Rethinking Tax Exempt Status for Churches, My Cover Article for Christianity Today

My latest article is the cover story for the January/February print edition of Christianity Today.

It started, quite inauspiciously, with a tweet thread that one of the editors asked me to expand upon. And then, a week before publication, the magazine’s editor, Mark Galli, wrote an op-ed calling for the impeachment of President Trump, kicking off a medium-intensity internet firestorm. Indeed, Franklin Graham, the son of Christianity Today‘s founder, evangelist Billy Graham, condemned the op-ed, claiming that the magazine has been turned into a tool “by the left for their political agenda.” I’m not sure my article will do much to assuage Franklin’s skepticism.

In any case, here’s an excerpt, though do go and read the full piece on the website.

The history of religious land-use laws is enlightening here. Using the federal government to protect tax-exempt status for churches is not a recipe for a stable, long-term equilibrium. It only works as long as Christians can maintain a white-knuckled grip on power, fighting to maintain their tax advantages by tooth, claw, court case, and ballot. The gospels tell us to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is certainly a strange way of doing it. After all, why did Jesus, when asked if he owed taxes to Rome, say, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17)? It is far better to live peaceably with all people, giving “to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes” (Rom. 13:7).

It might not be such a bad thing to lose tax-exempt status. We should consider, at the very least, the cost of maintaining this kind of cultural privilege. The true church of God, after all, is not reliant on its special status in the tax code. We can walk by faith and not by government largess.

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