Most of us, if asked if we have financial freedom, would answer, “No.” Ask us if we’d like to achieve it, and you’ll likely get a near unanimous (if not hopeful) “Yes.” But how many of us actually see ourselves as slaves to our debts and other financial burdens? According to DeForest B. Soaries Jr., the author of dfree: Breaking Free From Financial Slavery, that’s exactly what we are. The goal of his book is to deliver and get us to accept the truths we need to set ourselves free and to lay out a program for us to help others to do the same.
Soaries is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, N.J. dfree is the name of the program he started to help get his members gain financial freedom from the three Ds of financial slavery: debt, deficits and delinquencies. Soaries and his work gained national attention as subjects of the CNN documentary Black in America: Almighty Debt.
The goal of Soaries book is to address the underlying spiritual, mental and emotional reasons why we enter into financial slavery–using credit to by things we don’t have the cash to afford, living beyond our means and borrowing more than we can repay. I happen to think that indentured servitude or sharecropping are more accurate analogies for how most Americans are caught up in a cycle of credit abuse, indiscriminate spending and crushing debt. However, Soaries makes a strong case that mismanagement of money is just a symptom of the real problem: mismanagement of and dissatisfaction with life. As a pastor, Soaries draws liberally from Biblical principles of stewardship and money management, as well as the emotionally resonant condition of slavery that is foundational to both Christianity and the black experience in America. However, he also makes the case that the keys to financial freedom are the same regardless of religious belief, promoting his dfree program as a solution for secular as well as faith-based organizations, regardless of race.
The path to financial freedom mapped out by dfree is what you’d find most books about smart money management and wealth building: live within your means, reject the drug of mindless materialism, avoid your debt, build up your savings and invest in assets which appreciate in value. However, at just over 200 pages, it’s a quick read and written in an easy to understand, accessible style, avoiding the tendency (totally unintended) of some books written by money pros or financial journalists to make the reader feel guilty, stupid or inadequate in their knowledge and handling of money. Soaries scores major points by being fairly transparent about his own past as a financial slave and what it took for him to break free.
But the most important contribution of this book to the library of financial literacy is that it serves as a primer and blueprint for other churches, as well as community groups and other organizations, to duplicate the dfree program in their communities. In effect, Soaries aims to make financial literacy a franchise operation, going so far as the trademark the term dfree and related intellectual properties in order to protect the brand and how it is used. For example, any church or organization that becomes a dfree sponsor must sign a licensing agreement that commits the church or group to offering dfree activities free of charge for participants. The book is supported by a web site, www.mydfree.org, designed to provide updates and information to churches, credit unions, community organizations, student groups and others about implementing the dfree program as a licensee.
Soaries is not the first church leader to pursue the cause of financial freedom as a ministry. In fact, over the past decade, I have participated in dozens of efforts at churches across the country on behalf of the Black Enterprise Wealth for Life program (originally called the Black Wealth Initiative). However, dfree makes a valuable contribution by providing a game plan for when the special service, conference or other major launch event on behalf of financial literacy is over, when the real work of helping people to change their lives–i.e. ministry–begins. dfree is a must read for anyone who truly wants to be financially free, as well as any institution–and perhaps especially churches–which claims as its mission to lead them to the promised land.