Pastor Solomon Kinloch, is man to watch in Detroit’s future. Cloaked in a gentle character, Kinloch pastors one of the largest and fastest growing churches in Detroit. The senior pastor of Triumph Church has been hailed as one of the most authentic and dependable voices on issues affecting average Detroiters. With deep roots in the black religious tradition, growing up at New Bethel Baptist Church, where Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul belonged, Kinloch is taking his church on a path of social consciousness and liberation theology that is reminiscent of the civil rights era.
In this in-depth interview with journalist Bankole Thompson, the editor-chief of The PuLSE Institute, Detroit’s independent and non-partisan anti-poverty think tank, Kinloch opens up to the Institute by explaining the theology that is driving him to speak out for the least of these. He indicts the political and civic leadership response to the coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging the lives of Detroiters. Read on.
PULSE: How should Detroit churches respond to the challenges of the coronavirus?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: The church must remain the beacon of faith, hope and spirituality for the community. In times of need, the church must also fill the role of providing essential services to our community either through food distribution, welfare checks on senior citizens, and providing necessary services to those impacted by the virus.
PULSE: What impact do you think COVID-19 will have on the city?
SOLOMON KINLOCH. The virus is having a devastating impact on the community. The loss of schooling for our children, senior citizens being impacted by lack of access to basic services, our homeless population being literally left to fend for themselves, the loss of income for residents already living on the margins of life will impact the economic viability of the city for years to come. We must, however, begin the process of planning for the future so we are not caught flat-footed for future occurrences and chart a path for our recovery.
PULSE: Are you surprised by the high rate of confirmed cases in Detroit?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: No. Given the high incidences of underlying medical conditions- diabetes, obesity, high levels of asthma–lack of access to affordable healthcare, lack of transportation for people to get to and from health care appointments, lack of aggressive enforcement of social distancing in the beginning of this situation all contributed to our high infection rates.
PULSE: What specific lesson do you think Detroit should learn from this pandemic?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: Be prepared. Planning for such an event should have begun much earlier. Clearly defining the roles for social services agencies and churches in how to engage in this situation — what roles they were to play should have been explained; better coordination and communication of our emergency preparedness plan should have occurred so that people understand what to expect; greater protection of first responders should have been provided, and finally a more aggressive stance on what kinds of conduct would/would not be acceptable should have been communicated. There has been no real transparency in explaining what our community is facing.
PULSE: Can the church today be a catalyst for social change?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: The church has and always will be a catalyst for social change in the black community. A central part of my theological doctrine involves inspiring folks to overcome their circumstances, to believe in their faith, and to challenge the status quo where wrongs have occurred. We cannot stand idly by while injustice and inequity permeates our community. We must challenge the status quo in order to move people to action.
PULSE: Do you see the work of the black church presently as a continuation of the role it played during the Civil Rights Movement?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: The black church will always be active in the civil rights movement. You can go back as far as Nat Turner, who led one of the bloodiest slave revolts in American history and through Martin Luther King who led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. We have always been at the forefront of the movement for progress and freedom.
PULSE: How should the black church respond to Detroit’s poverty crisis?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: We must be the most vocal, the most active, the most thoughtful force in the community to advocate for those living on the margins of society. Given the level of poverty in this city, we don’t have the luxury of just preaching to folks’ souls. We must be active in providing the skills necessary for folks to uplift their lives. I call it religion with a purpose.
PULSE: You’ve been very vocal about the $600 million over-taxation of Detroit homeowners. In fact, you are the only prominent minister in the city to speak out forcefully on the record about the issue. Explain the kind of theology or doctrine that informs you to do so?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: Theology must always address wrongs that occur in our community. I find it reprehensible that we can grant multi-million dollar tax breaks to billionaires; yet dismiss the plight of thousands of Detroiters who have been overtaxed, placed in perpetual tax payment plans, loss of their homes, and stripped of generational wealth, with no remedy for their suffering. Just like a “Grand Bargain” was created to save the art collection of the DIA, a Grand Bargain needs to be struck to provide compensation for Detroiters wronged.
PULSE: What would you like to see happen differently that could change the trajectory of things in the recovery of Detroit?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: The focus must be on neighborhood development. A greater emphasis on allocation of resources in areas outside of the 7.5 square mile areas comprising downtown and Midtown must occur. Greater emphasis on job training and development, affordable housing retention and development, mortgage programs to encourage and retain homeownership, entrepreneurial development, low cost access to capital for small businesses are needed to change the trajectory of the city’s so called renaissance.
PULSE: There is a school of thought that believes that ministers should not be political and must stay away from social issues. What is your response?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: It’s not being political to address the social ills of the community. That’s part of our mission as a church. If people are offended by our involvement, so be it. We must be active to support those whose values reflect those of our church.
PULSE: You pastor a growing intergenerational church. Do you feel a responsibility to serve as an ambassador of your congregation to those who control the levers of power at City Hall?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: No. Those who wield the levers of power in the city have the responsibility to my congregation, a large percentage of whom live in the city. My obligation is to make sure that their needs are addressed by those in power. If confrontation accomplishes that purpose, so be it.
PULSE: You recently challenged other members of the clergy in Detroit to step up and express public sensitivity to the issues of the day. Do you think the black church needs reformation?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: I can’t speak to other churches. Triumph continues to evolve as the circumstances around us change–but our basic tenet remains the same, a church where the “Word is the Word”. We remain committed to uplifting the spiritual and social needs of our membership, as well as those who live in our community and whose needs we service.
PULSE: Why is it important for the Christian faith to offer a critique of any government that presides over the welfare of people?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: We must provide guiding principles for those in power to abide by. Our leadership cannot accomplish broader goals and objectives if the values of those in power are not reflected in our leadership. Political leadership must always be challenged by spiritual leadership of the church.
PULSE: What worries you at night when you go to bed?
SOLOMON KINLOCH: Those who live on the margins of society, and who have lost hope in our community. We must actively engage this segment of our community. All is not lost. There is hope.