Black America is under siege, and its casualties are falling at the church's doorstep. The issues pressing on the African-American church are detailed daily on the front pages of newspapers: black-on-black violence, widespread drug use, the breakdown of the nuclear family, rampant teen pregnancies, and rising high-school drop-out rates.

"We are killing each other," says Hycel Taylor, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church, a 2,000-member black congregation in Evanston, Illinois. "Racism alone cannot explain the 5,000 black-on-black murders in one year!" he shouts across the packed sanctuary.

AIDS is also ravaging inner-city communities. On AIDS Awareness Sunday in 1995, Pastor Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity United Church of Christ had people rise who had someone close to them die of AIDS. One-third of the 2,000-member church stood up.

These challenges are taxing church resources while proving resistant to traditional responses. "The black church is in a serious crisis," says Gayroud Wilmore, a retired professor of church history at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. "At stake is whether the black church will remain a viable institution in the African-American community in the twenty-first century or whether it will become irrelevant."


The African-American church is in a time of redefinition as vigorous debates ensue about the value of the welfare system and affirmative action in the lives of blacks. There is growing agreement that the civil-rights integration agenda has had an unintended result of being detrimental to blacks, and that a new model for advancement of the race is required. Within the black community itself there is a growing diversity of voices articulating ...

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