Monday, March 18, 2019

Discrepancy or Discrimination? Doesn’t matter

YTMP welcomes a new guest blogger - Amanda Retberg.  Amanda writes about her experience as a  professor at Wisconsin Lutheran College, which is sponsored by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  You know how you will run into members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who are still fighting the Civil War -Excuse me meant to write War of Northern Aggression.  WELS can top that by evoking the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).  I know you knew the dates but you have to consider the other readers.  WELS still holds that the Pope is the Antichrist. - PJR



It is a simple discrepancy. This is the answer given to me after I inquired why some of the men I worked with were considered ministers and thus, eligible for the ministerial housing allowance tax benefit while the women I worked with were not considered eligible. Perhaps these men had different job descriptions than the women or had specific ministerial duties they were required to complete.

No, on the contrary, job descriptions were the same and both men and women were required to complete the exact same theology classes and requirements. Furthermore, the employment positions referred to above were college professors at a Christian college, not the traditional concept of ministers of a church. Why would college professors be considered ministers at a Christian college when that same college has its own campus pastors?

In short, denomination. This is a religious denomination that one could use as an example of having a basketball minister.  If you are reading this, you most likely are familiar with Tax Code Section 107(2) and aren’t surprised with loose definitions of “minister” for tax purposes.  In short, what one denomination considers a discrepancy, a rational person may instead consider to be discrimination. Yet it is all legal, complete with private letter rulings and a technical memo from the IRS.

I found all of this deeply troubling and personally, could no longer support this inequality. Therefore, awhile back I made the decision to leave the college and denomination. So why write about it now?

Simple – to help draw attention to an issue that still hasn’t received the attention it deserves.  Furthermore, this discrimination continues to this day and isn’t going away anytime soon. Men will continue to receive minister status, but similarly, situated women will not.  This status allows men to take advantage of the accompanying ministerial housing allowance also known as a parsonage allowance.


The Seventh Circuit just overturned Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision that the parsonage allowance is unconstitutional. Thus, it is here to stay.

If you read the amicus brief submitted to the Seventh Circuit by Professor Adam Chodorow and are persuaded that a tax exemption is equivalent to a government subsidy, then isn’t the government, by allowing churches to distribute these subsidies to men only, supporting discrimination against women?

In effect, the government is providing the means for churches to discriminate against women. People can argue that every church has the right to define minister for purposes of payroll. But, in practice, is this fair or equal? I would suggest that coupled with the parsonage allowance, it leads to discriminatory practices. Some churches only ordain men, some include “integral agencies” of the church and some consider teachers as ministers.

To provide a specific example, in my former denomination where only men can be designated as ministers, it is only male teachers who are able to take advantage of the parsonage allowance. All depends on the particular religious beliefs and practices and the narrow or broad definition of minister contained within. Unfortunately, these arguments fall short and truly don’t matter.

While I do strongly believe that churches should have every right to determine who is a minister according to their beliefs and religious practices, the parsonage allowance should not be available to benefit those so designated. Let the churches define who their ministers are but leave the government out of the payroll.

As a practicing Christian I usually don’t find myself on the same side of an issue as the Freedom From Religion Foundation; however, it is my sincere hope that they continue this fight.

Amadna Retbert is a college professor, educator, and advocate. She is eager to teach, learn and research new ways to educate and is always willing to advocate for fairness and equality. She has an MA and a JD.
Wisconsin Lutheran Responds

Wisconsin Lutheran College Provost Dr. John Kollander responded to inquiries from Peter J Reilly with the following statement.

Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) follows the established policies of our WisconsinEvangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) church body and the tax laws of the United States. This dual compliance has a tax benefit for male called workers. WLC has chosen to provide a stipend to female called workers toward the goal of compensation equity among all WLC called workers. 

No comments:

Post a Comment