Harsh poverty plagues our country despite its great wealth. More than 33 million Americans are poor, by any reasonable standard. Another 20 million to 30 million are needy. Poverty is increasing in the United States, not decreasing.
For a people who believe in progress, this should be cause for alarm. These burdens fall most heavily on blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans. Even more disturbing is the large increase in the number of women and children living in poverty. Today children are the largest single group among the poor.
Paul L. Wachtel addresses this economic dilemma from another angle in the book “The Poverty of Affluence.” The economic dilemma of America was not caused by a shortage of resources, rather our problems stem from the mentality we exercise in relationship to available resources.
I’m not here to tell you about the disadvantaged economic status of African Americans or how America’s economic system is characterized by instability and tainted injustice. I’m here to tell you about what we must do and what the church must do.
In the book, “The Social Teaching of the Black Churches,” Peter J. Paris accurately analyzes the black church involvement in economic empowerment. According to Paris, economic empowerment in the black church was directly related to educational and moral development. The black church was a significant economic institution itself and provided major support for other black economic enterprises.
But the black church as a whole never gave black economic development a high institutional priority. Historically, the black church took the position that educational advancement and civil rights must be in place before economic development could become a reality.
The church remains today the most pivotal institution in the black community. It should take more seriously the vision of black economic development in high institutional matters. Community development corporations should be a part of its ministry of social and economic justice. The black church is still the primary institution that carries the hope and aspirations of the community. No other institution, including the traditional civil rights organizations, have the following of black people like the church.
The size of a church’s congregation does not determine its ability to implement a vision of economic empowerment. The commitment of a small congregation can give birth to this kind of ministry. Ministries of economic empowerment take some time before they show major results. Churches that have ministries of economic empowerment gain a new respect from the community. The community views the church as having a daily agenda as opposed to being seen as only a Sunday situation.
Much is written about black poverty, ut taken as a group, blacks aren’t poor. We earn and spend over $400 billion yearly and buy 50% of all movie tickets. More than 54% own bank cards. If that wealth was well organized and leveraged, it could reap huge payoffs.
I take this position because America has been developed on the backs of black labor. Black people have invested too much in this country for this generation or future generations not to demand its equal rights and position within the economy of this society. At the same time, we must continue to strongly advocate a sense of self-determination. We should place as much emphasis on economic empowerment as we do electoral politics. We should not allow our future to be determined by who sits in the White House or any other political seat.
As a community, we must utilize the financial resources we have as good stewards and build our future by practicing collective economics, building our own institutions and educating our children.