Should your church (or Christian organization) obtain a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan offered to nonprofit organizations, even faith-based organizations, due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
This may seem an odd question, but the question is floating around many nonprofits including churches, the problem is that donations are dropping because of the coronavirus situation and many budgets are stressed. With respect to churches, the budget stress tends to revolve around facilities expenses. Facilities are not cheap to either build or maintain, and current philosophy that “churches in debt grow the most” does nothing but to contribute to the problem.
We know historically that two major factors contributed to this facility expense situation. A few decades ago it was the church growth movement that motivated churches to go in debt in order to fill pews. Today many pastors, while rejecting the church growth movement officially, practices its principles. They may not be confessionally church growth but they are functionally church growth.
Our current progressive social models also demand certain things of our facilities, especially in urban and suburban areas. This largely cannot be helped because we can only minister where we are at. Still, I wonder how many churches go just a little too far. That sounds accusatory and perhaps uninformed, but how many of our churches really need gymnasiums? My suspicion is that the truth is somewhere in between the reality and the pessimism.
That said, there are, as I see it, two questions we need to ask. The first of these questions is, as it should be, the theological question. As is part of the Evangelical Free (and historic evangelical/fundamental heritage: What does the Bible say?) The second is, not simply a practical question, but the ethical cap growth of the theological. It that it is a very practical theological question. (If our issues are merely pragmatic then we would do well to question why we call ourselves church.) That is, What does the God intend in what He commanded?
The Theological Question:
The first question is this: What is our role in society? How does the believer interact with the government?
When it comes to civil (not criminal) matters, we are enjoined in 1 Corinthians 6 from employing public civil litigation for internal matters. There are several reasons give by Paul for this. One is that this is God’s church (the theme of this letter) so that the world has no business in church matters. Another is that believers exist as part of a greater kingdom, one which transcends the immorality of this present world. Much more could be said. But in brief one can say that the separation to be enforced is on the part of the church. Civil courts, then as today, would find a certain level of satisfaction in judging church life.
We participate in a society through the paying of taxes (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17) and are obliged to participate in the general operations of government (Romans 13:1). These matters are not our prerogative but normal societal obligations which the New Testament clearly endorses. In any case we are never called to willingly sacrifice either a specific or a general conviction regarding the expression of the Christian faith.
To apply for a SBA loan is one where we take prerogative. It differs from those normal obligations clarified in the New Testament. How this works out is noted in the second section.
Also, to obfuscate between what is commanded and what is allowed would not make for a strong argument for taking government loan. The difference between what we are commanded to do and what we are free to do is fairly clear in the NT.
Let us not violate 1 Corinthians 6 on this matter.
The Ethical Question:
This page from the SBA website addresses the more practical second question: Are there strings attached? Is there a cost in taking such action?
The SBA is a diversity program. It is not simply a loan program. One portion of its purpose is social engineering. (It’s in the text.) This document is not only about their internal operations but also about their requirement for recipients.
Toward the bottom of the page it reads:
“Any other Federal statutory law that provides that no person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, national origin, disability, be denied participation in, the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
We may at first find this language innocuous. But I will suggest that it is far from trivial else it would not be present. If it be a mere formality then why is it even there?
One thing I have learned over the past two decades is, when reading material published with a confessional frame of reference, is that the author means everything thing he says. When Hegel said that the state is the arbiter of morality and every disciple of Hegel follows suit with that practice, one sees evidence that the author’s intentions were understood and followed. When a governing agency says “if you take this money then we have the authority to influence your socio-political questions at our discretion” they mean just that.
To answer point of the first question, to take a government loan is to go further than the issue of 1 Corinthians 6. In that passage the church members went to the court. In this matter a church is effectively inviting the state in to litigate matters in church life even when no disputes have arisen.
One may also note that there is nothing in this language which says that the obligation ends when the loan is paid in full. It’s just not there. The obligation comes on the part of the recipient. It exists for the life of the organization. I do not relish ever going to court to say “this contract is ended” when it is not that type of contract.
It matters not whether the state ever lays (functional) claim to its authority. The fact that we give the state such authority and opportunity is the issue. The ethic follows the theology: To take a government loan is to disobey the Lord.
Once we take their money we are finished (ethically and theologically) as a church. We will be no longer God’s church (1 Corinthians 1:1-2). We then become the state’s church. We become the “diversity” version of the state church in communist China. Though we may not be obliged to confess a Marxist ideology we are obligated to a neo-Marxist ethic. Same song, second verse. Please, do not make that compromise.