I’ve mused before that church members should not get a tax deduction if their church’s mission is inwardly focused and fails to provide a common, public good. But this is not the direction the wind is blowing, according to the series, “In God’s Name” the New York Times reports (Diana B. Henriques, reporter) in a four-part series, part three today. You can begin with the first installment here.
Clergy, aspirants to vocations and the laity alike should especially read the second installment, if for no other reason than to get past the quaint but misleading idea that clergy get a treasure-trove of benefits (like tax breaks) from the government. Those are held by management, er, the churches institutionally.
Part two: “Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights” (Diana B. Henriques, 9 October 2006, New York Times)
If I had had the time, I would have liked to have pointed out to the NY Times that while other underpaid do-gooders in society are equally beneficial to the good order (cough), it is not typical for anyone but clergy to open their home on a constant basis to their “clients.” For three years when I lived in Maryland, the church office WAS my home, and we had meetings there many times a week. How many social workers, teachers or other non-profit professionals are in that position?
As the pastor of an historic New England church, it is not uncommon for me to run into old couples who happily remember, “Are you the new minister of First Parish? Oh, we were married in your parlor!!” I counsel in my home, have meetings in my home, and host congregants in my home on a regular basis. Everyone knows where I live and can drop it at any time (but thankfully they don’t). Finally, if I am dismissed from my post, I lose my home, in which I have zero equity. I think all that is worth the little tax break I get on a housing allowance.
I bet generations of long-dead Yankees learned the faith in the lower floor of your parsonage too. I am, however, fond of the idea of the parsonage wedding. My last pastorate’s parsonage was an apartment — where PeaceBang and I celebrated the Christmas of Sprial Ham, German wine, and Damn Yankees — and it had its historical share of weddings, too.