Today, the massive, newly refurbished Mason Temple presides over Memphis's tiny Mason Street; it was here on April 3, 1968, that Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the last speech ("I've Been to the Mountaintop") before his assassination. The meeting hall is now surrounded by an iron fence and low-income housing that is spray-painted with gang graffiti. Visitors entering the foyer see on three walls gold and purple listings of COGIC bishops from every state.

From the beginning, the hope of becoming a bishop has been a key motivation for many COGIC pastors in their tireless planting of local churches. But some bishops, including McKinney, acknowledge that not all the byproducts of this policy and the rapid growth it has fostered have been handled well.

"One of the things that has been most positive and negative is that we have honored the call [to the ministry] that members have professed and have not required that a man or woman complete college or graduate school before practicing as a proclaimer of the truth," explains McKinney. Indeed, although the denomination does offer elementary training for the pastorate through lay ministry experience and a system of more than 70 nonaccredited Bible colleges, it has only one accredited seminary (Mason Theological Seminary in Atlanta).

"Anti-intellectualism is an ongoing battle," adds McKinney. "There are those who are anti-intellectual who are in positions of great power in the Church of God in Christ. We're a church that boasts millions of members and thousands of churches, yet we have only one theological seminary—that reveals our failure to grasp the reality of this age, that we must develop regional centers for training of workers and evangelists."

McKinney, however, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.