Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Average Sr. Pastor welfare payment: $250/month

In 2012 the average SBC Senior Pastor received an indirect monthly federal government payment of about $250.

Did you get yours?

If you received part of your clergy income as a housing allowance then, yep, you got yours. I got mine.

When I write about our sacred tax break, the minister's housing allowance, I get the feeling that my wonderful SBC colleagues sometimes look askance at me, as if I am the kid on the playground with Tourette syndrome who because of his neuropsychiatric disorder is always muttering inappropriate things.

Yeah, as if we should not talk about this lest enough others will know about our tax break and try to take it away. Most of us recognize self interest when we see it and it is perfectly natural and normal to act in our own self interest even if we object to like things when given to others.  

Hey, I'm just stating the facts, brethren, and the fact is that if the average SBC senior pastor salary is around $60,000 then the portion of that excluded from federal income tax calculations will yield about a $250 per month savings for the pastor. That is indirect clergy welfare, something granted by our government to us through tax policy.

Not a few of our number have been known to rail against the government, against government taking our money and giving it to others through policies with which we disagree, so let's just call the housing allowance what it is, an indirect government subsidy for clergy. I daresay that when someone want to be provocative they will use the term "welfare." If the context is government transferring tax liability from one group to another, then this is our welfare payment.

I have no moral compunction about my housing allowance; however, if I lived in a million dollar plus mansion and excluded hundreds of thousands of dollars, I hope that I would have at least a smattering of moral hesitation about it.

And, please, we don't receive this because the government recognized that we have to pay self employment taxes and wanted to offset that. That may make us feel better about it but it had nothing to do with the creation of the policy.

There are those who feel that the government should not in this manner favor members of the clergy and not other occupations and who are challenging the policy as being unconstitutional. I cannot see that it constitutes an establishment of religion. I can see where it would generate resentment and opposition.

But, for now, enjoy your $250 per month. That is pretty good fish bait money.


Anonymous said...

"... if I lived in a million dollar plus mansion and excluded hundreds of thousands of dollars ...."

And yet by far more clergy do not, but still rail against social programs that those with need depend on for existence. Thus two things are going on: 1) clergy wishing to discipline their own better-off clergy for making use of the government's policy, which they believe will imperil their own (i.e., clergy) tax advantage, and 2) clergy wishing to discipline the less well-off and needy non-clergy citizen for making use of the government's policy, which they believe will imperil their own (i.e., clergy) tax advantage.

The former is understood, the latter is, well, un-clergylike and inconsistent.

Tim Dahl said...

I'm just waiting for the day that the housing allowance is shot down. I also expect the "job" of clergy to be redefined as "employee" of the church, and not self-employed.

If that were to happen, and the churches have to pay 1/2 of our SS can see the average wage of the minister go down. Maybe not by much, but down it will go.

On the subject of tax breaks... Who knows, the churches may loose their tax breaks entirely. We live in a country that favors religion (within the tax code). If churches every lose their tax exempt status, I can see many of our smaller churches being unable to pay land taxes, etc.


William Thornton said...

Tim, I don't think you will have to see the HA shot down and we are already defined as "employee" but in an oddball kind of way. There is an option, a one time election, that a church may choose if they want to treat clergy as other employees.

I don't think there is enough revenue lost through the HA to make it worth the rancor caused by any legislative attempt to repeal it. If there is a cap put on deductions, the HA may pop up in that discussion but, since it isn't a deduction it may not.

I'm just being candid here in saying that the HA is a tax advantage, welfare?, that we get just like many other groups get theirs.

RLBaty said...


I appreciate your continuing coverage of this article as the FFRF case continues to wind its way through the judiciary, which will likely take years to resolve, and my White House sponsored petition continues to struggle towards the magic 25,000 signature goal by January 24, 2013 which could change the course of history and resolve the issue within weeks.

You wrote, in part:

> I cannot see that it (IRC 107)
> constitutes an establishment
> of religion.

How about a "law respecting the establishment of religion".

I figure that by having a law that allows ONLY "ministers" such a benefit that it clearly constitutes a law "respecting the establishment of religion".

Otherwise, here's the latest on my petition:

> David R
> West Fargo, ND
> January 10, 2013
> Time: 10:59 PM MT
> Signature # 1,342

RLBaty said...


Zachary P
Portland, OR
January 12, 2013
Time: About 6:00 PM MT
Signature # 1,641

That's up over 300 in 2 days, but we need a lot more help if we are going to get to 25,000 by January 24, 2013.

Here's the direct link again: