Bankole: Duggan's plan to convert churches misguided

Bankole Thompson
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s latest proposal is to convert some Detroit churches into summer recreational centers for the city's youth.

In return, the city would make a one-time $20,000 down payment for capital improvements in the churches, among other benefits such as offering play leaders and food for children. 

More:Duggan plans summer youth rec centers in churches

The proposal sounds generous. But an examination of it shows this could be an attempt by the mayor to use the city’s churches to achieve his political agenda much in the same way he used Little Rock Baptist Church to launch a political vengeance campaign against some members of the Detroit delegation in Lansing, who were opposed to his D-Insurance proposal.

Duggan was not elected to run city programs out of churches. He was not sent to City Hall to make churches a part of his vast political machine that would be at his beck and call. If the administration has run out of ideas about how to effectively help the city’s struggling children, it should say so or look around the country for best practices.

The last time Duggan did anything with churches that grabbed media headlines was when he announced the support of 100 ministers — only about 30 of them showed up at his press conference — for his reelection.

The Duggan era has been painful for poor and disadvantaged families, and throughout it all, not at one time did we see 100 ministers come out to address a particular issue regarding the well-being of poor children in the city.

From shutting off water on poor families to evicting single mothers with children renting in dilapidated homes, many ministers — including some of the high-profile ones — have been publicly silent on these crucial issues. Others have been reluctant to use their powerful pulpits to call for the kind of help that will grant relief to the city’s most vulnerable. 

I don’t have to be a student of divinity to understand that the primary role of the church is not to recreate people physically, but to recreate them spiritually.

And the danger in allowing Duggan or any political leader for that matter to come into a church with a checkbook undermines the sanctity of the church as an institution that should speak truth to power, and one that is devoid of political gamesmanship. If anything, the churches should be publicly petitioning the mayor for an inclusive recovery that has left many of their congregation members behind.

But in the six years that Duggan has been mayor, he has not been challenged by the churches. Some pastors have taken great pride in giving invocations at city functions or getting appointed to commissions by the administration instead of morally challenging the mayor.

In using churches to launch his program, Duggan may be engaging in gold mining for his own political ambitions. But it doesn’t specifically turn the tide against abject poverty that most of the city’s children find themselves in.

Maybe the children that the mayor is seeking to help should be the ones speaking out now about the recovery in the same way 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has been shaming world leaders to solve the crisis of climate change.

Like Thunberg told world leaders at the UN General Assembly meeting recently that they have stolen her dreams and childhood, Detroit’s leaders have done pretty much the same to the children who wake up every day in poverty.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at 11 a.m. weekdays on Superstation 910AM.