The Feast of William Wilberforce

WHM146809 Portrait of William Wilberforce (1759-1833), 1794 (oil on canvas) by Hickel, Anton (1745-98) oil on canvas © Wilberforce House, Hull City Museums and Art Galleries, UK German, out of copyright


Last night I witnessed an exchange between a friend, and lawyer colleague, and a gentleman who expressed his “dislike” for one of the presidential candidates and her party because he did not feel they represented his personal Christian beliefs as well as the other party and its candidate.  My friend was attempting to bring attention to the fact that unfounded criticisms had sowed the seeds of hate toward this woman whose intelligence, talents and abilities along with her record of public service far outweighed any deficiencies of character shown in her conduct and that the criticisms were largely born of suspicions and innuendo without clear proof.

I thought about this conversation this morning as I said the morning office.  For those of us who utilize a thirty day cycle of saying the psalms we found  that psalm 146 was on today’s menu.  In that psalm were these words:

2 Put not your trust in rulers, or any child of earth,*

For there is no help in them.

3 When they breathe their last they return to earth,*

And in that day their thoughts perish.

It seemed to me that God is telling us not to expect that our rulers, democratically elected or otherwise, are going to bring about the kingdom of God on earth as they are simply not capable of doing so.  What they can do is practice an ethic which relieves the distress of the largest number of people and enables them to live a meaningful productive life.

Some theologians have stated that in creating our nation the founding fathers set up a constitution which “attempted to construct a government without God that is a government “of the people, for the people, and by the people”.  We think of ourselves as the greatest nation in the world because we are free but as they point out “there is no freedom that does not acknowledge God.” What we have now they say is a people who are self-centered consumers of freedom who have forsaken the Christian conviction that we were created by God to live for, and by the truth which has resulted in a people who merely live by hoarding stuff.”

Looking to a particular political party to bring about a transformation to a “Christian” world would seem to be a “fool’s errand” as all political activity as we know it is based on lying and deception.  Politicians cannot tell the truth because it is not in their best political interests to do so.

But, there have been politicians who decided to put conviction above self-interest and to pursue what they truly believed to be God’ truth.  William Wilberforce was one such politician.  Mr. Wilberforce spent his life and political career with the goal of abolishing the slave trade as it was then practiced in the territories ruled by Great Britain.  He also promoted overseas missions, popular education, and the reformation of public manners and morals. “He gave away one-quarter of his annual income to the poor. He fought on behalf of chimney sweeps, single mothers, Sunday schools, orphans, and juvenile delinquents. He helped found parachurch groups like the Society for Bettering the Cause of the Poor, the Church Missionary Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the Antislavery Society.”

In his day the slave trade was big business much like banking, oil, defense contracting and information services are today in the United States.  Every part of the British economic system of his day was affected, most of the time positively, by the huge profits it garnered.  So along he comes and sets out to abolish this “cash cow” and icon of economics based not upon his own political self-interest but upon his concept of the Christian faith and its devotion to truth.  Mr. Wilberforce pushed the British nation to look at itself and to ponder the deception it was practicing.  It was easy to justify the slave trade as “putting food on the table and making us a great nation” much as we justify “clear cutting” and “fracing” today.  But Mr. Wilberforce through his steady and persistent campaign appealed to people to think about how that as deceptive and how the truth was human beings were being “exploited” and their lives being destroyed so a few might live very well.

It is my hope that one of our presidential candidate might rise to the occasion and actually witness to the Christian faith by actually advocating the truth.  Banking and other large industries live by profit and profit is no respecter of persons.  Excluding immigrants is much easier than integrating diverse peoples into one.   A President who takes on the powerful will suffer materially but in doing so will advance the cause of God in the world.


For More Information about William Wilberforce



Charities, Churches and Politics

United States Treasury Building, Washington D.C.
DISCLAIMER:  The views and comments expressed in this paper are solely those of the author and do not represent the official position of the Internal Revenue Service.  This paper is for general educational and discussion purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  This views and ideas expressed are not intended as, and may not be relied upon as tax or legal advice by any person. 


In recent weeks there have been several expressions of concern over what churches and pastors may say about the upcoming presidential race without running afoul of the rules prohibiting charitable and religious organizations from engaging in “political activity” and thereby risking the loss of their exempt status under the provisions of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  Such a loss would also result in the loss of the deduction for contributions made by individuals to the church under the provisions of section 170.

In 2007 the Internal Revenue Service issued a comprehensive Revenue Ruling which sets out the legal principles governing this area and providing twenty one examples or situations to serve as guidance in determining when an organization is running afoul of the prohibition.  In that ruling the IRS states:

Whether an organization is participating or intervening, directly or indirectly, in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office depends upon all of the facts and circumstances of each case.

For the full text of this ruling follow this link: Rev Rul 2007-41 .  Situations 5, 9 and 21 deal specifically with the activities of churches and priests or ministers of the gospel and whether they violate the political activity ban.   But, all of the situations offer some insight into what constitutes political advocacy as opposed to allowable activities such as voter education or issue advocacy.  And, they offer insight as to when permitted  issue advocacy becomes  unpermitted political campaign intervention.

I offer a copy of the discussion concerning this issue from the IRS website:IRS Website Churches and Political Activities.

Charities, Churches and Politics

The ban on political campaign activity by charities and churches was created by Congress more than a half century ago. The Internal Revenue Service administers the tax laws written by Congress and has enforcement authority over tax-exempt organizations. Here is some background information on the political campaign activity ban and the latest IRS enforcement statistics regarding its administration of this congressional ban.

In 1954, Congress approved an amendment by Sen. Lyndon Johnson to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity. To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years; it has in fact strengthened the ban. The most recent change came in 1987 when Congress amended the language to clarify that the prohibition also applies to statements opposing candidates.

Currently, the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

The IRS has published Revenue Ruling 2007-41 , which outlines how churches, and all 501(c)(3) organizations, can stay within the law regarding the ban on political activity. Also, the ban by Congress is on political campaign activity regarding a candidate; churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations can engage in a limited amount of lobbying (including ballot measures) and advocate for or against issues that are in the political arena. The IRS also has provided guidance regarding the difference between advocating for a candidate and advocating for legislation. See political and lobbying activities. see  Political and Lobbying Activities.

Each election cycle, the IRS reminds 501(c)(3) exempt organizations to be aware of the ban on political campaign activity. The IRS published its most recent reminder in a public news release which you can read here.

The division within the IRS responsible for overseeing churches and charities is the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division. TEGE has created a Web page entitled Charities, Churches, and Educational Organizations – Political Campaign Intervention. It is dedicated to the IRS most recent activities related to 501(c)(3) and political activity.

A leading case on the issue of free speech and political expression is Branch Ministries v. Rossotti, 211 F.3d 137.  In that case, the court upheld the constitutionality of the ban on political activity. The court rejected the plaintiff church’s allegations that it was being selectively prosecuted because of its conservative views and that its First Amendment right to free speech was being infringed.

The court wrote: “The government has a compelling interest in maintaining the integrity of the tax system and in not subsidizing partisan political activity, and Section 501(c)(3) is the least restrictive means of accomplishing that purpose.”

The Branch Ministries Case.see Full Opinion Text at Branch Ministries v. Rossotti.

I am reproducing the section of the opinion giving the factual background of the case:

Branch Ministries, Inc. operates the Church at Pierce Creek (“Church”), a Christian church located in Binghamton, New York. In 1983, the Church requested and received a letter from the IRS recognizing its tax-exempt status. On October 30, 1992, four days before the presidential election, the Church placed full-page advertisements in USA Today and the Washington Times. Each bore the headline “Christians Beware” and asserted that then-Governor Clinton’s positions concerning abortion, homosexuality, and the distribution of condoms to teenagers in schools violated Biblical precepts. The following appeared at the bottom of each advertisement:

This advertisement was co-sponsored by the Church at Pierce Creek, Daniel J. Little, Senior Pastor, and by churches and concerned Christians nationwide. Tax-deductible donations for this advertisement gladly accepted. Make donations to: The Church at Pierce Creek. [mailing address].

The advertisements did not go unnoticed. They produced hundreds of contributions to the Church from across the country and were mentioned in a New York Times article and an Anthony Lewis column which stated that the sponsors of the advertisement had almost certainly violated the Internal Revenue Code. Peter Applebome, Religious Right Intensifies Campaign for Bush, N.Y. Times, Oct. 31, 1992, at A1; Anthony Lewis, Tax Exempt Politics?, N.Y. Times, Dec. 1, 1992, at A15.

The advertisements also came to the attention of the Regional Commissioner of the IRS, who notified the Church on November 20, 1992 that he had authorized a church tax inquiry based on “a reasonable belief … that you may not be tax-exempt or that you may be liable for tax” due to political activities and expenditures. Letter from Cornelius J. Coleman, IRS Regional Commissioner, to The Church at Pierce Creek (Nov. 20, 1992), reprinted in App. at Tab 5, Ex. F. The Church denied that it had engaged in any prohibited political activity and declined to provide the IRS with certain information the Service had requested. On February 11, 1993, the IRS informed the Church that it was beginning a church tax examination. Following two unproductive meetings between the parties, the IRS revoked the Church’s section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status on January 19, 1995, citing the newspaper advertisements as prohibited intervention in a political campaign

Branch Ministries sued the government alleging that… the IRS had no authority to revoke its tax exemption, that the revocation … violated its right to free speech and to freely exercise its religion under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb (“RFRA”), and that the IRS engaged in selective prosecution in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

The United States District Court held for the government and granted what is called “summary judgment” which means there it found there to be no issues of material fact and that the Government was entitled to win as a matter of law.

I will not discuss the Court’s reasoning is detail but the opinion described above comes from the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit which affirmed (upheld) the District Court and rejected every one of the Church’s arguments.

It is hope this recitation is helpful.  The best thing to do is to consult your lawyer if you plan to preach or make statements that may in any way be construed as advocating for or against a particular candidate.  Another possibility is to seek a determination in the form of a ruling from the IRS National Office as to whether the sermon or statement violates the political advocacy prohibition.   The latter tack could be very expensive as IRS now charges a hefty fee for such rulings.


25 July -The Feast of Saint James the Greater, Apostle


Saint James the Greater, the son of Zebedee (Hebrew:יַעֲקֹב Yaʿqob, Greek: Ἰάκωβος; died 44 AD) was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, and traditionally considered the first apostle to be martyred. He was a son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of John the Apostle. He is also called James the Greater or James the Great to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus and James the Just. James the Greater is the patron saint of Spain, and as such is often identified as Santiago.  His feast day is observed in the church calendar on July 25th and will be observed in Seibels Chapel at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral tomorrow at Morning Prayer at 8:00 a.m. with appropriate solemnities.

An Analysis of the Differing Tax Policy Proposals of Clinton and Trump


Pre-Election Estate Tax Proposals: Clinton vs. Trump

How to advise your clients now

Published in Trusts and Estates Magazine[1]

July 18, 2016


Martin M. Shenkman[2]

(Footnotes and Comments by Paul Nicholson)

Are major estate tax law changes in the offing? Perhaps, but my Ouija board smoked when I asked the question. So, barring that type of guidance, what assurance can there be?

The election hasn’t occurred yet, so there’s certainly no way to know which candidate will win. Party platforms haven’t even been finalized. And, there’s no assurance that the winner’s proposals will be enacted. In spite of the above, practitioners should put all clients involved in active planning on notice of Clinton and Trump’s proposals because they’re so dramatically different. No one wants a client coming back after completing a plan and complaining that had they been put on notice, they might have planned differently.


Trump Estate Tax Proposals and What They Mean

The Trump plan (pre-convention) is to eliminate the estate and gift tax. If clients are undertaking estate planning, for example, the creation of irrevocable trusts, grantor-retained annuity trusts (GRATs)[3] or limited liability companies consider warning them that if Trump is elected and his plan implemented, the hoped-for tax benefits won’t be realized. That doesn’t mean planning shouldn’t proceed. It should. But the best approach may be to structure planning, to the extent feasible, to meet multiple goals and inform clients of this. If planning steps are only motivated to minimize estate tax, the repeal of the estate tax would make that planning a waste. However, if the same planning process included the discussion of multiple reasons for the planning, that negative conclusion shouldn’t follow regardless of what happens. For example, an irrevocable trust (even a plain vanilla life insurance trust) can provide important asset protection, divorce protection and other benefits besides estate tax savings. Emphasize the non-tax goals to your clients as well, so if the estate tax is repealed, they might still perceive the merits to having proceeded with the plan.[4]

Clinton Estate Tax Proposals and What They Mean

Clinton’s proposal appears to include the following key changes:

$1 million gift tax exemption. This is a dramatic decrease from the current $5.45 million.

$3.5 million estate tax exemption. This is a dramatic decrease from the current $5.45 million.

Elimination of the inflation adjustment. This is significant in that over time, even the $3.5 million exemption would be substantially eroded by inflation. No longer will clients be able to assume that some or all of the growth in their net worth will be offset by a commensurate inflation increase in the exemption.

45 percent rate increase from the 40 percent current rate.

The proposals aren’t very detailed, but they might well include the Obama Greenbook[5] proposals to severely restrict GRATs, grantor trusts, etc.

2012 Estate Tax Planning Redux?

Might all this mean a 2012 estate tax planning redux? If Clinton wins the election and there’s any potential likelihood of her pushing through her estate tax plan, practitioners and clients may all experience a repeat of 2012 with a mad rush to complete complex planning to use the current $5.45 million exemption (likely somewhat higher in 2017) before it drops to $3.5 million. Remember that it’s not only about the drop in exemption and increase in rates. Likely, GRAT restrictions and limitations on other techniques the ultra-wealthy have used to minimize estate tax may be enacted as well.[6]

If clients wait too long to plan, some of the same issues that concerned practitioners with 2012 planning will also raise worries again. These included the step-transaction doctrine[7] and the reciprocal trust doctrine. For example, if clients wait until the last minute to act, just like in 2012, there may be challenges to shift assets from one spouse to the other so both can use their remaining gift exemption. Some clients, who made gifts to trusts for children or their heirs rather than using spousal lifetime access trusts or domestic asset protection trusts they could access (directly or indirectly), learned tough lessons when they later tried to unravel the planning. Perhaps planning now to divide assets so that they’re primed for more optimal gifts if they have to do so is a simple, no-cost step that could be taken now.

For those clients who haven’t used all of their exemption, there may be a 2012-like rush to use it by gifts to non-reciprocal spousal lifetime access trusts for married couples or to domestic asset protection trusts for single clients.


For clients who’ve used all their exemption (or do so) there may be a rush to implement long-term GRATs to lock in the current low interest rate and to implement the technique before restrictions become effective. Although rolling GRATs are often preferable to longer-term GRATs, re-GRAT-ing assets if future GRATs will require a minimum term or minimum specified taxable gift may be impractical.

If the proposals have an effective date from the date of proposal, clients could miss out. Doing nothing might well leave clients facing a 2012-like planning challenge.

What Practitioners Should Do?

There are a number of steps that practitioners should consider taking now, even though all of this is up in the air:

Communicate with and inform both current active clients and even inactive clients. It might generate interest and business from those who recall the pressure of 2012 planning.

Be certain that planning has multiple purposes and benefits, so that if the estate tax is repealed, the planning still serves a purpose.

At minimum, suggest clients divide assets in a manner that will facilitate quicker planning should it be necessary. This should be done in a manner that might mitigate step-transaction concerns if that planning is implemented.

Create Gumby-like flexibility. Be certain that the planning, documents and implementation maximize flexibility to keep options open because the future is so uncertain.

Consider broad classes of beneficiaries so income and principal can be directed with flexibility in the event the estate tax law pendulum swings right or left.

Every new trust should include a decanting power to facilitate decanting to change instruments especially if state law doesn’t have a decanting statute.

Use trust protectors to facilitate effecting change to documents especially that are irrevocable.

Include swap powers in grantor trusts so that assets can be moved in/out of the trust depending on changes in the law.

Include a power for someone to loan the grantor trust assets without adequate security to provide another safety valve.


The Donald Trump plan to eliminate the estate and gift tax altogether opens the door for the accumulation of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people.  It also licenses a form of tax avoidance by permitting the appreciation of assets to go completely untaxed at the death of the person accumulating the assets.  This impacts revenue as not only will the government miss the income tax on the increase in value during life but also but also it will not be able to tax the capital gain when the assets are later disposed of by the taxpayer’s heirs at a much higher value than the actual cost of the assets originally.

The Clinton plan is fairer overall and will discourage the accumulation of large accumulations of wealth in fewer hands but may be a bit harsh as it proposes to back track to lower exemptions and higher rates as were in effect in previous years.  It proposes to eliminate the inflation adjustment to the exemption which would not allow for the sheltering of as much of the assets from the estate tax thereby causing the amount of the exemption to decrease in real economic terms as inflation rises and artificially inflate the value of the assets.

Despite his rhetoric the practical effect of the Trump plan is to favor the very wealthy.The practical effect of the Clinton plan is to encourage a more equitable distribution of wealth thereby favoring the less wealthy and possibly the poor and disadvantaged as it provides more revenue for the Treasury.

My thought about estate planning is to first decide what you want to do and who you want to benefit and then let your lawyer and your tax advisers figure out the best way to minimize the tax impact.  The object should not be to avoid taxes but rather to plan your estate in such a way that you accomplish your goals at a minimum tax cost.

[1] Copyright Trusts and Estates, published by Wealth

[2] Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, PFS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Fort Lee, New Jersey and New York City. His practice concentrates on estate and tax planning and estate administration.

[3] A GRAT (short for Grantor Retained Annuity Trust) is a trust into which the grantor transfers assets and retains an annuity for a period of years.  At the end of the term the assets pass to the grantor’s beneficiaries who are usually family members.  The initial transfer to the GRAT is subject to gift tax but the value of the gift is defined by the Internal Revenue Code as the projected value of the assets plus interest using a statutory interest rate as of the time that the assets pass to the beneficiaries less the actuarial value of the annuity retained by the grantor.   If the actual market interest rate is higher than the statutory rate then at the end of the term the asset values could in reality be quite high.  However the Code uses the calculation based on the statutory rate and f that is substantially lower than the actual rate the value of the assets would be shown as lower and after subtracting the value of the annuity end up being taxed as if it was zero.  This is referred to as a zeroed out GRAT and is considered an “abuse” by the Internal Revenue Service.  President Obama is proposing to eliminate the advantages of this strategy by requiring a minimum value to be taxed.

[4] In this commentator’s opinion the non-tax goals should be the driving force of an estate plan and not tax avoidance.

[5] The Greenbook is the annual set of proposals of the Department of the Treasury presented annually to Congress regarding its wish list of changes in the tax laws.  It really represents the administration’s policies with regard to taxes.

[6] More than one estate planner has confided in me that great liberties were in the preparation and filing of gift tax returns in 2012.

[7] The step transaction doctrine is a method by which the Government may view a series of steps in a transaction as one step. Therefore what appears to be a transfer by a taxpayer to a corporation and then a transfer from the corporation the to the tax payers child might be collapsed into a single transfer from the taxpayer to the child.

An Underhanded Deception, or Was it? Oath, Covenant and Revelation

Gibeonites deceive Joshua



The Old Testament lesson prescribed in the daily office lectionary for today is a passage from the Book of Joshua, Chapter 9:3-21.  In this analysis I have expanded the text to include verses 1and 2 at the beginning and verses 22 thorough 27 at the end.

This passage describes the deceit practiced by the Gibeonites in obtaining a covenant of peace from Joshua which in effect guarantees that the army of Israel will not kill the Gibeonites.  The deceit is accomplished through oral representations and what Melvin Belli,the famous trial lawyer,  liked to call “demonstrative evidence”.  The Gibeonites collected old clothes and stale crusty molded food and used it to support their assertion that they have traveled form a land far, far away and one being a country not in the immediate neighborhood.  It seems the Israelites had received a divine mandate to eliminate all of the peoples other than themselves in the Promised Land and while some of the peoples contrived to resist through physical force the Gibeonites felt a more subtle approach night yield greater fruit.  So they approach the Israelites and their leader Joshua with the argument that they are from another “country” so far away their clothes have become old and worn and their food crusty and moldy on the long trip to see the people of Israel.  The Israelites are skeptical, at first, verse 7 “perhaps you live among us” but after viewing the demonstrative evidence they are convinced that these folk are actually from another country far away and not covered by the Deuteronomic command.  It is worthy to note that the text states the men of Israel “partook of their provisions” and “did not ask direction from the Lord”.   In other words they viewed the evidence, sampled the food and believed making a decision based upon their own senses without requesting spiritual guidance from God.

So Joshua makes peace with them and enters into a covenant.  But as with all lies the truth comes to the fore in three days’ time when word reaches Israel that the Gibeonites were indeed “living among them”   Incensed the army of Israel sets out to set things right and marches on the Gibeonite cities. But “the people of Israel did not kill them, because the leaders of the congregation had “sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel” This illustrates the difference between a covenant before God and a contract of men.  In the case of a contract the misrepresentation or fraud of one of the parties can render the contract void, or voidable, whereas a covenant involves someone in addition to the two parties making the deal.  It involves the Lord God.  One does not simply disregard his oath before God and undo a covenant.  He does not do so because of the fear of the wrath of God and second because God is part of the deal.  He signs off on the deal because he wants it that way and once he decides he wants it that way you don’t just back out because the other side has been a bit cavalier with the truth.  And, of course, God would have known all along that the other party was lying. And, therefore he has tacitly approved the deal warts and all.

What happens next in my mind affirms the divine intent.  The people of Israel “murmur” against the Gibeonites”.  Now murmuring is defined by Webster as “a half suppressed or muttered complaint”.  And here is another thought: the people of Israel were upset with the Gibeonites because they thought they had violated God’s will by working around the Deuteronomic command.  But wait, we just talked about the covenant and how God is a party and if he allows the subterfuge to work perhaps that is his will? Perhaps God became a little tired of all the slaughter in the holy land and realized that his previous command was a trite harsh. A lesson is in here for those of us who presume to want to avenge transgressions against our Lord as if commissioned to do so.  Truth is he is very capable of taking care of himself and he may have something else in mind so careful with the murmuring.

The leaders reminded the people about the oath before God and point out the potential for “wrath” should they lay hands upon these sinners.  And not to stop with theological arguments they added a “sweetener” by suggesting that the people let them live and they can become your laborers: hewers of wood, and drawers of water for all the congregation.

The people mollified Joshua summons the Gibeonites leaders and asks them to explain themselves.  The Gibeonites confess their sin but explain their fear of being slaughtered as their reasoning for the deceit.  They go on to submit themselves to: “do as it seems good and right in your sight.”  Joshua accepts the confession but issues a conditional absolution:  “Now, therefore you are cursed” he says as he delivers them out of the hands of the people of Israel and then he makes “them hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and the altar.”  And here again we see daylight.  Joshua is in effect “forgiving” these people their sin in deceiving and absolving them through a penance of service. Is he altering the Law of Moses by not carrying out its death sentence or simply expanding it to show a compassion coming not from the people of Israel but rather from the living God who is privileged to change his mind and his law as he pleases?

This is reminiscent of someone who comes along much later who as the new Moses restates the Law of Moses in much more expansive terms.  We know him as Jesus.



A Visitation, Saint Macrina, and The Seventh Commandment


Every once and awhile I am called to attend a conference or a meeting in Durham, North Carolina.  Sometimes my business is at Duke University and sometimes in the city. Today was one such day.  The highlight of the day was attending Evening Prayer at Saint Joseph’s Episcopal Church. In the words of its own  website: “ Following the example of our patron Saint Joseph, we want to make our church home a place of warm hospitality grounded in God’s love, and to take that love out into the world.”  I was surprised to learn from its website that Bishop John Shelby Spong had served as its first Rector from 1955 to 1957.

In the short time I have known about this parish I have been singularly impressed by Saint Joe’s because of its exceptional ministry to the homeless.  It is located in an area of Durham which seems to be a central gathering place for them.  It puts on a breakfast each morning for any who need a meal and it officiates morning and evening prayer each day.  In my own parish at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia many of us sometimes feel put upon to officiate at Morning Prayer at 8:00 a.m. but if you will notice the sign pictured above St. Joe’s starts at 7:30 a.m.!

The office was led by the junior warden, Susan Mitchell, who led us through it with a steady hand.   Today was the feast day of Saint Macrina, the younger, (as distinguished from Saint Macrina the elder, her grandmother) who is famous not for what she wrote but for her famous brothers and her ability to upend their pretensions about their own intellectual gifts. According to James Kiefer “After the death of their parents, Macrina was chiefly responsible for the upbringing of her ten younger brothers. When they were disposed to be conceited about their intellectual accomplishments, she deflated them with affectionate but pointed jibes.”  Those brothers included Basil the Great (see 14 June), Gergory of Nyssa (see 9 March), Peter of Sebastea, Naucratios, and (according to one ambiguously worded communication) Dios of Antioch.  After the service, Jana and I had a good laugh with Susan as we talked about Macrina as being an early women’s libber that refused to take any grief from her brothers no matter how smart they thought they were.

There was something else I noticed which was new since our last visit, and that was a piece of art,  a piece of sculpture.   As Jana and I walked up to the front of the Church from the parking lot we noticed what looked like a “homeless” man sitting on the sidewalk.  Upon closer inspection we realized it was a piece of art made in the likeness of a “homeless” person or perhaps in the image of Jesus.  Jana admitted to me that she had actually thought it was a real person.  The image I perceived called to mind a portrait of Jesus in the wilderness which a Facebook friend had used as an illustration for piece he had posted.  I have reproduced it above next to a picture of the sculpture at Saint Joe’s.  My regret is I failed to ask the identity of the artist or the title of the piece.

Visiting this little Church with its plain façade and crowd of homeless and poor I felt like I was truly close to the true essence of the Christian faith.  This parish where the main statuary was of a human being of very mean estate had dedicated itself to a Christian ideal one which is not meant to be an ideal but rather a reality.  That is “that Christians as Christians are reminded to give and to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.”

This leads me to another observation.   I have been reading a book by Bishop William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas (hereinafter W&H) called The Truth about God – The Ten Commandments in Christian Life.   Today, I read the chapter about the Seventh Commandment:  “Thou shalt not steal”.  A literalist might say this means don’t be a common thief, don’t rob the liquor store, don’t rob the bank or pic someone’s pocket.  But W&H go further and pretty much lay down an indictment of all us middle class Americans as repetitive violators of this commandment.  Whoa, say what?  I have not been robbing liquor stores, I don’t rob banks and I don’t pick pockets. How then am I thief?

Well,W&H start their analysis with Ephesians 4:28 and note that the author of the letter  addressing the Ephesian congregation says that the “thieves should give up stealing and work honestly with their own hands so as to have something to share with the needy” (emphasis supplied) They point out that this clearly indicates there were thieves in the congregation.  How refreshing they say that there were thieves actually attending church.  And, they conclude further that “the rationale for honest labor is not to accumulate private property but rather to have something to share with the poor.”   So, first of all goods are rightly seen as goods that are in common.  And, any possession we have is in service to a wider good.

They quote Aquinas for the proposition that “theft can involve not paying wages that are due and any fraud in buying and selling.”  And, they point out that Luther goes even further arguing that “stealing is nothing less than acquiring any property by unjust means.” So, a person steals not only when he robs a person’s safe, or picks a pocket but also when he takes advantage of his neighbor at the market or in the grocery store, or in any business in which money is exchanged for goods or services.  It is violated when one claims credit for the work of another, steals the affection of a loved one from someone else, accepts an unearned award or job promotion, or fails to report getting back more change than is due him in a transaction.   This commandment, they say, gives us the most trouble, even more so than the sixth commandment about adultery because we have a hard time dealing with the stealing and lying as “they cut to the heart of the deceit upon which our lives are built. We are caught up in systems which cover up how deeply we are implicated in stealing and lying.”  They claim we indulge the presumption that we are essentially self-seeking, self-interested creatures who will survive only if we get “ours”.  They go so far as to say that this presumption stems, according to some, from our very Constitution itself.

This suggests the next thing W&H talk about.  We like to think that wealth is the key to happiness.  I admit I tend to think so often, “if only I had the money life would be so easy and happy.”  But, stop and think says W&H:  we are deceived.  They conclude that the rich are not really happy.  That they become caught in a trap of having to acquire more and more and that they can never observe Sabbath because their quest and their worries never cease.

They cite a speech made by Rudyard Kipling to the graduating medical class of McGill University saying, “You will go out of here, and very likely you’ll make a lot of money.  One day you’ll meet someone for whom that means very little. Then you will know how poor you are.”  Their point is that having excessive wealth is a form of spiritual bankruptcy and while the world generally accords undue respect to wealthy persons there will be a high price to pay for taking that which ought to go to others.

I don’t know about you but I have never considered myself wealthy.  But, in my work I have encountered people with millions and some with billions and they don’t think they are wealthy either!  They can only think about preserving what they have and getting more.

So what is good Christian to do to stay in compliance with this commandment?  W&H answer this question by saying first that we should not deceive ourselves.  We cannot rationalize our wealth with pleas such as we only want to prepare a good life for our children or wealth is not the problem but our attitude toward wealth is the problem. Then they cite a passage from Matthew’s Gospel which says: “Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you”.  Failing to enact this as a policy, they say, renders us as thieves. As Saint John Chrysostom states in his Homily on Lazarus: “To not enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life.”

We should, first they say, “stop telling lies about our position.” “The great trick is to know how to have possessions without abandoning our hearts to them” and to, in the words of John Calvin, “be ready to become poor if that should be God’s will.”

I have always heard that as Christians we are “countercultural”.  I would say after reading H&W that is an understatement. Given this analysis by W&H we are severely challenged.  How do we remain in compliance with this commandment and also meet the expectations of our culture with regard to wealth?  This will take some thought, some amendment of life, and commitment. In the meantime I am pledged to emulate and support the work of parishes like Saint Joseph and others who are reaching out to the poor and the helpless in any way they can.


-Credit to The Reverend Emily R. Hylden for putting me onto The Truth About God… She writes and edits The Daily Devotion for the Living Church Foundation .  It is free to subscribe and always contains a very insightful message.
-Credit to Bishop Willimon and Professor Hauerwas for the quotes and ideas concerning the seventh commandment.  They did the research and formulated the arguments presented in The Truth About God…I have simply described their ideas.










[Each Thursday morning I attend the Morning Office in Seibels Chapel of Trinity Cathedral here in Columbia, South Carolina.  The Office is officiated by a dear friend.  Mr friend is a cleric who knows the Bible so well he can practically quote it to you verse by verse.  That is not surprising as he has come to the Episcopal Church through conversion from the ordained ministry of the Southern Baptist tradition.  This morning he actually gave a homily on the passage from Joshua quoted below.  I wish I had a copy to reproduce for you but I don’t.

After the Office my friend and I matriculated to our favorite coffee shop and talked Bible. Somewhere in the midst of the discussion I argued that we need to teach people that the Bible is really a liturgical book and that it cannot be properly understood apart from its liturgical traditions.  My friend nodded and winked but I could tell he felt that learning the whole story of each book was more important and that study should be the priority.  So my firend and I are somewhat like the Episcopal Church in microcosm.  He is a self professed evangelical (in the sense that Luther and Calvin would have defined that term) and I remain very much the Anglo-Catholic.  Unlike many discussions in the Episcopal Chruch ours remain very cordial and I can tell he is trying to understand my thinking as I try very hard to understand his.  That is the way it is supposed to work.  We should be encouraged and enriched by diverse viewpoints and not moved to violence over every disagreement.

Thanks to the good offices of the Reverend Emily Hylden and the Living Chruch Foundation I can reproduce for you today’s edition of the Daily Devotional which contained a wonderful homily by Lindsey Melden on the Joshua lesson  which underscores my point about the Bible and liturgy: So what do these stones mean to you?]


These Stones
Daily Devotional • July 14
By Lindsey Melden
I did not grow up in the Anglican tradition. My parents came to faith in a small evangelical community, and even though they left that community soon after I was born (and never since found a church they loved as much), they raised me in mostly nondenominational congregations. Though the buildings changed, the message was mostly the same. The bedrock of these communities was Bible teaching, God’s salvation by grace, and learning to live and love like Jesus.

Those foundational beliefs formed me. I have a rich understanding and knowledge of the Bible (13 years of Christian school education didn’t hurt either), I never doubted my status as beloved of God, and I love Jesus.

The thing that really drew me to the Episcopal Church, though, is the tradition. The prayers, the calendar, the building, the candles, the sacraments — all the sights and smells that were eschewed by the churches of my youth because they were “dry rituals” were suddenly vivid and very much alive.

My deepest longing is to settle more and more into these traditions; to have my hands and feet move through these rhythms year after year until it feels like breathing, until the pages of my prayer book are worn and soft as silk; until the words of a hymn spring to my lips at the first few notes; until my knees bend and my eyes close and my lips form “Alleluia” with as much ease and familiarity as they stir a mixing bowl, or kneel to pull weeds in my garden.

And when my children ask, “What do these stones mean to you?” I will have an answer: so we remember what God has done.

Joshua 3:14-4:7

When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. 15Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, 16the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

4:1When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: 2“Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, 3and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’” 4Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. 5Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, 6so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”

The Parable of The Talents

Parable of the Talents V

This morning I said the morning office in what I euphemistically call “my chapel” at home.  It even has a patron, Saint Paul no less.  That is due to an old icon of Saint Paul which I found laying behind a book.  Might as well put this to good use, I thought, and the use of the name suggested itself.  Like some magic trick in Harry Potter the Chapel during “ordinary” time  reverts into a living room with its altar returning to its more secular form  of a coffee table which is frequently used as a bed by one of our cats. Little does that cat realize how blessed he has become.

As I made my way through the Rite,  I faithfully sat and stood as I would have had I been officiating in  Seibel’s Chapel at Trinity Cathedral.  As I came to the scripture readings I remained seated and turned to the back of my Daily Office Book and read each reading followed by a Canticle, standing as I read beside my chair.   As I read, something bothered me.  The words of the scripture seemed to simply pass over me the like water in a shower without having any real meaning.  It occurred to me that I had just departed from Seibel’s practice.  In Seibel’s we stand, process to a lectern and read the lessons there returning to the officiant’s chair to lead the canticles.  I decided to give it a try and see if comprehension did not increase.  What a difference!  The mere reverencing,  standing,  walking,  turning and then reading  focused me in a such a  way that the words of the scripture literally jumped off the page.  This further illustrates to me that I have to think of the Bible as a part of the liturgy and not simply as a set of stories or sayings separate and apart.

This reminded me of a part of Letter 4 from the Screwtape Letters. Uncle Screwtape in the midst of counseling wormwood says that “One of their poets Coleridge has recorded that he did not pray with moving lips and bended knees” but merely composed his spirit to love and indulged a sense of supplication.”  Of course Lewis makes it clear that he has other ideas about this.  He, as does Willimon and Hauerwas, felt that body posture tends to lead the mind and that by putting the body in a prayerful posture the mind is dutifully prompted to follow.  This coincides with something one of my friends said concerning her yoga practice.  To maintain some poses the yogi must fix their attention on a particular spot and by doing so the mind is able to create the framework for the balance needed to maintain equilibrium.  Thus moving the head and the neck physically moves the mind to concentrate and accomplish the delicate balance.  And, so it is, I believe with prayer.  After my experience this morning I agree with Lewis that praying with the mind alone is not as effective as employing the body as well.

A year so or so ago in trying to get our parishioners to attend the offices and utilize a more complete form of prayer we were met with the argument that “this is simply unrealistic, you are trying to turn parishioners into monks”.  The priest in charge eloquently answered that charge by saying that yes, that is true, to a point .  She then explained the whys and wherefores of using your entire being for prayer.  For the uninitiated it remains a difficult proposition that to pray properly our “entire being” must be engaged. But I say try it you’ll like it, no love it.

A friend and fellow parishioner told me some time ago that when he prays the offices at home he only reads the psalm and the scriptural readings.   While I would never want to discourage anyone from praying, after today I urge them to consider saying the entire office and adopt postures which dispose their minds to God.  Get a kneeling cushion, improvise an altar with a cross, crucifix, or icons and improvise an ambo or lectern for the Bible readings.  Make  the space you use for prayer  sacred in its furnishings  and yourself so with your postures and mind.  Done this way you are offering up yourself and your life as a sacrifice to God.  This, I feel, is what Jesus has called us to do.

The Parable

The Gospel lesson appointed to be read today comes from the Gospel of Saint Matthew Chapter 25: 14-30.

The Parable of the Talents
14 “For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. 17 So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’

I recall a television piece about a priest who after reading this passage at Mass handed out some small amount of money to his parishioners and asked them to come back after a period of time to see how they did in terms of making it grow.  Many of the parishioners found to their surprise that they were quite adept at “playing the market” and were able to multiply their sum of money exponentially. But, to me the use of the term talent is strategic.  Jesus did not say money.  I tells me that the word talent must be a metaphor extending to time, talent, and treasure.

The note to he RSV says: ” It was Jesus way of speaking in two settings at once:  as the master’s servant had his original talent, yet he earned nothing by it, so men can have their earthly existence and all that derives from it, yet lack merit in the final judgment.”

My thinking is that we can have very secure material lives but if we fail to take our time, talent and treasure to God’s work we could find ourselves coming up short at the final judgment.  I don’t think it’s enough to simply make a pledge or endow a fund for a priest, or a building.  I think more is required.  God can use the money but he really wants us.  He wants us to love him by loving our brothers and sisters in service. And when we strive to do that I think we will find that it multiplies our talents exponentially.

In conclusion a poem by John  Milton says it best:


When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent, which is death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he, returning, chide.

John Milton, from the sonnet “When I consider how my life is spent” .






The Feast of Saint Benedict



THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT was remembered this day during the Morning Office said in Seibel’s Chapel, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina.

The details of the life of tis great saint are set out in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and additional information can be found on the Oblates of Saint Benedict website : The Oblates of Saint Benedict: The Saint Benedict Medal

The medal depicted in the image, top right, is the Saint Benedict medal.  The inscription is detailed in a Wikipedia Article about Saint Benedict:  see Saint Benedict Wikipedia 

This medal originally came from a cross in honour of St Benedict. On one side, the medal has an image of St Benedict, holding the Holy Rule in his left hand and a cross in his right. There is a raven on one side of him, with a cup on the other side of him. Around the medal’s outer margin are the words “Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur” (“May we, at our death, be fortified by His presence”). The other side of the medal has a cross with the initials CSSML on the vertical bar which signify “Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux” (“May the Holy Cross be my light”) and on the horizontal bar are the initials NDSMD which stand for “Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux” (“Let not the dragon be my overlord”). The initials CSPB stand for “Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti” (“The Cross of the Holy Father Benedict”) and are located on the interior angles of the cross. Either the inscription “PAX” (Peace) or the Christogram “IHS” may be found at the top of the cross in most cases. Around the medal’s margin on this side are the Vade Retro Satana initials VRSNSMV which stand for “Vade Retro Satana, Nonquam Suade Mihi Vana” (“Begone Satan, do not suggest to me thy vanities”) then a space followed by the initials SMQLIVB which signify “Sunt Mala Quae Libas, Ipse Venena Bibas” (“Evil are the things thou profferest, drink thou thy own poison”).[15]

Benedict depicted on a Jubilee Saint Benedict Medal for the 1400th anniversary of his birth in 1880

This medal was first struck in 1880 to commemorate the fourteenth centenary of St Benedict’s birth and is also called the Jubilee Medal; its exact origin, however, is unknown. In 1647, during a witchcraft trial at Natternberg near Metten Abbey in Bavaria, the accused women testified they had no power over Metten, which was under the protection of the cross. An investigation found a number of painted crosses on the walls of the abbey with the letters now found on St Benedict medals, but their meaning had been forgotten. A manuscript written in 1415 was eventually found that had a picture of Saint Benedict holding a scroll in one hand and a staff which ended in a cross in the other. On the scroll and staff were written the full words of the initials contained on the crosses. Medals then began to be struck in Germany, which then spread throughout Europe. This medal was first approved by Pope Benedict XIV in his briefs of 23 December 1741, and 12 March 1742.[15]

The Feast of the Federal Estate Tax

Rembrandt The Return of the Prodigal Son
Rembrandt van Rijn, “The Return of the Prodigal Son” (c. 1661-1669).  Note the seated figure to the right.  Art historians speculate that he represents an estate advisor or tax collector.

SEPTEMBER 8, 2016 we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Federal Estate Tax.  It is indeed a date to celebrate as the Federal Estate Tax represents the best in progressive tax and socio economic policy.  The tax as presently constituted affects less than 1% of the wealthiest American families.  However, over the years, a sizeable lobby has developed demanding the elimination of the tax.  Those lobbies use inaccurate characterizations and incomplete evidence to argue their claims that the estate tax is a burden upon the average American rather than an effective way to fight income and wealth disparity. Few Americans other than the most wealthy are actually affected by the tax.

I am re-publishing an article I received from the Social Sciences Research Network which is a law review article published in the Akron Law Review, Volume 49, Page 328.  The article was written by Professor Richard Gershon of the University of Mississippi Law School.  The article is the result of Professor Gershon’s moderating role in a tax policy  seminar held at the law school.

I am posting this for all to read lawyers and nonlawyers alike. It is written is direct plain language with a minimum  of legalese and should be easily read by anyone.  I welcome any questions or comments.


Richard Gershon∗

(Table of Contents Omitted)


The federal estate tax will reach its 100th birthday on September 8, 2016.1 Most centenarians are celebrated for making it 100 years. They are congratulated on morning news shows, and people send them nice cards. Sadly, the estate tax’s birthday will likely go largely unnoticed. During most of its 100 years, the tax has had detractors calling for its immediate demise, even though the tax has historically affected only the estates of the wealthiest 1-8% of American families.2 Today, fewer than 1% of families incur the tax.3 This Essay explores the reasons why taxpayers despise the estate tax when it is very unlikely that those taxpayers, or their families, will ever have to pay it. Furthermore, this Essay supports the retention of the estate tax. The remainder of this Essay discusses the socio-economic value of keeping the estate tax, enacted “to raise revenue during a time of war, enhance the progressivity of the tax system, and curb concentrations of wealth,” all of which are just as important today as they were 100 years ago.4

To read the full article click below:

The Socio Economics of The Federal Estate Tax: why Do So Many People Hate (or Love) This Centenarian?