Divided By Faith | Reflections & Notes

Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. Oxford University Press, 2000. (212 pages)


When I finished this book, the first thought that came to mind was a deep regret for not having read this 10 years ago when I bought it, 20 years ago when it was published.

Emerson and Smith have provided one of the most comprehensive and well-articulated explanations of the interwoven challenges the American church has had with race, specifically regarding black and white relationships and religious expressions. They expose the fact that philosophical, theological, and psychological forces have converged, unbeknownst to us, to sabotage what we say we believe and hold dear. Sincere belief in the equality and value of all people regardless of race is essentially smothered in the cultural tools and emotional needs that drive our systems and religious expressions toward segregation and stratification. Worse, they perpetuate and attribute an individually mandated responsibility to racial minorities as the cause of their own social standing. This fascinating (and tragic) paradox is pernicious and persistent, still active today. Two decades later the racial divides, tensions, and complicity still remains. The prophetic voices of Emerson and Smith are still desperately needed. Their call still needs to be heeded.


NOTED REVIEWS: Book review, by Mark Dever [The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention] (November 29, 2017); Divided by Faith? [Christianity Today cover story] (October 2, 2000);


Our argument is that evangelicals desire to end racial division and inequality, and attempt to think and act accordingly. But, in the process, they likely do more to perpetuate the racial divide than they do to tear it down. (ix)

We have taken it as our charge to tell as honest, accurate, rigorous, and enlightening a tale about our topic as possible. In so doing, we were led to move beyond the old idea that racial problems result from ignorant, prejudiced, mean people (and that evangelicals are such people). This is simply inaccurate, and does not get us far in trying to understand why racial division in the United States persists. We also move beyond the idea that race issues continue merely because dominant groups attempt to consciously defend their economic privilege. Instead, we explore the ways in which culture, values, norms, and organizational features that are quintessentially evangelical and quintessentially American, despite having many positive qualities, paradoxically have negative effects on race relations. (ix)

Religion and the Racialized Society

I do not imagine that the white and black race will ever live in any country upon an equal footing. But I believe the difficulty to be still greater in the United States than elsewhere. An isolated individual may surmount the prejudices of religion, of his country, or of his race, and if this individual is a king he may effect surprising changes in society; but a whole people cannot rise, as it were, above itself. A despot who should subject the Americans and their former slaves to the same yoke, might perhaps succeed in commingling their races; but as long as the American democracy remains at the head of affairs no one will undertake so difficult a task; and it may be foreseen that the freer the white population of the United States becomes, the more isolated will it remain. – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)

This book is a story of how well-intentioned people, their values, and their institutions actually recreate racial divisions and inequalities they ostensibly oppose. (1)

1 Confronting the Black-White Racial Divide

In the post-Civil Rights United States, the racialized society is one in which the intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness, and where “we are never unaware of the race of a person with whom we interact.” In short, and this is its unchanging essence, a racialized society is a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships. A racialized society can also be said to be “a society that allocates differential economic, political, social, and even psychological rewards to groups along racial lines; lines that are socially constructed.” (7)

…we may define a racialized society, in party, as one that allocates differential rewards by race. (8)

A major problem in understanding race relations in the United States is that we tend to understand race, racism, and the form of racialization as constants rather than as variables. (8)

Because racialization is embedded within the normal, everyday operation of institutions, this framework understands that people need not intend their actions to contribute to racial division and inequality for their actions to do so. (9)

Institutions and some of America’s nonrace-based values reproduce racialization without any need for people to be prejudiced, as defined in the Jim Crow era. In fact, often the leaders in reproducing racialization in the post-Civil Rights era are those who are least prejudiced, as traditionally measured. (10)

…although many Americans believe residential segregation by force of law is wrong (the Jim Crow method), they accept residential segregation by choice (the post-Civil Rights method). The methods differ, but the results–reproducing racialization–are the same. Choice and freedom are two of the dominant American values that today maintain the racialized society. Contemporaries may view these values as the realization of America’s destiny, but these values are at the same time now essential tools in dividing people along socially constructed racial lines. (11)

Is the United States Really Racialized?

All told, black-white marriages constitute less than one-half of one percent of existing marriages. (12)

Residential integration and segregation studies continually show that the degree of segregation between blacks and nonblacks is far greater than between any other two racial groups in the United States. (12)

…wealth–what people own minus what they owe–is actually the more important measure. It is wealth and not income, they claim, that “is used to create opportunities, secure a desired stature and standard of living, or pass class status along to one’s children.” (13)

…when white America gets a cold, black America gets pneumonia. (13)

Health, life, and even death are racialized. (14)

Musical expression… And we are racialized not just int he music and lyrics, but even in the arguments used when debating their possible harmfulness. (15)

Finally, the racialized society is evident in religious affiliation choices. (16)

In 1993,…the Eisenhower Foundation Commission concluded that the assessment of the United States as “two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal … [is] more relevant today” than in 1968. The United States is indeed a racialized society, always was in the past, and in many respects is becoming more so. (17)

Religion and Overcoming the Racialized Society

Viewed sociologically, religion is a set of beliefs and practices focused on the sacred or supernatural, through which life experiences of groups and individuals are given meaning and direction. (17)

Thus, religion can provide the moral force for people to determine that something about their world so excessively violates their moral standards that they must act to correct it. It also can provide the moral force necessary for sustained, focused, collective action to achieve the desired goal. (18)

| Nevertheless, we argue that religion, as structured in America, is unable to make a great impact on the racialized society. In fact, far from knocking down racial barriers, religion generally serves to maintain these historical divides, and helps to develop new ones. Although this may seem to contradict the preceding paragraph, it does not. The structure of religion in America is conducive to freeing groups from the direct control of other groups, but not to addressing the fundamental divisions that exist in our current racialized society. In short, religion in the United States can serve as a moral force in freeing people, but not in bringing them together as equals across racial lines. American religion is thus one embodiment of larger American contradictions. (18)

Our Methods

Where We Go From Here

 2 From Separate Pews to Separate Churches
Evangelical Racial Thought and Practice, 1700-1964

Traversing history, we find some common markers. Because evangelicals view their primary task as evangelism and discipleship, they tend to avoid issues that hinder these activities. Thus, they are generally not counter-cultural. With some significant exceptions, they avoid “rocking the boat,” and live within the confines of the larger culture. At times they have been able to call for and realize social change, but most typically their influence has been limited to alterations at the margins. So, despite having the subcultural tools to call for radical changes in race relations, they most consistently call for changes in persons that leave the dominant social structures, institutions, and culture intact. This avoidance of boat-rocking unwittingly leads to granting power to larger economic and social forces. It also means that evangelicals’ views to a considerable extent conform to the (21) socioeconomic conditions of their time. Evangelicals usually fail to challenge the system not just out of concern for evangelism, but also because they support the American system and enjoy its fruits. They share the Protestant work ethic, support laissez-faire economics, and sometimes fail to evaluate whether the social system is consistent with their Christianity. (22)

The Early Provincial Period: 1700-1730

…for many Anglos, “Christianizing” slaves came to be seen as a Christian responsibility. However outside of some Quakers and a few scattered others, almost no Anglos before the start of the eighteenth century–slave owner or not, Christian or non-Christian–questioned the validity of slavery as an institution. (22)

In Christian life and thought the accommodation with slavery was almost complete. – Lester Scherer

cf. Slavery and the Churches in Early America, 1619-1819.

By 1750, about 20 percent of the American population was African or of African descent (compared to about 13 percent today). (22)

How canst thou Love thy Negro, and be willing to see him ly under the Rage of Sin, and the Wrath of God? – Cotton Mather

Mather was so convinced of this position that he published pamphlets on the need to Christianize, and in his home hosted the “Society of Negroes,” a Sunday-night gathering of worship and a sermon meant to convert the attending Africans. (23)

Just as forcefully, he argued that neither the canons of the church nor the English constitution made a connection between Christianization and temporal freedom. Indeed, slavery was an advantageous institution: because the slaves were viewed as heathens, enslavement provided them “the opportunity to cast off their heathenism and embrace the Christian religion,” with no concomitant change in temporal status. (23)

| But some Anglos also objected that Christianization would lead to slave revolts. If slaves were Christianized, they would gain new, and in Anglos’ (23) minds, inappropriate attitudes that could be used to stir up revolts. Chief among these were insubordination, pride, and impudence. Again, the clergy countered with fast and decisive  counterarguments. If slaves were Christianized, they argued, they would in fact adopt attitudes quite the opposite. They would be humble, gentle, hard working, and obedient. As the Presbyterian minister Samuel Davies said, “There never was a good Christian yet who was a bad Servant.” And to ensure such a result, the clergy preached this to the Africans. Indeed, from what records exist, these ideas were even incorporated in baptismal vows. Ordained missionary Francis LeJau’s baptismal vow for slaves, for example, read in part:

You declare in the presence of God and before this congregation that you do not ask for the holy baptism out of any design to free yourself from the Duty and obedience you owe to your Master while you live, but merely for the good of Your soul and to partake of the Graces and Blessings promised to the Members of the Church of Jesus Christ. (24)

Not only did Christianity make slaves better slaves, they argued, it did not in any way hinder owners from using whatever means necessary to obtain compliance. (24)

Thus, in an effort to garner support for Christianizing activities, the clergy not only reaffirmed the appropriateness of slavery as an institution, but gave it cosmic status, solidifying its position in America. Moreover, they unintentionally laid the groundwork for the more advanced nineteenth-century pro-slavery biblically-based doctrines. (24)

White Christians, like others, craved order and feared chaos. In colonial America, order meant subduing one-fifth of the population for the good of the other four-fifths. (25)

The Evangelical Great Awakening

The evangelical strain of Christianity was congenial to African heritages, with its emotive emphasis, its non-hierarchical structure, its stress on the superiority of the spiritual over the temporal, and its promise that the last shall be first. As a result of the message shared by Whitefield and other evangelical preachers, “Negros began entering the churches in much larger and accelerating numbers.” (26)

| At the same time that Whitefield preached his message of radical equality in Christ, and shared the salvation message with slaves, he was a supporter of slavery. (26)

Efforts to evangelize, we have seen, led Christians to support hte wider racialized status quo. To challenge the very foundations of the larger system was simply not part of their worldview. Further, as Berger, among others, notes, the connection between cultural and religious legitimation is often strong. To overturn slavery was seen as going against God’s ordained pattern. (27)

The New Nation: 1770-1830

We, the patrons of liberty, have dishonored the Christian name, and degraded human nature nearly to a level with the beasts. – Baptist preacher in Massachusetts, 1770

The reasons why evangelicals came to question slavery during this time are complicated. First were the emerging theological interpretations that race-based slavery was wrong. (28)

The first formally organized society against slavery was founded in the City of Brotherly Love in 1775, and the first national organization was founded in 1794 …they were moderates and gradualists. They hoped to end slavery, but in due time. … As the use of the term “property” indicates, they were not full-fledged egalitarians, continuing to see blacks as in-(28)ferior or as not part of American society. The early white abolitionists opposed slavery but not racialization. (29)

The early antislavery activists were moderates and gradualists for another important reason. They believed that the mission of the church, seen as evangelizing and discipling, must come first. … Jedidiah Morse, speaking at a celebration for the 1808 abolition of slave trade, nicely captured the early abolitionist perspectives. Although Africa was in “heathenish and Mahometan darkness,” God had enabled white men to transport those Africans who were to receive Christ’s freedom. “But since the blessed gospel now sheds its genial influence on Africa, by the preaching of the missionaries of the cross, its natives have no need to be carried to foreign lands, in order to enjoy its light; and God hath shut the door against their further transportation.” And what of those remaining in temporal bondage in the United States? According to Essig, “A direct and immediate assault on slavery was unnecessary, he believed, for it would be abolished gradually by the diffusion of gospel principles through America. … In his enthusiasm for African missions, his stress on evangelism at home, and his acquiescence to the prolonged existence of slavery in America, Morse accurately mirrored attitudes that prevailed among many white evangelicals in the North.” (29)

Thus, as the Revolutionary rhetoric faded, many white evangelicals saw nothing intrinsically wrong with slaveholding, and believed that the more obvious abuses of the system would dissipate with the conversion of masters and slaves. (30)

The Nation Divides: 1830-1865

Evangelicals, directed and energized by the same faith in common pursuit of a Christian America, diverged in their definitions of what a Christian America was. (31)

[Charles] Finney’s contribution to the abolitionist movement was substantial. He supplied the theological framework–stressing the need for the devout to engage in social reform–and the revivalistic impulse for opposition to slavery. That is, he made opposition to slavery an aspect of Christian discipleship. many of the prominent abolitionists were influenced by him. Finney not only preached the evil of slaveholding, but was one of the first to use his pulpit to prohibit slaveholders from taking communion, claiming that those who owned slaves were not Christians. (32)

| But his views were complicated by his primary concern for evangelism. (32) … Simply put, abolition was a detriment to evangelism. Failing to convince abolitionists to mend their ways, Finney became estranged from the movement. (33)

Although calling for a people to be freed, they did not call for an end to racialization. This allowed for a new form of racial inequality to spring forth after slavery’s demise. Specifically, by calling for an end to slavery but not racial division, the table was set for a large serving of Jim Crow. (33)

Our present point is that although some of the more outspoken abolitionists were evangelical, most evangelicals were not outspoken abolition-(33)ists. Thus, on the whole, northern evangelicals did not differ from southern evangelicals in their racial views, except that they tended to oppose slavery. (34)

Southern Evangelical Religion and Slavery: 1830-1865

Cynical though it may sound, it is not an exaggeration to submit that the critical fact in determining who opposed slavery and who supported it was, with every church that claimed a national constituency, a consequence entirely of political and economic factors. All of the Christian conviction in the world could not dent the purse of one slaveholder. – Forrest Wood

New Form, Similar Result: 1865-1917

Slavery as an institution ended with the war, but the former slaves remained. What should be done with “them” remained a question. As late as the month of his death, Abraham Lincoln was considering the idea of deportation. He asked Ben Butler, former union general and Massachusetts politician, to calculate the logistics of such a venture. Butler reported back:

Mr. President, I have gone carefully over my calculations as to the power of the country to export the Negroes of the South and I assure you that, using all your naval vessels and all the merchant marine fit to cross the seas with safety, it will be impossible for you to transport to the nearest place … half as fast as Negro children will be born here.

The freedpeople were not leaving. The four million former slaves were now four million people without land, with few economic resources, without much formal education, without even cooking utensils, and surrounded by hostile people who wanted to prove the new era mistake. Thousands died in the transition. In some areas, one out of every four African Americans died from disease, starvation, and killings. Moreover, because of their dire circumstances, many soon became victims of a new type of peonage: sharecropping. (37)

| But before sharecropping came into full force, and before Jim Crow laws, came a remarkable period in American history called Reconstruction. (37)

According to the 1860 census, African Americans constituted 35 percent of Virginia’s population, 36 percent of North Carolina’s, 44 percent of Georgia’s, 45 percent of Florida’s and Alabama’s, 50 percent of Louisiana’s, 55 percent of Mississippi’s, and 59 percent of South Carolina’s. Assuming voting along racial lines, these proportions made winning elections not only possible, but likely. (38)

White northerners largely abandoned the freedpeople due to political compromises, the immensity of the task, hostilities, declining interest, focus on overseas expansion, industrialization issues in northern cities, racial attitudes that were growing increasingly similar to white southerners’ (including the influence of Social Darwinism), and a growing desire for national unity and reconciliation. … By the turn of the century, an increasing number of white northerners’ thinking on race was essentially that of the white southerner. (39)

Almost immediately after the war, before the formal institution of Jim Crow segregation, African Americans in frustration left the white churches en masse to form their own churches. Denied equal participation in the existing churches, “the move toward racially separate churches was not a matter of doctrinal disagreement, but a protest against unequal and restrictive treatment.” 939)

The negro leaders in the South and their injudicious friends up North who are making such  an ado over “Jim Crow laws” quite overlook the fact that such laws do not discriminate against the blacks. They assign to the use for negroes certain seats in trolley cars, usually the same cars in which the white ride. In these places under the law they have rights. Without such a law those rights would often be challenged. – Christian Advocate of Nashville, 1905

It is instructive that for these northern evangelists [D. L. Moody; Billy Sunday], social reform, which had been a central characteristic of evangelical thought since the 1830s, was dropped in favor of a nearly singular emphasis on personal piety. …the racial issue simply was not important to most white evangelicals and white Americans generally in the latter half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. (41)

Renewed Concern: 1917-1950

In 1870, over 90 percent of African Americans lived in the South, and over 80 percent lived in the rural South. (41)

Through practices such as racial steering as well as violence, Northern whites during this period birth the black urban ghetto, a quintessential urban feature of contemporary American society, as the solution to the rise in the urban black population. Racial violence increased in urban areas as whites fought to protect their jobs and neighborhoods. Between 1917 and 1921, one black home in Chicago was bombed, on average, every twenty days. African Americans, often used as strikebreakers by northern industrialists, were viewed with contempt not only for their color, but also the economic threat they represented. (42)

[via: Jemar Tisby’s “Color of Compromise”; green.]

cf. the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, 1919.

cf. The Federal Council of Churches formed the Commission on Race Relations in 1921; annual Race Relations Sunday.

However, most formal efforts at addressing the race issue in the North during this period were engaged by mainline or theologically liberal Christians, not conservative Protestants, who were expending their energy on opposing secularization and the liberal agenda of mainline churches. (43)

On the whole then, after a short period of ferment, white evangelicals were quiet on the race issue, and black evangelicals were fairly silent as well. By the 1950s, however, black evangelicals began to speak out with a more organized voices. With World War II came new changes, particularly the acceleration of suburbanization and white flight int he face of continued black migration to northern cities. While in 1940 only one-third of metropolitan residents lived in suburbs, by 1965, the majority did. The end result, according to Massey and Denton, was that nearly all American cities with significant black populations–North, South, and West–had developed black ghettos. (45)

The Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and Early 1960s

In a movement centered and most successful in the South, black Christians called, protested, boycotted, and died for an end to Jim Crow segregation. The connection between religious faith and the social movement is a remarkable moment in American religious history, attesting to the power of religion to call for and realize (45) change. (46)

Southern evangelicals generally sided against black evangelicals on the segregation issue, and northern evangelicals seemed more preoccupied with other issues–such as evangelism, and fighting communism and theological liberalism. In fact, when we reviewed a central periodical of evangelicals, Christianity Today, from its founding in 1957 to 1965, we found, on average, less than two articles per year on race issues, despite this being a tumultuous period in American race relations history. (46)

Most evangelicals, even in the North, did not think it their duty to oppose segregation; it was enough to treat the blacks they knew personally with courtesy and fairness.” – William Marty

That is, they opposed personal prejudice and discrimination, but not the racialized social system itself. (46)

In response to King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech that his children might one day play together with white children, Graham, who had been invited but did not attend the 1963 March on Washington, said: “Only when Christ comes again will little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” This was not meant to be harsh, but rather what he and most white evangelicals perceived to be realistic. (47)


Few can survey this history and deny that there has been at least some progress, at least in some respects. Yet it is ironic that as racial thinking became more egalitarian, and as laws were passed and policies enacted meant to level the playing field, whites and blacks in many ways were growing father apart. (48)

Freedom has come to be freedom from–freedom from oppression, freedom from discrimination, and freedom from each other. In sum, through the long, arduous struggle, where religion aided racial change, it has been unidirectional: like America itself, it has occasionally helped to free people, but has been unable to bring them together or overcome racialization. The abolitionist movement worked to end slavery and free slaves, not to unite Americans in a common community. Likewise, the Civil Rights movement worked to gain rights and freedoms. (48)

3 Becoming Active
Contemporary Involvement in the American Dilemma

During this period, partly in reaction to the race-relations solutions that took precedence in the late 1960s and beyond, some evangelical leaders picked up a seemingly forgotten piece of Martin Luther King’s vision–the need to reconcile races–and ran with it. Over this period, they developed a formal theology of racial reconciliation. They devised principles and practices attempting to address a key issue pointed out at the close of Chapter Two: that blacks and whites probably knew less of each other in the late twentieth century than in previous times. … But something happened, we argue, in the translation from black evangelicals to a larger white evangelical audience. The popularized version for white evangelicals has emphasized mainly the individual-level components, leaving the larger racialized social structures, institutions, and culture intact. (52)

The Beginnings of Modern Evangelical Reconciliation Thought and Activity

What is this “reconciliation” to which these men devoted their lives? Reconciliation, as they proclaimed repeatedly, is the message of Christianity. (54)

As outlined by [John] Perkins, reconciliation is linked with two other Rs: relocation (moving to places of need) and redistribution (of talents, hopes, dreams, and materials). The end result, according to this model, is the reduction of racial division and inequality. In short, it is the ending of racialization. (54)

| According to [George] Yancey, these early leaders developed four major steps to achieve racial reconciliation. First, individuals of different races must develop primary relationships with each other. (54)

The second major step demands recognizing social structures of inequality, and that all Christians must resist them together. … The sin of “indifference” is noted by many of these early advocates of racial reconciliation. To sit on the sidelines while unequal and oppressive forces harm part of the Christian community is a grievous wrong. (55)

The third step is that whites, as the main creators and benefactors of the racialized society, must repent of their personal, historical, and social sins. If historical and social sins are not confessed and overcome, they are passed on to future generations, perpetuating the racialized systems, and perpetuating sin. (55)

| African Americans also have a responsibility. The fourth step states that they must be willing, when whites ask, to forgive them individually and corporately. Blacks must repent of their anger and whatever hatred they hold toward whites and the system. (55)

If we are to focus on individuals only, then justice does not mean working against structures of inequality, but treating individuals as equals, regardless of the actual economic and political facts. Equality is spiritually and individually based, not temporally and socially based. (58)

Developing and Expanding the Message

A White Evangelical and Racial Reconciliation: The Story of Curtiss DeYoung

The Crusade for Racial Reconciliation

Clearly for evangelicals the 1990s witnessed a whirlwind of activity addressing issues surrounding race in the United States. This activity was rooted in the work of African-American religious leaders who developed a theology of reconciliation, creating a frame for others to understand racial issues and their faith. (66)

Something Lost in Translation

Tears and hugs and saying I’m sorry is a good first step, but for me, the question is not one of changing the hearts of individuals as [much as] it is dealing with the systems and the structures that are devastating African-American people. – Carl Ellis, head of Project Joseph

As the message of reconciliation spread to a white audience, it was popularized. The racial reconciliation message given to the mass audience is individual reconciliation. … The more radical component of reconciliation espoused by the early black leaders and many of the current leaders–to challenge social systems of injustice and inequality, to confess social sin–is almost wholly absent in the popularized versions. (67)

White evangelicals need an at-risk gospel. … Calling sinners to repentance means also calling societies and structures to repentance–economic, social, educational, corporate, political, religious structures. … The gospel at once works with individual and the individual’s society: to change one, we of necessity must change the other – Cecil “Chip” Murray, senior pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles

To this day, the racial message remains a highly charged element of Promise Keepers’ ministry … of the 1996 conference participants who had a complaint, nearly 40 percent reacted negatively to the reconciliation theme. I personally believe it was a major factor in the significant falloff in PK’s 1997 attendance–it is simply a hard teaching for many. – Bill McCartney

4 Color Blind
Evangelicals Speak on the “Race Problem”

Making Sense of Evangelical Perspectives

…the race problem is one or more of three main types: (1) prejudiced individuals, resulting in bad relationships and sin, (2) other groups–usually African Americans–trying to make race problems a group issue when there is nothing more than individual problems, and (3) a fabrication of the self-interested–again often African Americans, but also the media, the government, or liberals. (74)

Common terms used to describe the race problem were prejudice, bigotry, anger, ignorance, lack of respect, fear of each other, poor communication, individuals hating or being angry at each other, and lacking Christ-like love for one another. … The racialized system itself is not directly challenged. What is challenged is the treatment of individuals within the system. (75)

For many, the race problem, no matter how big or how small, ultimately came down not to a social issue, but to personal defects of some individuals in some groups as they attempted to relate to each other. To understand this assessment of the race problem, we need to introduce the concept of cultural tools. (75)

| Sociologist Ann Swidler argues that culture creates ways for individuals (75) and groups to organize experiences and evaluate reality. It does so by providing a repertoire or “tool kit” of ideas, habits, skills, and styles. (76)

As certain cultural resources become more central in a given life, and become more fully invested with meaning, they anchor the strategies [and realities that people develop.] – Ann Swidler

People not only employ their cultural tools in the context in which they were first learned, but transpose or extend them to new and diverse situations. Thus, evangelicals, like others, use their religio-cultural tools not only in directly religious contexts, but in helping them make sense of issues like race relations. (76)

Religio-Cultural Tools in the White Evangelical Kit

The racially important cultural tools in the white evangelical tool kit are “accountable freewill individualism,” “relationalism” (attaching central importance to interpersonal relationships), and antistructuralism (inability to perceive or unwillingness to accept social structural influences) (76)

White conservative Protestants are accountable freewill individualists. Unlike progressives, for them individuals exist independent of structures and institutions, have freewill, and are individually accountable for their (76) own actions. (77)

For evangelicals, relationalism (a strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships) derives from the view that human nature is fallen and that salvation and Christian maturity can only come through a “personal relationship with Christ.” It is difficult to overemphasize the significance of this relationship for evangelicals. It is a bedrock, nonnegotiable belief. … According to one Baptist man, an evangelical is someone who acknowledges that “God has created individuals to be in a relationship with him. Because of our sinful nature we are set apart from that, and the way to have fellowship with God is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Transposing the importance of this relationship, white evangelicals place strong emphasis on family relationships, friendships, church (77) relationships, and other forms of interpersonal connections. Healthy relationships encourage people to make right choices. For this reason, white evangelicals, as we see, often view social problems as rooted in poor relationships or the negative influence of significant others. (78)

Absent from their accounts is the idea that poor relationships might be shaped by social structures, such as laws, the ways institutions operate, or forms of segregation. … White evangelicals not only interpret race issues by using accountable freewill individualism and relationalism, but they often find structural explanations irrelevant or even wrongheaded. The inability to see or unwillingness to accept alternatives not based on individuals is a corollary to accountable freewill individualism. This makes sense if we use the tool kit metaphor. As carpenters are limited to building with the tools in their kits…, so white evangelicals are severely constrained by their religio-cultural tools. (78)

[via: cf. Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi]

(Evangelicals are thus also antistructural because they believe that invoking social structures shifts guilt away from its root source–the accountable individual. However, evangelicals are selectively aware of social institutions–they see those that both impact them in their own social location and tend to undermine accountable freewill individualism. (79)

Isolation from Racial Pluralism and Cultural Tools

As interviewers, we were struck by how racially homogenous the social worlds of most evangelicals are, particularly those of white respondents. (80)

This isolation is important sociologically. Because the vast majority of white evangelicals do not directly witness individual-level prejudice (with the exception of some relatives who used the “N” word occasionally), the race problem simply cannot be as large an issue as some make it to be. (81)

One consequence of thoroughgoing evangelical individualism is a tendency to be ahistorical, to not grasp fully how history has an influence on the present. (81)

The Race Problem According to the Less Isolated

…knowing the cultural tool kit is not enough. We must examine the structural context within which these tools are applied. White Americans in particular are able to and often do live their everyday lives relatively isolated from other racial groups. … When racial isolation is reduced, the tools are extended in a different fashion, and even at times abandoned (and new ones created). (83)

According to “contact theory,” contact that does not meet certain conditions (such as equal status) typically leads to greater conflict and prejudice. (84)

What Are Some Concrete Examples of “Racism”?

Linking Views of the Race Problem and Racism to Racialization

On careful reflection, we can see that it is a necessity for evangelicals to interpret the problem at the individual level. To do otherwise would challenge the very basis of their world, both their faith and the American way of life. They accept and support individualism, relationalism, and antistructuralism. Suggesting social causes of the race problem challenges the cultural elements with which they construct their lives. This is the radical limitation of the white evangelical tool kit. (89)

What is more, because most white evangelicals perceive racisms as individual-level prejudice and discrimination, and do not view themselves as prejudiced people, they wonder why they must be challenged with problems they did not and do not cause. (89)

Because reality is socially constructed, a highly effective way to ensure the perpetuation of a racialized (89) system is simply to deny its existence. (90)

This perspective misses the racialized patterns that transcend and encompass individuals, and are therefore often institutional and system. It misses that whites can move to most any neighborhood, eat at most any restaurant, walk down most any street, or shop at most any store without having to worry or find out that they are not wanted, whereas African Americans often cannot. This perspective misses that white Americans can be almost certain that when stopped by the police, it has nothing to do with race, whereas African Americans cannot. This perspective misses that whites are assumed to be middle class unless proven otherwise, are not expected to speak for their race, can remain ignorant of other cultures without penalty, and do not have to ask every time something goes wrong if it is due to race, whereas African Americans cannot. This perspective misses that white Americans are far more likely than black Americans to get a solid education, avoid being a victim of crime, and have family and friends with money to help when extra cash is needed for college, a car, or a house. This perspective misses that white Americans are far more likely to have networks and connections that lead to good jobs than are black Americans. This perspective misses that white Americans are more likely to get fair treatment in the court system than are African Americans. And this perspective ultimately misses the truth revealed by Joe Feagin’s and Melvin Sikes’s exhaustive study of black middle-class Americans: “Today blatant, subtle, and covert discrimination against African Americans persists in virtually all aspects of their public life. … Racial discrimination is pervasive, and cumulative and costly in its impact.” The individualistic perspective encourages people to dismiss such evidence as liberal, wrongheaded, overblown, or as isolated incidents. Such a perspective, then, fails to see or acknowledge, as Cornel West puts it in Race Matters, “The sheer absurdity that confronts human beings of African descent in this country–the incessant assaults on black intelligence, beauty, character, and possibility.” (90)

| Ultimately, such a perspective effectively reproduces racialization. (90)

Ironically, evangelicalism’s cultural tools lead people in different social and geographical realities to assess the race problem in divergent and nonreconciliatory ways. This large gulf in understanding is perhaps part of the race problem’s core, and most certainly contributes to the entrenchment of the racialized society. (91)

5 Controlling One’s Own Destiny
Explaining Economic Inequality Between Blacks and Whites

For white evangelicals, the race problem does not include economic inequality. … Yet, because racial inequality is central to what is meant by a racialized society, we must explore how white evangelicals explain this reality. (94)

Explaining Racial Economic Inequality: The Views from a National Survey

The key set of questions on how Americans explain racial inequality begins: “On average blacks have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people. Do you think these differences are…” People are then asked to respond “yes” or “no” to each of four possible explanations,… (94)

  1. Because most blacks have less inborn ability to learn?
  2. Because most blacks just don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up out of poverty?
  3. Because most blacks don’t have the chance for education that it takes to rise out of poverty?
  4. Mainly due to discrimination?

Specifically, based on their cultural tools of accountable freewill individualism and antistructuralism, we expect the following:

  1. Compared to other whites, white conservative Protestants are more supportive of explanations that affirm individualism. (95)
  2. Compared to other whites, white conservative Protestants avoid acknowledging contemporary social structures, unless the social structures hinder individual determination. (95)

White conservative Protestants blame blacks more–or hold them more accountable–than other whites do. Nearly two-thirds of white conservative Protestants say blacks are poor because they lack sufficient motivation, compared to half of other white Americans. White conservative Protestants clearly are more likely to see inequality as rooted in black individuals than are other whites. (96)

White conservative Protestants, it appears, are more individualistic and less structural in their explanations of black-white inequality than other whites. (96)

Not only are the percentage differences large, but the explanations’ rank orders differ as well. Among white conservative Protestants, motivation is the most frequently cited reason, followed by education and discrimination. Among theologically liberal Protestants, education is the most frequently cited reason, followed by discrimination, and, finally, motivation. Cultural tools matter. (97)

| And race matters too. Black Americans, like white theologically liberal Protestants, rate lack of ability and motivation as the least likely explanations of racial inequality; also like white theologically liberal Protestants, over half cite lack of equal access to education. But unlike white theologically-liberal Protestants, the number one reason cited for racial inequality–by two-thirds of African Americans–is discrimination. This leads us to ask: Does religious identity influence black Americans’ explanations of racial inequality? (97)

| Yes. … Black conservative Protestants, compared to other blacks, are less individualistic and more structural in their explanations of racial inequality. Black conservative Protestants are less likely to cite lack of motivation as an explanation of racial inequality than are other black Americans. Conversely, they are more likely to cite discrimination than are other black Americans. (97)

…conservative religion intensifies the different values and experiences of each racial group, sharpening and increasing the divide between black and white Americans. (97)

Explaining Racial Economic Inequality: The Views from Our Interviews

We found that a pivotal and dearly held assumption for a large majority of white evangelicals is that all Americans have equal opportunity. (98)

The concept of equal opportunity both derives from and maintains accountable freewill individualism. (98)

Equally Created + Equal Opportunity + X = Unequal Outcome

If there is one overarching theme that most white (99) evangelicals shared in using these explanations, it was that black Americans lack hope and vision. (100)

Racial inequality challenges their world understanding, and it challenges their faith in God and America. And insofar as it does, it is capable of arousing impassioned responses, for they are now dealing not just in mundane policy matters, but with issues of cosmic significance. To these respondents, race, especially the black race, is one of America’s thorns in the side. If only blacks would “catch the vision,” change their habits, stop trying to shift blame, and apply themselves responsibly–in short, act more Christian, as they define it–racial inequality would be but a memory. (103)

White evangelicals used this explanation in one of two distinct ways. For one group, welfare undermined accountable freewill individualism and relationalism, and it was African Americans who were to blame for accepting welfare. (103)

Welfare does not just break down the family, it leads to individual sin. … It was also common to link welfare directly to the demise of individual initiative and responsibility among African Americans. (103)

The theological understanding of social structure as co-opting freewill individualism (antistructuralism) clearly plays a role here. Because systems and programs are viewed as obviating personal responsibility and not changing the hearts of individuals, they are ultimately destructive. (104)

In sum, the interviews reveal how thoroughly individually accountable, relationalist, and antistructuralist respondents were in their explanations, even when giving ostensibly social structural accounts. This pattern was accentuated for strong evangelicals. (106)

The Effect of Increased Contact with African Americans

Contact theory says that under the right conditions, having contact with people from other groups can reduce prejudice. (1060

[via: With specific conditions.]

As sociologists Mary Jackman and Marie Crane found in their study, having a black friend or two seems to serve for whites (107) as “a license to believe whatever they wish to” about blacks, and, because they have a friend, to be quite certain in their beliefs. (108)

Regardless of how one interprets the change, we have shown that a significant reduction in intergroup isolation alters how cultural tools are extended to explain the racial gap. (109)

The Connection Between Explanations of Black-White Inequality and Racialization

As heirs of traditional values that make the United States distinct, white evangelicals overwhelming hold both that the United States offers equal opportunity to all and that inequality results from lack of individual initiative and noncompetitive practices, such as accepting single-parent homes, having too many children, not stressing education, being too willing to receive welfare, and being unable to move beyond the past. White Americans favor individualistic explanations over structural ones. White American evangelicals are even more inclined to this pattern. (109)

Given that white evangelicals–and Americans in general it appears–are both comfortable with the black-white gap and inclined to do nothing about it, we do not think it too risky to conclude that evangelicals will make little contribution toward reducing the black-white gap. But we wish to extend our argument further to say that evangelicals, despite not wanting to, actually reproduce and contribute to racial inequality. (110)

A Parable

By not seeing the structures that impact on individual initiative–such as unequal access to quality education, segregated neighborhoods that concentrate the already higher black poverty rate and lead to further social problems, and other forms of discrimination… “to engage in a serious discussion of race in America, we must begin not with the problems of black people, but with the flaws of American society–flaws rooted in historic inequalities and longstanding cultural stereotypes.” [Cornel West] (112)

…acknowledge that structures and behaviors are inseparable, that institutions and values go hand in hand. – Cornel West

Not seeing the structures that both affect and create individuals also contributes to low self-esteem. (113)

6 Let’s Be Friend
Exploring Solutions to the Race Problem

The miracle motif is the theologically rooted idea that as more individuals become Christians, social and personal problems will be solved automatically. … “Christianity has the answers to everything if individuals become Christians. [How this applies to the race issue] is that we see each other as God’s children. How can we look down upon anybody that He created?” (117)

Derived in part from the cultural tools of freewill accountable individualism and relationalism, the miracle motif holds, like the quotation opening this chapter, that society is improved by improving individuals. … The focus of this principle, he writes, is that every human being is a child of God, loved and respected, and thus we owe and want to give the same to others. We are fundamentally equal. (117)

Solutions to “Racism”: The Views from Our Survey

When white evangelicals spoke of integrating congregations, they meant that their specific congregation is or ought to be open to all people. They did not meant they should consider going to a mixed or nonwhite congregation. No one spoke about this possibility. Further, no one spoke of the need for the congregation to adapt or diversify the way it does things to become racially mixed. This means that it must be other people, not them, who would have to make the change. (122)

Comparing Responses to the Solutions-to-Racism Alternatives by Evangelical Type and Race

As in the last chapter, white and black strong evangelicals appear even more racially divided than other Americans. This seems to be particularly so with respect to structural factors, whether explanations for racial inequality or solution-to-racism alternatives. Evangelicals believe their faith ought to be a powerful impetus for bringing people together across race. Ironically, their faiths seem to drive them further apart. (125)

Solutions to Racism from the Perspective of the Less Racially Isolated

What Is Racial Reconciliation to White Grassroots Evangelicals?

Despite being quite involved in racial reconciliation, that involvement is limited to her definition and her methods. It should not involve actual financial sacrifice or the possibility thereof, unless one is specifically called by God to make such a sacrifice. Apparently, racial reconciliation–the evangelical solution to racism and race problems–is quite limited in scope and content for ordinary evangelicals due to their worldview and the personal cost of alternatives. (129)

Evangelical Solutions to the Race Problem and Racialization

Two factors are most striking about evangelical solutions to racial problems. First, they are profoundly individualistic and interpersonal: become a Christian, love your individual neighbors, establish a cross-race friendship, give individuals the right to pursue jobs and individual justice without discrimination by other individuals, and ask forgiveness of individuals one has wronged. Second, although several evangelicals discuss the personal sacrifice necessary to form friendships across race, their solutions do not require financial or cultural sacrifice. They do not advocate or support changes that might cause extensive discomfort or change their economic and cultural lives. In short, they maintain what is for them the noncostly status quo. (130)

| We thus have a common problem. White evangelicals want to see an end to race problems because both their Christian faith and their faith in America creed call for it. But they are constrained by at least two forces. First, their cultural tools point them only to one dimension of the problem. As Stokely Carmichael and others have noted, when problems are at least in part structural, they must be addressed at least in part by structural solutions. If a building is on the verge of collapse due to an inadequate design, improving the quality of the bricks without improving the design is not a solution. Evangelicals, for all their recent energy directed at dealing with race problems, are attempting to improve the bricks, even having bricks better cemented to other bricks, but they are not doing anything about the faulty structural design. If their focus continues to be only on making better bricks, their expenditure of energy will largely be in vain. (130)

| Second, some white evangelicals appear to avoid changing the design not only because they lack the cultural tools, but also because changing the design would be costly. …white American evangelicals, unless burdened by an individual “calling,” assume that faith does not ask them to change the material aspects of their lives for this cause. (130)

The problem with these solutions is that, by themselves, they do not work. (130)

The miracle motif perspective allows Christians to avoid working with non-Christian reformers, and overlooks that people do not automatically become mature Christians on conversion. More fundamentally, it also mistakenly presumes that multilevel problems can be solved by unilevel solutions. What is more, it directs the church to become so focused on evangelizing that new converts are taught that Christian maturity consists of preparing for and actually evangelizing, to the exclusion of taking on social responsibility. (131)

…Mary Jackman and Marie Crane. … Their conclusions: Having a close, cross-race friendship–or even two–has only minimal effects, and only on three of the ten factors they examined. Similar to our findings that changes in racial perspectives occur mainly in the context of interracial networks rather than by merely having an intimate friendship, they found that intimacy is less important than having a variety of contacts, such as also having black acquaintances and living in mixed neighborhoods. … Thus, cross-race friendships produce the result expected by white evangelicals, but only under the conditions of relative integration and socioeconomic equality. (131)

| But even if these conditions were not necessary for the cross-race friendship approach to work, the massive extent of residential, congregational, and other forms of segregation and racial inequality (all of which are structurally maintained) continually mitigates against the successful formation of friendships and precludes the opportunity of enough people ever forming enough friendships to make a difference. Friendships are formed primarily under two conditions–similarity and proximity. (131)

White evangelical solutions to racialization are thus limited and, by themselves, ultimately doomed to failure. Although laudable for bringing in necessary components missing from most policy-oriented, structural solutions–personal responsibility, repentance and forgiveness, interpersonal interaction, the acknowledgment of what Myrdal labeled as the moral and spiritual aspects of the problem–the white evangelical prescriptions do not address major issues of racialization. They do not solve such structural issues as inequality in health care, economic inequality, police mistreatment, unequal access to educational opportunities, racially imbalanced environmental degradation, unequal political power, residential segregation, job discrimination, or even congregational segregation. White evangelical solutions do not challenge or change the U.S. society that “allocates differential economic, political, social, and even psychological rewards” to racial groups. In short, their prescriptions fail to render race inconsequential for life opportunities. (132)

| The result, as we saw in the last two chapters, is that white evangelicals, without any necessary intent, help to buttress the racialized society. Like their forebears during Jim Crow segregation, who prescribed kindness toward people of other races and getting to know people across races, but did not challenge the Jim Crow system, present-day white evangelicals attempt to solve the race problem without shaking the foundations on which racialization is built. As long as they do not see or acknowledge the structures of racialization, they inadvertently contribute to them. And, insofar as they continue to give solutions that do not challenge racialization, they allow racial inequality and division to continue unabated. (132)

A Substantial Shift in Focus: Thinking More Broadly

If white evangelicals were less racially isolated, they might assess race problems differently and, working in unison with others, apply their evangelical vigor to broader-based solutions. (132)

| But it is of course no accident that the vast majority of white evangelicals–and other whites as well-are racially isolated. As long as the white American population is larger than the black American population, by mathematical law, whites will be more isolated from blacks than vice versa. (132)

But one form of segregation carries particular importance in isolating evangelicals by race: congregational segregation. … Thus, the congregations that evangelicals attend not only shape their theological views, but are where they spend a great deal of time, compared to people in other major Christian traditions. Racially segregated congregations therefore have important implications for the racial isolation of evangelicals. (133)

7 The Organization of Religion and Internally Similar Congregations

…about 90 percent of American congregations are made up of at least 90 percent of people of the same race. (136)

Rather than attributing this congregational homogeneity to white prejudice, or even to the need of minority groups to create places of refuge from the dominant society, we argue that in the face of social and religious pluralism, the organization of American religion powerfully drives religious groups toward internal similarity. …to the extent that people can choose, they chose to be with people like themselves. But much more is operating than pure personal choice, and these factors lead people to internally similar congregations. 9136)

Becoming a “Religious Marketplace”

Classical theorists of the nineteenth century repeatedly pointed out that in preindustrial societies, religion was not chosen. One’s religion was ascribed, given at birth, shared by the whole social group. One’s religion was not only the religion of one’s parents, but also the religion of one’s relatives, neighbors, and community members. Moreover, the local institutions, laws, norms, and values all supported the same religion. Religion was so “given,” so essential to individual and corporate identity, so intertwined with all other spheres of life, that the concept of religion as a separate entity often did not exist. (137)

Despite exceptions, which we will explore, this has changed drastically in the United States and many other places. (137)

Akin to the shopping mall, Americans have a bewildering variety of religious forms from which to choose. Necessary conditions for any marketplace are suppliers, consumers, and some degree of freedom to choose (even though that choice occurs within a social context). American religion provides all these. (138)

| For a religious marketplace to exist, a society cannot have state-established, supported, and regulated churches. (138)

cf. Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1785)

From the 1720s through the 1750s, the Great Awakening… During this time, mass meetings stressing emotionalism and pietism were popularized. (138) The Great Awakening’s main impact also undercut church establishment. The awakenings polarized established churches and led to divisions and greater pluralism. (139)

The awakening spirit placed the emphasis on the inner religious experience of the individual Christian rather than on the traditional theologies and established securities. – Robert Handy, A Christian America: Protestant Hopes and Historical Realities, 1984

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” With the passage of the First Amendment, disestablishment at the national level was firmly in place, and this was followed, over time, by disestablishment at the state level. Disestablishment meant that religious groups could no longer depend on the state for their survival. (139)

As religion scholars such as historian Nathan Hatch and sociologists Roger Finke and Rodney Stark note, when religion becomes disestablished, it opens the doors for creative religious entrepreneurs to market their alternative faiths to religious consumers. The general public, likewise, is freed–at least in the ideal–to choose among options. Disestablishment in the context of a new, pluralistic nation led to a religious marketplace. With only slight exaggeration, the United States can be characterized as the “mega-mall” of religious consumerism. (139)

The religious marketplace is thus shaped in part by competition. (140)

…religious pluralism. ….an effective way to compete is to specialize to meet the demands of one submarket. This leaves others’ needs unmet, but those are filled by other suppliers. (141)

Why Congregations Are Internally Similar

The processes that generate church growth, internal strength, and vitality in a religious marketplace also internally homogenize and externally divide people. Conversely, the processes intended to promote the inclusion of different peoples also tend to weaken the internal identity, strength, and vitality of volunteer organizations. (142)

Why Are People in Religious Groups?

…it is a basic sociological principle that the human drives for meaning and belonging are necessarily realized through interaction with others, primarily in social groups. It is within the context of groups, especially religious groups, that one answers questions such as, “Who am I?,” “Why do I exist?,” “How should I relate to others?,” and “How do I understand tragedy?” (142)

Groups Need Boundaries and Social Solidarity

Two important ways that groups provide meaning and belonging are by establishing groups boundaries and social solidarity. (142)

In many respects, we know who we are by knowing who we are not. (243)

Pluralism, competition, and niche marketing influence the formation of group identity by providing comparison groups, often sharpening boundaries. Groups that stress tolerance, openness to diversity, and inclusiveness typically lack the ability to have strong comparison groups by which to define their boundaries (with the exception that they may compare themselves to groups that do draw distinct boundaries). Their boundaries are fuzzy, and they thus find it more difficult to provide meaning and belonging. In sum, groups that are more capable of constructing distinct identity boundaries, short of becoming genuinely countercultural, produce stronger collective identities. As a consequence, they often maintain or grow in size and strength. This is the essence both of our subcultural theory of religious strength and the religious economies view of religious strength. … Any group that lacks social solidarity eventually fails. A group typically is said to have solidarity if its members are cohesive, working for a common purpose, and closely knit. … For [sociologist Michael Hechter], social solidarity increases as members’ private resources contributed to group ends increase. These resources include money, time, social ties, skills, knowledge, and allegiance. (143)

If a group is to achieve solidarity, necessary fo the survival of a volunteer group, its primary purpose cannot be to do something outside the group, but rather to create something within the group, as in the case of married couples. (144)

Internally Similar Congregations Are Less Costly

In a pluralistic market, and given that most people seek the greatest gain for the least cost, internally diverse congregations are typically at a disadvantage. The key generalization is this: the cost of producing meaning, belonging, and security in internally diverse congregations is usually much greater–because of the increased complexity of demands, needs, and backgrounds, the increased effort necessary to create social solidarity and group identity, and the greater potential for internal conflict. Thus, internally homogenous congregations more often provide what draws people to religious groups for a lower cost than do internally diverse congregations. (145)

Social Psychological Reasons

…social associations between like people are more stable. (145)

[via: cf. Jane Elliot’s “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes”]

The status-quo bias is the tendency of people to stick with what they have, even if gains could be made by selecting an alternative. (146)

Macro Sociological Reasons

the niche edge effect. … “Members at the edge of the organization’s niche will have higher turnover than members at the center of the organization’s niche, as a result of their higher proportion of extraorganizational ties and their lower proportion of intraorganizational ties.” (148)

In the deregulated religious marketplace of the United States, the niche overlap effect implies that competition between religious groups drives them to be what they often do not want to be–homogenous. This is because they must focus limited resources on a relatively unique niche and, as we have seen, because atypical members do not generally remain members. Therefore, because individual congregations are situated within a marketplace of competing congregations, attempts at pluralism are often overridden by the homogenizing structural factors of the niche edge and overlap effects. And this is in part why stated ideology or religious values regarding race often make little difference in the actual level of within-group heterogeneity. (150)

From the Abstract Back to the Concrete: Religious Organizations and the Homogenous Units Principle

cf. Our Kind of People by C. Peter Wagner

Wagner’s argument is quite simple. Undoubtedly, congregations are extremely homogenous. Although people often lament this fact, he argues that they should not. First, ethnic and racial groups, in and of themselves, are amoral. Second, people prefer to worship in their own cultural groups. Third, denominations and congregations that use the “homogenous units principle,” which means that volunteer organizations function best when composed of just one cultural group, grow and are more vital. … And fourth, because Wagner views the primary mission of Christianity to evangelize–much like evangelicals before him–not only are homogenous congregations acceptable, but the (150) homogenous units principle is an essential tool for Christian growth. (151)

For optimum conditions of growth, the composition of a congregation should be compatible with the needs for social companionship felt by the unchurched people in the community. … the local congregation in a given community should be only as integrated as are the families and other primary social groups in the community. – C. Peter Wagner

A Final Word

The organization of American religion is characterized by disestablishement [sic], pluralism, competition, and consumer choice. … Although racially homogenous churches certainly can result from individual and group racial prejudice, the principles discussed in this chapter indicate that, given U.S. history, merely eliminating racial prejudice would not end racially divided churches. (151)

8 Structurally Speaking
Religion and Racialization

Racially Homogenous Religious Groups, Divisions, Biases, and Loyalty

Macro-Level Division

Part of the irony of religion’s role is that in strengthening micro bonds between individuals, religion contributes to within-group homogeneity, heightens isolation from different groups, and reduces the opportunity for the formation of macro bonds–bonds between groups–that serve to integrate a society. (155)

Categorization and Differentiation

The social categories we develop are more than convenient groupings of individuals that simplify the actual diversities among the people we observe and encounter. They are also categories that can bias the way we process information, organize and store it in memory, and make judgments about members of those social categories. – Hamilton and Trolier

People consistently engage in social comparison, and research links categorization to at least five biases. The purpose of these biases “is primarily to distinguish the ingroup positively from the position of the outgroup rather than to downgrade the outgroup.” (156)

| Merely knowing that people are classified into one group or another produces a rather consistent consequence: people tend to exaggerate the similarities of ingroup members and their differences from outgroup members. (156)

[via: cf. “Correspondence Bias” a.k.a. “Fundamental Attribution Error.”]

…we also (156) appear to have better memories for negative outgroup behaviors than for negative ingroup behaviors. We are consistently positively biased toward our group. (157)

The Ethical Paradox of Group Loyalty

Given human limitations, racially exclusive identities and congregations necessitate bias. We might call this the ethical paradox of group loyalty. The paradox is that even if made up of loving, unselfish individuals, the group transmutes individual unselfishness into group selfishness. (158)

At the individual level, selfishness is usually considered negative, but at the group level, it is (158) considered moral and just. Indeed, at the group level, it is not called selfishness, but morality, service, sacrifice, or loyalty. (159)

Racially Homogenous Religious Groups, Separate Networks, and Inequality

At its core, contemporary racialization is characterized by separate networks and differential access to valued resources, such as health, wealth, and status. The mere existence of racially homogenous religious groups contributes to racially separate networks. Racially homogenous religious groups, especially strong religious groups, also contribute to differential access to resources, given the preexisting context of inequality by race. (160)

Separate Networks

The “stronger” the religion, the more it segregates networks by increasing the density of one’s ingroup ties. (161)

Thus, religions–especially “strong” religion–Both helps to create racially distinctive networks and, in using them as the basis for congregational and denominational growth, helps maintain and justify them. (161)

Racial Inequality

(1) In the United States there is racial inequality in access to valued resources. (2) Access to valued resources–such as jobs, prestige, wealth, and power–is gained in significant part through social ties. (3) …people have positive bias for their ingroups and negative bias for outgroups. (161)

The Segmented Market and the Fragmented Voice

It is mainly a social organization, pathetically timid and human; it is going to stand on the side of wealth and power; it is going to espouse any cause which is sufficiently popular, with eagerness. – W. E. B. DuBois (“Will the Church Remove the Color Line, Christian Century, 48:1554-56 (1931) [cf. Du Bois on Religion]

The organization of American religion gives religious groups the freedom to compete for adherents, which appears to create a dynamic vitality. It also leads to competition, pluralism, and ultimately a very segmented market. (163)

| For our purposes, there is an important consequence of this segmented market. A key function in most religions is to proclaim what ought to be, what is universally true, what is right and just. We may call this the prophetic voice. But the organization of American religion fragments this prophetic voice, even within the same religion, into thousands of different voices. (163)

And we contend that, at least in race relations, the dominant white religious voices, amid the vast variety, are nearly always those that are least prophetic, most support-(163)ive of the status quo. It is not just that the prophetic voices that call for overcoming group divisions and inequalities typically are ghettoized. (164)

…the organization of American religion encourages religious groups to cater to people’s existing preferences, rather than their ideal callings. … The congregation often looks to religion not as an external force that places radical demands on their lives, but rather as a way to fulfill their needs. Those who are successful in the world, those of adequate or abundant means, those in positions of power (whether they are aware of this power or not), rarely come to church to have their social and economic positions altered. If we accept the oftentimes reasonable proposition that most people seek the greatest benefit for the least cost, they will seek meaning and belonging with the least change possible. Thus, if they can go to either the Church of Meaning and Belonging, or the Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging, most people choose the former. It provides benefit for less cost. Prophetic voices calling for the end of group division and inequality, to the extent that this requires sacrifice or threatens group cohesion, are perfectly free to exist, but they are ghettoized. (164)

In practice congregation members expect the minister to do nothing (such as taking a prophetic voice) which would interfere with the harmony and growth of the membership. – Charles Thomas Jr.

cf. The Gathering Storm in the Churches by Jeffry Hadden

…independent of their own personal views, the positions of their respective denominations, the position of the UTC staff, and the views and actions of fellow ministers int he training program, [the clergy] appear to have responded to this choice in terms of their congregations’ expectations. – Hadden

What the clergy believed was right–in other words, what they believed the prophetic voice should be–was ultimately constrained and shaped by the wishes of their congregations. (165)

Clergy have come to see the church as an institution for challenging [people] to new hopes and new visions of a better world. Laity on the other hand, are in large part committed to the view that the church should be a source of comfort for them in a troubled world. They are essentially consumers rather than producers of the church’s love and concern for the world, and the large majority deeply resent [the clergy’s] efforts to remake the church. – Hadden

…the more clergy have to lose by speaking and acting prophetically on race issues, the less likely they are to do so. …the most popular religious groups in a local area–as measured by membership numbers–are the least likely to take social activism stands on racial issues, as they have more to lose in the community by challenging the status quo. (166)

Quite simply, the structure of American religion, and the values that both guide that structure and grant influence to individuals, result in significant limits to religious authority. (166)

[via: I believe in a “myth of leadership” of which this is one aspect.]

Religious organizations therefore tend to be limited in the types of social change they can bring about. 9167)

So, within groups, religious leaders possess power and authority, to be sure, but only to the extent that they embody a group’s concerns and hopes. (167)

9 Conclusion

Despite devoting considerable time and energy to solving the problem of racial division, white evangelicalism likely does more to perpetuate the racialized society than to reduce it. This, we have seen, is because of its history, its thorough acceptance of a reliance on free market principles, its subcultural tool kit, and, more broadly, the nature of the organization of American religion. Our examination of a variety of data and consideration of a variety of levels of social influence suggest that many race issues that white evangelicals want to see solved are generated in part by the way they themselves do religion, interpret their world, and live their own lives. These factors range from the ways evangelicals and others organize into internally similar congregations, and the segregation and inequality such congregations help produce; to theologically rooted evangelical cultural tools, which tend to (1) minimize and individualize the race problem, (2) assign blame to blacks themselves for racial inequality, (3) obscure inequality as part of racial division, and (4) suggest unidimensional solutions to racial division. (170)

The evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment. – Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an oversimplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and series reflection. – N. K. Clifford

Trying to overcome racial divisions in America has been very difficult in the past, and we should not expect things to get much easier in the very near future. At the same time, the choices and actions that people make to deal with racial divisions do matter and can make a difference. Good intentions are not enough. But educated, sacrificial, realistic efforts made in faith across racial lines can help us together move toward a more just, equitable, and peaceful society. And that is a purpose well worth striving toward. (172)

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