While Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” Germany practices what might be dubbed “Render under God what is God’s, through Caesar.”
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes an unpopular move by government to increase the enforcement of the church tax. Church tax? Yes. People who “registered” with a church pay a church — Catholic or Protestant– a tax of 8 or 9 percent. The government–at the behest of the churches– has taken steps to strengthen the enforcement of the tax. Banks, according to the journal, “”will be required to report their customers’ religious affiliations, rather than wait for customers to volunteer the information.”
The change has caused a spike in the number of people who have left their churches.
Leave the church? Yes. While some American preachers stress the importance of tithing, German churches do more than exhort: “Church membership hinges on a citizen’s willingness to pay the tax. Refusing to pay it can lead the clergy of both Christian churches to withhold rites such as baptism, communion and funeral rites.” Now, I’m not an expert on Catholic theology, but this sounds like paying this particular tax could send you to hell.
There are a lot of questions the Journal article leaves unanswered–or asked. Which units of government collect the tax? Is it the federal government or the state governments? How much of a cut does the tax man keep? The tax collects $13.2 billion last year, but how much money have people given voluntarily to churches?
But the Journal notes something odd: “Despite emptier pews across Europe, the church tax is a hallmark of the close financial bond that remains between church and state on many parts the Continent.”
Might it be the “close financial bond” is one reason why the pews in Europe are empty?