Thursday, January 27, 2011

More on IRS Ecclesiology

Discussion continues at Scott Wells' blog about churches and IRS status, in light of the agency's ruling that stripped a virtual organization of its church status.

As I noted in the update to my earlier post spinning off of Scott's, another commenter points out the possibility that churches could be simply lumped with all nonprofits, avoiding the separate classification.

So why is there a separate category for churches from other nonprofits? Forget my earlier suggestion about taxing churches; why isn't it sufficient simply to treat all nonprofits the same, including churches?

Two tentative answers I can imagine are that

1) Churches would then have to file form 990 reports on revenues and expenses, including the top 5 highest-paid employees, which they don't now.

So what? (Other than political backlash.)

2) They might have to justify other kinds of expenses -- yet I'm not so sure that's true.

But in fact, I'm asking this question in genuine ignorance.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Taxing the Church

Scott blogs about a court decision that finds an online religious group doesn't qualify for tax exemption under IRS rules.

As neither a lawyer nor an expert in virtual churches, I can't speak directly to the substance of the specific issue. But my first reaction was to raise a question I've had many times over the year when the issue of churches and tax law comes up -- most often in the context of whether churches can or should endorse political candidates.

Now I happen to think it is almost always a bad idea to make such specific endorsements from the pulpit. (I hedge only to cover the possibility that if I were a preacher and an Adolf Hitler was running for president, the the temptation would be too great not to stand up and declare my opposition. [Uh-oh, did I just set a Godwin's Law record?])

But I've long wondered whether it wouldn't be better to abolish the tax exemption on churches on grounds that to permit it (and then to have to police it) involves excessive entanglement of state with church.

If I were a graduate student in economics or perhaps public policy, I think there might be an interesting paper in examining what the actual impact would be on churches if they were taxed as regular corporations are. After all, much of their expenses would be deductible anyway (as operational expenses, salaries, etc.); probably the real impact would be at the local level, in the realm of property taxes, and aren't there some churches that voluntarily pay a property-tax equivalent to offset service costs from their local municipalities?


Steve Caldwell, in a comment to the original Scott Wells post that triggered my musing here, suggests what might be an easier solution: No separate category for churches vs. other non-profits.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Kingdom of God, Subway edition

This is where you find it.

I know nothing about this man's religion. And it doesn't matter what he believes. It's the way he lives it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Evolution Sunday

No, this one is not at a UU church. But it looks to me like a lot of UUs would be quite at home there.

Aside: Scott Wells has been undertaking some interesting research on where UU churches are, particularly in "micropolitan" areas. In that vein, I wonder if liberal non-UU churches in conservative areas tend to create a de facto monopoly, making it more difficult (or less urgent) to start a UU church in those places...

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Passing Thought on Pro-Censorship Unitarians

At UU World, Christopher Walton has a short note about a new book that recounts the history of the Watch and Ward Society, which promoted censorship a century ago.

It strikes me that the 1980s movement to fight pornography and other forms of sexually oriented entertainment from a feminist/progressive stance(Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, etc.) -- a movement that I briefly sympathized with, but later rejected -- were the intellectual heirs of that earlier group.

Relatedly, I believe that some Unitarians and Universalists also joined in with religious conservatives in that earlier era to promote prohibition.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Not Rising to the Bait

In the last 24 hours I've turned away from opportunities to comment on two different things I saw online that just made me shake my head.

One was an anti-Christian blog post by a UU blogger that reflects such a blinkered and narrow view of Christianity that I was just beside myself. But I also recognized that blogger's life story I'm sure has been one of deep wounds from Fundamentalist Christianity.

The other was in a comment to a post by one of my favorite bloggers. The comment was by a Christian who took exception to anyone calling him or herself a Christian unless the person subscribed to...

...a blinkered and narrow view Christianity (and one that, paradoxically, was expressed in the comment in such a vague way that it was all but bereft of substance and meaning).

Well, it gives me the chance an excuse to post this old favorite cartoon.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Amateur Hour

There is a discussion over at Will's blog about interracial romance in science fiction.

I was gonna post something about the William Shatner-Nichelle Nichols kiss on Star Trek TOS but then I realized this is sorta like bringing up Lionel Trains Thomas the Tank Engine toy trains

in a discussion among fine-scale model railroaders.