Many of us simply assume the clergy is taxed according to the same criteria as any other person. While I did realize that the tax laws basically omitted taxation of churches, I did not realize that the clergy was granted the same exception until recently. As my husband and I were talking to close friends, they mentioned they had to attend a church meeting to address a pay increase requested by the Pastor of their church.
I listened as they explained that the pastor was currently receiving about $80,000 a year with free housing and utilities. He wanted a $20,000 pay increase or he would have to leave the church. I was stunned to learn the congregation of about 250 people were supporting their pastor completely and that he and his wife could not live on $80,000 a year much longer. I feel confident that this pastor is the exception and not the rule.
I had always assumed that most clergy live on a modest income , especially if their housing and utilities are also provided. I could not have been more wrong. Understand that the income of the pastor was for his own personal use and gain, and that all job related expenses were absorbed by the church. I was amazed that a pastor needed to make $100,000 a year to make ends meet, especially with all the freebies included.
That was about the time I learned that he was not paying taxes either. The only thought I could maintain was what idiot agreed to pay this man 80K in the first place. Then I thought a few moments about deviating from my intended retirement plans in favor of joining the clergy, but then I realized how much effort and utmost dedication it would take to return to college and scrubbed that thought as well. Not all are called to preach despite the desire of many to do so.
This brings me to the current debate and validates why I believe the clergy should face the same tax laws as any other person. While I am sure there is not one person who would debate the noble cause of the clergy, it cannot be debated that the financial benefits obviously draw many sharks into the water. Perhaps the number of the clergy would decrease if there was not monetary gain. Certainly, only those who seriously are committed to the call of God would remain. I have seen many members of the clergy who serve with utmost honor and commitment, even to the point of being willing to make personal financial sacrifices for the good of another.
Unfortunately, there are those in all vocations who are focused on the bottom dollar or the prestige that is associated with elevated social status which we tend to place our clergy. In return, we expect them to live up to higher moral and ethical standards than we actually maintain ourselves. Granted, most of the time we are willing to provide financial compensation to keep our pastor available and focused on the spiritual needs of the congregation. But, come on, you knew there was going to be a but, and there is. But, what about their vocation elevates them to a non-taxable status? Are there not other equally noble vocations that deserve equal consideration? What is the barometer we use to decide who is worthy of such special consideration as to not be required to pay taxes?
Certainly, the on going feud between church and state is going to impact the issue of taxing church revenue or fund raisers at some point in time. At what I feel will eventually be much to our demise, the sanctity of the church and the state and the observance of prayer in society is being challenged now on a daily basis in the public arena. I do not intend to degrade the intentions or obligation to service that honorable members of the clergy uphold. That is not at issue here and is not being called into question by this writer. The issue is in regard to the clergy being taxed and not being given a special exempt status. Where do we draw the line?
It can be argued that the untaxed income would aid in the pastoral duties of our clergy, but does it? Is that cost aspect not absorbed by the church? Should we expect our clergy to be financially responsible for all incurred cost of their professional duties because we give them a tax exempt status, or is it the consensus that the clergy should have both tax exemption and generous financial compensation? What about the clergy who do not receive monetary compensation for their pastoral duties? Do they not deserve a break in taxation as they serve freely for little or nothing in wages? Again, where do we draw that line? Who gets to make the decisive vote as to who is eligible to receive a tax exempt status and who is not? Is it to be based on the total number of members in the congregation, or perhaps the location, creed, or culture of the individual church?
I submit that equal taxation be mandated and that the clergy be subject to the same tax regulations as any other vocation of noble cause. It is feasible that most of us know of a member of the clergy who we consider to be using the name of God to meet their own personal agenda. Perhaps, if the clergy was more accountable in regard to taxation and all expenses incurred accountable in detail, the general public would be more comfortable with the intentions and noble cause of the individual. If there is zero accountability, there is room for temptation and possible deviance. Unfortunately, individual financial gain and deception has occurred on a large scale by clergy in the name of God.
We want to believe that the intentions of our clergy are beyond reproach, and truthfully for most of the clergy, this s is true. It is the one bad apple in the barrel that taints the fruit of the good and well intentions of the others. In much the same way as we financially reward our politicians with lucrative incomes and enviable perks, the trust for the good service of others is compromised and called into question. Unfortunately, the good and honorable clergy are scrutinized as equally as those who are corrupt. This, in itself, is a sad testament to our monetary based society. The good have nothing to fear and the guilty face humiliation in the discovery of their true motives. The legitimate monetary needs of the church can not be debated, and should not be called into question.
Perhaps, the grey areas of possible personal monetary gain needs to be policed. In short, being a member of the clergy should not be a financially prosperous vocation. In many ways, we expect our clergy to be somewhat pious and penny wise, thus insuring the same challenges of the common man. We expect our clergy to lead by example and not to profit from our willingness to tithe or otherwise support the church financially.
Perhaps modern times require modern measures. The good word of the clergy is no longer sufficient to assure deviance on any level. If accountability requires strict mandates and appropriate taxation, we as a population are more likely to have a comfort level with the clergy at large. I do not call into question the noble and honorable man or woman of the clergy, but, unfortunately there is a need for mandated accountability to insure any temptation is hampered and the noble man stays noble.