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In Uganda, Catholics protest as archbishop asks government to enforce tithe

A nun reflects during a solemn moment as Pope Francis leads a Holy Mass for the Martyrs of Uganda at the area of the Catholic Sanctuary in the Namugongo area of Kampala, Uganda, on Nov. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

KAMPALA, Uganda (RNS) — Thousands of Catholics in one of the world’s poorest nations are objecting after the church asked the government to collect a 10 percent tithe from worshippers on its behalf.

A similar “church tax” in Germany has generated record revenue for the Catholic Church there, according to the German Handelsblatt newspaper — but the policy is also blamed for driving millions of people to leave the faith.

“Why should the church keep asking for money all the time?” asked John Mayanja, 46, a teacher at Kitante Primary School in the East African nation. “We are supposed to give tithe willfully and without any threats from our church leaders.”

During an Oct. 28 Mass at Rubaga Cathedral in the capital city of Kampala, Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga urged the Ugandan government to immediately begin deducting a 10 percent tithe from the monthly salaries of all Catholic believers to ensure the church’s work does not stop because of lack of funds.

Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga. Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Kampala

Lwanga said many do not voluntarily give the church 10 percent of their incomes.

“We lie to God that we pay church tithe off our monthly salaries. But during a Mass like this, whenever we ask for tithe, everyone gives only what they have at that time,” Lwanga said.

“The Bible says a tenth of whatever you earn belongs to the church, and you should give me support as I front this proposal because it is good for us.”

Some Ugandan Christians questioned the church’s motives, saying a church tax forces poor people to fund extravagant lifestyles for some priests and bishops.

“They should understand that we are paying fees for our children and servicing government loans. We have no money,” Mayanja said.

More than a third of Uganda’s nearly 43 million people live on less than $1.90 per day, the international marker of extreme poverty, according to World Bank. The Brookings Institution reports 3 in 10 households in Uganda spend more than 65 percent of their income on food.

Lwanga said he wants Catholics in Uganda to emulate their counterparts in Germany, where 8-9 percent of churchgoers’ income is deducted and channeled to the respective faiths.

“The money is used to build and renovate their churches,” said Lwanga, who also serves as chairperson of the ecumenical Uganda Joint Christian Council. “If an employee in Germany gets $10,000, the government deducts $1,000 and gives it to the church, and it is working very well.”

The Catholic Church in Germany collected a record $7.1 billion last year in taxes, Handelsblatt reported, although more than 2.2 million Germans have formally deregistered from the church since 2000. Those who deregister are no longer subject to the church tax but can no longer participate in church life — an outcome Archbishop Georg Gänswein has called a “serious problem.”

Several other European nations also collect religious taxes, which are sometimes voluntary, according to the Pew Research Center.

Catholic faithful pray in front of a cross of Jesus Christ erected by a roadside in Kakoge, north of Uganda’s capital Kampala, on October 18, 2015. Photo by James Akena/Reuters

The idea of deducting tithes from salaries was widely supported by some Ugandan officials who are also Catholic believers. Many dismissed the archbishop’s critics, saying Lwanga’s suggestions were based on Scripture.

“The archbishop was reminding the church and only Catholics that they need the money to run church activities,” said Betty Nambooze, a legislator representing Mukono, a town in central Uganda.

Catholics are Uganda’s largest religious group, but the Catholic share of the population has declined slightly in recent years. Catholics made up 39.3 percent of the population in the 2014 census, down from 41.6 percent in 2002. Around 32 percent of Ugandans are Anglican, and 14 percent are Muslim.

Religious leaders from other denominations questioned Lwanga’s strategy.

“Any believer who is not paying his or her tithe has no space in heaven. They are stealing and cheating God,” said Pastor Moses Mugisa of Redeemed Church of God, a Pentecostal church. “So there’s no need of forcing believers to pay tithe through government.”

Some vowed not to support the idea, saying the Bible does not sanction governments to collect tithes and offerings from worshippers.

“I want to ask the government to revoke credentials of any priest or bishop that petitions it to help them collect tithe,” Cyrus Rod, a bishop at Dominion Temple International, a Pentecostal church, told journalists in Kampala. “The clergy are working purely for material reward and we’ll not allow them to mislead the country. The role of priests is to collect tithes and offerings. It’s a not a political role.”

Mayanja and other Catholics said they will oppose Lwanga’s proposal because they believe it goes against Catholic teaching.

“God does not demand a certain amount of money from his people,” said Mayanja. “We give offering and tithe from our hearts. What our leaders are doing is extortion and is not based on the word of God.”

Uganda, in red, located in eastern Africa. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

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Doreen Ajiambo

22 Comments

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  • Random thoughts:
    1) the bishops are wrong to take from the faithful by way of government tax. If the faithful cannot or will not donate to the church; then that is between the individual and God. It is up to the church hierarchy to live within its means ( just like any individual or government entity).
    2) this article mentions the Catholic Church in Germany as one who receives revenue via a tax. My understanding is that the Catholic Church is only prevalent in Bavaria. Is the tax applicable to the Lutheran church which dominates the remainder of Germany?
    3) My understanding is that tithing was part of the old law; which was fulfilled/replaced by Jesus Christ. Therefore, required tithing is no longer the rule; although the church will obviously take any contribution It can get. I agree that any charity should come from the heart

  • A10% tithe from someone well off interrupts his pleasure, while 10% from some poor person takes food out of his mouth or that of his family. Pope Francis needs to have a conversation with Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga.

    Think about it this way, Archbishop. You are asking the government to make up for your inability to persuade people to act as you think they should act. I suggest you pray about that and ask for the assistance of the Holy Spirit. But don’t ask the government to make up for your failure – God’s answer may be in the refusal of people to comply with your “teaching.”

  • Hmm, the entanglement of church and state leading to systematic sectarian discrimination. Who would think that would happen? /s

    I wonder if separating the two, church and state would be helpful in protecting the religious freedom of a given people. 🙂

  • The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

    “The Bible says a tenth of whatever you earn belongs to the church, and you should give me support as I front this proposal because it is good for us.” Where in the Bible would that be?

    ““Any believer who is not paying his or her tithe has no space in heaven.” So much for the thief on the cross – Christ must have lied to him.

    ““God does not demand a certain amount of money from his people,” said Mayanja. “We give offering and tithe from our hearts. What our leaders are doing is extortion and is not based on the word of God.” Amen and amen.

  • I don’t think either of those issues apply in this case since the entirety of society is not involved. I would equate it to taxation without representation.

  • A church wants to give its religious dictates power of civil law.

    It is taxation without representation as well. But it is an ancillary concern. Even if made by law by majority vote after rigorous debate, it’s still bad.

    They are seeking entanglement of church and state in its most obvious form.

    A church based tax is official establishment of religion.

  • I don’t exactly agree with your last sentence but agree with your direction.
    I think we both agree that governments should not collect taxes for churches or any other non-governmental entity.

  • For once we agree 100%!

    I think that the temperature in Hell may have dropped some degrees! 😀

    🍿🍿🍿

  • The article seems to have a bit of a spin. The Ugandan press reports that the “proposal” was actually a sermon preached at Sunday Mass. Unfortunately every time I include a url to a Ugandan article, my post gets blocked as “spam”.

    2) Germany taxes individuals – Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish – on behalf of their denominations. It is the Kirchensteuer, a payroll deduction. It is administered by the Finanzamt, which charges a small administration fee.

    The rate varies by Federal State. In Bayern and Baden-Württemberg it is 8% of income tax paid. For all other Bundesländer it is 9%. The church tax is always levied IF the individual has to pay income tax. This excludes low income individuals.

    The roots of this lie in the 19th century when it replaced the church support previously given by princes in pre-Germany German-speaking areas as they formed modern Germany.

    This type of arrangement is common in Europe:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_tax

    3) There is a moral obligation (incorporated into Canon law or its equivalent in some churches such as the Catholic Church) to support the church. The tithe is considered the benchmark, but that tithe covered things which the churches provided such as hospitals, alms for the poor, and so on.

    The “modern tithe” decreases the 10% by the amounts paid in taxes and charitable contributions for those functions, and there are a variety of proposed percentages based on a variety of calculations.

    Its impact on the German Catholic Church has been negative. When Catholics began to declare themselves as non-religious to avoid the tax, the German bishops attempted to condition sacraments such as baptism on paying it. That, of course, got shot out of the saddle rather quickly as a violation of Canon Law.

    So instead the German bishops have been trying to “soften” Catholic teaching in order to decrease the rate of departure of folks from the tax rolls.

  • The church taxes in Europe generally exclude poor persons..

    In reading the Uganda press reports on the suggestion, it does not appear the Archbishop actually submitted a concrete proposal but suggested the concept in a Sunday sermon.

    Therefore your comments would probably be more appropriately directed to members of the Ugandan National Assembly, which would need to propose such a law, draft it, agree upon it, and pass it.

  • Utterly outrageous! No government anywhere should be allowed to compel anyone to support religious institutions. As our US Founders, led by Madison and Jefferson, agreed, religion should be completely voluntary. Sadly, hack politicians like Trump, Pence and too many Republicans are even worse. The archbishop in Uganda wants the government to only force Catholics to support their church, while in the US Trump, Pence, DeVos and their followers want ALL taxpayers to support Catholic AND evangelical, Baptist, Adventist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, etc indoctrination in private schools through vouchers or tax credits.

    On November 6 voters in Arizona voted NO to this violation of religious liberty by 65% to 35%, which is the same average ratio by which US voters opposed all diversion of public funds to sectarian and other private schools in 29 state referenda from coast to coast between 1966 and 2014.

    As Benjamin Franklin wrote over 200 years ago: “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not choose to do so, so that its leaders are obliged to all for the help of the government, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

    Edd Doerr

  • Germany’s church tax applies to Catholics and Lutherans throughout the country, and that is why so many people are leaving their churches.

  • The Church tax is about 1% in Germany and is collected for a number of religious groups including Jews and various non-Catholic Christian churches.

    In countries with a state or official church, the church was expected to carry out function that served the public.

    Further, in the US we allow individuals to deduct from their taxable income contributions of money or in kind goods and services that were given to a church. Which in effect is an indirect financial support of religion.

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