“We have never seen as midnight an hour as we face this week,” the Rev. Charles Ellis told several thousand congregants at a rousing service at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple. “This week, lives are hanging above an abyss of uncertainty as both houses of Congress decide whether to extend a helping hand.”
Local car dealerships donated three hybrid SUVs to be displayed during the service, one from each of the Big Three. A Ford Escape, Chevy Tahoe from GM and a Chrysler Aspen were parked just in front of the choir and behind the pulpit.
Ellis said he and other Detroit ministers would pray and fast until Congress voted on a bailout for Detroit’s embattled automakers. He urged his congregation to do the same.
Other Detroit-area religious leaders—including Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders convened by Cardinal Adam Maida—have urged Congress to approve an auto aid package.
But the service dedicated to saving Motown’s signature industry at Greater Grace Temple was the highest profile effort to mobilize support yet.
“Everybody can’t live on Wall Street. Everybody can’t live on Main Street. But all of us have lived on the side street, the working class,” Ellis said. “I call it the working class because everything tells me there is no more middle class.”
Key Democratic lawmakers and the Bush administration were locked in negotiations over the weekend aimed at offering at least $15 billion in short-term loans to keep General Motors Corp (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Chrysler LLC from immediate bankruptcy.
Automakers and their political allies contend a collapse by the industry would cost up to 3 million jobs as suppliers, dealers and companies in related industries were hit in turn.
Representing the 150,000 unionized workers at GM, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), UAW Vice President General Holiefield said the industry had made its case for emergency funding as strongly as it could.
“We have done all we can do in this union, so I’m going to turn it over to the Lord,” Holiefield told the congregation.
Ellis said he started to organize the service last week after hearing from auto workers, retirees and their widows who were all fearful of even harder times.
At one point, Ellis summoned up hundreds of auto workers and retirees in the congregation to come forward toward the vehicles on the altar to be anointed with oil.
“It’s all about hope. You can’t dictate how people will think, how they will respond, how they will vote,” Ellis said after the service. “But you can look to God. We believe he can change the minds and hearts of men and women in power, and that’s what we tried to do today.”
Reminds me of this story, about a group of people who flew from across the country to pray outside Hollywood United Methodist when gas prices got really bad 30 months ago; one woman even drove in from Corona—100 miles roundtrip. Other groups continued these public prayers for cheaper fuel this summer.
“People seek - what is the word I’m looking for? - relief in many ways,” said Jeff Spring, a spokesman for the Automobile Club of Southern California. “We would recommend they continue to try to cut their use of gas to try to lower the prices. Reduced demand will lower their prices.”
What about asking for help from above?
“I’ll leave that question up to the theologians,” Spring said.
God should not be expected to step in for American automakers own mistakes. Yes, in times of need we should turn to God for help. But we also need to take responsibility for our own actions. I’m still not sure how I feel about an auto bailout, but I certainly don’t want Congress to be obliged to pass it because people prayed so.
Of even more concern, though, the pastor’s introduction of a new street—not Wall or Main but “side”—in that beat-to-death analogy.