By clamoring for financial concessions and support (from federal, state, and local governments), thereby transferring our responsibilities to others, we people of faith have slowly given up freedom of religion in the United States of America. It started innocently enough when we were overwhelmingly, at least nominally, Christian and when we almost all agreed that Churches were important to the general welfare and the common good and that every marriage of a man and a woman resulting in children who would be raised and cared for by a full time mom and a wage-earning, grocery-buying, mortgage-paying dad was a key building block of our society. We all pitched in to make those things happen by granting financial concessions to churches and their pastors with tax exemptions, housing allowances, etc., to married couples by allowing them to pay lower taxes with joint tax returns and lots of exemptions, and to all citizens by letting those who wished to do so take tax deductions for gifts to their churches.
The so-called establishment clause in the US Constitution, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." was not violated, but Congress made many laws encouraging the establishment of religion and rewarding the free exercise thereof. And that worked fairly well so long as we were overwhelmingly religious and Christian and of pretty much one mind about what was good for the USA. And the unfairness inherent in the facts that singles, couples without children, and folks who didn’t give money to their churches had to pay higher taxes to make up for the rest of us was not a major problem.
But then we became “diverse” and “multicultural,” and the definition of “church” was broadened to include some things the old-fashioned Christian church considered just plain wrong, and the concept of “non-profits,” even profitable ones, getting tax advantages similar to those of churches became popular. And people began to believe that it is unfair for only some “family” configurations to get tax advantages. A fundamental truth is that when concessions are offered by government, the citizens will clamor to receive them. (Government governs best when focused on doing its job rather than on devising concessions-for-votes programs.)
Even Christian charities, hospitals especially, began to clamor for government grants and government insurance payments, all of which came with strings attached, some of those strings requiring that some Christians deny or abandon core beliefs or lose funding.
So, here is my suggestion. Let’s render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s and pay our own way without asking others to shoulder the burden for us. Let’s pay property taxes on our property and fair and flat income taxes on our incomes. Let’s fund our own charities with no government involvement. Let’s eliminate financial motivation for following the commandments of Christ and leave only the Holy Spirit as the prime mover. By so doing, we can begin to regain the freedom of religion that we have lost. I believe such a change would lead to bigger and more powerful Churches taking up space in the world, proclaiming freely the Gospel, speaking freely on public issues, paying their fair share for government provided services, asking for nothing and giving everything, inspiring and attracting believers, and a lot fewer storefront churches doing little other than paying utility bills, making mortgage payments, and supporting founding pastors and their families.
We would have true separation of Church and State, most IRS employees would take early retirement, politicians would quit spending their time granting concessions for votes, freedom and faith would take giant steps forward, and the clamoring would cease.
(Revised slightly May 10th, 2015)