The email has been running hot with suggestions of what to talk about
with John Safran on Wednesday for his new religious chat show, Speaking in Tongues, which debuts on SBS tonight at 9pm.

Our
broad topic is the church and business, but we’re looking to go beyond
the simple stuff such as raising the quandary about the Catholic
church’s wealth. That said, go here for an emotive attack on the Vatican’s wealth, including the following:

Jesus, the founder of Christianity, was the poorest of the poor. Roman
Catholicism, which claims to be His church, is the richest of the rich, the
wealthiest institution on earth. How come, that such an institution, ruling in the name of this same itinerant
preacher, whose want was such that he had not even a pillow upon which to rest
his head, is now so top-heavy with riches that she can rival – indeed, that she
can put to shame – the combined might of the most redoubtable financial trusts,
of the most potent industrial super-giants, and of the most prosperous global
corporation of the world?

Clearly, there is no chance that Hillsong or any other latter day
Church will ever challenge the wealth of the Vatican, but there are
certainly plenty of large asset piles spread across the religious
spectrum, although nothing in Australia beats the estimated $100 billion-plus that the Catholics are sitting on.

BRW’s Adele Ferguson has been a woman on a mission in relation to this, she has written several
articles highly critical of the commercial dealings of the churches and their
tax status, and is favoured to win the business Walkley this year for her cracking cover story which kicked off as follows:

Australia ‘s $70 billion not-for-profit sector is out of
control. Despite being almost 10% of the economy and employing more than
600,000 people, it is dangerously unaccountable, lacks transparency and
is inefficient. It is the black hole of Australia ‘s economic system,
and it is getting bigger every day. Even the Australian Taxation Office
(ATO) has no idea what the sector is worth, how the organisations spend
their money, or even how many there are. Nor does it have a complete
list of which
organisations have a tax exemption – organisations that take billions of dollars of tax revenue.

She then trained her guns directly on the churches:

Religious groups are the hidden giants of the economy. In an era of
corporate regulation they are virtually unaccountable.The big five
churches had revenue of more than $21.7 billion in 2004. They do not
have to file income tax returns and, unlike in most other countries,
they do not have to pay tax on commercial businesses or capital gains
tax on the sale of assets.This has prompted some religions to expand
outside the charitable sector.

In other surprising revelations, it appears that the Mormons are
Australia’s biggest corn producers. We all know that the Seventh Day
Adventists turn over $330 million a year through Sanitarium, but there
are plenty of other vast commercial enterprises out there which are run
by the churches.

I should correct one thing from Friday. Hillsong doesn’t
run Gloria Jeans. Nabi Saleh, one of the owners and manager of Gloria Jeans, is
on Hillsong’s board and Gloria Jeans promotes a “coffee cart”
franchise product to churches through Hillsong.

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