Tammy Thomas Garnes

Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’

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.