Tax religious organisations: iLIVE
Churches are ‘de facto’ business corporate companies; with pastors as comprador capitalists and the congregation as clients, desperately in need of spiritual revival. Same as labor brokers, pastors receive an income that is undue to them.
Subsequent to the end of structural oppression in 1994, harsh socio-economic realities aggravated by inappropriate macro economic policies and poor governance indirectly resulted in religious zeal among the marginalized poor.
Instead of delivering socio-economic justice and a better life for all, the neo-liberal, bourgeois democratic breakthrough exacerbated the gross exploitation and oppression of the predominantly black majority. The anti majoritiarian and rudely imposed Growth, Economic and Redistribution GEAR in 1996 resulted in major setbacks in our struggle for economic justice for all and provided us with an early indication of a revolution betrayed.
To millions, the South African dream of a land of milk and honey was shuttered. Hitherto, the black working class continues to be victims of joblessness, landlessness, and chronic poverty coupled by HIV Aids, broken families and social degradation. The government inadequacy and a lack of political will to combat socio-economic disprivilege, have resulted in people seeking divine intervention to address their predicament. As acclaimed by Karl Marx:
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. Religion acts as an opiate to dull the pain produced by oppression. It does nothing to solve the problem; it is simply a misguided attempt to make life more bearable”
Characteristic social conditions provided a fertile ground for religious commitment amongst the victims of exploitation and oppression, the working class. Evangelism and salvation continues to be masqueraded as a beacon of hope, presented to our people as an alternative route or a sacred ‘exit door’ towards escaping poverty. Empirical observation reveals a high level of religious dedication amongst the poor. Every township across South Africa has a remarkable number of religious denominations. As Bonner puts it, “go into any small town and church is likely to be the only body of which most individuals are members”.
Religious buildings belonging to various traditional denominations have since been part of the township panorama. Traditional denominations such as the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and others owe their existence to the colonial mission that pioneered the introduction of Christianity to the black population through missionaries. It is a historical fact that Christianity and the gospel were imparted to the black population through the colonial project disguised as western civilization.
Most importantly, in recent years our society has witnessed a swift emergence of evangelical ‘tent’ ministries. Various to mention, these ministries have become distinct through out the length and breadth of the country, preaching deliverance to the impoverished. By visiting any township, it is probable to come across some makeshift church erected on vacant municipal land. In the central business district, commercial space formerly utilized by liquidated wholesalers and retailers is converted into places of worship. The mushrooming of these tent ministries is reeked with ulterior motives.
The nature and character of these ministries is synonymous to the capitalist trade relations, with profit as a driving force. They are commercial entities and preaching the gospel is their lucrative product. One can argue that religion has developed itself into a commercial industry with a distinguished and loyal clientele, the unsuspecting destitute congregation.
Like in any business, marketing and communications is an integral component of these churches. In a bid to increase their number of followers, to gain monopoly over the market and ultimately increase profits; churches invest a fortune on advertising their miraculous achievements on television, radio, billboards as well as through newspapers, pamphlets and word of mouth. The target market remains to be the marginalized poor and those who give a spiritual meaning to their success in business or careers, the emerging black middle class.
These quasi-capitalists have mastered the consumer demand. Mostly, their sermons or services reverberate on ‘success and motivation’ as well as ‘promising and guaranteeing of a life after death’. Capitalizing and taking advantage of the psycho-social limitations of the congregation. As a consequence, guaranteeing churches with full attendance, high membership and eventually high profits.
Profit maximization and revenue generation is assured through compulsory tithing and offerings. Biblical scriptures are opportunistically quoted by pastors to cement the ‘must’ for the congregation to contribute financially. A bible is an integral tool used to sell the gospel and to exert emotional blackmail those unable or unwilling to make financial contributions. For instance:
“Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel”. Corinthians: 9:13-14.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the lord almighty, and see if I will not throw open the flood gates to heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it”. Malachi: 6:10.
Churches are ‘de facto’ business corporate companies; with pastors as comprador capitalists and the congregation as clients, desperately in need of spiritual revival. Same as labor brokers, pastors receive an income that is undue to them. Collecting ten percent of the ‘minimum wages’ earned by workers who sold their labor power during production at the work place. The circulation and generation of money has become a fundamental element of any church service. Using Grace Bible Church in Pimville Soweto as an example, at the end of every church service, cash in transit private security firm is contracted to securely collect and transport the massive accumulated income from the church premises. In some instances, pensioners are also compelled to contribute financially through tithing.
The unavoidable result of these social relations is a class struggle. Just like the capitalists, pastors and the upper echelons of the church enjoy a life characterized by crass materialism, opulence and a super abundance of riches funded by the sweat of the toiling masses, the congregation. In contrast, the unsuspecting destitute worshippers are further subjected to gross abject poverty in slums. Both churches and pastors must be investigated, and their source of income scrutinized.
In capitalism, profit is a societal driving force. Therefore, the quest for surplus value is the condition of possibility and a dynamic force behind the emergence of evangelical tent ministries. This means that churches are made possible by people who seek financial returns and antagonistic class interests. In some instances, politicians and government officials join forces with the church aristocracy. The attendance and appearance of politicians in church services eventually endorse the church to the congregation.
After all have been raised, it is also important to ask: how do churches generate income? How much income do they generate on weekly, monthly and yearly basis? How do they afford the rental of stadiums, buildings and municipal land? How do they afford to air their miraculous sermons on television and radio? Where and how do they acquire ‘capital’ to build world class chapels? Does the income generated equate to the charitable projects which are claimed to be offered? Furthermore, the dialectical relationship between churches and their congregation demands further scrutiny. If one thing is clear it is this, that churches are money generating schemes camouflaged as the savior of our people.
In a nutshell, Government must institutionalize a church regulatory board where churches must declare their assets and provide annual financial reports so as to substantiate their accumulation of surplus capital. Income generated by churches must be subjected to a compulsory taxation. Such taxation can be instrumental in funding government programs such as free education.
- This is an opinion piece written by Malesoela Charles for iLIVE. Got something to say? email firstname.lastname@example.org