Some churches ‘operating more like cults than religious orders’

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A member of the advisory board for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) says that some churches and other tax-exempt religious groups are run primarily to benefit their leaders.

“I would see them as operating more like cults than religious orders,” David Crosbie told The Australian.

According to the paper Crosbie, the chief executive of the Community Council for Australia,

said it was grossly unfair churches did not have to prove public benefit to gain tax deductibility while more than 15,000 organisations were registered charities but could not provide donors with a tax deduction, because of archaic rules and bloated bureaucracy.

The system governing tax deductibility status was “a confusing mess with one rule for some and one rule for others”, he said.

At the heart of the problem was the definition of charity in Australia. Churches were automatically regarded as charitable organisations, under an old English law, the Charitable Uses Act of 1601.

The article does not make clear by what definition a church’s financial dealings would determine it to be ‘cult.’ The term ‘cult’ is most frequently used sociologically and/or theologically.

But an earlier article published in The Australian Financial Review about the ACNC, which was established last December, says

The most contentious issue being debated is the make-up of a test that is expected to be introduced requiring religious and educational organisations to demonstrate the public benefit they provide.

“There has long been a tension between regarding all religions as charitable and then groups some people consider cults getting charitable status,” the chief executive of the Community Council for Australia, David Crosbie, said.

Scientology and Agape Doomsday Cult

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has for years encouraged the Australian government to look into the tax exempt status of religions and charities — particularly that of the Church of Scientology — a destructive cult many consider to be a commercial enterprise masquerading as a religion.

For one reason or another the Australian government didn’t want to investigate the cult.

But as former Scientology victim Janette Vonthehoff told a Senate committee, “Australian taxpayers should not be funding systematic, organised abuse.”

In November 2010, the Agape Ministries doomsday cult, which turned out to be an ordinary fraud, was lost its legal status as a religion and was stripped of its tax exempt status.

Earlier that year Xenophon said “the Agape cult had been enjoying tax breaks for 10 years which showed why it should have to prove that it provided benefits to the public before the Australian Taxation Office granted it charitable institution status.”

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This post was last updated: Mar. 22, 2013