I wrote in the first part of the paper that the church – at its best – is humanity’s imperfect embodiment of the world as God calls it to be and that, of course, the church is not always at its best. The United Church of Christ, like all expressions of the church, exists in this tension. It exists in the tension between the world as it is and the world as it is called to be. It exists in the tension between the ideal embodied in official documents of the denomination and the messy reality found in the congregations and other expressions of the United Church of Christ. It also exists as the place where my faith finds a home: at times a place of familiarity and comfort, at times a place of strangeness and struggle. In this part of this paper, I want to acknowledge this tension in the history and polity of the United Church of Christ.
My own context is necessarily informed by my status as a white, middle-class, straight, cis-gendered, American male who was raised in a small university town in the north by well-educated parents and who has an education in philosophy and theology. At least as importantly, it is informed by my field work in marginalized communities and by my professional life in communications and financial development for the charitable sector. All of this contributes to there being two watch words for my theological concerns and these reflections: charity and liberation.
This e-appeal was the last appeal for 2014 and went out the day after Christmas. It went to everyone in the Mission’s database who had an email on file. I created the design and wrote the text.
This appeal was sent at the very end of 2014 to all individuals who had given in 2012 or 2013 but who had not yet given in 2014. The design continues the familiar wave motif. I wrote the text, which references stories that had appeared in other appeals throughout the year.
I won’t attempt to psychologize these issues, but I will note – along with Dylan Matthews, who used the article in a post on Wonkblog – that Cragun et al are “not exactly disinterested parties; their research appeared in Free Inquiry, a publication of the Council for Secular Humanism.” That authors with ideological investments sometimes make poor arguments in favor of those investments is not news. We all do it now and again.
In the last post in this short series, I dealt with some preliminary issues regarding the understanding of ‘religion’, ‘charity’, and the nonprofit sector. Now I want to turn to the meat of “Research Report: How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the United States”: its estimates of the subsidies that religious congregations receive through their tax exempt status. As we will see, these estimates are likely to be wildly off.
The meat of “Research Report: How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the United States” is in its estimates of the subsidies that religious congregations receive through their tax exempt status, and this is the area that has received the most attention. Cragun et al, however, spend several pages discussing whether ‘religions’ are charitable or not, coming to the conclusion that they are not and heavily implying that noncharitable organizations should not be exempt from taxation. In these pages, Cragun et al provide an untenable description of ‘charity’, divorce both charitable organizations and religious congregations from the larger nonprofit framework in which they exist, and display a general ignorance of the nonprofit sector. It is to these issues that I turn now.