ONE of the foremost criticisms of just about any church is that it is concerned only about increasing membership rolls and collections, and that its leaders do little more than mention the social ills outside its walls.
That criticism has applied somewhat less to African-American churches. After all, the black church was initially the only organization through which slaves could mount action to address civil rights injustices. That's why so many warriors in the civil rights movement have been preachers.
Nevertheless, black churches have had to weather that condemnation. It is true that for many, the focus has been solely on saving souls and not on the battles that people must wage before the opening hymn and after the benediction.
In Toledo, though, those criticisms are less applicable to many churches because their leaders and members have tackled social injustices head-on. Members of Toledoans United for Social Action - an organization of young, elderly, black, white, and Hispanic people of various denominations - realize that though they are not of the world, they are in the world. They feel compelled by biblical edict to work to improve the lives of everyone.
Consequently, officials of TUSA - whose parent organization, Direct Action Research Training, has groups throughout the nation - target social injustice. They take their case to political and other officials to ask for commitments to address whatever issue is on the table. Members ask others to get involved by at least attending TUSA meetings.
The results are immensely effective. At a TUSA meeting this week, more than 1,250 area residents gathered to hold public officials accountable on the subjects of crime and education. TUSA audiences want a simple yes-or-no response from politicians about their commitment to helping the group improve residents' lives. If they refuse to make such a commitment, they are asked to explain why.
TUSA members research issues to find solutions that work in other communities. Before public meetings, they meet with authorities to present their findings and propose solutions. Then, in front of audiences, TUSA asks authorities for their assistance to bring similar programs to Toledo.
At this week's meeting, TUSA got commitments from Lucas County Sheriff James Telb and County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak to help set up a tour of a Cuyahoga County program for drug and alcohol abusers that could be a model for a similar effort here.
TUSA also singled out Ms. Wozniak and Toledo City Councilman Joe McNamara for their roles in obtaining money for a "green jobs" training program.
Though TUSA has been at work since 1992, it seems to have moved to the front of the public stage in recent years. Among the issues it addresses are jobs, home foreclosures, vacant and abandoned properties, neighborhood safety, prostitution, and other daunting problems that affect all residents.
Schools are a perennial issue. In the 1990s, the rate of student discipline and suspensions attracted much of TUSA's attention. Today, TUSA is concerned about an especially worrisome topic: voters' rejection this week of Toledo Public Schools' income tax levy request.
To be sure, education and crime are linked. Education lessens the likelihood of a person becoming involved in crime; less education increases that likelihood.
And when the dire straits of our schools adversely affect students, it's likely there will be increases in disruptive behavior, truancy, and dropout problems that could lead to spikes in drug abuse, alcohol consumption, and crime.
It would be easy for churches to ignore these problems and to focus on shoring up members' spirituality. To do that would be an affront to God, who requires followers to do justice and to love mercy.
TUSA is not a minority organization that wages social battles solely on behalf of blacks, Hispanics, or women. Whites are very much involved too. The diversity of its meetings speaks volumes about whom TUSA represents and intercedes for.
That is everyone in society, including you.
Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.