Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America / Edition 1

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Overview

Through a nationwide telephone survey of 2,000 people and an additional 200 face-to-face interviews, Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith probed the grassroots of white evangelical America. They found that despite recent efforts by the movement's leaders to address the problem of racial discrimination, evangelicals themselves seem to be preserving America's racial chasm. In fact, most white evangelicals see no systematic discrimination against blacks. But the authors contend that it is not active racism that prevents evangelicals from recognizing ongoing problems in American society. Instead, it is the evangelical movement's emphasis on individualism, free will, and personal relationships that makes invisible the pervasive injustice that perpetuates racial inequality. Most racial problems, the subjects told the authors, can be solved by the repentance and conversion of the sinful individuals at fault.

Combining a substantial body of evidence with sophisticated analysis and interpretation, the authors throw sharp light on the oldest American dilemma. In the end, they conclude that despite the best intentions of evangelical leaders and some positive trends, real racial reconciliation remains far over the horizon.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Evangelicals, argue sociologists Emerson and Smith, have gotten serious about racial reconciliation. This, they suggest, is a break from tradition--in the 19th century, many white evangelicals supported slavery but then upheld Jim Crow laws through the postwar years. Over the last half century, however, evangelicals have increasingly found racism unpalatable, a transformation culminating, symbolically at least, in the Southern Baptist Convention's 1995 proclamation that it repented for its role in slavery. Today, the Promise Keepers call for reconciliation, while evangelical theologians and publications explore what reconciliation means. But white evangelicals, though well-meaning, often unwittingly contribute to racism, say the authors. Smith and Emerson explain this seeming contradiction by drawing on Smith's earlier work, in which he argued that evangelicals have a piecemeal approach to social justice: they are inclined to fix immediate problems, such as feeding homeless people at a soup kitchen, rather than address systemic crises such as the unequal distribution of wealth. Smith and Emerson recycle the same argument, tweaked ever so slightly, here. The tools evangelicals use to combat racism--socializing more with members of another race, or integrating churches and racially segregated neighborhoods--are well-intentioned but ultimately not adequate to the task of eradicating deeply entrenched racist patterns. This is a valuable critique of evangelical approaches to social change, although those familiar with Smith's previous work will learn little. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
This study will be of interest to those who would like to understand the evangelical Christian mind with regard to race in America. In particular, Emerson (sociology, Rice Univ.) and Smith (sociology, Univ. of North Carolina) explain how white evangelicals respond to the race problem and how their cultural perspective and racially isolated lifestyle results in a greater disparity between the races. They show that white evangelicals tend to minimize the structural inequalities in healthcare, police treatment, educational opportunities, housing, job opportunities, and financial resources and instead perceive racism as primarily a problem of individual relationships. At the same time, white evangelicals are becoming more isolated from other parts of our society because they are so involved in their own subculture and do not understand why they should address the broader social problems. While the authors would like white evangelicals to support structural and institutional solutions to racism, they realize that cultural perspectives change slowly. For academic sociological and religious collections.--George Westerlund, Palmyra, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
From the Publisher

"This path-breaking book is the best study in print on the racial attitudes of white evangelical Protestants. The book's unusual strength comes from its ability to combine a reliable summary of historical circumstances with careful attention to what evangelicals actually say and sensitive use of responsible sociological theory. The arguments of the book are made even more forceful by the willingness of Emerson and Smith to take the evangelicals' own theology seriously, especially where that theology calls into question standard patterns of evangelical racial practice."--Mark A. Noll, Professor of History, Wheaton College

This is an important book. With thoughtful conceptual distinctions and careful analysis of data from a variety of empirical sources, Emerson and Smith provide an interesting account of how white evangelicals perpetuate the very racial divisions they publicly oppose. Divided by Faith breaks new ground in the study of religion and American race relations. --William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University

"This path-breaking book is the best study in print on the racial attitudes of white evangelical Protestants. The book's unusual strength comes from its ability to combine a reliable summary of historical circumstances with careful attention to what evangelicals actually say and sensitive use of responsible sociological theory. The arguments of the book are made even more forceful by the willingness of Emerson and Smith to take the evangelicals' own theology seriously, especially where that theology calls into question standard patterns of evangelical racial practice."--Mark A. Noll, Professor of History, Wheaton College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195147070
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/6/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 544,993
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 5.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael O. Emerson is Associate Professor of Sociology at Rice University, the author of numerous articles on race relations and religion, and the co-editor of The Social Aspects of Religion in the US and Beyond. He lives in Houston, Texas. Christian Smith is Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is the author of American Evangelicalism and Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Introduction Religion and the Racialized Society 1
1 Confronting the Black-White Racial Divide 5
2 From Separate Pews to Separate Churches Evangelical
Racial Thought and Practice, 1700-1964 21
3 Becoming Active Contemporary Involvement in the American
Dilemma 51
4 Color Blind Evangelicals Speak on the "Race Problem" 69
5 Controlling One's Own Destiny Explaining Economic
Inequality Between Blacks and Whites 93
6 Let's Be Friends Exploring Solutions to the Race Problem 115
7 The Organization of Religion and Internally Similar
Congregations 135
8 Structurally Speaking Religion and Racialization 153
9 Conclusion 169
Appendix A 173
Appendix B 179
Notes 183
Bibliography 197
Index 209
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