Saturday, August 12, 2017

How Much do Catholic Priests Make?

According to a new national study, the median total taxable income for Catholic priests in the U.S. is $45,593.  This amount has risen about 9% during over the last two decades.  The taxable income includes salary, housing allowances, Mass stipends, stole fees, and bonuses.

Interestingly, this average taxable income is much less than $75,355 median income for full-time Episcopal priests, though of course the component parts of Episcopal priests' income differ from those of Catholic priests.  Episcopal priests can be married, but Catholic priests are unmarried except for rare cases of when a married priest from another denomination switches to Catholicism.

See more details here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why New Religious Movements Fail

There is a very accessibly and nicely written article in the Atlantic on the difficulties faced by new religious movements.  Here are some excerpts.
State persecution, aided by religious authorities, is in fact a major reason why new faiths fail in parts of the world where government polices religious doctrine. . .
[P]erhaps the biggest reason that new faiths like Scientology, Raƫlism or Millah Abraham have failed to take off is the lack of state sponsorship. . .
Today, though, it is difficult to imagine that any new faith movement will get the boost of having a powerful state patronize the religion and fund its spread. In large part that’s because global norms have changed and—with the exception of a country like Saudi Arabia—few powerful states see it as their role to sponsor any faith, let alone a new faith. It’s also because there’s much less conquest today, meaning it would be unlikely that even a powerful country that adopted a new faith would be able to spread it by force.
The state and religious regulations are prominent in the article.  The article actually begins with the ongoing account of a new religious movement in Indonesia that is facing stiff persecution as it attempts to grow and thrive.  So religious regulations can stamp out new religious movements that might otherwise grow into new religious traditions.  Ironically, however, the state also has played a role in fostering that transition into a religious tradition.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Church of CrossFit

...as seen through the eyes of a pastor.  See here for the write-up.  Some quotes from the article:
While The New York Times has interpreted CrossFit’s desire to prepare its athletes for the “unknowable” as some kind of warped preparation for Armageddon, I see its goal more charitably. Life is filled with unknowns. Any activity that helps prepare us for those unknowns, either physically or psychologically, can be good. Even the risk and extreme physical exertion that CrossFit is so often castigated for can be good. How else do you become a more capable person apart from pushing yourself; even if it hurts? And who of us hasn’t grown through past painful experiences? 
Perhaps this is why CrossFit has attracted so many souls; people inherently know that in order to find more life you’ve got to give something up. 
Watching CrossFit athletes that day, I was struck by how their modus operandi was very much like mine; as a spiritual leader and pastor, only they seemed to be doing it better. Their community was strong, real and filled with encouragement and openness; I saw a 15-year-old young woman tossing a medicine ball back and forth with a 62-year-old man. At the end of the workout there was applause and high-fives all around. These people really cared for each other … often in the most trying physiological circumstances.
So is CrossFit a religion?  Is it a substitute for religion?  A complement?  Something else entirely?

Change in Clothing for Anglican Priests

As reported at Religion News Service here:
After centuries of wearing flowing robes, cassocks and other vestments, Anglican priests can finally dress down.
Under canon law, clergy have to wear traditional robes when holding Communion services, baptisms, weddings or funerals. But following a vote this week at a gathering in York of the General Synod, the Church of England’s ruling body, Anglican priests can now wear lay garments such as a suit instead, so long as their parochial church council agrees.
The reasons given for the change included a more informal outlook in British society as a whole, but there is particular concern about young people being alienated by ornate accoutrements.
The reasons stated in the article are interesting, i.e., this change is an explicit attempt to change with the times and appeal more to younger people.  In other words, the church is intentionally adapting to face changing social conditions.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Aftermath of the Russian Supreme Court Ruling on Jehovah's Witnesses

The aftermath of the recent Russian Supreme Court ruling on the Jehovah's Witnesses (mentioned earlier on the blog here) is beginning.  There have been several reports of increased persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, including -- as reported here -- children as targets.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have themselves released a document that lists abuses since the ban (here).  Some of the events include police raids on in-home private religious gatherings, arson, and loss of jobs.

We would classify these developments as increases in government regulation, social regulation, and religious violence.  They demonstrate how a change in government rules go beyond the strict confines of the new laws but can also lead to other increased tensions with society.  The new laws have created an environment where educational leaders and community members have the confidence that their own punishing of Jehovah's witnesses will not be punished.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Church of England Investment Returns

One advantage of being a large church with many members and congregations is that you can pool certain resources to leverage your scale of operations.  Such is the case for many large denominations that pool financial resources when making investments.  Many churches have endowment of funds that they invest and that earns a return each year.  Those return can then be used as additional income for the church.

The Church of England made news this week because its investment fund had huge returns during the 2016 year, incredibly earning more than 17%.  The £7.9 billion fund is managed by a church commission, and it's 2016 earnings more than doubled the earnings from 2015.  The investments are in global equities, private equity, residential property, and timberland, and the high return allowed the investment fund to contribute over £230 billion towards church operations and activities, a robust 15% of the church's income that year.

Of course, discussion of money of this scale often raises other questions and even controversy.  As a reward for a job well done, the Church of England gave out very large yearly bonuses to a small number of fund managers.  Critics claimed that these large bonuses are hypocritical and not in line with what should be church priorities, while Church leaders claim that good fund managers should be rewarded to prevent them from leaving.  What do you think?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reforming the U.S. Tax Code on Religious Giving

Congress and the Trump Administration have proposed a number of significant changes to American tax policy.  The effects of these new policies on religious giving is now being reported in a new study by personnel of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.  Read the summary here (mandatory).  The full report is too long to read in detail but can be found here.

The finding can be summarized as follows:
  • The combination of lowering the top tax rate and raising the standard deduction will reduce donations by about $13.1 billion.
  • The reduction can be offset by adding a non-itemizer deduction.
To understand what this means, you must first understand what are deductions and what it means to itemize.  Consider a taxpayer that donates $C total to various charitable organizations (including churches).  When calculating how much to pay in taxes, the taxpayer decides whether to use $C for the amount to deduce from her taxes or whether to use another amount $S which is called the standard deduction.

For those persons that donate a lot, including many that donate large amounts to churches, C is greater than S.  To deduct $C, they must give an item-by-item account of all the donations that added to $C when filing their taxes, and so they are called itemizers.  The person that uses S does not need to provide the item-by-item accounting, so that person is called a non-itemizer.  Currently, only itemizers are able to deduct their actual charitable giving.  Non-itemizers can still give to charity, but they just cannot deduct it from their taxes.

Notice that if you are an itemizer, then every additional dollar you give increases the amount you can deduct.  That is, the additional dollar you donate costs you less than a dollar because you get some of it back in the form of lower taxes.  However, if you are a non-itemizer, then every additional dollar costs you a full dollar because you are just using the standard deduction of $S.  So giving the extra dollar costs more to the non-itemizer than it does to the itemizer.

If the standard deduction amount S is increased, then more people will find themselves in the position where the additional dollar donated costs the full dollar instead of less than a dollar.  This in turn will lead to several people reducing the amounts they donate.  It might not sound like a big deal, but when millions of people each donate a little bit less, it can add up to billions of dollars -- $13.1 billion in the example the study provides.

One way to counter the drop in donations is to allow non-itemizers to deduct their charitable donations in addition to using the standard deduction.  In fact, the drop in donations from raising S can be fully offset if non-itemizers are allowed to deduct their donations.

There is no consensus on what is best.  Some people think that the deductions are good because they think religion creates many positive externalities.  Some people think that the deductions are bad because they essentially allow people to shift money that could go the government and into their own individually-preferred activities.  There are still other opinions.  What do you think?