What Has Been Will Be Again (Part 1)

As African Americans, we have always been students of history, though at times we have been victimized by it. Our current time teaches us that what we are seeing in the economic, religious and social climates in America are shifts and cycles that bring us to a better place of consciousness of God and ourselves. We should further note that we can and we will do more than survive this moment; we will be made better by it. There is no growth without conflict and struggle, and our current struggles are only indications that we are at the tipping point of a great awakening of creativity and great personal and collective power. We cannot forget that America is still the “Great Society” that LBJ envisioned. It is when we remember all the things that we have forgotten that we find our hope again.

The 90’s were a good time. So many things happen for me in the 90’s: I got my driver’s license, went to prom, graduated high school, and got married (the jury is still out on the virtue of that pursuit, however I nonetheless have a soft spot in my heart for the 90’s). We saw the end of the cold war, the rise of Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and John Elway finally got a Super Bowl ring. These were some good times. Under President William Jefferson Clinton we enjoyed an economic surplus that nurtured a time of innovation and a resurgence of the entrepreneurial spirit in America. The job rate was high, it was easy to find a well-paying job, and the American working class had options. These were good times. Hip-Hop had been birthed on the corners of urban cities as a way to give vent to frustrations with the decay of neighborhoods across the country. These neighborhoods had been torn apart by drugs and the evils of “Reganomics” that, by definition, cut taxes for the strongest wage earners and left what would be called a “trickle down effect” that was suppose to aid those in the middle and lower classes. Needless to say, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. But the 90’s are also where we saw men and women of color control the thoughts and ideas of a new generation of young people, whether they were black, brown or white. Opulence and indulgence was the underlying theme of the day. There were champagne, yachts, villas from the West Coast to the East Coast and back down South. The 90’s were “all about the “Benjamins”. We had to “Get Money” and buy “Bling, Bling” so everyone could watch us “floss”. We lived better, found out what the Robb Report was, kept an eye on Forbes magazine to see who made what and who was projected to make even more next year. Money, power, and the American dream were where we put our collective conscious. The 80’s left us wanting, thirsting for more and for better. In the 90’s, we were able to quench our thirst, and we drank and drank and drank until we became intoxicated.

So it was in the world, and so it was in the Church. We saw phenomena that our generation will most likely never see again. We saw the rise of the Evangelical church in its ability to amass great wealth, influence and political capital. We witnessed the rises of the gifted, multitasking, and media savvy entrepreneurial pastors who were able to be the center of great swellings of people and build what we now call mega-churches. The definition of mega-church is not strictly based on the number of members. It is commonly understood that the size of the church, the prominence of the pastor and the affluence of the congregation all are contributing factors in making a mega-church.

A theology called the “Prosperity Gospel” accompanied the swelling of the mega-church. It was a much nuanced approach to interpreting scripture that allowed those who read it to understand that, as Biggie said, “God meant me to push a Bentley”. Jonathan Walton, a religion professor at the University of California at Riverside, realized that Prosperity Gospel’s central promise — that God will “make a way” for poor people to enjoy the better things in life — had developed an additional, dangerous expression during the subprime lending boom. Walton says that the Prosperity-based attitude encouraged congregants who got dicey mortgages to believe “God caused the bank to ignore my credit score and blessed me with my first house.” The results, he says, “were disastrous, because they pretty much turned parishioners into prey for greedy brokers.”

This gospel was preached throughout the world with tangible and definite results. Congregations and their offerings grew. Some churches saw revenue of upwards of 50 million dollars a year. The Lord was blessing, and congregants were buying bigger houses and driving better cars. We traveled more and ate better because we believed this was the way God wanted us to live. We had testimonies that we applied for a loan to get a house that we knew we did not qualify for, but God made a way out of no way, and we called it “favor”. J. Lee Grady, editor of the magazine Charisma, says (and for the record, I hate it when he is right): “It definitely goes on, that a preacher might say, ‘If you give this offering, God will give you a house.’ And if they did get the house, people did think that it was an answer to prayer, when in fact it was really bad banking policy.” If so, the situation offers a look at how a native-born faith based partially on American economic optimism entered into a toxic symbiosis with a pathological market.

This theological thinking was very cultural. Our then President never hesitated to boast about the job rate in America, that he presided over the lowest unemployment rate in our nation’s history, the mortgage boom, and the economic surplus. What we were not told was that most, if not all, of these things were illusions at best. The surplus that we saw in the 90’s was actually a result of the cut backs in the 80’s. Freeing up the market was a correction that happened through “Reganomics and Bush I” economic initiatives.

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~ by pastorpatrickonline on November 8, 2008.

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