Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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May 16, 2006
"The Business of Faith"

The cover story of the May 2006 issue of Black Enterprise magazine provides a very intriguing overview of what you could call the "CEO pastors" of the USA's current black megachurches.

A lot of the big (brand?) names are here: T. D. Jakes, Kirbyjon Caldwell, Anthony G. Maclin. [Though there's no mention of the one with my favorite name: Creflo A. Dollar.] So too are mentioned a number of the at least quasi-for profit business entities that seem to stand parallel to their church counterparts: Pyramid CDC [a poorly chosen name?], The Power Connection, the Collective Banking Group.

The issues raised connect up in so many different directions, perhaps because the article taps well into this contradictory moment of life in the USA.

About half of the piece grapples with the question of how (not so much "whether") pastors can be trusted to oversee with honesty their churches' multi-million dollar for-profit side businesses, and what rules might apply to keep the finances transparent. The authors don't shrink from acknowledging the "skulduggery" of pastors like Bishop Eddie Long. However, much of the treatment of the mechanics and ethics of church finances reads like an advertisement for the services of outside financial advisors like Chitwood and Chitwood. These advisors, it's suggested, can set up a "firewall" to keep the sacred and the profane from mixture.

One interesting angle from which to view the piece is the pastors' attempts to square the acquisition of megabucks with the principles of their Scriptures. Rev. Long invokes Rev. MLK: "One of Dr. King's legacies is economic empowerment." Another pastor explains, "Almost one-half of the parables in the New and Old Testaments deal with money. We are representing in the 21st century what the Lord said and did in the New Testament."

In this regard, I thought it a little odd that the piece did not mention that the pastors' striving simultaneously to do well and do good might be part of a broad and recurring tradition of preaching a "Gospel of Success/Wealth" found throughout American society and history.

Even more notable is the sense conveyed by the piece that the megachurch movement in black America is standing alone, going beyond service as an engine of mere self-reliance to minister instead to a population that the rest of the country has written off. In a lead editorial, the magazine's editors explain why it's fallen to the business arms of megachurches to replace crack houses with shopping centers and affordable housing:

What these ministries are doing underscores what's not being done in our communities by local, state, and federal government. There's enormous pressure on our churces to pick up the slack.

This point is notable because black churches were intended as a centerpiece of the Bush administration's faith-based, "compassionate" agenda. Rev. Caldwell is sometimes called Bush's "pastor," or at least one of them. However, the name "Bush" does not appear once in the article. What happened?

Why might megachurches be forced to go it alone to help their congregations economically? Just how blocked are the avenues of advancement in the "mainstream" or secular world?

One sad piece of evidence appears elsewhere in the same issue of the magazine, under the headline, "Ferguson Resigns from Federal Reserve Post." Yes, it appears that Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., who some thought in line to succeed Alan Greenspan and become the first black chairman of the Federal Reserve, handed in his resignation from the Board of Governors, effective about three weeks ago. All the remaining members of the Board now are Bush appointees.

Why did Ferguson, with his nine years of Board experience and three degrees from Harvard, not make the cut (though he was given the "honor" of swearing in the new chair, Bernanke)? Said a senior economist quoted in the article: "Ferguson was in the running for chairman, but he wasn't Bush's man."

Why not?