Black Liberation Through the Marketplace

Collin Bastian on June 21, 2022

The Institute on Religion and Democracy was pleased to host Marcus Witcher and Rachel Ferguson on June 16 as they discussed their new book, Black Liberation Through the Marketplace: Hope, Heartbreak, and the Promise of America, and how the goal of racial justice in America has been stymied by both the political right, who have downplayed the severity of historical injustices committed against black Americans, and the political left, whose paternalistic solutions have often been steeped in racism themselves.

The authors instead proposed an alternative route through navigating this difficult issue: the principles of classical liberalism and the championing of individual liberties with a constitutional order. In embracing these principles, Witcher and Ferguson maintain, America stands the best chance of achieving liberty and justice for all, including black Americans.

You can view the video of the event below:

Mark Tooley: Welcome, everybody, to the Institute on Religion and Democracy, here in Washington D.C. I am Mark Tooley, President of the Institute and delighted to host this evening two distinguished speakers, with an important new book called “Black Liberation Through the Marketplace.” Copies of which are available for those here physically who would like to procure one. The authors are Rachel Ferguson and Marcus Witcher. Rachel is at Concordia University in Chicago, and Marcus Witcher teaches at, I hope I get this right, Huntington College in Montgomery, Alabama, which is at least officially a Methodist-related school–I don’t know if they ever tell you that or not–but yes, it is acknowledged. So, Rachel will go first with 10 or 15 minutes of reflection about the book, and she will be followed by Marcus. They will conclude within a half hour and then afterwards there’ll be plenty of time for questions and comments. We are broadcasting this conversation live on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, and then we will post it later at Youtube. So if you want to go back to catch details you missed the first time around, you are welcome to do so. Rachel, we welcome you and look forward to your comments. 

Rachel Ferguson: Thank you. Hi, everybody, thank you for coming. Yes, I’m sorry for the confusion; It’s Concordia University, Chicago and there’s actually six Concordia undergraduate schools and the pastoral students there matriculate up into Concordia seminary, but I do live in St. Louis very near the seminary, and I just spend one week per month in Chicago, and I really, really love it. I’m developing a free enterprise center there, and we are a majority minority school, so it’s really wonderful to be thinking through these questions of black liberation through the marketplace. We’re already running into issues that affect latinos as well in the book, and of course there are so many latino students at my school. And so it’s really helping to make classical liberal ideas, the idea of the American Project, and the idea of free markets approachable and interesting to students like mine. 

That’s one of the things I want to do with our book, and so I will just start by kind of laying out the project. I’ve already been talking to a few of you about it. Initially I just thought, you know, classical liberals have so much to say to questions of race and discrimination. We actually have really important economic insights in that area, but we are not necessarily associated with that. People don’t think, “Hey, I know who I’m gonna ask about racial discrimination in America; the classical liberals.” And I wanted to change that. So, the initial idea for the book was to actually just gather a lot of those insights together; sort of walk through American history and see what the economists and the classical liberal historians are saying for each important era. 

But as I began writing the book, it became immediately clear to me that it was going to accomplish another goal as well. I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, but over the last five or six years things have gotten a little tense in our country; a little bit of tribalism, a little bit of polarization, and it’s really really hard. We’re living in a very hard cultural moment. I think it’s affecting our personal relationships, it’s affecting our work relationships, and as a classical liberal, I’ve never fit into the two-party system anyway, right. I’ve always crossed borders. I’m talking about things like criminal justice reform and ending the drug war, and oftentimes I’m talking to progressives about those kinds of things. But I’m also deeply invested in questions about things like family structure, right, which are deeply conservative, and things like the importance of the church as an institution of civil society; which might be more of a concern for conservatives. 

And so because I’ve always kind of been in-between, I felt, you know, classical liberals really have something to offer here in terms of busting out of this tribal conversation; unbundling topics that have been weirdly bundled together to fit into a party platform. And the other kind of advantage of that, is that Black America has never really fit into the majority culture’s political parties either. So for instance, while it is the case that Black Americans vote in very high numbers for the democratic party, they also tend to be the most centrist of Democrats: very pro-market, very pro-entrepreneurial. I noticed that when Sanders, it was Sanders versus Biden in South Carolina when the black vote really counted; and it was Biden, not Sanders, right. So there was a rejection of that kind of socialist mentality. You have a lot of social conservatism, coming out of the black church tradition as well, and so you have a kind of uncomfortable marriage there going on politically. So I can relate to feeling kind of politically homeless. 

And so we started out the project with really the fundamental question, right, that especially that you’re hearing from the left, which is you know isn’t it the case, that slavery is really a form of markets, right. And so in a way, this is a profit-driven endeavor, and it just goes to show that capitalism is at its heart corrupt. And so we go back, and we look at Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill and the classical economists who led eventually to the neoclassical ones, arguing not only the moral wrong of slavery, but actually the economic foolishness of slavery. It showed that whenever you shut out any part of the population from being able to become educated, improve their human capital, move to where their labor is most needed, invent things, trade things with you, you lose out on everything you could have traded with them. 

So yes, a few will do well; a few aristocratic guys, some slave masters. It’s a very small group of people, actually, in the south with just a few families; they will do well but the economy itself will not flourish as a result of that kind of system. And you actually do see some of that; the south is a strong economy in certain ways, like relative to the rest of the world, but it’s not nearly as strong as it could have been if it had free labor. You see white wages bid down by competing with slave labor, you see a lack of infrastructure, in the south, using very very old-fashioned ideas of manual labor, when you could have been using steam engines, and things like that. 

So really being very far behind economically, and having a lot to catch up after emancipation, and so we really show that no, this is not what free markets are about. Free markets are based on the idea of private property which is property starting with your own bodily right and your own labor. You own your labor and it’s up to you to make deals, and sell your labor. That’s called freedom of contract, and so no, if you do not have property in your own self acknowledged by the government, if you do not have freedom of contract, if you are not equally protected by just laws, then no, you are not dealing with a free market system here at all.

 The two things should be untangled from one another, so that’s how we start out; kind of starting right at the beginning, and then we look at how emancipation leads to a strong desire among African American freedmen to own their own farms. But that wasn’t really possible; private property rights were not acknowledged by the courts. It was, you know, not a lot of capital going in, no compensation for all of the stolen labor, and so you do see freedmen forced into these sharecropping relationships. 

However, something that’s kind of a hidden gem in history is this book called “Competition and Coercion” by Robert Higgs, an excellent classical liberal economist, and in this book he shows there’s one precious freedom that the freedmen can use to their own advantage, and that’s the freedom to move. So with the freedom to move, you can move from the deep south to the upper south, where maybe you’ll have more help from white neighbors. You can move from one farm to another farm, and you get into a situation where, over time, you actually see freedmen able to bid up their shares with sharecropping, and actually the black economy expands at three times the rate of the white economy up into 1900. And so they’re starting from a very low point, so they’re still experiencing a lot of poverty, but you do actually get a majority of black Americans able to have a little bit of extra income, actually, to spend on something that’s not just a total necessity.

 By the time you get to 1900, the other really amazing accomplishment you see during this period is the huge leap forward in literacy. So of course, this is coming out of the church, which I’m going to talk about in a minute, but oh my goodness, I mean; Robert Higgs says that it may be the greatest leap forward in literacy in history thus far. And so by 1930, you’ve gone from basically zero literacy in the community, to eighty percent literacy. And a real value for education in the black community, that goes just to the core of really, in many ways, the religious life, the love of the Bible, of course.

 And so from there we actually move on to Marcus’s chapter. So I’m going to wait till you come up to talk about that, but I will talk about the black church in Chapter 5. This was actually something we added, right; I remember the day I called Marcus, and said, “We’ve got to do a chapter on the black church! What was I thinking, not having that in the outline!” Because the black church is the cultural womb of Black America. What’s so important about it? Well, number one, Black Americans really identified with the concept of the Imago Dei; being made in the Image of God. 

This was hugely moving for them to have this kind of joy. As a matter of fact, some of the revivalists noted that white converts during the revivals would feel really depressed about their sin, and they would be kind of broken down by the idea of having sin. And while the black converts would also be acknowledging their sin, they were so overjoyed at the idea of having a relationship with the God of the universe. That just seemed like such an amazing thing to be saying, and so there was a real joy of being really an equal, knowing that deep down, we are equals. We’re brothers and sisters, and Children of God, and so it was extremely powerful. They identified with the children of Israel under the pharaoh, right. They identified with the story of Exodus, and that was a powerful dream of freedom for them. Then, of course, they also identified with the prophets, who were talking about the way that we treat the voiceless, right. The poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger; they’re very connected to those passages; as a matter of fact, the Black Church to this day is probably pretty more deeply grounded in the Old Testament, perhaps more than a lot of white theology is. It’s very interesting. 

What you see there, is that some of that split that you see later in the 20th century, or I should say in the early 20th century; that split you see between what you might call the social gospel–concern about how we treat people in society versus sort of where do you go when you die–that sort of idea, that kind of split that happened in the white church, actually just doesn’t happen in the black church. It doesn’t occur to them that’s even possible: how would you divide the two concepts? 

And so they look at it as almost like foolishness in the white church, which is, which was really interesting for me to discover. I just enjoyed writing that chapter. I learned an incredible amount, and one of the things I always try to remember to tell people, because it was a surprise to me, is that the term “white man’s religion” actually didn’t refer to Christianity, as such it referred to the Christianity of the plantation missionaries, who were only allowed to say what the slave master told them to say; which was about stealing, not stealing and obeying your master; and so they called that the white man’s religion; because it didn’t even mention Jesus. It was really about the supremacy of their master over themselves, but they were going off on their own, into what were called “Hush Harbors” to worship in secret. Actually if they were caught, they were badly persecuted, oftentimes by their slave masters. 

So black slaves were not taking on the religion of their slave masters. Many slave masters were actually kind of unchurched Anglicans. We might say in the South, not particularly zealous religiously speaking, but they were actually taking on the Evangelical religion of the revivalists. And so it was really their own thing they were taking that back to the plantation, oftentimes converting one another. One of the best examples of this is Frederick Douglas. If you haven’t read his autobiography please do, it’s an absolute classic of American Literature, and Frederick Douglass is a very good example of exactly this pattern that we’re talking about; someone who hears the Gospel from his friend, Uncle Lawson; Uncle Lawson is his discipler. He condemns what he sees as a very hypocritical form of Christianity in the white community, but sees in a way himself and the black churches kind of getting it right, getting the real Gospel in some sense. 

So it was really a fascinating thing to understand, and so important for the civil society institutions that emerged later. So I think sometimes when we think of classical liberalism, we think of property, freedom of contract, the rule of just law, markets. We love markets but what we forget is if you live in a free society, and the government’s not doing a whole lot, guess who’s doing it; us right? We’re doing it, we’re starting clubs, we’re starting organizations, we’re starting churches, we’re getting it done. And so we really wanted to emphasize that, not only with the black church chapter, but Marcus is also going to talk about so many of the other organizations that come out later on. 

We start to get into a more contemporary period; the 20th century was pretty ugly when it came to race, and it actually starts in the progressive era with progressive eugenics. I’m sure some of you are very aware of this, but many Americans are actually quite unaware of just how popular racist pseudo-scientific eugenics really was in the early 20th century. Presidents, judges, presidents’ cabinets, John Maynard Keynes, the great economist, kellogg; you know, many of these huge entrepreneurs, they were all serious eugenicists, thinking about how we could support the white, aryan head of household and disemploy immigrants blacks and women. 

So how do we disemploy people, so that they can just sort of fade out? Well, one way to do it is to create a minimum wage that’s so high that no one will pay them that amount. They’ll only pay white, Aryan males that amount, and that was actually very explicit. So this isn’t like a conspiracy theory that I made up because I don’t like the idea of the minimum wage; it’s actually totally explicit in economics textbooks that were widely used in 1905 and 1906. Look at the book “Ill-liberal Reformers” by Thomas C Leonard if you want to learn more about it. It’s absolutely shocking.

Keynes said things like, you know “now that we’re dealing with the quantity problem in population, we have to start dealing with the quality problem.” Whose going to be allowed to reproduce? People were even given what they were called, “Mississippi appendectomies” which was secretly tying your tubes. This happened to Fannie Lou Hamer. People were sterilized against their will; I mean, really really crazy stuff, particularly in a free apparently society, right.

 And so we look at the legacy of that in economics, and then we go on to look at some of the just massive federal projects; they’re during the progressive era, there’s sort of, arises an obsession with central planning, right. The idea that we can organize the world; modern life is becoming very complex, and we need experts. We need experts to come in and decide how people should relate to one another.

 What many of you may not know, is that in the early 20th century, people were not necessarily integrated in terms of their street, but they were often integrated in their neighborhood. It wasn’t uncommon to live near your factory, say, near where you work, and you might have a Polish street, a Black street, an Irish street; that sort of thing was common in certain cities. But what happened was something like, you know, the Federal Housing Administration’s redlining policies which were specifically made in order to keep white people and black people apart, with the idea that they would be more peaceful if they were separate. 

And so the Federal Housing Administration refused to insure loans in black and integrated neighborhoods, and so this sort of ghettoized black people in the true use of the term ghettoized, right; to put into one area of town, and relocate you there. It drove up housing costs for black people because they didn’t have a lot of places they could live. The quality of the housing was not good, and so they couldn’t really develop in that way economically. So FHA redlining is one of those stories that you often hear. 

I feel like it’s getting a little more well known, but a couple of stories you don’t often hear are the stories of the way we built the federal highway system. Municipal leaders were handed millions and millions of dollars to put these highways where they wanted them to go, and guess what? They could use eminent domain. So they went into eminent domain; whole black neighborhoods, and often the black economic centers; the areas where business was really thriving, where people were putting together their business associations, and civil society associations, and just kind of mowing them down and flinging people to the four winds. 

This was only exacerbated by the rise of urban renewal, which James Baldwin called “negro removal.” It was supposed to be slum clearance, but it was really taking people’s homes away from them, and sending them elsewhere to do what they might. And the truth is,  that we who understand the idea of culture, and community, and we understand how that works, we should be the most understanding when someone’s community is blown apart in that way, and what that does to someone’s soul. 

So we really look closely at those sorts of things; then of course at the end,  we’re looking at issues like the drug war. The rise of the drug war and mass incarceration, and what we’re looking at there is a situation in which now we’re no longer talking about Black Americans only. These are things that are affecting Americans of all kinds, but because the black community is still vulnerable economically, it really, really affects them. So, we really shouldn’t be surprised when we hear from the black community about these issues, even though they’re really just society-wide issues. 

We do talk about, of course, the Great Society, and the effect of the perverse incentives; of the way that we have arranged our welfare state. I can talk more about that; it’s actually kind of shocking how much of a disincentive we have created for work and marriage through the welfare state. But we also complicate that to some extent too, by talking about about the way that the unions increase black unemployment, by not only keeping blacks out of the unions, but also by pushing wages up, such that manufacturing jobs left a lot faster than they would have otherwise. Meaning that black men kind of miss the window to get into those manufacturing jobs, so you’re stuck back in manual labor without sort of that bridge into something better. 

Then throughout the book we’re kind of teaching you, sort of what classical liberalism is. We do these little lessons in classical liberalism a little; economic insights and things like that, and then we’re also looking, of course, for its solutions, right. So we’re talking about economic freedom for entrepreneurs, we’re talking about educational freedom, which we think is the great justice issue of our time. We talk about criminal justice reform in detail. We talk about transitional justice, which deals with really institutional memory. Properly memorializing the crimes that did occur against our black neighbors historically speaking. We think that conservatives and libertarians can help actually anchor those sorts of projects to reality, and keep them focused on concrete, local, real occurrences of crime, and not become too vague and abstract, let’s put it that way. 

Then, finally, we look at a project that I’m particularly excited about, which is sort of the neighborhood stabilization movement. You see this with books like “Toxic Charity” by Robert Lupton, and “When Helping Hurts” by Brian Fickard. I’m sure many of you have heard of Bob Woodson; the Woodson Center is doing great work on black ownership, and gang intervention, and sort of granddaddy of them all, John Perkins of the Christian Community Development Association. You know, neighborhood stabilization isn’t a particularly political matter. When you’re down on the street, what you’re actually trying to do is surround neighbors with all the support they need to be empowered in their own vision for their own lives, and you want to treat them as subjects of exchange, and not just as mere recipients. 

So it’s really about dignity and doing philanthropy in a dignified way, as opposed to some of the toxic charity that we and many of our churches actually have been participating in. So I’m going to stop there, but I want Marcus to expand on what I consider to be the heart of the book. Which is, on the one hand, atrocities against black Americans, but on the other hand, the amazing entrepreneurial legacy that we have from black America. And you can see just the way that black Americans have contended with the obstacles that they’ve had to deal with. So I’m going to invite Marcus up.

Marcus Witcher: Awesome. Well, thank you Rachel. These sections of the book are taken from chapters 4 and 6. So in some ways, we’ve sort of gone through, right, we went through like chapters 1, 2, 3, skipped over 4, went to 5, and then concluded. but chapters 4 and 6 look at the atrocities that were committed against black Americans. One of the things we’re trying to do in the book, is we’re trying to carve out what, you might say is a third way of talking about sort of the American Experiment. I get the sense from conservative friends, oftentimes the narrative that we get, is that it’s sort of a patriotic American triumphalism. Like, you know America is exceptional, and there’s not any sort of criticism of that is taken as like an assault upon american institutions and sort of the contributions that america made especially especially in the 20th century um but on the other hand, you know, we have sort of folks on the left: 1619 project, et cetera, who are attacking the American Project, and liberalism specifically, as being sort of failed; the liberal experiment is being failed. 

What the book offers, we argue, is a third way. A way that we can appreciate the American Founding in our principles, and recognize that past injustices did occur and that we’re imperfect. We didn’t live up to our liberal principles: the right to life, liberty, property, dignity for all individuals, the role of just law. And so chapter 4 takes a look at the atrocities committed against black Americans, and it begins really right after the sort of emancipation talk; a little bit about radical reconstruction, and the failure of reconstruction to enable or to provide equal rights to black Americans political rights specifically. 

And we talk about the advent of Jim Crow; and usually when I talk to students about Jim Crow, they’re like, “we know we know we know, there was a black water fountain and a white water fountain.” I’m like, “No no, that is not what we’re talking about, when we’re talking about Jim Crow. Yes, separate but equal, Plessy, all that exists, but this is much more damning, than just “you got to go drink from a different water fountain.” 

1873, 1877, we have “redeemer governments” across the South that take back over southern states, and in time they’ll rewrite constitutions that pretty much exclude black southerners from political life, and parts of economic life as well. But they institute a series of laws; I just want to talk about a few of them right now. They’re called the Pig Laws because stealing a pig, all of a sudden became a felony offense, whereas it before was treated sort of as a misdemeanor offense with fines attached, et cetera. 

We also see the advent of vagrancy laws, where you could not prove if you were in a town. And hypothetically this affected poor white men as well; it did, but disproportionately affected young black men specifically. If you were in a town, and someone didn’t know who you were, they could come up; the sheriff could come up to you, and they could ask you, “Can you prove that you’re employed? Can you prove that you’re part of the community?” and if you couldn’t provide ten dollars, or proof of employment, you could be thrown in jail. And once you get thrown in jail, you get fined. And so once you’re fined;  “we have too many we have these prisoners. What do we do with these prisoners?” Well, what we’ll do is: they owe us money, so we’ll lease them out in a system, known as convict leasing, to local firms. Whether they be sort of the steel mines in Birmingham; we still have the name of, I’m blanking on his name now, all of a sudden. You know, we still have the hall named after the family, right, in Alabama. It’ll come to me in a moment. 

But whether you go to the mines, or whether you end up on farms, you’d be leased out. 

And then over a period of time, you would hypothetically pay back what you owed society for your fine. Now remember, these people were arrested oftentimes for things that weren’t even legitimate crimes, but now they’re having to work off their sentences in these mines, etc. And oftentimes, what happens in these camps, is they’re basically labor camps, where you go, and you work. And we don’t want to diminish how horrible slavery was, but at least, at a minimum,  when folks were enslaved, there was a sort of desire to not kill your workers. You have an incentive, a perverse incentive, but it’s an incentive to keep your workers at least alive. But in these camps where convicts were leased out…there’s a title of a book called “If One Dies, Get Another” and that was sort of the mentality in some cases. You would have disease rampant, that would go rampant in these camps. You had 20 to 30 percent of the young men who were in these camps, some once again, not all black, but predominantly black, disproportionately black men, who would die in the process of trying to work off their fines, etc.

Convict leasing was widespread throughout the South. It took different forms and different states. By the way, the Culmer family or the mines I’m thinking about in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s now the source of a music festival, I think, is right there, near where that is. But, nonetheless, point being, like we had massive sort of numbers of people. We’re talking tens of thousands of black men, who were arrested for crimes; hundreds of thousands who were arrested for crimes, and then tens of thousands who lost their lives. Because of this system, this unjust system of convict policing; and so one of the things that we really have to grapple with in the book, is that these liberal values weren’t lived up to. We have to acknowledge that as a society. You know, we have these ideals about the right to life, liberty, property, but it’s not as if emancipation happens, and then we’re good.

Black Americans now have siblings no no no it’s much longer. Jim Crow lasts all the way up until, I don’t know, say in 1964, 1965, etc. And so we have convict leasing; it is one example of atrocities that occur. We also have things like, you know, the burning down of Black Wall Street, which more and more people are aware of today, than were maybe seven or eight years ago.

When I began teaching at the University of Alabama, when I was first entrusted to my first summer class, I assigned them a book called “The Burning” by Tim Madigan. No one, not one of the students, had ever heard of the burning of the assault upon Greenwood, which was known as Black Wall Street at the time. and the reason why we include this as well as coal flax and a whole bunch of other sort of atrocities that were committed, is because we we want to be honest with the reality, that libertarians oftentimes are like “markets, markets, markets, let’s just establish markets” and allow people to trade and exchange; and act like that’ll solve the problem. Without the rule of just law, without the application of the rule of just law, the protection of the right to life, liberty, property, markets are not enough. 

Because what happened in Tulsa, is that Black Americans did exactly what Rachel and I would have said you need to do, right; you need to go, you need to build community, build civil society; you need to be the best entrepreneur you can possibly be, you want to be the best doctor you can possibly be, right. And white folks would come across the tracks to Greenwood, and they would go and get medical care. They would take their cars because the best mechanic was in Greenwood. And they would take their cars over there and have them serviced, et cetera. And so in Greenwood, we see a thriving, prosperous, beautiful, flourishing community that has done exactly what Rachel and I are talking about: the liberal sort of vision of, you know, market entrepreneurship etc. It is exactly what Booker T Washington held; told people to do right, put your bucket down, do work on meaningful skills, develop skills, become respectable, become a part of the community and whites will acknowledge your political rights in time.

Unfortunately, what happened in Greenwood is that white envy emerges. Envy emerges, which we argue isn’t incompatible with a liberal society. And what happens is that; I’m sure most of you know the story about Greenwood. But, one day a young black man sort of bumps into a white woman in an elevator. They seemingly have known one another. He gets accused of sexually assaulting, or attempting to sexually assault her. He flees: he gets arrested later on; Dick Rowland, and he gets thrown into jail. The sheriff does the courageous work of trying to protect him from a white mob that, prodded by the local newspaper man who was associated with the KKK, to lynch him.

So there’s this big white mob that comes, and the sheriff is standing courageously in between them. Black people, black men specifically, say “we’ve had enough.” They get their guns and they come up to the courthouse to defend Dick Rowland. White people, white men, get their guns, they come up to the courthouse, and what happens next is that we have shots exchanged between the two groups. The sheriff is able to get the police to basically get them divided. They go their separate ways. The black men return to Greenwood, the white men disappear seemingly.

That evening, and then the next morning, I don’t remember exactly what time, but in the morning of June 1st, a whistle blares out. And then the sounds of a gatling gun can be heard as white mobs, that can only be described as white mobs, storm down into Greenwood, and burn Greenwood to the ground, leaving hundreds dead, dislocating others. Many others are of course driven out of the town, and eventually they’re sort of rounded up and put in holding pins for a while, etc. The National Guard had been asked to come in to help with this, and they actually stopped and got breakfast. They knew what was happening in greenwood. They stopped, they got breakfast, because the guy was unsure whether or not he wanted his men to be in the middle of this atrocity. So it’s a horrible atrocity.

So why do we include this in the book? Well, we have to grapple with that. We have to grapple with the fact that people like African Americans attempted to create a flourishing society, but they didn’t have the protection of the rule of just law. They didn’t have that. So without that, markets aren’t enough, right; we didn’t live up to our liberal expectations in the case of Tulsa. And Tulsa is also a really great example in the book, because it is a demonstration of transitional justice. Today people have come back to the community trying to heal. They’re digging up, they’ve dug up, and they’re trying to figure out how many people actually died right in this atrocity, and then trying to talk about it and heal together as a community. 

And one of the things that we emphasize is that there can be no reconciliation; there can be no reconciliation, without being held accountable. Without recognizing past injustice, you can’t just…if you’re in an abusive relationship, I’ve heard Rachel say this many times; “If you know Devin and I were in an abusive relationship right, and I’m beating Devin all the time, right; we can’t, I can’t just be like  ‘“Dev, you know, definitely just move on.”’ Devin’s not gonna be like, “Yeah, we should just move on, right, like that’s fine.” No no. We had to, I have to acknowledge my faults.

 We have to acknowledge, not necessarily in our case, right; none of us were alive at that time, but we have to acknowledge what happened. We have to discuss what happened, we tried to try to address what occurred, the failings, etc., and then as a community. And once again transitional justice is very concrete; we’re looking at the Tulsa massacre. Let’s acknowledge that, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about things that affect us as a community today, and then let’s heal. And so Tulsa provides not only an example of how markets aren’t enough without the rule of just law, but it also provides an opportunity for us to talk about transitional justice.

The other chapter that I wrote, most of it was the chapter on Black Entrepreneurship. And so we juxtaposed the chapter on sort of atrocities against blacks, with the chapter on that’s extraordinarily hopeful. It ends with the Civil Rights Movement, it ends with T.R.M. Howard giving a speech in Atlanta, and Rosa Parks sitting there, listening to his speech, finding it so moving about the murder of Emmitt Till, that she, just a few weeks later, she was like you know that was like one of the last speeches I’d heard that like I was like, “Yes, we’re doing this right, the NAACP; I’m gonna go, and I’m not gonna, I’m gonna refuse to give up my seat on the bus.” And so that’s where we end the chapter. 

Which is, not generally where you know, the Civil Rights Movement, when we talk about the Civil Rights Movement; that’s where it begins. And there’s not a lot of talk about the time before, and we did that specifically because my students often come to class, and they say they know about Emancipation. They don’t know about Plessy; maybe, you know, different water fountains, and then they know about Martin Luther King, and that’s about the breadth of their high school education largely on civil rights. And one of the things that I tried to get across to them, is that black civil rights is a product of the successes of 1964 and the success of 1965. The answer is not just, okay, the government finally recognized these people’s rights. Government did finally recognize these people’s rights, and I’m happy that they did in 1964 and 1965. But the reality is that it took a lot of hard work by black Americans to get to the point by which they could achieve those successes; they could force the government basically to acknowledge their rights.

And so this chapter traces the development of civil society, traces the development of fraternal organizations. It’s based on the research of my graduate school advisor Dr. David Bado, i’d say the great one of the great libertarian historians um who’s done a great deal of work on this. It talks about the way in which the Black Elks formed an organization where people…you know, the Black House is just a fraternal society, but it’s way more than that: because it allows black men opportunity, and black women; there are you know, fraternal societies are the equivalent right for women as well to come in, and they learn. They form contacts, et cetera; they also train lawyers because they have to fight for their names, because the white fraternal societies don’t like the fact that the black fraternal societies want to be called the Black Elks, right. 

And so as a result we actually get the first, years later, look at NAACP lawyers, where they get their start. They get their start actually in these fraternal societies, fighting for rights. This sort of fighting against this idea that the white fraternal societies own the names, and so we see that these organizations provide so much: they provide insurance, they provide life insurance, they provide some form of disability; like if you get sick on the job, they provide that. But they also provide classes on civics and education, and what are your rights and what are. How do you participate in government, and they teach people about the constitution, and about the bill of rights, and about america’s history; both the history that we would have learned, and also sort of the dark history, right, that that many of their forefathers had gone through. and what we see is that those organizations are combined with the black church and those several other civil society organizations are the foundation for the civil rights movement.

What we argue in the book is that you don’t get a Civil Rights Movement. The successes of 1955, and onward without the hard work the foundation that was built by those mutual aid societies, by the civil societies. In 1905, late 19th century, early 20th century, they tried to desegregate the trolley systems, and they failed in those years. They tried to use their economic leverage to do that, and they just didn’t have enough economic leverage, right, in 1905. But 50 years later, right, 50 years later, there are other things that have changed, as well as the media and other things. But 50 years later, you have the NAACP, right, which has worked for at that point some 30 some odd years, to achieve equality through the courts. You have a series of black lawyers, you have other civil society organizations, and when Rosa Parks is successful in Montgomery helping desegregate. Through the boycott of the bus system, when they look back, and you look at the donors, to the causes; they’re people, the black elks, right; the fraternal societies. They’re providing the money, the lawyers, et cetera, that undergird the Civil Rights Movement.

So our story about the Civil Rights Movement, and about black liberation is that, yes, African-Americans achieved liberation, you know, in 1964, 1965, to a certain extent; although the job wasn’t done, I’d argue. but it wasn’t just like the government gave them their rights; no, it’s part of a long, long process in which black Americans took those rights. They told the government, and they told Americans, “like we’re going to fight for those rights” and they had to build their sort of society. And the way in which they did it, was through the very things that oftentimes are criticized by the Left. They did it through markets, they did it through entrepreneurship, they did it through civil society, they did it through organizations, they did it by using those things that Rachel and I think are so important to prosperity.  

And so that’s the lesson that we sort of leave that chapter with; Black Civil Rights Achievements are really the product of a much longer process, and that to condemn the marketplace would be to condemn the very means by which black Americans ultimately succeeded in gaining liberation. 

Rachel Ferguson: Okay, should we just open it up for questions?

Mark Tooley: For the benefit of viewers if any questions or commenters could come to the microphone and identify yourself.

Rachel Ferguson: And just indicate if there’s one or the other that you specifically want to ask. You guys should line up if you want to ask questions.

Audience: Thank you so much for your talk. My question was on a comment that was made in your portion of the lecture, where you said that conservatives and libertarians can make some of these structures sort of into reality. And I have some reservations about that, especially as a social conservative, because I find myself disagreeing with libertarians especially on that front. And I think with sort of the fusionist project, a lot of that has not been entirely successful. So do you think that that alliance is practical in the long run?

Rachel Ferguson: Well, okay, so I’ll first clarify what I said and what I was specifically thinking of. You’re the one who knows a lot about fusionism, so I’ll let Marcus take that one. But what I was referring to, is specifically the projects within transitional justice, which means, I mean; transitional justice is about a lot of things, but one of the things it’s about is institutional memory. And so it’s in our own local communities, right. And so the point is, you have the Left talking a lot about reckoning with our past. But they can sometimes become so abstract with all of the different kinds of hetero-patriarchy, capitalist oppression, right; or whatever that they’re trying to deal with in the term “social justice.” It loses all meaning in some sense. It’s just like, something is wrong. And so that’s not very helpful, because you can’t actually address anything. So the advantage of transitional justice is that you’re looking at concrete crimes, you’re looking at concrete, local situations, in your own towns or universities, and you’re going back and you’re thinking about, how can we just tell this story, and just honor those who survived, or whose lives were lost with our history, because that’s part of the healing process.

And so that’s what I meant when I said conservatives and liberals can anchor those to reality because I was saying that they will focus on the concreteness of the issue and not let it kind of get taken over by all of these vague ideas about various forms of oppression, you see what I’m saying. Because we’re looking at property crime, we’re looking at crime against the person bodily, we’re looking at violations of freedom of contract, and cases in which we didn’t protect you with the rule of just law. So that’s what matters, right; that’s that’s sort of the classical liberal focus. That’s what I was talking about, but the broader question of fusionism… I don’t know how much you want to…

Marcus Witcher: Yeah, and I think it’s important to say that like you know we’re talking about real injustice when we’re talking about these things we’re not talking about something like social justice what i mean you know this this this is concrete these are clear examples historically of just injustice that conservatives and libertarians agree like these are violations of property rights violation of the right to life you know um and so i think we can agree on that i think the goal would be just like this can get this could go nuts and we’re much better being in the room than not being in the room but i think that’s something that conservatives and libertarians need to recognize. It’s like we need to be part of this conversation, as Rachel said, to keep it grounded but I also think for it to be productive because without everybody, without people from all different spectrums, we’re not going to have actual healing. we’re just going to have one side chastising another and that’s not beneficial at all. It probably just drives a wedge further between us as far as fusionism, and as far as fusionism. You said you’re a social conservative. I’m a classical liberal or libertarian. So um i guess it depends on what you want to achieve you know what i mean like if if you want the state to you want to use the state to promote families if you want to use the state to you know intervene in markets significantly on some type of social pro, or you know sort of top-down central planning, um then yeah i don’t i don’t know about the future of fusionism. I think the future of fusionism depends upon where conservatism goes over the course of the next six years, the next two years perhaps. 

And so I’m not sure that libertarians really want to work with, I’m not sure libertarians want to work with integralists. I don’t think libertarians want to work with people who want to use the state to do the very things that Rachel and I talk about is being so damaging to the community and to family, etc. We don’t need top-down solutions. What we need is to empower individuals and families and communities so that they can address these issues themselves. So I don’t know about the fusionist project. I still think that libertarians have more in common, and conservatives have more in common with one another, than they do with progressives, because progressives are like high on the on the state, okay; like they believe, they believe that the state can solve our problems and conservatives are at least some of them are still somewhat grounded to reality that like it cannot actually solve many of these problems. And they’re suspicious of the state, and technocrats and the administrative state. And so there’s still common ground there. It’s a really difficult question for me to answer. Because I want to say there’s a future for us together, my friend, but I’m not sure if that’s the case or not.

Do you want to follow up?

Audience: No, I mean, I think that’s a fair point. Especially on the matter of using, like you said, using the state for some of those policies. I guess it was more my concern of what that would lead to in the long run. Sort of like, well; we can’t use the state… for example, would you support, for example, the state instituting a ban on abortion?

Marcus Witcher: Personally, I am pro-life. I think that life begins at conception. I’m actually also agnostic so I believe that not because of my religious convictions, but because I think that’s pretty clear. My wife and I are having a baby boy July 21st, and when he was and this is maybe too personal, but we had an ultrasound done when he was eight weeks old. He was b-bopping around, and moving his hands, and like it’s just incredible. I mean, we didn’t know he’s a “he”at that point, but it’s incredible. I mean, it’s really difficult for me; I’m an empiricist, like this is a human life. Like, it’s pretty, I mean you don’t even need God for that. I mean I say that in this room, but yeah just clear. It’s just obvious.

Would I support that? It looks like Roe is going to be overturned, and so I don’t have a problem with returning it to state legislatures to make decisions about what is best for those state legislatures or for those states and the people in there i think that’s called democracy in action, which the Left claims to support love, and so like let let people in the states make their decisions. And if you want to get an abortion and you live in Alabama, you can go. I’m sure there’ll be organizations in civil society that will bust you from Alabama to Oregon, or from Alabama to wherever to get to get an abortion. 

So would I support that? That’s a really difficult question, probably one of the most difficult ones. I would support it, but be very concerned about enforcement. I don’t want to create a new war on drugs in which we go after moms. Like, that doesn’t sound appealing at all. So I think that we have some really difficult questions to answer that we haven’t answered because of Roe, that we should have settled 40 years ago, through the course of the state legislatures. We’ve lost that time now, and our politics, you know, it’s difficult because we have just different priorities. Like the left does not see it as a human life, right. So it’s hard to…we fundamentally disagree. We have two conflicting rights claims, and so it makes it really hard. I think we have to, if they overturn Roe, we have to engage in this in a way that’s humble and civil. And try to recognize that, you know, we have different points of view. But hopefully, we can come together in a civil way to resolve it. I don’t know if that’s a good enough answer.

Audience: No, that’s perfect. Thank you, I appreciate it.

Audience: Hi, I’m Andrew. So I think one of the things you guys talked about, is kind of, I mean the need to sort of reconcile, and sort of look back on, and recognize a lot of like the atrocities that have been done. Sort of like in Tulsa, for example, and one of the arguments that you hear a lot of times especially from the Left, is when you look at discrepancies, and social economic discrepancies between races, they, you know, point to that as the historical redlining. Or these atrocities and such that have been done to, for example, African Americans. So thus they propose reparations or these status big government approaches to reconciling that with kind of payments through reparations or, you know, just all these kinds of welfare state and such. So what is the classical liberal approach to that, while also still recognizing the damage that has been done? 

Marcus Witcher: So I think we’re extremely clever in our answer to reparations. You can judge and tell me whether we are or not. But we are actually fine with the idea. So Japanese-Americans who suffered internment during World War II ultimately, during the Reagan Administration, they were also given reparations of around $20,000, or something like that; which is not anywhere close to the amount of loss that most Japanese Americans experienced during World War II,  but at least was an acknowledgement of past injustice that was carried out by the state. 

The state wronged these people, and in the case of African-Americans, we can talk about…we don’t have to go all the way back to slavery. We can just go back to Jim Crow. That’s within living memory. There are people who lived through Jim Crow, and we can identify people who faced injustice, real injustice. We can say, “okay, you were harmed by this.” Right, there’s no doubt that capital accumulation…we’re not even talking about the stolen labor of 300 years. The capital accumulation, but also the ways in which they were harmed by redlining the plowing down in neighborhoods, to the federal highway system, et cetera. So we are sympathetic to the idea of addressing those past injustices, and forcing the government to pay for them, not taxpayers. So how do we do that? We propose: we’ve got all this federal land that is unused. Why not sell the federal land, and then set up some type of, you know, reparation system with those resources. Rachel can talk a little bit more about the specific ideas we have for that, but it should be the government that pays folks, not American taxpayers. Like, how much land does the government own out west, it’s a trillion dollars worth. So, I mean, as a libertarian, the land needs to be in the private sector anyways. This is a double right. We can address past injustice, and we can get this land out of the hands of the government, and put it into more useful and purposeful sort of usage. 

Rachel Ferguson: Yeah, I mean, I’ll just add, I think the complicated story we want to tell, or the more nuanced story is to say, yes. You have systematically racist policies that get the ball rolling with housing in neighborhoods. But what that does, is it creates an isolated, ghettoized area of concentrated poverty. Which creates, and along with the Great Society, all of the problems that we see with family structure with high levels of crime, right. With the change in the culture towards education, for instance, that’s not black America, that’s inner-city-concentrated poverty, right. 80% of Black Americans are not poor. They’re living in the suburbs, middle class, majority middle class. And so we have to remember that. We shouldn’t always be saying this is a black problem; it’s really a poverty problem. 

And so what we’re doing, is we’re acknowledging the point about racist origins, but we’re also acknowledging the conservative point about cultural problems like fatherlessness, which of course you also see in poor white rural communities. And we’re saying, yeah because one causes the other so it’s just a causal chain. But I think the problem with the left’s approach is they want to go back and do like anti-racist training or something, but that was the non-proximate cause. The proximate cause now is dads don’t know what to do, right; or kids can’t talk to their dads, because their dad’s incarcerated, or whatever it might be. And so if we want to address it, we need to address the proximate cause so we actually acknowledge a lot about the points about culture there and then and then to go back to the point about reparations.

 You know the real remaining disparity right now is wealth. It’s not even really income. Black incomes are going up, they’re moving along you know at pace. It’s really wealth, and some of that is actually just the difference between there being spectacularly wealthy white people, like bill gates or something. We don’t have as many black people who have gotten there yet, so it may just be a matter of the passage of time right another generation or two. But if we want to build black wealth, then any sort of a scheme, and this is obviously a little bit of a pipe dream, right, but we want to acknowledge the genuine injustice, acknowledge that it would be the resources of the state, that would be put to use for any kind of reparations. We would want that to go towards something that would do a good job of building black wealth; whether that’s supporting black banking, for instance, or low interest loans for entrepreneurs, something that’s putting money into the wealth-generating activities of the black community; and so it would be limited.

I could go into more details about that. I don’t think it would be totally race suspect specific, so while the idea that we put forward would include all African Americans, and all native Americans, it could also be tested for poor whites. I mean, we have to remember that poor white people were deeply, deeply affected, and latinos, right. The Latino community was affected by the building of the highways, poor blacks, whites, were affected by the backwardness of the southern economy, right. And so, we want to do justice to that too, by including them. So we’re seeing it really as an economic problem. 

Marcus Witcher: I just want to say the other thing is, like the difference between, you know, if a reparation scheme came forward from the Left, and it was you know, insanely redistributive,  we would not be, we wouldn’t be on board, right; and, we we also don’t think that reparations is an actual solution. It’s not like a silver bullet, whereas I feel like some people think like well we’ll have reparations and then we’ll have like healing. It’s a way more complicated and complex problem, but I think acknowledging it in this way would be a way in which to recognize past injustice, while also using the funds from the actual perpetrators, the state, and not the individuals who are alive today, who didn’t play a part in that. We also often hear from conservatives: “I wasn’t alive.”

Audience:  So, you talked about how the government has the ability to lay the groundwork, but it can’t actually make things–I don’t say equal–but workable; so it’s necessary, but insufficient. So you could have free markets, but then if the culture isn’t put together properly, it won’t work. How do you recommend going forward and building an actual sustainable culture? Because it’s quite hard; one, you have the fallen man view. But a culture, to some degree, has to be exclusive. I wouldn’t say “hostility” towards out-groups is necessary, but you can’t include everyone. Because once you include everyone then you don’t have a culture; you just have everyone in a group, right. So what are some exclusive pillars that we could make in a culture that would include white and black people, but that would function?

Rachel Ferguson:  I think I understand your question. You know, I’m a little obsessive about this, I talk about it a lot, so I’m sorry if I’m repeating myself. But I do think that the neighborhood stabilization movement is actually a great resource for this culture building. And part of the reason for that is because it’s working in communities where the culture has been sort of the most broken down. It’s become the most destabilized; areas in which you’ve even lost family structure, right. Employment networks are shot to hell; you might be on a street with almost no one who has a job. Well, how did I get my first job? My friend Jeremy told me they were hiring over at the roast beef place, so I went over and got it. That’s how you get a job, right. And when I applied to grad school, how did I do that? Well, my professor told me what to do, and she read my paper five different times. Then you know, I applied to grad school.

So, we take those kinds of networks for granted. I have to admit, I’m just going to say this explicitly. Even with Marcus in the room, the agnostic, the neighborhood stabilization movement is a Christian movement. I mean, it just is. John Perkins, Brian Fickert, Bob Lupton, and Bob Woodson are Christians, and they are writing the books on this stuff. They are the leaders in this conversation. I was talking to Lucas who’s the head of LOVEtheLOU. I  was talking to him a couple weeks ago. LOVEtheLOU is a neighborhood stabilization organization that I’m involved with in St. Louis. Lucas has been in the neighborhood for 11 years. I was talking to him about popularizing the model; the philanthropic model of being on the ground: long-term, hyper-local, personal presence, real love, surrounding the neighbor, bringing the resources in. Not asking them to go out; presenting the alternative life right there on the block. Building the community garden, building the wood shop, building the lawnmower shop, it’s on the street. So that the 13-year-old walking by goes,  “I want to make some money on a saturday.” Right, and all of a sudden they’ve got job skills and they know how to handle things.

And so that’s the model. And I’m talking to him about this model very ground up, very decentralized right, very spontaneous order; which we love emergent order, go Hayek; but he looked me dead in the eye and he said, “Rachel, if you’re not a Christian, you’re not gonna do it.” He goes, “I’ve had my van stolen six times; three people died on the corner in 2016. You know, we’re murdered right on the corner. Now I’m moving into a new neighborhood and they hate me. The people on enright love me but the people in this neighborhood don’t know me and they hate me. They don’t trust me and nothing I’ve been doing for the last 11 years means anything to them. So why does he love them? Why does he stick with it? Why does he deal with all the mistrust, the haranguing, why does he do it? for Jesus. He does it for Jesus Christ that’s why he does it right. He has a heart of love for these people that includes a lot of self-sacrifice.

 And so I think we just have to admit that there may be a real special role for the Christians to lay down their lives now. Everybody who’s involved with LOVEtheLOU doesn’t have to do what Lucas does, don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking you all to move to the inner city if you really love people. I’m not saying that what Lucas does is a special calling. He’s like a missionary, but he calls on all of us. He’s pulling on our networks because we’re the well-networked people and his neighbors are experiencing network poverty right. So we’re coming in and hanging out with the dads; well, not me, but the dads are hanging out with the dads, right to mentor them. We’re mentoring the inner city entrepreneurs, we’re helping them deal with the weird tax regulations, right, and figure out quick books and all this kind of stuff. And so there are many of us who can be involved without that level of self-sacrifice, but we all have to feel that we’re called to make a sacrifice to lift up peoples whose lives, people whose lives have been destroyed by our foolishness; the foolishness of the United States government along with other other issues. But that one is a major one, so I do think there’s a real culture there, and you see it in the book. 

We describe, for instance, the person of peace. And this is a person…they’re kind of like an anchored person in the community who’s really trusted by the neighbors. They’ve lived there all their lives, they want to redeem the neighborhood; but they haven’t been empowered, and they haven’t been encouraged. And so Lucas finds these people and he lifts them up, right, and then he introduces them to one another. And then they’re ready to go. And Bob Lupton talks about this in his book; where he opens the secondhand store instead of giving out the Christmas shoe boxes, so parents can come and buy the presents for themselves, because that’s more dignified. And then what happens? The women start wanting to run the store. So what do we see in this culture? We see that there’s a real humility to the people who are involved. There’s a Christ-like love and self-sacrifice, but there’s also a real entrepreneurial spirit, an honoring of the creativity, and the vision of the neighbors themselves; a willingness to step back from my own agenda, and subordinate it to their vision for their own neighborhood.

So I see a lot of elements there that really form a very particular way of life, and it’s quite beautiful, and weirdly it’s very apolitical. Carlene, who mentors the students, is black but she’s like a big republican and very very conservative. Some of the other people who are working in the gardens, for instance, are like St. Louis University biology professors who have, you know, much more…they’re Christians, but they’re much more progressive in their politics. But guess what? Nobody talks about any of that. Because when you get down on the street level, that’s just not what you’re doing. We’re not arguing about that part, and so we’re able to work together; and it’s really an interesting cultural milieu. 

Audience: I have to say, okay, so it seems like you’re saying that the culture is ready, but it needs to be activated by some sort of infrastructure above it. And then once the infrastructure is ready then there will be a solution. Is that the idea?

Rachel Ferguson: Well, I want to be really careful with the phrase above it, because you know how we feel about central planning. I know what you mean culture, and then there’s infrastructure,yeah yeah yeah. And I think the infrastructure is really in our philanthropic models that are in our churches, our non-profit administration programs, our social work programs. You need to get that model flipped, and the people who are the ones who are going to be called to that kind of work. There’s actually, Brian Fickert runs something called the Chalmers Center. And the Chalmers Center, you can send your church mission board there, and they’ll train them on how to flip their philanthropic models. Stop doing the Christmas Shoe boxes, and start doing the really dignifying form of philanthropy. So I think that’s the sort of infrastructure we want to create, and then just let that beautiful emergent order happen because each local situation is different. So do you think…sorry if I’m going too long…

Audience: Do you think the government could work with that flipped model or do you think it has to come from churches and other social groups?

Rachel Ferguson: I don’t, I don’t, I would not I would…

Marcus Witcher: Surprise…I would not trust the bureaucrat or the central planners with this. They’re not close enough to the ground. It’s the use of knowledge, it’s society. Hayek, I think the greatest economic article written in the 20th century; I mean, you had to get close to the problem to know, to get to know the people, to know the needs, to develop the culture organically. like it cannot come…government’s face to face; it’s face to face, I mean. Here’s one of the other things we emphasize in the book; the government destroyed many of these communities. But the government you know can destroy very quickly but it doesn’t have the tools of the means by which to actually create a vibrant culture, community, family. It can’t do that. That work has to be done by individuals on the ground working together. As you know, in community, through fellowship, to actually build those institutions that will actually lead to flourishing. So yeah no, not from the top down, not from the state.

Rachel Ferguson: I think you know the only sense in which we would, I guess think about at least policy, would just be forms of deregulation. Just getting out of people’s way, right. Letting the hair braiders braid hair, letting the barbers barb, I don’t know, cut hair. You know, maybe things like economic opportunity zones. Like, Tim Scott; will those work, if we close the gap of sort of the bandwidth of the community members? Maybe. I mean, you know I’m always for taxing people less, which I guess is what he’s doing in those zones. But do I think that’s really going to be the way that it happens? No. It’s the bottom-up stuff that’s really going to make the difference, yeah. 

Audience: Okay, thank you.

Rachel Ferguson: Thank you, great question. Anybody else? Yeah can you come up to the mic, yes. Because I think we have people listening online, yeah.

Audience: Just to piggyback on the questions. So yeah it’s interesting; how do you incentivize if the churches are probably the, at least one of the superheroes that can kind of really make it happen; how do you incentivize churches? Especially given that the church, unfortunately, is not probably one of the most popular places for young people, millennials these days.

Rachel Ferguson: Yeah really interesting question. So first I always make the point that actually black Americans are the most religious demographic in America. It’s true that church attendance is going down among young people. Remember that a lot of young people go back to church when they have kids. But that’s just kind of a pattern that’s always been true, but even though that’s also happening among black millennials, they still are more religious than white millennials. In terms of things like prayer, believing in God, reading the bible, et cetera, there is still some momentum there to take advantage of.

But I also think it’s really interesting to notice. I don’t know if you are in a church milieu, or if you’ve noticed this, but the idea that some of the ways we’ve been doing missions and philanthropy are really bad. That’s actually much more common now. Have you guys kind of critiqued our short-term mission trips where we go paint the school for the third time? You know what I mean. And everybody’s like, “Yeah, we know.” And so I actually feel like culturally among those who are religious you actually kind of know this. and then it’s a question of okay, but how do I change the model?  We all kind of know that we’re doing things in a toxic way. How do we do it in a non-toxic way? And so I think you know groups like the Chalmers Center bringing in church mission boards and training them is really really helpful.

The Acton Institute has a great series of videos called “Poverty Cure,” where you can actually take. It’s four churches to go through, and sort of relearn how they think about these issues, and so you know, I believe in the church, in spite of everything. Because deeply imperfect, and so much healing that needs to happen; but I do believe that Jesus is at work in His church, and so I see those little sparks that give me hope; that we can turn things around. Does that answer your question?

Audience: Oh yeah absolutely. I think, you know, I feel like the black church has always been like the backbone, traditionally for empowerment economics. But it’s unfortunately, you don’t have those leaders probably well represented throughout government throughout leadership in this country so it becomes almost a lot for the leaders of religious communities to have to say, “Well, I just want to be in my sphere, create change, but I don’t want to have to also be in Congress three days of the week too.” That’s a lot.

Rachel Ferguson: Yeah, right. And so that that’s actually a great point. I would love it if the churches would not be focusing on policy. I mean, Christians can focus on policy because they’re called to do policy, but pastors, right, who are thinking about the way, who are leading their churches; I would rather actually that they be focused on the pastoral work of neighborhood stabilization. And actually, they should take advantage of the businessmen sitting in the pews, to work on the economic development side of things.

I actually think there’s a lot of Christian businessmen who are showing up to church, sitting in their pew, feeling kind of useless. Because we talk in church like, “You’re here to come into my building, and do volunteer work, or be a greeter, or write me a check, or something.” But that’s not actually speaking to any of the gifts that business people have been given, right. And so if you’re saying, “Hey you know taxes. can you help this inner city entrepreneur?” All of a sudden, it’s my gifts that are being used for the kingdom of God. 

And I think it’s actually quite sad to think about. Many of the people who are sitting in the pew think, “well, I guess my job is just secular, and it doesn’t do anything for the Kingdom of God.” Now of course, I want them to think of the work that they do every day Monday through Friday as contributing to the kingdom of god as well. But the idea that they could give to someone in this really wonderful way through their skill set? I think it could be incredibly powerful in our churches, kind of awaken a whole group of men that are maybe feeling somewhat lackadaisical spiritually. Say it again in…women and business women…

But the reason I say men is because the church can often, except for the pastor, the church can often have very, a lot of activity from the women. With men kind of going to church because their wife wants them to sometimes. And I mean I’ve talked to pastors about this they’re like, “so many women whose husbands don’t even come to church.” Or you know “they’re not really leading in a spiritual way.” And I think that sometimes that’s because they’re not even really being asked to identify with the kingdom of God, in terms of the things that matter in their lives. And so this could be a real way to make that connection.

Audience: Thanks.

Rachel Ferguson: Thanks, also a great question.

Mark Tooley: Well Marcus and Rachel, thank you so much for a wonderful presentation from both of you. Thank you for participation by the audience with your excellent questions. And we have copies of…George, am I on camera? We have copies of their book available here, being sold at reasonable prices I’m sure.

Rachel Ferguson: $18 on Very approachable, both in terms of readability, and price. 

Mark Tooley: All right, so make sure you get a copy before you leave, and thank you again. 

Rachel and Marcus: Thank you, thank you for having me.

  1. Comment by Theodore Miner on June 21, 2022 at 3:32 pm

    Once again we are faced with confused “racial justice” jargon. Are we talking about the past, present or future? If the past, those racial injustices have already been acknowledged. If the present, there is no racial injustice today (disparities do not equate to injustice). If the future, then guilt shaming the White majority will not be the way forward. Until we can clean-up racialized language and category mistakes, the divisions will continue.

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