YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Catholics in Uganda are objecting to a call by Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga for the government to introduce a “church tax” that will ensure tithes are deducted from the salaries of Christians.
Speaking Oct. 28 at a Mass at Saint Mary’s Cathedral Rubaga in the capital city of Kampala, Lwanga complained that Christians were developing the bad habit of not paying tithes, but just giving whatever they find in their pockets.
“We lie to God that we pay church tithe off our monthly salaries. During a Mass like this, when time to pay the tithe comes, Catholics just pick whatever they get from their pockets and give it, but the tithe the Bible talks about means that you pay 10 percent of your monthly salary,” 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.”
The archbishop then proposed that the Uganda Revenue Authority deducts 10 percent from the salaries of the country’s Catholics and channel it to the Church. He said such a tax would generate enough resources for the Church to enable it to carry out its activities without having to resort to multiple collections in church.
Lwanga said it is a system that has worked in Germany where a church tax, called the Kirchensteuer, of 8 or 9 percent is deducted from the annual incomes of members of Germany’s five major religions.
All members of the Church must pay the tax, even if they never set foot inside a church – a Catholic must inform the government they have formally left the Church to be exempt.
“The money [in Germany] is used to build and renovate their churches,” said Lwanga.
The archbishop’s proposal has not found much support from Ugandan Catholics.
New Vision, Uganda’s leading daily newspaper, conducted a poll asking if people wanted a church tax in the country: 84 percent of respondents said no.
Lawyer Michael Aboneka wrote an editorial in the Daily Monitor criticizing the proposal, accusing the clergy of being more interested in money than in spreading the Word of God.
“It is a shame that churches are more concerned about the income flow to their baskets and pockets rather than the things that matter in this country,” he wrote.
“I have been approached with scenarios where pastors or priests fail to pay the last tribute to the deceased Christians because they defaulted on tithe in their life time. Others have had their children denied baptism simply because their parents are tithe defaulters. Where do these religious leaders get this power from?”
Nearly 40 percent of Uganda’s population is Catholic, making it the largest single religious group in the country.
Religious leaders from some denominations have sought to distance themselves from Lwanga’s approach, saying those who don’t pay tithes have no place in heaven, and there is no need to force people to pay tithes through government intervention.
“I want to ask the government to revoke credentials of any priest or bishop that petitions it to help them collect tithe,” said Cyrus Rod, a bishop at Dominion Temple International, a Pentecostal church.
“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.”
Earlier this year, Lwanga also complained about Ugandans ignoring another biblical mandate: Observing the Lord’s Day.
“God gave us six days to work. He set aside only one day; Sunday a day for prayers, but many people have rejected it, which is bad,” the archbishop said in August.
“It is embarrassing for people who never respect Sunday as God’s day to think of making money,” he said.