Last week, the Small Business Administration launched its $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program — part of the federal government’s $2 trillion stimulus package intended to blunt the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The program will offer assistance to small businesses, nonprofits, and houses of worship. While the SBA has implemented measures to ensure religious freedom is protected among churches and faith-based groups, some, like the CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, are wary about taking the assistance.
In an interview with Faithwire, Chuck Bentley said his 44-year-old organization qualifies for the SBA program, but argued it was important for Crown to forgo taxpayer funding.
“We didn’t want to borrow money; we didn’t want to have a grant that came from taxpayers,” he explained. “So we just declined to do it.”
Bentley suggested churches, which are historically supported by the tithes and offerings of their congregants, to “slow down” before jumping at the opportunity to receive money from the federal government.
For a church to be in such dire straights this early in the crisis as to require a portion of the $350 billion program raises questions about how well its leadership is communicating with their congregation and whether repaying the loan/grant inside the two-year window would even be possible.
“If their people aren’t responding so suddenly,” Bentley said, “how will they be responding if this gets worse? Would they default on the loan in the future? Would the taxpayers who hate supporting a religious organization, will they rise up and cause trouble in the future? Will they use this as a means to try to overturn the tax-exempt status of churches and 501(c)(3)s in this country?”
He went on to say he thinks the latter scenario is “likely,” noting the letter sent last week by American Atheists to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza. The group argued the government program is “forc[ing] citizens to support a religion that is not their own.”
Bentley, it should be noted, made clear he doesn’t believe it’s biblically wrong for a church or faith-based organization to take the government assistance. He is, however, encouraging ministry leaders to be cautious and to weigh the pros and cons of the program.
As for how pastors and nonprofit leaders should approach conversations about this issue — particularly when it comes to finances — Bentley said it’s important to frame the pandemic as a crisis.
Christians, he said, are like the “white blood cells” in a body. When there is a crisis — be it an earthquake, a tornado, a hurricane, or any other natural disaster — the church runs to help.
“We need to express it in those terms: this is a crisis,” Bentley said. “This affects us all; it’s global. And we need to help one another. We need to rise up and be the church. In Acts 11, when the disciples got together in Antioch and Agabus said a great famine is coming across the whole world, the disciples said, ‘OK. Then we’re gonna start giving.’ They didn’t start hoarding; they started giving.”
Now, he explained, is the time for believers who are financially able to exhibit “an unprecedented, extraordinary outpouring of generosity to protect the church and the ministries that will be serving people through the crisis.”
Ultimately, Bentley is encouraged. He said he is eager to see the church “rally” during this uncertain season because “this is the time for the church to show itself strong, to show itself different, to show itself as the goodness that it brings to the world, and I think we’re gonna see that.”