This pioneering new study of the Black megachurch phenomenon brings nuance and depth to the question, are Black megachurches more focused on prosperity than on people?
Black megachurches and their pastors are often accused of failing to use their considerable resources to help the poor; focusing on prosperity theology rather than on social justice; requiring excessive monetary and time commitments of members; and pilfering church coffers for the their personal use. The debate rages on about whether these congregations are doing all they can to address specific challenges facing African American communities. Live Long and Prosper is a refreshing, innovative study that reaches beyond superficial understandings of the Black megachurch phenomenon in a piercing interrogation of how powerfulmegachurches address (or fail to address) two social crises in the Black community: HIV/AIDS and poverty.
Live Long and Prosper offers an intriguing examination of sixteen representative Black megachurches and explores some of their motivations and subsequent programmatic efforts in light of prosperity or "health and wealth" theology. Professor Barnes makes the case that the Black megachurch is acomplex, contemporary model of the historic Black church in response to globalism, consumerism, secularism, religious syncretism, and the realities of race. She contends that many of these megachurches hold unique characteristics of adaptability and innovation that position them well to tackle difficult social issues. Prosperity theology emphasizes two characteristics--physical health and economic wealth--as examples of godly living and faith. This book considers whether and how efforts to address HIV/AIDS (a health issue) and poverty (a "wealth" issue) are influenced by church and clergy profiles; theology, in general; and prosperity theology, in particular. Frame analysis informs this mixed-methodological study to compare and contrast experiences, theological beliefs, pastoral profiles, and programs.
Live Long and Prosper is a must-read for general readers, academics, and students alike--indeed, anyone interested in the contemporary Black megachurch's response to social problems and the link between theology and social action. It is at once a fascinating, readable narrative and a rich piece of scholarship complete with extensively documented endnotes, statistics, informative charts and tables, and an exhaustive bibliography.
Sandra L. Barnes is Professor in the Department of Human and Organizational Development and the School of Divinity at Vanderbilt University. Her numerous books include Black Megachurch Culture: Models for Education and Empowerment, The Cost of Being Poor: A Comparative Study of Life in Poor UrbanNeighborhoods in Gary, Indiana, and the co-edited Black Sexualities: Probing Passions, Problems, and Policies (Rutgers University).
Barnes, a Vanderbilt University sociologist who has studied black mega-churches extensively, brings an interdisciplinary perspective to the contemporary phenomenon of the black mega-church and the appeal of prosperity theology. She homes in on a small sample (there aren't that many to study) and listens intently to what church pastors have to say, after first arguing that pastors are a key to understanding what their churches are willing, and unwilling, to do. Barnes has a good ear for what she hears about at "the corner"- the real neighborhood in which a church's ministry happens- and for the theological resonance of what pastors have to say. Moreover, she's familiar with what everyone else has said, as her impressive bibliography demonstrates. That homework and good fieldwork allows her to make a nuanced argument about ways prosperity theology does and doesn't represent real community beliefs. Such nuance gives the empirical lie to the trendy notion that "the black church is dead." (Nov.) 2012 Reed Business Information
"A rich ideological analysis of black megachurches from within comparative theological frames that include social gospel, liberation, prophetic, and prosperity gospel in relation to 'calling' and corner.'"-Victor Anderson, Vanderbilt University ". . . examines church characteristics, such as theology, location, pastor's profile, and program efforts, and investigates whether they foster or undermine efforts to combat poverty and AIDS in the black community." -Book News Inc "This new study of the black megachurch phenomenon asks whether such megachurches are more focused on prosperity than on people." -Publishers Weekly
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