For Pastor Bruce Allen of Orlando’s University Baptist Church, the 1,820-square-foot parsonage he calls home is more than enough for him, his wife and their three boys.
Allen is modest, just like his home. The yellow, four-bedroom house with a small patio is nice enough, but assessed at just $84,764, it comes in below the current median price point in Orlando.
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The owners of the Holy Land Experience must think Allen — and most other local ministers — are really roughing it. No pool. No fancy outdoor summer kitchen. No waterfront views or boat docks.
TBN attempted to have two side-by-side mansions on Windermere’s Lake Down classified as parsonages. A nifty little legality that would have saved the company about $50,000 each year in property taxes on the homes valued at $1.3 million and $1.4 million. TBN paid $1.8 million and $1.9 million for the homes in 2009.
The company already finagled a tax break on its theme park property by calling it a church, a move that Orange County Property Appraiser Bill Donegan fought and lost. Perhaps TBN thought it could win a couple of parsonage designations, too.
But Donegan said the denial was a no-brainer. Florida’s statute is pretty clear: parsonages must be the full-time homes of clergy, not second-homes or occasional accommodations for people other than clergy associated with the church, as TBN uses them.
For many churches and their clergy, the parsonage makes up for low pay, plus it allows the pastor to focus on the church’s mission.
Parsonages are not luxury quarters for a few days or weeks when you jet into town on your private plane. You know, like Jan and Paul Crouch, the husband and wife leaders of the TBN evangelical empire.
The Holy Land Experience is an attraction off Interstate 4 at Conroy Road. Its owners claim it’s a religious organization, not a theme park.
With the help of state lawmakers, it won a fight to remain tax-exempt. However, Trinity Broadcasting is seeking tax-exempt status for a 5-bedroom, 4 1/2-bath house with a boat dock that was bought for $1.9 million.
Another home, a similar size house with a spa and summer kitchen, was purchased for $1.8 million. TBN claimed the homes were used as parsonages or homes where the pastor of a church lives.
Donegan said TBN founder, Jan Crouch, claimed to live permanently in one of the homes, but records proved otherwise.
Last week The Orlando Sentinel reported that Trinity Broadcasting Network’s attempts to have an appraiser reclassify the two lakefront mansions as parsonages to avoid the county’s property tax didn’t have a prayer.
Sarah K. Clarke explains
the Property Appraiser’s Office decided “the property is being used more as a substitute for hotel accommodations rather than as a parsonage for religious purposes.” Neither home fit the definition of a parsonage, it concluded, because the people using them were administrators more than they were clergy.
According to property-appraiser records, the county denied the request for religious tax exemptions last year, though the issue came to light only recently as part of a lawsuit filed in Southern California.
A relative, by marriage, of the granddaughter of Trinity Broadcasting’s two founders has accused the network of illegal behavior and misuse of funds, including its representation of mansions as church guest homes or parsonages in such well-known locales as Miami; Nashville, Tenn.; Newport Beach, Calif.; Irving, Texas; Costa Mesa, Calif.; and Lake Arrowhead, Calif.
The vast difference between the extravagance of the properties owned by TBN and the run-of-the-mill homes like the one where Pastor Clare Watson Chance lives is rooted in differences in theology.
The Crouches of TBN practice a “prosperity theology,” or the idea that God wants good Christians to be wealthy, and that pastors need to set that example.
Chance, of Broadway United Methodist Church, and many other ministers see the gospel much differently.
“The Bible is really clear about being balanced,” she said. “About not loving your money more than you love your brother or sister who is in need.”
“Most people in ministry that I know, they didn’t get into it for the money,” said Allen of University Baptist. “They know that their reward is in heaven so they don’t pursue that kind of thing here on earth.”
That’s another big difference from TBN. According to the group’s tax forms, Paul Crouch took a salary of $399,256 in 2010, while Jan Crouch earned $364,256.
Many Christians refer to the Trinity Broadcasting Network as The Blasphemy Channel due to the large number of heretical teachers the station hosts (not to mention the unbiblical teachings and practices promoted by Jan and Paul Crouch).