In 2005, finances were tight at the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens. The church had spent more than $20 million on a new building project that ran over budget and went into litigation. The church’s leaders wondered how they could make ends meet.
One day, the Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries Jr. drove up to the church for an event, and had what he now describes as an epiphany.
“I saw these expensive cars in the parking lot of the church, including a Maserati,” Soaries said. “I knew these people. We have some wonderful people in this church, but I’m not sure they’re making that kind of money.”
Soaries realized that members of his congregation — and people everywhere — were struggling under mountains of debt to sustain an image-conscious lifestyle in a consumer culture. He realized that breaking that cycle of debt would give individuals a sounder financial foundation, and in turn strengthen their support for institutions such as churches.
The result was “dFree,” a church program that taught church members about the need to be debt-free, and offered them peer support. After Soaries watched 600 families go through some degree of “dFree” training, he realized he needed to document the strategy.
His new book, “dFree: Breaking Free from Financial Slavery,” outlines the ideas of the dFree program. Soaries kicked off a national book tour on Sunday at the church, signing copies of “dFree” for long lines of congregants.
“I think too many people are struggling and debt-laden, and when you live like that you run from the telephones,” said Bob Evans, a church member who bought Soaries’ book. “You’re living in anxiety.”
Soaries, who like the members of his church is black, knows the book title is provocative. But he insists that debt is analogous to slavery.
“You lose control over your life when you submit your life to debt,” he said. “Black people don’t want anything to be equal to slavery. I am challenging orthodoxy on purpose.”
Among the book’s ideas are that people need support to free themselves from debt. Soaries doesn’t ask them to go it alone – he suggests a group approach.
“This is an emotional kind of journey, and we need to be capable of sharing our stories and supporting each other,” he said.
At Lincoln Gardens, said church member Charles Brown, those who pay off debts sometimes stand for recognition during “debt-free Sunday” services.
“There are very few places you can go where people will cheer you for paying off a debt,” Brown said.
Soaries wants his readers to consider the real costs of seemingly small items. A daily latte at the local coffee shop, for example, adds up to significant money over a period of weeks or months.
“Cable is not a necessity. Cable is a luxury — especially premium cable,” he said.
He wants people to consider the legacy they will leave their children — an inheritance, or a stack of bills? And he wants churches to take the lead in teaching people how they can be financially free.
“I believe we have a responsibility to the people whose dollars pay the church bills to help them pay their own bills,” Soaries said.
He thinks prosperity theology — which teaches that riches come to those who get right with God — sends the wrong message.
“I believe that churches have exacerbated the consumer mentality,” he said.
In coming weeks, Soaries will take his book tour to Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other cities.
Hunduris Munn, who bought Soaries’ book on Sunday, said he “wanted to see how it can enhance my life.”
Angela Lopez and her daughter Aleyah, 14, bought two copies. Lopez said it would teach many more people about techniques for managing debt, such as paying in cash.
Brown has already read the book, which retails for $14.99 and is published by Zondervan, and said it helps readers prioritize and live within their means.
“It is a practical guide. It’s not a theoretical guide,” he said.
For additional information on Booking Dr. Buster Soaries5 for your event call 615-283-0039.