Can the Christian Church Help Montgomery, Alabama?

I live in Montgomery, Alabama. I have lived and ministered here for almost 10 years. This past week, a horrible division occurred on Montgomery's school board along racial lines. Today, an article comes out confirming what everyone knows: White flight has completely taken hold in Montgomery County.  In just 8 years, whites have gone from 50% of the population of the county to 45% and the number is declining fast.  What will it be in 10 more years? Blacks have gone from 49% to 54% approximately. Of course, whether the city is primarily white or black does not really matter – it is the stigma that is attached to racial differences here that is so devastating. Racial division increases here as whites move to northern

counties to get away from the problems that exist in the city, both real and perceived. Suburban blight has claimed many neighborhoods that were once good places to live and retail areas that were once thriving now sit vacant. The public schools face serious performance and funding issues. Around 90% of the 32,000 students are black and 60% of those students live below the poverty line. White citizens don't want to fund a school system that they don't send their children to, so property taxes are some of the lowest in the state. There are basically two school systems existing of primarily white private academies and primarily black public schools. Crime abounds among a growing underclass population. The morale of the citizens of the city is very low and no one thinks that anything can be done about it.  Old Montgomery business interests keep building new developments to make more and more money without thought of how it affects neighborhoods and how it destroys communities as the developments and growth prove to be unstainable.  It is a planning disaster, but money makes the machine run.  

As for the churches, there are well over 300 churches in a city of around 220,000. 57 of them are Southern Baptist. If you drive around the city, it seems that there is a church building on every street corner. Most of the churches are half empty and consist primarily of senior adults. Almost all of the churches are composed of just one race as 11:00 on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in our community. Very few churches are involved in their communities in any meaningful way.  Nearly everyone claims to be a Christian here, but according to the most accurate estimates available, only 28% attend church and of those that do, how many are really involved in sacrficing to change their communities for the better?

Still, Montgomery primarily struggles from a lack of imagination brought on by generations of oppression, division, and racism. My family lives in an old neighborhood just a few minutes from downtown. We have a great house in a great neighborhood. Montgomery is a great place to live and raise our children. We are fortunate that our kids go to the public magnet schools and are receiving a great education. We are happy and we have decided that this is where God has placed us and the walls of division that have destroyed the potential of this city, the state Capitol of Alabama, the first capitol of the Confederacy, and the Birthplace of Civil Rights – well, those walls must come down.  It really is what you make of it and it is amazing how much of a better perspective you have on people and events when you see things through the eyes of faith. 

But, not everyone sees things that way. Here are just a few of the many comments from local citizens about Montgomery posted in the comment section of the aforementioned article on our local newspaper's website. Read these comments and tell me how you would be a missionary in a city like this:

MichaelLange wrote:
Montgomery is the most racially divided city I have ever lived in. The school system is 100% segregated with a majority of the white students attending private schools while the public schools are disproportionately black. Sometimes I feel like the problem is already too far gone to be fixed, I honestly hope I'm wrong. But as long as our elected officials live with their head in the sand I guess we will never see real progress and change. It's time to call it what it is and look for real solutions and we can start by electing school board members and other elected officials that want to represent all segments of the population and do what is best for the city and the county.
7/4/2009 6:45:02 AM
Proculator wrote:
You wil note that blacks are fleeing Montgomery too. Does anyone think middle class blacks approve of the thugs running the streets as they are more likely to become a victim than a white person. Tallahassee Florida has some of the same problems as Montgomery but there has been no white flight out of the city.
Maybe we should send some of city commissioners and staff and talk with them. Look around Montgomery as some areas in the West, the old Madison Ave sections and south Montgomery have become what whites describe as the Black Plague destroying good mixed neighborhoods street by street house by house. Slumloads are ignored by the city code enforcement because after all "Black folks like to live in the slums." When tourists visit Old Montgomery they have to be let in the main complex by a guard after pushing a button due to the thugs. Welcome to Montgomery folks this is how it is. It's not. There are a lot of mixed neighborhoods that work.
williethemole wrote:
I often doubt statistics when Montgomery claims crime rates are down, but even if they are down, they're still incredibly high, much too high for any honest family looking to relocate here.
As for the school system, it's a disaster that will more than likely never improve.As long as students are allowed to disrupt classrooms with little if any retribution, those families, both black and white, that truly want a good education for their kids will look elsewhere.Who can blame them?
Montgomery has many problems to deal with and a large percentage of it's population that seemingly just doesn't care.Our main thoroughfares are often covered with litter, once decent neighborhoods are even worse.The city is ugly and poorly planned for the most part.You can't have a movie theatre, mall or other similar places to visit without our infamous thug element eventually ruining it for everyone else.
I feel for Todd Strange because I truly believe he wants the best for the city..Good Luck mayor.
7/4/2009 6:52:33 AM

stay_fokuzed wrote:
Middle-class blacks and whites are fed up with the rampant thugery and racial hating that always seems to raise its ugly head and prevent any natural progression. When city officials make attempts to reduce this rampant thugery it gets labeled as racial profiling. The demise of the Montgomery Mall is a perfect example of this. Making excuses for crimes a person commits just because they are same race as you is another major problem. Step up, be a leader, and instead of focusing on race, focus on right and wrong regardless of race.
7/4/2009 7:18:11 AM

williethemole wrote:

Replying to bitemehindend:

As much as I hate to be a part of trend, as soon as my husband and I can sell our house we are out of Montgomery too. I have lived in montgomery for 37 of my 39 years and it pains me but I just don't want to live in this city anymore.

I have a pending contract on my house now, and hope (fingers AND toes crossed) that the potential buyer closes by the end of the month.No real matter however, since I have a modest place waiting for me 40 miles south of the city and will move anyway regardless.Sadly, I've pretty much had to give the place away for obvious reasons, but there is no price tag on happiness, and I'm absolutely miserable in this town.
I will urge anyone that can afford it to flee this place ASAP. It's only going to get more depressing as the generations that follow yours will be far worse than what's residing here now.
This was a quiet and relatively peaceful town 30 years ago, but those days are gone forever.The "blight" has destroyed Montgomery.

Brutal, isn't it? This type of talk is not just on the newspaper's website. I hear it all the time. The statistics are not good and there are definitely real problems. But, many of those problems are enhanced and become unsolvable from the reality that is created by negative perception. I just came from the city's 4th of July Fireworks Show downtown on the Riverfront. There were thousands of people there – white and black alike. Families. Couples. Singles. Kids. Everyone was having a good time and it was very peaceful. Everyone got along. It was really, really nice. I saw no negative incidents and like I said, there were thousands of people there. If you read the newspapers or talked to people, you would expect to be viciously attacked and beaten if you leave the house. Yet, the reality is much different. Montgomery is actually pretty peaceful.  But the fact that thousands of white and black citizens came together tonight and had a wonderful time will do nothing to erase the negative perception that exists in the minds of people when it comes to this city. Montgomery faces a spiritual problem of immense proportions.
Are there other problems? Absolutely. Family breakdown has destroyed this community in many ways and it happens in both white and black households.  There are problems in the schools and in our communities. Racial division continues to cause us to distrust one another and assume the worst. But again, I think that all of these problems are spiritual problems at their core. At the same time, there are many good things about Montgomery. It is a very family oriented city.  People are generally decent (despite the utopian fantasies that might exist among those who want to move to another community).  It is not hard to raise a family here. But, how does the city move forward and address it's problems?
This is where the Church should come in, I would think. Spiritual problems require spiritual answers. Why can't the Church promote a different future than the past that is tearing us apart? Why can't God do miracles and turn a city around? Why can't He revive His people here? Is He too weak? Does He not hear our prayers? Are we praying? Are we obeying? We are to pray, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." (Matt. 6:9-15). What would it look like if God's will was done in Montgomery? What would it look like if His people began living out His will in this city? If we began praying bold prayers? 
Christians need to stop running. I'm talking about both white and black Christians. White Christians are fleeing the city and black Christians continue to just have church inside their walls. White Christians do the same, actually. We need to live out what we believe and stop being so afraid to engage the real problems in the lives of people. We need to reclaim our communities, get involved in the schools, and proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to call for and demonstrate justice. We need to stop retreating. What are we afraid of? Are we afraid of losing something? If we had laid down our lives like we were supposed to, we wouldn't have anything to lose. So, because we are afraid of losing our lives, we cannot be disciples of Christ and we don't have any power from the Lord (Luke 9:23-26).  We just have our lifestyles and our comfort to protect and maintain.  It is a travesty.
We need to pray for and believe God for a different future for this city. We need to have some HOPE in a God who can raise the dead and calls things that are not as though they were (Romans 4:17). Where is our faith? Where is our power? 
In 20 years, the churches in this city will have dried up. Thousands more people will have moved away. Neighborhoods will have crumbled, housing values will have dropped, retail areas will be abandoned, and schools will be completely broken. Crime will be rampant. You won't be able to raise children here. Racial division will continue and good people of both races will not know what to do. 
Churches will explode with spiritual growth. White and black people will come together to worship God and love one another in Christ in the SAME church. People will stay and reclaim their communities. Neighborhoods will flourish as neighbors learn to support one another – white and black together.  Businesses will flock to the city. Schools will improve and there will be safe, healthy environments for children to learn and grow. Crime will be reduced because people will not want to live that way. Families will populate this city. Racial division will melt under the hand of the Lord who makes the two one and destroys the dividing wall of hostility in Himself. 
Or, maybe the future will be somewhere in between. What really matters is if we, as the people of God, are faithful to follow Christ, love sacrificially, and to live out a different future based on hope instead of despair. 
Which future will we have? I am tired of just giving in. I turn 35 years old this month. How am I going to spend my life? Running? Talking about Jesus but not living like Him? Can a city be changed? Can a city be turned back to God? Can Christians actually act like followers of Jesus?
It is now after midnight – July 5. Sunday – The Lord's Day. We just celebrated Independence Day and remembered all those who died to make America free, yet we won't lay down our lives for the Lord to make our cities holy. Things should change and they should change with me. 
What about you? Will you stop running away from problems and engage people with acts of sacrificial love?  What would the future look like if we did?   

4 Responses to Can the Christian Church Help Montgomery, Alabama?

  1. Alan I find it very interesting that you typically get comments on the majority of your postings…
    but not this one. Julie and I have lived in Montgomery, Philly, Ft. Worth, Miami, and now New Orleans. The problems Montgomery is having are not unique to Montgomery. All cities are dealing with them. However there is a since of sensationalism every time I go home and hear how awful Montgomery has become. It’s just not that bad and the things that need to be fixed can be if Montgomery wants them to be fixed. As whole the Churchs in Montgomery have been way to lazy and indifferent in their role and when there is one that stands up they are ignored at best. I appreciate your work in my hometown. Thanks for your diligence to the Call of Christ.

  2. Michael, good to hear from you. I hope that you and Julie are doing well. Yeah, I can pretty much guarantee that when I write about stuff like this, I won’t get much interaction. I don’t think that people quite know what to say about it. It is clear that we have forgotten how to pray “Kingdom Come” type prayers. We have settled for the status quo and our major hope is in living our best life now.

  3. Thank you for writing this. We live in Cloverdale and are facing serious problems with the school system- we are zoned for Floyd Elementary and you can Google it if you wonder why we’re not considering it an option. Our 5 year old was wait-listed for magnet school (which is eventually a lottery), with little to no hope of getting in even though he passed the interview. Now we’re probably going to be forced into homeschooling- we can’t afford the multi-thousand dollar a year tuitions at the private schools. It just breaks my heart that my child will not get to go to what he calls “real school.”