Dear Rev. Graham: If the Tax Cut is So Good for Churches, Then Why is Giving Down?

On the November 21 edition of the Eric Metaxas Show, Metaxas interviewed Franklin Graham and the two literally demonized Trump’s opponents. Watch:

Graham first suggested an “almost demonic power” is behind opposition to Donald Trump. Metaxas interrupted to say that such opposition is demonic and the product of a spiritual battle. I could talk for paragraphs about this idolatry, but I will refer you instead to a tremendous article by Peter Wehner in The Atlantic out today. Wehner deftly makes the point that Graham and Metaxas degrade political and religious discourse with their demonization of opponents. Instead of disagreement with contrasting ideas, we have damnation of an opponent’s character.

Did Trump Raise the Economy from the Dead?

And speaking of ideas, Metaxas and Graham threw out a couple I want to address. Metaxas first declared that “literally three years ago the economy was dead in the water” and then agreed with Graham that now it is “screaming forward. That’s a fact.” But is it a fact?

The economy is pretty good by some measures. However, as I pointed out on Twitter yesterday, it wasn’t dead in the water when Trump took over.  In his The Atlantic piece, Wehner expanded on this today.

At the same time, economic growth under Trump has been so-so. GDP growth—which, under Trump will not reach even 3 percent during his first three years in office—is decelerating. The deficit has exploded. The manufacturing industry is in recession. And job growth during the last 33 months of the Obama presidency was higher than job growth during the first 33 months of the Trump presidency.

A good analysis of before and now was done by Heather Long who examined 15 indicators during the Obama years and the Trump administration up to the present. No, Eric, the economy was not dead in the water. Your Dear Leader hasn’t completely tanked it yet, but he had a healthy starting point.

Do Big Tax Cuts Lead to Big Tithes?

After Metaxas’ incomplete economic analysis, Graham suggested that the good economy has a special benefit for churches and Christians. As the leader of two huge nonprofit ministries with somewhere around a million in salary per year, this is something Graham surely knows about. Graham said more people are working so more people are tithing. Graham attributed the economic growth to the tax cut.

However, are religious contributions up since the tax cut? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was signed into law on December 22, 2017. Many provisions went into effect in 2018. Was there an immediate impact on religious giving?

According to the Nonprofit Quarterly, “giving to religion is estimated to have declined by 1.5% (a decrease of 3.9% adjusted for inflation).” Specifically in conservative churches, nearly half of churches in a Lifeway 2019 poll saw their giving decline or remain the same from 2017 to 2018. The tax law increased the standard deduction so many people may not have donated as much because they didn’t get a deduction for reporting it. Some may be saving up deductions for the 2019 tax year so the immediate effect won’t be known for awhile. However, there was no immediate obvious bump up in religious giving.

Furthermore, in Graham’s own Samaritan’s Purse ministry, giving was down significantly in 2018. Giving in 2018 was down $88.5-million which represents an 11% decline in giving over 2017.

So in short, opponents aren’t demons and perhaps things aren’t as good economically as Dear Leader and his followers suggest.