The Urban Church has the potential to tackle citywide poverty in Urban Michigan and to change the culture of our communities in ways that city governments as well as Black Grassroots organizations do not.
It is very easy in considering the challenges of globalization and international development to enter a secular debate -- using secular terms -- on globalization and international development in which the Christian faith has seemingly limited relevance and is reduced to the margins. Jesus, however, was under no illusion of the claims He was making when He declared, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” While Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world,” Scripture makes clear that Christ’s kingdom is nevertheless relevant to every aspect of our life in this world. The Church is a witness to that kingdom and because of that has great potential to influence our world for the better.
Let me provide two concrete examples of what this might mean: the role of the Black Church in Urban Michigan and the leadership of business. For example, all of the initiatives proposed by G8 countries to help sub-Saharan Africa -- dealing with debt, aid, trade, and so forth -- are “top-down” initiatives.
Most commission reports, when given to leaders of African countries, normally addresses how the governments of donor utilize the resources of aid in these countries. The question that needs to be asked regarding such top down initiatives is how they translate into tangible results affecting the lives of ordinary people in the villages and small towns of rural Africa. Sadly, the perception is that they do not.
It is here that the Black Church in African American Communities across Michigan can score highly. However, we can become more effective if we follow the explicit examples of our brothers and sisters in the East in Africa.
If we take sub-Saharan Africa as an example, the Christian Church numbered around sixty million people in 1960. Today that figure is between 350–400 million. The Church in Africa is in closer touch with the poor -- those living on less than one dollar per day -- than any other institution. Moreover, the Church has a stable administrative infrastructure through its provinces, dioceses, and parishes, which is unrivalled and is in marked contrast to the often-failed structures of local government. The Church has a highly respected leadership (unlike the political class in Africa) who are trained, experienced, and live permanently in the communities they serve. This is a vivid contrast to aid workers and officials of international institutions. Through the provision of schools, hospitals, clinics, dispensaries and, more recently, micro-finance initiatives, the Church has a proven track record in helping the poor.
We have churches here that are ran like corporations. Some are joint political/liberal platforms that stress the importance of joining local civil rights groups, joining the Democratic Party or joining a Black Grassroots movement instead of teaching the very tenets of church, family values through educational choices that will equate into wealth creation.
Today, the Black Church in Michigan is a sleeping giant with enormous potential. The challenge faced by Christians in wealthy countries is how we can serve the Church in Urban Michigan so that in turn it can most effectively serve its people. We should be doing the same here in places like Detroit, Benton Harbor and Pontiac.
Another area of enormous potential influence is business leadership. We have argued that the key for economic development is the creation of a vibrant private sector in developing urban cities. Successful private sector companies provide jobs, training, exports, and community involvement. Christians ought to be committed to shaping companies in ways that allow people to develop and pursue excellence. Throughout G8 countries, there are thousands of Christians in positions of business leadership, not least in those companies that are at the heart of globalization. These are people that are practicing free market economics. There will be others, maybe of other faiths or even no faith, who will have equally high ideals for corporate life. Once again, I believe that the Church is in a unique position to mobilize its members to take responsibility and leadership.
If globalization is not to stall, it urgently needs legitimacy in terms of a moral framework that explains and promotes not just wealth creation as a moral imperative but also the ways in which poor cities in Michigan can benefit and the environment can be protected.