Church Must Decide Which It Serves: The State or God

Church Must Decide Which It Serves: The State or God

Politicians who love the Kingdom of God must deal with a tough question: Should they advocate cutting loose the church from its tax advantages? For its own protection, should donations to churches cease to be tax deductible? There is a case for it. A recent decision of the Ontario Human Rights Commission reminds us that he who pays the piper, calls the tune. If the OHRC’s tune is to be widely echoed, it is not one churches can dance to, lest their message be compromised.

Reprint from: http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/theeditorialpage/story.html?id=2acc8ab6-4f59-42c2-b242-c7ca82bc0d87
Nigel Hannaford
Calgary Herald

Politicians who love the Kingdom of God must deal with a tough question: Should they advocate cutting loose the church from its tax advantages? For its own protection, should donations to churches cease to be tax deductible? There is a case for it. A recent decision of the Ontario Human Rights Commission reminds us that he who pays the piper, calls the tune. If the OHRC’s tune is to be widely echoed, it is not one churches can dance to, lest their message be compromised.

 

Christian Horizons is a mission to the developmentally challenged, started 40 years ago by a minister with two children who might have been institutionalized, had he not started it. Its history is a notable testimony to the power of God, working for good through individuals. Now, it runs 180 group homes in Ontario and cares for 1,400 clients with a staff of 2,500.

 

A condition of employment though, is that staff sign the mission’s code of conduct. Consistent with Christian orthodoxy, it features a clear ban on unbiblical sexual behaviour: adultery and sex before marriage are no-nos, likewise homosexual relationships.

 

At airport security, nobody is obliged to be searched who chooses not to board the plane. Working for Christian Horizons is like that; nobody must work for it who chooses not to sign the paper. Some non-Christians might think it quaint, but it’s their organization. In any case, many people (and not just Christians,) positively approve those principles.

 

However, the OHRC has decided Christian Horizons must not only drop its code of conduct, but send its whole staff for sensitivity training.

 

What happened was that an employee outed herself, resigned, then complained to the commission that by insisting on its code, Christian Horizons had discriminated against her.

 

The OHRC agreed, ordering Christian Horizons to pay her money. And to change its culture. "Christian Horizons shall develop and adopt an anti-discrimination and an anti-harassment policy as well as a human rights training program for all employees and managers . . . [and] shall cease and desist from imposing the Lifestyle and Morality Statement as a condition of employment."

 

Why? Briefly, the OHRC said it was fine for Christian Horizons to provide a Christian home atmosphere, using committed Christian workers, for developmentally challenged children who would otherwise be institutionalized. But as it was contracted to Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services, it couldn’t discriminate against gays on the public nickel.

 

There is some logic to this.

 

It does, however, leave Christian Horizons with a miserable dilemma. It can stick to its doctrine, but for want of cash do no good. Or it can continue its good work, but to the glory of the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, not God. The trouble is, this goes for any Christian organization — and non-Christian religious organizations, too. A Christian school that’s 50 per cent funded by the state, has no right to complain if the state vetoes textbooks it doesn’t like. A church running a soup kitchen or providing other relief using public funds leaves itself open to governmental prescription.

 

And I don’t think the church generally has appreciated that the state has no obligation to give it a property-tax break or make tithes tax-deductible, if the church preaches a message the state doesn’t like. Which, in times past, it often has.

 

Long before there were tax breaks, the church did good work out of love for God. The first hospitals, schools and universities were founded hundreds of years ago by the church. As this was to the state’s advantage, it gave the church concessions. This, too, was logical: why make it more difficult for somebody caring for the sick by taxing his hospital?

 

But those were different days. In Christendom, even men who rejected Christ for themselves nonetheless acknowledged His church as the source of morality.

 

Today’s consensus places equality above biblical teachings as the supreme moral virtue. Indeed, for mankind’s greater comfort, the very concept of sin has been banished and this OHRC decision is a case in point. For it does not merely find Christian Missions discriminated against a lesbian employee by insisting on its moral code. It says the moral code must go — AND goes on to tell the mission what it must think: out with Scripture and in with contemporary understandings of human rights. Our moral code is better than your moral code, believe it.

 

This has disturbing, oppressive overtones. The day is coming when the church, as an institution, will have to decide which it will serve. (For Christian Horizons, that day is here.)

 

Loss of tax privileges would grievously hurt its ability to serve the community. Yet, the church’s first duty is to be faithful to God’s word — service is a consequence of that, not the church’s prime function — and that may come at a price.

 

Didn’t it always, though? The quicker the church weans itself off tax privileges, the quicker it will be strengthened to resist the state when the state intrudes on its doctrine.

Caesar is welcome to his tax, but not to worship.

 

nhannaford@theherald.canwest.com

 

© The Calgary Herald 2008
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