Assume Nothing, Not in Law or Religion

I’m still following the news about Literata‘s struggles in becoming licenced to perform marriages in Virginia. The latest bit of wild weather had knocked out her power over the last few days so hopeful the blogosphere will hear from her once it’s been restored. Hecate over at hecatedemeter has summarised the relevant issues surrounding Literata’s quest to become an marriage officiant. Her explanation was clear and straight to the heart of the matter. Her insight into the marriage issues in Virginia is invaluable to Pagan clergy serving in Virginia.

My research into the topic of Pagan clergy is still ongoing. Part of my troubles is with the way I learn. I tend to absorb large amounts of data before I can make sense of the smallest pieces. I’m learning a lot of things that has surprised me and have turned old beliefs on it’s head. I’m having to readjust my stance on several issues and revisit other ones.

I had not realised that most churches have a 501c3 corporate structure. I had assumed, I know I should never assume, that the 501c3 non-profit status was a work around in becoming a recognised church. So far I have not seen anything in the law that can unchuch a church. To gain the tax exempt status and to prudently limit liability for the members, incorporation as a 501c3 is the most common structure used by churches. But it is not the only structure a church can take. The pros and cons to each form of structure vary.

I had no idea that wedding officiants are performing a duty of the state and not a duty of religion when they become lawful wedding officiants with the ability to sign the wedding licence. The idea that the state lays claim on marriage as a part of government process and yet denying same sex couples the rights of marriage is extremely troublesome.

I see similarities in the Wiccan coven structure, home churches, small group ministry and to some degree cell churches. All of which have limited membership, around 6 to 15 members and all focus on participation of members. A good deal of the problems arising from ministering to small groups have been covered by Christian and Interfaith ministers. Sometimes I wonder if the Pagan movement is trying to reinvent the wheel at times when all that’s needed is to look at other faiths and adapt what they have already learned.

I am flabbergasted by the amount of book keeping that is necessary to prove the 501c3 status in case of an audit by IRS. Reading though the tax law, I started getting flash backs to Robert’s Rules of Order. I don’t see how such a meeting conducted according to Robert’s Rules is very religious or inspirational. Utilitarian and functional indeed but not religious but necessary for the ongoing functioning and survival of the church. I wonder if this is an area of weakness with Pagan clergy and in the overall creation of Pagan churches.

The burden placed upon Clergy by the tax law is astonishing. They sit between being self employed and an employee of the church. It also seams that rarely is the minister also the President of the church. My eyes crossed while reading all the do’s, don’ts, restrictions and qualifications for clergy, their pay, their tax’s and their benefits. They don’t have employer provided retirement plans or health insurance as a matter of being clergy. All of that is either by the generosity of the church or by their own planning and prudence.

I didn’t know that a church could fire it’s minister. I know this is a failing from my childhood, from being raised that a “man of God” was to be obeyed and the head of the church is just as a man is the head of the household. Depending on the by-laws of the church, they can fire, hire or even dissolve the church. It never would have occurred to me that a church has that kind of power. I had assumed that those powers were reserved for it’s minister. But it’s the by-laws that contains the powers of the church. If it’s not in the by-laws, it doesn’t exist for the church. How many people have ever taken a look at the by-laws of their church? I was clueless on just how important those by-laws really are.

I’ve come to a few conclusions so far. One, you have to be called by the Gods or be just plain crazy to become a minister and deal with all that the government puts on you in the execution of your calling. Bless you all for being both!!

Two, Paganism needs well informed clergy but more so needs church administration. It isn’t the lack of clergy or even lack of clergy training that’s going to hamper the movement but the total lack of qualified church administrators!

Three, any problem a church has in the legal realm, no matter what the religion is, impacts all churches. We are far more interconnect and interdependent that I have previously thought.


About Isabella LeCour

She is nothing more than the collections of thoughts placed into the virtual worlds. She is a poet, a mother, a lover, many things to different people. But mostly, she is nothing but smoke and mirrors - some ethereal thing that blinks in an out of existence.
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