In today’s media-saturated America, everyone has an opinion. From Bill O’Reilly to Chris Matthews, Rush Limbaugh to Rachel Maddow – and everything in between – there is no shortage of viewpoints. But how many of those perspectives bring you back to a place of passionate, persistent prayer for the nation?
“Viewpoint” allows your Prayer Team’s talented writing team to express their opinions on the political, social and moral issues of the day. At times, you may not agree with all they have to say. But in the end, you will be energized to pray for America, with the prism of Scripture and a decidedly Godly direction as your guide. Plus, you can blog your comments to every article, have your say, and perhaps even receive a response back from the writer.
Read – then pray with an enlightened, more informed viewpoint for your nation and its leaders.
The Tax Man Comes For Preachers
Should ministers lose housing benefits?
By Jim Ray
There are two fascinating notes about the year 1916: one will surprise you, the other … not so much. America’s entry into the Great War, now known as World War I, was just around the corner. Everybody knew it was coming and Congress (this is the surprising part) was trying to figure out how to pay for the war before actually spending money on it. Their solution was the creation of the modern income tax. Until then, believe it or not, there was no such tax in America. But after the war ended and was paid for (this part will not be surprising) the income tax somehow never went away.
To the contrary, the income tax has grown epically since 1916, and many government officials seem ever-determined to expand its reach. The latest example is a ruling by a federal judge in Wisconsin striking down as “unconstitutional” the housing allowance given to members of the clergy that has been in place for many decades. Is this ruling a matter of fairness, or is it another attack on religion?
Aside from preachers, priests, rabbis and accountants, few people know about what is sometimes called the “parsonage allowance.” In short, the law allows churches to pay the expense of providing and maintaining a home for clergy members without considering those expenses as part of his or her salary. It is a critically important benefit because many pastors in America are otherwise underpaid.
But now, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb has ruled in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRL) in a lawsuit which claimed that the benefit was unconstitutional because it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. By granting a tax benefit specifically and exclusively to pastors, the argument goes, the government is improperly favoring religion.
On its face, the ruling seems to be philosophically motivated. The First Amendment was written to prohibit the establishment of a national church, but has been repeatedly wielded by ideologues to attack religious institutions and individuals. The government grants tax breaks for everything from solar panels to clarinet lessons, and the number of special exemptions given under the new Affordable Care Act, for example, is over 1,000 and climbing. Viewed in that context, the housing allowance for clergy is hardly a blip on the tax revenue radar.
But according to the FFRL, the benefit is frequently exploited. “When you’re dealing with some of these mega-church pastors with huge mansions,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the organization’s co-president, “they can be paid an enormous amount in housing allowances.” This is, regrettably, true enough. There are a few well-publicized examples of televangelists who live palatially and without accountability. Their escapades often overshadow the other 400,000 pastors in America who – for the most part – live sacrificially, humbly and often meagerly.
For them, the loss of the housing allowance could be financially devastating. Duke University’s National Congregations Study found that the average church in America is comprised of 75 people. Their data further shows that some 90 percent of the churches in America consist of congregations totaling less than 350. If the ruling is not overturned on appeal many, if not most, of these small churches would lack the financial means to increase the pastor’s salary in order to offset the burden of the additional tax.
The bureaucrats in Washington need more money – always have and always will – but it’s evident that Judge Crabb’s order siccing the tax man on preachers has a more profound purpose than simply increasing revenue, and it is this: The government thinks it can provide for the welfare of people better than America’s churches. Thus, this decision at its core is intended to commandeer capital from churches and transfer it to the federal treasury, further lessening the role of faith-based institutions in society.
The 1916 tax, sold to the public as a temporary but necessary and patriotic measure to fund the “War to End All Wars,” is still alive and well, but the battlefield has moved from the trenches of France to the pulpits of America. As you pray today, ask God to give America’s president, politicians and judges a deep and abiding respect for the nation’s spiritual heritage and a firm recognition of the indispensable role of her religious leaders and churches. They are needed like never before in America today, but they are needed for a purpose far more momentous than new tax revenue.
Jim Ray is a writer, fundraiser and consultant. He and his wife Stacey have two children and reside in Nashville, TN.
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