I took a week or so off from my blog—I had a terrific weekend in Indianapolis with the good people at College Park Church and also had to catch up on my grading—and I wanted to give some time for the emergents to move on to other sites (their ad hominem comments were not exactly edifying).
This week Justin Taylor linked to my post about ministers who opt out of Social Security, and as I skimmed through the many comments to his post I was surprised to learn that I was a humanist (really?) and that there were so many defenders of this practice.
Most of the arguments for opting out of Social Security were not persuasive, but I thought that Fred Greco made a helpful point—it’s worth reading the whole thing. Fred said that he opted out of Social Security because he did not think that it was right to take money from the church and hand it over to the government. He writes: “As a minister, I object to public assistance, because I am not a mere employee. I am a recipient of the beneficence of church members so that I might ‘be free from worldly cares and avocations’ (to use a PCA phrase).”
I think that Fred may have a good argument here—though I wonder if he allows the church to purchase health insurance or whether he relies upon “the beneficence of church members” so that he “might ‘be free from worldly cares’” when he is sick. And it doesn’t change the fact that Fred’s reason is not why most pastors opt out of Social Security.
If the government was doubling their savings every year (rather than stealing it from their lockbox), most pastors would have no objection to giving part of their church’s salary to the government. And that is why it seems obvious to me that most pastors opt out for economic rather than moral reasons, which is the one thing the IRS says you can’t do.
To summarize: if you can honestly say that you would opt out of guaranteed 100% annual returns from the government (obviously this is hypothetical), then I say that you have a moral objection to participating as a minister in Social Security. If you wouldn’t then you don’t. What could be more simple?