Daily Archives: November 25, 2013

(WSJ) Companies Prepare to Pass More Health Costs to Workers

Companies are bracing for an influx of participants in their insurance plans due to the health-care overhaul, adding to pressure to shift more of the cost of coverage to employees.

Many employers are betting that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all Americans have health insurance starting in 2014 will bring more people into their plans who have previously opted out. That, along with other rising expenses, is prompting companies to raise workers’ premium contributions, steer them toward high-deductible plans and charge them more to cover family members.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, --The 2009 American Health Care Reform Debate, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Personal Finance, Theology

A CT summary article on the Wisconsin Legal Ruling and the Clergy Housing Allowance

According to CT sister resource Managing Your Church, the average base salary of a full-time senior pastor in 2012-2013 ranges from $33,000 to $70,000. Eighty-four percent of senior pastors surveyed said they also receive a housing allowance, which accounts for $20,000 to $38,000 in added compensation. The Joint Committee on Taxation calculates the exemption amounted to $700 million in recent years, notes Peter Reilly of Forbes.

CT previously reported how the threat to pastor parsonages lost its legal legs but was revived again, and examined debate over whether or not Congress should change the rules on pastor housing allowances. CT also noted the quirky reasoning that recently allowed one prominent pastor to claim two parsonages.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Housing/Real Estate Market, Law & Legal Issues, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Personal Finance, Religion & Culture, Taxes, The U.S. Government, Theology

Kendall Harmon Comments on the Wisconsin Legal Ruling and the Clergy Housing Allowance

Very few areas get me wound up faster than clergy finances. There are two reasons for this. One is that the actual situation with taxes and clergy compensation is quite complicated and not well understood even by people who work with taxes professionally and, as if that isn’t trouble enough, many clergy in my experience are inadequate and in some cases even ignorant in the financial area.

Sure enough, this has led to some very poor reporting on this story already, as well as some even worse posting about it on the blogs. If you wish to understand it can I please advise that you do your own research and not jump to conclusions.

With that said, here goes. First, there is no need for panic. This is one ruling, and we have a system which involves a lot of layers of the judicial system, so overeacting now is not going to help.

Second, you need to understand the bizarre–and I mean bizarre–basic situation of clergy finances.
If you take a look at the basic IRS definition it starts as follows:

A minister’s housing allowance, sometimes called a parsonage allowance or a rental allowance is excludable from gross income for income tax purposes, but not for self-employment tax purposes.

Now before you go whizzing past that, make sure to read it and take it in a couple of times. Please note the DUAL status of clergy finances. Housing allowances are excludable (under certain conditions) BUT NOT FOR SELF EMPLOYMENT TAXES.

In other words, for the purpose of social security, the situation is different, and, indeed, I would argue, poor, because as far as social security is concerned, a clergyman or clergywoman is treated as if there were a self employed writer like Gore Vidal or Stephen King, and for that they pay both their portion of social security taxes AS WELL AS the employers portion. So whereas the woman who works for Coca Cola, say, pays for half of her social security taxes every pay period, her employer, Coca Cola, pays the other half. For ministers this is not true; ministers pay both halves.

So the important point right from the get go is that any idea that clergy get some kind of special “deal” in the tax system at a basic level is wildly misleading. No article that reports on this fairly can do so without mentioning the dual tax status issue and whereas the housing allowance does help, the social security situation does not.

There is more. The housing allowance is for actual housing costs so any compensation which is what it costs you to maintain a home for the year (or, if the church owns the home, there are other stipulations). So If you see a minister X and he reports a salary of 10,000 and a housing allowance of 40,000 and you think this is unfair be aware that any amount of the 40,000 dollars NOT related to housing is to be declared as “excess housing allowance” to the IRS (and, yes, I will also remind you that this person is paying 2x social security taxes on the WHOLE 50,000 overall compensation).

Now, I am well aware that some churches (and sadly some clergy) abuse this situation. That is unfortunate but remember that is an abuse of existing rules not the rules themselves.

Why do we have this crazy system? Mainly because when it was originally put in place many clergy lived in church owned housing and so when they retired because many did not own their own home ever they had no housing equity built up at all. That has since changed, never mind that life expectancy has gone up considerably. But changing existing law in America is not easy. For myself, I think a strong case can be made that it would be “fairer” if clergy were treated as employed (as opposed to self–employed for self-employment tax purposes, which would mean paying half of social security and the church paying the other half) and did not get the housing allowance consideration. But the situation with many smaller congregations and their ministers would very much be impacted. It would take a herculaean effort to reform the bizarre area of clergy compensation taxes in the right way, even if it were attempted.

All of which brings us back to the real underlying problem here in America, and that is not with our tax system’s basic structure BUT ITS COMPLEXITY. This system is built to favor those with resources and power and the accountants and lawyers who get compensated to enable them to manage it so much better than most. If I were ever working in this area, I would be promoting TAX SIMPLICITY and TAX STABILITY (the tax code changes way too often also).

In the meantime, pray for those in ordained ministry, it is a very, very demanding area in which to work–KSH.

Posted in * By Kendall, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, History, Law & Legal Issues, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Personal Finance, Religion & Culture, Taxes

A Wisconsin Ruling saying Clergy Housing allowance unconstitutional getting Lots of attention

You can find the actual ruling here and the Wisconsin State Journal article about it there. The Wisconsin State Journal article begins as follows:

A federal judge has found unconstitutional a law that lets clergy members avoid paying income taxes on compensation that is designated part of a housing allowance.

The decision Friday by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb could have far-reaching financial ramifications for pastors, who currently can use the untaxed income to pay rental housing costs or the costs of home ownership, including mortgage payments and property taxes.

You should read it all as well as the Religion News Service article there.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Taxes, The U.S. Government, Theology

(Her.meneutics) Karen Swallow Prior–When Abortion Hits Home

Feminist author and blogger Jessica Valenti, known for (among other things) advocating free abortions on demand and without apology, recently wrote an apology for her own abortion. Yet, she couldn’t even use the word. Instead, Valenti’s essay poignantly describes the dire medical circumstances surrounding her unplanned pregnancy, her adoring love for the toddler she already has, the loss of her hope to provide her daughter with a sister, and the traditions she has cultivated around the family table to pass on to her child, such as Sunday sauce.

So it is here, it seems””at the family table””that abortion has finally arrived in its collective meaning for all of us. The semiotics of abortion in American culture has evolved, and with it the images that give its meaning power: from the dark, dirty alley; to the clean, well-lighted clinic; and now, to the warm glow of the family dining room.

Nearly every table set for the family gathering at Thanksgiving this year will have a missing place, if not two or more, since one in three women in America now has an abortion by age 45; the majority of these self-identify as Christian.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Sexuality, Theology, Women

Heartwarming Story–Unlikely bond saves Autistic boy and dog, who is named SPCA dog of the year

When Xena was rescued, she only had a 1 percent chance of survival. Not only has the dog beaten those odds, but she also has helped an 8-year-old autistic boy find his voice. NBC’s Jill Rappaport reports.

Watch it all from NBC (just under 2 1/4 minutes).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * General Interest, Animals, Children, Health & Medicine

Monday Morning Food for Thought–Wilbur Rees’ 3 dollars worth of God please

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a warm cup of milk, or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please”.

This is quoted by Chuck Swindoll in his book, Improving Your Serve (where he cites Tim Hansel’s book When I Relax I feel Guilty as the source) in the second chapter, after which Dr. Swindoll makes these additional comments:

“That’s it. Our inner ‘self’ doesn’t want to dump God entirely, just keep Him at a comfortable distance. Three dollars of Him is sufficient. A sack full, nothing more. Just enough to keep my guilt level below the threshold of pain, just enough to guarantee escape from eternal flames. But certainly not enough to make me nervous, to start pushing around my prejudices or nit-picking at my lifestyle. Enough is enough!”

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(NY Times) The Supreme Court Confronts the Religious Rights of Corporations

Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, closes on Sundays, costing its owners millions but honoring their Christian faith.

The stores play religious music. Employees get free spiritual counseling. But they do not get free insurance coverage for some contraceptives, even though President Obama’s health care law requires it.

Hobby Lobby, a corporation, says that forcing it to provide the coverage would violate its religious beliefs. A federal appeals court agreed, and the Supreme Court is set to decide on Tuesday whether it will hear the Obama administration’s appeal from that decision or appeals from one of several related cases.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Theology

A Prayer for the Feast Day of James Otis Sargent Huntington

O loving God, by whose grace thy servant James Huntington gathered a community dedicated to love and discipline and devotion to the holy Cross of our Savior Jesus Christ: Send thy blessing upon all who proclaim Christ crucified, and move the hearts of many to look unto him and be saved; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Church History, Spirituality/Prayer

A Prayer to Begin the Day

O God, whose days are without end and whose mercies cannot be numbered: Make us, we pray thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of life; let thy Holy Spirit lead us in the paths of righteousness all our days; that when we shall have served thee in our generation, we may have an abundant entrance into thy everlasting kingdom; through thy mercy in Jesus Christ, our only Saviour and Mediator.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Scripture Readings

Praise the LORD! O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever! Who can utter the mighty doings of the LORD, or show forth all his praise? Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!

–Psalm 106:1-3

Posted in Theology, Theology: Scripture

Survivors of Suicide Day at Saddleback Church

Every 14 minutes, someone in the U.S. dies by suicide. Every 15 minutes, someone is left to make sense of it. Survivors of Suicide Day is a time of hope, healing, and support for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

Take the time to watch the video.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Suicide, Theology

Pope Francis' Homily at Year of Faith closing Mass

2. Besides being the centre of creation, Christ is the centre of the people of God. We see this in the first reading which describes the time when the tribes of Israel came to look for David and anointed him king of Israel before the Lord (cf. 2 Sam 5:1-3). In searching for an ideal king, the people were seeking God himself: a God who would be close to them, who would accompany them on their journey, who would be a brother to them.
Christ, the descendant of King David, is the “brother” around whom God’s people come together. It is he who cares for his people, for all of us, even at the price of his life. In him we are all one; united with him, we share a single journey, a single destiny.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Ministry of the Ordained, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Pope Francis, Preaching / Homiletics, Roman Catholic

Philadelphia becomes the first US city to ban 3D-printed guns

Today, the Philadelphia City Council voted unanimously to ban the manufacturing of guns by 3-D printers, making Philly the first city to do so. Which is interesting, because the author of the bill, Kenyatta Johnson, isn’t aware of of any local gun-printing 3-D printers. ”It’s all pre-emptive,” says Johnson’s director of legislation Steve Cobb. “It’s just based upon internet stuff out there.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., City Government, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Science & Technology, Urban/City Life and Issues, Violence

(Economist) America’s economic difficulties are mostly political

Warren Buffett, Who in six decades of investing has seen a downturn or two, called the financial crisis of 2008 “an economic Pearl Harbour”. In the worst recession in 80 years, the banking system wrote off dud loans worth $885 billion; American gross government debt climbed from 66% of GDP to over 100%; the Federal Reserve printed getting on for $3 trillion of new money; 5.4m Americans lost their jobs; and the average GDP per person fell by 5%, or over $2,200.

It is a miserable accounting of the distress and ruin that many suffered. From the viewpoint of American primacy, however, the crisis could have been so much worse. The collapse of Lehman Brothers and AIG, two financial titans, might have triggered a second Great Depression. Yet memories of Hoovervilles have not found their echo in Bushtowns, and Barack Obama has been spared having to strike a New New Deal.Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, House of Representatives, Office of the President, Politics in General, Senate