After concessions by Ted Cruz and John Kasich, Donald Trump’s impending reign as the Republican nominee for US President can no longer be thought of as a long, bad joke.
Despite the number of people who dismissed his candidacy as nothing more than another egoistic move by The Donald, Trump continued snatching up wins and delegates like Shonda snatches edges on ABC every Thursday. His campaign is the complete antithesis of everything that post-racial America wishes it stood for. His opponents and dissenters looked on in horror, wondering who in the world could possibly be voting for this anti-establishmentarian. With so many vocal opponents, it’s really hard to believe that Trump is winning anywhere.
Trump is the Republican Nominee because it is “the little foxes that destroy the vineyard”.
— (Song of Solomon 2:15)
No, not the small fox that’s (possibly) resting atop of his head. He’s winning everywhere small and forgotten. In Georgia alone, Trump won 154 of 159 counties. The five counties he didn’t win? They house some of Georgia’s largest, most progressive populations. However, that’s not who Trump has galvanized his appeal for, no, he’s gone after America’s forgotten: the small town, traditional values, keep-it-like-it-was segment of America. Those whose economies live and die by the presence of prisons, warehouses, and factories in their communities. Those whose knowledge of the world is confined to the limits of their town. Those who feel like their voices and, by proxy, needs have been drowned out by the vocal majority. Trump speaks to their fears and dangles himself as their salvation from a world that has swallowed them with its uncomfortable ideologies.
Yet, this is not a new phenomenon. Trump’s popularity and success thus far really just forces us to confront what we’ve inwardly known all along: our society is not as progressive or socially stable as it pretends to be. The emergence of the vocal small-minded majority is destroying our country’s tenuous relationship with gender, race, and social equality. Yet, the Black community has witnessed this first hand for generations. The Black church remains a contentious cornerstone in our communities. Megachurches and the personal finances of their leaders are hotly debated as many continue to question its relevance and contributions to the advancement of the race. Like Trump, while everyone is focused on what’s largely visible, it is the small things that are doing the greatest harm.
Small “storefront churches” too lend themselves to the destruction of the vineyard.
Like small towns, the damages of small churches go unnoticed until its impact is amplified. Discussions around the state of the Black church are often centralized on money. Often, large churches are criticized for the disproportionate amount of money given to the community in comparison to what is received. There is absolutely validity to those criticisms in some, not all, megachurches. But, do some math with me for a moment:
If the average salary of the megachurch attendee is $45,000 annually and at least 30% of the congregation of 20,000 members tithes at 10% of gross income: 6,000 members x $4,500 in annual tithing = $27,000,000 annual revenue. Except that’s not even close to the rate at which people give.
Only 10-25% of a congregation tithes at all. Of those who do, they generally only give at a rate of 2.5%1. So the real numbers look like this: 10% of membership tithes at 2.5% of gross income of $45,000 = 2,000 members x $1,125 annual giving = $2,250,000 annual revenue. The takeaway here is not the math itself but understanding just how much membership is NOT giving at megachurches. The story changes significantly at smaller churches.
“Prosperity Gospel” is not at all limited to mega-ministries. We view large churches with money as a robbery to the community while the corner church of the dilapidated strip mall is preaching that if you “sow a $100 seed, God’s gonna give you the cattle on a thousand hills.” These small churches, the ones many attend in opposition of the “worldly” large churches, are filled to the brim with people being indoctrinated to believe that money is both the root of all evil and that poverty is next to Godliness. Instead of just tithing, some small churches have swindled their parishioners out of all their income in the name of Jesus, blessings, and a Godly covering.
These dangerous financial theologies are further complicated by equally broken teachings about the world around them. There are small ministries who, in the shadows of the community’s continued concerns over megachurches, preach against every opportunity for advancement. They preach against education and civic engagement through community involvement and voting, writing it off as worldly things that distract from the “things of God.” The most troubling part is that these churches are not just molding the minds of adults but that their influence is generational. The membership rolls of these churches are littered with single mothers seeking solace in faith, attempting to train up a child in the way that s/he should go by bringing them to church. Our community’s children are being indoctrinated long before they have access to more knowledge to bring balance between spiritual and human experience.
But, like the communities that have propelled Trump’s success, these damages remain hidden in the shadow of misdirected concerns. Storefront preachers prey on their parishioners’ ignorance of social issues and push blind faith in God as the solution. Like Trump, the authority of storefront preachers has been elevated by communities of people who believe their economic success lives or dies by the supernatural touch of God’s hand rather than financial literacy coupled with profitable employment. Like Trump, storefront preachers have capitalized off those whose fear of hell is greater than their drive for a successful life on this side of Jordan. The storefront has created a cocoon that safely entombs fearful people from the uncomfortable new ideologies of the world around them, just like Donald Trump. The storefront preacher is the embodiment of the Trump success method. Like the small foxes that gird Trump exposed America’s unattended social wounds of racism, sexism, and other -isms, the small foxes of the Black storefront church in their small numbers and near-silent voices have become quite amplified in social perceptions of Blackness.
While we’re demanding community giving and tax records from the Joel Olsteens of the nation, storefront pastors continue to teach theology that is slowly killing its parishioners. They’re still teaching members that God heals instead of encouraging them to get the medically-necessary surgery prescribed to them. They’re still teaching that prayer covers all while pushing members to throw away their life-saving prescriptions and skip out on therapy sessions. They’re teaching God will provide while asking for love, general, and special offerings in addition to $20-$100 healing and prophecy prayer lines. They’re teaching that “His ways are not our ways” while discouraging secondary education and voting. They’re still small foxes that are slowly destroying the vineyard of the Black community.
We can’t continue to bury our heads in the sand. Or maybe we can. You see where that got us with Donald Trump’s candidacy.