Are Churches Essential Businesses/Services?

This week’s blog entry comes from the news that Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch received $4.4 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Contrast that news with the bitter fight by Bernie Sanders and others to secure, among other protectionary measures, a second round of direct payments to the American people to assist families struggling to pay rent, mortgages, and other expenses.

Photo by Harry Smith on

The federal government’s response to the ongoing social and economic stagnation caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, while passing with bipartisan approval, has been straight out of the Republican playbook: a form of inequality-expanding trickle-down economics propping up institutions that would otherwise have failed under free market conditions, under the guise of allowing businesses to keep their workers employed. 

What seems odious to many is that churches, while increasingly involving themselves in right-wing politics and not being forced to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, have lined up in droves to receive PPP loans to the tune of $7.3 billion as of July 2020. Yes, churches may have janitors, organists, and ministers on their payrolls, and these individuals and their families would certainly experience hardships if their wages were disrupted, but there is no clear justification for such federal aid to be disbursed via their employers when direct payments to the American people has so clearly been an option from the start. The Small Business Administration even bent its rules that would typically have disallowed non-profits from receiving this special funding, according to ABC13 in Houston

Federal documents reveal the PPP program ‘declined to enforce’ provisions of federal law for PPP typically barring religious groups from accepting federal loans.

Ted Oberg and Sarah Rafique, ABC13

It is clear that the government’s approach to the Covid pandemic has taken a page out of the 2008 bank bailouts, deeming institutions and corporations of all sizes “too big to fail” and therefore essential services to society. Whether churches are so essential to our social fabric, in an era of ever-increasing religious “nones” and others identifying merely as spiritual apart from religious institutions, does not seem to have been considered. And yet, somehow, most of the population has survived 2020 without regularly stepping foot inside their local churches.

While news about Osteen’s megachurch receiving PPP funding has certainly caused a stir in recent days and prompted a PR response from the church’s spokesman, it remains to be seen whether the fact that churches in general have queued up for their bailout will scandalize either the faithful or Americans broadly who have treasured the separation of church and state, the First Amendment’s establishment clause, and a long tradition of standoffishness about government intervention in ecclesiastical affairs. As congregants and tithers continue to decrease, these PPP loans for churches may simply be delaying the inevitable collapse of America’s religious bubble.

Though designed as a loan system and expected to be repaid to the federal government, the Payroll Protection Program loans can be forgiven if the funds were used for eligible payroll and mortgage expenses. Osteen and other megachurch purveyors of the prosperity gospel tend to portray their donations received as “seeds” that, when planted, can grow into a mighty tree. We will perhaps have to wait and see if Osteen and other churches taking PPP loans symbolically bury their talents (Mt 25:24-28) or manage to sow their seeds into a hundredfold (Mt 13:8) for the benefit of American society. But given the kind of rhetoric coming out of churches lately, I’m not holding my breath.

Quote of the Day, March 27

Noam Chomsky responded in 1989 to a woman questioning him about his general, longstanding criticism of so-called “Marxist analysis.” I found his response interesting:

Well, I guess one thing that’s unattractive to me about “Marxism” is the very idea that there is such a thing. It’s a rather striking fact that you don’t find things like “Marxism” in the sciences–like, there isn’t any part of physics which is “Einsteinianism,” let’s say, or “Planckianism” or something like that. It doesn’t make any sense–because people aren’t gods: they just discover things, and they make mistakes, and their graduate students tell them why they’re wrong, and then they go on and do things better the next time. But there are no gods around. I mean, scientists do use the terms “Newtonianism” and “Darwinism,” but nobody thinks of those as doctrines that you’ve got to somehow be loyal to, and figure out what the Master thought, and what he would have said in this new circumstance and so on. That sort of thing is just completely alien to rational existence, it only shows up in irrational domains.

So Marxism, Freudianism: any one of these things I think is an irrational cult. They’re theology, so they’re whatever you think of theology; I don’t think much of it. In fact, in my view that’s exactly the right analogy: notions like Marxism and Freudianism belong to the history of organized religion.


As found in Understanding Power: The Insdispensable Chomsky, eds. Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel (New York: The New Press, 2002), 227.

Help Me Dig This Summer at Tel Hazor, Israel (via I Need Two Bucks)

Friends, this idea could spread like a wild fire, or it could fall flat on its face. The basic premise? I want to raise support, just $2 at a time, so I can travel to Israel this summer for an archaeological excavation. Take a look and share the link for me, won’t you?

Help Me Dig This Summer at Tel Hazor, Israel Anderson University, through the Gustav Jeeninga Museum for Bible and Near Eastern Studies, offers one student the opportunity to experience a dig program in the Middle East each summer. I applied to be that one student this year, but today (February 18) I learned that I was not chosen to do so. Unremarkably, that didn't make me want to dig this year any less. The ancient site of Tel Hazor, Israel. So I decided to take matters into my own hands a … Read More

via I Need Two Bucks