Friday, September 21, 2012

Save Our Tax Breaks So We Can Do Political Lobbying From The Pulpit!

Somebody once said something about serving two masters, God and money. I can't remember who it was but He sounded like a pretty smart guy. That came to mind when I read a couple of articles yesterday that tied together quite nicely.

On the one hand we have portions of the church involved in lawsuits with unbelievers to retain the lovely tax breaks we get because we are a religious organizations. The lawsuit is detailed in the e-pages of Church Executive magazine (and the simple fact that there is a magazine with the name Church Executive with banner ads like the one pictured to the leftshould bother you) in an article titled: Challenge to clergy tax break clears hurdle. The gist is that a group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing to overturn clerical tax breaks because they are not available to the general populace.

The plaintiffs contend that the law violates the First Amendment ban on establishing religion and the Fifth Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law. A press release called it “pure discrimination” for the government to give tax privileges to clergy that are denied to atheist leaders.

That is absolutely true.Our tax code does indeed discriminate in favor of religious employees based solely on religion. Caesar even has a bunch of special information on his website and a handy dandy handbook aimed at religious employees and employers.

I especially liked this part...

The ministerial exemption has faced legal challenge before, notably in 1996 when the IRS ordered Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren to pay taxes on part of the nearly $80,000 he claimed as a housing allowance as pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

Over $6500 a month in just housing allowance. I know Southern California is pretty expensive but wow. The Son of Man had no place to lay His head but Rick certainly does and he gets a tax benefit to boot. I wonder if the average parishioner at Saddleback knows how much compensation Rick receives or if it is buried in a pool of staff salaries. Anyway, here is the church telling Caesar "we demand our tax breaks!".

On the other hand we have a group of clergy doing a little bit of civil disobedience by promoting their favorite candidate from the pulpit: Pastors pledge to defy IRS, preach politics from pulpit ahead of election. Notice that they are not simply speaking on politically charged issues but are actually endorsing specific candidates.

More than 1,000 pastors are planning to challenge the IRS next month by deliberately preaching politics ahead of the presidential election despite a federal ban on endorsements from the pulpit.

The defiant move, they hope, will prompt the IRS to enforce a 1954 tax code amendment that prohibits tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, from making political endorsements. Alliance Defending Freedom, which is holding the October summit, said it wants the IRS to press the matter so it can be decided in court. The group believes the law violates the First Amendment by “muzzling” preachers.

“The purpose is to make sure that the pastor -- and not the IRS -- decides what is said from the pulpit,” Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the group, told “It is a head-on constitutional challenge.”

Stanley said pastors attending the Oct. 7 “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” will “preach sermons that will talk about the candidates running for office” and then “make a specific recommendation.” The sermons will be recorded and sent to the IRS.  

Well that makes sense, the number one thing people in the church need to receive when they gather as the church is equipping for the work of ministry specific recommendations on who their cleric thinks they should vote for in November. I do recall getting letters near election time, anonymous letters of course, to the church office warning me against talking politics from the pulpit. In general though I think many clergy get away with a lot of politicking from the pulpit. It is especially troubling that they will either be endorsing a man who extols infanticide as a cherished right  and embraces solemnizing sinful relationships or a man who belongs to a pagan group that blasphemes God and perverts the Gospel.

Do you see the problem here? On the one hand we fight tooth and nail to protect the special tax treatment the church receives from Caesar but on the other hand get all outraged when Caesar places conditions on our special tax treatment. Yet we wonder why those outside of the church think that Christianity is all about money.

I am all for people paying as little in taxes as legally allowed and likewise in favor of reducing the total tax burden on the entire country while drastically reducing the amount of spending. That has little to do with this. These tax breaks are nothing less than a partnership between Caesar and the church. Caesar gives us tax breaks and in return we provide some services that benefit society like weddings and funerals. If the church is going to demand special favors from Caesar the church is going to have to play by Caesar's rules. We seem to forget that the government of the United States is not a branch of the church but more akin to Caesar as a secular ruling authority that we are to render to and submit to. I would be in favor of eliminating the tax breaks religious groups get and the tax breaks individuals get for donating to religious groups.

More importantly shouldn't we be spending our time and effort on spreading the Gospel and aiding the poor, not going to court to protect Rick Warren's $80,000 a year housing allowance and the "right" on clergy to tell their flock who they should vote for? I don't begrudge Rick his $80,000 per year in living expenses even if it does seem a bit excessive to me. I do have grave concerns that we expend so much time, effort and money on things that have nothing to with the mission of the church.

1 comment:

Steve Scott said...

Don't even get me started. Just shows what can happen when you make Caesar your lord.