Churches already pay tax, former General Secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG), Dr Kwabena Opuni Frimpong, has said, and called for clarity on President Nana Akufo-Addo’s recent comments that the ‘prosperity gospel’ is attracting the attention of the “tax man”.
Speaking at a synod of the Global Evangelical Church at the University of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo criticised the wealth-grabbing nature of some churches and admonished them to preach Christ and return to charity rather than prosperity, adding that the call for churches to be taxed is “understandable” because of the wealth-acquiring posture of some churches in recent times.
He said: “It could not be lost on anyone that there are increasing calls for churches to be taxed. It is not difficult to see what is driving these calls.
“For years, the churches were seen as leading the drive for development; they built and ran schools and hospitals, they led the campaign for good sanitation, cleanliness was next to godliness, they preached and practiced.
“There were church services, where worshipers sang to their heart’s content, but there was no question of keeping whole communities awake night after night, nor were there churches that were sources of noise nuisance. The priests and church leaders led lives that the average person could identify with.
“I am not getting into the merits and demerits of the prosperity gospel that appears to be the main theme for many of our present-day churches. The Good Lord knows I preach prosperity myself, and I do not want this country and its people to be poor, and I am very much for wealth creation.
“But the difficult truth is that, once you get into the wealth and prosperity sphere, you necessarily slip into the tax and accounting language.
“The public looks on as priests compete to show who is the more powerful and who is the richer. The public looks on as some of the churches appear to forget about the poor and the vulnerable in our society, and concentrate on being outrageous.
“It is not surprising that there are calls for taxes to be imposed on church incomes. When you step out of the charity sphere, out of education and out of healthcare, you are putting yourself in the line of the taxman”.
The president said both government and the Church, are leading the people, and both hold out promises for a better tomorrow. “We have a duty and responsibility to work together to improve the condition of the people. We have a young population that is no longer willing to wait for the long-promised improvements in their lives. I believe we can work to raise the pace of development to meet the needs of the people”.
The Church and the Government, he said “will have to work together since we have the same aim”, adding: “There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the men of God have the moral authority to hold the political leadership to scrutiny”.
“It is important that we do not debase the principles we purport to uphold. If the Church would have the people believe that our survival and prosperity depend on miracles, those of us in government have an impossible task.
“Education and hard work have been shown to be the surest path to success for both individuals and nations, and our country would not make any progress if the Church should contradict and undermine this principle, by preaching miracles as the answer to our needs.
“I will leave the teachings of the Scriptures to those best equipped to do so, but I am certain I do not blaspheme when I say that hard work, education and the grace of God are more reliable paths to riches than miracles.
“I look to the chosen theme, “Effective Discipleship—the Cross and our Commitment”, and I see that, indeed, the Church and Government are engaged in the same undertaking. We would not be so presumptuous as to regard our task as being the Cross, but our commitment is certainly as strong.”
“When you step out of the charity sphere, out of education, healthcare, you are putting yourself in the line of the tax man”.
Speaking to the matter, Dr Opuni Frimpong said: “When people are talking about churches and taxes, we must understand what we are talking about.
“There is the impression that churches are not paying taxes, but it depends on what taxes you are talking about.
“There are churches that have hospitality businesses… they pay even VAT, there are churches that have buses, they pay taxes and even what the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU) charges”.
“Those who are calling for churches to pay tax must define exactly what they mean”, he told Accra-based Multimmedia.