Authentic What?

Who knew there was a 20 year tourist industry centered around paid visits to Harlem’s churches. Here is the article: http://www.slate.com/id/2267350.

Here is a quote:

But the reason foreign visitors come to Abyssinian—sometimes by the thousands—and other churches like it is clearly to see a performance, and claims that they won’t get one ring hollow—even if services themselves are completely genuine. "Many of them come to see a church show," said Dr. Obery Hendricks, a religion professor at the New York Theological Seminary and Columbia University. "And what is sad is that often they’re not disappointed." Hendricks sees disturbing racial and religious implications in the church tourism circuit that ties into the "performance orientation" among both African-American churches and many evangelical churches.

And one more:

When I asked them why they had visited Kelly Temple, the group—a Jewish family with North African roots—said they were there because "it got two stars" in Routard, a popular French guide book that describes the church’s "very authentic" program. "It’s peculiar, you know," said the mother, who was clearly impressed. "They are very enthusiastic. You get the impression that they’re really paying true homage to God."

The idea of "authenticity" is a major theme among tourists and the tourism industry. Harlem Spirituals’ brochure offers the opportunity to "[a]ttend an authentic Sunday worship service and experience the soul stirring power of gospel music." For an additional $44, "[y]ou can enjoy a soul food brunch at one of Harlem’s local restaurants."

There is another underlying message in the article: the churches are dying. Would a young person from Harlem watching their church put on a show to attract tourist dollars consider it authentic worship?

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About hansston

Pastor a church in Sparta.
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