Texas Church Shooting • Proposed Tax Plan • Abuse Lawsuit: News Roundup
This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
Texas Church Shooting • Proposed Tax Plan • Abuse Lawsuit: News Roundup

Twenty-Six Churchgoers Killed in Texas Mass Shooting. “During its 11 a.m. worship service, a Southern Baptist church in rural Texas suffered not only America’s latest mass shooting but the deadliest church shooting in US history. At least 26 worshipers, ranging in ages from 5 to 72, have died from First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, according to Texas authorities. Another 20 worshipers were injured. YouTube videos of the church’s weekly service indicate that recent Sundays drew about 50 attendees. … The Texas tragedy is only the 14th mass murder at an American house of worship since 1963, according to statistics compiled by church security expert Carl Chinn. … ‘The prevailing problem is denial,’ said Chinn. ‘People think, “It won’t happen here.” If they were following the news, they would know it’s happening at small churches in small towns and big churches in big cities. The denial is worse in churches because we believe God will protect us,’ he told CT. ‘I believe God will protect us … but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to be intentional about security’” (“Texas Shooting Kills 26 at Southern Baptist Church,” Christianity Today).

Couple Killed Outside California Church. “Manuel Garcia was waiting for his estranged wife and her new boyfriend when they came out of church in the central California city of Fresno, authorities said. The Garcias had raised four children in 43 years of marriage—but a month ago, Martha Garcia filed for divorce, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer told reporters. Shortly after, Martha Garcia told family and friends that there was a new man in her life. The new couple had attended a 7:30 a.m. Mass at St. Alphonsus Church on Sunday. An hour later, officers were called to the church parking lot, where they found the couple in a car, both with gunshot wounds to the head. Martha Garcia was dead. Her boyfriend, whose identity has not been released, died a little while later. Manuel Garcia, authorities said, killed them both. The shooting was the first deadly act of violence at an American house of worship on Sunday [November 5]. It shocked the Fresno community but received little attention outside the region and was soon eclipsed by the killing of 26 churchgoers in a Texas town 1,350 miles away” (“The other deadly church shooting in America on Sunday,” The Washington Post).

Find articles and a free downloadable resource to help protect your church from gun violence.

Proposed Republican Tax Plan Repeals Prohibition Against Church Political Activity. “U.S. religious entities would be allowed to engage in political activity without the risk of losing their tax-exempt status under a Republican proposal to overhaul the tax code unveiled on Thursday, a move that could give influential community leaders more latitude to try to influence voters. The plan would eliminate a provision in the tax code known as the ‘Johnson Amendment,’ which prohibits churches from using church resources to encourage voting for or against a candidate. A religious leader can currently endorse a candidate in their personal capacity, but they cannot do so within the confines of their church, mosque or synagogue or use their staff to help a candidate. Supporters say it will increase religious liberty. Opponents say it will allow political leaders to pressure churches and allow some churches to be turned into political operations. The change would apply to all religious groups that register as non-profits, including places of worship for Christians, Muslims and Jews” (“Republican tax plan would let churches enter political fray,” Reuters).

What would a repeal of the Johnson Amendment look like for churches? Read this blog post to find out more, and order the 2018 Church & Clergy Tax Guide for thorough coverage of US tax laws as they apply to churches.

Church’s Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Ends in Settlement. “Members of Vanceburg Christian Church learned Sunday [October 29] that a civil lawsuit filed against the church nearly a year ago has been settled. Clayton ‘Buddy’ Lykins Jr., an elder at the church, told those attending services Sunday morning about the development and added the agreement prohibits the general disclosure of the terms of the settlement agreement. ‘In December of last year, as many of you know, our church was the target of a lawsuit filed by a teenage boy, alleging that our former pastor, Duncan Aker, sexually abused him. The incident occurred a number of years ago,’ Lykins told those who had gathered for Sunday morning services at the church. ‘Mr. Aker has not been associated with our church for the last seven years.’ Aker was the minister at Vanceburg Christian Church between 2006 and 2011. ‘Also, last year, Mr. Aker pled guilty to sexual abuse of the young boy, which opened up the church to possibly be liable to the youth in a civil lawsuit,’ Lykins said. … ‘Because of the expense of attorneys and the legal process, and the uncertainty of the outcome of a trial, the church leaders have decided to enter into a settlement with the young boy's attorneys to end the lawsuit,’ Lykins said on Sunday. ‘Well over 90 percent of civil lawsuits end with a settlement, and after much discussion, consultation, reflection and prayer, the leaders of this church determined that was the best solution to this very difficult matter’” (“Settlement reached in Vanceburg church lawsuit,” The Ledger Independent).

Our newly revised Reducing the Risk training program will help your church implement processes and best practices to avoid tragic incidents and costly legal battles.

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Emily Lund is assistant editor for Church Law & Tax.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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