News

    America's Black Churches Debate Role in Society

    Traditionally, America's black churches have been a potent political force. But now, the churches that draw the largest congregations are focusing not on social change but on individual prosperity. Some ministers complain those churches are turning their backs on the fight for civil rights.

    Throughout American history, predominantly black churches have been at the forefront in the battle for social progress and equality. From the days of slavery through the civil rights marches of the 1960s, preachers such as Martin Luther King, Jr. used sermons to call for sweeping changes and government reform. In a 1967 speech at New York City's Riverside Church, Dr. King spoke about the effect the war in Vietnam was having on America's black community. "I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds of energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube." He went to explain that was why he saw the war as an enemy of the poor and attacked it as such.

    But step into one the most popular black churches today and you're likely to hear a sermon focusing on the wealthy. At a recent service at World Changers Church, just south of Atlanta, Georgia, Pastor Creflo Dollar talked about economic power. "The Christians are the head guys in business," he told the people who'd crowded into the church's 8,500-seat atrium to hear him. "The Christians are the head guys in sports. Every time you look around there's a Christian somewhere getting some supernatural results. I want you to know the power has hit. … I'm telling you the power of God is getting ready to hit this place. And I'm not talking about when we get to church. I'm talking about when you go on your job, power gonna be there with you."

    Reverend Dollar is a leading preacher of what's called prosperity gospel, and his sermons focus largely on helping inspire people to succeed... especially professionally. He says it's what his congregants need, and want. "Most people come to me, their issue is 'I'm broke, I can't pay my bills. Don't tell me about a Jesus that won't help me get a better job.' So by dealing with the Word, showing them how to have a good attitude, how to get focused, how to operate in diligence, how to discipline their lives," he explains, "then you can change the way people think through training and you have a better person at the end of the day." His sermons are broadcast on TV and the Internet, reaching an audience of millions. There are similar so-called "mega-churches" in Dallas, Chicago, and Los Angeles that also broadcast their sermons and have popular performers who sing at services. More churches following this style are springing up around the country.

    But some African-American pastors rail against the phenomenon. According to James Cone, "You don't realize you can be very successful institutionally and also a failure in terms of really the mission that called you into being." Mr. Cone, a professor at New York's Union Theological Seminary, complains the mega-churches preaching prosperity gospel help people feel good about their financial success... but fail to use the pulpit to push for broader change that will help those still in need. "When you talk about the cross you are talking about the focus on the little ones... the ones who are hurting, suffering, who don't have voice. Churches are reaching out to middle-class people."

    Minister Cone was among hundreds of pastors from various denominations at a conference in Atlanta who lamented the direction they see the black church going. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, said mega-churches preaching prosperity gospel are not addressing critical issues. "What are you doing about why is there hunger? What are you doing to change the laws?" he demanded. "You've got kids who cannot read. What are you doing about that? Have another worship service?"

    The gathering in Atlanta was co-organized by Frederick Haynes, senior pastor of a church in Dallas who fears too many churches are turning away from their responsibility to use the pulpit to affect change. "There is no continuance of the legacy left by Martin Luther King Jr. and that kind of faith expression." He adds, "if it had not been for that faith expression we wouldn't have a middle class right now."

    Leaders of mega-churches say they are combating social problems by helping the downtrodden improve their own lives. Pastor T.D. Jakes, who runs the 35,000-member Potters' House church in Dallas, is unapologetic. "Because I serve in the inner city we have unique needs. And so our messages are tailored to the continuity of the needs of our parishioners," he says.

    There have always been these differences among African-American churches. While many have led the fight for civil rights, some have not engaged in politics in all. But with mega-churches expanding their reach in the black community, some pastors who focus on civil rights say they plan to get more competitive, working to attract equally huge crowds to their churches, and making their sermons available on TV and the Internet.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora