Since 2012, Germany has made giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s, a legal mandate. The government acts as an intermediary for tithing. Contributions of around an additional 9 percent of income taxes are collected from Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, and other registered believers and used to finance the activities of their church or synagogue. Refusal to pay the tax can cause churchgoers to be denied communion and other rites, even funerals. Not only church and state but also commerce are now enmeshed in Germany: a new twist to the law has banks actively investigating the religious affiliations of their customers in order to levy the corresponding tax on their accounts.
Clergy of participating denominations lobbied heavily for the law before its passage. Facing declining congregations, they saw it as a steady way to secure their revenue. Ironically, if predictably, Germans are now cutting ties with their churches in droves in order to avoid the compulsory levy. Meanwhile, some Muslim leaders, whose congregations are not yet included in the program, are seeking to join it.
Some denominations opted out, not taking any money from the government, and exempting their members from the tax. “For us, it’s about building a living congregation, and the freedom to choose how you want to worship is very important to us,” one evangelical pastor told the Wall Street Journal.