Church-State Separation & the CARES Act - Word&Way

Church-State Separation & the CARES Act

church and main
church and main


He was one of my religious liberty heroes — Dr. G. Hugh Wamble. He stood squarely, firmly in the classical, historical position of Baptist forebears who understood, cherished, and defended religious liberty and church-state separation. Those men like Roger Williams, Thomas Helwys, and Isaac Backus, and patriot leaders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, would all agree on one simply principle — no government aid to religious entities.

Wamble understood, supported, and promoted —without equivocation or reservation — the fundamental, foundational principle of no government aid for religion. Were Wamble still with us, he would be raising the alarm, I am certain. Therefore, given he cannot warn us, I humbly offer my voice on this critical matter.

Under the recently enacted CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) — houses of worship will be permitted to step up to the public funds trough and eat their fill.  Various organizations have put forth explanations and summaries on the Act. CBF Church Benefits provides a summary of the Act. Therefore, I will not be redundant by providing my summary.

I certainly understand this is a decision for each individual pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, or other religious leader and their congregations to decide: Are they going to accept and rely on government aid to continue their ministry? I am certain, for some religious congregations, they may be in need of funds to keep their ministry going. I suggest, pastors and people of faith will live out that faith and not be looking to the federal government — that is, taxpayers — to underwrite religious exercise or religious ministry.

There should be serious concerns, since nothing like this has ever been done before in the history of our nation. Either the lending of government funds to religious entities, or the granting of such funds, by cancelling of loans blows a hole in the wall of separation much larger than to drive the proverbial Mack Truck. It destroys the wall. With government dollars will inevitably come government rules, regulations, and restrictions. Already, the calls by religious leaders who want government aid are asking for exceptions and exemptions from the government-imposed rules.

While I hear certain Baptists are leading the charge to be the first in line for the government funds, and others are taking what they apparently think is the safe position by not speaking out one way or the other, I hope and would urge Baptists of every stripe to reject government funding of their churches.  Just say no. Walk away from the government funds trough. Don’t start partaking of the husks with which others, who do not value church-state separation, are filling their bellies.

Written by

W. B. Tichenor is pastor at Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri and a former legislative liaison for the Missouri Baptist Convention.