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 powerful megachurches 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 a complex, 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 —
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 Urban Neighborhoods in Gary, Indiana, and the co-edited Black Sexualities: Probing Passions, Problems, and Policies (Rutgers University).
Barnes, Sandra L. Live long and prosper: how black megachurches address HIV/AIDS and poverty in the age of prosperity theology. Fordham, 2013. 242p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780823249565; ISBN 9780823249572 pbk. Reviewed in 2013sep CHOICE.
Barnes (Vanderbilt School of Divinity) offers a provocative, thoughtful treatise on black megachurches in the US, with particular emphasis on how these religious centers have responded to issues of poverty and HIV/AIDS. With a striking interrogation of black church culture and an eye toward how black megachurch ministers use the perspectives of liberation theology, womanism, black uplift, and the social gospel, Barnes weaves an interesting tapestry of hermeneutical perspectives inherent in black megachurch culture. A key component of her work explores the ideological impact of prosperity theology on black megachurches and argues for a continuum of perspectives that lie within its application among black clergy. Statistical data on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and poverty are skillfully balanced with the voices of black ministers from candid interviews. Though the work is well written, such terms as "black uplift" and "social gospel" remain opaque, in terms of historical depth, throughout Barnes's argument. Nevertheless, readers will find a compelling analysis of black megachurches and their varied strategies for creating programmatic avenues to counter HIV/AIDS and poverty among black communities. Copious and relevant notes.
Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above; general readers. -- J. M. Robinson, UNC Charlotte