I am quite confident that the majority of African-Americans born prior to the eighties will understand my assertion that the primary socialization agent in our lives occurred within the sanctified walls of a Black Church.
Within these hallowed walls, we learned that there was an omnipotent and omnipresent God who “had the whole world in his hands.” Repeatedly hearing this message mesmerized my peers into believing that their life path was pre-determined by the guiding hand of God.
Of all the points emphasized in “praise houses” throughout Black America, one of the most common is the need for each of God’s children to live a life that would allow them to enter the kingdom of heaven. Entrance into heaven meant that we would be eternally reunited with our deceased loved ones and no longer subject to the daily hurt, pain, struggle, and strife that shadowed us in the land of the living.
The message being shared by black preachers was a simple one; that being, the struggle, pain, disappointment, and heartache experienced in “the land of the living” was more than worth it as the righteous would be rewarded with heavenly gifts and treasures that no man could conceive.
To the chagrin of many of my superiors, the omnipotent God previously mentioned gifted me with an intellectual curiosity that encouraged both an active engagement and investigation of scripture. After engaging the Holy Bible that a series of Sunday School Teachers at Mount Calvary Baptist Church had taught me was the very breath of God, I realized that black preachers were making conscious choices to accentuate certain portions of scripture while avoiding others. As a burgeoning Revolutionary Nationalist who was doing his best to balance faith and an unending urge to work toward the liberation of Black America, the reality that black preachers intentionally avoided prominent politico-economic issues and disparities that cut across racial lines troubled my soul.
My soul was definitely not comforted by routine teachings that advised Black America to be long-suffering and not conform to the ways and desires of this world. I am quite confident that I am not the only one who tired of hearing sermons built around Mark 8:36 “For what does it profit a man to gain the entire world and lose his soul.” Such a message always sounded like unwise advice seeking to get Black America to not only agree to be oppressed but also to participate in their downtrodden position. Even as a teenager, I wanted to rise form my seat, reprimand the preacher and tell him to turn his “good book” to James 2:17 and build a liberation sermon around the idea that “Faith without works is dead”. If I did not know any better, I would be convinced that black preachers, realizing that their people would carry the stain of blackness for eternity have colluded and decided to sell them hope, instead of life skills that hold the potential to liberate them from the terminal illness that has wiped out several generations of Black America.
Although I can only speak with authority on my personal experience, I can definitively say the Black Church led me down a path of being pious, considerate, and accommodating toward others and rationalizing my non-engagement with Capitalist America as an assured path to Heaven. With the benefit of hindsight, I clearly understand that the vast majority of African-Americans have avoided opportunities to accumulate wealth as such action would invariably curtail our chances of meeting our heavenly father. Could it be that such thinking flows from having heard far too many sermons revolving around Matthew 19:24 “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
At no moment during my tenure as a member of the Black Church did I ever hear a black preacher articulate a message that addressed the gap between the words he spoke from the pulpit and the luxurious lifestyle that he and his contemporaries enjoyed. Put simply, even a cursory glance at the lifestyles of a mildly successful black preacher displays the cavernous gap between their sermon and their personal decisions. Black preachers failure to use their pulpit to discuss the financial concerns impacting their congregants in any way other than tithing or the infamous “building fund” ensures the continuation of poverty and foolish spending within our community. Black preachers refusal to address the black portions of the body of Christ in regards to finances is quite simply a dereliction of duty that makes them unfit to lead any segment of the community.
Considering the present economic community of the Black Community, there is little room to refute Marcus Garvey’s assertion that regardless of where he traveled that persons of African descent have always been the poorest, owned the least amount of land, and were tenuously situated in regards to finances. Put simply, wealth has rarely visited, let alone resided in Black America. Consider the following facts.
- The wealth held by the average white family is seven times greater than the average black family.
- Median white wealth is twelve times that of black families.
- Economic studies tell us that twenty-five percent of black households have zero, or negative, wealth.
The most important question that needs to be asked at this moment is the following one; “Who is to blame for this enormous disparity of wealth between black and white Americans?” Those seeking to simultaneously disrespect Black America and explain the alluded to inequities will cite matters such as:
- Undisciplined spending habits instead of investing money.
- Pre-occupation with clothes, cars, and other depreciating trinkets.
- Lack of educational attainments.
- The failure to circulate the dollar to black businesses in the Black community.
- The desire to find a job instead of becoming entrepreneurs.
Although each of the above issues is at best a partial explanation for the cavernous wealth gap, they fail to factor in issues such as unemployment, poor paying jobs, the school-to-prison pipeline, financial institutions resistance to providing the capital necessary for African-Americans to start businesses, purchase homes, or a host of other long-term goals. if everyone is beginning from the same starting position. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just as many whites have a long legacy of wealth-accumulation that extends back centuries, African-Americans have a similar legacy. Unfortunately for Black America, they have rarely been fortunate enough to begin the accumulation of wealth at the same moment as their white counterparts.
It is a sobering reality to learn that nothing African-Americans have done (educational attainments, professional occupations, entrepreneurship, investment, savings, and investments) has had a sizable impact on closing the wealth gap in regards to whites. Maybe that is why so many of us remain tied to the Black Church. Is it possible that the only balm for our seemingly endless suffering is found in sermons and preaching that revolve around hopes for a death that will allow us to enter “a land where we will study war no more.” I guess that when the black plight is viewed in that light, that it is understandable that many of our people consider death to be a more attractive location than being poor and black in a nation where “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.”
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2018