The Supreme Court ruling approving nation-wide gay marriage has left many religious Americans wondering what further politico-spiritual developments lie down the road. Some Christians have warned that, “We are going to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country.”
OK, I understand that politics is ripe for overstatement and exaggeration, but let’s get a grip on what challenges religion in America is likely to face in the near future, and how bad they really are.
Yes, there is now political sanction for something – same-sex marriage – that many religious sects disagree with, and this puts a lot of religious people at odds with their government. But let’s get a sense of the proportion of that conflict by comparing, say, Christians today with others who’ve found the American government standing in their path.
For instance, African-Americans, who were brought here against their will and condemned to a life (and death) of forced labor thousands of miles from home. Post Obergefell v. Hodges, are Christians today better off, or worse off than them?
Or Native Americans, who, after a number of broken treaties, were herded onto reservations. Are Christians better off, or worse?
Religious communities are going to face some challenges in the coming days, in particular on whether they’ll be forced to host same-sex unions or else lose their tax-exempt status. (My position: the government shouldn’t be allowed to deny a gay couple a marriage license, but any venue – religious or otherwise – should be free to accept or turn down any wedding ceremony they see fit.) But other Americans have suffered and survived far, far worse. Christians and other religious Americans will, too.
One of the other reactions has been to worry that churches and other religious institutions will lose their tax-exempt status altogether. But would that be such a bad thing?
The rationale behind the status is that “the power to tax involves the power to destroy,” and we don’t want the government to be in a position to undermine sacred institutions. But why should they be off-limits? Every day, Americans get up and work at jobs they don’t like in order to earn a salary that they turn around and use to provide for their family. I think that’s pretty sacred behavior, yet we tax it in any number of ways.
And the government has already used it’s power to tax – or to not tax – to silence churches and other non-profits when it comes to endorsing political candidates. The enforcement of the Johnson Amendment is laughable – many church get-out-the-vote drives are doubtless aimed at helping particular candidates – but the rule shouldn’t exist at all. Clergy and congregations should be allowed to openly support whatever political cause or personality they want.
So let’s get rid of the tax-exempt status for houses of worship. While we’re at it, we could get rid of the employer-sponsored health insurance exemption, the mortgage interest deduction, and a whole host of other tax “incentives” so that we can have a simplified tax form that people can fill out for themselves.
But let’s end the notion that religions are doing something sacred that shouldn’t be taxed. If we tax food, we can tax “sacred,” too. Besides, “sacred” and “non-profit” are not words that leap to mind when I think of Scientology or the Creflo Dollar Ministries.
As to the place of Christians and other religious believers in America, you’re not being carted off onto reservations or into internment camps or slave plantations. You’re not being forced to sit in the back of the bus. You’re not being denied a loan or the purchase of a house or turned down for a job. You’re not being denied the right to free speech.
The fact that you can complain about your religious situation without being killed puts you in one of the best religious environments on the planet.
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