In Namibia, we have a long history and a good relationship between the church and the state. However, in reality, it is quite different and complex, as a result of the official doctrine of “separation of the church and the state”. This policy is little more than a slogan.
There is this thorny issue of taxing the church – as contemplated by Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein during his budget speech last month. Church buildings, for example, are exempted from taxation, subject to the provisions of the Local Authority Act, 1992, in particular section 75 (1).
This gives the church a distinct financial advantage compared to public buildings. Currently, churches are already struggling financially. It can be argued that imposing the same taxation like, for example, in the real estate on churches can lead to the demise of many registered religious institutions. However, churches already pay water and electricity and for other municipal services and are also included and enjoy other special benefits by the state at the taxpayer’s expense. (For example: When there a fire they rely on the services of the local fire brigade and police protection).
We are aware of the mushrooming of churches not registered as religious entities, yet their illicit business and other profit-making activities remains unchallenged and unregulated by the state organs. The activities of these illicit profiteers has now placed registered religious and other charitable organisations at risk of being now taxed, as other private and public business registered as business entities. However, non-registered religious organisations’ profit-making activities remain unchallenged and unregulated by the authorities. It is because of these activities that registered responsible religious organisations will now have to carry the burden of taxes, if government will have its way in legalising taxes on churches while unregistered religious organisations’ business-making activities remain unchallenged and unregulated.
Part of the church’s mission is to actively promote the values which Jesus taught, such as to have concern for the poor and powerless, respect for all persons, and righteousness in all dealings with one another. One of the church’s responsibilities is to “speak truth to power”. My personal view is that above all else, the church must be true to itself, which is to say it, must be faithfull in Jesus Christ. As Dean Kelley wrote some 40 years ago: “The best thing government can do to help religion is to leave it alone.” So, it is inevitable that occasionally there will be tention and even conflict between church and state. When this occurs, it creates an opportunity for a platform where consultation can take place between government and church organisations and non-governmental organisations.
It is also an oppurtinity for the church to demonstrate loving, peacefull and non-violent ways of resolving issues in a responsible and transparent way. – a gift our country desperately needs.
*Reverend Jan a Scholtz, a holder of Dip. Theo and B.Theo qualifications, writes in his personal capacity.