On August 31st, I contacted Gary Townsend, Director of Church Staff Benefits for the Florida Baptist Convention to ask him some of the questions we have had on this blog about the Housing Allowance. I sent an email to Gary with some of the questions about how the IRS "housing allowance" rules are applied to ministers in the Florida Baptist Convention. Gary called me back just a few minutes after my email, and he was extremely friendly as we discussed these matters.
I asked Gary how churches can determine whether a specific employee of the church would qualify for the housing allowance. Greg explained that there is a 5-point test that is applied, and that if the minister qualifies for at least 3 of the 5, then likely they would be a "minister":
1. They are ordained, licensed, or commissioned;
2. They can administer the ordinances of the the church;
3. They lead worship, such as delivering a sermon;
4. They have management responsibilities in the church;
5. They are considered to be "religious leaders", usually considered to be "pastors" of the church
These five points cited by Gary are from the Knight case, as I discussed in my previous blog post.
My conversation with Gary confirmed that the current tax law makes it extremely difficult for a woman minister in the typical Southern Baptist Church to qualify for the Housing Allowance. Women don't administer ordinances, they don't lead in worship, and they are not considered leaders or pastors in most SBC churches.
In fact, Gary said that he is aware of only one female church staffer in a Florida SBC whose church has determined that they qualify for the housing allowance.
Thus, don't tell me that all it takes is a church to license a female, or commission a female minister. It is not about getting a piece of paper. To enjoy the tax benefits of a minister, their church leadership (trustees) must vote to authorize her to administer ordinances and lead in worship (preach), and must be viewed by their church as a leader. That ain't going to happen in most SBC churches.
Something is wrong with a system that allows for laymen like Blount and Elkins to be hired on staff and then ordained with no formal training and immediately viewed as "ministers", while female ministers who are seminary trained and are ministering for years in their church, can't be viewed as "ministers" for tax purposes.
As I said, just another reason to do away with the housing allowance benefit for ministers.