Where's that old Church Lady from Saturday Night Live, when I need her so desperately? She could sum up what I'm about to tell you.
Controversial Christian minister Rick Warren, who helped wake up the gay community to its deplorable and morally bankrupt professional Democratic Party leadership by throwing his considerable religious and political weight into the passage of Prop 8, has had a tax exemption for his Saddleback Church since 1980.
The IRS most likely granted him a 501(c)3 exemption because of his church's charitable work, just as the federal government grants lots of similar tax breaks to other religious institutions, including gay houses of worship.
I don't have a problem with the U.S. Treasury giving this exemption to the churches, per se, as long as they're providing the public charity that confers upon them the nonprofit status, and without them or any nonprofit illegally or improperly injecting their anti-gay views into how the government provides equal rights and protections to gays.
But what I have trouble with, ever since I battled with Rev. Cecil Williams of San Francisco's Glide Memorial United Methodist Church over obtaining his IRS 990s, is that churches don't have to reveal their tax filings to the public.
I was shocked in 1998 when I learned this and was determined to find out what Williams was making, so I persuaded a reporter to pester Wililams until he disclosed his salary. If Williams and his wife were hauling home half a million in 1998, what are they compensated today?
From the September 15, 1998, SF Chronicle:
Together, Williams and his wife, Janice Mirikitani, who runs the social programs at Glide, now earn a combined $245,272, according to financial information provided by the church and the Glide Foundation. That figure -- $131,486 for the pastor and $113,786 for his wife -- includes benefits and a housing allowance ...
Michael Petrelis, who tracks salaries at non-profit groups for the AIDS Accountability Project in San Francisco, said these "follow the leader'' pay scales are inflating the salaries of charity executives across the country. "Maybe they're not excessive when compared to each other, but I'm troubled with all these six-figure salaries,'' he said. "That's less money going to needy people in the Tenderloin."
Even though Cecil Williams and Warren hold vastly different views on gays, poverty and politics, they probably agree on one thing. They hate revealing their financial papers.
Rick Warren's large church, which rakes in lots of dough, receives a special right from the U.S. government, a right no non-religious nonprofit organization can get: The 501(c)3 exempt status. And that exemption entitles Warren the right to keep his church's finances out of public view. That ain't kosher.
Here are some of the most terrible words to appear on the GuideStar.org site, the best repository of IRS 990 forms on the web. These words appear on the page for the Saddleback Church:
This organization is not required to file an annual return with the IRS because it is a church.
As the SNL Church Lady would put it, "Isn't that special?"
Saddleback and Warren get the tax exemption, then don't have to act like every other nonprofit and file an annual report, that is then made available for public inspection.