Wednesday, June 13, 2012
It’s been years since I’ve watched the film Beckett. There’s a scene early on where Henry II is meeting with his bishops and announcing new taxes. The archbishop demurs and it’s a matter of principle. Henry’s reply runs along the lines of “I’ve hired three thousand Swiss mercenaries. I can’t pay the Swiss with principles.” Henry II didn’t pay them with money from the church either. It was left to Henry VIII pull the church in England away from the control of Rome.
In some ways we’re still living with the fallout. Can a religious organization headquartered half the world away call the tune when it comes to local politics. Yes, the bishops are US citizens. But, they owe their power and rank to Rome; not to any American institution. Members of the church accept this situation, but I’m not a member of the Roman Catholic Church. Aside from a custom of tolerance what gives Rome the right to call the tune for me?
It’s been custom more than anything else that has exempted the churches from taxation. The first amendment says that congress can’t pass any laws establishing (favoring) one church over another. Doesn’t say anything about taxes.
And I’m not sure if certain congregations are more involved with politics than ever. The Catholics spring to mind. But, what used to be handled behind the scenes is out in the open. And with national media and the internet what’s going on is a hell of a lot more obvious. If you want to play in the political arena it’s long past time to pay. A comment on the failure of a “religious freedom” ballot measure in North Dakota ran along these lines. “What we have isn’t religious freedom, it’s religious privilege.” Certain groups, because they claim to be churches, are exempt from obligations the rest of us have to fulfill.
Would it hurt congregations that have shrunk over the years and still have large buildings to support? Probably. The church mom attends has been getting very creative. They’re currently renting kitchen and dining room space to several groups that offer community meals, that sort of thing. Ebbert is a big, beautiful, century old building with an aging congregation. And I suspect that tax laws could be tailored to protect smaller congregations. But, we’ve got two hospitals in our area and Sacred Heart (non profit, Catholic) doesn’t charge any less than McKenzie Willamette for its services.
The truth is this isn’t about religious freedom. It’s about control. It’s about defining who is truly a citizen of this country and who isn’t. It’s about who makes decisions when it comes to women. It’s about the law. The Bible and other religious documents are not the law in this country. The constitution is the law. It needs to be said loudly and often. And repeated until it finally sinks into some very thick skulls.