From Slave Masters to Church Pastors:
The Exploitation and Manipulation of the African
By Dr. Rick Wallace, Ph.D. | Saturday, April 30, 2016
From Slave Masters to Church Pastors ~ First of all, I will acknowledge that I am fully cognizant of the fact that the title of this piece will agitate, aggravate and infuriate some. The title is meant to have maximum impact — to stir the pot of critical thought — challenging my brothers and sisters to shake themselves free from their emotions, fears and biases long enough to evaluate the facts. I have learned, experientially, that it is not my responsibility to tell people what to think, but I do have an obligation to present the truth — not to demean, belittle or deride my brothers and sisters — but to introduce them to critical thought. So, this is not an attempt to address your particular faith, or the lack thereof.
Additionally, while the title is generic, I want to be lucidly clear here in saying that this does not apply to all pastors and religious leaders. I work consistently with pastors on a regular basis, who are committed to the betterment and empowerment of those within the black community, and I am proud to do so. As a former figure head within the Church structure, it is still my belief that the church has the potential to be one of the most powerful instruments of community empowerment of the black community, not because of its doctrines, but because of its infrastructure. Unfortunately, that is rarely the goal of church leaders at this point, and I will explain why momentarily. According to recent reports, the black Church raises $252.4 million per week (Carnell, 2014; Woulard, 2012; Furious, 2013; Lee, 2013), and over the last 30 years, it has raised more than $420 billion (Furious, 2013). Yet, very little of that was invested in building up and protecting the black community — the place where most of these churches are located. In fact, the overwhelming amount of that money was deposited in white banks that have, in turn, denied financing to black home buyers and aspiring business owners, through discriminatory lending practices.
So, while churches have consistently collected brobdingnagian sums of money from the black community, it has failed to effectively invest in the community. The churches have grown larger and more elaborate, while the communities in which they rest are either deteriorating or being gentrified leading to the forced displacement of the black residents. What’s more, there have been more than a few bible scholars and students of Christian doctrine, including yours truly, who have pointed to the fallibility in the doctrine of tithing in the church to no avail (Lee, 2013; Jr., 1972; Wallace, 2005). While this paper is not about tithing distinctly, the issue with the failure of the church to take care of the people who take care of it is monumental to the point being made here. With the mastodonic amounts of money being raised by the church monthly (more than $1 billion), there is more than enough to build everything that is needed to stop the suffering and empower the powerless, but that is not the mission of the church at large.
Understanding the Dynamic of Black Church Leadership and Where It Originated
Before we can understand the behavior of the black pastor, and how it plays into the current dilemma within the black community, we must develop, at least, a minimal perspicacity of the history of “his” position in the black church. I will begin here by stating that this is not an argument for or against Christianity, although I am more than qualified. What I want to do here is focus on the history of Christianity as it applies to the African American.
Despite growing up in a Christian home and being told constantly to never question God, I always had an indirect question that ultimately led to subsequent questions, which finally led me down a path of discovery. The initial question was: Why would slave masters expose slaves to a spiritual entity and religious system that could provide us with the capacity to empower and liberate ourselves? The subsequent question was: If two enemies are praying to the same God, which one does God answer? So, what I would like to address here now is not the validity of Christianity, but the intent of white slave masters when they introduced the Westernized/bastardized version to their African American slaves. I am acknowledging that at least two major belief systems (Salvationism and historicism) associated with Christianity had been practiced on the continent of Africa long before slavery (Kyles, 2014), but it did not resemble Christianity as we know it. What may be even more troubling for some Christian believers is that the practice of salvationism and the historicist view, as well as the office of Christ (anointed one, chosen one, etc.) preceded the historical personage of the one known as Jesus by several thousand years (Kyles, 2014).
Here is the problem that I am focused on. The Christianity of the west that was thrust upon black Africans was done so with the projected idea that they were savages and the white man rescued them and introduced them to his God. Now, the introduction of Christianity to black slaves had a powerful and lasting impact. First of all, the image of a white God created an inferiority complex (Jr. C. B., 2010), as suggested by a number of black psychologists and historians, including Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Umar Johnson, Dr. Na’im Akbar and more. Not only did it make it impossible to identify directly with God, it also caused them to see their oppressors as godlike.
Unfortunately, the bastardized form of Christianity introduced to slaves did not only create an inferiority complex, but it was also used as the primary justification for slavery. Simply put, white slave owners and white slave overseers, used the Bible to validate the right of the white man to own and control the black man. The threat of angering the White God was used to strike fear in the hearts of slaves, through the fear of hell’s fire. This can still be seen in contemporary culture as many black Christians will condemn anyone doing something that they feel they should not be doing to hell’s fire — completely ignoring the grace concept within the Christian faith — the very foundation of its existence. This is because grace was not taught to black slaves. In fact, black slaves believed their only way into heaven was to be obedient to their masters. This can also be witnessed in modern culture.
It is not uncommon to find Christians who are so innately enamored by the thought of going to heaven that they are literally no good here on earth. I recently read a post in which a female believer in Christ was praying to be called on home because of the terrible condition that the world is in. It seems that it never crossed her mind that her purpose here on earth is to be a difference maker for those in her periphery. When I engage Christians who attempt to pray their troubles and concerns away without taking action to change or improve them, I ask a simple question: What makes you think that God is going to answer a prayer in which you are asking him to deliver you from the giants he sent you to slay. I believe in divine purpose, and that is not something you can be delivered from. You can ignore it, but you cannot pray your way out of it. But that is what the introduction of the bastardized version of Christianity did to blacks — promoting the thereafter with no real hope for the here and now.
Again, I am not arguing against Christianity as a faith, but I am speaking boldly to the nefarious effect of the version that is rampant in the U.S. It is steeped in tradition, ritualism and semantic symbolism, but although it speaks constantly of spiritual power, it lacks it. And, without a spiritual (not emotional) element, there is no true connection to the divine. There is no other way to explain the current state of defeat that the black collective is experiencing without referencing the lack of authentic power in the form of spiritual energy. For the sake of time I am going to suggest that you read, “The Book that Every Black Christian Should Read by Perry Kyles!
The Use of the Black Pastor as a Control Mechanism for Slaves
Christianity, in and of itself, was a powerful control mechanism for white masters to use to control their slaves. Slave masters were always looking for ways to make their slaves more biddable or docile, and Christianity did just that. Initially, because slaves were not allowed to congregate without a white overseer being present, they were not allowed to hold their own church services. They were only allowed to attend church when a white preacher was preaching. However, slave masters decided that it would be a good idea to select some male slaves who were loyal to the master to serve as pastors for black slaves.
Because the black male slave had been completely emasculated by the slavery process, his inherent need to lead and thirst to experience power, made him the ideal candidate. The fear of losing his position as a leader, who other slaves looked up to, ensured that he would not do anything that would jeopardize that position. The black pastor during slavery was given explicit instructions as far as the sermons he would preach — with two primary directives — never speak ill of slavery and whenever slavery is mentioned the master is always white and the slave is always black.
As time passed, the owners relinquished more and more of the responsibility for the indoctrination of slaves to the black pastor. Whatever they wanted the slaves to think or believe was first given to the Black pastor, and then it was passed on through a sermon and the declaration that it was God’s will. The influence of the Black pastor became so powerful that even after slavery ended, the white men and women who held positions of power still used the pastor to control the black masses. In fact, when eugenicist and founder of what is now Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, launched her Black Negro Project, which was aimed at reducing the black population through sterilization and abortion, she targeted black preachers to help smooth over the idea read what her suggestion was to her supporters:
“We should apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring… (Sanger, 1910)”
And, if you are wondering who she is primarily targeting, read further.
“We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities (i.e. Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, etc.). The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members (Sanger M. , 1922).”
Margaret Sanger, and others who felt the need to influence the black collective understood that the ability to influence the masses had shifted from the slave master to the church pastor. This is the same reason that politicians show up at the church during election season, because even the appearance that the pastor supports them will garner black votes.
Again, this is not an open condemnation of pastors, because there are some who have their foot to the pavement, and they are fighting constantly to create a better way of life for the people in the communities where they operate. The problem is that very few of them are the ones that most of us see on TV and follow religiously.
I am not only concerned with the massive amounts of money that is being pulled out of the black community by the church, but I am also concerned with the fact that organizations who are actually active in the community can’t get support because of the obligatory giving to an entity that is not reinvesting in the black community.
I am concerned because being a former figurehead in the church, I am keenly cognizant of the fact that most of these pastors are aware of the enigmatic issues plaguing the black collective, and they know how to address it. You don’t build mega churches without understanding finance and social mobilization. The problem is the pseudo-position and power afforded to these pastors by the white power structure, from their license to their 501 (3) c status, makes them leery of rocking the boat. Basically, when it comes to fighting to lift the black collective or maintaining their own sphere of influence, regardless of how fragile it is, they are choosing themselves.
I am fighting the fight that I am fighting now because I begged the church to do it for years, and it literally turned on me. Personally, I believe the black church, on a national level, has an existing infrastructure that makes it the most influential institution to the empowerment of blacks, but we must change our current thought processes, and we have to look at reshaping the Westernized ideology of the faith, placing the responsibility for accomplishment and the fulfillment of destiny back on the shoulder of the destined. It is time to stop praying for deliverance and start praying for power. There is work to be done. Personally, I am not interested in the manner in which you engage God, The Universe, The Creator, etc. What I am interested in is how your faith is empowering you to make an impact on the world around you.
Finally, when you have no knowledge of history, not just Black history, but history in general, it is impossible to place things in their proper context. It is easy for others to mislead you. If you are going to hold on to the Bible, I am telling you that you must understand history to even place the contents within in proper perspective. It is simple, while you are praying for God to deliver you from the very giants he designed you and sent you to slay, deliverance is not coming. So, you might as well strap up and get on the battlefield, because there is a war being waged on multiple fronts, and we have been taking casualties at an exorbitant rate — it is time to strike back. ~ Dr. Rick Wallace, Ph.D.
Carnell, Y. (2014, June 17). Black Churches Collect Billions, But Black people Suffer: Why is That? Fiancial Juneteenth.
Fullilove, M. T., & Wallace, R. (2011). Serial Forced Displacement in American Cities 19-1916-2010. Journal of Urban Health: Bulleton of the New York Academy of Medicine, Vol. 88, No. 3, 381-382.
Furious. (2013, May 14). Black Churches Have Collected $420 Billion. Urban Intellectuals .
Jr., C. B. (2010, July 12). “Jesus Worship” Hurts the Black Community. Black News.
Jr., R. T. (1972). Giving: Gimmick or Grace. Houston, TX: R.B. Thieme Ministries.
Kyles, P. K. (2014). The Book That Every Black Christian Should Read. African Diaspora Press.
Lee, D. (2013). Sunday Morning Stickup: What Your Pastor Does Not Want You to Know about Tithes. New York: Outskirts Press, Inc. .
Sanger, M. (1910). Woman and The New Race. New York: Kessinger Publishing, LLC.
Sanger, M. (1922). Women, Morality and Birth Control. New York: New York Publishing.
Wallace, R. (2005). The Tithing Lie. The Odyssey Project Research and Advisory Council.
Wallace, R. (2008). The State of the Church: A Mission Compromised. The Odyssey Project Research and Advisory Council .
Woulard, B. (2012, July 6). Church Tithing #BestHustleEver. BW Writes.