Stimulus Money for Ministers' Salaries?
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on April 19, 2020
It was bound to happen, sooner or later. The issue had been percolating for weeks. It finally boiled over into the public domain on Friday.
Author Michael A. Helfand advocated for the distribution of economic stimulus money to churches, temples, mosques, and houses of worship that have been forced to close because of the government lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In an article published Friday in the Wall Street Journal titled, "Washington Should Fund Ministers' Salaries," Mr. Helfand argued that houses of worship play a special role in American society during this time of crisis and they should be treated like any other business or institution eligible to receive money under the federal government's $350 billion Payroll Protection Program.
Mr. Helfand's article took my breath away. This is a bad idea for several reasons:
First, unlike businesses and individual taxpayers, houses of worship are treated as nonprofit organizations that pay no income taxes on the collection plate and tithing money they collect each Saturday and Sunday.
Second, these religious entities pay no property taxes. Yet, they receive all of the basic governmental services that businesses and individuals pay taxes to receive, such as (a) police and fire protection, (b) water and sewer hook-ups, (c) street paving in and around their properties, (d) garbage pickups, and (e) emergency management services during natural disasters.
Third, for the most part, today's religious leaders lack the authenticity needed to provide America with credible leadership in times of great moral crisis. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous 1963 "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" described this leadership deficiency in words that ring as true today as they did in 1963. Dr. King was a servant leader in his church, as well as the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner. As a young boy in the early 1950s, Dr. King was my pastor, Sunday School teacher, and Baptist Training Union instructor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Fourth, today's churches, temples, mosques, and other houses of worship have strayed far from the ministry of Jesus Christ, a Jewish rabbi whose teachings bridged all religions and faiths. Unlike today's ministers, Jesus had no mega-church building, no private jet, no comfortable mansion, no butlers and servants, no collection of luxury horse-drawn chariots, no expensive jewelry, and no fine clothing and shoes. He traveled the land from village to village by foot or by donkey.
Jesus' congregation was a ragtag band of peasants, poor people, and social "misfits" who believed in his teachings. His "Pastor's Appreciation Day" turned out to be (a) a betrayal by a handful of Jewish rabbis and his trusted disciple Judas Iscariot, (b) a trial before Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate, and (c) a crucifixion by Roman soldiers at Golgotha.
Without a ministerial salary of any kind, Jesus willingly:
1. Healed the Gentile woman's daughter in the Region of Tyre. (Matthew 15:21-28).
2. Healed a demon-possessed boy at Mt. Hermon. (Matthew 17:14-21).
3. Changed water into wine at Cana of Galilee (John 4:46-54) and healed a Capernaum officials' son. (John 4:46-54).
4. Fed the multitudes at Gennesaret (Matthew 14: 13-21; 15:32-39) and healed many believers (Mark 6:53-56).
5. Healed Peter's mother-in-law (Matthew 8:5-13); healed the Roman officer's servant (Matthew 8:5-13); healed the paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12); healed the woman with a hemorrhage (Mark 5:25-34); raised Jairus's dayghter from the dead (Luke 8:40-56); healed two blind men (Matthew 9:27-31); healed a mute, demon-possessed man (Matthew 9:32-34); healed a man with a deformed hand (Matthew 12:9-13); and healed another demon possessed man (Matthew 12:22-37), all at Capernaum.
6. Fed the multitudes at Bethsaida (Matthew 14:13-21) and healed a blind man. (Mark 8:22-26).
7. Walked on water at the Sea of Galilee. (Matthew 14:22-33).
8. Raised the widow's son from the dead in Nain. (Luke 7:11-17).
9. Cleansed the leper in the Region of Galilee (Mark 1:40-45) and healed ten lepers in Samaria. (Luke 17:11-19).
10. Healed the woman with infirmities in the Region of Perea (Luke 13:10-13); healed the man with swollen limbs (Luke 14:1-6), and healed Bartimaeus at Jericho (Mark 10:46-52).
11. Raised Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:1-44).
12. Stopped the stoning of the woman who was falsely accused of adultery (John 8:12-59) and healed a man in Jerusalem who had been blind from birth (John 9:1-12).
I know of no minister, pope, rabbi, imam, or other religious leader whose service to humanity comes anywhere close to the compassionate services rendered by Jesus -- for free. Above all, Jesus never hated any man or woman for any reason, and he never molested any child or persecuted the "least of these." Like his heavenly father, Jesus loved mankind unconditionally and with amazing grace.
The role of the church, however we choose to define the many houses of worship and numerous faith-based religions, is to serve mankind -- for free. Mother Teresa (1910-1968), the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner, showed us how to serve the huddled masses of poor believers (in Calcutta, India) with no earthy possessions of her own.
This is a great time for today's church leaders to transmogrify from self-centered personality-based mega-church ministries into faith-based servant leaders who live their lives in the spirit of Jesus Christ, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, and countless other servant leaders who never used religion as a hustle for aggrandizement or dollars. I am not asking today's religious leaders to become Jesus Christ; I am just asking them to practice Jesus' teachings.