For many years, African-American churches have been the catalysts of change in society. Churches have pushed the envelope as it relates to spiritual and social issues. Given their collective money, political power and expertise, churches continue to be in a unique position to impact the community from an economic perspective.
The challenge of determining where the church begins versus the business venture may forever exist. Nonetheless, the economic development benefit that the community gains is invaluable. According to the New York Times, Bishop T.D. Jakes of Potters House in Dallas participated in the development of Capella Park, a community of 266 homes. And the relocation of Dr. Stacy L. Spencer's New Direction Christian Church to the old Service Merchandise Building in Memphis is an example of the power and capability of the "mega-churches" in the marketplace.
Additionally, after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, mega-church First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) Church of Los Angeles rose to meet the challenge. As an economic lifeline for the devastated community, the church created the FAME Renaissance Program to fund community services, business and economic development programs through private and public funding sources.
An example of a "private sector/church collaboration is the Renaissance Program which has a Micro Loan Program component funded by a $1-million grant from the Walt Disney Co. The Micro Loan Program supplies low-interest rate loans of $2,000 to $20,000 to minority entrepreneurs in the area including day-care centers, transportation companies, restaurants, a medical billings business, cosmetics companies and a manufacturing firm. We deal with people who won't qualify for a bank loan," said Mark Whitlock, executive director of the Renaissance Program.
"We don't mind if you have a couple of bad nicks on your credit. We don't mind if you're a brand new business that has never received a business loan before," according to Black Enterprise.
Today, more and more partnerships are growing between government, business and church communities. While the lines continue to be drawn to separate church and state, the lines are just becoming a little faded. But with all of the ills that exist within our society, can that fade be all bad? Sometimes the bad behavior of government needs a little "God" in it. Understanding that the church, outside of government, is the most powerful institution in the world as it relates to impact and influence provides the opportunity for the church to engage in economic development while never losing its values and relationship with God.
As an example of the fading of the line of separation of church and state, in 1992, the United States Congress passed into law "Charitable Choice Legislation," which gave rise to the establishment of the federal Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, according to Urbanham. This growing interest at the federal level in providing public funding for the secular activities of faith-based institutions, while controversial, raises numerous possibilities for increased public and private sector funding.
This also appears to be an admission by government that "the Church represents a vast, untapped resource that can more effectively address some social and economic aspects of Urban Community and Economic Revitalization better than it can" said the Rev. Gerald Austin Sr., founder and CEO of the Center for Urban Missions.
As African Americans have gained in the areas of politics and job advancements, the economic disparities continue to widen as many in the Black Church failed to tackle the issue of community and economic development, according to Austin. As the economy continues to struggle and families suffer through unemployment, programs encouraging entrepreneurship can be powerful, empowering and uplifting to the spirit of someone who has been turned down for jobs time and time again. The power of mega-churches to simply encourage members to network and do business with each other is a start in the right direction.
Just as the church was called on to play a major role in the civil rights movement, it is now being called on to play a major role in the "new civil rights movement" of economic development. Stay with us during this impactful series and learn more about the impressive ministers making a difference in the Mid-south.
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