Tammy Thomas Garnes

The Borrower is Slave to the Lender – Almighty Debt: CNN Black In America

In Media, Politics on October 20, 2010 at 9:29 am

When the hubby and I went through our “Financial Peace” course over several months at our church, one thing became clear, almost everyone has financial issues…big, fat, nasty, debt ridden financial issues.  You would think with all of our education, all of our forward thinking–our access to budgeting software and online banking, that Americans…specifically Black Americans who spend so much of our time online, at work and in church, would have killed this debt monster by now.  But most of us haven’t.  No matter how much we bring in…Americans find a way to spend it all, plus a little extra.

This week, CNN brings us CNN Almighty Debt: A Black In America Special with Soledad O’brien, a 60 minute CNN Black in America documentary special premiering Thursday, October 21, 2010.  This timely piece of heart wrenching journalism, digs boldly into the struggles of several individuals and families as they struggle financially, finding hope and peace in their faith along the way.

I had the priceless opportunity to sit backstage at a recent Town Hall taping and discussion here in Atlanta with Soledad, Rev. DeForest Soaries of First Baptist  Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, NJ whose groundbreaking ministry is featured in the documentary, along with Bishop. T.D. Jakes, financial columnist Michelle Singletary, clinical social worker Terrie Williams, and pollster Cornell Belcher (what a smart man), as they addressed bloggers on the issues of faith, money and debt.  I loved the way that Soledad stayed true to her intense journalistic style, never letting up on these powerful voices in the Black community and hitting them hard with the question of WHY? over and over again.

I wish I could say that I walked away from this incredible documentary with concrete answers on how to fix the debt crisis in our community, but I didn’t.  I actually walked away a little more anxious and heck of lot more angry at how my people view and treat money, the church and it’s leaders.  But if that’s that point of a good documentary…to evoke emotion, questions and educate all at once…CNN got it right this time.  This Black In America installment will have everyone talking.

I must say, I found it very hard to listen backstage to the panelists views on tithing and giving.  Even in the midst of severe financial strife, all of the panelists urged Christians to continue to give their 10% to the church, because as one guest said “It’s how we fund our programs.”  I wondered to myself if they really wanted someone to give 10% of their unemployment check.  As a tither myself, I know how long it’s taken to get to the point where I give cheerfully, but there seems to be something very Un-Godlike about asking a struggling single mother to forego food for her kids so that “the church” can thrive.  Perhaps “the church” should pull back on IT’s spending if it’s that dependent on the gifts of the poor.  Or perhaps there are simply too many “the churches,” one taking up space on what seems like every single block in some urban cities, to make the true impact in the world that “the church” is called first and foremost to do.

You know, perhaps it’s my recent mission trip to Haiti, and not being able to find many other Black missionaries from America (because honestly it’s not something the Black church teaches us to do) or it could even be my behind the scenes knowledge of what goes on in certain churches.  But the last time I checked the book of Matthew, which hasn’t changed over the years, it shows Jesus living a lifestyle of frugality and telling his followers that if they want to be perfect (Christ like) they would give up everything, all of their possessions and follow Him.  This command would lead one to think that the opportunity for the church to teach our community about giving and being selfless, while living with less, so they can give more, lies in actually walking the walk and not always simply tossing coins in the collection plate.  You can tithe your time as well as your money and often times your time, which has a monetary value, has a much greater and direct impact.

Our issue as a community with “Almighty Debt” runs so deep, and transcends so many generations and historical events outside of our control, that continuing to teach Christians that all of their money woes will be solved thru tithing and simply budgeting, seems…just wrong.

While I truly admire all of the work that churches are doing to help congregants stay in their homes, pay for college and simply live day to day, and while I know that the church has bills to pay, I would have given money for Soledad to ask the panelists about how pastors who own multi-million private jets, drive audacious cars and wear extremely expensive clothing and jewelry serve as  positive fiscal examples to their congregants.  And let’s not even go there with churches allowing/encouraging members to give with credit cards, purchase books, cd’s, attend conferences, buy special clothing for special church events and the list goes on and on.

But back to the special.  The underlying theme that makes you proud as you watch the documentary is the stick-to-itness that you find in the protagonists.  You cheer for them, you want them to succeed and you see some of them in yourself.  Debt is an equal opportunity anxiety monster and this documentary shows that truth better than any program I’ve ever seen.

We have a crisis in our community when it comes to debt and honestly, sometimes I don’t know if the church is hurting or helping.  Judge for yourself this Thursday night.  CNN is bringing us another powerful documentary, be sure to tune in.

  1. You address some important points in the black community. Although her views may not be popular to vocalize, I applaud her for shedding some light on the excesses of many of our churches. Why a pastor needs a private jet or Bentley is beyond me. I sometimes get the impression that people believe that the more opulently their pastor lives, the more blessed the church is. Ridiculous! Instead, the church needs to teach fiscal responsibility, stewardship and frugality.

  2. Great writing!

    This is DEFINITELY an episode I plan to watch. I’m glad CNN is brave enough to tackle this issue as it relates to the African American community. Hopefully it will inspire us to create and implement plans to rectify our financial situations.

  3. I agree!

  4. Thanks for the comment. I was almost afraid to post this….I know I’m not in the majority on my views.

  5. Pastors should question their own motives and/or methods when folks are more wowed by the church’s riches than its works. Debt eats at soo many of us but greed is just as bad. I think it’s great when churches hold finance classes that along w/ budgeting focus on balance and common sense.

    I agree that you can tithe w/ your time too. And I also think that you can tithe outside of “the church.”

  6. Great piece. Speaks volumes to my skepticism of organized religion and the “mere mortals” who lead the wayward sheep. There is so much more that the Black community could be learning about financial responsibility, sexual responsibility, and SELF responsibility, from the churches and the school system. I’m disappointed in both. “if they really wanted someone to give 10% of their unemployment check.” love that question. You and I both know the answer. This is such a huge and emotional issue. Thanks for sharing.

  7. So many good issues raised! This may be all over the place, but hopefully it makes sense. From the blog: “As a tither myself, I know how long it’s taken to get to the point where I give cheerfully, but there seems to be something very Un-Godlike about asking a struggling single mother to forego food for her kids so that “the church” can thrive.”

    Tithing is not first about supporting the church and it’s programs. It is the law mandated in the Bible. Give to where you receive spiritual food. Tithing doesn’t leave you with less, it is a faith tool demonstrating your trust in the law – give and it is given to you. And tithing isn’t the same as philanthropic giving.

    The consciousness of someone who is struggling on unemployment is likely one of lack. I know that I’ve been there. When I’m feeling like there isn’t enough, I tend to do more to take away from what I have. I bounce checks, I get traffic tickets, I randomly splurge to make myself feel better. The act of tithing demonstrates a trust in the law and a knowledge of truth – that every need is abundantly supplied according to his riches.

    Tithing and church operations have to be separated. If you do not agree with the way that your church manages its resources, that’s an entirely different conversation – separate from whether you tithe. If you disagree with the way the pastor’s compensation plan, that’s an entirely different conversation-separate from whether you tithe. The question becomes, is your church feeding you spiritually. If not, where (or from whom) are you receiving your spiritual food? Tithe there.

    I don’t think that Jesus lived a life of frugality, so much as the people supported him and his followers. But that’s a completely different topic for a completely different blog!

    Debt is the fruit of a systemic belief in lack. Until you address that belief, you can put people on any money management system that you can think of and it will not produce lasting results.

    Great blog. Very thought provoking. Can’t wait to see the special.

  8. Incredible responses. Thanks you guys. Super points on tithing @Sheree and how it’s not about helping the church pay it’s bills. Amazing that I’ve never heard that preached from any pulpit…You rock.

  9. Let’s hope plenty of black folk actually watch this documentary; sounds like it delves into territory that’s much too sensitive for many. People who are struggling financially (and who isn’t these days?) need financial help, and I sure hope this program shows several different examples of the churches’ role in that, not just the one church in N.J. Glad that Soledad and CNN took this on. And thanks for the insightful blog.

  10. What a powerful article Highlighting such a “Charged” topic. Can’t wait to watch the special and recommend it to friends. Not knowing immediately how to solve the problem is ok if we are desiring to work on the problem and be informed sticking our head in the sand is not an option. Thank you for doing that!

  11. Great post! This is something I’ve been ‘preaching’ about for years. I think Pastors who fit the mold that you describe should take a good hard look at 1 Corinthians 8:9, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”

    If the members in your congregation include a large number of people that can’t pay their bills, have a negative net worth, live paycheck to paycheck and you, as their leader, live an audacious lifestyle; I would consider that being a stumbling block.

  12. Terrific blog! Looking forward to CNN’s next installment.

  13. Your release of your fear will set all your friends free! So inspired by your courage and your talent. Feeling the same over here. This one is deep sister girl, real deep. Problem is that we are in the shallow end.

  14. Excellent points about tithing. I’ve always believed that tithing involves more than just giving to a particular church. I don’t give money to any church, but instead I support charitable organizations and missions that do Christ’s work. For those that can’t give money, they can give their time. The point is to give back!

  15. Great blog! I’ve never been a monetary ‘tither’. Was always too skeptical of where the money was going. I know that I should not have been. But it’s true. So I give in others way. I’m interested in seeing the documentary!

  16. What a thoughtfully written piece! This is the same conversation I have been having with friends and family for years. I am looking forward to the documentary.

  17. This was an excellent post. I am now very interested in the special especially after reading the points raised. I am sure this is probably not a popular point of view but I agree with it 100%.

  18. great blog. given your obvious faith, i am impressed by the pointed questions you raise. i look forward to watching the documentary!

  19. As a tither myself, I must say,” Ditto to EVERYTHING Sheree said”. I will be thinking tonight that’s for sure. My pastor drives a Prius.

  20. Awesome blog! Thanks so much for being courageous enough to speak honestly about a rather touchy subject in “Black America”–heck, in America period. I will definitely be tuning in on Thursday…

  21. Finally! A blog worth reading… I definitely will watch the segment now.

  22. I have not tuned in to CNN for a while now, but this looks to me an honest conversation about a serious topic and not another sensationalized, hand-wringing session. I have tried to understand the whole money-church paradigm for a while. I gave up when my mom was visiting and wanted to attend church one Sunday. We ended up at an African-American mega church in Atlanta, and I was temporarily paralyzed by the sign at the entrance of the office. A brand new BMW and an even newer-looking Mercedes were parked at reserved spots under signs that read “Pastor Parking Only” and “Pastor’s Wife Parking Only.” Really?

    I am cautiously hoping that Soledad *will* ask the tough questions I am unable to ask.

    Thanks for a great blog.

  23. Wow! Excellent and very thought provoking article. Another tither here I must say. I tithe to my church because I do feel that everything I have belongs to God and my Church is the place I’m spiritually fed on a weekly basis so I give even when it hurts. I can’t wait to watch tonight! Keep the great articles coming!

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