Baptist Temple Loses Supreme Court Tax Appeal—and Building

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The Indianapolis Baptist Temple's long dispute with the federal government has ended not with a bang but a whimper. In mid-January, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the church's final appeal of a ruling that it must surrender its property to settle a $6 million tax debt. But while the independent church may have lost its building, leaders promise that its fight will continue.

Pastor Gregory A. Dixon—son of founding minister Gregory J. Dixon—says the Temple-led unregistered church movement has mushroomed since 1983, the year the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) declared that congregations, like other employers, had to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.

"There are hundreds of churches across the country that are in the same position," Dixon said. "Churches are getting out of their corporate status and [disenfranchising] themselves [from] the government."

Baptist Temple's squabble with the government originated with its long-standing refusal even to file forms, let alone pay withholding taxes. Baptist Temple dissolved its corporate status in mid-1983, but the IRS took years to act. After subpoenaing bank records, the IRS estimated that the church, attended by about 800 people every Sunday, owed $3.5 million for employees' taxes from 1987 through 1993. The amount has since grown to $6 million, including interest and penalties.

A federal judge ruled in September that the government could occupy the property on November 14, but federal marshals still had not enforced the order two months later (although they did seize the church's parsonage).

Several days before the deadline, Temple supporters set up a 24-hour vigil, attracting an estimated 750 people from across the country (including as many as 30 pastors) to occupy the ...

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