The recent spotlight on black church burnings and racial reconcilation notwithstanding, African-American religious leaders are refocusing on improving relations with one another.

Many of the 5,200 ministry leaders who attended a Hampton (Va.) University gathering in June devoted their efforts at bridge building across the doctrinal chasms between eight historically African-American denominations with a combined membership of 26 million.

"I am concerned that the black church is very fragmented," said conference president Jesse Battle, who organized the event. "The fragmentation [of denominations] has denied us the ability to have a leader within the black community. We have to forget our individual ambitions and programs and think in terms of the whole."

"This is the most opportune time in the history of the world," echoed Bishop Samuel Green of the Church of God in Christ. "We're headed toward unity in the black church, where all our denominations will eventually come together, forget about our doctrinal differences, and work as one for the benefit of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

While a spirit of unity did mark the week-long conference, the meeting itself suggested that doctrinal differences among denominations will not be resolved easily. Denominations represented were African Methodist Episcopal (AME); African Methodist Episcopal Zion; Christian Methodist Episcopal; Church of God in Christ; National Baptist Convention, American; National Baptist Convention, USA; Pentecostal Assemblies of the World; and Progressive National Baptist Convention.

ECONOMIC REPRESSION? In opening statements, the leaders collectively described an African-American community filled with hopelessness and despair and a church in need of radical realignment. ...

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