutherans), this tax generates about $5.2 billion annually. Neither of these figures include donations that the churches receive from the faithful in addition to the taxes they already pay.

Apparently, as I understand it, the only way that the German citizens can get out of paying the religious tax is to officially declare to the tax department that they are no longer church members, even if they still are believers. Do this, says the Roman Catholic Church, and you can forget the idea of any future marriage, baptism and burial "sacraments" in the church. If you don't pay, are they then essentially saying, you cannot pray? I hope not.

Apparently many in Germany have had about enough of the religious taxation imposed on them. The 2010 figures show an official loss of 181,000 Catholics, and another 126,000 last year in 2011. Certainly that drop in official membership represents a significant drop in revenue for the Catholic institutional system.

My brother shared a link to the same story from the National Catholic Reporter which ran an update entitled, "German Court: Catholics who don't pay religious tax must leave church." The article was dated September 12, 2012.

So what are we to make of this?

Here's where it gets confusing for me. Is all of this a return to the old practice of Indulgences? Is this a return to the old Roman Catholic theology of merits and good works as a means of earning a reward and blessing from the Catholic Church, and by extension, from God himself? It was once even taught that punishment for sin could be remitted if the offender paid a financial "indulgence" to the church coffers. Basically this amounted to a Get out of Purgatory Free card. What about justification by grace alone?

Is that what the Roman Catholic Church of Germany is saying by this stand it has taken? Does this represent a return to its pre-Reformation days? Is it advocating a "Pay to Pray" policy? Based of the huge exodus from its membership roles (407,000 in just the last two years alone), it would appear that the German people are saying to the Catholic Church, "Enough is enough."

No doubt this all goes much deeper than this, and I've probably only skimmed the surface, but that's the way I am beginning to see it. Am I missing something here? What is your take on this?

Peace & Blessings.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons "Save Money or Soul"

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