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Keywords:

  • black churches;
  • HIV/AIDS;
  • congregations;
  • social services

The ambivalent response of many black churches to current social issues has caused some scholars to question the centrality of black churches within African-American communities. Using a nationally representative sample of black congregations, this study engages the debate about the institutional centrality of black churches by focusing on their response to HIV/AIDS. Although many congregational studies treat black churches as a monolithic whole, this analysis identifies heterogeneity among black churches that shapes their responsiveness to social issues. Contrary to prior claims, a congregation's liberal-conservative ideological orientation does not significantly affect its likelihood of having an HIV/AIDS program. Beyond assessing churches’ internal characteristics, this study uses institutional theory to analyze churches as open systems that can be influenced by their surrounding environment. It demonstrates that externally engaged congregations are significantly more likely to have a program. These results indicate that black churches maintain institutional centrality by engaging their external environment.