Those who expect the activist black megachurches to fill the gaps left by the Civil Rights Movement should be aware that these churches struggle with prioritizing their activities given limited capacity and limited political capital. For example, when churches form CDOs and accept government funding, the leaders and representatives of these churches are limited in how they criticize government policies, even when they feel such policies are detrimental to their communities. The leaders of activist churches make strategic decisions that sometimes result in sacrificing some forms of public engagement for other forms, often constricting their prophetic voices. – Tamelyn Tucker-Wongs
Interesting findings about megachurches. I never grew up with religion in my life. I go to church every once and awhile and when I do, I am amazed at certain “acts” that it sometimes see fake in certain ways. Don’t get me wrong, I like going for the sermon and it has some things that I see and hear from my friends that attend on the regular. I try to stay away from religion as a topic but as a Autodidact, I read and my interest is in everything so this is what I found out about black megachurches. The sources are below for your information and research. Read and enjoy! – AcademicHustler1975
African American mega-churches was built on the historical legacy of the Black American church movement because of its use of various religious vernaculars and rituals that are embedded in worship, theology, racial beliefs, programming campaigns, and other tools that aim to address and stress the concepts of societal success and good stewardship for its thousands of followers. – Sandra Barnes
Three theories of the black Christ. The first is that the black Christ is biologically and genealogically black. The second is that the black Christ is black because a black Christ liberates black people from spiritual, social, political, and economic oppression. But other ethnic groups and people also should see Christ in their likeness and so become thus liberated. She attributes this perspective to theologian J. Deotis Roberts, who argues that Christ is both universal and particularistic. The third explanation for the black Christ is that the black Christ is symbolically black because of Christ’s identification with “the least of these”—the oppressed and those who are at the bottom of the societal hierarchy. – Kelly Brown Douglas
- Activist black churches in post– civil rights America hold candidate forums and distribute voter guides, and in more than a few cases their ministers have run for public office.
- Even the casual observer will agree that the grandiose physical structures of black megachurches are alone a testimony to the aggregation of material resources and wealth that has been possible only in post– civil rights America.
- Black people challenged the dominant and oppressive interpretations of Christianity, made Christianity relevant to black struggles for liberation in the United States, and depicted a black Christ even before the civil rights and black power movements.
- The religious and political thought of Frederick Douglass, Maria Stewart, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, Sojourner Truth, and David Walker, among others, the development of “invisible institutions” (plantation churches out of reach of the slave masters and overseers), and independent black religious institutions formed by free blacks in the early nineteenth century like the AME church are all examples of a “liberating” black Christianity.
- White culture’s sexual exploitation has had a profound effect on Black spirituality and the Black church. The manner in which Black women are treated in many Black churches reflects the Western Christian tradition’s notion of women as evil and notions of Black women as Jezebels and seducers of men. For instance there are still Black churches that require women to cover their legs with a blanker when sitting in a pew so they will not distract men. This exude that Black women are too sexually distracting is also commonly used to keep these women our of the pulpit and ordained ministry. But the mythology of Black women as Jezebels is perhaps most implied in the treatment of unwed mothers.
- In many Black churches unwed mothers are publicly chastised and made to repent in front of the whole congregation while the fathers are often ignored. This humiliating sexist ritual harks back to early Black church expectations that Black women should remain chaste after joining the church, a church that all the while said nothing about the sexual conduct of Black men.
- Black male ministers and theologians equated Black liberation with gaining Black manhood. A June 13, 1969, statement released by the National Committee of Black Churchmen said:
We now commit ourselves to the risks of affirming the dignity of black personhood. We do this as men and as black Christians. This is the message of Black theology. In the words of Eldridge Cleaver:
We shall have our manhood.
We shall have it or the earth will be leveled by our efforts to gain it. [note]
Why have Black manhood and Black freedom so often been linked in the Black community?
- As of September 2007 I had identified 149 black megachurches. This number reflects a dynamic phenomenon. In 2000 I had identified 66 black megachurches and estimated that there were at most 5 to 10 that were not identified. The current list of 149 includes a number of churches like Empowerment that have grown rapidly since 2000. It also includes a number of churches that were already large but had not yet reached the threshold of 2000 average weekly attendance.
- Black megachurches are by definition all Protestant churches. Protestants are usually divided into two major traditions: mainline Protestant and evangelical Protestant. These traditions are composed of churches and denominations that share views about the role of religion in society, views about the Bible, and understandings of Jesus.
Apostle A. R. Williams and the church where he is pastor, World Overcomers Christian Church (a black megachurch in Memphis), provide good illustrations of the moral pathology thesis at work as an explanation for the problems of black Memphis and black America. Williams does not ignore sex or sexuality. Instead, on a regular basis he graphically and explicitly preaches about sexuality and what he perceives as morally proper and improper sexual relations. For example in one of his sermons, “How to Keep Your Husband So the Ho Don’t Get Him,” he sparked a bit of controversy when he brought a bed onto the stage at World Overcomers and he and his wife performed a marital skit explaining the importance of and giving directions for how a wife should attend to her husband in the bedroom.
- Megachurches are the product of conscious church growth strategies. The leaders of megachurches build churches and church congregations by aggressively trying to fill a niche that is not being filled by other churches.
- “[B]lack evangelicals tend to be conservative in their religious views but liberal in their political positions.” This means that many black Protestants have in fact “managed to combine the evangelical emphasis on salvation with the mainline commitment to social action.”
- Cornel West describes the reactions of many others when he says that, historically, Black institutions such as families, schools, and churches have refused “to engage one fundamental issue: black sexuality. Instead, they [run] from if like the plague. And they obsessively [condemn] those places where black sexuality [is] flaunted: the streets, clubs, and the dance-halls.”
- St. John’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas (which has extensive homeless, employment, and health care ministries), echoes these ideas. Their mission statement states that they endeavor “to remove the barriers of classism, sexism and racism from the worship experience.”
- Black churches do not fall exactly along the lines of the white church mainline/evangelical divide. Instead, black churches more often are described as being a part of either the mainline or Sanctified traditions. Black Baptist and black Methodist churches are considered mainline. The Sanctified tradition consists of Holiness, Pentecostal, and Apostolic churches.
Systematic black theology developed in the late 1960s in the context of the civil rights and black power eras. The black power’s “religious counterpart.” That black theology was “the unmistakable sign that God was saying and doing something about Black people in White America.” – James Cone and Gayraud Wilmore
- Black theology also “stems from the recognition that black identity must be defined in terms of its African heritage rather than in terms of European enslavement.”
- Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., infuses aspects of a west African naming ceremony into its baby blessing ceremonies, and several black megachurches (including Metropolitan) have African drums as a part of the music.
- Shiloh Baptist Church, also in Washington, D.C., sometimes uses the Sunday school hour to teach “Black and African History.” During black history month Bible Way Temple teaches a series of lessons on the black origins of the Pentecostal movement. Union Temple Baptist Church includes the pouring of libations at major ceremonies such as weddings, burials, baby blessings, and the installation of church officers.
- The “seeker” churches engage in this “niche” strategy. Seeker churches target the “unchurched”—those who either have never been affiliated with a church or have rejected church because of some negative experience. Churches using the seeker strategy pull the unchurched into their church by catering to them through worship style, architecture, and other religious symbols that are relatively nontraditional.
- The average church size has grown since the 1970s and theorizes that it is not that large churches are simply drawing in new converts or the “unchurched” but rather that church membership is shifting and concentrating.
- Black megachurches engage in various types of public engagement activities. They primarily engage in direct social service provision, especially health initiatives and food distribution. They also engage in political engagement activities (like voter registration), housing, and commercial development to a lesser extent. Their participation, though encouraging, is modest.
- Instead of serving urban migrants, black megachurches help the suburban migrant and working and middle-class transplants acclimate to their living environments and build their communities.
- 28 percent of black megachurches (compared to 6 percent of black churches) report that they have credit unions. Organized for the benefit of the members and not to turn a profit, credit unions potentially provide church constituents with access to capital for personal lending and consumer credit. They may also help to spur economic development and revitalization of communities.
- Over 90 percent of black megachurches have a food bank that distributes meals daily, weekly, or monthly. 75 percent of black churches in general reported participating in this activity. In fact, after health care activities, food distribution represents the most common public engagement activity in which black megachurches currently participate.
- That means that black megachurches compose approximately 12 percent of the megachurch population— interestingly consistent with the African American percentage of the general population of the United States.
- 60 percent of black megachurches established separate community development organizations (CDOs) and more were planning to do so in the future. CDOs are separately incorporated nonprofit organizations. CDCs (many of which have been very active in the development of affordable housing) have generated increasing interest and enthusiasm as a strategy for church-based community development.
- Black-megachurch affiliated CDOs have participated in the various public engagement activities discussed including social service provision, health clinics, political organizing, business support, job training, and commercial development.
- The function of worship in these African American mega-churches serves more than the traditional celebratory purpose. It is “about expectations, preparation for volunteerism, and a certain kind of lifestyle outside of [the] church walls.”
- Many megachurches are multiracial— strikingly more so than other church forms in America. The saying that “11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week” is less true of megachurches than any other church form.
- Women make up the vast majority of members in black churches, and scholars have found that they serve as organizers of church activities and volunteers in the church ministries and auxiliaries. However, women have generally been confined to lay membership and are restricted from several aspects of lay and ministerial leadership.
Black theology was also influenced by the philosophical thought of Malcolm X and his poignant critique of the black church and mainstream black Christianity, which he saw as aiding and abetting white racial oppression. What ultimately developed was a black theology that provided an internal critique of the black church for the role it had played in black oppression and an external critique of mainstream white Christianity and U.S. society for the oppression of blacks. – Tamelyn Tucker-Wongs
- In some denominations like the Church of God in Christ, women are not even ordained as ministers. In some churches, women do not serve on boards of trustees or as deacons. Over 50 percent of black church ministers disapproved of women pastors.
- Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston developed a commercial center, which holds several offices, a bank, an elementary school, a cafeteria, a pharmacy, a health clinic, several government and church social service agencies, and a large reception hall.
- Hartford Memorial Baptist church in Detroit constructed a multi-million-dollar housing project, a commercial center that includes a large auto care facility, and a shopping center that contains a supermarket, drug store, and restaurants.
- In New York City, there are several churches with major commercial undertakings including Allen AME in Queens and Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Allen operates a prenatal and postnatal clinic, travel agency, barber shop, and restaurant and constructed a three-hundred-unit senior citizens housing facility.
- Black megachurches also participate in housing projects. Black-megachurch-based housing includes affordable housing, transitional housing such as an AIDS hospice, homeless and women’s shelters, and housing for the elderly.
- The community development corporation (CDC) affiliated with Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City manages, sponsors, or has developed at least three hundred units of housing including senior citizen housing and housing for the homeless.
- Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston has built housing for people who are living with AIDS.
- The main goal of African American mega-churches “is to establish, reinforce, and codify the relationship between godly, victorious living, self-efficacy, and intra-church connectedness.”
- The Bible provided African Americans with a “language world” that helped them to negotiate their “strange existence.” “In short.” James Winbush argues, “the Bible became a ‘world’ into which African Americans could retreat, a ‘world’ they could identify with, draw strength from, and in fact manipulate for self-affirmation.”
- Small churches are no longer seen as viable, and so the tendency is for smaller churches to fade away and for those that remain to be larger.
- During the 1980s and 1990s the African American population declined in urban areas but increased in suburbia. In that time the African American suburban population doubled to twelve million from six million. This wave of black suburbanization was fueled by the post– civil rights decline in restrictions on housing, increase in opportunities for education, and better paying jobs.
- The bundles of services and opportunities that black megachurches provide are like a brand and individual black megachurches have been branded the “hip-hop church,” “Afro-centric church,” “political church,” and “prosperity church,” among others.
- Joseph Washington (Black Religion, 1984) argued that black religion was not authentic Christianity. It was his view that “the Negro is forced to depend upon civil rights, religious feeling, sentiment and color as substitutes for faith” and that their churches were void of theology.
- In 2000 several black megachurches looked toward cooperating with government and engaging in community development through George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives as a strategy to fill some of the gaps left by focusing primarily on electoral politics.
- Bush pitched faith-based initiatives to black ministers and made headlines when shortly after his election in 2000 he met with thirty ministers (several of them African American and Democrats) at the First Baptist Church in Austin to discuss and gain support for his party and the faith-based initiative plan.
- The main trepidation came from the suspicion that the Bush administration and the GOP were trying to pit black preachers against black political leaders, trying to co-opt black preachers, and trying to purchase their support and the support of their church members. National leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were not invited to the meeting. In fact neither was the press. This sharpened the suspicion that Bush’s overture to some black pastors was an attempt to divide and conquer the black electorate.
Kelly Brown Douglas, in her book Sexuality and the Black Church, argues that white racism led to an attack on black humanity through an assault on black sexuality. The result is that most black churches ignore sex and sexuality. This makes them ineffective in dealing with issues like sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, and HIV and AIDS. Instead black churches have tended to reinforce patriarchy, sexism, and homophobia and have failed to truly be an agent for the full liberation of black people in America.
Tucker-Worgs, Tamelyn N.. Black Megachurch : Theology, Gender, and the Politics of Public Engagement. Waco, TX, USA: Baylor University Press, 2011.
Brown-Douglas, Kelly, Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999, 162pp.