This article was originally published on Humorality, on January 29, 2009.
In Congress We Trust
In an ominous sign of the toll taken by the ongoing economic slowdown, President Obama today called on Congress to come up with a stimulus package that will allow struggling churches to remain solvent. The White House is asking for $326 million to be used for the largest congregations across the country.
Obama made the announcement during a press conference. “Churches across our nation are hurting. Some congregations are on the verge of bankruptcy, weighed down by scriptural demands to help the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. The government is better suited to handle this vital role, and I call on Congress fill the spiritual void.” Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate vowed to come up with a bill in the next two weeks, dismissing Republican concerns over a government takeover of worship.
The religion industry has been hard hit as church members and visitors alike begin to prioritize their spending habits. Gone are the days when collection plates bent visibly from stacks of five-dollar bills. Instead, churches are resorting to checking the pew cushions for any loose change that may have fallen out of pockets during lengthy sermons or upbeat hymns. Many congregations, particularly those in urban areas, are issuing layoff notices to some of their members. The elderly are disproportionately impacted, due to their lower rates of salvations per dollar given, and the increased medical insurance costs stemming from their potluck contributions.
Donations to churches are down as much as twenty-five percent in some parts of the country, especially in the northeast where major employers are laying off thousands of workers. “I want to give to the church, but my family comes first,” said Joseph Clark, a blue-collar factory worker and long-time Catholic living in Pittsburgh. “I have to ask myself what’s going to benefit my family more: giving a few hundred dollars to the church, or getting a Wii system for the kids to keep their minds off of their hunger pains.”
Smaller congregations that don’t qualify for a share of the bailout money will need to find other solutions to their financial woes. Vladimir Adamson, pastor of the 150-member Our Provider Methodist Church in Greeley, Colorado, was disappointed at the 2,000-member minimum requirement on the proposed government rescue. “I don’t understand how Uncle Sam expects us to survive. Who else is going to provide for our needs?”
Sarah Becker, a congregational leader in Adamson’s church agreed. “We’ve been looking for ways to cut costs, both in leadership and laity. We used to allow people a free ride as guests for as long as they wanted. But times are hard. The church council instituted a policy at our last congregational meeting requiring that guests either be baptized within a month of their first visit or find another place of worship. This will save our church over $3,000 annually in coffee and donuts alone.”
Surprisingly, many commentators outside the church are unhappy with the call for ecclesiastical support. Bill Fields, vice president of the group People for the Godless American Way, calls the plan a “spectacle” and promises to lobby Congress against the proposed legislation. “Frankly, I wasn’t at all surprised when I saw on TV the leaders of the Presbyterian Church USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Southern Baptist Convention riding to Washington, DC on donkeys. All they want is more of my money. They’re just like Jesus!”
And the discontent is not limited to the eternally condemned. Some church leaders worry about the messages such a financial policy sends to future believers. “It’s not that I’m against government-run churches,” said Evelyn Chang, a bishop who spoke on condition of denominational anonymity. “I worry about the children. We’re asking future generations to pay for the salvation of today’s Christians. There’s just something wrong with that, although I’m not yet sure what it is.”