Fancy, tax-free parsonages

August 30, 2011

The U.S. Tax Court recently
ruled in favor of Phil Driscoll: the evangelical musician's $400,000 second
home qualifies as a tax-free parsonage.

Driscoll isn't a pastor in any
conventional sense. The Wall Street
Journal
reports that he "turned to the ministry after
a popular music career." That's one way of putting it: the ministry he turned
to is Mighty Horn Ministries, an organizational framework for Driscoll's
ongoing music career. The major difference is that his approach to music is a
good bit more evangelistic than it was back when he played with Joe Cocker.

Letter of the law aside, it's
hard to imagine that the parsonage allowance--passed in 1921--was aimed at
relieving the tax burden on second homes for successful musicians "duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed" to the call of continuing to make records and play concerts, but for
Jesus this time. The Journal article
helpfully explains a lot of the background on the issue of parsonage allowances
for folks who, unlike most pastors, don't really need the help. This
unqualified use of the word "parsonage" made me laugh, however:

According
to the report [from the Senate Finance Committee's recent investigation into
high-profile evangelical ministries], Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, who lead
Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Fort Worth, Texas, live in an 18,280 square-foot
lakefront parsonage on 25 acres. The report said county officials valued the church-owned
property at $6.2 million in 2008.

I'd have at least picked a
fancier-sounding synonym, like "manse" or "rectory." But Webster's agrees with the Journal, so whatever. In any case, it's sad to
see wealthy Christians avoiding taxes on their second homes while some conservatives
are busy calling Warren Buffet a socialist for proposing higher taxes on the super-rich.