The Church of God in Christ, the country’s biggest African American Pentecostal denomination, has taken a deep and painful leadership hit with reports of at least a dozen to up to 30 bishops and prominent clergy dying of COVID-19.
What We Know:
- Prominent COGIC leaders who died include First Assistant Presiding Bishop Phillip A. Brooks of Detroit, who was No. 02 in the COGIC, Mississippi Bishop Timothy Scott, who served the denomination for almost 50 years; and two Michigan bishops, Robert E. Smith Sr. and Robert L. Harris.
- News reports across the country cite local health officials saying specific outbreaks that led to the deaths appeared to stem from conferences and funerals held within the denomination, which is also known by its acronym, COGIC. The denomination, which was founded in the late 1800s and has more than 6 million members, holds large meetings with representatives from its 200 jurisdictions – or regions – each year around February or March.
- The outbreaks have scarred the black community and the COGIC as they are more susceptible to the virus.
“This is a moment of real crisis for them. It will upend the axis of leadership in a way they may need to think about including how do we put in younger people.” – Anthea Butler, University of Pennsylvania
- “This will change the ecosystem of black church life,” Butler noted. “It’s showing the inequalities of health disparities and economic disparities in the black community.”
- Pentecostalism is a conservative strain of Christianity focused on direct signs of the Holy Spirit, such as healing and speaking in tongues. Members of COGIC emphasize purity and holiness, which often translates into a focus on modesty and clean living.
- According to Pew Research, nine percent of Americans who adhere to black Protestantism identify with the denomination. David Daniels, a historian of Pentecostalism said the denomination has some 300 bishops and is used to funerals for major leaders that bring thousands of attendees. “The impact of not being able to meet is extraordinary.”
“I’d like to take this opportunity to unequivocally state that all Church of God in Christ local, district, sate and international gatherings should absolutely cease.” – Charles E. Blake Sr., Presiding Bishop of the Denomination
Despite vast membership, COGIC churches are smaller in size than the average U.S. church, experts say.