Since the early days of the Clinton administration and even more frequently during President Bush's time in office, political leaders have turned to churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith-based organizations for solutions to some of the nation's more perplexing social challenges.
The Bush administration created the White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to coordinate, focus and help fund the efforts of the "armies of compassion."
I confess I have serious reservations about just how much communities of faith can accomplish given the daunting nature of some of the challenges facing the nation, especially in urban areas.
Having admitted as much, I am going to suggest an idea that I believe could help in the transformation of inner city America.
Think with me for a moment as I try to explain.
In every city in the nation, every year, communities of faith launch capital campaigns to expand, refurbish and build new buildings for their own use.
For example, here in Dallas two years ago, three large churches raised a total of over $100 million to expand their church campuses.
Like most capital fundraising efforts, each of these included a "missional" dimension that earmarked a small percentage of the total given to be set aside for outreach activities, either foreign or domestic.
What if those three churches had agreed to designate just 5% (half a tithe) of their capital funds to create what we might call a replinishable community development loan fund.
On day one the fund, created by just three churches, would have had $5 million of operating capital.
The fund would be managed by a board of directors appointed from the participating churches. These decision makers would most likely be laypersons who currently have limited involvement in the day-to-day works of the faith communities in question and each would find new and meaningful work that aligns consistently with their own talents and special expertise.
The fund would be used to make loans to community development corporations with proven track records. Funds could be used for pre-development costs and/or for leveraging interim financing on housing and economic development projects that benefit the renewal of low-income communities. The low or no interest loans would be paid back to the fund once the various projects began to cash flow. Only projects with sound business plans would be selected for funding.
The fund would grow by adding new partners, as other faith groups conducted capital campaigns. Possibly a city's interfaith or ecumenical group could help coordinate the establishment and growth of such funds.
The impact of this kind of economic vehicle would be enormous.
Our experience at Central Dallas Ministries reveals that even a small amount of working capital can be leveraged many times over as projects get underway. What most community-based, community development corporations lack is adequate seed money to get projects moving.
Communities of faith could make an important difference by mobilizing a small percentage of their available wealth and by involving a few people with the necessary financial skills to help competent CDCs do their part to rebuild America's cities.
It is something to consider.