There have been rumblings in this direction for decades and the recent SCOTUS ruling will serve to highlight the increasing chasm between the declining standards of secular society and, at least the appearance of, more conservative (read narrow and hateful in the opinion of liberals) standards of the church. The number of articles which have come out in recent days in support of eliminating the tax exempt status of churches and Christian NGOs (like Habitat for Humanity), has surged. This includes one which showed up on our facebook thread this morning because someone “liked” it. Seriously, you must “like” economic chaos!
Here are the facts. If tax exempt status is removed, many (perhaps most) Christians will continue to give to the church as our motive is not the tax deduction, but rather another of those outdated and ridiculous practices promoted in the Bible (read sarcasm). Where the real hurt will come is with the church’s and Christian NGO’s discretionary money to give, build or serve benevolently. For example, our church gives away boxes of groceries to many in need every week and even has a Sunday each month where congregants can take a bag of groceries home to give to a neighbor in need. This is just a portion of what our church does of a charitable nature and it adds up to 10s of thousands of dollars each year. Remove tax exempt status and this is no longer an expense for the church and taxes will have to be paid on that money. The same is true for the support of all missionaries both foreign and domestic along with the regular giving of money for utility bills, medications or other miscellaneous support for those in need. It would likely cut the church’s ability to give by 30 – 50% even if giving remained at a constant level.
Since churches and Christian NGOs account for almost 75% of the support, training, housing and feeding of the poor & needy, the government would never be able to fill the gap. When you consider the top heavy “overhead” and waste, which is the US government, the additional tax dollars gained would be minimal and would be managed far less efficiently. The Brooking Institute recently did a study in which looked at just one type of social program. When the government’s efficiency was compared to the Archdiocese of NY in performing this service, the Catholic Church was able to serve a proportionate number of people with 1 church worker for every 50 government workers for the same equivalent service. It has been regularly proven that government programs spend over 70% on administration cost compared to an average of less than 30% for private charities.
Am I saying that all churches and Christian NGOs operate with honor? Absolutely not! There are gross abuses by those who claim to serve Jesus (who had no place to lay His head) while arrogantly lavishing upon themselves six and seven figure incomes, mansions, luxury cars and more (was that a rant? – I digress!). But even with those embarrassments to Jesus and the church, the vast majority of these organizations serve honorably and efficiently both in the US and around the world.
Here is just one example: Habitat for Humanity, founded in 1976 by a Christian couple Millard and Linda Fuller, and whose mission statement is “Seeking to put God’s love into action” and is self described as a “Christian housing ministry”. They have recently passed the 1 million home mark representing housing for almost 2 percent of the entire population of the US. The value of those homes is estimated to be over 125 billion. The manner in which the housing is provided requires “sweat equity” work on the house (minimum of 500 hours) and the ability to make the reduced mortgage payments by the prospective residents. Those payments normally represent about 50% of the norm for the area and when a certain portion of the mortgage is successfully repaid; there is a portion which is then forgiven. Mortgage payments from existing Habitat houses pay for the raw materials for future houses which in turn increases their ability to build more houses. I double dog dare you to find any government program which can make claims anywhere near the nature of this single example of Christian service to our nation.
Arthur C. Brooks point out in his book “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism”, that the conservative Christian right is far more giving than the supposed “compassionate” liberal left. And even amongst the liberal left, the ones who do give are predominantly those with religious motivations in spite of their left leaning views.
When all of these factors are taken into account, the simple fact is that America could never fill the gap or survive the devastating financial impact of removing tax exempt status from Church and para-church organizations.
So I ask, just how important is it to secular liberal society to discredit and destroy the church along with Christian based charitable organizations? Trust me, they really do hate us that much and will likely not even consider what the fallout will be. So get ready, it’s going to be a rough ride!