Pajama Pages, On Driscoll, It’s Called Inurement, and It’s Probably Illegal:
Mark Driscoll may have imperiled his church’s nonprofit status and, with it, cost his congregation millions of dollars in tax deductions. I am neither a lawyer nor an accountant, but I can read IRS publications that describe the kind of hot water that Mars Hill Church and other churches can get into when they use donated money to buy their pastors’ books.
You can read the 50-page IRS description of inurement here, but I’ll try and summarize it for you here and explain why this applies to Driscoll’s NYT campaign and perhaps many other churches that use church resources to benefit their pastors’ publishing careers.
Churches and other charities are granted non-profit status so long as they use the money they raise exclusively for religious, educational or charitable purposes. Although they can pay staff and officers for work they perform to advance their stated purposes for the public, they cannot take special measures to direct the resources of the organization to any private individual or corporate entity, especially an individual that is an insider of the charity. Such activity is considered inurement, but before considering it in more detail, it’s worth reviewing what we know of the Mars Hill/Driscoll arrangement.
Mars Hill spent approximately $220,000 that had been donated to it to purchase services and books to have Driscoll’s book [Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life Together] appear on the New York Times best seller list. ... Mars Hill reports that it received $25m in tithes and offerings last year. Assuming an average deduction value of a contribution to be 25 percent, as the Congressional Research Service does, Mars Hill members saved $6.25m in tax payments because of the church’s exempt status. So, a $220,000 investment has the potential to cost church members $6,250,000.
Patheos, Do We Need a Code of Ethics for Mega-Pastors Who Write?:
Recently World Magazine had a piece on Unreal Sales for Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage to the effect that the Mars Hill Church bought Driscoll’s book a place on the NYT best seller list through a marketing company with a deliberate intent to by-pass the NYT’s own safe guards against authors or publishers artificially inflating the sales figures for their book. This might even violate IRS rules and regulations about non-for-profits committing inurement. CT also has a piece on this where they link to Mars Hill Church’s official response to the issue.