Revelation Corporation of America, a cutting-edge partnership among corporations, churches, and charities, is anything but short of ambition.

Board members call their plan to harness some of the $400 billion annual buying power of African Americans "the most revolutionary economic-development project ever in the history of our nation."

Five black denominations, representing more than 15 million members in 43,000 churches, have organized a merchandising plan that will not only give a portion of congregants' spending money to their home churches, but also finance a home-ownership program.

Here is how it works: When a church's members purchase Revelation-endorsed products or services, a sales commission is paid to Revelation Corporation. Of that commission, 30 percent goes back to the individual participating church or organization.

The remaining 70 percent is placed into a fund designed to help moderate-income residents buy new homes in their neighborhoods. Already families are living in more than 200 Revelation-sponsored new homes in Memphis. Another 200 are in the works in Philadelphia.

"This is not for the homeless. This is not for the jobless," says John B. Lowery, Revelation's chief operating officer. "This is for working people who want to own their own home but don't have the credit to do it."

Lowery says the plan will create jobs in the black communities, stabilize property values, and increase community pride.

Although the plan is focused on the buying power of black churchgoers, and the five black denominations own 70 percent of the corporation, Revelation has opened admission to any group wanting a commission from goods bought by its members. Thus far, dozens of colleges, universities, corporations, and organizations, including the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, have signed up.

"With 43,000 churches, the constituency is still overwhelmingly the black church," Lowery says. "But the reason all these other groups are coming on board is because it's the only game in town."

Revelation began in August with a toll-free number that directed callers to its auto insurance, mortgage, and mail-order catalog partners. The second stage was launched in conjunction with Martin Luther King, Jr., Day in January, when the corporation distributed more than 1.25 million grocery coupon books to 6,000 churches.

The five denominations that own most of Revelation—the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A.; the National Baptist Convention of America; the Progressive National Baptist Convention; the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church—represent nearly half of America's black population.

However, the other three denominations in the Congress of National Black Churches—the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Church of God in Christ—are skeptical enough to stay out of the project. Their chief concerns were doubts about Lowery's limited experience and whether he, a white man, can—or even should—mobilize the black church.

"I hear the criticism regularly," Lowery says. "I just happen to be a white man who thought of the idea. And I'm targeting the communities that need this the most."

February 3, 1997 Vol. 41, No. 2, Page 72

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