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“Adam, Where Are You?” Reassessing the Notion that Black Men Don’t Go To Church

African American news from Pasadena - Commentary on Black Men and Church Attendance1994, Jawanza Kunjufu, in his work Adam! Where Are You?: Why Most Black Men Don’t Go to Church (African American Images Publishers), raised a number of issues concerning the dearth of Black male attendance at church services across the country.

In light of the current scene today, this sociological critique can be related to the more recent studies on the modern mega-church phenomenon associated with ‘Prosperity Gospel.’ In relation to Kunjufu’s thesis, these current studies, in some way, indirectly suggests otherwise (that Black men do, indeed, attend certain types of church services), while at the same time supporting some of the reasons Kunjufu puts forth. Of interest here, though, is just one factor that has deterred Black men from church, namely money. A major part of the Black church experience has been paying tithes and offering. This compounded with most autocratic pastoral leadership, in the past, has led to rifts in most African American nuclear households: hence the reality of predominantly female populated congregations.

Unlike the older Black church model, where everyone in the congregation is mostly known, within the mega-church environment, there is a sense of inconspicuously mixing into the worship service. One reason for the resurgence of Black male attendance in these type churches largely has been due to preaching economic security and prosperity: the theology that undergirds the ‘Prosperity Gospel.’ While the older church denominations are experiencing a shortage of male attendance, these type churches are experiences growth. Prosperity doctrine equates financial status with spiritual wholeness and health. This kind of gimmicky theology has drawn many Black men.

In 2007, Shayne Lee, in his book entitled T. D. Jakes: America’s New Preacher (New York University Press), examines the sociological factors that have given rise to the new American preacher paradigm and the popular mega-church movement. Lee explores the sociological factors that gave rise to Jakes, looking at his formation in terms of his upbringing, his family origins and later dynamics surrounding his early pastorate.

Jakes, Lee suggests, was informed by his parent’s entrepreneurial strivings, albeit, in the face of their devastating divorce and his father’s illness and eventual premature demise. Jakes’ family faced economic hardship even up to his marriage and first pastorate. In one account, Lee gives a description of Jakes sobbing uncontrollably in public only after unsuccessfully pleading with the utility companies not to terminate his services in the dead of the winter; this, also, was the time during the rise and visibility of televangelism, mega-church growth and the populism of the ‘Prosperity doctrine.’

The rise of the mega-church movement is further explored with particular regard to its materialistic interest in what is now considered the Word of Faith movement, in Milmon F. Harris’ 2005 work, Righteous Riches: The Word of Faith Movement in Contemporary African American Religion (Oxford University Press) and most recently in Jonathan L. Walton’s 2009 book, Watch This: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism (New York University Press).

In light of today’s current economic crisis, many Black folks are able to identify with the hardships suffered by Jakes. And like Jakes, the shifting focus concerning the primacy placed on spiritual economic investment (e.g. Prosperity doctrine) within the church has attracted a large number of young Black males.

If you were to tune in to some of the religious broadcasts on a given Sunday (on TBN, The Word Network, BET, etc.), you would see a predominant broad representation of Black male congregants from various demographics: both younger and older male professionals and their families; aspiring (blue collar) professionals; and brothers ensconced hip-hop culture. Whereas in the past, many older Black denominational churches preached a kind of giving associated with otherworldly rewards, mega-churches that have promoted ‘prosperity doctrine’ preach a tangible reciprocated giving and receiving as a measure of one faith, faithfulness and relational standing with the Lord.

In this sense, tithing and giving offering is viewed as sowing spiritual economic seeds that will yield monetary and other ancillary material dividends. This business investment model has appealed to many Black males, while the older model, which stresses giving in order to build up treasures in heaven above, continue to witness a massive Black male exodus from older church house pews; in light of the newer mega-church model, older established churches and denominations that (to borrow from the titles of one of T. D. Jakes’ books) are not able to ‘reposition themselves’ find themselves in crisis asking “Adam, Where are You?”

Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is Director of J.D.Institute and is an Assistant Professor of New Testament at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA. He is the author of “Ecclesiastes” in the African Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures through Africa and the African Diaspora (Fortress Press), 2009, and “Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical’s Identity” in the Journal of African American Christian Thought 1 (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, teaching, lecturing, speaking or conducting workshops and seminars. You may contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .]
 

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