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Few Black Churches Take Part in Faith Based Initiative Programs
By: Lorinda Bullock
NNPA National Correspondent
Originally posted 9/26/2006

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Over the years, President George W. Bush has met with several Black ministers to garner support for his Faith-Based and Community Initiative program. But despite those meetings and photo ops, very few Black churches are actually getting the money, says a new study released this month.

Of the 750 Black churches surveyed by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, only 2.4 percent received funds from the Faith-Based Initiative grants.

According to the study, church size and the lack of resources are two of the main reasons that most Black churches—particularly churches that aren’t the popular “Mega Churches” – don’t apply or can’t apply.

“Most congregations are small,” said Harold Dean Trulear, an advisor on the study and a religion professor at the Howard University School of Divinity.

“We kind of have a skewed perspective of what the African-American church looks like because of the ones that receive all of the coverage.”

Of the 50,000 estimated Black churches in the country, Trulear said the average membership is about 100 members.

Using some of Washington, D.C.’s most powerful Black churches as an example, Trulear said, “For every Ebenezer AME Church, for every Shiloh, for every Metropolitan, there are scores of smaller congregations with part-time pastors working nine to five during the week so that they can put food on the table and making anywhere from $50-$100 a week for a salary. Where does this guy have time to do the research necessary that’s going to put him in the position to participate?”

More than one in four black churches had annual revenue of less that $100,000 and half of Black churches had revenue of less that $250,000. Just 12 percent reported an annual revenue of more that $1 million.

David Bositis, the author of the study, said large churches like the ones Trulear mentioned already have multiple ministers, social programs and large administrative staffs are the ones most likely to receive the funds.

“They have an infrastructure to do it. It’s not like you pick up and decide one morning you want to do this and the next day you do it,” Bositis said.

“You have to have people who know how to write grants, who know how to administer money, who know how to follow all the rules and who know how to provide the services in a professional manner, so the churches that already did that already had those things in place.”

Another reason for the low participation among Black churches is the lack of government outreach to them, said the study.

While 75 percent of the churches surveyed had some knowledge of faith-based initiatives, 66 percent did not know the rules or how to participate and 16 percent of pastors had actually been contacted about applying. Only 11 percent of Black ministers surveyed reported applying for grants.

But the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives said they do provide outreach programs to help churches gain access to the funding.

Alyssa J. McClenning, a spokeswoman for the FBCI office did not respond to the NNPA News Service’s specific question on outreach to Black churches, but answered in general terms.

''The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives has provided training to over 25,000 faith-based and community leaders to date and we aim to continue to expand this type of education outreach for more leaders,'' she said.

Reaching out to smaller churches was something Trulear thought was Bush’s initial goal when he first implemented the program in 2002, to help religious groups operating social programs ranging from job assistance to health clinics also gain access to federal money.

“What we discovered however, was in moving from idea to actual policy that we really had to start with organizations of scale because a lot of the opposition to the FBI came from large scale social service organizations that felt that the religious community was going to be competing for a limited amount of resources,” he said.

Another major finding in the report showed that liberal churches in the North east with an unfavorable view of the program were more likely to apply for and receive federal funding.

Surprisingly to researchers, conservative southern churches in the Bible Belt who are historically strong Bush supporters did not participate as much as the northern, liberal churches.

Bositis said the reason for this could be linked to the fact that the majority denomination in the south is Southern Baptist, and statistically they are least likely to operate major social programs.

“Conservatives believe that people are supposed to help themselves. Liberals believe a lot of times life is unfair and the government and other people have to step in to help people,” he explained.

“If the money was there, the liberal people have churches where they are often in poor areas where they have people they have to feed, they have sick people they have to help, they have elderly people they have to help, they have drug addicts, they have people coming out of prison and if the money is there, they are going to go after it. So even if they don’t approve, which they were more than likely not to approve, they were still going to go after the money,” Bositis said.

But Bositis said it is important to keep in mind that $2 billion is a small amount of money for hundreds of thousands of churches to fight over and it’s hard to say if Black churches are being evenly represented and getting their fair share.

“From what I do know, I don’t have a sense that Black churches are necessarily being left out. First of all it’s a small program. The White House talks about it like it’s this big program that millions and billions of people are engaged in but actually it’s only 2 billion,” he said.

“The federal budget is 2.3 trillion. It’s a tiny, tiny, tiny part of the budget.”

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