vol. 7, no. 1 (Fall 2003)
ISSN 1094-902X

 

 

Said Sewell, III
Lead Me, Guide Me Along the Way:
A Study of the Relationship Between Pastors' Personal Characteristics
and their Level of Community Participation

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Part I | Part II | References

 

 

2003 Said Sewell, III.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2003 Said Sewell, III.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2003 Said Sewell, III.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2003 Said Sewell, III.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2003 Said Sewell, III.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2003 Said Sewell, III.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2003 Said Sewell, III.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2003 Said Sewell, III.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2003 Said Sewell, III.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.

References

 

Introduction

In 1996, then President William Clinton, seeking to reform the highly problematic welfare system, signed into law the Personal Responsibility, Work Opportunity, and Medicaid Restructuring Act ("Personal Responsibility, Work Opportunity and Medicaid Restructuring Act," 1996). Although most persons focused their attention on the program's elimination of the A.F.D.C. (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) program and the T.A.N.F. (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) provision, it was the ability of persons to deduct their contributions to religious organizations that many religious conservatives supported and that marked the beginning of the blurring of the line between church and state in recent times. However, with the election of George W. Bush as President and his ardent support for religious involvement in government, the U.S. government expanded the "Charitable Choice" provision to allow active social service churches the opportunity to solicit funds for their projects from the government (President George W. Bush, 2001). Yet, despite the fact that the changes in the 2001 Welfare Reform Law pursued by the Bush Administration and the Republican congressional delegation differed significantly from the 1996 reform implemented by President Clinton and the Democrats, what was analogous in both proposals was their support for faith-based institutions as viable government support for social services. What was equally seen, but rarely examined, was churches' support of, or willingness to participate in, this policy shift. This study sought to add insight to this point by examining whether black pastors, particularly Baptist clergy, have been interested in community engagement and the relationship between the pastors' level of community participation and his/her background traits.

It needs to be noted early in this study that all churches are not alike, particularly in the area of decision-making. For instance, in white churches the members often make the majority of the decisions of the church, whereas black pastors are most often the central decision makers in their congregations, a reality that might explain why most of the research on black churches has come from the pastor's perspective (Mays and Nicholson 1930, Nelsen and Nelsen 1960, Lincoln and Mamiya 1998, Rasor and Dash 2001). Of these studies, several examined institutional characteristics, such as history, membership, cultural identity, resources, and leadership, as being associated with community participation, or visa versa. These studies clearly advanced differences between "this worldly" vs. "other worldly" churches based particularly on the leadership's perspective on engagement, which was related to their background traits. While previous research has only examined a descriptively limited range of background traits and has focused primarily on the polar extremes -- either active or in inactive churches -- this research went further to find out whether there is a relationship between background characteristics of black pastors andthe community participation of black churches and, if so, which trait(s) were associated with, and to what extent were they related to, the churches' level of community engagement. Essentially, this study examined determinants or factors that were related to behavior in black pastors. It is important to note that this study operationalizes the concept of community participation as constituted by: actions that emphasize the goals of community control, community decision-making and agenda-setting, community development, particularly through the use of community development corporations.

This article explores the above issue by beginning with an examination of the United States' policy regarding charitable choice. Although the particular focus of this study is on understanding what background variables are associated with community participation by black pastors, the data has direct implications on the debate about faith-based initiatives, which is a byproduct of the Charitable Choice policy. Moreover, we do not differentiate between black churches and other community organizations; thus, we seek to advance understanding of how black churches, like other community groups, seek to be political and economic advocates on behalf of their members, and to outline their responses when such demand were not met. In the course of understanding the above actions of many black churches, we analyze the literature on black pastors and their actions. It is from this review that this study seeks to address the issue of wherther there is a relationship between background characteristics of black pastors and community participation of black churches and, if so, which trait(s) are associated with, and to what extent were they related to, the churches' level of community engagement.

This investigation of whether background variables of the pastors are associated with community actions of the church is made possibly quantitative study of all black Baptist pastors in Atlanta regarding their actions toward community development. The data reveal that education, theology, years in the pastorate, and involvement in the 1950s-1960s Civil Rights Movement were all associated with direct community participation by black Baptist pastors.

Charitable Choice

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people-from public officials to academicians-debating the role of religion in politics (Bush 2001, Dilulio 1999, Dionne and Dilulio 1999, Cnaan 1999, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State 2002). This discussion, which centered on the applicability of constitutional law as it pertained to the "separation of church and state," though not new to the body politic, reached its zenith with the Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act of 1996, particular the "Charitable Choice" provision (Pew Forum 2001, and Carlson-Thies 2000). This provision, in short, advanced that faith-based organizations had been key contributors in providing social services to those in need and, because of their successes, were eligible to "partner with government" for the continuation of their secular programs (PRWOMRA 1996 and Small 2001). Such was the sentiment of many of the program's proponents (Lasater 1986, Malone 1994, Dilulio1998, Chaves 1999, Bush 2001, and Press 2001). The opponents of "Charitable Choice," likewise, acknowledged both the activism of churches as well as their secular successes; however, they noted that Charitable Choice would be problematic because of the government's attempt to abdicate its responsibilities, as well as because of the blurring of the lines between public and private sectors (Mink 2001, Goeringer 2000, Pew Forum 2001, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State 2002). Nevertheless, the words of John Dilulio, the White House's former Director on the Faith-Based Initiatives, made the point best as to why churches were looked to by the public sector: "Institutions of faith have succeeded in uplifting people out of their distress because of their innate desire to help those in peril, whereas, government, in general, provided 'welfare programs' that responded to the superficial, as opposed to the essential needs of the individual" (Dilulio1998).

Community Organizations, Engagement, and Black Churches

Because churches were products of the local community, it was important to place them within the context of community organization for this study. Drawing on the work of Downs, a community organization was defined as any type of organization that exists within a neighborhood, from civic organizations (e.g., parent/teacher associations, and/or neighbor associations) to religious/social organizations (e.g., churches and fraternal organizations) (Downs 1981). As such, scholars have examined various types of community organizations in an effort to understand why groups participate in their communities (Flora et. al. 1992, Yates 1977, Downs 1981, and Herson and Bolland 1990, Olson, et. al 1988, Malone 1994, Gilderbloom 1996, Harris 1999, and Cavendish 2000). It was Dahl (1967), in his seminal work on pluralism, who argued that people, via collective action, formed community organizations to influence decision makers to advance the group's agenda. These organizations, essentially, had at their core a desire to influence government, either indirectly or directly, by capitalizing on the sociological need of people to belong to such groups as well as the political concept of "strength in numbers" (Berry 1989, Truman 1951, Salisbury 1969, Wilson 1973, Lindsey and Beach 2002, Browning and Rodriguez 2000, Calhoun-Brown 2000, Harris 1999, and Putman 2000). Herson and Bolland (1990) acknowledged the aforementioned, but went on to advance that community organizations often respond to community issues themselves, rather than waiting on government to react.

The Church as an institution has been the primary "force" with which the majority (82%) of blacks in America have affiliated, contributed most of their resources, both monetary and non-monetary, and most importantly looked to for help (Dilulio1999, Harris 1999, Sernett 1999, and Reed 1994). As a result, black churches, according to Dilulio, and others, had historically served as a "second safety net" to governmental programs that were often too slow or unresponsive to the needs of the black community.

Many scholars have illustrated how and why black churches responded to the needs of the black community. David Hurst (1989) wrote, for example, that slaves coped with their sufferings by forming their own underground churches. It was in these churches, which noted historian Dr. E. Franklin Frazier called the "invisible institution," where slaves were able to gather for community support and spiritual renewal. Gary Peck (1982) and Hortense Powdermaker (1968) asserted that black churches nurtured feelings of self worth for blacks, particularly during slavery, by allowing blacks to turn to each other for support and collective action. In addition to the psychological effects, black churches produced numerous sub-institutions (e.g., mutual and benevolent societies, as well as educational facilities) that were effective in meeting the practical needs of the black community. These groups were mostly designed for providing communal aid to enslaved and freed blacks who were facing traumatic situations in their lives (Frazier 1969, Franklin 1970, Lincoln and Mamiya 1990, and Sernett 1999). For instance, when a black enslaved family was split, because of the institution of slavery or death, it was these mutual aid and benevolent societies that assisted the remaining family members with necessities, mainly moral support, food, and money. Carter G. Woodson (1972) concluded that each organization that was birthed out of the black church was revolutionary, because they were testament to how blacks pulled their meager resources together to help meet the needs of their communities. It can be inferred from Woodson and Hurst that many black churches understood the plight of the black masses during this time period and desired to ameliorate these needs by connecting the church "closely with things of this world to make it [society] a decent place to live in." Gayraud Wilmore (1983) noted: "[W]henever these societies were organized, they began to protest against white prejudice and neglect and with the objective of providing not only for religious needs, but for social service, mutual aid and solidarity among people of African descent." This trend of black churches playing a chief role (e.g., cultural nurturer, social emancipator, political organizer, business innovator, and educator) for the black community originated in the late eighteenth century and has continued in various degrees up to the present (Frazier 1963, Powerdermaker 1968, Meier and Rudwick 1976, Wilmore 1983, Harris 1999, Billingsley 1999, and Cavendish 2000).

Theoretical Framework

Analyzing Black Pastors

There have been various types of studies on understanding the action of the black church that have laid the groundwork for current interpretations. Most of the works on black churches have focused primarily on understanding its orientation -- "this worldly" vs. "other worldly." This model was found in The Negro Church by W. E. B. Du Bois, The History of the Negro Church by Carter G. Woodson, and A Social History of the American Negro by Benjamin Brawley. As a result of the nature of the subject matter and the disciplinary bases of the authors, these writings centered on historical accounts of the early black church and on its development and evolution. This paradigm produced two models for understanding the black church -- the other worldly and this worldly models. These perspectives saw black churches as a whole as institutions that were either focused on the life after death, on the one hand, or concerned with social activities on the other.

As I understand it, the historical paradigm for understanding the black church, especially from the perspectives of the above scholars, has several shortcomings. First, in examining a small selection of historical events and using this selection to categorize churches as "this worldly" or "other worldly," it provided a limited understanding of churches as institutions. The historical model stereotypes "this worldly" churches as churches that were involved in meeting the urgency of blacks by challenging the institution of slavery or racism and unspiritual. It is the case, however, that many black churches did not engage in such overt secular activities but were nevertheless involved in communal activities. For instance, many black churches developed benevolent and mutual aid societies to assist persons in need with monetary and non-monetary support. Secondly, in my interpretation, this model was too subjective with each scholar presenting his/her account of the role that the black church played within the context of black history based on his or her own personal convictions of the institution. For instance, it was known that W. E. B. Du Bois was not a strong advocate for organized church; as such, he advanced in his writing that the black church had been a relatively ineffective institution in the advancement of blacks.

Because of what they understood to be the limitations of the historical model, many scholars shifted their research from historical accounts about the black church to studying the church's functions. The functional model suggested that the black church as an institution was best understood by examining its actions, particularly in various periods in American history. Whereas the previous model looked at the orientation of the church historically, this model looked at how the black church responded to critical historical moments. The leading writers and their work in this model were: E. Franklin Frazier's The Negro Church in America, Hart and Anne Nelsen's, Black Church in the Sixties, Charles Hamilton's The Black Preacher in America, Ruby Johnston, The Development of Negro Religion, James Cone's Black Theology and Black Power, Ronald Johnstone's, Religion in Society, C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya's The Black Church in the African American Experience.

The scholars listed above, like others, began to wrestle earnestly with analyzing how black churches responded to community issues, such as enslavement or civil rights, and why the institutions chose such actions (Drake and Clayton 1963, Washington 1967, Wilmore 1973, and Billingsley 1990). No longer were these scholars interested in just chronicling the history of the black church, they were now interested in understanding what caused its actions. Out of this desire arose interpretive schematics or models of black churches and pastors, and theologies that encompassed the black church's struggle for black empowerment and engagement. Hart Nelsen and Ann Nelsen, for instance, identified four different types of black churches in the post-Civil Rights era. Their fourth model, the ethnic community-prophetic model, asserted that the black church not only had to define problems, but also had the responsibility of challenging the institutions of power that caused crises for black communities. In short, it was their contention that the black church was a significant institution for building a sense of ethnic pride and community activism among its members; hence, it along with the pastors had a responsibility to speak out against societal wrongs. Such was the view of Ronald Johnstone who used Detroit ministers during the height of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement as his test subject and argued in 1975 that, although there was no "typical" black preacher in America one could examine their actions and develop an understanding of why pastors were or were not involved in the movement.

This model had two principal limitations: 1) it failed to examine the effects of various situations on the actions of the church and its leaders; and 2) because of its qualitative method, tended to be largely descriptive in nature. As a result, these studies never probed quantitatively into the reasons behind the actions.

The perceived shortcoming of the functional model caused some researchers to shift their attention from identifying the church's actions to exploring its motivations. As such, many scholars began to examine variables that made black churches active within a given situation. Black churches, it was discovered, transformed their mode of operation as a result of changes within as well as outside the church, specifically the social environment in which the church resides. This model is found in the studies of Gayraud Wilmore's Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An interpretation of the Religious History of Afro-American People, William Auguman's The Black Church in America: An Exploration in Cincinnati, Rosemary D'Apolito's An Analysis of the African-American Catholic Congregation as a Social Movement, Brent Wood's First African Methodist Episcopal Church and Its Social Intervention in South Central Los Angeles, Joseph Simmon's The Paradigm Shift and The African American Community: A 21st Century Quality Model for Restoring Broken Places and Rebuilding Communities through Partnerships, and Frederick Harris' Something Within.

Auguman, using the African Methodist Episcopal Church, found, for example, that there was a hierarchy of development that black churches go through in their relationship to social activism. He noted that most black churches experience each of the early stages of development; however, they do not always experience the stages at equal levels in this developmental process for several reasons, e.g. pastoral perceptions, the history of the church, and environment. Applying Donnel Thompson's stages of development: 1) The embryonic organization; 2) Baptism into white faiths; 3) The Independent Black Church; and 4) the Ghetto Church, Auguman posit that these levels served as fundamental phases in the life of any black church. When the church has ascended from the fourth level, according to Auguman, it was considered to have reached the "formal" stage of church development. This stage presented the church with two alternatives: 1) it may continue on the same path, sometimes trying to revive old behaviors, and ultimately decline; or 2) it may make a reassessment of its values and objectives, develop new ones, and proceed along new paths. Auguman noted that the majority of the black churches in America fell within the former path; on the other hand, there was an increase in the number of black churches accepting the latter alternative.

This model, though useful, had several drawbacks for this research: 1) it did not take into account the decisio-making process at the different stages of churches' development; and 2) this model failed to examine the role of the pastor in setting the directions of their churches.

Our own view for understanding the black church, which was closer to the function model, looked quantitatively at the pastors' background. To assist in understanding, what one scholar described as, "the center of leadership within the Black community since slavery" -- the black pastor -- we drew upon the works of Barbara Kellerman, who, along with social psychologists, argued for the importance of internal and external attributes in explaining the actions of others, particularly decision makers. We also drew upon Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory which insists that human action is linked to an individual's personality and that personality develops not accidentally or randomly, but in the context of a person's background.

Hypotheses

The background model of this research on black Baptist pastors posited an association between the pastor's community participation and a series of their personal traits. It had been reported by other scholars that black pastors were the primary decision makers in black churches. Thus, it was the general premise of this study that in order for one to understand the community engagement practices, or lack thereof, of the black church it was imperative to examine certain elements of its primary leader. It needs to be noted early in this study that we were not trying to draw any causality between the variables. We wanted to identify, and possibly try to understand, attributes of black pastors that were associated with their level community engagement. The first hypothesis was that younger pastors were more likely to be directly involved in their communities (H1). It was, likewise, probable that pastors who were highly educated also participated at a higher level in their communities (H2). It was believed that pastors who had a liberal theological perspective would be more likely to be directly involved in their communities (H3). It was also expected that pastors who had been in their pastorates the longest would be more likely to develop programs that would meet the needs of their communities (H4). Pastors who subscribed to Black Liberation Theology -- a method of making the Christian gospel relevant to black people who had struggled daily against an oppressive white power structure both from within and outside of the church -- were more likely to be directly engaged in meeting the social needs of their communities (H5). Pastors who were affiliated with the New Era State Convention -- one of the two mainline black Baptist conventions in Georgia and a sub-unit of the Progressive National Baptist Convention -- were expected to participate at a higher level in their communities (H6). The next hypothesis was that pastors that were members of civic or social organization were more likely to be directly involved in the communities (H7). It was expected that pastors who were directly involved in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, would also be directly involved in their communities (H8). In addition, pastors who lived within one mile of the church were expected to participate directly in their communities (H9).

Variables

Dependent Variable

Pastor's Level of Community Participation

Community participation has been defined in various ways and a number of measures have been used to determine this variable. In this study, we used one scale to measure pastor's level of community participation: type of pastoral actions. The primary indicator of the pastors' level of community participation was the question: "In thinking about your responses to local community problems, in which of the following actions did you engage during the last year (1999-2000)?"

This question was measured by a seven-item scale adapted from Malone's (1994) work on community development. It was decided for more accurate analysis to collapse the items into two general responses (e.g., indirect action and direct action). Essentially, indirect participation by churches was defined as passive actions of interest and/or concern, such as speaking publicly about community issues, informal visits with civic or community leaders. Direct participation was defined as assertive, faith-based community participation through programs and activities developed and implemented by churches to address community problems. Examples of such activities might include forming a community development corporation or implementing programs in job training, housing development, or education. It was important that the church leaders who were sampled understood that the indirect and direct actions to be reported were to be community oriented, as opposed to being self-serving activities conducted for the sole benefit of members of their respective churches.

 

Part II | References

 

Said Sewell, III is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Planning at The State University of West Georgia and teaches in the MPA program. He has written and presented several articles on his dissertation topic, which concerned black Baptist pastors and their efforts toward community development, especially in Atlanta.