Previously on this blog I’ve made note of model church programs at First Baptist Leesburg (FBL) in Florida, the former pastorate of Dr. Charles Roesel (who, for full disclosure, I consider a personal friend, and whose son is my local ministry partner). FBL is a church that I see as doing the Gospel right – acting on the commission we have to not only preach the Gospel, but also help the poor and needy. They have a “ministry village” which includes services for the homeless, a thrift store, and much more.
They’re a church on target with their mission. They’re also dead in the heart of territory here in my home state ruled by those who complain that they have been “taxed enough already.” Many Christians have piled in to this movement for whatever reason; I have observed that in many cases, said Christians are very well off, and have a tax bill that is dwarfed by their expenses in other areas of their personal budgets, including travel and personal entertainments.
Nevertheless, they say, we pay enough taxes and don’t need to pay more.
The church as a whole doesn’t seem too interested in stressing civic duty, and has all too often acceded to the attitude that government is always a problem. Well, now for FBL, the chickens are starting to come home to roost on that attitude.
A news story here refers to the basics. FBL has hanging over its head the very real possibility that they may have to pay some $55,000 in “fire assessment” fees. That would amount to 1/20th of their current budget. And although they would no doubt spread the pain around to various programs, there’s no doubt that some of that would have to come out of the budget for the programs that are and always will be Dr. Roesel’s and FBL’s legacy. Other churches, smaller ones, would also have to pay large fees relative to their budgets.
I’ll frame the matter a little more distinctly with a past living example. As I said, the area FBL is in is radical “taxed enough already” territory. Residents there are so stingy that one fire station had been housed in a motel for years because residents didn’t want to pay the taxes needed to build a real fire station. (More recently, they finally will be building one.)
Other stories of similar nature emerge from that and other counties under the same influence here. In the same county, residents have also been too stingy to fund the construction of sidewalks so that students didn’t have to walk in the streets mere inches from traffic.
I’ve heard of trickle down economics, but I thought it worked the other way.
Here’s the bottom line. One way or the other, essential services like fire protection have to be funded. And now churches like FBL may end up paying for the stinginess of that county’s residents. In turn, the poor and needy served by FBL will pay also, in their own way.
Now note, please, what I am saying and what I am not.
I am not saying there is not government waste that could be cut. One of my favorite books some years ago was titled The Government Racket by Martin Gross. It was a catalog of outrageous government spending. But waste on the federal level is not a reason to deny funding to a local entity that may or may not need to trim expenses, any more than we refuse to feed one hungry person because another is wasting food.
I am also not saying that the situation is ideal in any event. In a perfect world, citizens would band together to voluntarily fund communal services like fire and rescue, without any taxation. Or, wealthy members of the community would step up and pay for those fire fees on behalf of local congregations. (I’ve been through Leesburg many times. There are citizens there who could wrap fish in $55,000 every year and still live in mansions.)
I’m disturbed by this for more than one reason, including some personal ones I will discuss in some detail later in a forthcoming e-book titled A Church Without Conscience. For now let’s just say that the Tekton ministry almost came to an end as a direct result of the same sort of attitude towards taxation.
In the meantime, FBL and other churches will be asking for waiver of these fees, according to news stories, and it remains to be seen whether Dr. Roesel’s legacy as a servant of Christ will continue to receive the support it both needs or deserves – or whether the selfishness and stinginess of well-fed citizens will trump that legacy. That includes citizens who claim the name of Christ, but in their daily lives remain insulated from the troubles that Dr. Roesel’s missions were meant to address.
Are we sheep…or are we goats?