Cutting charitable deductions

The Republican proposal to step away from the fiscal cliff is to raise revenue by cutting tax deductions while also lowering overall tax rates.  Democrats would keep rates higher for those who make over $250,000, and probably cap their tax deductions at $50,000.   So it looks like we have some agreement from both sides and that deductions for home mortgages, state taxes, and charitable giving will be cut, if not cut out entirely.  From Ezra Klein:

“Base-broadening, rate-lowering tax reform.” It sounds so good, right? But what if you call it what it really is? Charity-destroying, home-shrinking, state-burdening tax reform.

Doesn’t sound as good, does it?

But that’s really what we’re talking about. The term ”base-broadening, rate-lowering tax reform” has the advantage of vagueness: No one knows what it means. But the practical definition, at least the one that’s emerging in the ongoing “fiscal cliff” negotiations, is tax reform that limits itemized deductions among high-income taxpayers. And as former OMB director Peter Orszag points out, 90 percent of the value of those deductions comes from just three categories: “taxes paid (mostly state and local taxes), home-mortgage interest and charitable contributions.”

So when we say “base-broading, rate-lowering tax reform,” here’s what we’re really saying: Tax reform that’s paid for by cutting tax breaks for charities, homes, and state and local taxes.

Most economists will tell you that cutting the home-mortgage interest deduction, particularly for high-income taxpayers, is a good idea. There’s no real reason the tax code should be subsidizing McMansions. But cutting the break for charities is more complicated. As Orszag writes:

In 2009, households with incomes of more than $200,000 claimed almost $60 billion in charitable deductions — or about 20 percent of total charitable giving in the U.S. that year. Households with incomes of more than $10 million claimed an average of $1.75 million each in charitable donations in 2009, and they accounted for roughly 5 percent of all giving.

Charitable giving reacts to tax incentives, and in response to any limits on deductions it could even fall by about the same amount as the increase in the tax bill, according to John List of the University of Chicago, who recently reviewed the literature on this subject. Other studies have suggested an effect about half as large. Even that smaller estimate, though, suggests that limiting deductions to $50,000 a year could easily reduce giving by tens of billions of dollars.

via The reality of tax reform: Less charity, smaller homes, higher state taxes.

As Klein says, “limiting itemized deductions in order to raise revenues is a tax increase.”  So the Republican plan to eliminate or cut back on these deductions as a way to raise revenue is a tax increase, even if other rates are lowered.

People complain about “the rich,” but whenever there is a capital campaign for a museum, a college, an arts group, a charity, or a church, the wealthy are wooed and generally come up with most of the money.  Conservatives want “the private sector” instead of the government to bear more of the responsibility to help the poor, support the arts, and do other good works.  That means those worthy causes would need the support of wealthy donors.  Do you think that donors would be as generous as they are without the incentive of a large tax deduction?   I am convinced many of them would, but I worry about the practical effect on non-profit organizations (which incorporate for that status precisely so they can become tax  deductible).

What impact do you think cutting deductions for charitable giving might have on churches?  Specifically, on your congregation?  Probably most of your members come nowhere near the high-income level that would trigger the limits.  And yet a total limit of $50,000–including home mortgage, state taxes, charitable giving, and everything else–would hit people who don’t consider themselves all that wealthy.  [Tote up how much you deducted last year.]   And yet, very often a big chunk of a congregation’s revenue comes from a few families.  Again, one would hope that they give because the Lord loves a cheerful giver, because they believe in tithing, because they see themselves as stewards of the Lord’s gifts, etc., etc.  But a tax deduction is surely an incentive to generosity.  What would happen if all deductions for giving to the church were eliminated for everybody?

Perhaps this would become liberating in the long run.  No more would churches or other organizations have to operate under the regulations for non-profits.  They could express political opinions and endorse candidates without  the threat of losing their tax-exempt status.

At any rate, we need to consider the consequences–including especially the unintended consequences–of these proposed changes.  (And remember, these ideas aren’t coming primarily from liberals but from Republicans.)

Church of England says “No” to women bishops

The Church of England voted not to allow women to be bishops.  Bishops, priests, and laity had to pass the proposed change by a two-thirds majority.  The Bishops voted 44-3 in favor of female bishops.  The priests voted 148-45 in favor.  The measure was blocked by the laity, who voted 132-74, which was about 4 votes shy of the 2/3 needed.

The British parliament is indignant and is threatening intervention in the state church.

Some people recommend an episcopalian polity so that bishops would keep churches orthodox.  But it would seem, judging from the experience of American Anglicanism, that they don’t.   Some favor a clergy-dominated polity to keep the church orthodox, and yet, as we see here, the clergy are often the ones trying to enforce a liberal agenda.  In this case and in many others, the laity turn out to be most conservative faction in the church.

 

via Church of England blocks move to approve female bishops.

How Christians can live in a non-Christian culture

Yesterday we discussed a post from my colleague Mark Mitchell:  The Culture of Hospitality | Front Porch Republic.  I’d like to focus on one line that he cites from the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus written in the 2nd century A.D. (or maybe even earlier).  It describes how the very earliest Christians lived in the Roman Empire:

“they marry, as do all [others]; they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed.”

Isn’t this the same thing Christians are called to do today against the same cultural pressures?  Get married; back then even the Roman pagans did this, and that might change.  But whatever happens, Christians will still practice marriage and cultivate families.  Beget children and do not destroy them; that is,  don’t get abortions. Don’t have “a common bed”; that is, don’t be sexually promiscuous.  But do have “a common table”; that is, be hospitable to all, inviting even non-believers into your home so as to get to know them and so they can get to know you and your faith.

Keeping these simple distinctives, Christians would eventually win over the Roman empire.  Maybe if we did the same things, Christians might eventually win over the American empire.

Married priests must still be celibate?

Rome has allowed for some married priests, particularly Anglicans who have gone over to Catholicism.  Some Lutherans have been clamoring for the same privilege.  What is not generally realized, though, is that, according to Canon Law, married priests must still be celibate.  So says Mark Henderson:

According to a respected Roman canon lawyer, Rome absolutely requires “sexual continence” of married clergy in the Western church (Canon 277 excerpted below). Yes, you read that right, the canon law of the Papacy requires that in the Western church even married priests and deacons abstain from sexual relations with their wives (in the Eastern Catholic Churches observance of this rule is a somewhat patchwork affair but the long-term trend has been towards celibacy; but since that is the Eastern church, where different rules apply, it does not immediately concern us here). This matter has apparently been the subject of much intra-Roman debate recently, particularly in light of the small but significant number of ex-Anglican married priests who have gone over to Rome, most recently in connection with the Anglican Ordinariate. Rome is expected to make a definitive ruling at some time in the future. . . .

Code of Canon Law, Canon 277:
§1 Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, and are therefore bound to celibacy. Celibacy is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbour.

via Glosses From An Old Manse: End of the Fantasy of “Lutheran-Rite Romanism”?.

Can this be true?  If so, that would be a serious distortion of what marriage is.

Why Lutherans can’t take Catholic Communion

Russell E. Saltzman, a pastor in the North American Lutheran Church (the relatively conservative off shoot of ELCA), wrote a post at the First Things blog plaintively asking, “Why Can’t Lutherans Take Catholic Communion?”  After all, he says, Lutherans and Catholics are agreed on justification–as of that Joint Declaration on the subject–and we are pretty much OK about other things, properly conceived.

Rev. Saltzman exhibits the annoying quality of speaking for “Lutherans” while ignoring those millions of us in that tradition who are conservative theologically and don’t go along with the Joint Declaration and other ecumenical overtures.   The mostly Catholic commenters tried to explain why he can’t commune at a Catholic altar, and in this case we conservative Lutherans do agree with conservative Catholics that this would be highly inappropriate.

You’ve got to read Anthony Sacramone’s discussion of this issue, which concludes with a vivid account of the differences between Rome and Lutherans, especially when it comes to the Gospel:

Let’s cut to the chase: would the Roman Catholic Church today accept as doctrinally true the Lutheran teaching of the alien righteousness of Christ, of the great exchange of His righteousness for our sin, of our sanctification as being in Him, even though we are called to good works — but for the sake of our neighbor and not in aid of increasing our justification? If not, again, who are these Lutherans Reverend Saltzman is talking about whose differences with Rome are now of little significance?

Do these Lutherans now accept the existence of a Treasury of Merits? Or has Rome admitted that this was a bankrupt medieval invention and is now, in the interest of ecumenicity, disposable? Have indulgences, the flashpoint of the Reformation, also become irrelevant?

I ask this honestly: what is the true nonnegotiable here?

Let’s discuss the papal office for a moment: Was Pope Urban II Infallible, “evangelically understood,” when he declared, in regard to the First Crusade:  “If anyone who sets out should lose his life either on the way, by land or by sea, or in battle against the infidels, his sins shall be pardoned from that moment. This I grant by right of the gift of God’s power to me.”

Did the bishop of Rome have this authority? Urban II is addressing men who are off, he hopes, to kill the enemies of the Faith and to retrieve stolen property. Is this the true nature of the power of the keys as described in the Gospel of Matthew? Does this notion of dying in a holy war and going straight to Paradise sound familiar?

Here’s another question: Does the pope have this same authority today—to proactively forgive the temporal punishment for sins that would otherwise send someone to Purgatory (or to a purgative state), thus promising them a straight ticket to heaven in the event they died trying to kill someone else? I’m not interested in whether or not it is likely to be exercised in this day and age, nor whether the Muslims in the 12th century invited this response for overrunning the “Holy Land.” I’m only interested in whether Benedict XVI, by virtue of his office, has this authority, given him from Christ.

Whether the pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals is inextricably tied to how justification is construed. The same can be said for the nature of the Eucharist, and the priesthood.

What is the wedding garment without which no one enters the wedding feast of the King? Is it something of our own, dry-cleaned, purified, and bleached? Or is it the gift of Someone else? Is it something we do to ourselves, by aid of grace? Something we endure, in the sense of suffer? Or is it something we receive, like the Eucharist, from Another?

For some, the alien, imputed righteousness of Christ is a legal fiction, and Luther’s image of the dunghill covered with snow is usually cited as evidence. And yet these same Christians have no problem with the transfer of the supererogatory merits of the saints to the accounts of the properly disposed.

The merits of Christ’s sacrifice transferred to the sinner, as a sinner, is a fiction, but the merits of Josemaria Escriva transferred by dint of papal proclamation — that’s real.

Really?

The issue remains the same today as on October 31, 1517.

via Reformation Day: Lutherans vs. Alien Righteousness « Strange Herring.

“For All the Saints”

Happy All Saints’ Day!  All Christians are saints–sinners, but also saints–and this is a day to celebrate the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints,  as it extends through time and space, in this moment and in eternity.  This includes your loved ones who died in the Christian faith and who now exult in Heaven.

Sometimes I find that when I sing a hymn, I rush past all of the poetry.  So let’s contemplate the lyrics from this classic hymn by William W. How (1823-1897):

1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

4. O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

5. And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

6. But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

7. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Alleluia! Alleluia!

8. The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest.
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

via “For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest”.


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