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Living the Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches

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It is communion Sunday at a mixed-race church. A black pastor and white head elder stand before the sanctuary as lay leaders pass out the host. An African-American woman sings a gospel song as a woman of Asian descent plays the piano. Then a black woman in the congregation throws her hands up and yells, over and over, "Thank you Lawd!" A few other African-Americans in the pews say "Amen," while white parishioners sit stone-faced. The befuddled white head elder reads aloud from the Bible, his soft voice drowned out by the shouts of praise. Even in this proudly interracial church, America's racial divide is a constant presence.

In The Elusive Dream, Korie L. Edwards presents the surprising results of an in-depth study of interracial churches: they help perpetuate the very racial inequality they aim to abolish. To arrive at this conclusion, she combines a nuanced analysis of national survey data with an in-depth examination of one particular church. She shows that mixed-race churches adhere strongly to white norms. African Americans in multiracial settings adapt their behavior to make white congregants comfortable. Behavior that white worshipers perceive as out of bounds is felt by blacks as too limiting. Yet to make interracial churches work, blacks must adjust their behavior to accommodate the predilections of whites. They conform to white expectations in church just as they do elsewhere.

Thorough, incisive, and surprising, The Elusive Dream raises provocative questions about the ongoing problem of race in the national culture.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Elusive Dream continues an important line of research on multi-racial religious congregations in the U.S., skillfully revealing the insidious persistence of skewed power relations operating among people with even the best of intentions about race relations. Edwards's analysis is a testament to the continued difficulty American whites and blacks have in living equally together in communities, even communities of faith. A sobering and important book." —Christian Smith, author of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers

"Korie Edwards shows in this riveting book the long arm of whiteness. Race matters in the U.S., she argues, so it likely matters in interracial congregations. Through spell-binding accounts of the people of an interracial congregation and through her study of churches around the country, her evidence forces us again and again to see the powerful influence whites have on interracial churches. Even in such congregations — these beacons of hope for healthy integration — whites most often get their way (and people of color can reinforce this process). We may wish it were not so, but it is a reality that must be faced. The Elusive Dream is a watershed book, social analysis at its best." —Michael O. Emerson, co-author of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America

"Rich and insightful...The Elusive Dream is a persuasive analysis of interracial congregations that raises important questions concerning the future success of interracial churches."—Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195314243
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/27/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Korie L. Edwards is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Ohio State University, and is the co-author of Against All Odds: The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3

1 Decently and in Order: Congregational Worship 19

2 Bringing Race to the Center: Extrareligious Activities 39

3 Spiritual Affirmative Action: Leadership Structure and Characteristics 55

4 Racial Identity: Material for Cross-Racial Bridging? 83

5 Why Do They Come? 101

6 Reproducing White Hegemony 117

Conclusion: The Elusive Dream 139

Appendix A Research Methods 141

Appendix B National Congregations Study Variables and Operationalizations 157

Appendix C Tables 161

Appendix D Interview Guides 177

Notes 189

Bibliography 201

Index 219

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