I hate separating people by race, but after watching Black in America: Almighty Debt I was amazed at how intertwined African American society is with its churches. Sure, I knew they were closely knit when it came to family, prayer and charity, but this CNN special was about finances and the church was heavily involved. So much so that it would not make sense to be a black atheist because who would you turn to for help in a crisis? You have to believe in God or you lose your community and a beneficial resource for financial survival.
The spotlight was on Rev. Buster Soaries and his “D-Free” program aimed at struggling black families and debt. He wants every one of his parishioners to be debt-free, a very admirable goal. But it was scary at how much sway a reverend had with his surrounding community as he called in numerous favors that had nothing to do with spiritual health. In 3 separate stories, he intervened with help that most white Americans would be envious of .
One scenario involved a motivated young African American man who was applying to colleges and trying to figure out how he was going to pay for them. His first attempt at earning some quick cash was to enter into a NAACP sponsored event where he could act his way to winning $2000. He was guided by his very attractive female youth pastor (yowza). The young man, while definitely talented, ultimately did not win the prize money and later came home to a college denial letter and an acceptance letter–a confusing moment later cleared up by the admissions representative. It seems he was originally denied acceptance into the school because his grades weren’t quite at a desired level. A certain someone, however, put in a phone call that changed the school’s mind–Rev. Buster Soaries. I’m not criticizing the intervention as I think school will be essential for this young man to succeed, but what if he didn’t believe in God? Is he out of luck?
The next scenario involved a man who had been out of work for 18 months. We’re not talking about someone who is lazy or underserving of a job, this was a passionate African American man in his mid-forties (I’m estimating) who spent at least 8 hours at the public library every day submitting applications and regularly attending job fairs. Intelligent, well spoken and well dressed he faced what a lot of us will face–age discrimination and being over-qualified in a job market looking for younger and less expensive new hires. Rev. Buster Soaries found out about his situation and called in a favor to one of the flock, a human resources manager, who arranged interviews with several potential companies all at the same time in one room–and they all prayed with each other at the end of the interview session! Now I must note, this man did not ask for the good reverend’s help and he completely deserved a job, but that moment dropped my jaw.
The last scenario was rather disgusting and while one black commentator seemed to suggest that it was a black attitude I believe it is beyond race. The theory is that many black people come from modest to poor backgrounds so when they’re handed access to credit they want to live like the rich do; they want their families to have it better than they did when they were growing up. They then live outside of a realistic budget and cripple themselves financially.
The couple in question worked in sales and bought into their $400,000 dream home (with a planned tennis court and pool) and were living far beyond their means. They could afford to start this kind of rich living because they were both in sales and the commissions were good. The economy tanked and the commissions stopped being so good–fact is, they were gone. This is common among sales professionals as I have seen it myself–with white people. With no income they got behind on bills and most importantly got behind on paying their mortgage–for 2 years! Their daughter was clueless, didn’t want to be involved in the financial mess, and apparently has a monthly cell phone bill of $400–I’m not sure how that is even possible with unlimited talk and text options?
Rev. Soaries arranged a lawyer to counsel the married couple on a loan modification and for this couple it all came down to faith because God was going to deliver them from their financial mess. Each step of the way, the bank refused. Rev. Soaries still intervened but to no avail. The bank made the final decision to put their dream home on the auction block. They were a stressed-out wreck, but God apparently had something better planned for them. It never seemed to cross their mind that God may be punishing them for their reckless spending and not teaching their teenage daughter some good financial sense. …Or that there was no God.
What Black in America shows is that there is no getting away from the black church. They are involved in every aspect of the African American life and without the church, how are black people, who do not always have the advantages of middle class and upper class white people, supposed to survive? Why would they even question their faith? Black atheism has to be harder then anything white people face.
I applaud the black church in America, I really do. It is a powerful community supporting its members in times of need, such as the present economic crisis. But how are we to know if true faith exists? When everyone abandons you, when you are down in the dirt, that is the test of faith. I wonder how many black church members have had their faith tested by being alone and unsupported. It often takes a separation from the overwhelming influence of a faith-based community to clear your head. Once you can do that, then you can question the existence of God. We need more black atheists and therefore need more young African Americans who are independent of their churches. It’s a long road.