A matter of economic equalityFirst, I feel very saddened to write about this topic. The current debate on the church tax did not begin from inside the church community but came due to outside pressure. I am well aware that negative feelings toward priests are behind the demands.
For a long time, priests were respected in society. Their influence could not be translated into monetary value, and it was, in fact, improper to speak about money when priests mostly led poor but honest lives.
But today, many priests are living differently. They often own assets, whether large or small, and are criticized for their financial possessions.
This issue should be examined through the point of view of the “Kingdom of God,” the basis of the church, because it is not simply an economic matter but one related to theology, and more specifically, the church’s essence.
The church exists to respond to the call of the Kingdom of God. The church exists in the world to work as light to renew the world. Today, God renews everything and every life in our world through the church and the servants of God. And of course, politics, economy and culture are included.
As already stipulated in the ninth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, the matter of economic justice matters in terms of money and faith.
Unfortunately, churches have not always been faithful to this goal. Even churches sometimes obstructed the Kingdom of God. The issue of religious tax needs to be approached from this point of view.
Regarding finance, churches must uphold justice - a value from the Kingdom of God - and peace and joy. No privilege should be recognized here and no special treatment must be given.
The mission of a priest is helping a church create the Kingdom of God in the world. Priests should set proper examples and teach believers the “righteousness and peace and joy” as stated in Romans 14:17. No matter how large a church grows, it will lose its reason for existence if it fails to be loved by the community.
Imposing taxes on priests is a clear indication that the church is not a special community separated from the world, but a community that coexists with the world. Until now, churches were considered as separate or superior, and this partially explains the tax exemption.
Then, why is it a problem for priests to pay tax, and how can paying taxes be something to brag about? Actually, paying taxes will be an act of being with Jesus, who came to earth after giving up all privileges.
By paying tax, priests will be able to serve the world and build the Kingdom of God, rather than giving in to the authority of Caesar.
By paying taxes, priests will be able to manage the finances of churches transparently and bring righteousness to the world. When a church is promoting the Kingdom of God, its actions must be transparent. If the offerings are neglected in the process, the essence of churches could be damaged, bringing pain to the world.
Priests must give up their privileges and shoulder the responsibility together. Imposing taxes on priests is a holy journey to build the Kingdom of God in this world.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is the chief pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Lord.
By Park Won-ho