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#1 Kyrill Bolton

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 02:25 AM

Let me reply from a legal standpoint, Fr. David was going in this direction but I will try to be slightly more explicit.

A local church group is nothing more than a group of individuals and in many states, has no legal status. The group can call itself anything that is legally permissible but it is still just a collection of people (some might call it a partnership made up of all the individuals but that is stretching.) In the U.S., being as we are so litigious, if someone was hurt by the negligent act of one of the members of this group (like, say, they got food poisoning at the ladies annual bake sale) the injured party might well sue all the ladies connected with the bake sale as well as anyone else that was a member of the group. There is no legal entity that is the church, just the individuals.

To give some structure to help solve this problem all states now allow for a group of people (or in many cases just one person) to form a corporation. The corporation is a legal entity, a legal 'person.' Just like you and me it can hold property, and do just about anything that you can do. This corporation can, depending on the particular state, be organized (usually) as either a for profit or a not-for-profit corporation. (It is not unusual for a not-for-profit organization to be the sole share-holder i.e. owner of a for-profit corporation. This is done where the activity in the profit making corporation is not strictly church related and therefore maybe not tax-exempt.)

Okay, so now there is a legal entity that holds title to (i.e. owns) the church property, makes important payments, such as the salary of the Priest, can have a bank account, etc. Smaller churches frequently operate in just such a manner. Then, as Father pointed out, along comes a person who wants to give to the church but also being wise in the way of the world wants to make sure that the I.R.S. will allow him/her to deduct the contribution from his/her income tax. The contribution can be made to any organization but then if the contribution is challenged by the I.R.S. as to whether or not it went to a tax exempt organization (and there are many other organizations besides churches that are tax exempt) the donor has the burden of proof that the contribution went to a tax exempt organization.

I.R.S. has long taken the stance that if the organization, prior to receiving the donation, is approved by the I.R.S. as a tax-exempt organization, then then donor does not have to show anything more than the fact that the contribution was made to such an organization.

So, no church has to file for a tax-exempt status under section 501c3 (and under one of the subsections) but it costs very little and gives donors a 'safe haven' in making his/her contribution.

BTW, as mentioned above, states and cities frequently tax churches on non-religious income, property owned by the church but used for non-religious purposes, even in one on going case are trying to tax a church for parts of their parking lot that just might be being used for non-religious purposes.

You should be aware that the Orthodox Church has, since the time of Constantine, been in a close relationship with secular authorities and the notion of 'separation of Church and state' is a fairly recent and western concept (that the Orthodox Church probably has not come fully to grips with.) I would guess that there has probably been a previous thread that addresses the relationship of the church and state.

If this doesn't answer your questions I'll try again.

#2 John Young

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 02:44 AM

Herman wrote "Is there a problem with this or do you simply have a problem with being under the authority of a government?"

No, I have no problem being a US citizen.

I simply believe in the separation of church and state. I had no idea that the Orthodox Church had not fully come to grips with this concept as Kyrill states.

There are churches that do not seek 501c3 status and have no problems with the IRS or the state.

The Founding Fathers assured that the Church would always be separate from the state and thus not regulated nor controlled by it. Churches are inherently exempt from IRA control or regulation. In a word, the Church does not need the permission nor approval of the United States Government to exist or operate in a tax deductible status.

The First Amendment provided for religious liberty. Christians in America have the opportunity to keep God’s church pure and undefiled and to perform the great commission without restrictions from state or federal governments.

Even though the civil government made this offer, churches did not have to accept it. Since the ratification of the First Amendment, the federal government has never forced a church to incorporate or get 501©(3) status. The Supreme Court still understands that the state cannot legally interfere with a church who does not willingly submit itself to the state.

For Example:

"I am not the only IRS employee who’s wondered why churches go to the government and seek permission to be exempted from a tax they didn’t owe to begin with, and to seek a tax deductible status that they’ve always had anyway. Many of us have marveled at how church leaders want to be regulated and controlled by an agency of government that most Americans have prayed would just get out of their lives. Churches are in an amazingly unique position, but they don’t seem to know or appreciate the implications of what it would mean to be free of government control." (from the Forward of In Caesar's Grip, by Peter Kershaw)

"It is impossible to have religious freedom in any nation where churches are licensed to the government. " George Hansen, Member of Congress (ret.)

#3 Andrew D. Morrell

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 03:25 AM

I assume the OP is concerned about the Church's freedom to speak out against issues that the government embraces (abortion, etc). In Evangelical, Baptist and other Protestant churches, that has been a hot button issue for many years.

Churches have existed long before being allowed to receive 501©(3) status and can still obtain tax exempt status without going that route, should they choose to do so.

#4 Kosta

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 05:52 AM

The Seperation of Church and State is peculiar to protestantism. Its actually a new concept within the realm of human history altogether. In Orthodox thought ideally the church and state is to work symphonically and synergistically. If the secular government has a program that can benefit the church, her members, and possibly even society, then the church can opt to partake of the program.

The seperation of church and state is only observed in Orthodoxy if the state becomes openly hostile to the church. Your looking at the situation through the prizm of your own cultural upbringing, whereas in Orthodoxy the voluntary and willfull seperation of church and state is simply not ideal and possibly even antithetical to the gospel.

#5 Max Percy

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 10:41 AM

If there is a "better" way, I'm sure people would be interested in hearing it. I'll ask again, what, exactly, is the concern?


I do not presume to speak for John. Dorothy Day and others have rejected 501©(3) status because they felt that it bestows a government benefit that is then used subtly or not so subtly in order to get the Church to shut up or mute its opposition to things. One need only look into newspapers and see that whenever the Church makes a public statement re: abortion or America's various war efforts that people immediately begin yelling for revocation of 501©(3) status. The issue is government influence on proclaiming the Gospel.

#6 Adrian

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 01:44 PM

There is a interesting phrase.

Can not see the forest because of the trees.

So the goal of religion is to give people Heaven and eternal life. There would be bad to go to a place that does not give you eternal life because gives you wisdom, freedom, anything else. If the life gets to end or to be deteriorated, all the knowledge , freedom everything gets to ZERO.

So Father Arsenie Boca said:
If you don't like the Church and priests, raise your children to become the priests you want to have.


So I say to you.
If you don't like the status of Church. Become Orthodox priest and make a Church you like to have.

There would be wrong to renounce eternal life for a 100 year freedom because if you don't get eternal life, you have no freedom sometime in the future.

May God put between Church and state the relation God wants to be and if possible, the best relation God can give to people .

May God bless everybody.

#7 Kosta

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 08:32 PM

So if there are those that yell to revoke the status of 501 then it works both ways. The Church can affect government and transform it and not the other way around. This is exactly how church and state is supposed to function. This protestant dogma of seperation of church and state is a form of neo nestorianism where individuals must categorize there beliefs using a false schismatic dichotomy. Again if there is freedom of religion the christian need not seperate himself between christian beliefs and political beliefs

#8 Max Percy

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 10:48 PM

So if there are those that yell to revoke the status of 501 then it works both ways. The Church can affect government and transform it and not the other way around. This is exactly how church and state is supposed to function. This protestant dogma of seperation of church and state is a form of neo nestorianism where individuals must categorize there beliefs using a false schismatic dichotomy. Again if there is freedom of religion the christian need not seperate himself between christian beliefs and political beliefs


I do no think this is exactly true, nor should it be an aim of the Church.
Firstly the Church, I think, only transforms persons, not institutions. I think the relationship with government must be merely functional. Secondly, Church/state separation is Enlightenment, not Protestant per se, not that they can always easily be distinguished, and is a function of the enlightenment attempting to displace the Church and make the State the center of people's devotion.

#9 Father David Moser

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 11:17 PM

The above posts have been moved from a discussion of Churches applying for tax exempt status as they seem to be moving in the direction of discussing the relationship of Church and State. Comments about the separation of Church and state or about the relationship between Church and state belong here while comments about the necessity or lack thereof of tax exempt status should remain with the original thread.

Fr David

#10 Kosta

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 05:00 AM

I do no think this is exactly true, nor should it be an aim of the Church.
Firstly the Church, I think, only transforms persons, not institutions. I think the relationship with government must be merely functional. Secondly, Church/state separation is Enlightenment, not Protestant per se, not that they can always easily be distinguished, and is a function of the enlightenment attempting to displace the Church and make the State the center of people's devotion.


Yes the church transforms people, but i would not say 'only' people because through them institutions can change. Rome went from a pagan empire to a christian one. The parthenon went from being the pagan shrine of Athena to a shrine to the Theotokos and the largest pilgrimage site for the Theotokos in the byzantine east. Institutions were transformed when Prince Vladimir adopted Orthodoxy. In the time of Jesus and most everywhere else there was no such concept of seperation of church and state, its simply madness. The sanhedrin was a council of jewish political, business and religious leaders that would assemble together for the common good. Regardless of their role in the crucifixion, the point is they came together to discuss problems and find solutions. They recognized that all three components must be at the table.

Whether the church should place a wall of seperation between itself and the state would depend on what kind of state it is. Is it hostile? Are there certain government policies that need to be shunned? Has the government stepped out of line and its time for christians to allow it to crumble? Should we refrain from seeking tax incentives until a more church friendly regime gains power?

Or should we just go with the flow in our modern secular democracies? Celebrating 2 easters in the guise of seperation of church and state, one for the secular democratic easter bunny and one for the Lords ressurection doesnt fit well with me. Does seperation of church and state mean humans must become neo-nestorians? Does it mean there needs to exist a schism between religious beliefs and secular political ones? For me everything depends on whether government policy benefits Orthodoxchristianity or not. If we benefit from a government policy then we should milk it for all its worth, if not then we should stick it to the state. Believe me they need us more than we need them. Too bad for Gorbachev that the communists found that out too late.

#11 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 03:23 AM

I prefer to think of it as "liberation of the Church from the state", since every time Church and state have maintained a "close" relationship, the Church ultimately becomes a servant of the state, and the needs of political power are broadcast as the commands of God. Russia's "close" relationship resulted in non-canonical governance from the time of Peter the Great until the 20th century.

#12 Owen Jones

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 02:39 PM

One has to look at the "modern" idea of the state vs. several of the more "classical" types. The modern idea of the state was very concisely described and defined by Edmund Burke in the late 18th Century as "all in all." Anyone familiar with Paul's epistles will recognize the reference. So the modern state's whole purpose for existence is salvation, only it is a new kind of salvation. By surrendering to the state, one becomes part of this new mystical entity and is saved. It is in a sense a pure theocracy that strives to bring everyone in the polity into the fold.

In ancient Israel you have the polar opposite. What you have is no government at all, because the Israelites are governed directly by God and exist as a people directly under His rule. The only other authorities were "judges" who mediated disputes within the community and rallied the people in defense of the nation when threatened from outside. The Israelites found this to be intolerable and lobbied hard for a King who would rule over them, and God granted Kingship only in and by taking pity on their sinfulness.

In ancient Athens, you have an extensive investigation by Plato of all of the political alternatives, in light of his new understanding of divinity, and in the context of the Greek polis, or city-state. For Plato, the political order exemplifies, represents and promotes the virtues that represent this new vision of divinity, that stands in opposition to the Homeric gods and the gods of the tragedians who are whimsical, arbitrary, and decidedly unvirtuous for the most part, and more of an extension of human beings. The ideal ruler in this context is the philosopher-king, but not absent a rule of law that establishes virtuous relationships. In summary, the polis is the soul written large.

In some ancient regimes they toyed with a kind of theocratic state, such as under Akhenaton in Egypt, but for the most part, the King was a divine son, but there was a separate priesthood. As much as secular critics would have it otherwise, Christian kingship was never theocratic in nature. The king was a divine representative but always subservient in some sense to the Church and bishop. There are numerous attempts at undoing this, from Charlamagne to Henry VIII, but symbolically the King is under the authority of the Church, just like you and me. The first example of the attempt to impose a theocratic state in a Christian context, insofar as I am aware, is Calvin's Geneva. The political authorities were indistinguishable from the religious authorities, although they did not claim divinity for themselves per se.

The idea of a "wall of separation" between Church and state is a Jeffersonian, i.e. revolutionary idea dating from the late 18th Century. It is contained in a letter he wrote, not in any constitutional document. Not even in the Declaration of Independence, not in the Federalist Papers. But in a sense all of the founders were implicitly agreeing to this by beheading the King. Because gone was the ancient understanding of the political order with the King as the political representative of divine order who was in turn obedient to the Church. The problem is in part a practical one because in the Colonies there were many churches, some of which were established churches, mostly Church of England, and some were not. So you no longer have "the Church," you have many "churches." The idea of the Church is gone. There is no longer a mystical body of Christ that rules, there is only individual conscience that rules. So in some sense Jefferson is simply articulating what is already a common view.

Calvin Coolidge was a very bright, educated guy who, while President, actually wrote some definitive essays on this subject, tracing the influence of the non-conformist pastors in early 18th Century England on the Founders political vision. The American ideal is based on this non-conformist understanding of God-Church-State-Individual Conscience.

I frequently have said on Monachos that the biggest challenge of the Orthodox faith in our own day is to articulate a Christian critique of modern politics. Because that is what we are vying against, not just Protestants, not just secularism, materialism and hedonism, but the fact that in the world today, for the vast number of the so-called educated among us, politics is the path to salvation. And the masses vote for the candidate or party that promises heaven. When heaven isn't delivered, they will temporarily vote for the candidate or party that is not quite so adamant on that point, just to punish the party in power for a while, but then revert to the default position, which is to vote the candidate or party who promises heaven. This is nothing new in and of itself. It is new in the sense that it is a purely secularized heaven.

So, is there an Orthodox Christian politics? For approximately 1700 years it was Christian monarchy. The only thing approximating a Christian monarchy today exists in Lichtenstein. But I think we have really reverted to a pre-Nicean situation, but it is not that simple, because modern mass democracy is not the same as the Roman state of 200 AD.

A number of years ago, First Things magazine ran an article on why Christians should stay out of politics, divorce themselves from the political, and focus on what makes them Christians. There was a huge hue and cry among conservatives over this. I think that it was Paul Weyrich who wrote the article. He as a Byzantine Catholic. It was seen as quite heretical in the sense that Christians would then be conceding the entire political realm to the secularists and being irresponsible, escapist, too "otherworldly." But what really happens is that when Christians become political activists, they become more secularist, more worldly, not the other way around.

I suppose it would be a good thing if there were some Orthodox political theorists who were capable of arguing for a revival of Christian kingship, at least on theoretical grounds. The last to do so is probably Bossuet in 17th Century France, hardly an example for Orthodox to follow.

But it is probably more important to find direction from the early Church Fathers, including St. John Chrysostom, and to come up with a reasoned critique of modern politics in a non-partisan way as a serious threat to the soul, and to do so without coming across as anti-American, or anti-British, etc. Quite a trick! Actually, Eric Voegelin has already done most of the work that needs to be done as a critique of modern politics, but his critique is grounded in classical philosophical reason, and it needs to be placed in an Orthodox Christian context.

#13 Kyrill Bolton

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 04:38 PM

Well said, Owen. Could you post or PM me some references to the writings of Calvin Coolridge?

#14 Owen Jones

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 05:19 PM

If you do a web search on Calvin Coolidge on non-conformist pastors you'll find the essay.

#15 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 05:24 PM

It has become apparent to this old Pooh that the church that becomes directly involved in politics, becomes ruled by politicians rather than by Christ. The pulpit is not a proper place for politics. The Faith of the Orthodox Christian certainly should influence his politics, but we really do need to be careful not to let our politics influence our faith!

Or so it seems to this bear of admittedly little brain.

Herman the Pooh

#16 Owen Jones

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Posted 30 May 2011 - 02:18 PM

Yes, to the above! And also, no! The problem is that the political atmosphere tends to affect everyone, including Orthodox Christians, and especially so because modern politics competes with Christ for the promise of salvation. So it is not really a question of partisan preaching from the pulpit but helping people to understand the promises that God makes to mankind, and how that is subverted and deformed by political promises of heaven on earth, which always involves human beings being in control. The real issue is control, and it is a real spiritual breakthrough when a person realizes that God is in control, not man. But this has more than personal consequences. Politics is the means by which people who have largely forsaken God to be in control. The slogan "separation of Church and State" is just that -- a slogan, lacking real substance or meaning. It leads to the personalization of faith, which for some, experientially, may be necessary, but it is essentially wrong because we are all in this together.

BTW, it is relatively easy to discern a person's theology from their politics, and vice versa. That's because they are always to some extent tied up. Politics is always theology by other means.

#17 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 30 May 2011 - 02:43 PM

The state as "all-in-all" is the only form of state that currently exists. There is not a single government that does not treat itself as "all-in-all", and this INCLUDES Russia. Anyone who insists that Church and state not be kept separate at this time, anywhere in the world, merely wants the Church to be enslaved to the state. They just want to install a new Renovationism. They lie to themselves and pretend this Renovationism will "redeem" the government, or other such comforting tales, but the reality is that politicians care about maintaining and extending the power of the state, and that includes making Church a servant of the state instead of God.

#18 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 12 September 2011 - 06:20 PM

The Seperation of Church and State is peculiar to protestantism. Its actually a new concept within the realm of human history altogether. In Orthodox thought ideally the church and state is to work symphonically and synergistically. If the secular government has a program that can benefit the church, her members, and possibly even society, then the church can opt to partake of the program.


Therefore, you would support the USA banning "cults" like the Orthodox Church, if an Evangelical majority decided to use the power of the state (minus separation of church and state) to enforce their religious hegemony. Why is it acceptable to only support separation of church and state when it is convenient and oppose it when it is inconvenient? I had thought "situational morality" was more something that secularists preferred.




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