A black Baptist leader is urging black churches across the United States to set goals for reducing by 25 percent the rate of black divorce, teen pregnancy, illiteracy, murder and HIV infection by 2012, and increasing the adoption of black foster children.
The goals are part of the ambitious Save the Family Now initiative that the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr. presented this week as more than 45,000 delegates of the National Baptist Convention USA attended the group's annual Congress of Christian Education.
Holmes said it was time for black clergy to lead a movement not unlike the fight for civil rights 40 years ago. Ministers must challenge the culture and forces that have hurt the black family and community, including those who "demean, degrade and belittle our mothers and daughters," said Holmes, who is congress president for the several million-member Baptist convention.
Over the last 20 years, the Bethel Missionary Baptist church he pastors in Florida has partnered with others to provide senior citizen housing, charter schools, mental health clinics, opportunities for first-time home-buyers, even a restaurant to train people for work.
He wants to identify 25 cities that could duplicate the model for their churches.
"That," he said, "is a church ministry."
On Friday, panels of black clergy, mayors and educators from historically black colleges and universities discussed strategies for bolstering the black family.
"We can't give Nelly, 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg a pass," Holmes said. "We'll take it as far as it needs to go to challenge the music, the lyrics and videos that bring about total devastation of the black family."
Stanley Hillard of Houston, who heads the National Baptist Married Couples Conference, said drugs, AIDS, incarceration and military service have taken fathers out of the home.
"No matter how it's lost, it's lost," he said. "We have to address all the areas."