Focus on the Family Defends IRS Classification as a 'Church,' Says It's Meant to Protect Donors

Focus on the Family, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Focus on the Family, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado | (Photo: FOTF)

Focus on the Family is defending its decision to have the Internal Revenue Service officially reclassify the Christian nonprofit as a "church," denouncing the efforts of some to ascribe "sinister" intentions to the change.

An article published in February by the liberal group People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch site documenting Focus on the Family's reclassification has been getting extensive attention in recent weeks.

The piece noted that the Colorado-based conservative Christian organization has long identified as a non-church 501(c)(3) nonprofit. By 2015 fiscal year, it had been relabeled a "church."

Paul Batura, vice president of communications for Focus on the Family, told The Christian Post that the news stories on their reclassification as a church give "sinister and fictitious motives to our application."

Batura explained that the main reason for the reclassification was to protect the identities of donors to the conservative Christian organization.

"In recent years there have been several occasions on which nonprofit organizations were targeted for information, including the names and personal details of their donors. In order to protect our constituents' privacy, and because Focus does, in fact, meet the definition of a church under IRS regulations, we applied for and received this designation," said Batura.

"In doing so, we have joined the company of many other Christian nonprofit parachurch organizations ... who have done likewise. Having said this, we remain committed to the highest standards of fiscal transparency and will continue to make our financial statements available."

Batura cited the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which in 2016 changed its tax status from a nonprofit to an "association of churches."

The Right Wing Watch piece took issue with Focus on the Family's reasoning for being reclassified as a church, noting that the group labeled its 600 employees as "ministers" and their cafeteria, which is used for worship from time to time, as their "place of worship."

"The organization's board of directors are its 'elders.' It's president, Jim Daly, is its 'head deacon and elder.' Listeners to the organization's radio programs are 'an extension of its congregation,'" stated the RWW article, which labeled the reclassification as a church "puzzling."

Hemant Mehta, the main writer behind the Patheos blog the "Friendly Atheist," wrote in an entry published earlier this week that he believed Focus on the Family "pulled some shady tricks to convince the IRS it's a 'church.'"

"Well, here's Focus on the Family, declaring itself a church by stretching the definition of what that means to the point of parody. When other churches met most, but not all, of the IRS' criteria, Focus on the Family compared themselves to those churches whenever it was convenient," wrote Mehta.

In response to the criticism, Batura of Focus on the Family told CP that "if some of our critics object, they should take it up with Congress."

"In a hostile environment, we're going to do everything we can do within the parameters of the law to ensure our freedom to continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, protect and defend the sanctity of life, help couples with their marriages, help parents raise their children, and find forever homes for orphaned children," said Batura.

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