Friday, December 6, 2013

Pastoral Neglect of Apologetics Coming Home to Roost?

For a long time now, I’ve been on the backs of pastors who neglect apologetics. Now, this past couple of weeks, something happened which may just make that neglect come back to haunt them. A little background first.

There’s a provision for ministers in the tax code that allows them to have certain housing expenses granted to them tax free. It’s been a treasured privilege for many pastors who are paid very little for their services. It’s also been mightily abused by the televangelist types.  But the bulk of pastors who make use of it have found it critical to their financial well-being. 

Now along came one of those atheist busybody organizations, who decided they didn’t like this exemption. So they took it to court, and they won. A judge decided it was unconstitutional. The case has a long way to go yet; there will certainly be appeals, and the judge recognized this, essentially putting a stay on the order to cancel the exemptions until all appeals were exhausted. Right now the ban on the exemption would only apply, at most, to a small section of one state, but if the appeals fail, it could end up erasing this exemption for all pastors and ministers.

The punch line: The atheist busybody group that filed the complaint is none other than Dan Barker’s Freedom from Religion  Foundation.

Yes, those guys. FFRF has two arms of actions we’re familiar with here. One is the legal arm which filed that case. The other is an anti-apologetics arm. That second arm is an incredibly weak one, though, and from an intellectual perspective, an embarrassment.  I took on Barker’s nonsense years ago; the man actually thinks Jesus didn’t even exist, that Mithraism had something to do with Christianity, and that the Golden Rule promotes sadomasochism. He does no better in debates with Christians, and gets crushed every time he tries.

Now here’s the kicker for pastors.

If they had had a little more concern for apologetics, it’s quite likely that FFRF would have been crushed in its infancy. The organization would have been a national laughingstock which no one took seriously. And it would very likely have broken Barker’s back and made him unable to grow the legal arm of FFRF. He could never have raised the funds to do so.

Of course, there’s much more to the case to be considered. It will wind its way through the courts, and any number of things may happen. Christian pastors will also have on their side a peculiar alliance of ministers of other faiths (the exemption also applies to rabbis, imams, etc.) as well as liberal pastors (as one observer said, just wait until Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton hear about this), and it may be years before appeals are exhausted. And finally, if indeed the exemption is found unconstitutional, there may be some other provision made to keep it in effect, such as extending the privilege to secular non-profit workers. (I, of course, have no legal opinion worth hearing on the matter. I'd only say that if it really is unconstitutional, then it should be fixed up in a way that allows it to be kept -- or else, Christians need to stop paying so many of their pastors and ministers so darned little.) And of course, as well, it isn't just pastors who have neglected apologetics.

But in the end, if this case ends up costing pastors big time, the chickens of apologetic neglect might just come home to roost.

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