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Heavenly minded, financially empowered

By Bishop T.D. Jakes, Special to CNN
"Prayer is good, but you also have to be able to manage your checkbook," writes Bishop T. D. Jakes.
"Prayer is good, but you also have to be able to manage your checkbook," writes Bishop T. D. Jakes.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Churches must help their members learn principles of finance, says Bishop T.D. Jakes
  • Some unfairly blamed recession on minority consumers defaulting on mortgages, he says
  • Church can also challenge practices of banks and other lenders, Jakes says
  • "It takes a combination of education and economics to set people free," he writes
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Bishop T.D. Jakes is a best-selling author and senior pastor of a 30,000-member church, The Potter's House. He was named "America's Best Preacher" by Time magazine. Next: Jesse Jackson shares his take on his faith and finance. CNN's "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special" premieres October 21.

(CNN) -- As a faith leader, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, I've always had one foot in both the practical and the spiritual worlds. Prayer is good, but you also have to be able to manage your checkbook.

As our nation went through the early stages of the recession, I can remember the rapid decline of the housing market. During the slide, I was concerned to hear voices from academia, finance and government give the lion's share of the blame to the minority consumer for defaulting on loans for homes that they could not afford.

The conversation went as far as to suggest that church pastors contributed to the housing demise because they encouraged their parishioners to purchase homes.

What we must realize is that it was not wrong for people to want a new home or car. But it was wrong for financial institutions to prey on those desires with unbalanced financial solutions.

Long before the recession hit, as the senior pastor of a multicultural congregation in Dallas, Texas, I had implemented financial management programs through our nonprofit, the Metroplex Economic Development Corporation, so people could learn the fundamentals of credit and debt management. I wanted our community to be financially empowered and to think in terms of handing down more than debt to the next generation.

I believe that it is the responsibility of the church to take on the next frontier of civil rights: education and economic empowerment to close the widening gap between minorities and the overall population.

At The Potter's House, we've taken our efforts up a notch by meeting with banks and negotiating better terms for our demographic. We've challenged national lenders to effectively "come correct" in their practices that put home ownership and the purchase of a car for work out of reach for most. The church has certainly come a long way from a place of being "so heavenly minded and no earthly good," to leading the charge toward financial freedom.

I am well aware that a religious leader speaking on the subject of money runs the risk of being branded a prosperity preacher, but I've never cared much about labels.

I am far more interested in demystifying the concepts of money management and introducing the truth: It takes a combination of education and economics to set people free.

What I teach on these subjects is not so much on prosperity, but education and economic empowerment. When you are educated, you have a better chance at economic empowerment. They are the two essential principles that need to be harnessed for any group to secure a brighter future. But many minorities have struggled with either not having the economics to get the education, or being able get the education but then being weighed down by educational loans and limited access to jobs.

Together, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans control nearly $2 trillion in combined purchasing power -- and yet continue to lag behind the general population. The fact is, people of color are more likely to be saddled with a subprime loan. Foreclosures hit African-Americans and Hispanics twice as hard.

In the minority community, I particularly think churches, large and small, play a vital role in the education of economics. The strong memberships of large churches are able to demand the respect of banks when it comes to educating our parishioners on financial products and wealth management.

In turn, the church becomes the collective voice of those without a voice. Smaller churches also have an advantage because pastors are able to walk closely with their members through the process of financial education.

Those who minister in communities hard hit by economic challenges have a responsibility to prepare parishioners for the sweet by and by -- and to provide them with the skills to survive the challenges of right now!

If we remain in the darkness on the subject of finance, we only perpetuate the myths and become the victims of our own neglect. Education and financial literacy are the key.

The Bible calls us to be good stewards. Information is the basis of all good stewardship.