Saturday, June 8, 2013

Tax Expenditures

When I worked as Executive Director for the Erie County Commission on Homelessness, I often began a presentation about homelessness with a request that people who ad ever lived in housing that was subsidized raise their hands. Usually only one or two people in the audience raised a hand. I would then ask the rest of the people if any of them took a tax deduction for property taxes and mortgage interest. Most people got the point.  There are activities which the Congress has decided to encourage through the tax code, the most obvious one being home ownership. These "tax expenditures" are subsidies and some of the fiercest battles in Congress are over which activities should be subsidized in this way. 

A lot of the discussion of the "IRS Scandal" seems to ignore the fact that granting an organization tax-exempt status costs us money. Having been on the boards of two not-for-profit organizations that applied for 501(c)3 status, I have some sympathy with those who complain about the way their applications for 501(c)4 status were handled. We submit such applications believing that our organization's work is so important to society that it should be subsidized. We believe that, but it's the IRS's responsibility to determine if that belief is justified. 

I will grant that there is evidence that IRS employees made a lot of mistakes in handling the 501(c)4 applications of some organizations, but they were not the kind of mistakes that would trouble me most. What troubles me, and there is some evidence of this, is the granting of 501(c)4 status to organizations whose primary purpose is political. Excessive scrutiny of applications is a much less costly mistake than not enough scrutiny.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Leviticus 18:22

A recent and somewhat fruitless exchange on Facebook prompted me to think again about Leviticus 18:22. "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." There is one obvious thing about this verse that we tend to overlook. The commandment, like so many in Leviticus, is addressed to the men of Israel. Now that may seem a silly observation to make, but understanding any passage of Scripture requires that we take into account the context in which it was written. Israel was a patriarchal society. Although we have wonderful stories of women exercising power in the Hebrew Scriptures, those stories reveal, as do the stories of men exercising power, that religiously sanctioned power in Israel was almost exclusively exercised by men. 

This brings me to the real point I want to make here. In a patriarchal society, one in which a man may have as many wives as he can afford, how does a man lie with a woman? Not, I would suggest, as a man lies with his wife today. I am not claiming that there was not what we would identify as love between husbands and wives in ancient Israel, but that marital relationships in ancient Israel can hardly be the model upon which we base our understanding of marriage today. I might even suggest that for us a commandment might be: do not lie with a man or a woman as men in ancient Israel lay with a woman.