Cities and towns shouldn’t be so quick to oppose a ministry locating within their borders, contends Rev. Ben Johnson, the senior editor of the Acton Institute.
It’s because the religious congregations in the United States, some 344,000 of them, have a total economic impact of up to $4.8 trillion.
Johnson pointed to the lawsuit by Tree of Life Christian Schools against Upper Arlington, Ohio. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court decision that allowed the city to zone out of its borders Tree of Life, which would have brought in hundreds of jobs.
Tree of Life bought an abandoned, 254,000-square-foot AOL-Time Warner building. But the city declined to rezone the property for nonprofit use, “because a commercial purchaser would generate more funds for politicians to spend,” Johnson said.
“When a nonprofit petitions a zoning board, politicians see only the lost property taxes they can no longer collect and allocate. But a good leader, according to Frédéric Bastiat, ‘takes account both of the effects which are seen and also of those which it is necessary to foresee.’ Statistics show that churches and religious institutions are almost as great a blessing to their communities as they are to their members,” Johnson wrote.
The economic impact of all 344,000 U.S. religious congregations “is somewhere between $1.2 trillion and $4.8 trillion, according to a 2016 study by Brian and Melissa Grim. The lower estimate was, at the time, “more than the annual revenues of the top 10 tech companies, including Apple, Amazon, and Google combined.”
He pointed out property values go up, along with property taxes, when churches are located nearby.
Further, he explained: “Religious belief impels believers to improve their community and help the least fortunate. Each year, Christian church members volunteer 56 million hours outside their congregations. Those who are civically engaged are twice as likely to say religion is important in their lives as those who are not active in their communities.”
Programs range from community meals to soup kitchens, food banks and homeless shelters.
“All of this merely accounts for churches’ and synagogues’ services to non-members (something that the government has too often punished rather than facilitated). Numerous studies find that church attendance decreases criminal or anti-social behavior, especially for at-risk communities. ‘The greater the proportion of a county’s population that is religious, the lower the violent crime rate for Whites and Blacks,’ discovered Jeffery T. Ulmer and Casey T. Harris after studying 200 counties in three states. African-American youth are 22 percent less likely to commit crime if they actively attend a religious congregation, according to Byron R. Johnson of Baylor University’s Institute for the Studies of Religion,” he said.
Religious schools provide an outstanding education, which, among many other benefits, helps reduce crime, he wrote.
“These quantifiable, ancillary social benefits flow from churches’ greatest service, which is proclaiming a message of unconditional love, universal human dignity, and divine redemption. God has purchased our salvation, ‘not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ’ (I Peter 1:18-19). Redeemed people draw from it the power and impetus to redeem their communities,” he explained.