Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, Literally

On a blog I read the writer was talking about giving books away. He said that when he gives books to his church he asks them to make put the value of the books into the building fund in his name, then he reduces the amount of money he puts into the building fund by that amount. By doing that, he feels like he is avoiding the money changers in the temple issue, which caused Jesus to overturn their tables. It took me a little bit to figure out what he is doing. I even had to draw it out on paper, just to get it clear in my head.

It works something like this: Let’s say the church has a library or a bookstore. The author gives the library some number of books. Let’s say they are worth $50. Rather than paying the author for the books, the librarian has the church treasurer transfer $50 from the library fund to the building fund. At this point, the building fund has an extra $50 and the library has broken even. Had the author not donated the books, he would have given $100 to the building fund, but now, he gives only $50 to the building fund.

In actual fact, no one is getting robbed here, though it seems like a round about way of doing things. The author is donating $100 to the church, though it comes in the form of money and books. The library is purchasing books, but instead of paying the author directly, they are paying him indirectly. The only real difference here is that the church treasurer doesn’t have to cut the author a check.

This kind of thing could get complicated after a while. I am the clerk of an association that our church is a member of. As the clerk, I get a small salary. I’ve forgotten how much it is, but it is less than the amount of money our church gives the association each year, which is less then the amount of money I give the church. I could have our church reduce the amount of money they give the association by the amount of my salary, then I could reduce the amount of money I give the church by the amount of my salary and I wouldn’t have to write myself a check. As far as I know there is no difference in tax responsibility by doing that, so there’s no reason not to do that, other than it is so confusing. It is much easier to write a check to the church, let the church write a check to the association and then as a representative of the association write a check to myself.

I don’t know that this has any significance of any kind, but I just think it’s interesting the trouble that people will go to in order to avoid doing something they believe is wrong and yet do something that in the end will turn out with exactly the same results as the thing they are trying to avoid.