This article tells the story of Highland Park Baptist Church and its encounter with urban change in metropolitan Detroit during the second half of the twentieth century. White, middle class in its social composition and fundamentalist Protestant in its theological orientation, Highland Park Baptist Church ultimately responded to the demographic upheaval of Detroit's urban crisis by relocation to the suburb of Southfield, a phenomenon often repeated by Protestant churches in cities throughout the country and conveniently designated by social critics and historians as "white flight". While accepting the general tendency toward "white flight" among white Protestant congregations, this article nevertheless challenges urban and religious historians to appreciate more deeply the multifarious social, economic, and theological impulses that worked on local religious bodies and religiously minded urbanites as they contemplated and wrestled with urban change. In the case of Highland Park Baptist Church, relocation to the suburbs came only after years of considerable debate within the congregation over matters pertaining to its social, cultural, and spiritual ties to community. Emerging racial and economic discontinuities between congregation and community might have spurred this debate, but its resolution was achieved only after a considerable shift in theological emphases, articulated from the pulpit and appropriated in the pews, legitimated the abandonment of the city for suburbia. By following this line of inquiry, this article seeks to add to current scholarly conversations about the role of theology and institutional religion in the white, middle-class urban exodus of the 1960s and 1970s and to highlight the dynamism and mutability of Protestant fundamentalism, a movement whose history has usually been told from the top down and with a particular emphasis on theological and cultural resistance to change.
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