A Multi-Billion Dollar Social Club: A Deeper Exploration of The Black Church
By Guest Blogger: Roosevelt “Arje” Jackson
EDITOR’S NOTE: Guest blogger submissions may or may not be the opinion of RFFocus or its editors. We welcome writers and comments to all stories. This story may not be copied or republished without the permission of RFFocus .
When the soul yearns for peace and the spirit is worn and torn, the only shelter that declares healing is the Church. Much like when the physically ill turn to a doctor or the hospital for a remedy, the spiritually wounded seek healing from a pastor or the church. The effectiveness of any church’s ability to mend the inner afflictions of the spiritually lost remains a mystery. Religion, shrouded in antiquities, ancient traditions and myths, has possibly dissatisfied the well-grounded more than repaired the broken, yet the human is either wired or conditioned to know this omnipresent power that is greater than all matter, scientific aptitude, and existence. The world is experiencing a new age of spiritual awakening and experiment centered on the human purpose and how the concept of being coexists with spirituality and the logical existence of God and whether religion plays a significant part in this understanding. There’s no denying that humans have always been infatuated with the spiritual energy of the unknown. This could explain why some doctrines believe that it must be contained.
Why do we attend church?
The obligations and traditions to liturgy persuade many into believing that by submitting their will to religion or the practices of worship promises a closer relationship with God. The decision to accept an institution that promotes salvation can relinquish personal responsibility and accountability. Essentially, holding someone or something culpable for our constant mishaps and misfortunes can be left at the altar of the church. The church in turn on behalf of its parishioners displaces shame and guilt onto itself and the community, then disturbingly out of habit and tradition or possibly some strange psychological warfare, discreetly resembling the Stockholm syndrome, the congregation unequivocally doles out their hard earn money to the Church in the form of an imperious tithe. This isn’t an outline to a Tyler Perry’s play, but the experiences of many who have turned a deaf ear to the practices of the church business. Surprisingly, this knowledge doesn’t stop millions from attending church regularly.
Why do Blacks go to church? There was a time in our history when Blacks were not allowed to assemble not even to worship. During the Great Awakening of the late 18th century, White evangelical Baptist and Methodist preachers traveled throughout the South to appeal directly to slaves which resulted in a number of conversions of the slaves. Blacks found opportunities to have active roles in new congregations, especially in the Baptist Church, where slaves were appointed as leaders and preachers. During much of this time, Blacks could not worship without the supervision of a white person. Uniformly, worshipping or exercising liturgy wasn’t practiced by Blacks until the early 19th century. Ironically, research and statistics today express that African-Americans are the most devout group of people in America. The Pew Research Center published a study divulging that 90% of African Americans express absolute belief in God as compared to 70% of the general population. The research found that 80% of African Americans reported that religion is very important in their lives when compared to 50% of the general population, 55% of African Americans interpret the bible literally as compared to 32% of the general populate, and lastly men are more likely than women to have no religious affiliation. These numbers suggests that African Americans express an excessive affinity towards religion and church, especially Black women.
There’s no question that church for the Black community has been instrumental in our development, survival and progression. What it was and what it has become even feared Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a social club. It goes to say, that many Black Americans because of a deep rooted history in church attend not in purpose but strictly out of habit, obligation and tradition. Many visit, many go, many stay, many sing and shout, and possibly praise, but few actually serve by the methods of the Bible. This misinterpretation usually starts with the Pastor.
The Pastor’s Calling
The church’s mystic and how it idolizes pomp and circumstance, and pageantry, which is laden in the Black church, intoxicates it’s congregants into accepting that the rituals exhibited in church today favors God. Is it mockery or faith, the ease at which a great orator, who wittingly cajoles the indolent into sudden rapid and uncontrollable response of euphoria, can mesmerize people into believing that he has “The Calling”? Unaware of man’s gift of persuasion as somehow guised as anointing by God, but possibly the work of a great hypnotist, or a great motivational speaker, many people confine themselves to every Sunday not to be edified or exalt God’s love, but to be reminded, in a yo-yo state of disorientation, that God only loves them if they come to Church every Sunday and pay their tithes.
The audition for the best pastor to serve his flock for the Kingdom of God has been announced. The successful pastor grabs his congregation with melodic twists and turns of homiletic and didactic offerings of biblical verses, followed by a syncopated cadence that syncs with the beat of one’s heart, smothering an entire auditorium with colorful textures of tone, heights of register and sine waves of pitch, delivering emphasis with crescendo which eerily resembles an operatic composition, ending with laying shame and guilt alongside everyone’s unsteady heart. But the show must go on because The Pastor has “The Calling”, He’s anointed and He’s above reproach.
[quote]The guilt game, the hypocrisy, the greed, and the dishonesty casting an unforgiving shadow keep most men from looming in that darkness[/quote]
Pastors are mere mortals who proclaimed to be “called” by God to serve the people and preach or teach the word of God. Every affliction suffered by the congregation is an affliction that the Pastor may be wrestling with himself. This may or may not make him a great Pastor depending on his own intent. CNN.com recently reported that men who represent the Clergy lead in the highest suicides among any other occupation. The statistics didn’t summarize additional demographics such as race. Black pastors often exhibit exaggerated self-importance and self-posturing, even when caught in a whirl wind of deceit and scandal, to ever commit suicide. History and statistics have shown that many will fight to uphold their credibility and integrity even when the facts are against them. The most idolized pastor prefers to stand at the pulpit as if they are God. Bolstering arrogance with no regards to humility places them in a strange position to be scrutinized. They often express a blatant intolerance for worldly adventures while simultaneously indulging upon it in secrecy. For instance, the pornography industry reportedly earns roughly $12 billion annually. A recent report published by Pastor.com communicated that 54% of pastors admitted to watching pornography on a regular basis. The litany of accounts on pastors engaging in carnal pleasures is astonishing. The research never accounted for those Pastors who might have an addiction. The research and obvious evidence of many Pastor’s poor behavior is (click “Next” for next page of story) alarming to most “heretics”. What does the congregation, the saved, do with these statistics? Nothing but pay – correction – pray for forgiveness.
Unfortunately, the reports of unscrupulous behavior committed by Black Pastors continue to rise. Breaking News – Pastor Short Penny has pleaded not guilty to sexual molestation of a minor, gross corruption, racketeering, money laundering, and tax evasion. Shortly after the plea hearing, the pastor’s wife filed for divorce siting physical and emotional abuse. Could this be the reasons why it was reported that overwhelmingly across all socioeconomic structures Black men refuse to attend church? The guilt game, the hypocrisy, the greed, and the dishonesty casting an unforgiving shadow keep most men from looming in that darkness. Why do Black women desire to entertain obvious impiety from the intent of “The Man of the Cloth? The reasons have all been hypothesized; some theories have been very controversial. One such argument pronounced that the Black church is keeping the Black woman single. The Black community is honestly too afraid to even warrant the question because the theory may weigh alongside much validity. The Black congregation has been duped into believing that holding their pastor accountable bares comparison to questioning God. Why is the Church so afraid of its own truth?
Sanctuary for Atonement or Business for Profit?
The journey to a church home has proven quite difficult for many. How many times have you heard that a good church is so hard to find? How many times have you been asked by friends, family, co-workers, even strangers to visit their Holy Dominion?
[quote]There are several Black Churches that don’t prescribe to this constitution or bylaw[/quote]
Churches across America reported membership attrition at its worse. This doesn’t insist that people are leaving the church but suggests that new membership has dwindled considerably. A number of variables could be contributing to this decline. Although Black’s in their late teens and early 20’s aren’t exiting the church as quickly as their White counterparts, there remains an alarming sense among this demographic that feels that the Church is pushing them out and also keeping them away. The reason could rest in the style of the church’s worship, music and the sermons that are preached are not relevant to their generation. This group of young people continues to express that they are not given many opportunities to become involved. If membership continues to drop, this could have an adverse effect on the business of church across the nation. The order of church has always changed with time and the flow of society. What is the church willing to compromise to meet its current bottom line?
The impressionable mind frequently succumbs to every exaggeration and affirmation of the pastor’s poetry, holding on to every sonnet and rhyme elevated from the pulpit. Already broken into pieces because their sense of peace is too scattered for reasons that are very familiar to so many: “I’m hungry”, “I’m scared”, “I’m alone and lonely”, “I’m depressed”, “I’m broke”, the saints, instead of seeking atonement, begin to worship disappointment when come Monday all that has been prayed for did not come to fruition. The betrayal develops into a habit that permits the subjection of artificial hope come next Sunday. The church, with millions of dollars in its reserves, promising complete fulfillment oftentimes leave many sitting in the pews spiritually unnourished. This possibly doesn’t explain every Black church in America. To infer or imply that every church resembles the picture painted above would be complete fabrication. There are several Black Churches that don’t prescribe to this constitution or bylaw. Unfortunately, the picture painted is not the exception either. The blue, purple and red hues are the ugly reality and untold truths about Black Churches in America, regardless of size or magnification.
There seems to be a building holding a cross sign on every corner or within every dilapidated strip mall across America. Ant-like motions trafficking in and out, looking for something or someone that wasn’t where they left guides the feet of many of these unsettled souls. The movement is almost reminiscent to an assembly line of car parts, but instead of parts the conveyor belt harbors the souls of living people. Several find success and rest. There are a few who continue with the journey and others just give up for various reasons. The several that decide to invest are praying for a return on their investments. The lofty promise for eternal life has become a lucrative business for many churches. The business of church runs parallel to the methodologies of a fortune 500 company. The major difference between the two is that one promise to deliver tangle services and products while the other promises a life everlasting based on faith and religious practices. Commonly, the investment consistently rewards the operation more than the cooperation of the communion. No one can escape the concept of commerce, capitalism and Big Business in America. We can all agree that nothing is free in this world. What’s the price for a soul on a covenant that may not return any success? What are the chances that when it’s time to meet our maker and when Jesus has returned for the just that the (click “Next” for next page of story) self-righteous is witnessing the Kingdom along with the praying sinner. The answers to this wonder aren’t always so clear, but the question relentlessly knocks on the temporal lobe.
You reap what you Tithe
The debate over tithing may foreshadow one’s desire to tithe. However, a relative understanding for tithing may implore others to tithe. Whether and how a person tithes is very personal. Listing Bible verses to qualify the pros for and cons against tithing would be futile. The interpretations relating to tithing are often too murky, confusing, contradictory and self-satisfying. Every church has its own constitution and bylaws for tithing, like requiring a full disclosure of members Annual Tax Return to determine what one should, or should have, tithed throughout the year. It is a fact that the majority of church members tend to tithe some form of their gross earnings to a faith-based organization. During the years of 1980 – 2000, the Black church collected over $400 billion in tithes and offerings. Where did all that money go? Many Black churches refuse to be transparent with their financial accounts. What do they have to hide? Many members are too afraid of retribution to ask the church how their tithes are being spent, some honestly fill that it’s blasphemy and sacrilegious to question their church about money.
A general publication offered some clarity to the allocation of members tithes. This isn’t necessarily true for all churches. The distribution usually begins with the largest, the pastor’s salary which is usually 60% of all tithes, 35% to the church infrastructure and mortgage, 5% to youth ministries and 0% to the poor or the community. Typically special offerings are taken for concerns that fall outside the mentioned criteria. Funds to address social and welfare needs of the community and congregation can be acquired from federal grants.
Religion and Politics
Since George W. Bush rolled out his Faith-Based initiative, roughly $100 Billion of grants has been doled out to religious charities that commonly proselytize and discriminate in hiring. The initiative was designed to assist religious groups in their charitable efforts to help the homeless, the poor, indigent children, drug addictions, and various welfare and social programs, with a stipulation that none of the funds can be used to support any inherent religious activities. There’s no way to audit how faith-based organizations are actually spending the money. More often than not, the money is dispersed through earmarks –; a controversial practice whereby allocations for specific groups or projects are slipped into very large appropriation bills. Because the bills are so massive, the allocations are often overlooked. How can this be qualified when government funding for programs like education continues to be slashed? What’s the point of funding these faith-based charities when tomorrow’s children will be ill-equipped to even read the Bible?
[quote]The church tends to create the most self-absorbed, condescending, self-righteous, pugnacious, and judgmental characters.[/quote]
One particular earmark allocated to a brow scratching initiative under a faith- based organization was the conversion of a North Florida prison into the nation’s first faith-based lockup all funded by the government. This means that churches are currently building and operating prisons. This is an example of how politics aligns with religion. It’s difficult to absorb that our government is allowing the usage of federal grants to potentially incite political manipulation. It was widely rumored during Bush’s 2nd term for office, his campaign strategized to use grants to garner the Black vote. It has been suggested by a number of church and state separatist groups that many politicians use these very grants to dole out money to impoverished neighborhood in an under handed effort to sway votes. The power of money rule man’s moral compass and the value on power distort man’s sensibility. It’s amazing what a person would do for money and power. It’s even more astonishing how man easily succumbs to power and money. A deception disguised by money and power resonates more with the masses than the truth in its purity. The human experience has always yearned for the promise of opulent ideas and has been programmed to follow these ideas at any cost, even life.
Cult or Religion, What’s the difference?
The congregation, self-proclaimed to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, unintentionally disregard the teachings of the Bible, or maybe intentionally. Clueless of the Bible’s history, intent and context, the blessed and highly favored are incessantly fluent in spewing out verses in the name of prophesizing. They are swift of tongue to pontificate with exact mannerism what has been pastorally coached or scripted to them. The reverence shown to the pastor by the congregation can shockingly resemble the honor that cults give to their deities and masters. There’s often dissension and disorder with many congregations as it has been proven in many cults. The indifference shown by fellow members towards each other and their community doesn’t follow the compassion one should give as described in the Bible. The moments the rituals have concluded and the sermon ends, many in the congregation hurriedly exits the building to beat the barrage of their brethren rarely expressing any courtesy, patience or politeness. The congregation expresses submission to man, symbolism, and ideology, admiring the worship, the different ministries, and rituals more than the true teachings of the Bible. The church tends to create the most self-absorbed, condescending, self-righteous, pugnacious, and judgmental characters. Are they so insulated in their gross ideology that when truth sits on their lap they push it away to coddle a lie. The hold that many pastors have on their congregation is mind boggling.
The ruse carried out by many Black churches cannot be solely the workings of the pastors. The masterminds behind this stratagem involve a number of benefactors. The congregation may know them by name because it’s engraved on every building and program. While the congregation bow their heads and lift their hands to God, they are unaware of the bureaucratic and political antics secretly being played out by the Deacons, Board of Trustee and other church officials. The congregation is completely oblivious to the secret meetings conducted by these appointed officials to discuss money issues that affect them.
Today’s deacons are usually old men passed their 60’s and simply put accessories of the church, much like the ferns strategically placed around the stage, who often serve no purpose. Additionally, deacons are members appointed by the congregation tasked to serve with the pastor and the staff in performing the following pastoral duties: proclaim the gospel to believers and unbelievers; care for the church members and other persons in the community; and lead the church to achieve its mission. The word “Deacon” adequately translates to “a table waiter; a domestic servant; one who attends to the needs of others. They are to be the servants of the people, looking after the needs of the congregation. Many more stories than not describe a deacon as someone who instead of offering support, gets in the way of the congregation.
The Board of Trustees holds all legalities and logistics concerning church property and assets; they often determine how the tithing, federal grants, and offerings are spent to fulfill the need of the congregation. Trustees are members of the church who are usually completely removed, consciously and physically, from the plight of the church constituency. They usually have always had money or forgotten what it’s like to be without money, so they show obeisance to their own monetary needs and not the needs of the (click “Next” for next page of story) congregation or the community. Simply put they don’t care about the poor, only their bottom line and their vested interests.
The shocking truth about these appointed members of the church, proclaiming to be saved, is that their construct doesn’t follow any Bible methodologies. It’s completely artificial and unwarranted. The congregation, rooted in their traditions, has become too afraid to challenge the church and its practices.
[quote]It makes it nearly impossible for the willing participant to find spirituality in religion when it lacks spirit. [/quote]
Spirituality without Religion
This article purviews this subject of Black churches with an objective to expose the queer and unusual practices committed by institutions of faith-based organizations. The power of Church leaders to politicize their value and moral constraints onto the plights of others, especially, when it’s very difficult for these same leaders to live under those same doctrines and dogmas is an egregious attack on many minority and sub minority groups’ constitutional rights. The fundamental purpose of an American bequeaths the right to practice religion, beliefs and worship. America was designed to allow man free will and volition to carry out his own purposes regardless if it differs from the masses. The right to practice a religion is what the constitution promised. Can man do so without devaluing the purposes of others? When the value of someone existence is waged by religion and business, it essentially disenfranchises a person purposes thus derailing any opportunity for the pursuant of happiness and joy It makes it nearly impossible for the willing participant to find spirituality in religion when it lacks spirit.
The main concern of most “heretics” highlights the brainwashing and hypocrisy by today’s church. It models closely to the methods of a cult and less with the teachings of the Bible. Pastors come across more like demagogues than men of God. It’s quite frightening to absorb conceptually and to watch the latest religious crusade attacks on differences. The same fear expressed by our ancestors when colonist ceased parts of Africa or by the Jews when Hitler turned an entire country against them. World history revealed that religious crusades massacred millions of people while toting a Bible in one hand and a weapon in the other. Classifying tiers of sin for the mere purpose of persecuting groups of people yet allowing others who commit other sins reprieval is the antithesis of any religious teachings. It is by most religious account sacrilegious. Yet people continue to worship these ideologies and practice these beliefs.
The church, especially the Black church, should be asking itself many questions. Why is the church preying on Black women who pray? What aren’t there any initiatives for outreach to the neighborhoods in which the church resides? Why aren’t there more Black women in leadership positions? Why does the church hate homosexuals? Why are the churches spending more money on the Pastor than the congregation? Why exhaust tons of money to erect a coliseum that’s only occupied once a week? Why does the church hesitate in making their financial records transparent? Where was the church during the Travyon Martin trials? Why hasn’t the Black church expressed outrage for the injustices done to young Black boys? Where is the outrage with the disparity of Black men in jail, crime in our neighborhoods, community dilapidation, young black boys dropping out of school, the education of our Black children, teen pregnancy, poverty, disrespect, abhorrent behavior within our communities, and infectious disease like HIV/AIDs? Where’s the Black church when it’s time to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, assist the incarcerated, aid the sick and ill, or even comfort the soldiers who return from war? Where are the church and its saved congregation when their service is required now more than ever?
The Black church, as it was in the past, should be the beacon of hope, the catalyst for change and conduit for a great Black America under the auspice of spiritual growth. Sadly, it has reduced itself to another fraternity or sorority, another auxiliary club representing nothing but a heighten sense of classism and egoism. The dynamics of today’s Black church reveals itself like a Ponzi scheme; invest sweat, favor, prayers, faith and more importantly money and the return for your contribution would be everlasting life. Wouldn’t most people desire a life of joy within this understanding, which is the right now, this lifetime, this moment as oppose to waiting for joy in the unknown? This principle glorifies a living to die concept, when it should purport living your best life concept. The Black church has at its disposal momentous resources to redefine and underline the greatest potential of Black America. In its allusion ceased by greed, it continues to fail every aspect of Black living, from shame to intolerance, and from abuse to dissent.