A Letter from the Executive Minister
American Baptist Churches
of the Rocky Mountains
9085 E. Mineral Cir., Suite 170
Centennial, CO 80112
April 23, 2020
A Pastoral Letter on the Paycheck Protection Program
From: Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran, Executive Minister
Uncharacteristically, I am writing this third pastoral letter to you during the COVID-19 Crisis. Although the occasion for my writing is the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), I am not so much concerned with that as I am with the state of the church.
This round, like the first, would provide funds for churches, businesses and other organizations who continue to provide employment to their staff during this difficult time. On first blush, this is a good thing that my colleagues and I in denominational leadership have endorsed and promoted to you. If you and your congregation were unable to successfully obtain funding in the first round, I encourage you to get informed and be ready for this second round … although I must admit some reluctance on my part! This reluctance was there with the first round as well, but I was unable to put into words my concerns at that time.
You see, as a Baptist, the idea of the state funding a program of the church is always a little concerning … and yes, I know there are protections built into the bill to guard against the more common concerns we Baptists and other religious leaders have historically expressed. My greater concern is the church nestling down further in the bed of the government, even though both institutions were created and ordained by God, albeit for separate and distinct purposes. The more we nestle down in the same bed, the more difficult it is for us to fulfill our separate functions.
If we remember our history, it was the marriage of the institutionalized church to the monarchies of Europe that spawned the “protestant” revolution. In particular it was the marriage of the Anglican Church and English Monarchy that caused a group of English Separatists to find their way to the New World and organize what has become the Baptists of America (not just ABC mind you, but the whole lot of us “Baptists”). This marriage of the church and the monarchy kept the Anglican church from fulfilling its role as a moral guidepost for the monarchy when it began to wander into questionable lifestyles. Further, it was this marriage of the church and monarchy that caused the Crown to delve into and to order the arrest of those whose theologies would question that of the Anglican church. In other words, it was the marriage of the two that politicized the church and kept it from serving one of its core roles, to be a moral guidepost as was Nathan for King David.
And while I am not as concerned that the American church will be reluctant to criticize the American government even if they have bailed us out in our time of need, I am concerned that we are becoming a political lackey for the government AND I am even more concerned that this leads to a further abdication of another of our duties as Christ’s church; the duty to care and provide for the “least of these” (Matthew 25). Indeed, our failure here has compromised our ability to speak with authority to our culture.
It seems to me that one of primary responsibilities of the church is to care for the poor, the sick, the abandoned, the disenfranchised, as commanded (or at least commended) by Jesus in the parable of the Sheep and Goats. If my understanding of our history is correct, from the formation of our country the church took responsibility for “the least of these” by creating and running orphanages, hospitals, schools and other of what we today call social service ministries.
But in the last hundred years we have begun to abandon that responsibility.
We have abandoned it by the insistence that government take responsibility for many of these concerns and by our spinning off the church’s ministries into separate organizations that can receive funds from the government without complication. Many of these organizations remain connected to the church in name only, operated by an independent board as a non-profit organization that may or may not give homage to its Christian heritage.
And all of this has led us to a point that when the church stands up to say, “This is wrong!” society says, “Who cares?” “What has ‘the church’ done for me? The government gives me money to put food on the table! This hospital may have a Christian name that takes care of me, but it’s not the church! And it’s Medicare that pays my bills, not you!”
And now the government is offering to help the church out in this time of crisis.
Nothing ostensibly wrong with it.
Unless it shifts our dependence in times of crisis from a God who cares to a government who pretends to care (I don’t see the politicians weeping over the deaths of the Coronavirus victims as Jesus did over Lazarus!).
The one on whom we depend will shift if this money is used to merely keep the doors of the church open (so to speak within the limits of social distancing), and if we neglect fulfilling of our purpose as the tangible Hands and Feet of Christ in this present world.
But if this money is used to allow the real ministry of the church to be carried on…to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to educate our young, to visit the lonely, to encourage the fearful and to proclaim the Lordship of Christ … if it will be used to actually do the things Christ created the church for, then it is one God ordained institution helping out another.
So, I am writing not so much as an expression of either support or concern about the PPP.
I am writing to encourage the church in this time to continue to be the church.
I am writing to remind the church that our help comes from on High, not from Washington.
I am writing to remind you that the church can still be the church, even without a paycheck.
Steve Van O
Look for our weekly e-mail news updates for Coronavirus information and resources, and routinely check our ABCRM Coronavirus Web page.
Rev. Dr. Steven C. Van Ostran
ABCRM Regional Executive Minister
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains
9085 E. Mineral Circle Suite 170
Centennial, CO 80112