The Economics and Social Influence of the Black Church
By Dan Gordon
When people need money, they turn to a bank and get a loan. When the bank turns them down, they turn to Messiah Baptist Federal Credit Union.
In operation for over 31 years, Messiah Baptist-Jubilee Federal Credit Union in Brockton is a religious associational credit union that helps people designated as ‘lower income’ gain access to services such as savings accounts, loans, and financial planning.
The idea of merging religion and finance isn’t necessarily new. The Roman Catholic Church has been doing it for centuries with the Vatican Bank, one of the largest and most powerful banks in Europe.
However, the story behind the economic forces of the black church differs from the roles the Vatican has carved out.
Like banks, credit unions accept deposits, make loans, and provide a wide array of other financial services. But as member-owned institutions, credit unions focus on providing a place to save and borrow at reasonable rates. Credit unions also return surplus income to their members in the form of dividends.
Northern blacks openly organized these societies for “mutual aid” during times when nobody else would help them. According to the Religious Research Center, black churches have a tendency to sponsor these economic programs to meet short term needs first and foremost.
Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago Omar McRoberts wrote that during the slave era, “community” referred to populations of precariously free blacks, and development activities “promoted cooperative economics, educational advancement, and the abolition of slavery.”
From these faith-based organizing efforts sprang countless African-American social, economic, and political institutions, including schools, insurance companies, banks, and social service organizations.
Messiah Baptist Jubilee Credit Union serves as a prime example of a social and economic credit union.
The black churches’ involvement in community even served as a forerunner to the civil rights movement.
The Fraternal Council of Negro Churches came into being after religious leaders in the black community faced opposition from their white counterparts. From that organization spawned the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, perhaps the most influential organization in promoting nonviolent social change.