OK to write off church donations?
Q. In Matthew's Chapter 6 (v. 3-4), Jesus says, "When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you."
I have always considered donating to the church (or to any charity) something that is between me and God. However, many churches now track what you give to allow you to take advantage for tax purposes.
So, my question is this: If I were to write off the contributions I give to the church, wouldn't that be contradicting the teachings of Jesus? For a long time, I've just assumed the answer was "Yes" and never considered doing this. What is the church's opinion? (Fayetteville, Arkansas)
A. The key to answering your question comes just before the two particular verses you have quoted. Jesus was warning against putting one's holiness on public display. He said, "When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others" (Mt 6:2).
Taking a tax deduction for charitable donations does not, in my mind, violate that caution. In your own case, you would not be seeking to draw attention to yourself, not boasting to the crowd about your splendid generosity; no one, in fact, would know what you had done except you and the IRS (and perhaps your tax accountant).
The federal tax code is designed with certain social benefits in mind -- in the case of charitable and religious deductions, to encourage taxpayers to help those who are helping others. And the money you save by way of the permissible deductions actually frees up even more funds to be used for noble purposes.
My only regret is that this option is available only to those who itemize deductions on Schedule A of their federal tax return -- which means that it can help you only if you choose not to take the standard deduction instead. And since each year only about 30 percent of tax filers itemize, the generosity of more than two-thirds of Americans offers no additional tax benefit.
Q. Protestants have their own form of the Lord's Prayer, ending with, "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Amen." I read in a book by a Catholic author, first published in 1911, that "such an addition was not uttered by Our Lord. Catholics consequently do not use it." Please comment. (Columbus, Ohio)
A. The answer is not quite as simple as the 1911 author suggests. True, most biblical scholars agree that the "Protestant ending" ("For thine is the kingdom ... etc.") is not included in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the Gospels. So "Catholic" versions of the Bible (the New American Bible, for example, which is the one read at Mass) have never included those words as coming from Jesus (neither in Mt 6:9-13 nor in Lk 11:2-4).
But certain manuscripts written less than a century later do include this additional phrase, and early Christians in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire began to use it to complete the Lord's Prayer when it was offered at Mass. The Didache, a first-century teaching document and manual of worship, likewise indicates the use of this prayer-ending at Christian worship.
So, while the phrase was most likely not uttered by Jesus, it is both theologically sound and historically rooted.
- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service