Although Downtown Church is still a fairly new congregation, it has developed two significant outreach ministries. The church sponsors a team in a community basketball league— made up of congregation members and some external “ringers” who are terrific players but not regular church members. And it sponsors a “before-school” support program at a public high school in a low-income, crime-ridden neighborhood in the city. Both of these programs are similar to efforts made by many congregations, but they also reveal how the church leadership struggles to handle issues of race and inequality beyond its own walls. Here, “racial utility” becomes apparent, as the pastoral leadership often uses black members to help it establish credibility, either with others in the city basketball league or with the public school system. At the same time, many of the church members involved with the programs recognize that even as they are being used for their race, they are in turn using the status of the white leadership to gain entrance into situations they might not have been able to achieve on their own.
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