Detroit won’t find salvation in D.C.

Nicholas G. Hahn III
The Detroit News

Detroiters like to think their city is in the middle of a renaissance. But the blight along Woodward doesn’t help make that case. There are nearly 80,000 abandoned buildings in the Motor City, and too many of them line Detroit’s Main Street.

At least one graffiti artist didn’t seem to like the broken windows and vacant lots either, and asked along the side of a former hospital in Highland Park: “Where’s the money?” Yet the church-to-be-razed next door might suggest a different kind of probing is in order.

Not all Woodward houses of worship are scheduled for demolition. Nearly 20 places for prayer are visible on a cruise up to Eight Mile, with hundreds more scattered in surrounding blocks. The 22-mile avenue, once Detroit’s “Amen corridor,” offers church hoppers a variety of denominations and theologies.

But the pews are emptying. Pastor Marvin Winans’ still-unfinished and unoccupied megachurch near Seven Mile testifies to that. Instead of looking upward for solutions to their problems, more and more faithful are sending prayers to Washington. A recent Pew Research Center survey found almost three-quarters of the public lament religion’s waning influence, but too many think the way to regain spiritual sway is through political power. Detroit should know better.

When the city was destroyed by a fire in 1805, its settlers didn’t go to legislators for help rebuilding. They gathered at Ste. Anne’s Catholic Church, and the pastor knew what to do. Father Gabriel Richard, knowing the needs of his flock better than any bureaucrat might, arranged for neighboring farms along the river to send food and other supplies to families in his smoldering city.

“We hope for better things,” the good priest later wrote, “it will rise from the ashes.” Richard’s prayer still appears in Latin on Detroit’s flag, but there are some who seem intent on striking his words from the city’s official motto. Detroit’s politicians might instead prefer that Highland Park graffiti artist’s sentiment.

But the revival Detroit needs is one of God, not government.

Twitter: @NGHahn3