Hey Church, Let’s Give Back Our Tax Free Status

Everybody wants universal healthcare.  It’s true.  Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, white, black, indigenous…Everybody wants it, just not everybody wants to pay for it.  

Everybody wants to eliminate hunger… but not everybody wants to pay for it.

Everybody wants effective education for all.  Everybody… but not everybody wants to foot the bill.

Photo Credit: GFES via Flickr
Photo Credit: GFES via Flickr

So, if nobody else wants to, how about if we pay for it?  And by “we” I mean the American Christian church (churches, Christian colleges and non-profits.)  It seems to me the process would be really simple.  We can just ask the various levels of the American government to remove the Church’s tax-exempt status.  The result would be billions and billions introduced to the US budget.  For doing so, we could ask that all that money be specifically earmarked for issues like healthcare, hunger and education (which are three issues that have been absolutely CENTRAL to Christian missions since the dawn of the church.)

Now, I can just imagine the outcry at such a suggestion as I am sure you can as well.  “Tony, how can you make such an irresponsible suggestion in an age when so many churches are fighting to keep their doors open… when churches are shrinking… in a time when secularism is winning?”

I am glad you asked — because this is the real magic of my suggestion.

There are two immediate ecclesial/missional/prophetic reasons for such a “radical” (even though I don’t think it is so radical, but many do) suggestion.

First, as North America moves increasingly into post-Christendom, the church is losing her place at the table.  To put it bluntly, over time the church has been losing sociological power in our culture’s meta-systems.

Allow me to offer a metaphor.  If society is a chessboard, over time, the American church has been repeatedly demoted to less and less influential pieces on the board (as we move toward post-Christendom) and today, in many cities, the “church piece” has been removed from the board completely.

So how does a marginalized group get the attention of the broader culture?  There are only two ways:  violence (which we have too many examples of in our world today) or sacrifice.

Only two.  

Violence is not an option.  And sacrifice has two primary languages:  radical humility and radical generosity.  

The church has an opportunity, through radical generosity, to literally change this country AND in doing so, live out the radical life of Christ.

Now, you may be asking, “Why would we give that money to the government and not just solve these problems by creating Church-run hunger, healthcare or education programs?”

I am glad you asked.  This brings us to a more important reason for giving away our tax-exempt status.

The Church is, at the very core of her being, a PROPHETIC voice in the world.  As the present and bodily expression of Christ in the world, it is our RESPONSIBILITY to speak, to scream, to wail, to protest, to stand against.  

Photo Credit: GFES via Flickr
Photo Credit: GFES via Flickr

Our country is saturated with injustice:  racial, judicial, economic, class, immigration, education… the list goes on and on.  These systems of injustice are very often supported, fueled, justified, ignored and funded by our local, county, state and national governments.   

How can the Church be the prophetic voice she must be when she is funded by the government through tax incentives?  How can she speak freely when her economic viability is ever at risk of being taken away?  How can we speak out against racism, prejudice and hatred, against pornographic economic imbalance, against hunger, sickness and the violent death of our youngest citizens when we are sucking on the teat of the Fatherland?

Let us undo our castration and rediscover our prophetic voice in the country.  And in doing so, let’s unleash a tidal wave of generosity like our world has never seen

Will there be economic consequences?  Most assuredly.  But can you dare to imagine the missional and prophetic possibilities we might discover on the other side?

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