On March 27, 2020 the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into American law. It is a 2.2 trillion dollar stimulus package intended to blunt the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing has necessitated massive business closures, with a resultant tsunami of layoffs. One provision of the CARES Act is the Paycheck Protection Provision (PPP). A significant, and somewhat controversial, allowance in this provision is that faith-based organizations can apply for loans that would then be used to forestall layoffs within their enterprise, under the same terms given to secular businesses. This has raised concerns about whether such an inclusion violates the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, the relevant text in that clause being: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/views/2020/church-state-issue-paycheck-protection-program
As a school board chair many years ago, I became aware that we received money for our parochial schools from several governmental programs such as funding for milk, for library materials, etc. We have been doing this for several decades, assured that there were no strings attached, and since it was available to all without regard to denomination or creed, it was deemed not a violation of the 1st Amendment. I find it puzzling then that now that a similar provision would care for employees as opposed to students, we suddenly balk at the government largesse. It seems a strange inconsistency based on specious usage of the idea of separation of church and state to apply only in certain circumstances but not other similar ones. This cow seems to have escaped the barn long ago.
Rich, thanks for the article and for raising these issues. I agree with your underlying point - that there doesn’t appear to be sufficient substance behind the NAD’s guidance - either in a legal review, or in the reference to Revelation 13.
Some things that came to me as I was reading the article. First, this seems to be a uniquely American issue. Since the CARES Act is US law, that’s obvious. But, determining when a potential religious freedom issues is raised depends on what actions trigger the concern. Here it is payment from the US government to religious organizations. Because of long standing interpretations of US “establishment clause” issues, money moving from the government to religious organizations is a potential problem. The establishment clause, of course, is from the US Constitution. What about the movement of money from government to religious organizations in other countries? As other countries tackle COVID19 and provide aid to their citizens and businesses, will a payment to the Adventist church be treated as a religious freedom issue? Would that aid be any different than those countries that allocate their “church tax” to religions, including the Adventist church?
Second, even in the US, do we determine whether a religious freedom issue exists based only on whether the government payment to a church would violate the Constitution. Others have said that current US Supreme Court opinions would support the constitutionality of these CARES Act payments to churches. Is that enough to know that we can move ahead without issue? I don’t have any objection to church organizations accepting the CARES Act funds, but for those that do, how does Constitutional law affect their positions?
Third, what does it take to raise the spectre of the Mark of the Beast (Rev. 13.)? Again, any payment from the government to a church? A finding by the US Supreme Court that the payment is unconstitutional? Again, what about actions in other countries (my church tax example) that would violate US law, but not theirs?
It’s the small, non-tithe supported organizations that will be hit hard, too. Maybe even harder than tithe supported organizations. The local church sponsored community centers, day cares, etc. won’t have the ongoing support, or the flow of tithe income, to keep going.
No need to fuss or worry over this. All the loan money is now gone.
have any conferences applied for money? some of their arguments ring hollow, pastors are allowed to deduct a ‘parsonage allowance’ from their fed txbl income SO paying these folks will not have the ‘the fed will get it’s money back’ effect that is also hidden in there! A further thought is that the churches and conferences do NOT pay property taxes which support local communities! sort of the ‘leach’ on the system like the government itself!
Rich, your article is great. However, I see soime problems with it:
- It’s too rational, it challenges the traditional Adventist paranoia
- It asks too many questions, and Adventism actually sees tough questions as abomination
- It suggests a normal relationship with the government, which escapes the comprehension of the traditional, faithful “remnant.”
Maybe you are just part of a plot to subvert the Church, trying to mundanize it? …
And we probably will never know where it went!
Those who oppose the Church getting its share of the taxpayers’ money should also refuse to get their own $1,200. You know, just for fairness and consistency…
If the NAD says that their reasoning for this conclusion is based in scripture why should they also find exceptions with it?
NAD Working Policy deserves to be addressed. The government assistance provided for in the CARES Act with the PPP loan does not violate Working Policy; rather, it is fully compliant with the terms for acceptance that are provided within policy.
AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY— DEPARTMENTAL POLICIES
FL 01 Church-Government Relationships in the
North American Division
FL 01 10 Position Statement—
- In view of the fundamental principles outlined above, we hold that religious liberty is best achieved, guaranteed and preserved when church and government respect each other’s proper areas of activity and concern.
- Some services provided by the Church and by the government may overlap. In some instances, it is proper that church institutions receive remuneration from the government. The Church and its institutions may also, accept from the government certain limited benefits, such as tax exemption, and the police and fire protection.
- The Bible contains examples of gifts from government to religious enterprise. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has benefited in many countries from the acceptance of various forms of government aid. It is also recognized that pitfalls do exist. Though the Bible does not specifically prohibit the acceptance of gifts from the government, such aid should be shunned when its acceptance would violate applicable law, would lead to excessive control by or entanglement with the government, would lead to dependence on the government, or in any other way would compromise the integrity of the Church or reduce its ability to design programs and curricula to fulfill its gospel commission.
- The Church recognizes that individual members may receive assistance from government programs flowing directly to the benefit of parent or child. Church institutions may properly receive these funds. Programs that require cooperation between the government and the Church or church institution must not contradict provisions in paragraph 3 above, and FL 01 15.
- Limited gifts of land, property, or equipment, and government grants in support of operations, research, maintenance, capital improvements, or services may be received only when the spirit, intent, and provisions of this policy have been complied with fully.
Thank you for providing these excerpts. I would be interested to know what assistance is being accepted elsewhere. In the UK I understand that financial provision for furloughing church employees is being accepted. Maybe others can comment on the situation in other countries which have economic support packages in place?
This is outrageous. Spiritual manipulation, an assault on his congregation.
Maybe this will be the impetus needed to do major restructuring of conferences and unions. Might require churches to step up lay leadership in our churches as church employed leaders are retired/laid off. And more important, church members may be led to study the Bible more and develop a personal, close relationship with our Saviour.
Thanks, Brent. Sometimes we forget how Americanized our denominational perspective has become. Is it fair to impose the standards of our Constitution on other cultures? Should we be exporting our form of governance to the rest of the world as part of the denominational package? Food for thought.
A church is an organization of people who are paying taxes in the community and go beyond that in context of some charitable function. That’s the main reasons why non-profit orgs are not taxed.
Of course, that an ideal scenario, and community involvement in Adventist churches can be less than ideal.
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