The IRS vs. an 'Unique Entity.' (Internal Revenue Service vs. United Methodist clergy)(News)

Article excerpt

For three days Judge John Pajak listened to lawyers and bishops work their way through the contesting complexities of the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline and the Internal Revenue Service's tax code. Call it arcane. Call it abstruse. Call it a test case.

At issue in Pajak's courtroom in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was whether United Methodist clergy--there are more than 20,000 of them--are self-employed "independent contractors" or UMC employees. The case arose when the IRS ordered Michael Weber of Stonewall, North Carolina, to pay $600 in back income taxes, claiming the pastor had wrongly deducted such expenses as books, robes and vestments under "Schedule C" of his 1040 form. Schedule C is for self-employed workers, but the IRS said Weber is an employee of the United Methodist Church rather than an independent contractor. Weber, after consulting with lawyers and Bishop C. P. Minnick, UMC leader of the Raleigh area in North Carolina, challenged the IRS ruling.

James Gray, the IRS attorney arguing the case, told the court that Weber qualifies as an employee because United Methodist clergy are licensed by their conferences (regional jurisdictions), guaranteed ministerial appointments and entitled to paid vacations, medical benefits, sabbaticals and leaves of absence. In addition, pastors are supervised by district superintendents and bishops and can be removed from their appointments. Church officials, including three bishops, an administrative assistant and Weber, made the case that the UMC is a "unique" entity. …

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