I’ll begin by admitting that I have always struggled with the idea of a group of people – any group of people – trying to push their ideas of morality onto others. I was horrified when I discovered that my family church was more interested in paying for building improvements than in helping others. I have marveled at the lack of substance and critical thinking of those who ring my doorbell wanting to “share the good news.” I have recoiled at the lavish structures and amenities of mega-churches paid for with the help of taxpayer money.
I was horrified to learn of pastors preaching partisan politics from the pulpit in direct violation of the Johnson Amendment. I was stunned by the belief that actions don’t matter – only faith will determine your afterlife. And I was shocked to learn of the advent of “prosperity gospel” – the stronger your faith, the more you will be rewarded with money and possessions.
Despite all of this I have remained relatively silent with regard to one’s religious beliefs. Whoever and however you choose to worship should mean little to those who believe differently than you…unless you make it their business by asking them to support and help pay for your beliefs.
That brings me to the subject of this post.
Churches only became tax exempt in 1954. Before the anti-communist Christian revival of the 1950’s, churches were subject to paying taxes as do most other private clubs. But accepting them as 501(c)(3)s, in effect, blurred the Founders’ intent of separation of church and state. It was predicated on the belief that churches contributed to the health of society – by feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. But, for the most part, that belief is based on churches of another time. For example, how does that comport with “prosperity gospel?” How does it fit with mega-churches operating as private clubs in which church members only do business with other church members? How does it fit with subsidizing Israeli development of Palestinian land in order to speed the Rapture?
Initially, obtaining 501(c)(3) status required churches to fill out an application and agree to the stipulation that they operate exclusively in the public interest. More recently, it was decided that churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches no longer need apply. They no longer have to tend to the needy to be tax-exempt. In fact, churches no longer need to adhere to any real guidelines of operation in order to avoid taxes on their buildings, their religious schools, even their businesses.
This new reality is horrifying to those of us who reject organized religion. (And before you start moralizing, recent studies have shown that those of us who do not participate in organized religion are actually more generous and more compassionate than those who do.) If Hobby Lobby can avoid paying for their employees’ contraception based on religious grounds, why must we subsidize their properties?
All of this is bad enough. But, for many evangelical churches, there are no longer any apparent standards of acceptable behavior. There is only politics.
For example, when President Obama was in office, many evangelist leaders called him the anti-Christ despite the fact he regularly attended a Christian church. Evangelists demeaned the First Lady when she wore a sleeveless dress to a public event. They openly opined that the Obamas were trying to indoctrinate children. And they were furious that President Obama helped the LGBTQ community achieve civil rights.
Then along came the Donald.
Although his orangeness rarely, if ever, attended church, the evangelicals supported him. They looked the other way at Trump’s three marriages and adulterous behavior. Of the First Lady’s nude photos, Pat Robertson, pronounced them art. They have ignored Trump’s racist and hateful comments. They ignored his bragging of sexual assaults. They ignored reports of rape, including one from a minor. And they have taken a “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” approach to Trump’s marital infidelity with porn stars as his wife was recovering from childbirth.
As former RNC chair, Michael Steele, recently said of evangelical leaders, “I have a very simple admonition. Just shut the hell up and don’t preach to me about anything ever again. After telling me who to love, what to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter, the grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter, the outright behavior and lies don’t matter, then shut up…[Evangelicals] have no voice of authority anymore for me.”
Well said! But I’d take it a step farther. Why don’t you shut up and pay up? Why don’t you admit that you don’t belong to a church? You are merely leaders of a political club. It’s time you pay taxes on your property: Your mega-churches, your extravagant sound and video systems, your elaborate fund-raising schemes, your child-indoctrinating schools, your “religious” businesses, your palatial estates, your limos, and your private jets.
You aren’t religious leaders. You are mere con men, much like the president you have chosen to support come hell or high water. And frankly, I hope it’s both.