Rick Warren’s tax deductions

January 19, 2009
Saddleback Chur...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

This article surfaced during the links overnight, and I listed it in this morning’s OD Today, but I’d like to return to it now that I’ve had time to look at it a bit more carefully. Jon Wiener reports in The Nation that in 1993 Rick Warren was claiming that his entire salary ($77,663) from Saddleback Church was exempt due to the “parsonage exemption,” which makes a pastor’s housing allowance exempt from income taxes. Never mind

  • The general question of whether income taxes (and income tax exemptions) are moral or ethical
  • The amount Warren was being paid (does your pastor make the equivalent to $77,663 in 1993 dollars?)
  • Any establishment clause issues (Wiener deals with these in the main article)

Claiming a tax exemption for an entire salary stinks. It’s corrupt on its very face, and any pastor who claims his salary is exempt because he’s allowed to exempt his housing allowance should be ashamed of himself. Especially if, as Wiener alleges, Warren’s housing costs were covered by Saddleback Church.

Wiener goes on to say (and this is the main point of his article) that the United States Congress stepped in to give Warren a pass, by passing a law exempting him from back taxes while clarifying that the parsonage exemption should apply only to the fair value of the parsonage in equivalent rent.

The Clergy Housing Allowance Clarification Act of 2002 was approved unanimously by Congress, then signed into law by George W. Bush on May 20, 2002, rendering the IRS case against Warren moot. “I have filed hundreds of briefs in federal courts,” Chemerinsky told me, “and this is the only time that Congress passed a law to make a specific pending case moot.” He added, “It is very rare for Congress to pass a law to make a pending case moot before there was a decision.”

I’ve made every effort to be charitable to Rick Warren on this weblog, especially when ODMs say things I think are unfair or mean-spirited. I still find this troubling.


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