Dear Pastor, Should Your Church Accept CARES Relief Funding from the Government?

Dear Pastor Friend,

Last Thursday, April 23, 2020, additional SBA “Guidance” was distributed in relation to accepting CARES Act funds from the federal government. Certain warnings then were issued by various law firms to carefully evaluate the requirement to certify the ‘necessity’ of the funds under penalty of fraud. And, if any doubt all funds could be repaid by May 7 with no harm, no foul considerations.. My concern has long existed in regard to whether it is advisable for churches to pursue and accept loan assistance from government. My own fellow deacons and church leadership have grappled long and hard with this decision. But my experience as 18 years in the PA General Assembly and studying history, law and biblical teaching on God’s order of jurisdiction has taught me that entanglement is easy. Getting caught in a trap is easy. Getting out is hard.

I would like to pass along two specific lines of comment on this entire deliberation. First,regarding the need to be cautious in regard to this deliberation, I previously sent cautionary notes to our Deacons and Pastor’s staff on April 3, April 14, and April 21. In each of these
notes, I expressed a range of concerns: there is no such thing as free money; strings are always attached; there are no Biblical precedents for accepting civil authority aid; it challenges a church’s reliance on God; it sets a negative precedent for the future. The list goes on.

Secondly, upon closer examination of the legislation itself, my concern became even stronger. Within the language of the law, definitions are purposefully vague; the use of ‘guidance’ by government bureaucracies is left incredibly open. Clearly invasive ‘strings’ or ‘entanglements’
are rarely included in the actual text of law; otherwise, it would be easily identified and rejected out of hand. “Strings” happen most often through regulations and rulemaking of enforcement entities, in this case the SBA, in conjunction with the Treasury and likely the
IRS. Prompted by atheist organizations who bring lawsuits that end up in liberal courts, these ‘strings’ can become hanging ‘ropes’. The strings of this bill end up as a result of the open ended “Guidance” and to a lesser degree the ‘Sense of the Senate’. The strings, however, can only occur where there is ‘linkage’.

Unfortunately, linkage with government already exists with churches who took 501c3 non-profit status when Congress and the IRS created
this Treasury Department designation. Secondary linkage occurs when government money is pursued and accepted by a church.
According to this CARES Act, a free-standing church (non-501c3) would not be qualified for any of this financial aid. The law states that only non-profits as a 501c3 can apply. The ‘business’ designation is the existing linkage/category that makes a church ‘qualify.’ Ignored by most
attorneys, however, is the fact that churches are tax-exempt because they are churches. The linkage of the 501c3 status is the only ‘legal’ way the IRS can leverage churches and the pulpit.

This linkage is a problem because all business entities—corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships, non-profits—are by law “creations of the state.” And what the state creates, the state has a right to regulate. Pursuing and accepting money places every church in a position of not only potentially committing fraud under the regulations, but defacto confirms this linkage before the law as a ‘creation of the state,’ not a distinct, separate body of God-created jurisdiction. I am therefore, firmed in my sense that we should decide as a body of elected leaders to decline any acceptance of funds from the CARES Act. It is our responsibility to understand this issue and refuse entanglement.

Thank you for your consideration of these thoughts. If I had not worked through details like this in my 18 years in office, I would not be laying out this thought process. But I learned much and feel I must pass this along.

May God add His blessing and Guidance to us.
Sam Rohrer
The Hon. Sam Rohrer is an 18-year veteran of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and president of the American Pastors Network. He also co-hosts nationwide radio and television programs, Stand in the Gap Radio and Stand in the Gap TV. Learn more at AmericanPastorsNetwork.net.

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