Article 2: Should Churches Receive Funds From The Government?
by Jim Garlow and Frank Kacer
We are in unprecedented times…
No one in America – or in most countries – has experienced a pandemic. The last major one in the US was 102 years ago. No one – unless you are 106 years of age – who is living in the US can remember 1918. Therefore, we cannot rely on “past experience.”
Included in the “unprecedented” is the economic impact. Not since the Great Depression and the days of the Dust Bowl (1929 to early 1930s) has America experienced a governmental response in the economic arena to this magnitude. Our government has responded by passing a “stimulus” package. In actuality, it does not “stimulate” the economy. It is more of a “relief” package.
What is likely not known by many is that funds are being offered to churches as well, as they are or will soon begin to be impacted. This is unique.
That raises an interesting question:
Should churches receive funds from the government? Yes? No?
The bottom line: There’s no biblical prohibition for a church receiving funds from the government. However (and this is an important “however”) if there are any strings attached, it should be declined. This is so important that we need to purposely restate this: If there are any strings attached from the government, funds should be declined.
Furthermore, God has provided the method for funding the church: tithing. So that raises the obvious question: Are there the proverbial “strings attached” in the relief package that might apply to churches?
Possibly. But probably not. At this point, it appears that there is a “religious exemption” from any requirements. However, more clarification is needed. How does one process this issue?
Based on what we know at this point,
here are the 14 key principles to think through.
1.) NON-TAXATION: There’s good biblical warrant for governments to not tax churches (Genesis 47:13-26; Mark 12:13-17) since that would inhibit ministry, and we all know that the power to tax is the power to destroy.
2.) RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: We have Constitutional protections against being unnecessarily encumbered by government either through laws or regulations (The 1st Amendment). Religious freedom is a biblical principle as stated in Joshua 24:15, “choose today whom you will serve.”
3.) INABILITY TO FUNCTION NORMALLY: Many of the local, state, and federal governmentally imposed COVID-19 restrictions have hampered the church’s (and faith-based organization’s) ability to fulfill their biblical mandate to minister to the needs of people in one of their most important ways: the weekly worship service. Furthermore, the churches reduced ability to meet temporal needs creates an even larger need for “social services” that the government must then provide.
4.) ECONOMIC CHALLENGES FOR CHURCHES: Government COVID-19 restrictions have both directly and indirectly impacted the ability of churches and faith-based organizations in their ability to receive routine and direct voluntary financial, material and labor support provided by believers to fulfill their critical ministry commitments.
5.) CHURCHES INCLUDED IN RELIEF PACKAGE: It’s reasonable that government is willing to defray some of the loss that they have forced churches and faith-based organizations to shoulder in order to prevent or lasting harm to ministry, in the same way, it is happening in business.
6.) IF STRINGS ARE ATTACHED: However, if government has “strings” attached in any form to the support they provide it should be rejected, no matter how benign, since it would set the precedent of an obligation of some kind towards government. Any strings attached would violate the above tenets of not encumbering ministry. For example, careful analysis needs to occur that would require hiring persons outside the faith of the church. Careful attention should be given to make certain that there are no hidden SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identification) requirements that clearly run counter to biblical truth.
7.) ASSUMING NO STRINGS ATTACHED: If government provides support with no strings of any kind attached, it would seem that it is making a reasonable “good faith” effort to help “make whole” that which the government has unintentionally harmed by the ban on people assembling. In God’s pattern, the government and the church are not to be oppositional. They are to work together for truth, justice and righteousness to flourish.
8.) ONLY TEMPORARY: If, however, help from the government is accepted, it cannot continue for any extended time frame since that would breed dependence upon government as a continuing source of active support.
9.) TITHING: God’s pattern for supporting the work of the church is tithing – believers bringing one-tenth of their income.
10.) DILIGENCE REQUIRED: Any receipt of government support must to continually reviewed to ensure the conditions of acceptance have not been changed by the government. It is imperative that the church not compromise its message in any way.
11.) CHURCH CAN DECLINE: Remember that any church and faith-based organization is not under any obligation to accept government help, even if there are no strings attached. Pastors and church leaders should not be criticized if they decide not to accept governmental support. On the other hand, there should likewise be no criticism of pastors and church leaders who would accept funds, so long as the above issues were carefully scrutinized.
12.) ANALYZING/EXPLAINING ACCEPTING SUPPORT: In making a decision, consider the future. Looking back five years from now would you be able to show a rough estimate of the financial burden borne by your church or faith-based organization because of COVID-19 restrictions, as well as the amount of support the government provided? This may be needed in order to clearly articulate to others what the rationale was in accepting support.
13.) BE AWARE OF ANY FUTURE POTENTIAL ABUSE BY GOVERNMENT ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: Finally, whether governmental support is provided (and taken) or not, the decision may set a precedent for future “crises” and potentially draconian governmental responses that could create great harm for ministry along with strong temptations to accept any “strings” that may be attached
14.) GOD: He alone is our protector. We affirm what our President, Vice President, the Coronavirus Task Force, Congress, Governors and Mayors are doing. We affirm them. But ultimately they cannot save us. Only God can. Whether a church receives or does not receive funds from the government during these exigent times, IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT WE REMEMBER THAT ULTIMATELY GOD IS OUR BANKER AND JESUS IS STILL KING. Only God can preserve us. This is a splendid opportunity to run to Him. To cry out to Him. With our God, we can walk confidently forward, knowing that regardless of what comes in the future – God will see us through this.
This list is not exhaustive, but it is our attempt to “make a first pass” on this issue.
We welcome your feedback. Periodically, we will offer our insights into policy matters. However, in most newsletters, we will give you an update on Well Versed ministry happenings. Let us know if this special “policy issue” was helpful to you.
We pray blessings on you,
Dr. Jim Garlow
CEO, Well Versed
Director of Research, Well Versed