Economic Empowerment and the Black Church

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Economic Empowerment and the Black Church

The redevelopment of any community is hard work.  It requires vision, leadership, strategy and persistence. This process is arguably much more difficult within the Black community given its historical social and economic fracturing which has limited its capacity to develop solutions to mitigate systemic social and economic challenges.  Let me pause for a moment before I go too far. I want to state a point of clarification. I acknowledge that the Black community is not a monolithic group. African Americans are diverse in every aspect of life socially and economically. However, for the purpose of this piece I am referring to the Black community as the population which predominantly presides in core American cities that have for decades been on the margins of economic prosperity. Now back to the issue at hand.

For decades the question has lingered as to whether the Black community can regenerate itself in light of a mass exodus of the Black middle class from cities leaving behind a smaller middle class and less socially connected Black families in the context of a rapidly changing global economy which has made many economically irrelevant. To make matters worse, this reality is juxtaposed by a larger community framework with limited federal, state and local resources to support community development, non existence or ineffective local political leadership, mass incarceration of Black men, no specific economic leadership anchor within the black community to lead a path toward empowerment, an economic class disconnect within the Black race and the fact that the capitalist system has been frank in admitting that it cannot always create jobs for everyone. This economic reality has certainly been a pervasive fact of life within the Black community that many can attest to.

One has to wonder what the path forward looks like for the Black community as it has little in its community portfolio in the way of wealth, ownership, community institutions, land control and fluid capital. However, it’s safe to say that the one institution that comes to mind which is owned and controlled significantly by Blacks is the Black church. Given the pressing reality facing the Black community and the important stabilizing role it has played throughout its inception in African American history, many seem to think the Black church should be playing a greater role in fostering economic empowerment within the Black community.

The larger question being asked and have many perplexed is whether the Black church has the capacity and ability to be effective as an economic institution within Black communities or is the idea of doing so simply beyond their reach? This question is an important one given the limited impact politics and traditional business markets have had on the mitigation of long standing Black community issues. To begin to answer the question and shed some light on this issue we must first understand the variation of Black churches present within Black communities to bring clarity to the issue by highlighting the distinctiveness of the Black church and the two structural types that exist within our communities.

The distinctiveness of the Black church which is present is many shapes and sizes grew out of two main reasons. First, the demand for strong religious services that were rooted in African tradition. Second, the lack of opportunities that existed for black entrepreneurial talent outside the realm of the church.

This developed eager entrepreneurial blacks into establishing churches with a decentralized autonomous structure. Within our modern society this autonomous structure has created two types of black churches occupying the Black community. The sanctuary bound church and the Black Liberation church.

According to Walter Malone, Jr. in his book From Holy Power to Holy Profits, the sanctuary bound church is not connected to the community and is not overly concerned with the “right now”. The basic premise is going to heaven and what happens inside the church and to the benefit of those only associated with the church. This church fails to see God is involved in all of life, thus worship is relegated only to the sanctuary.

This type of church structure could possibly go a long way in explaining the lack of relationship the Black church has in addressing structural social and economic issues in many Black communities. As a byproduct, you tend to see abandoned building’s, liquor stores, isolated housing and concentrated bar’s etc., destroying the fabric of the community. Meanwhile the church in the community is doing nothing outside the church to address the ills of the community, for their mission is only within the church.

The second type of church according to Malone is the Black Liberation church and is the type of church that has the potential for addressing economic and social ills in the community.  The Black Liberation church views its ministry of economic justice as part of its overall mission to liberate people from anyone, or anything, which oppress them in this world.  As such, the Black Liberation church acknowledges the need of ministering to people physically, mentally, emotionally and economically.

This type of church does not translate scripture into personal messages of profit but instead communicates through action via the church that there cannot be a sense of spiritual wholeness in the community without addressing the issues of social justice and economic empowerment. The building blocks are economic and not social. The economic ethic of the Black liberation church consists of a dualistic strategy of survival and liberation. This liberation strategy is an expression of community self reliance designed to forge a better future for the Black community. This is the type of church that can enable the Black community to become self sufficient in the 21st century and the type of church people speak of when they think about the expanded role of the Black church in fostering economic empowerment in the Black community.

Given the prevalent problems within the Black community, there needs to be drastic measures taken to address them from an economic perspective which shits the paradigm from a long standing social model to an economic one. The Black community can’t rely on traditional methods or political leadership strategies as a method of solving the crisis. A proactive approach to this crisis based in economic empowerment and development needs to be implemented.  To make this leap, African Americans must be educated to not except the conditions prescribed for them by others, including those within the Black community and raise the level of expectation to internally solve their own problems.

I admit it’s utopian to think the Black church is the answer to all the social and economic problems in the Black community. However, I do think that the economic potential of the Black Liberation church model if leveraged appropriately represents a good place to start. It is estimated that Black churches take in billions of dollars yearly and own significant property and facilities that could ignite an economic empowerment revolution within the Black community if the various stakeholders would be of one accord on this vision quest. The time is long overdue for the Black community to build its own economically viable communities through the development of its own resources.

The resources that flow through the Black church alone is enough to spur significant economic development, spur organic job creation, create better educational opportunities, better health care, affordable housing and address numerous issues facing the Black community. With a new focus toward economic development the church can play an even greater role in assisting in economic development and the rebuilding of the Black community. Dr. Claude Anderson puts this potential in perspective when he states that with its audience of millions, the Black church would not only be able to pool large amounts of money, but could also communicate the need for African Americans to become more educated and thrifty. With this vision of economic empowerment, churches can spur economic development, scholarships, create financial institutions, purchase land foster comprehensive regeneration.

While it’s not necessary to physically live in the Black community to make an impact, members of Black churches should insist that a portion of the money they are contributing to the church in the way of tithes and offerings be used to develop the Black community. Or at a minimum create an economic empowerment ministry which seeks to move the agenda toward implementing such a strategy. Blacks are continuing to take money out of the community with no substantial amount going back in.

The Black church, unlike the average Black business man that goes to the bank for a loan is not turned away. The reason they are not turned away is because the banking community knows the Black church generates monies week end and week out and deposits it in their banks. Black churches can turn around the money generated by the church to help provide much needed small business loans or seed money to Black entrepreneurs to develop enterprises in the Black community. The rationale here is why rely on someone else to solve your problems when all the resources you need are right there in front of you.

Looking at the potential for economic empowerment through the lens of the Black church is powerful to say the least and hard to ignore.  While this makes sense in a lot of ways, some may object to the notion that looking at the Black church as an economic institution is like trying to teach a blind man to drive or trying to make a connection between two phenomena that are at best tangentially related. However, given the circumstances in the Black community this relationship has to be explored as a possible solution.

The major question facing the Black community is not that of civil rights, voting rights, etc., its does the Black community realize or understand it’s an “extinction level event” for the race if they don’t pull themselves together economically? The time is long overdue for the Black community to start developing and putting into action aggressive strategies centered on internal economic empowerment. The Black church is a key component in that strategy. There is no better place to begin in that the Black church has always been the one true resource in the community.

Being blunt on the subject, the major obstacle for Black churches to overcome is the competition between each other. If the energy expended in competing with each other was used to help develop economic development and empowerment strategies for the Black community, the Black community would be in good shape to compete in the 21st century. We must remember, in a competitive society there is no room or mechanisms to give a voice and support to unorganized and inarticulate groups. This is the status of the Black community, unorganized and inarticulate with fighting over small crumbs where one’s own individual niche is the order of the day.

African Americans must begin to except that nobody owes Blacks a job or full employment. Blacks must assume the burden of taking care of its own community and not rely on others to do it for them.  With the world changing at a rapid pace, I am not sure what other approach the Black community can take. For those African Americans that no longer live within the Black community, a mechanism for contributing while not living there has to be a part of any solution to given the unique African American experience in America.

What I had hoped to accomplish by covering this topic is to help generate discussion of the subject of economic empowerment through the Black church as a natural place to begin should we have the fortitude to do so.


Eric Anthony Johnson, PhD

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Showing 3 comments
  • Dr. David J. Knight Sr

    Completely agree with your observation, analysis and assessment of what is taking place within the Black church. The paradigm shift must take place and the church in general must engage in commerce to create economic empowerment. There are more successful business owners, business leaders and entrepreneurs sitting in the congregation on Sunday that can collective have a massive, positive impact on community…if only the Black Church had the courage to engage, trust, embrace and do business with its members. “The time is long overdue for the Black community to start developing and putting into action aggressive strategies centered on internal economic empowerment. The Black church is a key component in that strategy. There is no better place to begin in that the Black church has always been the one true resource in the community.”

    Check Mate!


  • Monique

    Great work . Keep coming

  • Ray

    The church is an excellent idea. Especially, considering the liberation church which is familiar with operating on the economic level.

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