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by Dr. B.B. Robinson

According to a Japanese proverb, wisdom abides in “Whys”. That is, you can arrive at the root cause of outcomes by asking ‘Why’ until you can’t go any further. In this case, we ask, “Why do Black church denominations fail to release statistics on their memberships and contributions? Why should they be excluded from releasing such information?”

In light of the recent alleged “Bishop Eddie Long Affair,” where church wealth was on display, we should ask “Why was this wealth available for such display?” We heard about international excursions in private and commercial jets, long hotel stays, and gifts of expensive jewelry. If true, “Why was this money not missed from the church treasury?”

As a starting point, we should ask:

Do the largest Black church denominations have accurate records of their memberships and contributions?

What is the annual value of those contributions?

Besides more and larger churches and richer church leadership, what is the Black Community receiving as a result of their contributions?

Do Black church denominations fear releasing information on membership and contributions because the Black Community would be very disappointed to know the facts?

What do we know about Black religious contributions?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey (CEX) for 2008 indicates that, based on a survey of 14,832 households, the average annual Black household contribution to religious organizations was $683. The 2009 CEX indicates that there were 9.357 million Black

households. Combining these two statistics, we conclude that about $6.4 billion dollars were contributed by Black households to religious organizations in 2008. Unarguably, Black church denominations received the lion’s share of these contributions.

If these statistics are in plain view based on the CEX, “Why do Black denominations wish to hide their data?” Is it because it is really worse than that? Why do we give $6 billion or more to churches year after year and have an unemployment rate of 16.1% in September of 2010? Why are Black churches not doing more to reduce the high school dropout rate and to increase the college enrollment and completion rates? Why is the Black church not doing more to reduce crime? Why is the Black church not providing leadership that motivates entrepreneurship and job development, which can improve conditions in the Black Community?

As Malcolm X said over 45 years ago, it’s sad but true, “White Americans build businesses to create jobs, while Black Americans build churches” (paraphrasing). Certain Black church denominations release their statistics to the National Council of Churches for inclusion in periodic reports. However, others do not. I personally requested membership and contributions statistics from three of the largest Black church denominations (Church of God In Christ, African Methodist Episcopal Church, and National Baptist Convention, U.S.A.), and they all refused to release the numbers.

We should seek religious wisdom because it helps us develop a clearer vision for life. At the same time, we should seek knowledge and overstanding of the volume of funds that the Black church is collecting and how those funds are being expended so that we

can determine whether the church is facilitating appropriate Black American social and economic development.

We can gain that wisdom, knowledge, and overstanding by asking “Whys”.

Dr. B.B. Robinson is an economist and director of, a resource for economic concepts, issues and policies affecting African-Americans.

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