Taxes and Ministers II

In the comments section to Dr. Veith’s post about the housing tax exemption,  someone who identified himself only by his first name parroted the oft-heard line about pastors who opt-out of social security:

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has stated repeatedly that we have no doctrinal basis to opt out of Social Security and Medicare, so if you try it and the IRS calls you on it, you will lose that battle and be subject to years of back taxes and penalties.

Ignoring for a moment yet another comment thread fail…

While LCMS, Inc. may have stated thusly in convention, there are two points worth considering here.

1) LCMS, Inc. may have so decreed, but LCMS, Inc. is not an “ecclesiastical government exercising legislative or coercive powers… accordingly, no resolution of the Synod is of binding force if it is not in accordance with the Word of God, or if it appears to be inexpedient…”  In other words, the constitution of synod itself admits that the synod could err.  Consider, then, the following quote that I picked up from a old form of blogging called a “book”, written by the first not-a-bishop of the synod, the Reverend Dr. CFW Walther :

The Christian Congregation should consider it a disgrace to see its poor cared for by the worldly government.

Compare that to what the IRS says as a requirement for receiving the exemption, “You are conscientiously opposed to public insurance,” which is explained on form 4361 in this way, “I certify that I am conscientiously opposed to, or because of my religious principles I am opposed to, the acceptance…  of any public insurance that makes payments in the event of death, disability, old age, or retirement; or that makes payments toward the cost of, or provides services for, medical care.”  Not to say what good ol’ Ferdy would have believed regarding a program of the worldy government that was invented long after his own death and was designed to care for the poor, but I’m not seeing him as a big enthusiast for the whole process.  Of course, he didn’t like life insurance, dancing, birth control, or the theatre either, so we can just disregard any thoughts he might have had on this topic as well.  Clearly he was not modern enough for our enlightened sensibilities.

2) Even if one could conclusively argue in favor of this whole idea at the level of synod, the synod would be powerless to determine what the individual beliefs of it’s members are.  The snippet I quoted above is, in it’s entirety, “You are conscientiously opposed to public insurance because of your individual religious considerations (not because of your general conscience), or you are opposed because of the principles of your religious denomination.” (emphasis added)  In other words, it doesn’t matter what your church teaches, whether it be the Roman Catholic church, the LCMS, or the Religious-Consciousness-please-take-this-flower-would-you-like-to-make-a-donation-Church.  If your individual religious considerations are opposed to the concept of public insurance (as our synod’s first president may very well have been), then the IRS has no choice but to allow the exemption, apparently even in defiance of the beliefs of your religious denomination, and not question you further.  The only avenue for a church to oppose this at a level which the IRS could be allowed to recognize would be for the church to not only state it’s opposition to an exemption, but to actually remove members (presumably for false teaching) who disagreed.  When the synod begins to do that, then the IRS will take note.  Until then, the IRS really doesn’t care too much what LCMS, Inc. teaches, because that’s not how the law is written, and the IRS is not legally allowed to interpret doctrine or belief (that is to say, doctrines or beliefs which are binding on members, vs. public statements of a church with which a member may disagree.)

So, that’s my $.02.  Which I have deducted to the full extent allowed by law.


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