Many German Christians quit church to avoid tax


In his chic, modern apartment in the former East Berlin, Stefan Faulstroh wants to know what tea I want so he can select the appropriate water temperature. He’s an engineer. You wouldn’t have guessed. Makes trains. I wouldn’t want to be so crass as to ask how much he earns but judging by the look of his place, it’s quite a lot. Stefan, though, no longer pays the church tax that used to gobble up four percent of his salary.

Was it really the money, I ask. Or was it loss of faith? No, he says, it was the money. “So now do you sometimes sneak into church nevertheless? At Christmas maybe, or Easter?” Yes, he says, as a matter of fact he does. “Does he feel guilty?” He puts the question for me. “Not really.” But sometimes he wonders if he shouldn’t go back and become a church member again. “Obviously, when you die, no priest is going to come to your funeral so that’s a downside but that’s a few years from now.”

Tall, impressively bald and dressed in a striking tweed suit he says he bought in a church bazaar, Pastor Johann Hinrich Claussen, Dean of the Hamburg region, says he keeps an eye out for tax dodgers. Especially wealthy tax dodgers. And gives me a piercing look as if I might be one myself.

The figures, he agrees, are worrying. Christians — Protestants and Catholics combined — are leaving their churches at a rate of about 300,000 people a year. That is a shame in itself but it also means a drop in income. So his church is trying to diversify its revenues in order to keep maintaining its churches and paying its ministers, deacons and so on. But, he says, Germany should keep its church tax.

Written By: John Laurenson
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  1. I lived in Germany for six years and refused to pay the church tax. I noticed on the tax form that the church tax paid during the year could be deducted when arriving at total income for that year. So it is also deductible like in the USA (if one itemizes).

  2. The German government collects an income tax and hands the money over to the churches. The tax is long standing and not quite as outrageous as it first sounds. If you belong to a church you must pay the tax. Your money goes only to your church. If you don’t belong to a church you don’t have to pay it. You don’t get to decide on the amount. If you don’t pay, you can’t belong to the church. About 70% of church revenues come from church tax. This is about 9.2 billion euros (in 2010). Proponents of the tax say it allows the churches to be independent. They don’t have to bow to consumer pressure with crass entertainments as they do in the USA. It is not just Germany who does this: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland do as well. Romania is considering instituting one. The government is subsidising the churches by collecting the taxes with the full force and authority of the state, using its knowledge of income, and forcing a uniform tithe. The whole game is backfiring on the churches. They are losing members because they don’t want to pay the tax.

    see Wikipedia

    • In reply to #3 by Roedy:

      The German government collects an income tax and hands the money over to the churches. The tax is long standing and not quite as outrageous as it first sounds. If you belong to a church you must pay the tax. Your money goes only to your church. If you don’t belong to a church you don’t have to pay i…

      Still it sounds uncomfortably similar to the Papal Dispensation system, buying your way to heaven…

    • I dropped off the Stefan bandwagon at the “Stefan Faulstroh wants to know what tea I want so he can select the appropriate water temperature” comment. Pretty much the first sentence really he lost all my (base-line 50/50 + engineering education + german) respect. How will he know the correct temperature when he’s that far up his own arse? I hope he takes into account the barometric pressure, humidity, volume of beverage, temp of vessel, and the various aperture sizes to surface area ratios (taking into account any throating of course!) and altitude that the tea will be enjoyed at before he presses the boil button on his fantasy kettle.

      My revised assessment of his mental stability and usefulness as a witness is significantly lower than when I had imagined/hoped he had a brain that he planned to use.

      In reply to #4 by Nodhimmi:

      “Obviously, when you die, no priest is going to come to your funeral so that’s a downside”

      Really? Up to that point I was cheering for Stefan. Even engineers have the virus…

  3. To be fair, better than UK. Being forced to pay for the excesses of Church of England, countless mosques and temples and synagogues! And the most disgusting of all, faith schools! And of course the monarchy.

  4. for me and many other Germans, the main problem is not the Church tax, which, not being a member of any church, I don’t pay, but the fact, that the state hands a lot of tax-payers’ money over to the churches that is not coming from the church tax at all. every German tax payer subsidises the church if they want to or not. for example, church run hospitals are not being paid for by the church (sometimes the church pays 5 or 10% of the costs), but the church dictates the conditions for people who work there

  5. Two things stand out to me from this article:

    1. The idea of the Protestant church demanding money for redemption must be the most ironic thing of the last 500 years.

    2. Different teas need different temperatures?

    • In reply to #10 by Lapithes:

      Different teas need different temperatures?

      Only if you really, really, really need order in your life to bring you satisfaction. It’s like matching wines. The small things take the most effort where big things don’t exists. After all, you can’t call yourself an expert if you don’t turn simple into complex.

  6. We have kind of the same system in Finland. If you belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland or the Finnish Orthodox Church, your pay a tax from your personal income which is between 1-2% depending on which parish you belong to. So the government is basically collecting the membership fees for these two churches, and then it transfers the money to these churches’ accounts. While it’s a waste of the governments resources to collect money for other organizations, it’s still a minor issue compared to what happens with the corporate tax in Finland: a part of the corporate tax paid by every single Finnish company is given to these two religious organizations. So every single company which is taxed in Finland, regardless of its customer base, regardless of the beliefs of its owners or board members, finances these churches. I say it’s nuts. Even though the percentage of the corporate tax paid to the churches is small, it amounts to about 100 million euros annually.

    Anyway, what I don’t understand is the hypocrisy of these believers who quit the church because the price is too high. What does it tell about their faith? If they actually believe in one true god which resides in one true denomination, why would you leave that behind? If that is true, wouldn’t you give anything – even your whole income – to be part of that church? It’s almost like they don’t believe that strongly. On the other hand, if they feel they can stay in contact with their gods without an organization, then why pay a lot of money for being registered to a church?

  7. “Social-Democrats and Liberals invented this tax a hundred years ago in order to make the people pay for their church, not only the patrons or the king or the Kaiser,” he says. “It was invented to democratize the church”.

    If democracy is involved, does this mean the audience can decide which comedians they get to see in the pulpit?

  8. Dear John,
    the situation in Germany is even worse, I’m afraid, as the protestant and catholic church don’t finance themselves just by a legally dubious tax but by about 400 millions given them by the state each year to pay their priests. Not a single cent of the ministers’ income is paid by church tax! Moreover, many people think that the churches use church tax to do good, for welfare, e.g. to run homes for the elderly, hospitals, kindergardens etc. No, they don’t! Although these institutions are often named after “saints”, 98% of the costs are paid by the German state, only 2% are paid by the churches. Nevertheless they are in command and allowed to fire their employees if they come out as gay or have a divorce.

  9. And I thought religion in the US sucked, what with all its backdoor, slimy tricks to circumvent the establishment clause of the Constitution and use its exempt status to bilk taxpayers. Why can’t we all just let churches sink or swim on their own? After all, if God is so Almighty, can’t he keep his organizations solvent without help from governments? What a bunch of bloodsucking parasites. Time to poison them and flush them out.

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