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2017-11-10 16:13
Numerous neon-light crosses brightening the night skies of Korean cities demonstrate the success of Christianity in this country. Protestant churches, especially large ones, are also financially successful, reportedly paying their pastors as much as executives at big businesses. Unlike corporate officials, these priests pay not a penny in taxes.

That must change _ right away.

According to Ministry of Strategy and Finance officials, the government had planned to hold a closed-door debate with religious leaders to discuss the issue Wednesday, but canceled it in the face of stiff opposition from Protestant churches.
Other religions, including Buddhism and Catholicism, and even smaller, more progressive Protestant churches have agreed in principle on taxing the clergy.

Large churches cite a lack of preparation as the main reason for opposing religious taxation, calling for a further delay.

It is a lame excuse. As is well known, the previous Park Geun-hye government revised laws in 2015 to levy income tax on clerics, but had to put it off until 2018 after threats from one of its largest voter groups.

Based on analysis by a taxpayer group, a priest who makes 80 million won ($71,870) in annual salary has to pay only about 1.25 million won as income tax even under the new law, compared with 7.17 million won paid by corporate employees receiving the same pay.

Pastors at large Protestant churches _ with active members of 3,000 to 5,000 or more _ are paid more than 100 million won plus various benefits. Most priests at smaller churches who make 40-60 million won a year will be exempt from taxes.

Critics suspect the vehement opposition from large Protestant churches reflects their reluctance to reveal their full incomes, regarded as too high for religious leaders as lay believers see it, as well as the churches’ opaque financial operations.

Some Christian politicians, including Rep. Kim Jin-pyo, a ruling party bigwig, are also responsible for siding with church leaders trying to dodge taxes as long as they can.

These religious and political leaders must cooperate with the government lest waning public trust in the church continues to erode.


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