Church and Society / Politics / Theology of Preaching

Members of the Black Church Should Demand A Return on Investment

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I remember in my Finance 101 class the professor giving us the formulas for how to figure out return on investment of the principal or capital deposit.  The answer usually produced what was also known as the rate of return, either in fraction or percentage form.  It’s basic math, the final value of the investment subtracted by the principal investment all divided by that principal investment equalling the rate of return.  Naturally there are formulas for compounded rates and for multi-periods of the investment, but for the sake of this blog, lets just K.I.S.S.

So, the other day my friend and blog reader TriniUppity sent me the following story from LiveSteez:

LiveSteez research shows that Black churches, in aggregate, have collected more than $420 billion in tithes and donations since 1980. With a Senate investigation into the finances of several mega churches underway, the “Prosperity Movement” has been the target of mounting criticism from inside and outside the Black Church. Specifically, the affluent ministries of The Reverend Creflo Dollar, Bishop Eddie Long and others have drawn the attention – and ire – of some clergy and laypeople alike. 

Researcher Henry E. Felder’s study of Blacks’ donation habits demonstrated per capita spending of $508 per year in 2009 dollars. Another source, Tyler Media Services, estimated that Black Church revenue approached $17 billion in 2006.

One church, the Reverend Dollar’s World Changers, reported $69 million in 2006 income, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. 

Mainstream politicians and Black community leaders are demanding a better accounting of the “return on investment” offered by churches to the communities that fund them. Meanwhile, legions of faithful churchgoers defend their pastors and accuse their detractors of applying a double standard that ignores the largesse of wealthy, white televangelists, while underplaying the economic development and social service functions provided by the Black Church. 

“The church has gotten caught up in materialism and greed, a lifestyle. Many ministers today want to live like celebrities and they want to be treated like celebrities. In other words, instead of the church standing with the community, the church has become self-serving. It has strayed away from its mission” according to Dr.Love Henry Whelchel, professor of church history at The Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.

Few people – not even the ongoing Congressional investigation by Senator Chuck Grassley accuse the mega church pastors of outright larceny, and congregants generally approve of their pastors’ luxurious lifestyles. However, in a blatant recent example, a father-son pastor team, 76-year-old Richard Cunningham of Moreno Valley and his son, 52-year-old Philip Cunningham of Laurinburg, N.C., pleaded guilty to felony grand theft and fraud charges. The younger Cunningham also pleaded guilty to forgery. Over five years, prosecutors say, the Cunninghams stole from Calvary Baptist Yorba Linda Church and School bank accounts and used the money to buy time shares in Hawaii and Palm Springs, golf club memberships and a Cadillac. Prosecutors say the men have paid $3.1 million in restitution to the church.  

What amazed me was just the fact that of the three pastors mentioned, they were all headliners in the current book I’m reading by Jonathan Walton entitled Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism.  I’m sure y’all are getting tired of me mentioning it, and I’m sure you can’t wait for me to move onto the next book, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind the publicity.  Now I’m midway the book, but I’ve just entered the section where he begins his ethical analysis of televangelism, but also the theologies and philosophies of Bishops T.D Jakes and Eddie L. Long and Pastor Creflo Dollar, but moreover, the attitude of the listeners over the broadcast and of course those that fill the pews on a weekly basis.

I’m not a big underliner when it comes to reading, usually I remember what I read, but I’m always stuck fumbling trying to find the page where I found it at the first time.  But the following quote from Walton’s book received an underline from me:

Experiential encounters with the divine that suspend the material world allow people to transcend the negative cultural identifications that are associated with their class, race or gender while having their own inner desires and spiritual longings affirmed.  This is why I consider televangelism to be a ritual of self-affirmation.  It creates an experience where participants can be actors on the stages of ritual drama.  Televangelists authenticate and make authoritative already held assumptions and spiritual longings of their adherents that allow and encourage them to experience and envision themselves being created anew according to their personal aspirations.

I’m reserving total judgment, but I think that quote is indicative of all the reasons why everyone aligns themselves with some sort of faith tradition–is it not?  We all seek some sort of self-affirmation from outside of ourselves in the manner of fellow humans.  Church is in fact a community of believers; and that extends to the faith communities of other religions and sects and yes even cults: they all profess a faith in a common belief.  However, Walton still accurately makes the argument, I think, that these three pastors “promote similar aims, objectives and desires for the African American community–economic advancement, the minimizing of race, and Victorian ideals of family.

That being said, why in the world would any of these pastors try and politicize that which they believe is apolitical?

What happens is that many of these pastors of the megachurches within the vein of the big three mentioned, all preach a gospel that sounds right and makes sense on the surface.  However, as I’m sure this article from LiveSteez is attempting to suggest (although doesn’t go quite this far) is that the pastor is the exemplar of the message that they’re preaching, but the lack of prosperity is the fault of the people.

Without making this another super-long blog post, much of this goes into the simple pastor-parishioner relationship.  Parishioners would follow to the death their pastor–just ask the followers of Jonestown in Guyana.  Literally, the pastor could do any and everything wrong in the book and be arrested for it, but the parishioners will fight tooth and nail for their pastor–just ask the number of children molested by clergy members in both Catholic and Protestant churches and how many members didn’t give a damn.  So if the pastor makes these otherworldly, or watch this, “kingdom” claims with regards to finances, why wouldn’t I believe it.

So parishioners give money and the pastors knowingly misinterpret the Malachi 3:10 passage regarding “Will a man rob God?” concerning tithes and offerings.  Pastors literally scare members into thinking they’ll be cursed–with a curse–if they don’t give.  I went to one COGIC church and the deacon told the congregation that their lives, cars, houses and what not would be cursed if they didn’t give a tithe.

And people still sat in their seat.  As if to say “I wish a muthaf—”  Well, you know the rest.

Fact of the matter is that most of us know better.  All of us went out into the parking lot and onto the street after church was over and to my knowledge no one had car trouble after church.  Although we know better, we want better.  Even after reading Walton’s chapters on T.D. Jakes, I see why people would flock to his church.  I mean, most of his theology as interpreted by Walton wasn’t too conventional for me, but he lacks the strong social justice component that I’m used to–or rather that I desire for my own self-affirmation.  Word of Faith and its infuses from New Thought and New Age beliefs actually piqued my interest insofar that much of what we’re dealing with results in one’s outlook on life–but it ended there.  I don’t agree with the idea that a lack of faith is the result of one being broke or experiencing physical sickness.  Creflo Dollars famous quote about all of us being “gods” I was ready to understand, but the rationale behind it sounded like bullcrap.

And Eddie Long was a whole bunch of foolishness unto himself.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud through Walton’s blatant sarcasm and tongue-and-cheek writing style when it came to describing Eddie Long’s hyper-masculine, Victorian family style, patriarchal and misogynistic theology.  I died laughing when I read this:

Bishop Long is not necessarily celebrated for his preaching prowess like Bishop Jakes or his homiletical clarity like Pastor Dollar.  And journalistic investigations have even revealed that Bishop Long’s sermon in response to the Virginia Tech shootings was purchased from http://www.esermons.com, a Web site where preachers can purchase a sermon for a fee.”

To be fair he quoted a John Blake article from the AJC entitled “Pastor Inspiration: Divine or Online? Surfing Sermons: Sometimes Desperate Ministers Lift Texts from Web” in a May 12, 2007 article. 

2977323_420x300_mb_art_R0That being said, why should the black community expect a return on the investment when many of us still attend churches on Sunday, but not the business meetings during the week to see where the money is going.  We’ll complain about it, but most of us would rather not do anything about it.  To be just cut and dried about it, shame on the people in that Leroy Thompson video!  That’s absolutely a sham before God and the rest of the world!  Some can barely pay their bills but they throwing money on the altar and that fool is running through it like hot knife through butter.

At the end of the LiveSteez article, they pose a series of questions for a further investigative series and one of which seeks to quantify at least $350, 000,000,000.00 in investment and what would that look like, and another seeks to ask what does the black community have to show for that amount of money being turned over in our own community tax free.  When preachers are still demanding this rural country boy amount of 18% of church income and the church is bringing in close to $10,000,000.00 annually and you still have members who are taking the MARTA to your church–we have a problem saints.  

The sad thing is that most of us can’t see the evidence of this over time.  Now of course this is over the course of some nearly 30 years, (damn, I’m getting older) but when you add it all up, it’s a substantial amount.  I’m sure much of this money goes to bad business investments, ridonkulus preacher salaries, bad bookkeeping by Sister Mary Jo who’s 85 and can’t tell a 7 from the number 1 when doing the books, actual fraud and embezzlement by various church members over the years, and no doubt many an inner city church has a horror story concerning the municipality in which the church is located and how they may have screwed them over financially.  Or even for episcopal denominations such as the AME, CME, UMC and COGIC churches in the mainline denominational tradition, often times, parishioners give extra money to help their local pastors and what not run for the office of episcopal bishop and according to a source–these bishops buy, literally, votes in order to assure themselves their position.  Not to mention churches buying matching his and her Cadillacs for the pastors and first ladies and other very depreciable assets and even non-assets.

Just food for thought, what if we all had just pooled the money together and made some serious investments in our local schools by creating community charter schools, pumping this money back into black owned banks (so what if they couldn’t give you the loan, still put your money back into that bank) providing stores and shops for independent businesses and what not.

You see what happens, we have church sponsored or even the pastor sponsored business ventures: rather than opening a mall, or strip mall of church owned businesses, give members or others the opportunity to be individual business owners and spread the wealth rather than having all the money return back to a church that probably at that point in the game doesn’t need it or God-forbid allow it to line the pockets of some already stupidly rich pastor.

Well…this post is long enough as it is.  I’m done, ;-)

Where do you think all the money has gone–aside from the pastor?  What do you think over the last 30 years could have been done with a continual investment of this $350b. and what would the various black communities look like now?  Are white churches any better or is this just a black phenomenon?

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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9 thoughts on “Members of the Black Church Should Demand A Return on Investment

  1. Returning to my ‘rich dad, poor dad’ theme, most black churches simply have not embraced wealth generation as a means to serve the community. While Catholic priests have had their issues, those vows of ‘poverty, chastity, and obedience’ sure look more appealing now than ever. My concern is the percentage of this wealth that has done little except employ people. Maybe I”m being simple, but you could feed, clothe, and house lots of folks for 320 billion. If you had a college endowment of 1/5th of that you could put a lot of young folks through school.

  2. I have always wondered why people continue to follow bad preachers. I don’t understand why we depend on the pastor to teach us everything. That’s how people fall into error. It is supposed to study to show ourselves approved, and be led by the HOly Spirit. The same God that gives the pastor a message can give it to the ordinary man too.

    Personally I would have like to see my tithe go towards schools for kids, literacy programs for adults, and teaching the community about money, savings and investments.

    • @ Rose

      Bad is relative. People across the country could think that Jerry Fallwell was a “bad” pastor because of his staunch conservative ideals. On the opposite end, people most certainly think Jeremiah Wright was a “bad” pastor because of his particular views toward particular American values.

  3. I have seen this over and over and refuse to give now because my current church post 18 to 20 k per week but we still do not have enough to fix our church building and the pastor lives like a millionaire. on top of that he continues demand more money while isolating himself from the congregation. I know that god has to deal with him but i refuses to give any money

  4. black folks need to make the churches come together and step up to the plate to build up the black communities or boycott givin the church money

  5. 1.) New Testament Tithing is not required.
    2.) You are not cursed with a curse.
    3.) Demand financial accountability of by not giving to your church. You can give to other ministries, until the Pastor quits, or repents and decides to relinquish financial authority.
    4.) Look at what is happening at another church in Raleigh, N.C. http://www.dontgogreek.com/blog Topic- “Churchianity is Expensive”

  6. Sadly, Church Fraud is a very real concern, with potential risk from the outside as well as within. There are simple steps to increase the security of a church’s finances but it is difficult to know where to start. I recently found out about a Christian Accounting firm that offers online tools and support for churches. They have some excellent resources as well as an online questionnaire that will determine whether a church is at risk. Their service is called Weeds in the Garden.

  7. aun me molesta un poco ver como las personas al momento de dar algo lo hacen disque dirigidos por el Espíritu Santo, pero días despues, cuando algo les falta, se quejan de lo que dieron, ¿acaso no odieron el dinero por Amor de Cristo? ¿acaso es Dios un mentiroso que no cumple Su palabra? fue Él quien prometio que si damos seremos recompenzados, y NO creo que Él mienta…
    Si das algo, asegurate que lo das a Dios, a Su Reino, y no creo que a Dios se le deba pedir Reembolso de lo que se le dió.
    be bless.

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