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INCREASINGLY, THE REligious community is coming to expect nothing but hostility and hyperbole from Washington City Paper.
Last week, “The Tax-Free Zone” (12/2) described religious institutions as though they are all large and economically prosperous. In fact, in the District of Columbia, most religious groups are small and struggling financially. The article ignored the situation of storefront churches altogether. Put an extra financial (tax) burden on those good folks who do so much good work, and many will have to close their doors.
Similarly, the statement that most religious groups are charging “market-rate rents” for programs in their buildings is a distortion. Certainly there are a couple of congregations guilty of such practices. However, most ask only that any extra overhead (utilities, janitorial, security, etc.) costs be covered by groups using their facilities to provide important community services. More than a few don’t even ask for that!
Perhaps City Paper wants to create a tax flight among religious institutions that will match that of the middle class and businesses. However, if the religious institutions are forced to find tax relief in the suburbs, who will feed the hungry? Where will Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other self-help groups meet at little or no cost? Where will the Boy and Girl Scouts meet? Where will the free music events be held? Where will the day care centers find space when they have to pay truly market-rate rents? Where will one go for a moment of silent reflection in the middle of a hectic day?
The fact is, and City Paper surely knows it, the religious community will not flee the city. We are too dedicated to the well-being of this city. My congregation has been ministering in Foggy Bottom for 139 years. Our commitment to the city is eternal. And we are a youngster compared to many congregations who have been serving D.C. far longer. If forced to pay taxes, we will pay them. It will just take funds away from desperately needed programs which help the city.
What we need from journalists like City Paper are not articles that continue to pit church against government, neighborhood against social service provider, rich against poor, Barry supporters against Barry opponents. Such journalism destroys the delicate fabric of our troubled, treasured city. What we need are articles that lift our spirits; articles that engender a vision of a city that is whole, healthy, yes, perhaps even a little holy.
Pastor, Western Presbyterian Church, Foggy Bottom