The new wave of liberal politicians have hit a new political low.
Historians will remember the familiar patterns seen in Nazi Germany, Communist Soviet Union, and liberal Mexico. As the parties in power begin their campaigns to shape their constituent’s allegiance, they set their eyes on churches. German pastors who oppose the Nationalist Socialist party were arrested. Church land is seized in Communist Soviet Union. And Catholic schools were closed in Mexico in the early 20th century.
During last weeks LGBT townhall meeting for Democrat presidential candidates, when asked if churches should lose tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage, the former El Paso congressman, Beto O’Rourke answered:
“Yes…There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone, or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us,” he added… So as president we’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing on the rights of our fellow Americans.”1
As if evidence was needed prior to this, make no mistake, the new ideas of liberalism in the United States is set on punishing the Church.
When an entire presidential townhall meeting is directed toward “LGBT” stuff, that should demonstrate the power that personal autonomy and ultra-liberalism, disguised as caring for a disenfranchised community, have on the political landscape. It is now mainstream — cheered and celebrated — for a presidential candidate to publicly endorse punishing religious institutions for their spiritual convictions.
There is no telling where we go from here, other than to know that history has a way of repeating itself. It is entirely possible that the next president could cash in on Beto’s promise; that churches who confess traditional orthodox sexual ethics can be punished in terms of tax-liability.
For those who think this would be unconstitutional, remember that in 1983, in the case of Bob Jones University v. the United States, it was decided that removing the tax-exempt status of the university because its student policy forbade interracial marriage was entirely constitutional. In other words, the First Amendment protecting religious institutions does not guarantee them tax-exempt status.
There are good political arguments for protecting religious institution’s tax-exempt status (Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition makes a good case), but let’s suppose those arguments fall on deaf ears. If the churches that aren’t woke enough to embrace LGBT lifestyles as not sinful lose their tax-exempt status, no doubt many would be in jeopardy of closing their doors.
What is the Church in the United States to do?
Put your money where your mouth is
The first thing the individuals of the Church must do is put their money where their mouth is. I think its safe to say that all Christians in the United States stand to reflect on how we give of our resources to our churches. Just keeping the church building habitable costs time, energy, planning, and, of course, money. If we are not already pouring a good amount of our resources into our churches, this new threat should cause us to reevaluate our contributions.
This obviously includes our monetary contributions, but it should also cause us to think about how we can contribute our time and energy. I doubt that there are many churches that are “overstaffed” with wise, educated, godly laypersons. So rather than assume that your church will pay to staff itself with full-time ministers, see how you can contribute your time and energy as a volunteer minister.
Now if you’re thinking that you do not have the background to be even a volunteer minister, perhaps you are right. So that should prompt you to prepare yourself for ministry. We should strive to prepare ourselves for unpaid ministry as vigorously as we strive for that next career or education goal. We should, at the expense of our own leisure time and pleasure, commit ourselves to becoming wise, educated, and godly to bring those gifts to your church.
This might involve theological training, or discipleship, or mentorship, or just volunteering at any ministry opportunity with the express purpose of growing in our abilities to serve the Church.
The Church as Institution
The Church is an institution, in that it is a social mechanisms for repeatedly producing specific outcomes. As such, the Church has specific goals it ought to attain. We would do well to remember what those goals are because often times our churches appear to have such wide ranging goals that the main reasons for our churches to exist gets lost.
The goals of churches should be as plain as to commune with God, to grow in Christ-likeness, to serve one another in love, and to preach the Gospel. When we see the work of our churches in this simplistic way, we should realize that our churches often spend their resources on activity that does not directly contribute to the purposes of the Church.
I have been fortunate enough to attend churches that have shoe-string budgets. I say “fortunate” because it has taught me that a church does not need a huge budget and a “professional” ministerial workforce to be effectively working for the Kingdom of God.
Like any organization experience a budget shift, churches that would lose tax-exempt status should become lean and efficient.
Does a church really need a coffee shop?
Does a church need to have worship environments that look like rock concerts?
Does a church need a foyer that is decorated to look like a 5-star resort?
Does a church need elaborate community events to preach the gospel?
I’m asking these questions seriously. It appears that many churches get caught up in thinking that these are essential to doing the work of the Church, but I don’t think they are. A church need not close its doors if it cannot provide these. Therefore, losing a significant part of a church budget might mean stopping some of these practices, but not shutting down completely.
The Church as Community
The Church is also a community, in that it is made up of individuals that share life and contribute to one another. With this in mind, we should be prompted to take the work of the Church into our own hands, and homes. It fills me with joy when I hear of a church community banding together to fill a need. When troubles come, it doesn’t always need to be a pastor or church-held resources that come to aide. The entire body of Christ is responsible (and in many cases, very much able) to do the work of God.
Us Americans pride ourselves in our industriousness and innovative spirits. We usually have at least some free time and disposable income and certainly several talents. We should be directing that toward the work of our local church communities. There is no doubt that the individuals and families of our churches can provide for the spiritual and material needs of a congregation.
And while we usually think of difficult times being the times when resources are needed, that is not all.
When times are good, and the Church is afforded a time to celebrate, we should do so as community also. I grew up going to churches where there were good cooks who often lent their talents to the community, just to provide good food for gatherings.
There are almost always musicians in the church who should be filling all gatherings with music that brings us closer to God. And they should take the time to pass down their craft to the next generation of musicians.
Many of us have good homes that should be opened up on regular occasions for families to commune and grow with each other.
There are always those with vast book collections with works that edify the soul. These folks should become like libraries; literary resources for the community
There are those with theological, philosophical, and psychological training. These individuals should be used as much as they are willing; to be guides to navigate life’s difficult questions.
In short, our churches should be active and dynamic communities that are wholly focused on serving one another in our Christian walk.
Sadly, as with most forms of community these days, the church community is fading away. We have been building a culture that prizes our atomized lives; where my actions shouldn’t affect anyone and vice versa. So we scowl at a church that needs its congregants’ assistance.
We are in a culture that only trusts “professionals”; for spiritual needs as well as everything else. So we are afraid to use our talents or allow someone without the proper credentials to express theirs.
21st century Americanism is fixated on chasing dreams and pleasures, which usually means less time left over for community or serving someone or something that doesn’t contribute to my personal goals.
This is probably the biggest reason why a local church would have to close its doors if it lost its tax-exempt status. We are not good at protecting the workings of a community. We’ve been failing in the act of communal living in our cities and neighborhoods. Our deficiencies in communal living are in the church communities as well.
Please, read this as a nudge to foster community in your local church. Be encouraged to devote yourself and your resources, whatever they may be, to the people of your church. Have faith that the spirit of God will empower you to do his work in His Kingdom at your local level. Hard times may be coming, which means the community must act stronger.