With most major newspapers in Missouri criticizing the long-standing, common-sense idea of churches having federal tax-exemptions, I wonder if their reasoning is based on a lust for more taxes or do they just hate faith-based institutions? Are they consumed with socialist ideology, blinding them to the truth? The media clamors for their First Amendment rights, yet argue against pastors having theirs, lest their church lose its tax-exempt status.
Now comes Georgetown University Professors Brian and Melissa Grim. Their published study, “The Socio-economic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis,” blows a hole in the argument against churches and faith-based institutions losing their tax-exempt status. Here’s a summary:
• Religion in the U.S. contributes $1.2 trillion each year to our economy and society. Religion’s impact is more than the annual revenues of Apple, Amazon and Google combined.
At this moment Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Disaster Relief teams are with fellow volunteers from other state conventions, providing relief aid to Hurricane Florence victims in North Carolina. Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief has become the third-largest relief organization in the nation, just behind the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. But there’s more. Just think of the services provided by churches and faith-based organizations like food pantries (St. Louis-area churches just recently prepared 900,000 meals), homeless shelters, pregnancy resource centers, hospitals, parochial schools and clothing “closets.”
Other findings by the Grim study:
• Despite declining religious affiliation in the American population, religious organizations have tripled the amount of money spent on social programs in the last 15 years – to $9 billion. A chunk of that aids U.S. foreign policy. Think of the services provided to foreign nations through organizations like Baptist Global Response and many others.
• Churches lead the way in divorce recovery. Divorce is largely a government-created mess because of policies like no-fault divorce. Churches and faith-based organizations are also responsible for 130,000 alcohol and drug abuse recovery programs.
• Churches and faith-based organizations offer 94,000 programs that support veterans and their families. This is particularly important as the Department of Veterans Affairs suffers through poor management and a lack of funding (President Trump is correcting).
• People of faith provide 26,000 programs to prevent HIV/AIDS and to support those living with the disease. While the Christian church will never accept same-sex marriage, they never stop loving people and supporting those who are sick.
• Faith-based organizations offer 121,000 skills training programs for unemployed adults. As the Trump economy booms, skilled workers are a necessity and wages are sure to increase. This will strengthen the family unit by stabilizing their finances.
All this is happening as people of faith encounter attacks on religious liberty and increasing skepticism regarding religion’s contribution to the common good. Same-sex marriage advocates threaten people’s freedom, who because of their faith, cannot accept their lifestyle. Some 63 percent of atheists and agnostics believe that religious institutions contribute little or nothing to society.
The Kansas City Star recently published an opinion article criticizing churches’ tax-exempt status unless they give up their freedom of speech. The writer criticized Missouri Attorney General Joshua Hawley for supporting the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which threatens pastors with the loss of their church’s tax-exempt status for speaking out against – or for – candidates. I thought the First Amendment guaranteed freedom of speech for all Americans? The opinion writer went on to quote liberal Baptist preacher Tony Campolo: “Mixing the church and state is like mixing ice cream with cow manure. It may not do much to the manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream.”
That’s cute, but it’s not biblical. Do they think Moses, Daniel, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul should have kept their mouths shut while appealing to the political leaders of their day? The services provided by God’s people – due to their tax-exempt status – are not manure!
The Grim study demonstrates such services are a bargain. While religion contributes $1.2 trillion each year, religious tax-exemptions cost the U.S. $71 billion. Think of it this way: religion contributes 17 times more to America than it costs. And remember, the power to tax is the power to destroy. The idea – that tax-exemptions for churches and faith-based organizations should be taken away for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedom to speak – is, well, mule muffins.