What Church Leaders Need to Know About the New Tax Bill
In December, the Republican bill overhauling the tax code passed a final vote in congress and was signed by President Trump. What implications does the new bill have for churches and church leaders?
Pastors will benefit, along with 80.4 percent of other Americans. There are new tax brackets with lower tax rates. This will likely mean that many pastors will see a reduction in their taxable income even if nothing else changes.
For pastors that have significant mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes, and medical expenses, the doubling of the standard deduction may have little impact. Although the new $10,000 cap on deducting the combined total state and local property taxes and income taxes may impact some. However, the doubling of the standard deduction should be a significant benefit. If, in prior years, their personal exemptions plus their itemized deductions were less than the new $24,000 standard deduction, they will see an immediate benefit.
For families with children under age 16, the increase in the child tax credit to $2,000 will produce a new benefit. Moreover, for some, the increase of the refundable amount of the credit to $1,400 may increase the tax benefit the pastor receives.
Since most of the church members will receive an increase in their take-home pay starting in February 2018, members will have a greater capacity to give in 2018. But it is likely the increased standard deduction and increased exclusion from estate taxes will impact giving at churches. More likely, the tax decrease for members will benefit charitable giving.
Finely, the expansion of Section 529 plans to private K-12 schools will present a new opportunity for those churches that operate Christian schools. This greatly expands the funding options available to parents and grandparents.
Probably the most significant thing for pastors is what isn’t in the bill. It makes no mention of the clergy housing allowance, the biggest tax break for pastors. Therefore, you can rest easy knowing that your housing allowance will not be taken away from you or change in any form.
40 Percent of Births in U.S. Occur Out of Wedlock
A surprising new report from the Senate showed that about 40 percent of births in the United States happen out of wedlock.
The hike in non-marital births is likely a result of “moral, behavioral, and social changes” since the “sexual revolution overhauled the American landscape,” said Robert VerBruggen, deputy managing editor at the National Review.
The Senate report, “Love, Marriage, and the Baby Carriage: The Rise in Unwed Childbearing,” was released in December. It was prepared by the vice chairman’s staff of the Joint Economic Committee at the request of Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah).
The report found that “shotgun” marriages have fallen. In the early 1960s, 43 percent of unwed pregnancies led to “shotgun” marriages. Today, that number is 9 percent.
“We ridicule this norm, because we forget that it had the benefit of protecting the interests of children in having relationships with both parents,” said Jennifer Roback Morse, president of the Ruth Institute.
“The most just solution for the child is for the parents to marry each other, and work together for a lifetime for the good of the child and their whole family. We accept injustice to children as the price we are willing to pay for adult sexual freedom and ‘gender equality.’”
The report also said that falling abortion rates has contributed to the uptick in births outside of marriage.
“Further societal changes made unmarried childbearing, not just sex, more acceptable, such that half of births from nonmarital pregnancies today are intended,” VerBruggen said.
AL High School Marching Band Refuses to Stop Playing Christian Music
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist organization, has filed a complaint against an Alabama high school, alleging that its marching band endorses religion, and specifically, Christianity.
According to TheBlaze.com, Leeds City Schools’ high school marching band reportedly performs during its halftime show to hymns such as “I Saw the Light,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” and “Amazing Grace.”
The FFRF was also outraged that the marching band’s performances appear to resemble a church service, with church pews set up on the football field.
“Seeing the pews on the field with little crosses on them … was really more than them showing religious music,” Chris Line, an FFRF legal fellow, stated. “It was clearly meant to evoke a Christian worship service that you’ll see on Sunday in a church.”
“The band director’s actions are way over the line,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor added. “In a secular setup, he cannot be permitted to foist his religion on others.”
Leeds City Schools Superintendent John J. Moore remained unintimidated by the FFRF’s complaint, however. “We have submitted the FFRF’s complaint to the [school] Board’s attorney for review,” said Moore. “We do not have plans to stop the show.”
Facebook Removes Christian Page
Facebook has removed the Christian ministry “Warriors for Christ” page, saying the page violated community standards on bullying and hate speech.
Warriors for Christ, a West Virginia-based ministry, is a group that opposes any sinful behavior. Its Facebook page had more than 225,000 followers.
Its administrators frequently post memes that criticize LGBT rights and abortions, among other topics. Videos from Pastor Rich Penkoski are also posted on the page.
The page was first taken down on Dec. 29. The page was reinstated after an online petition called for Facebook to reverse its decision. But the page was removed again recently.
Penkoski told The Christian Post that the group’s Christian beliefs are being “censored.”
“We can’t even use the term ‘LGBT’ in any context whatsoever or else it immediately gets flagged and banned.” Penkoski said that only 3 percent of their 3,000 posts referred to LGBT issues. The organization’s focus is counseling, he added.
Chinese Church Leaders, Toddler Sing in Public Park; Arrested
A Chinese house church pastor, her daughter, and her young grandson have been arrested, weeks after being accused of overstepping the country’s newly tightened religious restrictions.
Chinese officials warned Xu Shizhen last summer that publicly sharing her faith puts her in violation of the government policy. It wasn’t her first run-in with authorities; five years before, her previous church was forcibly seized by officials and given to China’s official Three-Self Patriotic Movement church, according to ChinaAid.
After that, she started Zion Church. By singing and preaching in the parks and public spaces of Xianning, Hubei province, Xu’s ministry broke the new law, which confines most faith activities to the walls of registered churches.
Recently, Xu, her daughter Xu Yuqing, and her three-year-old grandson Xu Shouwang were arrested; the two women were transferred to other facilities while the boy was held at the station. Christian advocates in China report that their exact whereabouts remain unknown.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- A new survey shows that in a number of Western nations, the population no longer believes in Heaven or Hell, even if they also claim to believe in God. The global survey from Ipsos included interviews in 38 countries. Only 19 percent of the Japanese population said they believe in Heaven. The same percentage of Spaniards believe in Hell. It was quite the opposite in South Africa, where about 84 percent reportedly believe in Heaven.
- President Donald Trump’s biggest religious freedom policy promise to evangelicals—repealing the Johnson Amendment—was stripped from the final Republican tax reform. It was announced that the repeal included in the House version of the tax bill, which would allow churches and other nonprofits to endorse candidates without losing their tax-exempt status, was removed during the reconciliation process with the Senate version, which did not include a repeal. Because of a requirement called the Byrd Rule, reconciliation bills—which are passed through a simple Senate majority—cannot contain “extraneous” provisions that don’t primarily deal with fiscal policy.