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How Megachurches Spent Coronavirus Relief Funds

Religious groups got $7.3B in forgivable loans. That financial security helped ministry teams focus.

Mike Vaughn doesn’t think churches should accept money from the government, normally. But when the administrative pastor of the Palm Valley Church in Goodyear, Arizona, looked at the looming economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus shutdowns, the staff jobs he was trying to save, and the way Congress structured the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to be used by religious organizations, he felt different.

“That program is a worthwhile exception to the general rule,” Vaughn told Christianity Today.

Palm Valley is one of more than 88,000 religious organizations that received money from the Small Business Administration as part of the CARES Act, which President Donald Trump signed in March. The CARES Act gave $521 billion in PPP funds to small businesses, nonprofits, and churches between the beginning of April and the end of June. About $7.3 billion went to religious organizations, according to government records.

Providing money to churches was unprecedented and controversial—even among evangelicals. Popular Christian financial advisor Dave Ramsey strongly discouraged churches from taking the money on his radio show, for example.

“It’s a triple don’t do it for churches,” Ramsey said. “Here’s why: You just let the federal government into the management of your organization.”

Chuck Bentley, CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, had similar concerns.

“Is it really manna from heaven? It’s manna from Caesar, that’s for sure,” he said. “What’s it going to look like in terms of the optics in the long term, that this is where the church went for a rescue?”

Vaughn is sympathetic to that point of view. He also understands why those ...

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Grace in the Garden

Morality as given by God is sown in the hearts of all people.

When I survey American evangelicalism, an issue plaguing our public engagement is the implied notion that Christian concerns over what is just and moral are inherently sectarian. In other words, our concerns for the world are only “Christian concerns” and not concerns about the world more broadly. Relatedly, what Christians consider as imperatives for engagement are often mediated through the politically popular. For example, there is no shortage of Christian enthusiasm to marshal our resources to combat sex trafficking.

But the same quest for justice animating our excitement in one arena demands equal attention in others if we are to be consistent. Christian engagement cannot stand, or fall, based on what is popular. Our reflection on addressing social ills cannot be determined by whether society accepts our claims as Christians, but whether society itself lives with or against the grain of God’s creation. This is our Father’s world, whether the world realizes it or not.

Is there a consistent moral backdrop for Christians to solidify our public proclamations? A few years ago, I wrote an essay for Christianity Today with Dan Darling entitled, “We Should Expect Non-Christians to Share Our Morals.” We argued that there are not two differing moralities, one for Christians and another for non-Christians, but two differing responses to a single morality: obedience or disobedience to what God has ordered for all. Christian morality is the moral reality shared by all people because God’s true and good creation encompasses everything.

Historically and theologically, the idea of a single, intelligible and discernible moral order given by God is referred to as “natural law.” Often ...

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