Monday, June 29, 2015

Caesar Giveth and Caesar Taketh Away

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it provided that we continue to be able to make tax deductible contributions to local religious organizations. (Matthew 16:18, Post-Christendom Standard Version)
The initial fallout over the tyrannical imposition of "gay marriage" on America is largely past. The playground chest thumping from Trash-Talker-In-Chief Obama has run its course and social media has moved on to other issues for the most part. Behind the scenes however, this is still a live issue. Both sides are already bracing for the next steps, homosexual activists breathlessly imagining what else they can do to quash dissent and religious conservative girding for the next battle that they are going to lose. I was writing a little longer post on my thoughts for the church in the days to come but I came across a post from Denny Burk at The Federalist, Ending Tax Exemptions Means Ending Churches, that I thought worthwhile to comment on. His driving point was a premature call to end tax-exempt status for religious organizations in the New York Times. I don't think the judiciary has the stomach for that just yet but it will.

I also think a lot of confused liberal Christians and religious "progressives" are in for a shock when their presumed buddies in the "gay marriage" movement turn on them as well and their "progressive" churches also lose their tax-exempt status but maybe they don't care since they have already been doing a great job of committing religious suicide over the years anyway. If there is no one there to put money in the plate, does it really matter if the nonexistent contribution would have been tax-deductible?

Burk is correct that "gay marriage" was never the real point of this entire fight but his response to the next inevitable step of the homosexual movement and the dream of the progressive Left forever, the elimination of tax-exempt status for churches and other religious groups is more telling than the actual topic itself. According to Burk, "After I posted a link to his article on Facebook, a pastor friend commented: “I’m not sure our small church could survive.”' What a sad commentary on the church that love and fellowship is not enough, we rely on tax-exemptions to survive. Burk goes on to say:
No, the real intent of removing tax-exempt status is to cripple the institutions that continue their dissent from the sexual revolution. When tax exemptions are removed, donors will give far less than they are giving now. Churches will become liable to property taxes. That means that many churches will have to forfeit their property to the government because they won’t be able to afford the taxes they have to pay on it. Many of them wouldn’t be able to pay them now. If donations went down, they would be that much further from being able to pay them. As a result, churches that reside on valuable properties in urban locations would be immediately vulnerable. Eventually, so would everyone else.
As I said, I agree that is one of the next steps we will see in short order but I see it somewhat differently. That statement exposes one of the major flaws in organized religion, namely that it is primarily focused on self-preservation. How in the world did the church survive without preferential tax treatment and still care for the poor and the widow? Well it did so by not saddling itself with debt, expensive property and permanent salaried staff. Burk is part of the religious establishment that churns out "ministers" that need jobs, jobs that are funded by the tax-deductible contributions of Christians and other religious folks. If he is correct, and I am certain he is, and donations to local religious organizations rapidly dry up when they stop being tax-deductible, that probably will mean fewer "churches" and commensurately fewer jobs for ministers, which more bi-vocational ministers who enter the clergy later in life and are less likely to seek formal theological education and even more purely voluntary church leaders who have regular jobs and don't depend on the church for a living. That is probably bad news for the Religious-Industrial Complex known as the seminary system, especially the numerous degree mills that church out worthless M.Divs, but I don't think it is all that bad for the church.

It is hardly the end of the church if we have to sell off our expensive property that sits empty most of the week and the clergy has to get regular jobs instead of depending on checks from widows. Quite the opposite. For a church in the wilderness, on the margins of society, it is far more healthy. People are less than interested in our religious rituals, our crappy pseudo-pop "praise music" and our carefully sanitized "church" experience that seems like a religious version of a theme park ride. It is going to take some getting used to but being a peculiar, distinct people within a broader society is going to be wonderful because it will of necessity require us to depend on one another and I for one would rather stand next to my brother in the face of persecution than face off against my brother in our competition for "members" and money.

I have more, a lot more, to say about this but that will have to wait for my next post (unless something else more interesting pops up first!)

4 comments:

Aussie John said...

Arthur,

If we understand that the "church" is people, not property and bank accounts, we might find ourselves being more focused on being a small, but functioning part of the Church Jesus is building. Our witness to the King of Kings will need to be more public instead of hidden in our pretenses of worship.

Anonymous said...

amen. right on the mark and well said! Thank you
Todd

Drewe said...

Putting this one out there... Not that I don't agree we need a change of heart and a return to the core. I've lived in both the US and Australia, so have seen multiple systems of government\church interaction.

In Aus we have some tax deductions for churches (eg - their income is not taxable in some cases) - but giving to anything religious is not tax deductible and never has been for an individual. So giving is lower here in some respects, as there is no 'personal gain' to give - but churches are still getting by. I know a church near here who just borrowed $2M to build a new sanctuary - so they are getting enough funds (and I don't want to debate that one - I don't agree with everything they do). We need more parking at our church because of growth (there is just nowhere to park anymore in a full service) - just the block of land next to our church would cost $750K - and not a single donation would be tax deductible.

And yet the church goes on fine. Yes - we are tighter than the US church, in a way more responsible, but the church gets by, with paid clergy and property. Yes - on a lesser scale, but it still gets by.

Neil Braithwaite said...

The churches of man have no one to blame but themselves for this problem. Read the study I wrote a long time ago making this point. Becoming yoked with the State has never worked out well for the church. http://honorgodsword.blogspot.com/2014/08/church-wars-consequence-of-being-out-of.html