Opinion

Stop Criticizing Churches for Taking Government Help in a Pandemic

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Posted: Dec 22, 2020 12:01 AM
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Stop Criticizing Churches for Taking Government Help in a Pandemic

Source: AP Photo/Jessie Wardarsk

Congress may not have realized it, but they hit a stroke of genius when they included faith-based organizations in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) this spring. Congress’ critics should reserve their criticism for other aspects of the nation’s Covid-19 response.

The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to help companies and nonprofits retain their employees in the early days of the pandemic shutdown. And, brilliantly, Congress decided late in their deliberations to include faith-based organizations.

Our executive search firm works with thousands of the nation’s faith-based organizations, so when PPP passed, we immediately set out to help our clients receive the help they needed.

We counseled thousands of churches, schools, and nonprofits through the process and directly helped over 275,000 people receive aid. While the program was not perfect, I can say that it was a tremendous success and everyone at Vanderbloemen is deeply thankful for Congress’ foresight.

Unfortunately, now, pundits and critics seem to be acting as if it was especially untoward for the government to provide this assistance to churches. They’re wrong. In order to understand why please consider what might have happened if communities of faith had been excluded from the PPP program.

What would have happened first?

Unemployment. Lots of it. 

Places of worship, and other faith-based non-profits, are also huge employers in virtually every community in America, large or small.

The amount of aid given by the PPP program was solely based on an organization’s headcount. A large organization had more employees whose jobs were threatened by this once-in-a-century health and economic crisis.

Large churches are easy targets for criticism by people who simply don’t have all of the information. Take for instance, the criticism of Lakewood church in my hometown of Houston. I don’t attend Lakewood. In fact, I come from a different theological stream all together, but I would bet that many criticizing the mega-church for receiving PPP funds do not realize that neither Joel nor Victoria Osteen have taken a salary from the church in over 15 years.

Secondly, communities would’ve been hurt more deeply than people likely realize if our churches and nonprofits had been excluded because of the assistance they provide to people every day. It’s too bad that acts of kindness don’t make the headlines as often as controversies because churches have been pouring kindness into our country this past year at an unprecedented rate. 

My friend Jud Wilhite, pastor of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, is a good example. When the casinos closed this spring, unemployment skyrocketed north of 30% in Vegas, and nobody was there to help the helpless. So Jud’s large church began distributing food. They have since distributed over 9 million pounds of food to over 800,000 people in his city. Imagine what would’ve happened if the staff at Central Christian Church were unable to continue their work helping support their community?

I think of my good friend Eric Geiger at Mariners Church located in hard-hit California. When they couldn’t use their building to meet, he and his staff mobilized and opened a free childcare center for front line healthcare workers. 

Of course, in any circumstance where money was misappropriated or misallocated the authorities should take appropriate action, but it is inappropriate to try to shame churches and religious organizations for taking assistance provided by the government to help people keep their jobs and to help those organizations continue to serve their communities in a pandemic.

For every bad example, there are ten thousand good examples of how churches -- of local and national influence -- stepped up.

Congress isn’t always genius, and PPP wasn’t perfect. Neither are churches, and neither am I.

But in a year of unprecedented turmoil, I have a suggestion: let’s spend more of our energy giving high fives than indulging in cynicism.

It has been a trying time -- literally -- for everyone. One of the blessings that many of us can celebrate is that our communities of faith have helped us along the way. In this case, Congress mainly deserves praise and churches mainly should be celebrated for what they’ve done to help people get through it.