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The exuberance of all participants is highly dependent upon the tradition within which one worships. For example, in the more highly liturgical traditions such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy , sermons only tend to be instructional. By contrast, non-liturgical Protestant denominations, including Baptist and Pentecostal churches , tend to view sermons as verbal sacraments.

In the s, nondenominational churches reached a new high in popularity, usually centered upon a solitary, charismatic figure.

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As the medium is the message, performance was as important as the words themselves. They were just a few of those who were earmarked as the great preachers of the late twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, African American religions are undergoing substantial changes. A growing interest in do-it-yourself spirituality has greatly enlarged the readership of inspirational writers, such as Iyanla Vanzant and T.

There has been an unprecedented interest in racial reconciliation among conservative Christian churches, joining liberal Christians who have pioneered in this area since the s, even while an upsurge in African American church burnings, especially in the rural South demonstrated that the nation still has much work to do in addressing racism. Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan achieved spectacular success with his Million Man March in October , stressing such spiritual themes as atonement, but he has not fashioned an effective follow-up to this headline-grabbing event.

Meanwhile, the urban poor, especially young African American men, seem to be staying away from the churches in ever-increasing numbers. Large African American churches, such as the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Maryland with 12, members, have attracted the African American middle-class worshippers in unprecedented numbers.

They have done so with very diverse offerings. For example, Ebenezer offers marriage counseling, workshops on financial planning, a ministry to lawyers and a socially involved, intellectually informed ministry. African American megachurch members reach out to young African American men who are still in poverty, even though their churches are often in the suburbs, miles away from inner city problems.

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Some African American churches have traditionally had large memberships, but the new megachurches feature younger pastors who have earned doctorates and are often still in their 30s or 40s. Unlike their white counterparts, African American megachurches often seek out social involvement and uplift with the poor.

Other African American mega-churches can be found in such metropolitan areas as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Memphis. Perhaps this reality is best symbolized by events in Atlanta in the late s.

Meanwhile, Bernice King, who was five years old when her father was assassinated, has established a successful ministry at the Greater Rising Star Baptist Church in Atlanta. Similar to her father, she preaches a message of forgiveness and reconciliation, and she calls upon churches to commune and fellowship more across racial and ethnic lines. The old church building, only half as large, was taken over and maintained by the National Park Service.


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On the whole, African American churches continue to address a wide variety of social problems affecting the African American community. Perhaps most urgently, many churches have strong anti-drug programs. Some congregations have undertaken vigorous action against crack houses. Many African American ministers have noted, however, the growing division of the African American community along lines of social class and have exhorted middle-class African Americans to give more generously to programs that aid the poor.

James Cone, a leading African American theologian, has stated that African American churches need to devote less time and attention to institutional survival and more to finding ways to deal with such pressing issues as poverty, gang violence, and AIDS. In , five historically African American denominations formed Revelation Corporation of America, a partnership between corporations, charities, and churches; the income from the corporation will be used to help to subsidize home ownership among moderate-income residents of big cities, such as Philadelphia and Memphis.

African American churches have been involved in a wide variety of ecumenical efforts with white churches. While mainline Christian organizations, such as the National Council of Churches of Christ , have been involved in efforts for human rights for all and interracial reconciliation since the s, it has only been since the s that evangelical Christian organizations have joined in similar movements. In , predominantly African American and predominantly white Pentecostalist churches formed an inter-racial umbrella organization for the first time.

The predominantly white National Association of Evangelicals and the National Black Evangelical Association agreed to hold their future meetings jointly. Still, some racial discontent continued to surface among evangelical Christians. The National Baptist Convention, U. In addition, E. Dialogue among individual denominations continues to nurture the spirit of cooperation between them, with the result of establishing closer working relationships on the national and community levels.

In June , leaders of eight historically African American denominations met in Hampton, Virginia, in a week-long conference. African American men from four Methodist denominations met in Atlanta in October , addressing issues relating to families, male mentoring, and reconciliation between their various traditions. Bishops from these four denominations—the predominantly white United Methodist Church and three African American Methodist denominations, the African Methodist Episcopal, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Churches—continue to explore the possibility of a merger early in the twenty-first century.

An urban phenomenon, storefront churches are frequently created by unordained ministers and are independent of denominational hierarchies. Yet, these churches are often the lifeblood of urban communities plagued by violence and poverty. The social services and community outreach these churches offer to populations sometimes considered beyond help, pick up where the government leaves off. African American churches also have found themselves compelled to address issues related to the multiethnic tensions of the s. In the aftermath of the devastating arson attacks on black churches in , white churches and African American churches joined together in some cities to offer workshops against racism.

Leading African American pastors in Los Angeles have deplored both the violence of police revealed in the Rodney King incident and the violence of inner city rioters, while advocating urgent attention to the problems of inner-city residents. Black ministers and congregations have been increasingly opening themselves to frank discussions of human sexuality, impelled in part by the public health threat posed by the AIDS crisis, which has hit African American communities especially hard.

Some African American congregations are still uncomfortable, however, about augmenting their traditional advocacy of monogamy and premarital abstinence with encouragement for sexually active individuals to use condoms to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. Often, African American ministers from conservative religious traditions e. The cause of gender equality continues to make progress in African American churches. While two predominantly white denominations, the United Methodist and Protestant Episcopal Churches, have elevated African American women to the episcopacy in the past two decades, none of the largest historically African American denominations have done so.

Nevertheless, women in some African American churches are achieving more prestigious ministerial assignments. Preaching the gospel in a faithful but relevant fashion remains the most important objective of black churches. Ministerial training and financial support are other areas needing improvement in many African American churches.

African American churches are not in danger of losing sight of their many, vital, and extremely significant functions, within both the black community and American society as a whole.

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It is safe to predict that the African American churches will continue to sustain and develop their important and prophetic witness. While many African American Methodist and Baptist denominations have shown only limited membership growth, other African American denominations are showing marked membership increases.


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Foremost among these are the Pentecostalist churches, whose lively worship and extensive social ministries are attracting members from all classes within the African American community. The largest of these denominations, the Church of God in Christ, is now estimated to have over three million members.

Charismatic congregations, also known as neo-Pentecostalist, within such mainline African American churches as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, are also thriving and for similar reasons. Other groups that have made substantial membership gains among African Americans include the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Churches and Islam. While estimates differ, apparently more than 1.

In many inner cities, it has maintained churches and schools in predominantly African American neighborhoods, although closings, mostly for financial reasons, are increasing in such dioceses as Detroit. Moreover, the Roman Catholic Church has been receptive to some liturgical variation, allowing gospel choirs and African vestments for priests in African American churches.

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Nevertheless, Roman Catholics confront some serious problems in serving African American parishioners. Fewer than of the 54, priests in the United States are African American, meaning that some African American congregations must be served by white priests. In , George A. Stallings Jr. For example, a substantial majority of the 1, members of St. At least three Episcopal churches in New York City have escaped closing by church authorities because of the influx of members from the Caribbean.

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The Episcopal Church is not the only predominantly white denomination to seek to attract new immigrants of African descent to its pews. Mainstream Islam, despite raising its own complexities, has also made large gains in the United States. Of the six million Muslims in this country, one million are believed to be African American.

Most African American Muslims do not distinguish between people of different races and worship cordially side by side with recent Muslim immigrants from Asia and Africa. Farrakhan was embroiled in much controversy over the years as a result of his negative statements about Jews, Palestinian Arabs , and Asians. Due to its conservative stance on gender issues, Islam has proven to be more popular among African American men than among African American women.

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The chief organizer of the Million Man March, Benjamin Chavis Muhammad , converted to the Nation of Islam in April , and then suffered the termination of his ministerial standing in his former denomination, the United Church of Christ. African and Afro-Caribbean religions, such as the Yoruba worship of the spirits orisha , Cuban santeria, and Haitian voodoo, have also been gaining ground in African American communities and on some African American college campuses.