The Church Devalued and Demeaned
Throughout the history of this country, we have always valued institutions based largely on the contribution they make to society. For example, universities and colleges have been held in high esteem because of the societal gain derived from education, parks and libraries because of the gain derived from reading and recreation, and churches because of the gain derived from moral and spiritual instruction. Yet certain aspects of this valuation are changing.
Over the past few decades, our culture has shifted under the onslaught of postmodernism, so the moral and spiritual instruction supplied by the church is no longer valued as it used to be. Therefore, the value which older generations drew from churches via instruction and oversight is now being encroached upon by another value: the almighty dollar.
Of course, this push to devalue the church's moral contribution -- and thus its societal value -- is not only dealing a travesty to recent generations gone before us, but to the whole of American history as well.
In the 17th century, Puritans built their colonies around their churches and conducted colonial businesses in light of them. In the 18th century, the Great Awakening permeated the walls of the church, touching every facet of life as Americans of all walks cried to God anew. During the 19th century, especially the poignant years of the Second Great Awakening (1820-1855), the church was an invaluable social destination for community gatherings. When sermons weren't being preached, discussions about America's republican form of government led to discussions on temperance, abolition, and each man's responsibility to help his neighbor.
The church survived intact until late in the 20th century, when the leftist onslaught changed from "in your face" to "in your place," and activists of every stripe pursued the pulpit in order to further their various causes. (Thus, certain churches are often accomplices in things like the homosexual agenda instead of an impediment to it.) Thus, rather than calling the culture to repentance in light of biblical truth, churches increasingly reflected the culture, actually providing a degree of spiritual comfort for all sorts of behavior.
These things, combined with society's burgeoning secularism, have contributed to an environment in which a city like Mission, Kansas, has no compunction about taxing churches under the guise of a "driveway tax" on property owners. After all, what good does the church accomplish except in cases where a leftist ideologue stands behind the pulpit to further his or her cause?
So, although the most flagrant non-churchgoers used to abide a church's tax exemption because of the service they rightly believed the church offered the community, the church is now seen as devoid of metaphysical value, and therefore, the only benefit it can give is through taxes on the dollars donated to it and the property it owns.
It's a telling fact that the tallest structures in towns across this land used to be church spires. Now they're often eclipsed by banks or government buildings. While this isn't to say that money or government is a bad thing, it is to say that our focus, our evaluation of what's most important in this life, has taken a dramatic turn, and churches seem to be getting the worst of it.
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund (www.telladf.org), a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty and the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.