'Churches' in a Time of Coronavirus
Canopy Forum, 2020
3 Pages Posted: 8 Oct 2020
Date Written: October 2, 2020
Six months after in-person church services came to a grinding halt, religious attendees are returning to the pews—but in significantly fewer numbers. This steep decline in church attendance, even if only for the short term, could have lasting effects for how we conceive of “churches” as a legal and religious matter.
Legally, the lack of in-person services could affect a church’s status for tax benefit purposes. I argue that a “church” defined under the “congregational approach”—that which requires the regular, in-person gathering of individuals to engage in worship—should retain its status as a church so long as a community of religious believers intends to hold regular, in-person religious gatherings, transitory crises that make such gatherings impossible notwithstanding. Religiously, the virus-induced shutdown of in-person religious activities may in fact cause religious believers to rethink the importance of liturgy and ritual and community for what it means to be a church. This blog post focuses specifically on community and the important role that fostering church community will play in the return to normalcy for churchgoers.
This blog post was published as part of the October 2, 2020, blog webinar on “Law, Religion, and Coronavirus in the United States: A Six-Month Assessment,” which was hosted by various centers for law and religion at BYU, Emory, Notre Dame, St. John’s, Villanova law schools: https://canopyforum.org/2020/10/02/churches-in-a-time-of-coronavirus/
Keywords: coronavirus, law and religion, church, tax exempt, 501(c)(3)
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