Sunday, May 4, 2014

Mega House for Mega Church Pastor - Parsonage Allowances Questioned

Good friend, Free At Last, came across a story called "The House of Steven" which tells us about a pastor of a huge multi-site church in Charlotte, NC, who built  a 16,000 foot parsonage for himself and his family.  In the video you will see a compilation of six reports on Pastor Steven Furtick and Elevation Church, produced by WCNC-TV, NBC Charlotte and its I-Team.  The stories were aired in October and November of 2013. (Click here for those of you who may not see it above on your phone.)

As the story unfolds we begin to see Furtick may be abusing a tax exemption provided for clergy defined by Tom Ranier (here) on his blog as "a housing allowance law passed by Congress in 1954.  Subject to certain guidelines, ministers are able to declare a portion of their ministry income as a housing allowance that is not subject to federal income tax."   This was originally established for ministers and small churches who needed the help.   But like many of the lead pastors of mega churches in America today who, by living like kings and celebrities, Furtick's story is calling more attention to the fact that the housing allowance even exists.  Even though he says he is paying for the $1.6 million dollar house from his book sales, we can assume he can still take advantage of the housing allowance law, writing the entire property off on his federal income tax.

The underlying concern of this story is it hints to us that this very well could be the beginning of the end of special privileges for churches and ministries.  Already there was a lawsuit filed in 2013 by Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation where a U.S. district judge ruled unconstitutional "a law that lets clergy members avoid paying income taxes on compensation that is designated part of a housing allowance." (You can read that story here).  And in the above video another organization is suing the IRS in a similar way as you will see.

The more notorious these lead pastors of multi-site money-maker churches become, it will unfortunately effect the livelihood of the smaller churches whose pastors are less concerned about the numbers than they are the individual.  Hopefully the Lord will watch over them and take care of their every need as they continue to live a life of sacrifice and surrender before Him.

More about ministries avoiding tax scrutiny in the links provided in an earlier post on DeTox here.


NoJoke said...

Correction: Upon closer observation of the Madison Wisconsin article, I believe the organization on the video is the same as the one in the article, but correct me if I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

Steven Furtick purchased his family's home with money (personal income) that he personally earned from books that he has sold (Much of which he also turned around and gave to Elevation Church). Elevation Church's finances are not a secret, you can go and see them for yourself on the Elevation website and verify that you and all of the news reports bashing Pastor Furtick are absurd. Pastor Steven Furtick and Elevation Church are clearly much more responsible with their church's finances than you are with your research and reporting. You should be ashamed of yourself, same goes for the TV reporters bashing such a great group of believers who have done more for their community than most.

NoJoke said...

Thank you for taking time to post your comment Anonymous. It would hold a little more weight if I knew a little more about you. I can assume Steve is the celebrity pastor of your church and you trust him enough to defend him. I used to do the same with my former pastor. Then the church we attended after we left the first church we were told the finances were available to the public as well, but it turned out that criteria for viewing the books is giving a monthly tithe check. The pastor would had a zero tolerance for questioning his motives if you weren't a regular tither. We could see that from a distance without even posing any questions. Those who don't trust what the pastor is saying about the finances are the only ones who really want to know what's in the books, because of being burned before in a similar situation. In most cases those who steadily give to a church or an organization aren't interested in seeing the books because they believe their money is being spent wisely. Even then, if a faithful tither were to question how the money is spent, what are the chances of really seeing the inside scoop? Elevation church may post about the money on their website but how much are they revealing? If a church is tax exempt they are supposed to post everything, hiding nothing. Are they only making public what they want the public to see? Try asking and see what they tell you.

Yes, I am ashamed of myself, but not for raising questions about how pastors of especially large churches are spending money entrusted to them. Instead, I'm ashamed for naively believing for too long that, once I gave my money and my trust to the church, my responsibility ended there. I wouldn't even consider the need to follow up as a wise steward to make sure my money and time wasn't contributing to the outlandishly plush lifestyle of the elitist pastor family that (I am embarrassed now to admit) took up too much space in my heart. Yes, I esteemed them too highly and realize now I had made them an idol. I was giving to a system I thought was above-board and completely honest but later learned it was not what it appeared. The Lord wasn't first in my life, the pastors were.

Speaking of being ashamed, this year's news on Steven Furtick and Elevation church is they should be ashamed of publicly supporting and harboring a registered sex offender, Norman Vigue, who now leads an Elevation Church Bible study - See story HERE"

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