"Pilgrim and Sojourner." - 1 Peter 2:11
| Who Needs Persecution? Part Two: A Plausible Scenario to Dismantle Church as We Know It by Neil Cole|
Like Amos, "I am not a prophet, nor a son of a prophet," but for the sake of discussion let me simply map out a few feasible steps that would permanently alter church as we have known it. In fact, it wouldn’t even take any real persecution to dismantle most churches, just a few legal changes that are likely already being considered.
If the following benefits were revoked many churches would close: the tax deduction for contributions, tax exempt status for churches and the parsonage allowance. I say this because the way we do church is so expensive that we rely upon these special privileges to survive. This is especially true in a struggling economy where our government is looking for ways to reduce its deficit and increase tax revenue to provide more services for its constituents––services that churches no longer supply to the community.
If you are a leader of a church, as you read this I suggest that that you ask yourself how your church would survive if these three tax benefits were revoked. That is far better than to simply write off what I am saying by telling yourself this could never happen. Crunch the numbers. Do the math. It will be scary but may lead to some good sound steps to be better prepared.
Removing the Parsonage Allowance
Few ordinary citizens know about this special perk that pastors get. I have enjoyed this benefit and to be honest, I don't even know why it is afforded to me. All money spent on housing (rent/mortgage, utilities, furniture, home improvements/repairs/upkeep/supplies) can be taken off the salary of a paid church leader even up to the entire amount they are paid in salary. I actually feel like I am betraying our "special club" for even speaking of it publicly...like I might jinx it. Add to that the fact that church leaders are able to opt out of social security and you can easily see how pastors are able to get by on much less than the rest. If you don't think churches rely upon this your head is in the sand.
A pastor’s support can literally double with the parsonage allowance allowing a church to maintain a professional staff twice the size that it can actually afford. Nevertheless smaller churches on the whole are already unable to afford their pastors. There are not many churches in the West that feel like they have more staff than they need, in fact, their ministry is likely stretched beyond what the current staff can accomplish. Most churches have far more ministry than they have leaders. The more a church relies upon professional staff the more vulnerable it is in this way.
If the special perk of a parsonage allowance were taken away we would see an immediate hardship on churches struggling to keep their staff employed. Churches that rely upon professionals would have to make due with at least half the leadership they currently have, and I'm pretty sure most do not feel they have enough staff as it is. The number of unemployed pastors is already high, but this would flood the market with unemployable church leaders whose only skill is exegeting Greek and Hebrew sacred texts and preaching sermons on it. Seminaries will probably go out of business as quickly as smaller churches once this happens. No one will be able to afford getting a professional degree that doesn't lead to employment.
If churches cannot afford their pastors they will likely also not support their missionaries. Mission agencies will be just as vulnerable if not more so. Parachurch organizations as well. Removal of this one benefit could be all it takes...but there are other legal vulnerabilities as well.
Removing Tax Exempt Status
What would happen if our churches were forced to pay taxes on their property? This would push most churches over the edge of viability, at least in their current form––especially if the other perks mentioned above were also removed.
Most cities are already openly hostile to churches and trying to prevent them from acquiring property because there is no income from these organizations. When city officials try and understand the benefit to the community these organizations provide (from their perspective) they usually only come up with two things: marrying and burying. The payoff isn't worth it. I cannot imagine that the city of Houston isn't glaring at Lakewood Church's $32 million/yr income and wondering what the property taxes should be. The Houston Rockets used the same space more often during the week and paid their fair share. This is how the world views our special perks.
Removing Tax Deductions for Contributions
If people could no longer write off their contributions to churches I am sure that many churches would see their annual income drop severely. I would like to think it isn't so, but why else is it that we count on larger gifts at the end of the year? Its because we know people are looking for a tax benefit. Granted, this is likely the last perk to be removed because so many other non-profits benefit from this. Perhaps this could be engineered in specific examples for punitive reasons (see below).
Why Would We Lose These Perks?
What could possibly cause the government to take these privileges away? Besides our government's current multi-trillion dollar deficit and desire to raise tax revenue, as well as the increasingly hostile stance toward right-winged fundamentalists in our nation who benefit from all these laws, there is some tangible reasons that may lead to these changes. If the church is labeled as hateful then the government would feel obligated to punish it in an attempt to correct its inappropriate behavior. The government's first punitive move is always economic sanctions. This would not be the first time that our government has used tax laws to leverage conformity.
When laws are passed that allow for gay marriage, and soon after laws are passed that require organizations to not discriminate in hiring practices based upon gender or sexual preference, many churches will be found on the wrong side of these laws. Some churches will fall in line and avoid penalties, but others will not and these will face increasingly stiffer punitive restrictions. Passing such laws is not the persecution that will come, but merely the initial movements to set us up for it. But these small changes alone may be enough to close a majority of churches in America. We do not need persecution to break down our current expressions of church.
How Church will Contribute to These Actions
We already have earned a reputation of being intolerant in our society. Evangelical and fundamental expressions of Christianity that are too closely tied to the Tea Party and Republican agendas have consistently decried those who have entitlements. This will set us up for public mockery...something we should be used to by now. When these laws take our own entitlements away and we are found complaining louder than all others, our reputation as hypocrites will be confirmed in the eyes of the world and will only expedite passage of these laws.
This damage to our reputation (some earned and some not), and subsequent increase in financial penalties, combined with the weak economy will greatly reduce the local church’s income and many will not survive. It’s a simple scenario and as you can see it is not only possible, but there is movement to already enact some of these plans. Are your churches getting ready?
Like the Russian church prior to communism, our churches are dependent upon holy buildings (remove tax exemption) and holy men (remove parsonage allowance) that perform holy practices in those buildings (enact gay marriage laws). Our vulnerability is quite obvious. These three areas of dependence will kill us. What is interesting is that none of them are truly Biblical and yet they are central in importance to the way church is done in our society. In fact, it is how we are even identified as a church by our own culture and society. That is the saddest part to me. Where does the Bible say that pastors and or churches perform weddings and funerals? It doesn't.
Would the church survive these legal changes? Some would, many would not. Those that would survive will find that they must become simpler, more organic and underground. We must decrease our dependence upon buildings, budgets and big shots. We must also respond to our society with love rather than with lobbying for self-interested legislature.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon
| 2014/4/15 21:16||Profile|
| Re: Who Needs Persecution? Part Two: A Plausible Scenario to Dismantle Church as We K|
Brother Neil Cole's introduction about not being a prophet or the son of one was inappropriate. The following text correlates to the type of thing that the effectual prophets of America, analysts and statitians, say. I don't discount what he says or the intention in this warning just that our yea be yea and nay nay. Christ warned about the use oaths to strengthen our words is all.
Thanks for sharing Greg.
| 2014/4/15 21:39||Profile|
| Re: |
Just a few notes to clarify what was written in the op. Things aren't exactly as they might be understood it seems.
OP suggested fallouts from
REMOVING THE PARSONAGE ALLOWANCE
It is not nearly the perk it appears many think it to be. True, a minister does not have to pay federal or state tax on the amount they spend on mortgage/rent and utilities. On they other hand they have to pay double social security and medicare taxes on that amount that most people do. The minister must foot both halves of that amount where the vast majority of people only pay half. If you get a paycheck from an employer you will have approximately 7.5% held out of your check for social security/medicare taxes. The minister must pay a rate of 15% on the amount used for housing allowance (and the same 15% for any other for that matter).
So for example lets say that a church pays its pastor a salary of $50,000 per year. He spends $12,000 a year on a mortgage and $6000 a year on utilities, etc. Just how much would the minister be saving by this "special perk".
Housing Allowance $18,000
Social Security Tax $2480
Meicare Tax $ 580
Tax Paid On Housing $3060 (Not exactly "tax exempt" is it?)
It is true that the minister did not pay a federal or state tax on the $18,000 but he paid $1530 more than most anyone else in social security and medicare taxes. The difference in the extra saved on fed taxes and the extra amount spent on social security/medicare often make it close to a wash. When you factor in that most ministers have to employ good tax people to make sure all the federal standards are met and they do not run afoul of the myriad of rules the IRS has they find they have saved little or nothing by its use. I know a great many ministers that wish they could be considered straight employees for IRS reporting purposes and be paid in exactly the same fashion most folks are. It is a major pain to deal with all the documentation, record keeping, etc. to save a few percent on federal taxes. In addition the minister must continue to pay double social security/medicare taxes on all the remainder of his income as well as then adding the federal/state taxes that everyone else pays.
In our example -
Income Total For Year - $50,000
Amount sheltered from federal/state taxes - $18,000
Amount Subject To Double (Full 15%) Social Security/Medicare All $50,000
Amount Subject To Double (Full 15%) Social Security/Medicare AND full federal & state tax rates - $32,000
The ministers $50,000 will have approximately
$6,200 taken out for social security/medicare
$6,000 taken out for fed/state/local taxes (depending on dependents, etc.)
$13,500 for private health insurance (this years rates for family of 4)
$5,000 to denomination/fellowship to keep credentials active
$18,000 the amount spent on housing/utils, etc.
That is already $48,700 dollars. Unless the pastor can buy gas and keep a car, pay for school supplies for his kids, buy his clothes & his childrens clothes, feed a family, purchase life insurance, meet people for coffee to connect with them, etc. all for $1,300 a year then he does not have enough income to meet the required expenses and taxes.
I hope this helps to clear up the idea that ministers "don't pay taxes". They often pay more than the other members of society. They then must also purchase health and life insurances, etc. as an individual rate. This is far, far more expensive than the group rate obtained from a regular secular employer.
In conclusion on this point - removal of the housing allowance would have very little effect on ministers. I don't personally know anyone who would even consider the housing allowance tax percentages to be a thought that even crossed their mind concerning their commitment to their local church. The housing allowance is a perk but not nearly as nice a one as many believe.
REMOVING TAX EXEMPT STATUS FROM CHURCHES
No doubt that many local churches would fold up if they had to pay taxes to their municipalities based on the assessed value of the property. However, if that were to happen all many municipalities would get is a bunch of empty buildings with no tangible use for them and no market to sell them.
However, if that happens you will probably see the same groups renting space ... maybe the same spaces that the government just seized. Who else is going to rent it? I agree that it also makes for many more organic grass roots fellowships to meet. At homes, coffee shops, etc. Where I live this already happens though. It really is just the same as the book of Acts - "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah." Acts 5:42
It seems there is this spirit and attitude that often is on SI posts that chases the "house to house" portion of that scripture but is openly hostile to the "temple courts" aspect. We need both. We need smaller intimate times of fellowship and worship with close friends and those we tightly interact with. However, we also need times of large scale corporate worship to encourage and uplift us as well. At least the apostles exemplified that they believed so ... and they are pretty reliable on this issue aren't they?
I am not saying some healthy things in a spiritual sense would not come from the removal of churches tax exempt status for land tax purposes. However, the issue is more complex than it seems. Would politicians really want the local voter fallout from that? Do they really want to take possession of buildings suitable for little else than a church on their balance sheet that can't be sold? They might rent them back to the churches but then the city becomes responsible for upkeep, utilities, employees to clean, etc. It might not even be profitable for them when all is considered and that doesn't even factor in the ill will they would incur.
So - if the churches lose tax exempt status for their property then many may lose their sites. However, believers will always wish to worship together and will do so. They will rent spaces- maybe the same ones the government just seized from them, use public arenas, city parks, open fields.... whatever is available. God will show up and meet us wherever we have to go. The place isn't the issue ... the hearts of people and the Lord we seek is.
REMOVING TAX DEDUCTIONS FOR CONTRIBUTIONS
This particular thing sounds plausible until I think about the giving records I have seen. Every study I have seen over the years showed that fewer than 10% of professed "believers" actually give 10% or more to not for profits. It is normally closer to 3%-4% of "professed believers" that give at that level. Most give in the 2%-3% range if they are giving at all. The standard tax deduction is so far above what virtually anyone gives that no one uses the deductions or itemizes it. Unless you are giving very large amounts then it is money lost to the IRS to itemize those charitable deductions. Virtually everyone takes the standardized amount because it is far more than they gave and the deductible tax contributions are irrelevant. There may be a few people/businesses who are very large givers that it could affect. However, in my experience I am not sure that there is even one time I can remember when it would have affected the amount anyone gave.
Perhaps this area would affect peoples giving and then create fallout from it. However, I have not seen that be the case and given the fact that virtually no one gives enough to surpass the standard deductions justifying itemization it is largely a non starter for most people.
The standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly this year was $12,200. Therefore, unless you and your spouse could itemize out over $12,200 of charitable giving and deductions then the tax credit is irrelevant. You won't be taking it and will take the $12,200 standardized deduction and avoid the hassle and headache of documenting everything.
These are good and important discussions in the time we live in. However, I see that there is also a great deal of misunderstanding of these topics. It also seems that they are being extremely over simplified when in fact they are more complex when explored from all sides.
| 2014/4/16 10:10||Profile|