Sunday, July 24, 2005

Where is the black church going?

John Fountain writes movingly in the Washington Post of his disconnect with the black church, which these days seems to be more about money than service. Of course, it's not just the black church that's become materialistic--it's a pervasive problem in Christianity, and I think it started with Reaganomics and the "me-first" individualism it unleashed in society. Here's just a bit:
The church's finger seems farthest from the pulse of those black men who seem to be most lost and drifting in a destructive sea of fatalism and pathology, with no immediate sign of the shore or of search and rescue crews. Without the church, most of those men are doomed. But it seems clear to me that the church does not -- will not -- seek us black men out, or perhaps even mourn our disappearance from the pews.

Instead, it seems to have turned inward. It seems to exist for the perpetuation of itself -- for the erecting of grandiose temples of brick and mortar and for the care of pastors and the salaried administrative staff. Not long ago, a preacher friend confided: "The black church is in a struggle for its collective soul -- to find itself in an age when it is consumed by the God of materialism."

This preoccupation with the material world is pervasive, and has bred a culture that has left a trail of blood and tears in black neighborhoods across the country with little collective outcry from the church. Still, it's one thing for the world to be ensnared by the trappings of materialism -- but the church?

I am incensed by Mercedes-buying preachers who live in suburban meadows far from the inner-city ghettos they pastor, where they bid parishioners to sacrifice in the name of God. I am angered by the preacher I know, and his wife and co-pastor, who exacted a per diem and drove luxury vehicles, theirmodest salariesboosted by tithes and offerings from poor folks in a struggling congregation of families, a number of them headed by single women. This at a time when the church didn't own a single chair and was renting a building to hold worship services.

I wonder why, despite billions of dollars taken from collection plates -- much of it from the poor -- in my own denomination, I see few homes for the elderly, few recreation centers, little to no church-financed housing development and few viable church-operated businesses that might employ members or generate some tangible measure of return on years of investment. I scratch my head at the multimillion-dollar edifice a local church recently erected and wonder if that is the most responsible stewardship for a church in a community filled with poor families.


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