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

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

by Michael O. Emerson, Christian Smith
     
 

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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

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.

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
"A fascinating account of the influence of white evangelicalism on black-white relations in the United States."—The Journal of Religion

"This book cogently summarizes the race-related history of evangelicalism and then, based on data from surveys of 2,000 white evangelicals and 200 follow-up interviews, explores various dimensions of contemporary evangelical attitudes and practices related to race.... All academic levels."—Choice

"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, Harvard University, author of The Truly Disadvantaged and The Bridge Over the Racial Divide

"This book is a report card for the church leaders and, I hope, the larger society. The authors show how racial valuations are basically built into the structures of society, and so we are, in a sense, failing by design."—Robert Franklin, Christianity Today

"A fascinating account of the influence of white evangelicalism on black-white relations in the United States."—The Journal of Religion

"This book cogently summarizes the race-related history of evangelicalism and then, based on data from surveys of 2,000 white evangelicals and 200 follow-up interviews, explores various dimensions of contemporary evangelical attitudes and practices related to race....All academic levels."—Choice

"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, and author of The Truly Disadvantaged and The Bridge Over the Racial Divide

"Divided by Faith is just that—an account of the deep racial division within American religion. But more than that, it is a penetrating look at the societal and religious-based reasons for this division within the Evangelical Christian sector, and a compassionate plea on the part of the authors for Christians to engage the issue of race and to lead the country in solving this 'American Dilemma.' A thorough and very readable book, to be read by scholars and church members alike."—Wade Clark Roof, J.F. Rowny Professor of Religion and Society, University of California, Santa Barbara

"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 book is a report card for the church leaders and, I hope, the larger society. The authors show how racial valuations are basically built into the structures of society, and so we are, in a sense, failing by design."—Robert Franklin, president, Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, the largest historically African-American seminary in the U.S., as quoted in Christianity Today

"A carefully nuanced descriptive analysis of 'the white experience' in relation to evangelical religion. Not since I read Charles Marsh's God's Long Summer...have I encountered such a conscientious engagement of the ethical problem of religion and race among white evangelicals."—Cheryl J. Sanders, Professor of Christian Ethics at Howard University School of Divinity and senior pastor, Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., as quoted in Harvard Divinity Bulletin

"Somewhat surprisingly, the racial dimensions of religious activity have been relatively under-studied by sociologists of religion, a gap that makes the insightful contribution of Michael Emerson and Christian Smith's book... all the more important."—Contemporary Sociology

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199741199
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
07/20/2000
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
350,517
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Michael O. Emerson is the Tsanoff Professor of Public Affairs and Sociology at Rice University, the author of numerous articles on race relations and religion, and the co-author of United by Faith. He lives in Houston, Texas. Christian Smith is the Chapin Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the author of American Evangelicalism and Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

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