Category: Politics

Life After Election Day

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Regardless of your race, gender or party registration we would all have to admit General Election 2016 has been contentious and divisive. Politics has truly brought out the worst in many people. Yet, the day after is inevitable and how shall we now live? I love Rocky Mount and rural Eastern North Carolina. My millennial son, unlike many his age, has decided to start his life here. My daughter is an eleventh grader at Nash-Early College High School. My 83 year-old mother enjoys her senior years here. My oldest son and my dad are both buried in Nash County. Our church has made a multi-million dollar investment to provide the city and region with an anchor asset to provide leadership in human, economic, and community development. So, my commitment to this area is undeniable. The question is, “What do we do next?” As a leader in this city, I am personally troubled and quite frankly convicted that I live in a more divisive city today than I did in 2005 when I arrived. We must change this unfortunate narrative. Like a family surrounded by well wishers, prayers, food, and support during a funeral, the day after will come when all that support is gone and they must learn how to move on. In a few days, the political signs will be pulled up, commercials will be replaced with the next advertisement, new junk mail will fill our mailboxes and life must go on. Here are some thoughts on moving on:

  • Respect the office. Disagree all you want with the President, Governor, Mayor, or Dog Catcher, but honor the office and the person in it. I am a Christian and we are taught scripturally to pray for and to respect those who govern over us. Our lack of civility in political discourse undermines the most powerful office in the world.
  • Reevaluate your allegiances. The last time I checked, when we pledged allegiance it was, “to the flag of the United States of America.” That means our allegiance is not to a party or even to politics, but rather to the best practices of the people in our community.
  • Recognize opponents are not enemies. Our enemies are unemployment, health disparity, crime, injustice, poverty NOT the guy across the street, the person sitting on the School Board, County Commissioner, or State House Representative who isn’t “of my party.” Our problems and issues require collective IQ and the engagement of people who think differently to ensure there is always a “self correcting” measurement in our policies.
  • Reprioritize character. Partisan political purposes should never cause us to abandon the importance of a leader’s character. If our community is to ever reach the height of her potential, it is necessary that we have the ability to admit wrong, even when it is a friend or someone of my ilk, class, race, or political party. Our vote to ignore character will outlive any Supreme Court Justice, HB2, income inequality, and regressive tax structures. ALL of us are wrong sometimes … just admit it and be willing to change.
  • Reconsider your spokesmen. Newsflash – Fox News nor MSNBC nor CNN live in the Twin Counties. Our worldview and our community view must be broader than the ramblings of self appointed spokespeople who have no dog to hunt in our local education, economies, or families.
  • Render solutions and not merely criticism. This is hard work, if you can get it. My family struggles to agree on what to have for dinner or what movie to watch and we actually love each other. Imagine making complex decisions in the public square. Nurture the art of compromise by beginning each discourse with your own solution, which becomes our “admission ticket” into the conversation.

As one of many leaders in this community, join me in making the Twin Counties better by agreeing to this or other basic rules of conduct after Election Day.

What are your thoughts on how we move on? As always, I welcome your feedback.

Prayer, Principles and Political Candidacy

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Three and a half years ago I was invited to render the opening prayer for the NC State Senate during the absence of the Senate Chaplain. Now, I am balloted as a candidate for NC House State Representative in District 25 (Franklin and Nash Counties). I am sharing the prayer that I prayed again as it embodies the very principles that have led me to run for political office.

Good morning. Thank you for allowing me this privilege to be with you today

For those who may pray differently than I do or for those of you who may not pray at all I would like to begin with a moment of silence in respect of your belief

Let’s Pray

Our Father and our God. I thank you for being a prayer answering God and a covenant keeping God.  I thank you for giving us access to you who alone holds all power, majesty and authority. Thank you for the promise that if we abide in you and your words abide in us then we can ask what we desire and shall receive them. Thank you for the promise that the effective, fervent prayers of a righteous man avails much.

I pray today for this body of officials, Senators, legislatures – in specific the North Carolina General Assembly. I pray for every elected and appointed official to assemble in this chamber. I pray for the most senior statesman here to the most newly elected. I pray for their families, the desires of their hearts. I pray you would keep them in good health and sound mind

I thank you for this nation we live in. I thank you for the vision of our forefathers that we might be governed by a division of powers so that our destiny does not rest in the hands of one person. To that end God I pray that our destiny will not be controlled by special interest or personal agenda or by racial prejudice or injustice.

I pray God for policies, discussions and outcomes that are compassionate and also common sense

I pray that decisions will be made in this place to empower people to do great things and not enable people to be irresponsible

I pray for wisdom to make decisions that would strengthen and prosper our State. I pray for both social and capital entrepreneurism

I pray for policies that benefit those that wear a Timex as well as a Rolex.

I pray for polices that benefit those in public housing as well as those in gated communities. For those with a PHd as well as those with a GED

I pray for every business, every belief and every burden

I pray for Healthcare that is affordable and accessible

I pray for an education system that results in our children being critical thinkers and not reduced to good test takers

I pray for the wealthiest and the poorest of this state. I pray for those of us who have been really blessed to prosper and our acknowledgement that we are the beneficiaries many years removed of the entitlements of land grants,  GI Bills,  and the Homestead Act

I pray for the Common Good. I pray that no select group of people would feel entitled to make choices around their own comfort and convenience that would have an adverse effect on the masses. That G.K. Chesterton was correct in 1909 when he stated, “The first principle of democracy is this: that the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any man”

I pray for a spirit of gratitude that we were not born in Burundi or Madagascar or Afghanistan but here in the greatest nation and the greatest state to exist. Help those in this chamber to he thankful for this opportunity you have given them to lead and to govern and remind them at each deliberation, each meeting, each vote that they too will be held accountable for the decisions and the deeds done while in these offices.

Give us a productive day that you can be pleased and be able to say, well done.

In Jesus name I pray. Amen

 

What connects with you most in this prayer? What would your prayer be? As always, I welcome your feedback.

Properly Defining “Pro-Life”

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The Declaration of Independence makes a bold and complicated value statement – “… with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 Life then becomes a matter of quality of living and not only the presence of a beating heart. Take a moment and Google the phrase “Pro-Life.” As you scroll through the images you will discover the images are almost entirely a “womb” issue and never a “world” issue. In other words, an entire segment of our society has been convinced that life only matters if I am a fetus in a womb and not a person in the world. Both define us as “Pro-Life.”

 I am a 10-point Pro-Life Progressive. I wish there were more of us. Most Pro-Life people are actually only 1-point Pro-Life Conservatives. I don’t think that warrants you enough points to pass the Pro-Life test. I have yet to come across a classroom in America where students with a 1 in 10 score (10%) ever received a passing grade.

 Unfortunately the vocabulary of morality and ethics can be taken hostage by a denomination, race, political party, or ideology and only released when the terms of a single issue are satisfied. In our day, “Pro-Life” is that single issue.  The problem is that single issue comprises far more than the hostage takers have been honest about.  At a minimum, life should be inclusive and not exclusive.  I find it hard to believe any of us would think that God is more or less concerned about one life over another.  Yet, there seems to be a sentiment in our nation that some lives matter while others do not.  Pro-Life is at a minimum a ten-point issue. Before you put the label on, let’s assess whether the label is indeed true.  Here is the list:

  1.  Pro-Life people support a livable wage.  Wages received should enable the employee to meet their needs and the employer to make respectful profit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 10 million people classified as the working poor.  These are men and women unable to meet basic human needs while working a minimum of 27 hours per week. This has resulted in a shrinking middle class as 1% of the population owns 90% of the wealth. No wonder over 15 million children live in poverty in our nation. In recent years in North Carolina, all income growth accrued to the top 1% of wage earners.
  2. Pro-Life people support policies that are not oppressive to any people group. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, it costs on average $31,000 per year to house an inmate within our Justice System. Many programs have been proven to lower recidivism, yet our State Legislatures consistently fail to fund programs aimed at expungement and fresh start opportunities for those who have criminal records. These programs cost on average $12-$13,000 annually.  In North Carolina, there are 37,000 people in prison and 87,000 on probation.  By funding programs to prevent prison re-entry, taxpayers would save nearly $2 million annually for every 100 participants.  It hardly seems “fiscally conservative” to spend an extra $18,000 per year to incarcerate someone when funding programs aimed at re-entry prevention would prevent them from returning to prison.
  3.  Pro-Life people support gender equality.  Women still earned considerably less than men for performance of the same job with the same education, background, and training.  Most estimates suggest that it will take at minimum until 2059 for this to change.  Really?  Another forty years? Considering that 40% of all homes with children under 18 years of age are headed by women as the primary breadwinner, it is not hard to see why this is a “Life issue.”  If you take issue with this, then consider how well you would be able to provide for your family with only 56-70% of your current income.
  4.  Pro-Life people support immigration reform.  Almost every major economic study suggests that the U.S. economy grows faster as a result of immigration and whether we want to admit it or not, even undocumented immigrants improve our economy.  But beyond the numbers, is it not against good sense to prohibit a pathway to citizenship?  Allow me to remind my fellow Christians that we worship a Jesus that was an undocumented immigrant whose family fled to Egypt seeking asylum from the mass genocide of male children.  When people of the world are fleeing poverty, violence, and oppression or just seeking a better life, it is anti-American and anti-Bible to deny them opportunity.  Fortunately for us, we serve a God who was pro immigration and allowed Jesus to escape King Herod so that one day he might die on a cross and be raised with all power to justify us.
  5. Pro-Life people support universal access to healthcare.  This is a complicated issue.  But it is simply un-American to have life expectancy dictated by zip code and not genetic code.  At the very least, there must be access and affordability for all people. 
  6. Pro-Life people can say, “Black Lives Matter.”  Why?  Well, because they do.  I find myself perplexed that anyone has made this statement into meaning that other lives don’t matter.  Not even the lack of organization of the movement and the delayed timing of its inception warrants ignoring the message. When Evangelical churches sponsor “Sanctity of Life Sunday”, it doesn’t mean they are anti-Senior Citizens.  It simply means there are those that are hurting, victimized, and voiceless that deserve protecting. If any other group of people had the skewed statistics regarding police brutality and violence, I would be advocating for that group of people also. May we never forget the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller – “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
  7. Pro-Life people support increased funding to public and higher education. Studies have consistently shown a direct link between poverty and education. There is no more effective method of social and economic mobility and advancement than education.  In my opinion, there may be no greater long term investment in the lives of our children than a comprehensive Pre-School system to ensure every child be given a fair start.
  8. Pro-Life people are Anti-Abortion.  I don’t know that I have ever met anyone who claimed to be “Pro-Abortion.”  I am unapologetically, Anti-Abortion. Every year in America, nearly 1 million babies are reported aborted.  The issue becomes how we do a better job at prevention.  I do not think the answer lies in overturning Roe vs. Wade.  The precedent standard in Constitutional Law makes this unlikely.  The “Pro-Choice” side of the argument is equally disingenuous.  Life begins at conception.  A fetus is a life.  You make your position weaker when you aren’t honest about this.  If the law saved, there would be no murder.  Theologically and doctrinally, we know the law cannot save us. God has always been and will always be a God of choice. He doesn’t make us do anything.  He has a preferred will and a permitted will. Yes, the preference is for life but he permits us to make our own choices. Deuteronomy 30:19 places “life” and “choice” in the same verse – I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life”.  The answer lies in the promotion of marriage, adoption services, the reduction in teenage pregnancy and greater education regarding abstinence, and the link between poverty and single parenting. While we may disagree on the legality of abortion, it is likely we agree that abortion is not something any of us would like to see.  Perhaps we should all work together to reduce it.
  9. Pro-Life people aren’t scared of the National Rifle Association (NRA).  The presence of military grade weapons and assault rifles in our communities is criminal. This was never the intent of the 2nd Amendment. Our unwillingness as a nation to challenge the lobbyists and activists on this issue shows a fundamental cowardice, lack of integrity, and no regard for life.  It is a fear tactic to suggest there is a movement to take gun ownership from the hands of law-abiding people.  There is not.  However, owning them with no oversight and accountability is equally irresponsible.  Any weapon, in any home, should be licensed, registered, and titled.  This simple step would help track the movement of weapons in our country.
  10. Pro-Life people have problems with capital punishment.  Admittedly, I struggle with knowing that violent, heinous, and ruthless predators get to live while family and friends mourn their victims for a lifetime.  But any district attorney, defense attorney, or prosecuting attorney would be forced to confess that our capital punishment system lacks any consistency regarding how this highest penalty is metered out.  Statistics prove the death penalty is clearly biased against poor people and people of color.  The last time I checked, being poor or of color was not a crime in our nation.  May we never forget that not everyone who dies by execution was guilty – Jesus is proof.

Are you Pro-Life or do you just wear the label?

 

My Decision to Run for Political Office

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Who is your State Representative?

Who is your State Senator?

What is your Congressional District?

Who represents you on City Council or on the County Commissioners?

What is your school board district?

What was the last campaign you worked on in a serious way?

Our inclination has been to point fingers at our politicians, but perhaps we are the ones to blame. At the end of the day, we are the ones who elect our government. The reality of democracy is that I am responsible for what happens in my city, state or nation. Plato, the founder of the first higher institution of learning in the western world, wrote, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

I had to come to grips that I was just like many of the people I pastor and many in our community. I was guilty of not engaging in an institution that has a huge impact on my family and me. I’ve been asleep at the wheel and had the nerve to be upset at others because my car was swerving and the road has become unsafe.

Democracy was never intended to be the inherently passive activity that has evolved.

If sane, pragmatic, moderate, common sense, thinking people ignore politics because they are disgusted with the outcomes, then it merely leaves a vacuum to be filled by even more extreme and less qualified candidates which parenthetically is exactly why you have a Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican candidate for the highest office in this nation.

Don’t misunderstand me, governing is hard. I am sure many involved may be wrongly thinking I am suggesting this is easy. I am clear that it is not. Whenever we are making decisions that are communal, it is difficult. Ask any family to agree on what movie to see or your significant other to agree on the weekend activities and we quickly see the challenge of consensus.  Now, imagine nearly ten million people in the state of North Carolina and the tens of thousands here in eastern North Carolina all trying to agree on issues of education, economy, healthcare, housing, social policy, taxes and many other issues in the context of varying opinions and ideologies. We must insert ourselves in this complicated process. Admittedly, the involvement of smart, thoughtful people is no guarantee for better government, but surely the absence of them will make even worse government imminent.

Edmund Burke, the eighteenth century political theorist said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Similarly, all that is necessary for poor governance to continue is for well-intentioned, common sense citizens to disengage from the process.

I am running for political office because I believe:

  • There is unprecedented potential for economic growth in Eastern North Carolina
  • The role of government is to only do what the private sector cannot or will not do
  • Those in gated communities are no more valuable than those in public housing
  • Healthcare should be affordable and accessible
  • Our children should be educated in school systems that produce critical thinkers and not simply good test takers
  • There is a place for capital and social entrepreneurism to exist in the same marketplace
  • Our policies should empower people with opportunity and not enable them to live irresponsibly
  • A division of powers should govern us and not special interest or personal agenda
  • Race should never be an inherit advantage or disadvantage
  • The heart and the brain can coexist in public policy
  • Toilets and locker room legislation should not be in the same bill as employment discrimination, a living wage and protection of labor abuses
  • We cannot borrow from the future. If I am eating dinner tonight, I don’t get to leave the check on the table for the next family
  • Not for profits including the faith community must be valued partners in our efforts
  • We will be held accountable to God for every meeting, every deliberation, and every vote

It seems our political process has lost its way. How many times have we heard, “just do the right thing.” The truth is the right thing for me may not be the right thing for you. We need to be honest about this and many of our local elected officials have not been. The truth is if we are to have real progress there must be trade-offs and there will even be side effects. This is the case with everything worth doing. This is a concept we understand in private life but seem to lose all common sense when applied in political life. What cancer patient doesn’t understand that they may have to be treated with chemotherapy and if so there will be a potential loss of hair or severe vomiting? A decision is made that the side effect is better than having the cancer.

In 1787 fifty-five delegates from thirteen states (including five delegates from North Carolina) met to frame the United States Constitution because the individual states lacked uniformity. What followed was a series of compromises, most of which began as profoundly objectionable to some faction or another. Nothing is more disingenuous to North Carolina politics than leading by playing the role of the bully and not Statesmen seeking real resolution and a legitimate path forward.

I want to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. As for me, I am attempting to have my name placed on the ballot as an Unaffiliated (Independent) candidate in the General Election for NC House District 25. If you live in Nash County or Franklin County District 25 I would ask you come to 9121 West Mount Dr. Rocky Mount, NC to sign the petition or to pick up a petition and solicit signatures on my behalf. Our goal is 4,000 signatures on or before June 14, 2016. If you do not live in NC House District 25 then I invite you to share this blog and my appeal with people you have access to or influence with. For your convenience, you can click here to check your NC House District.

What will you do to become more involved in our political process?

As always, I welcome your feedback.

My Editorial on the Threat to our Local Schools in Rocky Mount, NC

 

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This blog is an independent, informational, and intellectual view of the current threat to the Nash Rocky Mount Public School system. As a politically unaffiliated, bi-racial pastor to over 3,000 people (including 1,100 K-12 children active in Nash Rocky Mount Public Schools), I am quite vested in this issue. As is the case with most political decisions, it is easy for the emotion of any subject to veer us away from sound decisions that are in the best interest of all involved.

 Taxes and The Common Good

Everyday as Americans and North Carolinians, our property, sales and utility taxes are used to fund programs, services, institutions, and infrastructure that we either benefit from directly or indirectly. Nash County residents may not directly benefit from the funding formula that supplements the education of children living in Edgecombe County, but do benefit indirectly as there is a link between education and job creation for a region.

  • I have yet to make a call to 911 or to use ambulance services since I have lived here, as I am certain many of you reading this also have not, yet millions of tax dollars are earmarked for these vital emergency services.
  • Most of my books are electronic, so I never go to the public library, yet taxes are used for this critical public institution.
  • There are many residents of Nash County who have never used the highways or buildings their taxes help build.
  • There are retirees who have never had a child in the school system, yet a portion of their taxes and utilities are used to supplement the funding of our school system.

I doubt the Nash County Commissioners who are aggressively asking for a “fairness of funding” want to establish a precedent of an “al-a-carte” taxation system where we all get to direct our taxes only to the services from which we directly benefit and away from those which we indirectly benefit.

It seems that a reminder of our origin as a nation is appropriate. The manifesto on American Capitalism is Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations”, where he explained that human involvement in economics is to “advance the interests of the society.” To follow this new ideology being espoused by the Nash County Commissioners would mean the GI Bill that enabled 10 million Americans to receive housing and education benefits would have never been funded. Anything that is good and necessary for a civilized society to thrive, like public education, is good for us all.

Collateral Damage

The removal of 1,800 children from the Nash Rocky Mount Public School system has a potential consequence for which none of us, particularly the Nash County Commissioners, are prepared. Eighteen hundred children equates to over 10% of the current NRMPS system. Any businessperson will tell you that reducing any institutional capacity by 10+ % results in a ripple effect and like throwing a pebble in the water you never know how many ripples will be created. Here are some potential ripples:

  • Reduction of Title I, II, and III Federal Funding. It has been wrongly communicated by the Nash County Commissioners, “the funding will follow the students.” This is only partially true. The funding is both volume and percent weighted. Funding will follow, but it will be much smaller funding. There will also be a delay in this smaller funding as it is awarded in blocks of 24 – 30 months, so services will need to be offered to children without any funding being immediately available. This funding effects direct services of children as well as professional development of teachers. The anticipated loss to the remaining NRMPS system could be as high as $10 million annually. This is a classic example of voting against one’s own interests as all the remaining children will live in Nash County and this will create a net loss to the very system they claim to represent.
  • Loss of Existing Jobs. Reducing the capacity of NRMPS will require re-organization and the inevitable loss of jobs to teachers and support staff. In laymen’s terms, every 10 students create a job. The simple math of the impending legislation by Representative Jeff Collins (at the request of the Nash County Commissioners) could easily result in the loss of 180 jobs. It seems our elected officials could better use their time creating jobs and not removing jobs. The argument that those teachers would simply move to the Edgecombe County School System is implausible as there are still over 50 licensed teacher vacancies within that system and for many teachers living in Spring Hope, Middlesex, and Bailey, it would be just as close to drive to a school in Wake County as it would some schools within Edgecombe County.
  • Loss of Support to Teachers and Staff. Aside from being a pastor I do not know of a more difficult profession than teaching. We as a community should be actively advocating for our teachers in the classroom and the principals and staff that support this vital public institution. Instead, our Commissioners are deliberately creating an environment that is filled with contention and division rather than support and encouragement. Everyone cares about job security and high morale and our teachers deserve no less.
  • Loss of New Jobs. Education along with Transportation, Health, Leisure, Quality of Life, Taxes, and Housing remain major recruitment tools for new companies and emerging economies. Dismantling our school system will greatly harm our efforts in attracting new companies and in establishing the “twin counties” as a “bedroom” community for those working in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. This inability to bring new companies and firms to our community will hinder our ability to expand our tax base and to produce an even greater economic impact to our region.
  • Re-classification of Athletic Programs. Rocky Mount Senior High alone will likely lose 400-450 students. This loss to the ADM (Average Daily Membership) will result in less competitive athletics and a loss of college scholarships for countless young people for whom sports remain a viable opportunity for a secure future due to a potential change in division status.
  • School Closing. There has been no study conducted by the Nash County Commissioners ensuring there would be no school closings as elected officials are not generally trained in the logistics and technicalities in the actual running of a school system. Conventional wisdom at least forces us to consider that by reducing the NRMPS by 1,800 students, it may not be financially feasible to continue operations at the same level. This is particularly the case since the NRMPS system is experiencing a five-year decline in enrollment with a proven history that reduced capacity results in school closings. An educated guess based upon school size and location would deduce that Northern Nash High School could possibly close due to this legislation.
  • The Children. It is said that often we leave the best for last. Who is advocating for our children? Yes, as North Carolinians, ALL the children are OUR children. We are a community. We are a region. When I moved here from Philadelphia 11 years ago, I was introduced to the “twin counties.” What a way to treat your twin! 1,800 children moving out of NRMPS is more children than Alleghany, Camden, Gates, Graham, Clay, and Washington County Schools have enrollment. This is equivalent to an entirely new and different school system being created with no plan, no structure, and no infrastructure. It is setting ALL of OUR kids up to fail as the remaining NRMPS kids will be faced with the sobering reality that it was their parents who stripped down the ability of the NRMPS system to meet the categorical needs of the children in programs like IB, AP, AIG and ESL. The education of our children should be a collective concern. We must endeavor to provide every child in our region and our state with every opportunity to advance and to actively contribute back to society.

I invite all of us to use our heart and our brain as we make decisions. My heart is for ALL of our children and my brain tells me the loss of 180 jobs, the net loss of millions of dollars to our school system, the potential closing of a school, and the loss of college athletic scholarships is hardly worth the savings we as Nash County residents will realize. It is my hope an agreement will be reached but despite the outcome, we should all agree that no group of people should be allowed to play politics with our children.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

The Economic Impact of The Church

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I have often said, “everyone in the community will not belong to our church but our church does belong to everyone in our community.” I believe many churches feel this same way. This “giving back to our community” philosophy gives us our meaning for existence and forges a wonderful collaboration with the Faith community, families, Firms and Foundations. This collaboration or intersection between church and city, the sacred and secular results in a real economic value that has been empirically measured for the past 25 years and was the impetus behind the creation of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. For example, large churches increase property values –According to a large study (tracking over 5000 houses), houses within a half-mile of a large church generally experience a 6.27% increase in property value. A church with over 1500 attendees could easily draw 40 new families to relocate – especially so when a demographically young church moves into a city with below average home costs. (Carroll, Clauretie & Jensen), Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics – University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Churches are statistically proven to decrease crime rates – particularly decreasing levels of assault, burglary, larceny (Bainbridge 1989), as well as drug use (Fagan 2006).

How is this tangible economic value realized? Well, cities are filled with people. These people must navigate their way through a web of careers, relationships and life experiences. It is much easier to navigate when support services are available. As people navigate through life the needs will be vast and varied – marriages will need saving, children will need teaching, teenagers will need tutoring, suicides will need averting and fathers will need mentoring. When these needs are met an “economic halo effect” is the result. What’s it worth to keep a father active in a child’s life anyway? The economic thinking is rather quite linear. If a man stops supporting his children, the mother becomes the primary provider for the family. Statistically, the need to use subsidies or government services is greatly increased. Services like before school programs, day care and after school programs become more essential. Depending on the nature of the father’s absence (i.e. divorce, imprisonment, death), his children, particularly boys, will need counseling or the aid of government services to become productive and contributing members of society. Without these support services, the children may likely fall into a criminal lifestyle which produces an economic strain on the community. Additionally, the diminished income resulting from the father’s absence could mean that as the children graduate high school and pursue college or trade schools, they must incur greater debt to finance their education. This increased debt will result in less local purchasing power which add up to real tangible dollars taken away from the community. Of course, there is an option. The church could intervene by offering programs and services to avert that father’s absence. Dr. Ram Cnaan, Professor and Director of the Program for Religion and Social Policy Research of The University of Pennsylvania has done extensive research on this topic and his research has concluded a rather startling outcome – “When measured in terms of dollars and cents, churches provide greater economic benefit and health to the community per capita than any other business or industry.”

Examples of how this economic benefit is generated:

  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • Baptisms
  • Artistic performances
  • Charter Schools
  • Counseling programs
  • Operating budgets
  • Salaries of staff and wages for building repairs (roofers, plumbers, electricians, etc.)
  • The monetary value of goods that the market does not price
  • Rehabilitation
  • Responsible parenting
  • Neighborhood pride
  • Social service delivery
  • Playgrounds
  • Recreation space
  • Volunteer hours
  • Preventing suicide
  • Helping people gain employment
  • Crime prevention and re-entry
  • Ending drug and alcohol dependence
  • Enhancing health
  • Preventive health
  • Teaching pro-social values to children
  • Teaching youth civic behavior
  • Naturalization assistance
  • Caring for the elderly
  • Preventing divorce
  • Ending abusive relationships
  • Job training programs
  • Community development corporations
  • Businesses incubation

As local churches work more in tandem with the community around it, it becomes clear that congregations are not insular clubs that are unconcerned about the rest of a community but rather assets that benefit the community significantly and are therefore worthy of support.

The contributions of local congregations benefit individuals, local business; the community at large and local governments and by taking a quantitative approach the economic impact of the local church is clearly seen. So, for every dollar given, donation received, offering provided, rezoning application approved, variance on a building permit granted, and foundation grant given thank you for helping us fund the needed programs and services that create a quality of life for all our residents.

What economic impact do you see local churches providing? I welcome your feedback.

Why I am a Political Independent

ImageI am a Christian. I am also a Political Independent. Technically, “unaffiliated.” Unlike the overwhelming majority of my friends, my family, and those I Pastor, I do not see my politics as a donkey or an elephant but rather as a lion. Partisan politics is damaging the American quilt. Slowly but surely threads are being taken out and individual parts are being discarded. What was once a melting pot, kaleidoscope and cornucopia of diversity is quickly becoming a nation of two quilts – “ours” and “theirs.”

From my laymen’s mind, all American politics is about one thing and one thing only – pie. Yes, pie. How often have we heard the expression, “as American as apple pie.” Politics is about making, baking, protecting, slicing and distributing pie. It’s amazing and disheartening how much we fight over getting our piece of the American pie. On the Republican Right you have a fight over not sharing the pie and on the Democratic Left great advocacy around making sure groups of people never participate in helping bake the pie. Jim Wallis was correct when he said, “the right gets it wrong and the left just doesn’t get it.” The Right is using the language of faith to hide their real political agenda and the Left is ignoring faith to hide their real political agenda. The Right is wrong for forgetting history. The United States has a long history of people of faith supporting and driving social change and driving progressive causes and movements. This is seen in the abolition of slavery, women’s right, public education, child labor law and civil rights. In other words faith is connected with social change. There is no record of people of faith being disconnected from social movements. Therefore, if your politics is devoid of conversations around poverty and social justice it is a perversion of your professed faith. There is nothing moral or Godly about not wanting to share the pie.

But the Left is no better. They are just wrong for a different reason. The separation of church and state does not mean abandoning morality from public life. To debate the issues around how the pie is sliced without respecting the pluralism of our democracy is ineffective and disingenuous.  Yes, wage laborers, unions, educators, social servants and the unemployed should have a piece of the pie but the pie will never get distributed by mixing in “non-pie” issues. Probably the biggest “non- pie” interests are moral issues. So, while the Left works so hard on the issue of whether you should be able to eat your pie with a person of the same sex or whether you need a drug test before you can eat the pie or for how long you get to eat the pie for free, those they work so hard to advocate for still don’t have any pie. Rather than protecting the pie eating rights of those without drive and determination, legislate that everyone have the ingredients and access to an oven and wish them well on their pie making future. So, while the Right is legislating you don’t get a choice about the pie, the Left is legislating pies with no fillings and that never get put in the oven. Hello, everyone. This is America. We do pies here. We fill them, we bake them and everyone should have a slice.

This says nothing of all the other issues that both parties are inherently dishonest about – race, the poor, the penal system and how life is viewed just to name a few.

When the dust settles, until both the Left and the Right ratchet their way toward each other our nation will remain gridlocked. Since the solution is somewhere in the middle, wouldn’t make sense to just start there if you could? People in the middle can reach in both directions and grab those on the Left and the Right, forming coalitions and linkages that are far more reaching and rational. Our political system is institutionally stagnant. I find it interesting that the same nation that values advances and entrepreneurism has institutionally entrenched itself in a two-party political system. I thought we believed in and supported innovation? Evidently, in regard to everything but our politics. I for one still believe in the American dream, in innovation, and in the pie making opportunities for all people. As an Independent I have benefited by:

Critically thinking through political issues. The issues that face us are very complicated and we must be informed voters and not simply “big lever” voters. Not everyone of our color, race or political party is worthy of our vote.

Allowing my faith to help form my politics. As an Independent my vote is based on principles and beliefs and not party affiliation. Those that want absolute separation of church and state are in the minority. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has done extensive research on this issue and has determined, “people of faith and the institutions they build, play a critical role in our nation, and those contributions are not a purely private matter…”

Not allowing my vote to be paternalized. In other words no one owns or is entitled to my vote. It must be earned. One ray of hope for our nation is that there is an ever-increasing block of independent voters who sometimes vote one way and other times vote another and cannot be taken for granted by either party.

It keeps me more “centered.” We all have a tendency to disregard and discount those who disagree with us. This is how both parties wound up with factions that are now considered “extreme” sects of their own parties (this is also how we got the Tea Party).We now hear terms like “far right” and “far left.” I am learning that by listening to both groups of people it helps keep my personal political philosophy a lot more grounded and neutral. It is a form of self-correction that we all need to remain mindful and aware of the interests of others.

Whether you are Democrat, Republican or Independent, it is my prayer that we can identify those issues which we can agree on and exhibit common sense solutions to benefit the common good for our nation. I for one am reaching in both directions.

What is your political preference and why?

 

Thanksgiving, Hunger and Homelessness

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This past week I was asked to participate in, “A Night out with the Homeless.” To say this experience was eye opening is an understatement. Amongst other significant facts, I learned that there are 1,000 homeless people in the city I pastor in, Rocky Mount, NC. Even more alarming for me was learning that nearly 600 school-aged children arrive in classrooms each day in our local school systems that are homeless.

By its very nature, homelessness is impossible to measure with 100% accuracy. Studies suggest anywhere from one million to six million people are homeless in America with a large percentage of these being children. More important than knowing the precise number of people who experience homelessness is our progress in ending it.

As I conducted interviews alongside a local businesswoman, Jean Kitchin (Almand’s Drugs) and another Pastor, Bishop Shelton Daniel (Greater Joy Baptist Church), of the homeless that were present that evening I could not help but to be convicted as to how we as Christians don’t seem to feel the weight of caring for the people Jesus called, “the least of these.” It seems to me that we all have a responsibility to be better educated on the conditions, circumstances and plight of those both locally and globally who live in poverty. I was reminded how caring for the poor in our neighborhoods is an essential mission of the local church.

Each year, one week before Thanksgiving, National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness co-sponsor National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. During this week, a number of schools, communities and cities take part in a nationwide effort to bring greater awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness. Locally, United Community Ministries and the Bassett Center under the leadership of Chris Battle brought this issue and this opportunity to us.

With the economic downturn, more and more people who do not fit the stereotype of homelessness are losing their homes. With the decrease in affordable housing and minimum wage not paralleling inflation, more people are fighting to survive and finding themselves below the poverty line. I know of no better way to fight poverty than with knowledge. Consider these facts:

  • 1 in 6 people in America face hunger.
  • Households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate than households without children.
  • Food insecurity exists in every county in America. In 2011, 17.9 million households were food insecure.
  • 50.1 million Americans struggle to put food on the table.
  • In the US, hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty.
  • More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger (Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3)
  • 40 percent of food is thrown out in the US every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed 25 million Americans.

These seven states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.7%):

Mississippi (19.2%)

Texas (18.5%)

Arkansas (19.2%)

Alabama (17.4%)

Georgia (17.4%)

Florida (16.2%)

North Carolina (17.1%)

Admittedly, I am not an expert on hunger, homelessness or poverty. I do seek to help begin a meaningful dialogue around how we fix these issues. I recognize there are many reasons for a person being hungry or homeless. Statistically, we are told homelessness is, in fact, caused by tragic life occurrences like the loss of loved ones, job loss, domestic violence, divorce and family disputes. Other impairments such as depression, untreated mental illness, posttraumatic stress disorder, and physical disabilities are also responsible for a large portion of the homeless. So, clearly this is a broad and complicated issue. Here are some of my thoughts on how we can help.

Educate. Business owners and elected officials can meet with the leadership of your local homeless shelter to become better educated on this issue and how you can specifically help.

Accommodate. Make low-income housing available. According to the United States Conference on Mayors the most commonly cited cause of homelessness for persons in families were lack of affordable housing.

Participate. When food drives and food challenges are given in your community make a food donation. Most of us have extra food in our freezers, cupboards and pantries. When your coupon allows you to buy one and get one free, give the “free” item to a person or family in need.

Cooperate. Financially give support to shelters. Churches can do this with a special offering or individuals can just privately donate or donate through the mission fund of your local congregation.

Communicate. Discuss this with your family. Too often our conversations around the dinner table lack depth. For many families, conversation has been replaced with television watching or texting. Once per month, identify a pertinent issue to discuss. Generally the calendar will make it easy as most social issues in our society now have a week or a month of national focus. Let a part of that conversation be a family resolution on what you specifically will do.

These thanksgivings as we indulge at home, take a moment to remember that not everyone will have food or shelter. Many people in your city will have their name placed on a waiting list to eat a hot meal or sleep in a warm and safe place. Could they be waiting on you?

What are your thoughts on the issue of homelessness and hunger?

The Common Good and The Wealthiest People

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The 2013 Forbes 400, highlighting the wealthiest people in the world is out. Although there is much that can be noted in the publication there seems to be nothing more noteworthy than how the wealthiest people are getting wealthier, the poorest are getting poorer and the gap between the two is widening. Why is this? Is it because rich people are smart and poor people are stupid? Of course not. Is it because poor people don’t have a work ethic, of course not? Then why? It is partly because we have strayed from the fundamental concepts of American Capitalism – The Common Good. In this blog I bring us back to our roots.

 Adam Smith, a Scottish political economist and philosopher, wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776. This landmark book, fully titled An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, was written during the years of strife between Britain and its colonies and published the same year as the American “Declaration of Independence.” The Wealth of Nations became the foremost manifesto on American capitalism.

Smith was appointed professor of logic at Glasgow University in 1751 where he became chair of moral philosophy in 1752. During his years at the school, Smith lectured in ethics, rhetoric, jurisprudence and political economy. In 1759, he published Theory of Moral Sentiments, which is often considered the psychological foundation of The Wealth of Nations. In this work, Smith explained that human beings are driven by passion, but at the same time, regulated by reason. From this observation, he concluded that human involvement in economics is “led by an invisible hand…without knowing it, to advance the interest of the society.” In other words the foundation of American Capitalism was not founded upon personal greed or gain but rather upon societal advances, i.e. the common good. Whenever a select group of people feels entitled to make choices around their own comfort, convenience and preferences that have an adverse effect on the masses, that decision has become un-American.

 Here in Eastern North Carolina and around our nation we are faced with a very important decision regarding investing modestly for the common good or selfishly protecting the benefit of a few.  Our community failed this test recently by running off a large employer prepared to make infrastructure investment and provide jobs because a select group of individuals were more concerned about self than community. This concept of the common good does not just happen, like keeping a park free from litter depends on each user picking up after him. The common good is as old as the writings of Plato and Cicero.

 G.K. Chesterton said it well in 1909 when he stated, “The first principle of democracy is this: that the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any man.”

 John Adams, a Founding Father and the second President of the United States, wrote in 1776, “Government is instituted for the common good, for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men…”

 Despite the propaganda of conservative and fundamental pundits, politician and talk show hosts, when the wealthiest invest in the communities of the poorest, it is not Socialism or Marxism nor some sick take from the wealthy but give to the poor scheme but rather it is defending the foundation of capitalism and increasing the scope and span of free enterprise.

 I am a Pastor. My business is people and my business is God. We are the largest church in our city and as such have more resources than many other churches. We fund the start up of new churches called Church planting.  This is the same concept as company “A” funding the start up of company “B.” This is good for our individual church because it enlarges the base of churches. The larger the base of churches the more resources we control. The more resources we control the more influential we are. The more influential we are the more financial, social and political clout we have. When a company invests in housing, construction and infrastructure they are enlarging the base of business and as a result reducing the influence of government.

 Giving promotes capitalism while withholding supports socialism. By giving we spawn new enterprise. By withholding we promote an undercapitalized market place and force people onto government programs, subsidies and a government controlled system.

 Until the wealthiest people put “skin in the game” by investing in the poorest most marginalized communities in our nation America will forever be only a fraction of what she was founded to be. I welcome your feedback and thoughts.

Coming Out Of The Closet: Syria

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This blog or I should say this type of blog has been a long time coming – or maybe not. You have probably noted that I have to date remained silent on controversial issues. That was somewhat deliberate in that I was hoping to gain the confidence of my readership before weighing in on the tough issues. Moving forward I am instituting a new segment of my blog called, “Coming Out of The Closet.” Whenever you see that heading you know I am about to deal with something controversial. Today, I am coming out of the closet about Syria. Let me begin by dealing with the obvious.

 If it is indeed true that a head of state, namely Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against innocent citizens then an international response is appropriate. The challenge is determining what that response should be. Something is wrong when we play politics with people. It seems there is never a time in American life and history when we are not. Every pundit has a “political” opinion about this, which is a big part of the problem. While we are debating war we are also rather silent on the bigger picture. We are silent on the bigger picture because once again we show forth this fake concern for people when in actuality it once again is about the politics. Republicans who are quick any other time to play bang bang shoot them up are largely in opposition and Democrats who consistently oppose military action are in support because after all I need to support “my president.” It’s all sickening. It’s sickening to watch Democrats (especially black Democrats) stay on the Barack Obama band wagon because he is black and Republicans (especially white Republicans) never support him because clearly the ice of a black man is just not as cold as a white man’s.

 It’s all sickening to watch us play politics with people. While we are talking about war there are now two million Syrian refugees yet where is the discourse regarding humanitarian efforts for them? There isn’t any because there isn’t enough political attention given to helping only hurting. Why would I bandage a wound when I could bomb a city and get press coverage and political points? This is politics and this is not new for us. Our country stood on the sidelines while genocide took place in Rwanda because the politics of intervention were not expedient. The same Bill Clinton that refused to act in Rwanda suddenly has conscience regarding Syria and is offering support to our President.

 War is not the answer.

 War is not the answer because war has never cured terrorism and chemical warfare against your own people is terrorism.

 War is not the answer because it forces other nations to take sides, which causes greater threat to nation-to-nation relationships.

 War is not the answer because every war has an element of innocent casualties and enough innocent people have already been victimized.

 War is not the answer because even a successful attack against Assad would likely mean another terrorist group would simply take his place since these are the groups that oppose his regime.

 War is not the answer because it is an act of pride. Who is the United States to suddenly wave the banner of moral superiority? What then would stop China or Russia or some other world power looking at us and citing the notable injustices against African Americans as their reason to wage war against the United States? Have we forgotten our acts of war against our own? Children make up 24 percent of our population but account for 36 percent of the poor. 16 million children live in poverty in this country. The United States has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world (1.6 million people incarcerated) with sentencing practices that include disproportionately long prison terms, mandatory sentencing without parole and treating youth offenders as adults. And yet, a silent President and Congress on these issues actually have the hubris to hold hearings on Syria? How about we begin holding hearings on ourselves?

 Despite what entities like the Heritage Foundation suggests our policies cannot and should not be driven by U.S. interests alone. In case we have forgotten we aren’t the only ones here people and our track record regarding our own isn’t that great.

 Clearly I read a different King James Bible then our President and our congress whom claim to be Christians and who took their oath on. I guess in their Bible when Jesus calls us to be peacemakers that passage was omitted. I too am morally outraged as any caring person should be. But, a moral compass must direct our moral outrage. Pope Francis was amongst the first to denounce the Syrian President while also reminding us “violence begets violence.”

Conflict can either be viewed through a lens of opposition or through a lens of opportunity. The conflict in Syria provides an international platform to rethink an “international standard of humanity.” This crisis provides a platform for diplomacy and allows us to proactively deploy developmental aid. Rather than responding to international tragedies we must further develop the reach of the United Nations and NATO as the gatekeepers of an “International Standard of humanity.” Our efforts as Americans should not be war but developing better intelligence so we can begin responding earlier and promoting preventive actions. I’m out the closet. What’s your opinion?