All posts from “August 2012”

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August 30, 2012

Can We Amend the Pastor's Housing Allowance?

A change is allowed, but note one important limitation.

Q: Our church designates, in writing, a housing allowance for our pastor on an annual basis (usually late November for the upcoming fiscal year—for example in November 2011 we submitted our proposed budget for 2012).

We now have a member who wants to modify the pastor's housing allowance and give the pastor an additional amount and designate it as the 2012 housing allowance. He referenced an auditor from a tax service about this issue and was told there would be no problem (tax wise) if our church decided to "adjust" the pastor's housing allowance in October for fiscal year 2012.

If we record this action in our business meeting minutes for October 2012 and increase the housing allowance for 2012 (about double the designated amount), are we within the tax laws?

A: Rich Hammar addresses this question in the Church & Clergy Tax Guide:

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August 27, 2012

The Politics of Religion

What church leaders should know in an election year.

We've recently looked at the political activity of churches. In the upcoming September/October 2012 edition of Church Law & Tax Report, Rich Hammar revisits what the Internal Revenue Service says is--and isn't--allowed by churches when it comes to political candidates running for office:

The income tax regulations interpreting the limitation on political campaign intervention provide that neither a church nor any other organization can be exempt from federal income taxation if its charter empowers it “directly or indirectly to participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” The regulations further provide that:

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August 23, 2012

Drafting a Conditional Agreement for a Sex Offender

Some tips churches should note before implementing a plan.

When church leaders learn a sex offender is in their midst, their response typically is one of the following three:

  1. Do nothing. They just don’t know what to do.
  2. Total exclusion. They choose a blanket policy prohibiting a registered offender from setting foot on the premise. This is an extreme response, but there may be some cases where this makes sense. For instance, a church may decide not to allow an offender to attend if one or more of their victims also attend. Or a church may decide the offender's crime or crimes are too severe to allow attendance.
  3. Conditional agreements. This means the church allows a registered offender to attend, subject to certain conditions. This is the most common response by churches. It's an attempt to balance safety and ministry, although it's a nuclear-level risk on your premises because it imposes such an extraordinarily high burden of care on your part to become a guarantor for the offender's good conduct. But churches can achieve that high burden by carefully drafting and following a conditional agreement policy. In a recent free webinar with church leaders by Richard Hammar and Marian Liautaud, Hammar looked more closely at conditional agreements. According to Hammar, a sex offender's attendance agreement can include certain conditions, such as:

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August 20, 2012

Don’t Jump to Assumptions

Three steps to build relationships in everyday interactions.

The issue is not that we make assumptions. The issue is that a lot of times they are wrong.

We often misinterpret one another. We add underlying meaning or subtext that was never intended. In other words, we often go 90 miles per hour to a deep, dark place of distrust and disloyalty.

Don’t feel guilty. We’ve all done it.

For example, imagine you are in your office and someone calls complaining that a person on your team never called them back. What do you do?

Do you go straight to the blame game? Confront your colleague and ask why he or she didn’t call the person? Or do you go to this individual and truly ask what happened?

The reality is that your perception of the situation, or any situation for that matter, is truly determined by your beliefs. In this case, your opinions about your colleague, that caller, and all other factors in your world that day impact your view of the situation.

Your beliefs are always driving the show.

So how do you make sure they are not leading you astray?

Here are three tips to help you not jump straight to assumption:

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August 16, 2012

Properly Documenting Donors' Contributions

A recent Tax Court decision underscores the critical steps churches must take.

In the August 2012 edition of Church Finance Today, Richard Hammar examines a recent, high-profile case involving a couple whose substantial contributions to a church were denied tax deductibility by the Internal Revenue Service:

A married couple (the “taxpayers”) timely filed their 2007 income tax return. On Schedule A they claimed a deduction of $25,171 for charitable contributions made by cash or check. Most of the contributions were made by check to their church. Except for five checks totaling $317, the checks were for amounts larger than $250.
In 2009 the IRS sent a notice to the taxpayers disallowing their charitable contribution deduction for 2007.

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August 13, 2012

Removing a Church Board Member

What to do when someone must be removed from office.

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Imagine a member of your church’s board has engaged in behavior that violates the church’s understanding of Scripture. In doing so, they’ve probably also violated the qualifications for serving on the board. In cases like this, the congregation or board may determine that the individual must be removed from office. What do you do next?

Start by reviewing your church’s bylaws to see if there is any provision dealing with the removal of a board member. If there is such a provision, it must be followed.

If the church bylaws do not address this issue, then check state nonprofit corporation law if the church is incorporated. It may contain a procedure that will guide you in the removal of the board member.

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August 9, 2012

Defending Your Church from a Dangerous Person

Important reminders in the aftermath of a shooting at a Sikh temple.

A shooting at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee this past Sunday morning reminds us that dangerous people can, and sometimes do, walk into places of worship in the U.S. Six people were killed and three injured after a suspect opened fire. This news comes less than a month after a movie-theater shooting left twelve dead and dozens injured in Colorado.

"I think all of us recognize that these kinds of terrible events are happening with too much regularity for us not to do some soul searching and examine additional ways we can reduce violence," President Obama said this week, according to CBS News.

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August 7, 2012

Protecting Ourselves from Sex Offenders

One program models how churches can effectively minister to a despised population.

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Sex offenders are feared and despised in today’s world. They are seen as monsters who, at any moment, might pounce upon their unsuspecting prey, especially children. The general perception is that sex offenders are more dangerous than other criminals. As such, they have become pariahs against whom the public seeks to protect itself. They are the lepers of today who live at the fringes of society.

Sex offenders in the criminal justice system
In response to widespread fear of sex offenders, society is using the criminal justice system in a particularly aggressive manner. Many states have passed laws that are intended to inflict punishment and prevent future sex crimes. Some states have increased prison terms for sex offenders. Others have enacted indeterminate sentencing laws with harsh punishment for repeat offenders. When sex offenders are released from prison, they are placed under parole supervision. The intent of parole is to monitor the parolee as well as to provide services to help with his or her reentry into the community.

In recent years, the focus on rehabilitation has diminished, and the main goals of parole have become surveillance and control. Little attention is given to an offender’s needs or rehabilitation during the eventual transition from prison to the community. The result is that risk is increased for both the ex-offender and the community. Reoffense is much more likely without assistance in rehabilitation and in facing the challenges of reentry.

The criminal justice system also neglects to care for the victim of a sex offense. His or her needs are peripheral and are often not addressed throughout the criminal justice process.

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