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Was it wrong for churches to take PPP?

The prevalence of churches that accepted PPP loans is probably starling. As a matter of public record, all loans over $150,000 are public record, and the largest churches in the United States partook. Evangelical media partook. Seminaries and state conventions partook. In the video above, I walk through the data that I compiled on America’s most influential churches. For further reading, and to find out whether your church partook, see the original article on the churches and pastors that accepted forgivable PPP loans.

But the question I want to ask after having reported the initial story is: was this right or wrong? Part of the lockdown relief SBA program was designed to assist nonprofits. Legality aside, there is a lot of room for debate on this issue. There are legitimate concerns that taking Caesar’s gold will corrupt the church, but there is also the immediate need for those in mission work to have money so they can continue doing mission work. A lot of these questions are secondary to how churches have acted since the lockdowns, but the PPP remains a significant matter because of how churches went about obtaining it and their motivations behind doing so.

The observation that I am seeing locally is that churches pursued this money quickly without disclosing this information to their congregation. I personally know of instances where deacons were not informed that their churches pursued this relief. This lack of transparency is not only unethical but in probable violation of church bylaws concerning the acquisition of debt. It would seem that churches are giving their financial committees carte blanche which is a sharp deviation from New Testament church governance.

But with America’s largest churches, majority of them were approved for loans between April 4th and April 18th, indicating that these churches hastily pursued relief. This haste is likely because America’s megachurches are more often run like businesses than New Testament churches.

Several parachurch organizations, I noted as having received PPP loans, may have genuinely needed the money. State conventions are involved with church planting, and you can make the argument that keeping otherwise insolvent churches alive by accepting PPP is the right course of action. Seminaries had jobs that were impacted by lockdowns, as well. The only Southern Baptist seminary to not have PPP was Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They were ineligible either because they are too large or because they fired theologically conservative professors like Dr. Russell Fuller who opposed Critical Race Theory. This seminary’s reason for not having accepted PPP loans may be for worse reasons than much of the organizations that did.

But there are certainly some instances of organizations being unethical. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission got paid and opposed religious liberty efforts throughout 2020. Mike Todd’s church is flushed with enough cash to buy a mall but still took it.

This data tells us a lot, but it does not tell the whole story. It can tell us what people did and when they did it, not why they did it or what they have done afterwards. In most instances with these megachurches, they took taxpayer money and peddled panic porn. And this behavior is not changing, especially with a looming round two of relief.

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