The Greening of the Pew
There’s something very disturbing going on in Prince George’s County. Unlike the normal stories of corruption we see from there, this one has more to do with County Government intruding into the pulpit at local churches:
The news was as welcome to the group of Prince George’s County pastors as a plague of locusts: Maryland’s controversial “stormwater remediation fee” applied to all property owners, including houses of worship. Depending on the acreage, churches faced a tax of hundreds, even thousands of dollars….
…After months of negotiation with county environmental director Adam Ortiz, the pastors emerged with a rebate deal that will significantly cut the fees if churches adopt programs and equipment that will curb runoff, lessen pollution and help bolster the environment.
So far, about 30 churches have applied. Forestville Redeemer was the first. They are planning to install rain barrels, build rain gardens, plant trees and, perhaps, replace their blacktop with permeable pavement. The government will cover most of the cost. In return, a fee that was estimated at $744 a year will be reduced to “virtually nothing,” Ortiz said.
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Thomas and other pastors also have agreed to start “green” ministries to maintain the improvements at their churches, and to preach environmentally focused sermons to educate their congregations.
I can’t think of many more things as disturbing as that. And both County Governments and Church leaders are to blame.
First off, Counties should never have applied the rain tax to Churches and other non-profit organizations in the first place. Non-profit organizations are exempt from other taxes at the state and federal levels, including the sales tax, income taxes, and property taxes. While I understand the premise behind levying these taxes on non-profits given their amount of permeable surfaces, it still strikes a disturbing double-standard…
….But that’s not nearly as disturbing as the idea that Prince George’s County Government would dare to suggest that churches could get a discount on the rain tax by preaching directly to the congregants about environmental issues. There is never (and I mean NEVER) an appropriate time for a government official to suggest what a religious official should preach about. It’s a particularly galling thing to do at a time where so much ruckus is being made in the Courts (as we have seen in Carroll County) about Prayers made at County Government meetings, or where prayers at the General Assembly are to be secular only.
The pulpit is not a sandbox that government should be playing in.
However, this scheme only works because the Ministers involved allowed government to get involved in this way. These preachers are allowing government to have influence over their sermons and their church services, and for what? To save money on a tax. In the case of Forestville Redeemer, as mentioned above, they sold out for $744. Is that all that basic First Amendment Freedom of Religion is worth to the Minister and Congregants of that church?
The issue at hand here, for me at least, is actually far beyond the Rain Tax. These Churches have set a dangerous precedent for subjugating their religious teachings to government approval. What happens the next time that the government levies a tax on them, or passes legislation that has a negative impact on churches? What will the government ask them to preach next time? Will they being to ask churches to not preach certain tenants of their faith? Will they ask the churches not to preach on teachings that violate certain “government approved” activities? Will churches be asked to no longer preach that marriage is between one man and one woman? Will churches be asked to no longer preach about the sanctity of human life?
Now that Pandora’s Box has been opened, what will churches be asked to deny next?
The funny part about all of this is the fact that there are already plenty of references to the environment and being a good shepherd of our planet’s resources already in the Bible. Even in Genesis, God’s creation of the Earth is noted as good and we as Christians should rejoice that we are living in His creation. Leviticus 25 even talks about the necessity of crop rotation (Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather. The US Council of Catholic Bishops have a section of their website dedicated to the Environment, and quotes His Holiness Pope Francis from his inauguration:
“I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
My point is that there is really no need for Churches to have a financial incentive from the government to preach about the environment when it is something that can already be preached about given the need to respect God’s creation.
But that didn’t stop them from selling out for tax relief anyway.
The Rain Tax is a very bad thing, and it the fact that it applied to non-profit organizations (including churches) shows just how far Democrats will go in support of their secular religion of environmentalism. But the church leaders who gave the government the ability to influence the direction of their sermons have done far, far more damage to the future of their ministry than any amount of taxes could. Perhaps they need to remember the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”