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Am I My Brother's Keeper?: The Contested Role of African American Churches in Community Development

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Abstract

In the age of mega-churches with sprawling campuses whose locations are determined by the presence of an abundance of land, not a historic connection to a particular community, many church leaders have a relatively expansive interpretation of their “community”, often coupled with an inward focus on their ministerial obligations. This perspective contrasts with the expectations of many community leaders that envision an outwardly focused, localized outreach model for churches. This tension is further complicated by the increasing size of churches and the emergence of a relatively new religious doctrine that emphasizes individual efforts and material gain, possibly leading churches to adopt even more insular activities, pulling them further away from the model desired by many community leaders. While local communities may be in more need of the assistance of area churches, churches are increasingly not in need of them. Through a series of interviews, participant observation, and archival research in a large southern metro area, this paper examines the competing visions of the church's “community” and the various interpretations of the church's responsibilities to these communities.

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