Finance agency responds to clergy housing decision

Editor’s Note: The General Council on Finance and Administration — The United Methodist Church’s finance agency — responded Nov. 26 to  a U.S. district court ruling that found the tax-free housing benefits for clergy to be unconstitutional.  GCFA’s full statement is below.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Nov.  21, 2013, a federal district court judge in Madison, Wis.,  held that a portion of Section 107 of the tax code is unconstitutional.  Section 107 is the provision dealing with tax-favored housing benefits for clergy.  Specifically, the court held that Section 107(2), which permits clergy to receive a tax-free cash “housing allowance,” is unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”).  Section 107(1), which allows clergy to reside tax-free in a church-provided parsonage, was not affected by the court’s decision.

In the case, Freedom From Religion Foundation, et al. v. Lew, et al., the United States government was the party which defended the constitutionality of Section 107, a federal law enacted by Congress many decades ago.  As the losing party, the government must now decide whether it wants to appeal this decision to the next level of the federal court system, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.  GCFA believes an appeal is likely.

The court in Wisconsin delayed the implementation of its decision until any appeals which may be filed by the government are concluded or until the deadline for filing an appeal has passed, whichever is later.  GCFA understands that the government will have 60 days to file an appeal, and so the district court’s decision will have no effect until sometime in 2014 at the earliest.  If an appeal is filed, it is certainly conceivable that this case could take several more years to be finally decided.

GCFA is tasked by the Book of Discipline (the denomination’s law book) with the responsibility to protect the legal rights and interests of the United Methodist denomination. However, it is too early to fully understand the impact of this case, or to predict the chances for this decision to be reversed.  GCFA will continue to actively monitor the case as it develops, and will take the appropriate actions at the appropriate times to represent the interests of the denomination.

If you have any questions, please email them to legal@gcfa.org.

Sign up for our newsletter!

SUBSCRIBE

Latest News

Theology and Education
The Rev. Laceye C. Warner is Associate Dean for Wesleyan Engagement and the Royce and Jane Reynolds Associate Professor of the Practice of Evangelism and Methodist Studies at Duke University Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina.  Photo by Les Todd.

John Wesley reminds us that grace is available to all

Seminary professor Laceye C. Warner writes that Wesley’s instructions to modern Methodists would be the same as Methodists of his day: Extend God’s love and grace to others.
Theology and Education
David F. Watson is Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Photo courtesy of United Theological Seminary.

Wesley would call modern Methodists to return to their roots

Wesley knew that the people called Methodists were themselves liable to spiritual slumber. Seminary professor David F. Watson thinks Wesley would direct today’s church back to the intentional practices of the Methodist societies.
Theology and Education
The Rev. Steven W. Manskar is pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Trinity United Methodist Church.

Wesley would urge modern Methodists to stay Christ-centered

Wesley’s advice on how to live and serve with fellow Methodists with varying opinions on doctrine and practice applies to United Methodists today, one pastor writes.