Church Buildings and Poverty
A while back I read somewhere that American Christians spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 billion a year on church building construction and maintenance. That figure does not include the amount spent by members of other religions on their temples, shrines, and mosques. I’m sure you could easily add at least a couple billion more. And don’t forget, all that construction is happening on tax-exempt land–an instance of non-believers being forced to help subsidize religious activity.
In my years of ministry I have done my fair share of fundraising for building projects. It was certainly my least favorite part of the job, but I used to see it as a necessary evil.
The October 23rd issue of The New York Times contained a great op-ed piece on the ramifications of the global population surpassing 7 billion. According to this article, providing modern family planning methods to all the people in the world who currently do not have access to contraception would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.7 billion. Providing universal primary and secondary education would cost between $35-78 billion.
Defenders of organized religion often point to all the “good” that churches are doing in the world. And there certainly are some religious groups that make a difference. In my experience, however, church service projects are often not done all that efficiently, and they frequently have theological strings attached. Plus, who knows if religious people engaged in social justice are truly being motivated by their faith. They are probably inherently altruistic people who would find a way to serve and give anyway.
If Christians really wanted to make a dent in global suffering, they would put a moratorium on new church construction. $10 billion per year would go a long way.