We Don't Need Refunds
Is it okay if we ask questions while we eat?
Oh, sure. : )
All right! : ) I just wanted to define the ground rules.
So let me ask you, are you registered in America as a group, or something?
Different countries have different demands. It’s not required in the United States to be registered. For about the first five years of the last twenty-two years or something, we were what they call 501c-3…
Yeah, okay. I heard of that.
…But we gave it back to them. The purpose of 501c-3 is so that when people give gifts to God, the government can give them a refund. So we thought, “Nah, we don’t need a tax deduction or refund or rebate of money we give to serve God by feeding orphans, or helping homeless people or buying seed in Africa.” So we disconnected and gave our 501c-3 back. We were approved, but no one wanted any tax break for gifts to God, and no one has for many, many years.
It’s a law in North America to be 501c-3, right?
No, it’s not. If you look at a Baptist building, it may be 501c-3, but it may not be. It happens all the time. There are about 1,200 churches near us. They’re not really all churches anyway, based on the Bible definition. But there are 1,200 “churches” in our city of Indianapolis, and perhaps two-thirds are 501c-3. Maybe 800 out of 1,200. It’s not required in the United States to be 501c-3. It is totally optional and not required.
Now in China, you get in a lot of trouble for not “registering” and believing and teaching the way the government says you must. But this is not true at all in the United States. In the United States, the government only likes to know what you are doing if you are trying to take money from them by falsely declaring you are a 501c-3 organization, even if you are not legally approved. They have requirements if you want to be 501c-3, but do not try to control what you believe or do if you are not declaring tax deductions or doing illegal or political things.
Ah yes, I remember Indianapolis Baptist church was in the news. Was it 501c-3?
Yes, it was in Indianapolis. There was a situation like that. You have a good memory. It was maybe 6 years ago. We didn’t know any of those people. It wasn’t that they weren’t a 501c-3. It was that they were deducting all their “contributions” for income tax purposes in order to get rebates from the government. It was dishonest—they were taking tax deductions as if they were 501c-3, though they were not. They were putting money in their own pockets at the government’s expense. That was the issue.
There are thousands of religious bodies in the United States that are not 501c-3, either because they didn’t know to apply, or because they don’t want to be for whatever reason. I think usually they assume they are automatically, but they’re not. You can’t pretend that you are 501c-3 and deduct donations from your income tax if you are not legally registered with the government. That is tax fraud. They got in trouble for tax fraud because they gave money to God and they wanted the government to give them a refund on their income tax, but they weren’t 501c-3. They took the money from the government.
None of the members of the church that we’re a part of have ever reported to the government that they gave a certain amount of money to God. They give money to someone with AIDS in Nigeria as a gift to God, not because they want the government to reimburse them. We give to everyone as they have need, whether a local shelter or women’s abuse center where we take 100 cell phones to donate. Or a woman who asks for help for her children or help to pay her utilities, or when we offer to help a neighbor replace a broken water heater. These things all happen.
As with these other things, if there are books that need to be printed in French or Burmese or English, we let everyone in the church know we need “x” number of thousands of dollars to print them. If you want to give to that specific need, fine, if you don’t, then you don’t have to. We collect all of it and pay for the books. Personally, in twenty years I don’t believe I have ever seen the boxes where these gifts are placed and labeled with what individuals are anonymously giving to. Other brothers do this and make sure it goes to where the anonymous giver wrote on the envelope they wanted it to go. It could be for food for a family or help for a Faroe Island family, or printing and postage for the tens of thousands of books we give away for free, always. Friends helping others. It’s very simple Christianity. There is no “overhead” or wages or handling. No buildings or staff or pie charts. It is friends helping others, for Jesus’ sake. It is not an organization at all, when it’s the way Jesus lived.
There are many villages in Africa that we support with food and clothing. So when we know that we need to gather more money for Africa, we’ll let all the Saints know. Everyone who has it in their heart between them and God to give to Africa does, and those that don’t, don’t. We don’t even know who’s giving, it’s all anonymous. We gather all the money that is given for Africa and we send 100% of it to Africa. That’s where it goes because that’s what people’s hearts were joined to. There are another twenty things like that. Those are just a few examples. But, where the 501c-3 comes in is if someone gives a gift to Africa and they want to get a refund from the government on their income tax, the government would give them some money back for that. We don’t do that. We give it to Africa and let it go.
In America, that’s the only purpose of 501c-3. In China, it is illegal to not be sanctioned by the government, as you know. It doesn’t have to do with income tax. They don’t want you to exist unless they can own you. But in America, there’s no law that you have to be 501c-3. Only if you want a tax break—then of course you have to. We were 501c-3 for the first few years early on, and we were approved by the government. But no one even wanted a tax deduction. We only did it because someone suggested we were supposed to. We didn’t even really know why we did it, but we were approved. But then we said, “Thank you but you may take your papers back. We don’t need a refund from Caesar, and no one wants to deduct anything, and never will. Others can do that in the religious world, and that is fine. But we’re just friends wanting to help people and love Jesus, not an organization.” So we’ve been without that ever since. We belong to Jesus, and we don’t belong to George Bush or need a rebate from Mr. Bush for our gifts to God. (laughter) You can understand that.