POSTED BY: Larry Montgomery
Not by Bread Alone:
The role of the African-American church in inner-city development
By: Glenn C. Loury and Linda Datcher Loury
Deep social problems continue to plague inner-city America. Fashioning a response to the scourge of drugs, gangs, violent crime, unemployment, AIDS, failed schools, fatherless families, and early unwed pregnancy is among the most serious domestic policy challenges confronting the nation today. Some attribute these problems solely to structural causes. But a key aspect of the problems is the patterns of behavior that has emerged among young men and women in inner-city communities that limit their ability to seize existing opportunity.
While social analysts agree that these behaviors must change if progress is to occur, they disagree fundamentally about how to accomplish such change. For some, the intensification of pathological behaviors among the urban poor is due to the lack of economic opportunities; for others, it is the result of disincentives created by various welfare programs. Though sharply different in their policy implications, these two positions have something important in common. Each assumes that economic factors ultimately drive the behavioral problems, even behaviors involving sexuality, marriage, childbearing, and parenting, which reflect peoples basic understanding of what gives meaning to their lives.
A different view of these matters takes off from the biblical injunction, “man must not live by bread alone.” From this perspective, the values, attitudes, and beliefs that govern a person’s behaviors are at least partially autonomous, leaving open the prospect that communal agencies of moral and cultural development might change the way individuals conduct their lives. Since religious institutions are primary sources of legitimate moral teaching in our society, this point of view suggests that significant positive change may be possible if inner-city churches can reach individuals, engage them in the activities of the church, and thereby help transform their lives.
Today’s church must consider whether engaging people in church activities which they may feel are church activities or engaging people in life activities will result in outcomes that cause people to want to engage in church activities. I’m not saying change the church to meet the activities of the people who want to avoid church activities. What I am saying is activities that the church engages in to make the activities that life has forced upon the people. For example; every time the church doors open does not mean that there must be a full blown service. Sometimes it makes sense to open the doors of the church to teach people about the difficult things of life they face. Understand this if you have a single parent ministry and want to introduce parents to the benefits of alternative education make sure you offer babysitting services while the parents are engaged in the learning process.
This suggestion raises interesting issues of theory, of evidence, and of ethics for students of social change. Setting aside appeals to divine intervention, the question arises as to what are the characteristics of religious institutions that, in principle, might make them effective instruments of behavior modification and that are not present in secular settings. Also, what evidence supports the claim that the scope of church involvement in the inner city, and its impact on the behavior of churchgoers, is large enough to potentially make a real difference in these communities? Moreover, instrumental calculations aside, one might ask why churches, in particular, should be charged with the awesome responsibility of helping to achieve renewal in our society’s most desolate backwaters.
The proposed inner-city settings of today are the results of a failed church structure. If you look and see that your church outreach tends to show growth or at least increase activity or interest every time you offer a meal with you street level outreach then it should dawn on you that people need more than a word to live on. So why aren’t we in the church coming together to make sure food is available for our outreach activities. More importantly while Jesus feed thousands on the mount as he preached he was passing through on his way to a greater commitment, so why would you think that offering a meal during a outreach activity is the solution to growing the ministry. Offering prospective worshippers a way to increase their resources so that they might eat during times they are not in church should be the thought. This is fundamental economic and community development thinking. Feeding you a meal you might survive for the day but teaching you to fish will assure that you can eat for a life time.
Each of us, both as scholar and as citizen, has been interested for some time in the idea that religion might promote development in low-income communities. Recently we have been investigating it more systematically. This essay reports on some of our findings and opinions in this critical, but as yet little explored, area of social policy studies, relative to the questions of theory, evidence, and ethics raised above. It is hardly our last word on the subject.
Not a Task for Government
Arguably, encouraging good behavior” means making discriminations among people based on assessments that are difficult, legally and politically, for public agencies to make. Discerning the extent to which particular people have risen to, or fallen short of, our expectations in the concrete, ambiguous circumstances of everyday life is a nontrivial task. If promoting “virtue” necessitates setting, communicating, and enforcing standards, then it requires a high level of knowledge about a person’s circumstances and an ability to draw fine distinctions among individual cases based on that knowledge. Both the informational demands of this activity and the requisite authority to act on what information is available will often exceed the capacity of governmental actors, since citizens have procedural protections and privacy rights that cannot and should not be abrogated. Publicly enforced judgments must be made in a manner consistent with these rights.
Voluntary civic associations, as exemplified by religious institutions, are not constrained in the same way or to the same degree. A government agency, when trying to assess whether a welfare recipient has put forward adequate effort toward achieving self-sufficiency, is forced to rely on information like a caseworker’s observations and self-reports of the recipient. Any attempt to limit assistance because the recipient failed to try hard enough would stand up to subsequent judicial review only in the most egregious of cases. Yet families and communal groups providing help to the same person would typically base their continued assistance on a much richer (and, admittedly, often impressionistic) array of information. They would discriminate more finely than a state-sponsored agent ever could between the subtle differences in behavior among individuals that constitute the real content of morality and virtue.
Moreover, in a pluralistic society public agents must be neutral in areas where private citizens differ sharply among themselves as to which set of values is the “correct” one. Publicly enforced judgments necessarily reflect a “thin” conception of virtue, weak enough to accommodate the underlying diversity of values among the citizenry, to be contrasted with the “thick” conceptions characteristic of the moral communities in which we are embedded in private life. Thus, introducing into the public schools in any large city a curriculum of sex education that teaches the preferability of two-parent families might be resisted by educators who would cite the great number of their students from single-parent backgrounds. But what if these are the students most in need of hearing the authoritative expression of such a value judgment? In a parochial school context, such a possibility well might affect the design and implementation of a sex education curriculum.
The government and social policies have there place, there limits and there benefits but the church is founded on the Word of God. God’s teaching assure that we will not perish for lack of knowledge. That does not mean that the all in one solution is to read the Bible and it will give you the answer. The answer is that each one teach one through the hearing of the Word of God. You don’t listen well or long when your stomach is empty and neither do I. Some teaching the church has to provide, for example; how to manage a household as a single parent, or how to live on a budget. If you overlooked the point of these two lesson it is self control. How many of us miss what God is saying for a lack of self control?
Consider the fact that some (one hopes, few) young mothers are not competent–for emotional and –or intellectual reasons–to nurture their children. In such circumstances, the autonomy of the parent-child relation must somehow be breached if the children are to have a decent shot at developing their God given talents. Although this is difficult ground, there clearly are circumstances in which, to prevent significant injustice to children, we have somehow to get inside the family sphere and get our hands on the lives of these youngsters. Where does the authority–the standing–come from for that kind of intervention to take place? The government’s doing it is deeply problematic. Yet faith-based communities, where participation is voluntary and social relations among members are close, can in some situations exercise that authority.
Assuming everyone is willing to volunteer can be the biggest error a Pastor or church leader can make. You volunteer and then understand why people don’t want to volunteer but for so long. You practice what you preach first then ask how long the next ones volunteer rode is and don’t stretch it. The kill the help trying to help the helpless. Remember there is a reason why there are only a faithful few and it just might be because you just assume they can continue to give what they don’t have.
The Role of Religious Communities
Assume for the moment that religious communities do have a unique role to play in the socioeconomic development of low-income areas. What has been their performance to date? Hope for a substantial church role rests in part on the fact of widespread religious participation in the United States. The existing literature documents that more than half of all Americans regularly attend church or are church members. This level of participation and the relative strength of the various denominations appear not to have changed much for at least 20 years. In addition, the bulk of the literature on church attendance concludes that any fall in participation has been mainly among young people with relatively high social status and thus would not affect urban low-income populations. Indeed, studies of racial differences in church participation uniformly find that blacks participate at a greater rate than whites.
Nevertheless, a sober review of the evidence does not support the view that inner-city churches are now having a substantial impact on the quality of life in low-income communities by altering the socio-economic status of individual church members. (We say this despite the many examples of outstanding urban ministries doing excellent work in particular communities.) For example, while overall church attendance is higher among blacks than whites, it is relatively low in urban areas, especially in the central cities of the North, where much of the low-income black population is concentrated. Also the fastest growth in church membership for blacks (and for whites) over the past two decades has been among Baptists and other, more conservative religious groups whose members have fewer years of schooling than those of other denominations even after differences in the nonreligious characteristics of members are taken into account. Studies of the effects of religiosity on income and schooling invariably find only small positive effects.
The poor will always be among us so why not help them for we all started out poor in one sense or the other. It is clear in the Word of God that it is not about me or you. It is about what we do for others. To the point raised above, if you look out into your pews and do not see a balance of rich, middle class and poor, young and old, men and women, children and seniors then your outreach has failed. In the body of Christ there is room for all people not just middle aged women with teenage daughters struggling with school aged children and no male figures in their life but the Pastor. Wrong picture wrong model wrong outreach effort. Every woman in your congregation knows a man and your question should be why am I not seeing them on at least a regular basis such as holidays and special events. The church has to do more to help build Godly family households. And if economic opportunity is prevalent then family units will come. Not every ministry is a stand alone ministry, sometimes you need to humble yourself, build understanding and then launch out, not every Pastor has a flock. But if you have one you need to feed it and feeding it is not only giving an inspiring word on Sunday mornings sometimes you have to go face to face and meet with those on a one on one basis who need help along with a word.
We want to stress that the existing literature is unsatisfactory in a number of ways. More direct measures of “religiosity” are needed to determine whether behavioral effects exist. Furthermore, only a few studies can break down their results by race and socioeconomic status; yet there may be important differences across groups. To illustrate, if the social networks of poor black families are less dense than those of others, the effects of any particular social connection might be magnified. Also, if children from more advantaged families acquire beneficial skills or attitudes inside their household, while children from poorer families are relatively more dependent on beneficial external influences, then the potential of religious institutions to play an important role in the inner cities will be underestimated. We therefore urge caution in extending to low-income urban populations the findings of a small effect of religiosity on behavior obtained from aggregate samples.
We are well aware of the knotty problem of inferring causality in this area of research. While it is certainly plausible that religiosity favorably affects work, education, and other behaviors, these behaviors may themselves affect religious commitment and participation. Moreover, measures of religiosity may also be correlated with unobserved nonreligious traits that affect, say, years of schooling. One of us has tried to address these problems in a study of the effect of religious participation on schooling using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. That study looked at how church attendance during the senior year of high school affected the total years of schooling ultimately completed, relying on differences in the effects of church attendance before, during, and after the senior year to control for any spurious correlations. We found that church attendance during the senior year of high school adds about 0.2 years to total schooling for white women and for blacks, but had no significant effect for white men. We construe this as modest evidence that church attendance may alter behavior in a constructive way.
Beyond Social Science
Ultimately we do not believe that social scientific evidence can justify what we see as an ethical imperative for institutions of faith, rooted in urban black America, to work toward the redemption and reconstruction of these communities. It is perhaps worth recalling that, as an historic matter, the religiosity now so widespread among black Americans grew out of the experience of slavery. People were driven by brute circumstance to create among themselves a culture with spiritual and moral depth of heroic proportion. They simply had no choice. The brutality of the assault they endured–on their persons, their relations one with another, and their sense of dignity and self-respect–was such that either they would be destroyed as moral beings or they would find a way, through faith, to transcend their condition. That “man must not live by bread alone” was for them more than a theoretical proposition. Grasping the truth of that proposition was their key to survival.
The strength a massed from hundreds of years of slavery seems to be quickly dissipating as each generation passes. That strength which kept many alive, the belief that things were going to change no matter how bad it looked has come to a sudden holt. The church has a role here and it can not abdicate the expansion of its God given influence to a Sunday service and a weekly Bible study. It is not about us it is about repairing the breach between the church and mankind. Our God is a mighty God worthy of all Glory not just preaching inspiring words on Sunday morning. He is a whole of all we need and will ever want, economic development for the abundant life is required not an option.
These moral and spiritual values proved profoundly significant in the post-slavery development of black Americans. A spirit of self-help, rooted in a deep-seated sense of self-respect, was widely embraced among blacks of all ideological persuasions well into this century. They did what they did–educating their children, acquiring land, founding communal institutions, and struggling for equal rights–not in reaction to or for the approval of whites, but out of an internal conviction of their own worth and capacities. Even acts of black protest and expressions of grievance against whites were, ultimately, reflections of this inner sense of dignity. The crowning achievements of the civil rights movement–its nonviolent method and its successful effort at public moral suasion–can be seen as the projection into American politics of a set of spiritual values that had been evolving among blacks for more than a century.
Jesse Jackson, Sr., teaches young blacks the exhortation, “I am somebody,” and this is certainly true. But the crucial question then becomes, “Just who are you?” Many of our fellow citizens now look upon the carnage playing itself out on the streets of ghetto America and supply their own dark answers. The youngster’s response should be: “Because I am somebody, I waste no opportunity to better myself; I respect my body by not polluting it with drugs or promiscuous sex; I comport myself responsibly, I am accountable, I am available to serve others as well as myself.” It is the doing of these fine things, not the saying of any fine words, that teaches oneself and others that one is somebody who has to be reckoned with. But who will show the many hundreds of thousands of black youngsters now teetering on the brink of disaster how to be somebody?
One finds a precedent for the huge task we face in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, which begins as follows:
“Hanani, one of my brethren came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach; the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and its gates are burned with fire. And it came to pass when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”
“The wall is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” This metaphor of decay and assault is an apt one for our current ills. We are invited to think of a city without walls as one with no integrity, no structure, subject to the vagaries of any passing fad or fancy. We imagine the collapse of civil society; the absence of an internally derived sense of what a people stand for, of what they must and must not do. With the wall broken and its gates burned, anything becomes possible.
In the biblical account Nehemiah heroically led the Jews of Jerusalem to renewal. He went to the Persian king whom he served as cup bearer, secured provision, and returned to Jerusalem, where he rolled up his sleeves and went to work restoring the physical integrity of the environment, but also presiding over a spiritual revival amongst the citizenry.
Now, let us relate this to our overarching theme, lest you think you are about to read a sermon. (We are fully capable of sermonizing on this subject–that our second son’s name is Nehemiah is no accident.) Nehemiah, a Jew, was specifically concerned about his people. His work, the reconstruction of civil society, could only be undertaken, as it were, “from the inside out.” He dealt in the specific and concrete circumstances confronting the Jews. He did not deal only in abstractions. He made himself present among those for whom he had a special affection, toward whom he felt a special loyalty. His is not so bad a model.
In the inner-city ghettos today “the remnant there are in great affliction and reproach.” For the civic wound of black alienation to be fully and finally bound, a great deal of work must be done in these communities. We blacks are connected–by bonds of history, family, conscience, and common perception in the eyes of outsiders–to those who languish in the urban slums. Black politicians, clergy, intellectuals, businessmen, and ordinary folk must therefore seek to create hope in these desolate young lives; we must work to rebuild these communities; we must become our brothers keeper.
To say this is, of course, not to absolve the broader American public of its responsibility to formulate decent and prudent social policies aimed at assisting all who languish on the social margins, regardless of race or creed. The ultimate goal is for the sentiment that we must become our brother’s keeper to become more widely shared. Yet when reflecting on the role that churches can play in renewing civil society among the urban poor, we find moral considerations such as those set out here to be, unavoidably, an important part of the dialogue that is now so desperately needed.
This Week in Business News:
Who is Kimberly Grant-Bynoe?
Destiny hand picks those called to such a responsibility as Visionary and Philanthropist but thank God that Kimberly Grant-Bynoe was called and chose to answer the call.
Kimberly hails originally from Brooklyn, New York but in 1995 her family was called to relocate to Long Island, New York. It was her plan to also relocate and find a job closer to her new home. After a year and a half of searching for work notwithstanding a solid 15 years of Corporate America experience, frustration began to set in. Kimberly said, “I realize that God was trying to tell me something.” So she began to seek the Lord and He revealed the ministry he had ordained for her.
The Lord revealed to her the life of Joseph. Joseph was a dreamer. That was when Kimberly formed the “International Dream Team Christian Association” which was incorporated in 2001 as 501c.3 tax exempt organization.
With that her faith was strengthened and her journey began. She accepted many opportunities to serve on faith-based and community based organizational boards helping them fulfill their God-given dreams and visions.
Kimberly is a former member of “Christian Cultural Center”, under the leadership of Pastor A. R. Bernard, Brooklyn, New York where she was equipped in leadership development. She is now a member of “Faith Alive Ministries”, under the leadership of Pastor Angel M. Falcon, located in Central Islip, New York where she is actively involved in ministry and community outreach.
Kimberly has served on the Faith-Based Advisory Board for the Small Business Administration in NYC. She was appointed as the Local Director for the former New York Chapter of Frasernet, a 35,000 membership Black Professional Network. She has hosted a Public Access Talk Show, entitled: “A Divine Connection” which was broadcast throughout Nassau & Suffolk County. She is a former member of the “Islip Alliance of Ministers” and the Town of Islip Master Plan coalition. She has served as the Long Island Regional Coordinator for the New York State Senate, managing and organizing many faith-based governmental workshops, political campaigns and social networking events right here on Long Island.
Kimberly has received numerous Citations & Proclamations acknowledging her commitment to community service. However Kimberly tries to keep her focus on her ministry which is has a marketplace anointing on it.
Currently Kimberly serves as the Chairwoman and CEO of the International Dream Team Christian Association, a faith-based economic development corporation she founded in 1999. The organization’s mission is to bring hope, healing and restoration to those with shattered dreams in entrepreneurship by giving back and providing technical assistance in financial literacy, economic empowerment and small, minority business development.
Kimberly continues her spiritual service by working closely with her husband Reverend George A. Bynoe, Pastor of the “Feed the People’s Ministry”. Together they are striving to fulfill God’s precept requiring that His children feed the hungry and look after the poor.
Kimberly’s hard work was recently recognized and honored with her being appointed to serve as the Suffolk County Director for the Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce Inc. In her role she will be fulfilling LIAACC’s mission towards the advancement and promotion of economic development in Suffolk County with emphasis on entrepreneurs of African Ancestry. Most recently Kimberly was featured in Newsday’s, Long Island on the Move, column and Long Island Business News Movers and Shakers as well as Newsday’s, “Winners Circle” column.
Last week MANA Newspaper Economic News Columnist Larry Montgomery, Sr. asked –Kimberly, “What are your personal entrepreneurial goals”?
My personal entrepreneurial goals are to expand my vision to include developing an Event Planning and Management Services company specializing in corporate event and conference planning.
“What has drawn you to not only join but to commit and contribute your support and time to LIAACC?”
What has drawn me to join and commit to contributing and supporting LIAACC is the opportunity to serve and help others, in giving back by sharing my journey and life’s experience in economic empowerment. I have learned so much why should I hoard it for myself? I have learned that if you have something to give, then give it especially if it can help provide a better quality of life for someone else. I would love to see more of the African American community become more financially independent. You can only create wealth if you have your own.
“What are some of your thoughts on economic development in Suffolk County?”
Suffolk County currently has an African American Advisory Board, managing its Office of Minority Affairs which is responsible for the concerns of the counties significant African American population. Most people know that because of the County’s geographic location its African American population has a number of unique issues and concerns when it comes to the area of economic empowerment. While many of the County’s more visible community minded organizations such as the NAACCP and Suffolk County Chapter of the National Coalition of the 100 Black Women focus on their agendas. LIAACC’s mission is built on one specific commitment that of addressing economic development concerns within the African American communities it serves. We can only strengthen our communities if we all work together but each has to have its own unique niche. LIAACC is currently building new relationships with plans towards pooling its resources and working together with all those organizations concerned about the welfare of the African American community. As the Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce Suffolk County Director I look forward to working with existing community based businesses and those entities and resources that help to increase the utilization of Minority Women Business Enterprises in Suffolk County. We will also work with entities such as Suffolk County Community College Entrepreneurial Assistance Center and the Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale College to strengthen the capacity and sustainability of our small Black owned and operated businesses.
“What are your immediate plans for recruiting new members for LIAACC?”
We are currently in the outreach stage of branding our organization focused on letting more of Suffolk County’s African American business owners know about all of our available programs and services. It is very hard for community members to take advantage of our services if they do not know what they are and how to access them.
We successfully held our first annual new member and inaugural meeting in Suffolk County to recognize the Suffolk County Chapter and install me as its new Director. It was an inspiring event that was well attended with over 100 attendees who witnessed this historic event which was held at the Dennison Building in Suffolk County. Our goal is to marshal all available resources in Suffolk County which can benefit interested and potential members, and manifest in increased community economic development.
“What are your long range plans for recruiting new members for LIAACC?”
We would like to identify existing small business owners who are currently operating outside of our chamber network and bring them into the chamber of commerce. We have documented the viability of the success of our chambers capacity to leverage potential business opportunities and at the same time work on improving our small business owners’ capacity to achieve more through technical advice, small business training and advocacy.
“Give us your thoughts about Church and Business collaborations or alliances with LIAACC?”
Churches are not only important in improving one’s spirituality but the church can exert significant influence in the area of economic development by how they encourage community investment in areas of job training needs, availability of career educational services and community self-empowerment via an emphasis on congregant support of their community’s business establishments. I would like to think that as ones faith is built some of that fruit from that faith will overflow into support of the small businesses in the area. The church is a hub where people from all walks of life come together in one place for one purpose to build their faith. And as we at LIAACC want to become a part of supporting their community outreach efforts as both of us are focused on the wellbeing of the communities we serve.