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. I wrote a follow up to that article here.
The suggestion stirred some great discussion (2000 shares and over 500 comments on Oregonian site, hundreds more on social media.) Most people feel passionately that trusting the government with more money would be a mistake. So, I offer this alternative (warning, you aren’t going to like it any more):
The vast majority of critical comments insist that partnering with government is a non-starter. They are also equally convinced that the church is already doing a much better job of curing societal ills (even though there is only isolated and anecdotal evidence offered.)
I am basically demanding that this conversation begins with a comprehensive strategy of generosity and humility to cure one or more of society’s ills, like child hunger or lack of access to healthcare, issues that are plaguing the poor.
Why comprehensive? Because, like my friend Ken Loyd says, when we pray “Give us this day our daily bread”, the prayer makes absolutely no sense until we define who the US is in that prayer. And from a Jesus-gospel perspective the US must include our neighbor and Jesus is rather inconvenient in insisting that our “neighbor” is the stranger, the foreigner and the discarded person in need of care and medical assistance.
So, if you want to keep the tax money in the pockets of churches, if you reject partnering with government’s nation-wide structure and if we embrace Jesus’ call to impact all people (John 3:16, John 13:34-35, Matthew 25:34-40) then I offer this simple suggestion:
Draw static church parish boundaries. Each church is responsible for one unambiguous, non-theoretical chunk of the American map.
And that chunk of map, be it 10 square blocks or half a rural county, one church, one integrated community of Jesus dedicated servants are RESPONSIBLE for that space.
- Every empty child’s tummy, that Church is responsible
- Every isolated elderly person, that Church is responsible
- Every scared and unresourced immigrant, that Church is responsible
- Every act of violence, that Church is responsible
- Every sick or hurting person, that Church is responsible
- Every kid struggling to read, that Church is responsible
- Every home that can’t afford heat, that Church is responsible
- Every rusted pipe carrying undrinkable water, that Church is responsible
- Every ex-con struggling to reintegrate, that Church is responsible
- Every single parent raising young children, that Church is responsible
- Every abuse of power, violence against citizenry, act of economic injustice, caste displacement, developer bullying or preferential distribution of opportunities…
That Church is Responsible
One of the immediate objections will be that congregations are not defined by a fixed geography, so why should the church’s mission field? To that I say, maybe it is time to rethink church congregational formation. Maybe it is time to make congregational identity just as unambiguous and non-theoretical as a parish understanding of mission.
Another objection will be the inequity of parish responsibility across the country. In some locations, churches will be left with only half a block (places with churches on every corner), while in my beloved Portland, churches will be responsible for dozens and dozens of square blocks. Well, that conundrum will significantly redefine how we do mission in America. Cross country-church partnership and resource redistribution will become paramount to meeting the national need. This will have both geographic and rich/poor church applications.
Finally and most foundational, many will reject this idea out of hand because it is just too impractical, too difficult and too inconvenient.
Now, if, when you imagine a parish orientation for churches, if you cannot see how such an organizational structure would massively and comprehensively provide for the forgotten, the hungry, the marginalized and the voiceless in this country, than I look forward to hearing about your alternative strategy in the comments below.
However, if you reject this concept out of hand because you think it is too impractical, too difficult and too inconvenient, then shame on you. I don’t even want to know you. The work of God, the love of neighbor… to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly… these have never been easy or convenient.
But these are how the world gets changed.