Should Churches and Religious Nonprofits Take COVID-19 CARES Act Funding?
A national discussion is about to begin on whether or not Congress did the right thing in passing the largest public funding subsidy in our nation’s history. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a $2 trillion relief package passed in response to the current COVID-19 crisis. Even though it received almost unanimous support in both houses of Congress, this decision will remain under intense scrutiny by economic conservatives and be criticized for years to come.
However, another discussion within the Christian community is also about to begin. That is should churches and other religious nonprofits, take the financial help offered to them by the federal government through the CARES Act?
Some smaller churches may not need help during this crisis and will decline assistance. Other pastors and church leaders will be adamantly opposed to any form of government aid (and this is a perfectly acceptable position).
Still others, particularly larger churches and nonprofits, will seriously consider accepting this money to avoid laying off dozens or even hundreds of valuable staff members. Nationwide, antidotal estimates show church giving is down between 30-70 percent. Without outside funding, some churches and charities may be forced to shut down their operations entirely.
When considering whether to apply for this funding, church leaders will likely ask themselves: “Is there anything morally wrong with accepting this help?” “Is there something unbiblical or unethical about all this?” “What about the separation of church and state?” “Is there a principle against churches taking advantage of a government-initiated and government-funded program?”
In response to these questions, I argue there is no moral or ethical issue with churches seeking this help at this unique and unprecedented time in our nation’s history. Here are ten reasons why:
- No express Biblical prohibition. Scripture does not expressly prohibit accepting funds, which are, in essence, forgivable loans from the government. While the Bible cautions and warns against debt, these loans offered to churches are not real debt because they were designed with the express intention of being forgiven as they will become grants. The fact that there are no examples of churches being helped by the government in Scripture is not a valid argument against it. It is just the opposite. It is the absence of law that creates liberty. And the absence of a clear prohibition in Scripture creates the liberty to consider this option.
- If churches are damaged or fail because of this crisis, the welfare state will expand further. Churches and nonprofits contribute enormous value to society by providing a network of social services and human support. The economic value of all this is a contribution of inestimable worth to our nation. If these organizations are allowed to be diminished or fail permanently during this unprecedented crisis, the welfare state would further expand to compensate for the enormous loss. Economic conservatives opposed to socialism and wealth redistribution should have a vested interest in ensuring that churches and nonprofits survive and remain stable once the crisis is over. This is precisely what the CARES Act can provide.
- There is no such thing as government money, only taxpayer money. Many will object to churches taking “government money,” but the reality is there is no such thing as government money. The government is incapable of producing wealth or even owning wealth. The only money the government has come from taxpayers and the government serves as the steward of that public funding.
- Churches regularly use public services like roads, police, and firefighters provided by the government and paid for with taxpayer dollars. Churches, along with everyone else is in society, use roads, infrastructure, police, and firefighting services, which are all provided by the government for the common good and paid for 100 percent with taxpayer dollars. I would argue that the CARES Act, is a form of public accommodation or service made available by the government for the common good because of the damage and loss caused by this unprecedented worldwide crisis.
- Like in Eminent Domain, when the government takes away something of value, it must provide just compensation. Governments at various levels have now ordered businesses, churches, and nonprofit organizations to stop operating and “shelter in place.” These orders are creating affirmative economic harm. In the same way, the U.S. Constitution requires just compensation for “takings” of private property, these shutdown orders which have created harm and loss are being compensated for, in part, by this relief package.
- To be constitutional, Congress must provide the same aid to every nonprofit organization, including religious nonprofits and churches. Congress cannot discriminate against faith-based organizations because of their beliefs and convictions. Whether a church should take the aid is a separate question each church must decide for themselves.
- This is not a permanent flow of funding, causing an ongoing reliance by the church on the state. If this were a continuous stream of financing by the government to churches, there could be several unintended and problematic consequences. However, this is not an ongoing or permanent financial dependency. We are currently living in a time of unprecedented crisis, to which the government is responding in an unprecedented way with unique help and assistance for most Americans and every church (or smaller nonprofits).
- This money is intended to be a loan that will be forgiven, but the loan can also be paid back. If churches use the loan for general operating purposes outlined in the CARES Act, such as salaries, health insurance, rent, and other approved overhead expenses, Congress intended that these loans will be forgiven after a designated period of time. However, if a church is uncomfortable with the idea of a direct subsidy, it could also utilize the loan in the short-term and pay it back with an interest rate of 4 percent.
- There are no strings attached to these loans and no control being exercised by the government over a church’s beliefs or function. One of the greatest fears of Christian charities is that taking public funding will come with strings attached, which the government could use to exercise control over their beliefs or operations. There are no such strings with the CARES Act.
- The Biblical role of government is to restrain evil and promote the common good. Much of government’s response to this crisis falls within these broad goals. The proper role of government is not primarily to “increase human liberty” as some would argue. From St. Augustine to Chuck Colson, church fathers have recognized the Biblical role of government as twofold. First, to restrain evil, and second, to promote good, virtue, or justice. We all have a common enemy in the natural evil of this virus, which could severely cripple our society and kill millions of our most vulnerable citizens if governments around the world did nothing. Instead, they have chosen to lead and protect their citizens and provide orders for safety and security during this pandemic.
It is easy to throw rocks at those in power and fire off criticisms on social media about how the crisis is being handled. No doubt, there is time and a place to criticize politicians. But as Christians, given the circumstances, our highest response right now is to pray for government officials and support them as they do the best they can to restrain the spread of this worldwide pandemic and try to promote good in our communities.
Wyatt Folds says
Thank you John for your clear and precise response as to weather or not churches should or should not be involved in making use of the CARES ACT.
It’s almost as if the church and/or tax payer has the privilege to designate tax funds. So I would encourage such “designations” and use them wisely and thankfully.
Here’s a random idea. Let’s trust God to provide for the church through the church!
Pats got it right! God can an will care for his own!
James Simpkin says
Your analysis is what I would expect from a lawyer. It is quite obvious you have ZERO biblical wisdom which comes from the Holy Spirit. You have simply approached this subject as a non-believer. Your legal analysis is what I expect from a lawyer interested ONLY appealing to the weakness of church leadership.
Word of Life Christian Fellowship says
We could really use some help financially. Been a church for 37 years and have more bills than money right now.
Pastor Barry Ross
PO Box 938
Cologne NJ 08213
Thanks, John, for ten thought-provoking points. Where the Scripture is silent or offers no directive on the issue, we probably should not superimpose our directives on top of it. Yes, it would be wonderful if all believers were financially strong enough that no outside assistance would be needed. In view of the facts, I agree with your reasoning and support churches participation in the CARES act.
Cheryl Ingram says
I applied yesterday for our church. Thanks for the information John.
Carmen Díaz says
Where you go to send an application? I need to forward this information to the Administrator. Thank you
The official government online application portal to make your application for these loans is located here: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources
Are these still available
Yes there is still funding available. See the link above for the latest information and to find out how you can apply through your lending institution. We also list resources at the bottom of this page: https://covidchurchaid.org/pastors-resources-covid19/ that can help you navigate the process. Our latest news about the CARES Act and available funding can be found here: https://covidchurchaid.org/news-updates/.
vanessa ferguson says
Curious, was your church approved for the funds? Would like to apply for our church.
Where has the Church gone during the pandemic? To begin, I want to be clear that I do not believe it is intrinsically wrong to take a government handout during this time of turmoil. However, I would like to share some thoughts about what I feel has been missing during this period in our history. Many feel that because the government (in part) has caused this economic problem, the government should be the one to fix it. While I agree that our government has perhaps gone too far in certain restrictions, government is not an adept problem-solver, as we all should know. That point aside though, what saddens me the most is this fact: in recent weeks I have heard conservative Christian leaders spend more time talking about why the stimulus is necessary and OK than I have heard them encourage the Church (individual Christians) with resources to reach out to those around them as the body of Christ. This is troubling. I am also surprised that I have not heard of a Christian organization that is seeking to help businesses, churches, and individuals recover from the damage done by our economic standstill. Samaritan’s Purse is doing a great work by providing medical attention for the medical needs of people right now. But, where is an organized movement to meet the personalized needs of individuals who aren’t sick? And, if there is such an organization, why is it not being publicized? Yes, many people are struggling right now. But, most everyone can still help in some way. I am by no means a man of endless resources, but I still want to help those more negatively impacted. I am hoping that there will be an organization that will step up and unite the body of Christ in the name of Christ to help those in need. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang (Mr. government gives $1000 a month for free) has an organization that is giving money directly to those who need it https://newscentral360.com/andrew-yangs-nonprofit-to-donate-1-million-to-families-affected-by-coronavirus/7227/. WHY ISN’T THE CHURCH DOING THIS IN A GREATER WAY? 2 Cor 8:3 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, 4imploring us with much urgency [a]that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.”
In this moment of history, how is the church being viewed? How will those who claim Christ’s name be remembered in history books?
The government has its proper place. But my main question is this: if people look to government for hope, economic help, and their daily bread… where is the Church?
Samuel Owens says
Your comment cuts to the heart of the current state of affairs. The short answer to “where is the Church?” is that the “church” as a whole, and as individuals, failed at their duty to “care for the orphan and the widow”, the sick and the needy, a very long time ago. As the “church” got distracted with a whole variety of things ( some good, some bad, some neither, just time and resource consuming ), needs did not go away, and governments stepped in. The truth is that there are many Christian ( and other ) organizations, including local churches and larger ones, who are providing monetary assistance as possible. But that all comes from donations, and like the article mentioned, donations are the first thing that go down when crisis arises. I can honestly say that I have struggled to maintain my own giving, and it’s not nearly as much as I wish it was ( this is my fault because of poor choices which resulted in debts, etc ). However it is still up to each of us to continue to give to those in need, whether directly as we see/hear from them, or indirectly through our local church body, local food banks, Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, etc etc ( insert any charitable organization you wish which truly serves the needs of others, with minimal “admin costs” ). I am very thankful that my current church body places high priority ( as can be seen in our budget ) on helping those in need, not just monetarily, but practically and in any ways we can to help them get back on their feet one way or another.
Ken Mayo says
Thanks for the well articulated information John. I would like to add one additional thought that I think everyone should consider.
We all believe the “Lord givers and the Lord can take away”. My addition thought is this. Uncle Sam can give and Uncle Sam can take away as well. You state It’s now loan that will not have to be repaid. Is that a loan? Anyone that has had issues with the IRS knows that if you mis-step in any way they can (and will) renege on past agreements. That and the fact that Congress changes, and so do our laws, and get enough anti-religion, anti-church reps in there and they can simply re-write what this Bill now says. Just my thoughts
John Stemberger says
Good point. It is actually a loan from the bank that the bank receives a grant for which then forgives the loan. So the relationship with the church is even more extended because the church is applying for the loan with the bank.
Ralph Atchue says
Tax dollars should only go to institutions that are providing direct assistance to COVID-19 patients and affected families. This assistance must be in the form of medical or other tangible supplies. While church services provide emotional and spiritual benefit, the misuse of public money is fraught. Additionally, who decides which church/religion receives funding??
Way too many problems!!!
Robert Crane says
If churches take the money, should other non-profits like Planned Parenthood get it too?
You could trash all non-profit law and churches would still pay no taxes because it places a burden on expression of religion. The Supreme Court ruled on this long before the younger non profit laws of 1954. It’s sad that people even put them into the same category, but this will be probably the largest step in American history towards the growing cry to call what are actually provisions born of rights that the people hold in and through the church and errantly cry that they are privileges. We as Christians need to be far bolder in our correct use of language, the correction of others, and the insistence of categorical consistency in all matters from taxes, abortion, the family, freedom of conscious, independence of where/when/how we worship, and so much more. Our era of persecution is coming; We were promised as much in scripture and must separate ourselves instead of appeasing. Disobedience does not equal either sinful attitude or action when done so in light and accordance with scripture.
Just my 2¢
vanessa ferguson says
they are non-profit right? Why not?
“ If churches take the money, should other non-profits like Planned Parenthood get it too?”
Exactly. You can’t have it both ways.
If churches were to pay taxes to begin with, then sure. But there is absolutely no reason any religious entity should be getting tax-payer assistance.
Mark Bunger says
I don’t think we should take this money. We should support our Church, we should have faith and trust God to provide. I don’t trust this Government they could renege on this. We should remain independent from the Government. Mark
Regardless of the economic situation the “Church” will not fail to live on. Buildings may close and the institutional church may fall but the Church will in all likelihood grow as it is growing in areas of the world where persecution is going on now. Maybe US churches will grow stronger under this pandemic and preserve faithfully.
Here in CA, churches pay payroll taxes for employees, property taxes on parts of the church that create revenue through property rental, and sales taxes on items sold (if any.) So churches do pay taxes, just not income tax.
Elsie Sanchez says
Thanks for the information. It is a very difficult time and every church is affected by it-wheter small or not finances are down and mortgages have to paid. This is great information. Thanks and blessings.
Samuel Owens says
I had to vote no when my church asked for the membership to weigh in on applying for a CARES loan. There may not be any strings now, but that could change literally any time, and would not even require a vote of Congress. Rules and admin procedures could be changed which would leave the churches in a very precarious position. I’ve read many opinions and analysis from many sources, both for and against, and while I know quite certainly that many churches are hurting, I still cannot in good conscience go for this. I am praying that I am wrong.
Dan Wilson says
If money is accepted by a church it should be only for debts incurred caused by the covid restrictions. To pay past debts or to fund future projects would be hard for me to forgive. The church would be seen as profiting off of this crisis and at the expense of the many thousands who have perished during this crisis
If I have $1 and incur $10 dollar of debt, but accept $9 from the government, though I can pay my debt of $10 and have a net remaining of $0, I still have profited the $9 dollars or my bills/monies due would still be that $9 dollars. Scripture has provided us with the only ordained manner for the finacial functioning of the church and all the rationalizing we cold possibly do won’t change that. Some of the greatest damage being done is the total collapse of confidence the congregation has in their church boards and pastors as they discover they are cowardly at the very first sign of such challenges. Thank the Lord these people aren’t embedded in China or India on the mission field; they’d break immediately.
The biggest concern I have is the programs limited funding. The program does not have enough money to meet demand which means there will be winners and losers in a zero sum game. I’m concerned that, by the Church lining up en mass to apply for this loan that we will prevent our neighbors who are small business owners from receiving relief. How might that affect the witness of the church?
I agree that there is nothing technically wrong with accepting this money. I would urge churches to first ask the question “do I need the money”. If your giving hasn’t taken a big hit and your rationale for applying for funds is rooted in immediate need, but rather the question of “what it”, then I urge you not to apply. If times get tough there are other programs out there that can help your church (for example, the Employee Retention Credit). Additionally, the CARES act provides has expanded unemployment insurance by providing an additional $600 in addition to whatever a person claiming unemployment would receive on top of their regular benefit. For many church staff that may mean that they make more money though unemployment than they do from their church paycheck. And because churches are primarily volunteer organizations, those employees should still be able to “volunteer” in his or her current role.
My point for saying all of this is that we don’t need to panic or fear of missing out on a chance to get help. If a church needs assistance now, then do what is appropriate. For those who don’t have an immediate need, please consider how your application for funds from a limited pot may affect the livelihood of your neighbor and your witness.
KATHLEEN R CURTIN says
My heart is heavy to think that our leadership has taken on such a secular view. Have we fallen into the category of it’s free, count me in? What about our trust in the Lord? What about some of these Pastors with big salaries taking a cut in pay? Why is it that everyone else is supposed to shine the light in a crisis and trust the Lord for His Provision and Protection but at the get go Pastors look to the government? What has happened to us that we could justify this thinking? The Baptist Convention along with other conventions should help out the churches that have needs now. We take care of our own.
Abraham refused to take anything from the King of Sodom. We have been praying that in this time of crisis, leadership would recalibrate their thinking on just what church should look like. It certainly looks different than the church in the first century. Why would the churches increase the debt of our country? Please take some time to think this through.
Jack Elliot says
There are different ways to look at it and I respect both sides. What if the King was borrowing a tremendous amount of money in Abraham’s name without Abraham’s consent and after taking the money says I am giving out all your loan proceeds to others? If the King says I will give some of it back, would Abraham take that portion? He would most likely call the King a thief and demand that all the money be returned.
John Rott says
I absolutely cannot believe that Christian leaders are suggesting that churches take this money. I understand that rational offered here. Some is compelling. However, our dependence should be on God not Government. In my own personal prayer I have been invited into the Holy of Holies more frequently than ever before. You know what I am talking about, those prayer time when you know you are in presence of God because everything in your frail human biology is lit up by His supernatural love, power, and presence. I asked God what is the difference between grocery list prayers and this. He help me understand that my desperation and dependence on Him and Him alone causes a focus in my soul that He can more perfectly manifest himself in. Why then are we turning to other sources. Especially those that at some point will bring conflict and restriction to the moral agenda which the church should be pursuing.
What will our pastors, board members, and administrators tell Peter or Paul when discussing how they shut down without a whimper and took money from the government during the same time because of a virus with a 0.05-0.01% morbidity rate? We all have a 100% chance already unless we’re here when Christ returns… I have personally been sickened by the cowardice of those within my own church and become more amazed by the day at our response in word, action, position, example.
WD Slaughter says
If you think this money comes without a price you are mistaken. This is one way for the government to get their “hooks” into the church. Not only does it force compliance of covid regulations but when something that is being preached in the pulpit and from the bible goes against what public perception is on that subject then you will see what happens. When you blur these lines folks this is dangerous stuff!
carolyn King says
we are a small Methodist church in Sweetser, Indiana. our 2021 budget is $5000 over in expenses, from meeting our budget. We are down 31% in income due to COVID church closing for 4 months. We have cut employees, and every thing we can cut. Is there a church grant and if so what is the site.
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