Finance Minister dismisses calls to delay religious taxation

By Bae Hyun-jung
  • Published : Sept 14, 2017 - 18:08
  • Updated : Sept 14, 2017 - 18:08
Deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs and Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon on Thursday reiterated the government’s plan to impose taxes on clergy, dismissing persistent complaints from Protestant church circles.

“We shall make all preparations so that the religious taxation may take effect from next year without setbacks,” the minister told reporters after his meeting with Protestant leaders.

“When I said that I would make a zero-based assessment of their demands, I meant that I would listen to their concerns and reflect them in the taxation process as much as possible.”

The chief economic policymaker turned down calls to allow an additional two-year grace period on the incoming taxation of full-time clergy members.

Deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs and Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon on Thursday meets with Um Ki-ho, chairman of the conservative Christian Council of Korea. (Yonhap)

The minister visited the Korea Ecumenical Building in the morning to meet separately with the Christian Council of Korea Chairman Um Ki-ho and the Communion of Churches in Korea Chairman Jeong Seo-young.

The gathering was part of Kim’s plan to meet with all key religious leaders here, ahead of the tax implementation. Last month, he met with the Venerable Jaseung of the Buddhist Jogye Order and Hyginius Kim Hee-joong, chairman of the Catholic Conference of Korea.

While the minister’s talk with the Buddhist and Catholic groups went rather smoothly, it was the encounter with the Protestants that raised the most tension over the incoming taxation plan.

Rep. Kim Jin-pyo of the ruling liberal Democratic Party of Korea, a leading Christian figure within the legislature, last month submitted a revision bill of the Income Tax Act to allow an extra two-year grace period on the taxation, deferring it to late 2019.

Though the lawmaker claimed he was not against the taxation itself, his move was seen as representing those in Christian churches who see the idea as governmental interference into religious groups’ independence.

“Should the tax office unilaterally push ahead with the religious taxation, there will obviously be serious resistance and government-religion conflicts,” CCKC chief Um said to the minister.

Members of the clergy who are not familiar with the taxpaying process may unintentionally breach the incoming law, which he saw as premature for South Korean society, he added.

Jeong also argued that tax investigations of churches may create misunderstandings on devotees’ offerings.

Kim, however, dismissed most of such concerns raised by church leaders.

“It is inappropriate for me to mention the issue of whether or not to delay religious taxation by another two years, as it concerns a law revision by the National Assembly,” he said.

“As for the tax investigation part, I shall make sure that its range is restricted to the income (of the clergy) and not on the financial affairs of the churches.”

Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches in Korea, which is a relatively progressive Christian group here, held a forum on promoting the financial transparency of Korean churches to advocate the government‘s tax plan.

“Religious leaders have so far enjoyed the privilege of being excluded from taxpaying duties,” said Oh Kyung-tae, accountant and member of the NCCK’s committee on financial transparency of churches.

“It is by complying by the tax law and performing its duties that religious groups may face the world in a clear conscience.”

Deputy Prime Minister Kim is set to meet with pastor Kim Young-joo of the NCCK on Friday, according to the ministry.

By Bae Hyun-jung (