I saw a new red Dodge Charger today. It had a sports pack of options on it, wider tires, with extra trim. It growled as it quickly pulled into the right hand lane and zoomed past the rest of us pee-ons that opted to stay in the regular lanes of traffic. With windows tinted out, one could only assume whatever regional stereotype is associated with the car was driving it, ego maxing out to the red line, daring anyone to get into a pissing contest. Nothing about this scene was out of the ordinary, such things are seen everyday on streets around the world with different brands of vehicles representing the haves of a certain geographical area. However, there was something different about this scene. On the back window was a fancy font emblazoned sign that stated, “Lamb of God”.
Lamb of God.
You know I may not be a theologian but I am not aware of any hermeneutic that would put Jesus Christ in a shiny red Dodge Charger ripping through the streets of any city. And then it occurred to me that among the many pop-up Christian assemblies that adorn every street corner it would seem the prerequisite is to have the name of one’s personal kingdom logo’d on some high-end model vehicle.
Now it is not that I have something against the ‘name-it-and-claim-it’ prosperity gospel messengers – to each their own I say, as what I am talking about goes way beyond any TV evangelist. This isn’t about one corner of teaching. I am not drawing attention to the prosperity gospel message that seems to be structured similarly to something Bernie Madoff himself would contribute funds to. No, what I am talking about is built into the yearly budgets of most every church of every size and every Christian denomination.
In Canada, a pastor can receive something called a Clergy’s Allowance through the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency), which basically allows the pastor to claim a living allowance equivalent to market value on rental rates. This ends up being a dollar for dollar reduction of their taxable income. So, if the market rent was $1,200 for a 2-bedroom home that could roughly translate into a $24,000/yr reduction of their taxable income. This is available for any registered church in the country, whether there are five people in attendance every Sunday or five thousand.
Then there is another fancy word thrown around the accounting office of churches and that is ‘honorarium’. Others may call it ‘pulpit supply’ or perhaps even a ‘gift’ but in the end it is where the pastor has the agreement that if they conduct weddings or funerals or preach a sermon at something outside of their own church that there is an ‘ahem’ attached to that offer of service. Interestingly enough, under CRA rules if a pastor receives one or more of these ‘ahem’s’ from the same place and it totals more than $500 in a calendar year then the other organization is obligated to put the pastor on their payroll. Consequently, the most common language used here is ‘gift’ as it tends to cut out a lot of unnecessary paperwork.
Depending on the size of the church there may be other ‘expectations’ added into the mix, such as regular attendance to conferences as an example. Often, if the pastor is married the spouse will attend, all at the expense of the church, yet it is overlooked that the spouse’s expenses being covered by the church is a taxable benefit provided to the pastor. Add in a book allowance, petty cash, and access to funds such as a benevolent fund, designed to allow the pastor to make discretionary purchases for people in need as an example, ideally anyway.
In the end, when you take a pastor’s base salary and add in these factors you end up with someone living tax free with a lot of potentially undisclosed financial benefits. To make it comparable to the congregant’s salary you should think about it this way: If a church strives to pay their pastor the median amount of everyone who attends their church, then when all of these additional benefits are added into the equation what that church actually has done has paid their pastor at least 30% more than the median salary earned in that church.
This now makes sense that I am seeing red Dodge Chargers roaring around town with ‘Lamb of God’ stickers on its back window and BMW’s with “Living Faith Ministries” written along the side of the vehicle – they need to have some way of writing off the burdened expense of their personal transportation.
All in the name of the Lord I suppose.