Over the weekend the Oregonian published an article in which I suggest that the American Christian Church should consider giving back her tax exemption to heal one of society’s great wounds, like child hunger or health care.
As of this morning, oregonlive.com has received over 500 comments on the article and over 1800 shares on social media. Apparently, I touched a nerve… and it was a particularly raw nerve at that.
Reading through those comments has been a most enjoyable process. I love people being people.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the comments missed the point of the article. Shocker!
Here is a short excerpt:
For over 2,000 years the Church has been a revolutionary and activist movement. How can she be trusted to be the revolutionary voice she must be when she is funded by the government through tax exemptions? How can she speak freely when her economic viability is ever at risk of being taken away? How can she speak out against racism, prejudice and hatred, against unimaginable economic inequity against hunger, sickness and the violent death to our youngest citizens when she is sucking on the teat of the Fatherland?
This act of extreme voluntary generosity would force churches to radically reassess their finances.The impact would be significant. The Church’s innumerable and often strategically placed properties would need to diversify their uses and revenue streams. Pastors may need to become bi-vocational and therefore work alongside their unchurched neighbors. Parishioners may need to vastly increase their investment and participation in their spiritual communities and neighborhoods.
Comments fixated on my apparently profane suggestion that the church give up a portion of her precious (Oh, My Precious) financial security and the dubious nature of the American taxation system.
I actually believe that a careful reassessment of the church’s relationship to the State is a debate the church should take very seriously. Also, the people of God should be ever aware of the complicated relationship of the gospel to money (if I remember correctly, there are 38 passages in the Gospels where Jesus addresses money/taxes, which is more than “sin”, “forgiveness” or even his pending crucification.)
“You cannot serve both God and Money”
However, I wrote the article for different reasons. The tax question was almost a Trojan Horse to encourage a conversation about the Church’s IDENTITY, not her ECONOMY.
The three main points of the article, seemed to completely allude many readers:
- A call for the Church to return to her calling to be a healing force in the world. To deemphasize the focus on salaries, facilities and programs and heed the deafening cry of the hungry, the sick and the poor. To enter into the radical lifestyle of our Peasant Messiah, who did not have a home and yet eradicated whole regions of disease (Luke 4:38-40) and stopped to satisfy all who were hungry (Luke 9:12-17.)
- An appeal to the Church to seriously consider her relevancy in the conversation of society today. We are not even in the conversation anymore and most Christians don’t even realize it. And by the way, the Church of Rome is kicking our ass down the street and back again (God bless Pope Francis). The American Church has been reduced (or has reduced herself) to a marginalized sub-culture. There are only two ways for a marginalized group to get noticed: Violence or Radical Love/Generosity/Humility. I vote for LOVE.
- Finally, to soberly weigh the social, emotional, psychological, imaginative and activistic impact of the Church taking such a sizable financial contribution from the government year after year after year. Conservatives deride the impact of becoming a welfare society, but isn’t the church on a sort of welfare system? And whether or not you think America is a unjust society today in need of the Church’s uncompromised prophetic voice, the day will come (if it hasn’t already) when she will need to take up the mantle of John the Baptist, Bonhoeffer and Tutu. Are we willing to speak when we must… come what may?
I look forward to your comments.