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

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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 chasm. Through a nationwide telephone survey of 2,000 people and an additional 200 face-to-face interviews, Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith probed the grassroots of white evangelical America. They found that despite recent efforts by the movement's leaders to address the problem of racial discrimination, evangelicals themselves seem to be preserving America's racial chasm. In fact, most white evangelicals see no systematic discrimination against blacks. But the authors contend that it is not active racism that prevents evangelicals from recognizing ongoing problems in American society. Instead, it is the evangelical movement's emphasis on individualism, free will, and personal relationships that makes invisible the pervasive injustice that perpetuates racial inequality. Most racial problems, the subjects told the authors, can be solved by the repentance and conversion of the sinful individuals at fault. Combining a substantial body of evidence with sophisticated analysis and interpretation, the authors throw sharp light on the oldest American dilemma. In the end, they conclude that despite the best intentions of evangelical leaders and some positive trends, real racial reconciliation remains far over the horizon.


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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. 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    James Kim

    Here's the thing...I really didn't want to like this book. In fact in the first several chapters I was convinced that this was a book written with an agenda and all that the author was doing was backing up his bias with data that supported his bias. The more I read the book, the more this book caused me to think and reflect on the racialization of America and what role Evangelical Christianity has had in maintaining that racialization. Where I am now is that the author presents the evangelical c Here's the thing...I really didn't want to like this book. In fact in the first several chapters I was convinced that this was a book written with an agenda and all that the author was doing was backing up his bias with data that supported his bias. The more I read the book, the more this book caused me to think and reflect on the racialization of America and what role Evangelical Christianity has had in maintaining that racialization. Where I am now is that the author presents the evangelical church with uncomfortable truths that we must reflect on and think through. The solutions and the realities of internal bias for the familiar...I am not sure what to do with all that. In one sense, in order to lead you have spur one another to good works. But there's fine line where the spurring becomes spearing...and when that happens, you are no longer leading because eventually no one is following. No matter where you are on this issue, the book is well worth the read and the discussions and reflections that are spurred on by the author are well worth thinking and praying through.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    This book rocked my world. I developed a heart for racial reconciliation in college through InterVarsity and saw the need for it in the church at large. I watched as minority bible stuides were formed, and collapsed, as some leaders will developed and as the fellowship remained relatively mono-ethnic. This book, written from a socialogical point of view, articulated a lot of the frustrations I have had over the years with the high inertia and heavy cost required for racial reconciliation. As the This book rocked my world. I developed a heart for racial reconciliation in college through InterVarsity and saw the need for it in the church at large. I watched as minority bible stuides were formed, and collapsed, as some leaders will developed and as the fellowship remained relatively mono-ethnic. This book, written from a socialogical point of view, articulated a lot of the frustrations I have had over the years with the high inertia and heavy cost required for racial reconciliation. As they articulated how the very tools evangelicals used to deal with issues of race actually perpetuate the problem i could think of examples of this being true. Though sobering, I would say this is a must read for any evangelical, heck any white american interested in issues of ethnic and racial reconciliation.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Caleb

    "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" (p164). Divided by Faith is getting long in the tooth now (published in 2000), but it still offers a challenging window into conservative evangelical thinking on race. Emerson and Smith reveal (confirm?) that a majority of American evangelicals take an individualistic and moralistic approach to racial issues. In so doing, no matter how well-mea "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" (p164). Divided by Faith is getting long in the tooth now (published in 2000), but it still offers a challenging window into conservative evangelical thinking on race. Emerson and Smith reveal (confirm?) that a majority of American evangelicals take an individualistic and moralistic approach to racial issues. In so doing, no matter how well-meaning, they reproduce and in some cases exacerbate racial inequality. Emerson and Smith, like most humanities and social science academics that I know, favor structural explanations and solutions for inequality. Such solutions usually mean state coercion, as the authors imply by criticizing individual freedom, choice, and similar "American" values. The book stops short of offering any solutions, which limits the power of its critique. The authors are so confident that their enlightened sociological perspective is adequate to diagnose the shortcomings of religious views on racial inequality, the "real" cause of racial inequality, and therefore the most effective solutions, but they refuse to give readers any idea of what a sociologically acceptable, structural solution would be. Are they afraid that most would find it unacceptable? Still, the book is 2/3 right. Many Christians are consumerist beyond their knowing it in their lives and religious practice. We are too individualistic and only interested in justice to a comfortable degree. And racial divisions do indeed have structural components. For example, the book highlights a fascinating and troubling paradox: that the marketplace structure of American religion (you are free to choose where you worship and who you listen to) means that religion's potential to spread a prophetic and radical message is constrained by the need to attract and keep parishioners. So leaders who want to challenge the comfortable and racially segregated lives of their congregants risk losing their audience, so they can only be as challenging as their group allows. But what is the solution? Surely Emerson and Smith aren't advocating the establishment of religion? They don't really say beyond more vague references to "structural solutions." The implication is that producing economic equality through housing, education, and jobs policies will lead to integrated social lives (including religious). So is their problem with evangelicalism that its frame prevents parishioners from adopting structural change? Or that religion itself should produce social change but doesn't because of its arbitrary emphasis on individual morality? Again, the authors never come out and say it, though they imply in the conclusion that Christianity could encourage much needed reconciliation and forgiveness, while the state (led by experts) creates policies that constrain and direct individual choices towards equality, integration, and interdependence. My major annoyance with the book is the positivistic arrogance of sociology. The discussion of data and sociological "laws" needed to be supplemented by more history and humility. Indeed, if congregations segregate according to established sociological principle, what hope do we have? Sociology and religion come from two very different ways of knowing and understanding the world - approaches that are in some ways incompatible and in other ways complementary. Their complementarity is finally discussed in the book's short conclusion, but the tension between them was apparent throughout. Is sociology necessary to change evangelical views on race, or would better theology do just as well? In short, Divided by Faith is an enlightening and frustrating read. It can help readers reflect on the realities of racial segregation within Christianity and what might be done. But it also reveals epistemological hubris and condescension of sociology. The book would be stronger if the authors challenged themselves to the kind of self-critical reflection that they demand of evangelicals.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Richardson

    I wanted to hate this book. Perhaps I even literally threw the book at the wall several times. But there's no denying how grateful I am to have let this book marinate my soul. I never personally struggled with racism. So I walked through life thinking everyone is responsible for themselves and what they put in this world. And that's not false. But I discovered so much more. I discovered systemic racism. And it rocked me. So before you speak out on race relations at all, I urge you to study about I wanted to hate this book. Perhaps I even literally threw the book at the wall several times. But there's no denying how grateful I am to have let this book marinate my soul. I never personally struggled with racism. So I walked through life thinking everyone is responsible for themselves and what they put in this world. And that's not false. But I discovered so much more. I discovered systemic racism. And it rocked me. So before you speak out on race relations at all, I urge you to study about the history of our country, the history of our religion and how both are intertwined and are the foundation for the problems we are continuing to have today in a racialized society.

  5. 4 out of 5

    david shin

    This is a very good sociology book on how evangelical America is just as divided (if not more) by race and socio-economics. It is a sharp criticism of the American church, of its racism and bias towards class and ethnicity. Truly a wake up call for anyone who says they're a follower of Jesus.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I read this book as research for a paper I am working on for a seminary class. I was interested to learn about the church's involvement in racial issues and strategies for improving areas of conflict. After reading this book, I have no more tools than when I started. Though the authors are not forthcoming with their own perspective or motivation for writing this book, their bias is evident from the reductionistic way they talk about their data, the descriptors and tone they use when referencing I read this book as research for a paper I am working on for a seminary class. I was interested to learn about the church's involvement in racial issues and strategies for improving areas of conflict. After reading this book, I have no more tools than when I started. Though the authors are not forthcoming with their own perspective or motivation for writing this book, their bias is evident from the reductionistic way they talk about their data, the descriptors and tone they use when referencing their subjects and the simplistic, one-sided conclusions at which they arrive. While the overall tone of the book tries to sound neutral, the interpretation of history, current trends and data points is anything but. The authors bring assumptions to the writing of this book and dismiss opposing viewpoints from the people they interviewed as ignorance or bias. With very few exceptions, white people, especially "isolated" and evangelical white people, are the problem because they fail to recognize and actively correct the systematic and institutional racialization that creates "separate networks and differential access to valued resources, such as health, wealth and status." The authors fail to make note of (or even, it seems, conceive of) other factors that could be at play or the essential caveat of all research: correlation does not equal causation. Perhaps the most unfortunate bias is the one that drives the entire argument. The author's narrow, flawed understanding of the Church (its purpose and goals) leads them to this conclusion: "Despite devoting considerable time and energy to solving the problem of racial division, white evangelism likely does more to perpetuate the racialized society than to reduce it." They claim that the stronger the religious tie to church, the more intensely the "structural arrangements" of churches show "formation and maintenance of group biases, direct altruistic religious impulses to express themselves primarily within racially separate groups, contribute to segregated social networks and identities, help perpetuate socioeconomic inequality by race and generally fragment and drown out religious prophetic voices calling for an end to racialization." The authors criticize church leaders who are explicitly pursuing gospel opportunities and evangelism instead of focusing on what they consider to be the most important issue: solving the racialization of America. Defined as a society "wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships," the authors argue that reducing racialization should be the highest priority and that evangelicals, far from making it the highest priority "view their primary task as evangelism and discipleship" and therefore shy away from pursuits that take away from those goals. Not only that, but the nature of church (as the author's see it) perpetuates racial separation just by being what it is. Citing the individualistic and relational values of white evangelicals and the natural outcome of division when people are grouped according to similarities, in addition to the tendency of people to spend more resources on their own "ingroup," the evangelical church is, to the authors, an unhelpful (and even detrimental) force in American society. Even though the authors concede that "religion has tremendous potential for mitigating racial division and inequality" and that "most religions teach love, respect, and equality of all peoples" and that "faith motivated the fight against slavery" and "played a central role in the Civil Rights movement," nevertheless the "countervailing influences" of religion on racialization "ironically help generate and perpetuate the very conditions that these positive actions seek to end." The authors, in an extremely, irresponsibly brief and mission-seeking consultation of scripture, claim that "racial reconciliation is God's imperative." Listing several steps that Christians are therefore compelled to take toward that end (developed by the early leaders of the cause to end racialization), the authors evaluate evangelicals on the performance of these steps and find them overwhelmingly wanting. Unfortunately, what the authors fail to perceive is that ending racialization is actually not the primary goal of the Church and it never has been. To hold the Church (or evangelicals on which this book is focused) accountable to a goal that the authors somehow deemed primary at the exclusion of the Church's actual stated goals is foolish and arrogant. It would be like me claiming that car companies are failing at reducing the class gap because car companies make cars at different price points and perpetuate the rich having nicer cars than the poor. Placing a priority on car manufacturers to solve the class gap and then evaluating them on their progress when they never claimed to be about that objective is ridiculous. It's not a perfect analogy because the Church does have something to do with justice and brotherhood, but even if we assumed that every culture dealt with the same problems that we do in the United States (making racialization a common theme in every society that ever existed), the Bible simply does not place racial reconciliation specificaly in the center of God's directive to the church and believers. Is it incumbent on all believers to oppose injustice and pursue relationships with others in the freedom of Christ (not according to social, racial or any other distinguishable trait)? Yes, absolutely. But the church is not about the reduction of racialization. It's about Christ. It's about the gospel. It's about treasuring Christ even while we suffer the effects of sin in this world (in a variety of forms). If you want to try make the case (from Scripture since that is the charter for the Church) that ending racialization is the most important thing ever for the church and then point out areas in which evangelicals may inadvertently (or even sinfully) be perpetuating racial injustice and how it can improve in line with what it already believes, go ahead. Declaring the church to be about your own idea of a perfect society, though, and then holding the church accountable to that idea and claiming that it is inherently incompatible with that idea is just a ridiculous premise for a book. While there was some food for thought in this book (like how premilienialism/postmilenialism impacts how people view the urgency of cultural/societal change; how "homogenous networks" naturally create advantages for some; how the relational emphasis of evangelicalism influences people to see the solution to societal problems as being solved on the individual person-to-person level), the deeply misconceived understanding of the Church undermines almost everything the authors try to argue. There's more I could say, and I'll be organizing my thoughts further as I start writing my paper, but, overall, I was pretty disappointed with the idea of an entire book being written about how evangelicals are failing at a goal that they never claimed as their primary drive in the first place. I think it's very shortsighted and narrow-minded of the authors to make the Church, an entity that has existed for 2000 years and has explicit goals and teachings, revolve around something that, according to their own summarization, began as early as the 1700s and isn't mentioned in Scripture at all (as such). Not only that, but there are no answers to the question "What can/should be done?" other than, stated in the last few paragraphs, that the church should engage in "more serious reflection on race-relation issues, in dialogue with educated others." So the church, despite its best efforts to do what the church is actually designed to do, is failing at the authors' idea of reducing racialization in America because the church inherently creates an environment where racialization flourishes, but it's beyond the authors' scope to do anything but criticize. And, again, given the authors' misunderstanding of the church and Christianity's goals in general, that criticism rings very hollow. If anything, this book has confirmed that fact that the Church will have many priorities put on it (even by people who have a very shallow understanding of the Bible and Christianity), but it needs to stay true to the Great Commission and the teachings of Christ (to make disciples and to "grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.") These goals will impact the world and our relationships with others according to God's plan, not the changing perspectives of men.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Philip Hazelip

    I highly recommend this book. It does an extraordinary job in bringing self-awareness to the lens white evangelicals see and approach life through. At many times, it is an upsetting book. It uses research, studies, interviews, and logic to shed light on a disturbing history and a grim present; however, it goes on to provide hope for a better future. Essentially, good intentions are not enough. Loving one another strictly through interpersonal relationships is not enough. To love one another, we I highly recommend this book. It does an extraordinary job in bringing self-awareness to the lens white evangelicals see and approach life through. At many times, it is an upsetting book. It uses research, studies, interviews, and logic to shed light on a disturbing history and a grim present; however, it goes on to provide hope for a better future. Essentially, good intentions are not enough. Loving one another strictly through interpersonal relationships is not enough. To love one another, we must advocate for each other by acknowledging structural flaws in our nation and then moving toward action to fight injustice. Spreading the gospel message and loving one another as Christ has loved us are both non-negotiable; however, we are falling short of loving one another if we do not fight injustice at the macro-level as well. The book explains this (and more) much better and I would love to talk more about it with anyone who is interested.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Breanna Chov

    A dense book that requires some perseverance, but definitely worth the read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    I honestly believe everyone in America should read this book, especially white America. I can't claim to know the solution now to solve racialization but this book has drastically open my eyes to the truth, depth and pains of racial injustice in our country and I think the last sentences of the books sum it up well..."Good intentions are not enough. But educated, sacrificial, realistic, efforts made in faith across racial line can help us together move toward a more just, equitable, and peaceful I honestly believe everyone in America should read this book, especially white America. I can't claim to know the solution now to solve racialization but this book has drastically open my eyes to the truth, depth and pains of racial injustice in our country and I think the last sentences of the books sum it up well..."Good intentions are not enough. But educated, sacrificial, realistic, efforts made in faith across racial line can help us together move toward a more just, equitable, and peaceful society. And that is a purpose well worth striving toward."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shane Williamson

    First reading (07/05/17)— A must read. Insightful and convicting. Second reading (13/03/19)— The recently documented slow and steady exodus of African Americans from Protestant evangelical churches in America raises a pointed question not many are willing to engage: why is the majority of the black population in America uncomfortable in majority white churches? Better still, why is there even a racial divide within American churches? The Apostle Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:11–22 paints a radical First reading (07/05/17)— A must read. Insightful and convicting. Second reading (13/03/19)— The recently documented slow and steady exodus of African Americans from Protestant evangelical churches in America raises a pointed question not many are willing to engage: why is the majority of the black population in America uncomfortable in majority white churches? Better still, why is there even a racial divide within American churches? The Apostle Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:11–22 paints a radical picture of the most divided people coming together as one new humanity in Christ. Contra Paul’s teaching, the evangelical landscape resembles a reality less than satisfying, falling far short from the supposed unity we have in Christ. Written almost twenty years ago, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America is Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith’s attempt to unearth evangelicalism and its relationship to race relations in America. Michael O. Emerson is author of Religion Matters: What Sociology Teaches Us About Religion in Our World and serves as provost of North Park University in Chicago. In this title, Emerson is joined by leading American theorist of the philosophy of critical realism and the social theory of personalism, Christian Smith. Currently serving as the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame, Smith is the also author of American Evangelicalism and Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want. In this present work Emerson and Smith examine the role of white evangelicalism in black-white relations (ix). Divided by Faith combines history with the authors’ own socio-theological research in which over two thousand interviews were conducted with contemporary evangelicals and other Americans in the late 1990’s. Emerson and Smith’s thesis is this: in spite of evangelicals attempting to end racial division and inequality their cultural and epistemological tools as well as the very structure of Protestant religion is more likely to perpetuate the racial division. The reader in challenged by the authors’ attempts to go beyond the “old idea that racial problems result from ignorant, prejudiced, mean people.” Instead, effects of culture, values, norms, and the very structure of evangelical religion in America are explored and shown to “paradoxically have negative effects on race relations.” (ix) Divided by Faith speaks directly to the recent exodus of African Americans from white churches, the latter serving as a fulfilment of the concerns espoused by Emerson and Smith some twenty years ago. Summary & Critical Evaluation— The introduction of Divided by Faith delineates key terms in their study, particularly the identity of evangelicals, which the authors apply broadly: holding to the authority of Scripture, believe Christ died for the salvation of all, and teaching the necessity of “being born again,” with evangelism being a central tenet. (3) I think that a broad application of ‘evangelical’ aided their research as it brought more variety into their field of questioning. Chapter one sees Emerson and Smith further defining the scope of their study. More specifically, they get to the heart of the book’s fundamental concern: a “racialized society” (7). This is no doubt the most essential concept in the book’s intended aims. Without understanding this concept, not much of what follows will make sense. A racialized society is one wherein “race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” (7) But this concept has particular specificity in mind: economic, political, social, and even psychological discrepancies that are evidenced along racial lines. Another important aspect of the racialized society is that it is a dynamic phenomenon, adapting and existing in a state of fluidity. Racism, then, is not merely individual, overt prejudice, but the “collective misuse of power that results in diminished life opportunities for some racial groups.” (9) Racism, then, is perpetually changing, continually in motion, whilst simultaneously, and paradoxically so, remaining immutable in its application and justification of the racialized societal system. (9) To prove the reality of the racialized society, the authors engage and utilize several areas of disparity between white and black Americans: from marriage (11), to economic inequality (12–14), to health, life and even death (14). The statistics appear to be used fairly and represent clear lines of disparity. The more than 2, 500 phone calls and almost 200 face-to-face interviews over twenty-three states (18–19), more clearly reveal the theology and sociological underpinning that produce such statistics. In chapter two the authors further support their thesis with a brief but concise examination of evangelical thought and practice from the beginning of the 18th century up until 1964. This chapter primarily seeks to understand how evangelicals have thought of race in the past and “what sorts of actions they have taken to address racial issues.” (19) Evangelicalism has historically been driven by evangelism and discipleship, whilst challenging institutions and social structures has not been a major concern (21). From Cotton Mather (23), to Billy Graham (46), racialization has remained intact, though, no doubt, it “changed in form” (48). In fact, from Mather to Graham, the white-black race divide has ironically regressed from separate pews to separate churches. The historical survey is compelling and reveals a sad state of affairs in which changing wider and larger structures has been something white Protestants have offered resistance to, perhaps in favor for the economic and political power it presented. The author’s additionally looked at the Promise Keeper organization, which aimed at bringing about reconciliation between blacks and whites. They were, however, one of many organizations that represented the contemporary involvement after the Civil-Rights movement. The authors look at this involvement, surveying publications such as Christianity Today and the experiences of Curtiss DeYoung to demonstrate that even contemporary models and initiatives have been unable to repair the past. Why is this case? How can significant moves toward racial reconciliation on the part of white evangelicals further exasperate the problem? Chapter four attempts to unearth the substratum that lies, for the most part, hidden in the minds of white evangelicals. Here, the authors begin to showcase some of the data from their interviews. The question is there a race problem in America? consistently reveals a stark divide between white and black conceptions of race relations in America. (68) To try to understand why this is, Emerson and Smith discuss the “religio-cultural toolkit” that white evangelicals use to make sense of reality (76). Included in this toolkit are three elements: “accountable freewill individualism,” “relationalism,” and “antistructuralism.” (76) Added to these elements is the relative isolation from racial pluralism that is typical of white evangelicals (80–82). The net result is that white evangelicals miss the “racialized patterns that transcend and encompass individuals,” (90) rendering a “color-blind” society (91). As discussed briefly in chapter one, Emerson and Smith return to the issue of economic inequality in chapter five. Here, findings from national surveys reveal the explanations given for racial inequality among white and black evangelicals. The staggering consequence is the apparent divide between black and white evangelicals, with conservative religion actually intensifying and increasing the division. (97) The concept of “equal opportunity,” as an American phenomenon (98), and intergroup isolation (106), severely handicap white evangelicals from making sense of the black experience. Chapter six sees Emerson and Smith exploring solutions to the problem of race in America. On a spectrum ranging from interracial relationships to racially integrated residential neighborhoods, the authors show how their interactions with evangelicals yet again display a variance on just how race-relations ought to be improved. Typically white evangelicals favor solutions involving personal relationships with a view to changing individuals, whilst simultaneously avoiding any change that would effect “institutions, laws or programs” (119), such as integrating neighborhoods. Is there more to this racialized society than the religio-cultural tools applied by the respective groups? In chapter seven Emerson and Smith are so bold as to claim that the very fabric of American religion, specifically evangelical Protestant Christianity, is structured in such a way so as to harden and secure the divide between white and black evangelicals. Religious pluralism “powerfully drives religious groups toward internal similarity,” (136) fueling the “homogenous unit principle” (150). The need for boundaries, social solidarity (142), as well as the rampant religious marketplace (137), renders evangelicalism as resembling internally similar congregations. Chapter eight continues the examination of the organization of religion in America, specifically two structural arrangements, that of racially homogenous religious ingroups and the segmented religious market (154). The authors examine how these two sociological concepts work to “contribute to segregated social networks,” as well as “perpetuate socioeconomic inequality by race.” (168). In concluding the study, Emerson and Smith summarize their efforts as well as offer an exhortation to the reader to consider the complexities of the subject at hand. Any change to America’s racialized society will at once require “multiple factors—from historical forces to subcultural tools to the very organization of American religion.” (172) Does Divided by Faith adequately discern the complexities of black-white race relations in American evangelicalism? On reading Divided by Faith, one has to admit the gravity of the study presented: it is a masterful and careful exhibition of historical, religio-cultural, and sociological enquiry. As reality would have it, such a work cannot remain in the realm of the abstract: does the study line up with reality? In many ways, I am of the opinion that the answer is an emphatic yes. The book’s thesis that “evangelicals desire to end racial division and inequality but more likely do more to perpetuate the radical divide” is sadly, yet wonderfully exhibited in the authors’ findings. What is simply remarkable is how the many responses recorded in their interviews reflect many conversations I myself have had in another country with its own racialized society. The fact that their findings appear to resemble a conceptually universal integrity is a strong argument for their validity. In many ways, Divided by Faith has also served as metaphor for my own journey in the world of race-relations. The painful truth is that I myself have mirrored the as-to-be-expected responses of white evangelicals, stressing interpersonal relationships, failing to discern the structures and wider political and economic context that is largely determinative for the lives of people of color. I am a living testament of the reality that racial pluralism and interracial contact is also powerfully determinative for ones response to solutions to eradicating a racialized society. Additionally, I am of the opinion that another strength of this book is its critique of evangelicalism and the unwarranted inflation of certain theological ideas and concepts. The trio of “accountable freewill individualism,” “relationalism,” and “antistructuralism,” (76) are realities inherent in orthodox Protestant theology. However, to stress these without the dimension of corporate aspects of our being called as the people of God is to truncate the Gospel message. Christ not only saved us as individuals, he also destroyed the larger works of Satan that held us captive. Along with the authors, I am in agreement that until white evangelicals are ready to discern a broader perspective and examine their own biases, some of which are sadly more cultural than biblical, racial reconciliation will be a slow, and dreary road ahead. Of course, one notable weakness is the lack of solutions provided by the authors. Nevertheless, the authors never intended to go that far and it would be unfair to insist that they present such a conclusion. Theirs was a survey and analyses seeking to unearth the paradigms that shape the evangelical mind and render it as, ironically, incapable in effecting change in race-relations, which I believe they accomplished. Conclusion— The question left with the reader is this: will we pursue the radically, transformed life that Christ calls us to? Emerson and Smith have labored to bring to the surface many challenging and convincing religio-cultural and historical realities that readers have to wrestle with. Will the reader be content to rest with the status quo, or will the steady exodus of African-Americans from white evangelical churches be something that does not arrest us, does not set off alarm bells that something is wrong with the very structure of evangelicalism? Will evangelicals, those who stand on the ‘evangel,’ be ready to cling to Christ and his word, and cut off the cancerous cultural norms and values that undermine the very ‘evangel’ we stand on? Only then can the one new humanity be realized.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mike E.

    This book is written by sociologists from Rice and UNC who write in the typical detached pseudo-objective world of scholarship. You will find no solutions here. They do not freely reveal their own experiences, convictions, world-views, etc. Their book is an analysis of white evangelicals and our perpetuation of what they call "racialization." In short, they argue that well-meaning (and fairly stupid) evangelicals perpetuate and even exasperate the disparate life experiences, economic opportuniti This book is written by sociologists from Rice and UNC who write in the typical detached pseudo-objective world of scholarship. You will find no solutions here. They do not freely reveal their own experiences, convictions, world-views, etc. Their book is an analysis of white evangelicals and our perpetuation of what they call "racialization." In short, they argue that well-meaning (and fairly stupid) evangelicals perpetuate and even exasperate the disparate life experiences, economic opportunities, and social relationships of African Americans. They helpfully differentiate between racism, which America has basically left behind, and racialism, which is the condition of keeping blacks in their place in part due to a well intentioned over-emphasis on individual and inter-personal relationships while ignoring social, ecclesiastical, and governmental structures. Fortunately the authors are transparent about their critical book with no solutions. Near the end of the book they write, "Our analysis has not led us to specific solutions for ending racialization. (171)." From someone who lives in the real world instead of the academic world, we have no such liberty to write or think or live like that! Also, the book is dated. It was written in 2000 and I do not find it speaking to the situation on the ground here in the foothills of Northern California or in the more diverse and metropolitan Bay Area. Those things aside, I am glad I read this book for the following reasons: (1) Their concise history of black-white relations from 1700 through the civil rights era to the present day (2000) was eminently helpful. Their chapter "From Separate Pews to Separate Churches" was educational for me. I had never thought through the reality that our churches were integrated prior to the Civil War. The black man did not have the opportunity or resources to start and shepherd churches in the South until well after the Civil War. At that point both whites and blacks were for segregated churches (see p 39). In reality, Christ's church in America has never recovered. In large part we remain segregated today. The reasons for segregation have changed, but the reality has not. (2) The book serves as a rebuke to Christians like me who believe that the make-up of local congregations should reflect, in their leadership and their membership, the racial, economic, and educational diversity represented in their communities at-large. Our neighborhoods are not integrated, but His church should be (Gal 3:28; Col 3:9-11, et. al.) The book serves as a challenge for us who believe the gospel should be visible by unifying very different peoples because of faith in Christ alone. (3) The book introduced me to helpful categories and concepts. E.g., "The _miracle motif_ is the theologically rooted idea that as more individuals become Christians, social and personal problems will be solved automatically (117)." The miracle motif misunderstands the ecclesial and corporate implications of the gospel. Another example is what the authors call "The Ethical Paradox of Group Loyalty." In short, they point out that individual unselfishness transmutes into group selfishness. When a bunch of well-intentioned, unselfish people get together and form a group identity, the group views actions to protect and strengthen the group as loyalty. The unintended consequences of this "loyalty" can be detrimental to others. This is cogently argued on 159. (4) They highlighted the major shift that takes place in a white evangelical's view of a minority race when the white evangelical lives in a neighborhood with minorities, befriends some of them (have you had someone of a minority ethnicity to dinner at your home in the last year?), and finally develops a friendship with someone from the minority race that is of equal or higher socioeconomic status. A fascinating and frustrating read that will be of interest to few people. What needs to be written are books that are well-informed biblically and historically that deal with both the implications of the gospel for ethnicities and various economic strata _that_ have practical solutions for contemporary congregations in urban, suburban, small-town, and rural areas.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jon Pentecost

    This book is really helpful in exposing some of the conceptual and relational differences that causes evangelical churches and Christians to unintentionally perpetuate racialization and racial inequality in the US. The consideration of structural versus individual solutions was helpful in establishing categories. The authors sometime wavered back and forth between acting as social scientists or social prophets, which sometimes confused the explanation of their data. Likewise, they seem to discount This book is really helpful in exposing some of the conceptual and relational differences that causes evangelical churches and Christians to unintentionally perpetuate racialization and racial inequality in the US. The consideration of structural versus individual solutions was helpful in establishing categories. The authors sometime wavered back and forth between acting as social scientists or social prophets, which sometimes confused the explanation of their data. Likewise, they seem to discount the significance of individual commitment to the gospel to change bad structures over time (though the thrust of their critique that white evangelical tends to not see structural inequality still stands). Considering social ways to work towards equality was helpful for me, given that I live in a country that is not a democracy or republic. I would have been helped by further study and explanation of the views of black evangelicals in these issues. While this is referred to somewhat, it functions as the backdrop for the more intensive analysis of white evangelical views. But then, that would significantly increase the research load for the writers, so I can understand why they didn't.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Phillip Howell

    Today I told someone this book was good. It was thought provoking and it made me think a lot about my cultural assumptions as a white evangelical. However, I didn't recommend this white evangelical to buy a copy and read it because I felt like the best advice was to encourage them to do their own "interviews." This book is the fruit of some historical and sociological research. The main research these authors did was interviewing with hundreds of people about race, religion and society in Americ Today I told someone this book was good. It was thought provoking and it made me think a lot about my cultural assumptions as a white evangelical. However, I didn't recommend this white evangelical to buy a copy and read it because I felt like the best advice was to encourage them to do their own "interviews." This book is the fruit of some historical and sociological research. The main research these authors did was interviewing with hundreds of people about race, religion and society in America. So instead of encouraging them to read this book I kept thinking we should encourage white evangelicals to spend the time meeting with others from different ethnicities and getting to know their stories. It would also be good to ask them how they think issues of race can be solved. I appreciate this book because these men took the time to listen and be open to various factors that are causing division in the church and in our communities. Reading their book would be one way to honor their work but many of us might be better served if we followed their example and see what conclusions we come to.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ellie Rubin

    Outside of the literal publishing year and cited statistics, it would be horrifyingly easy to assume this book was written last year. That being said, our current political / religious situation now feels inevitable after reading this book, which is tragic in its own right. I can’t tell if understanding this at a deeper level is better or worse than not knowing. It must be both.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nathaniel Taylor

    I can't recommend this enough, particularly to white Christians like me. Discusses the racial divide in the American church from a historical and sociological point of view in a way that's accessible, humbling, thought-provoking, and logical. Deeply challenging without shaming.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anna Stamborski

    A must read!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jake Newton

    Safe to say, this is the first book that I have read on race relations in the US... and it is not the last. If anything, this book opened my eyes to the complexity of the black-white race divide in the US, and how our solutions to closing this divide are too simple. I now see how racial reconciliation is more than an individual issue, but also structural. It shined a light on my thought process when addressing issues such as racialization and inequality along racial lines. I now see that my way Safe to say, this is the first book that I have read on race relations in the US... and it is not the last. If anything, this book opened my eyes to the complexity of the black-white race divide in the US, and how our solutions to closing this divide are too simple. I now see how racial reconciliation is more than an individual issue, but also structural. It shined a light on my thought process when addressing issues such as racialization and inequality along racial lines. I now see that my way of interpreting these issues is very much shaped by my religion and culture.. Great read!

  18. 5 out of 5

    C.

    I found this book on a list going around Twitter with the heading 'Books that helped my white friends get it'. In the aftermath of an election that I was struggling to make sense of, this felt like a good place to start. While the book is nearly twenty years old, I found myself going - 'oh multiple times throughout it. I am at best an amateur sociologist, it felt well written and researched, and overall readable for the most part. The most complicated and abstract part was probably the chapter l I found this book on a list going around Twitter with the heading 'Books that helped my white friends get it'. In the aftermath of an election that I was struggling to make sense of, this felt like a good place to start. While the book is nearly twenty years old, I found myself going - 'oh multiple times throughout it. I am at best an amateur sociologist, it felt well written and researched, and overall readable for the most part. The most complicated and abstract part was probably the chapter looking at the sociology of groups and how the marketplace atmosphere of denominations and congregations within the U.S. discourages diversity and encourages homogeneity (particularly with the added emphasis of evangelism). The author provides a brief history of evangelicals in the U.S., including looking at the complex views of slavery, the toolkits that Evangelicals use to explain the world, including a heavy emphasis on individualism, and relationships, and then provides both survey data, and data gathered with interviews about views on race. He also looks a how the structural aspects of how the church works and evangelizes in the U.S. reinforces segregation in a structural way, even without it being a specific desire of those in the congregations, and indeed those congregations may report a desire to improve race relationships. Overall, I feel as if I do have a more solid understanding of the why, if not the how to fix it. And this isn't a how to fix it book. It is a look at explanation and history, it's not offering a way to solve the problem. A few ideas are given in the final chapters, but it lacks specific actions to take. In short I would consider this a really good read for anyone looking to explore the thinking of race among white evangelicals in particular, and more generally the history of racial segregation within churches and denominations.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joel Wentz

    This is an ASTOUNDING book. It provides a lucid overview of the historical issue of race in America, along with a clear and incisive critique of Evangelicalism's participation in the divide. But lest you think this is some "mindless, liberal rant," the author's themselves self-identify as evangelicals, at least at the time of this writing, and the critique is clearly born from a deep love and hope for what evangelical Christianity could be. It is this sense that animates the argument throughout, This is an ASTOUNDING book. It provides a lucid overview of the historical issue of race in America, along with a clear and incisive critique of Evangelicalism's participation in the divide. But lest you think this is some "mindless, liberal rant," the author's themselves self-identify as evangelicals, at least at the time of this writing, and the critique is clearly born from a deep love and hope for what evangelical Christianity could be. It is this sense that animates the argument throughout, which places it a cut above many, many other books about the same topic. Additionally, the authors are academically-trained sociologists, and they bring this (very) helpful lens to the discussion. What results is a profound explanation of what socio-cultural factors contribute to the gulf of understanding between white and black people in America generally, and how the particular way evangelicalism is practiced in white communities in America actually perpetuates and deepens this gulf. In some ways, it's a damning analysis, because it's hard to see the way forward when confronted with how deeply imprinted "individualism" and "anti-structuralism" are into the white-evangelical psyche. But on the other hand, I personally found it extremely liberating to have language for these factors. Frankly, the authors spoke directly to a dynamic that I have run into over and over again as I have attempted honest conversations about race in an evangelical context, and it wasn't until reading their analysis that I felt able to articulate the impasse. So, rather than assuming I must be crazy (the only way I've been able to resolve the tension so far), I can thank Emerson and Smith for elucidating one of the single most significant points of tension in my own religious practice and understanding of the world I occupy. This is a radically important book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    A thought-provoking and convicting examination of why, despite a decades-long concerted effort on the part of evangelical Christians, race relations in America and among its curches remain in a state of de facto segregation. Emerson and Smith explore the sociological underpinnings of American evangelicalism and describe how the assumptions that make evangelicalism what it is also work against racial reconciliation, especially on a systemic level. Despite being more than 15 years old, it's impres A thought-provoking and convicting examination of why, despite a decades-long concerted effort on the part of evangelical Christians, race relations in America and among its curches remain in a state of de facto segregation. Emerson and Smith explore the sociological underpinnings of American evangelicalism and describe how the assumptions that make evangelicalism what it is also work against racial reconciliation, especially on a systemic level. Despite being more than 15 years old, it's impressive and depressing how well this book holds up. If I have any complaint, it's that there's no effort to really address what true reconciliation – individual AND systemic – would look like. The result is a book that is bleak, even fatalistic, although still one I would highly recommend to those trying to get a better handle on race relations in the modern American church.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Fantastic book. It's been a few years since I first read it, and I have yet to come across such an excellent assessment of the issues of race in today's church. It also contains great material for helping White Christians understand the concerns of those of other racial groups. I wish all American Christians would read this book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Emerson opens up a can of worms... he gets below the surface of the average discussions on racism... expands the issue with his concept of "racialization" and really moves the reader to re-think his/her own racism. Whether you are into racial reconciliation or not, this book should be read by everyone.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bailey

    I usually don't review books, but I wanted to use this as a space to remember some of the points of this book I know I'll want to look back on later.  Divided by Faith was written by two white sociologists to expose a race problem in the modern evangelical church. Although it was published in the 2000, I believe the foundation of the race issue in evangelical churches remains mostly the same.  The key insight for me in this book is that due to the religio-cultural focus on free-will individualism I usually don't review books, but I wanted to use this as a space to remember some of the points of this book I know I'll want to look back on later.  Divided by Faith was written by two white sociologists to expose a race problem in the modern evangelical church. Although it was published in the 2000, I believe the foundation of the race issue in evangelical churches remains mostly the same.  The key insight for me in this book is that due to the religio-cultural focus on free-will individualism in American evangelism, white people are keen to dismiss racism as individual biases and personal sin. It's not enough to repent of your own sin and treat those you know of other races with kindness. Evangelicals have aligned themselves within an institution with hundreds of years (and current uses) of history of co-opting the Bible to pressure black people into accepting their discrimination in society as "preordained by God" and telling them that their obedience to a master will gain them riches in Heaven. Members of this institution need to repent for institutional and historical sin. Racism is systemic and institutionalized and in order to help mend a racialized society, evangelicals must call for the end of racist institutions. Because almost all white people spend the vast majority of their time with people that are similar to them in race, socioeconomic level, and religion, making any sort of progress towards lowering the racialization of America will require deeply uncomfortable and sacrificial action. 

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Fee

    I appreciated this book the most for its thorough historical overview of the issue of race in the American evangelical church in the first part of the book. Educating myself on the history of race relations within the larger evangelical church helped me gain needed perspective to even begin to see a way forward, or rather how we got where we are. One interesting observation from Emerson’s research is that white evangelicals default to seeing race as an individual level problem and do not tend to I appreciated this book the most for its thorough historical overview of the issue of race in the American evangelical church in the first part of the book. Educating myself on the history of race relations within the larger evangelical church helped me gain needed perspective to even begin to see a way forward, or rather how we got where we are. One interesting observation from Emerson’s research is that white evangelicals default to seeing race as an individual level problem and do not tend to see contributing structures, yet minority evangelicals do see the structures and see the way forward as including them. The book ended a bit bleakly. I was looking for more hope, but I think it’s a sober reminder of the complicated and web-like racial reconciliation situation at hand and that there is no easy one-size-fits-all solution to offer and that to offer anything in that vein would be trite. Nonetheless, I was reminded of the importance of this work because of the theological beliefs we hold, and was spurred to keep pursuing practices that are consistent with these truths.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Denise Huff

    Before you talk to others about what you think you know about race relations, read this book. You might discover that you don't really know the whole story. It's not an easy book to read, especially if you're a white evangelical--but it's a very necessary read. It's data driven; the authors did their homework with extensive research and interviews, and then they took the data and came to come shocking conclusions. If you long for racial reconciliation in the church (or elsewhere), it's a great b Before you talk to others about what you think you know about race relations, read this book. You might discover that you don't really know the whole story. It's not an easy book to read, especially if you're a white evangelical--but it's a very necessary read. It's data driven; the authors did their homework with extensive research and interviews, and then they took the data and came to come shocking conclusions. If you long for racial reconciliation in the church (or elsewhere), it's a great book to get you thinking in ways you haven't considered before. There are no quick fixes, no magic potion answers here, so don't look for those. But if you want to challenge your thinking and know where to go to go START finding answers, this is the book for you. (Hint--the answers aren't going to come from your homogeneous group!)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    This book gives a thorough look at the problem of race in relation to evangelicalism. What arises from this study are some startling and disconcerting facts, the most of important of which is that 'white' evangelicalism has contributed to and even enforced the racialization of society. Before the reader dismisses this as another piece of 'woke' theology (pejoratively understood), it must be recognized that this book isn't pushing some social agenda with little-to-no actual substance. Rather, thi This book gives a thorough look at the problem of race in relation to evangelicalism. What arises from this study are some startling and disconcerting facts, the most of important of which is that 'white' evangelicalism has contributed to and even enforced the racialization of society. Before the reader dismisses this as another piece of 'woke' theology (pejoratively understood), it must be recognized that this book isn't pushing some social agenda with little-to-no actual substance. Rather, this is an example of thorough sociological analysis of the understanding of the race problem by 'white' evangelicals. This book ought to grieve the reader as it sets in sharp relief what is in reality a deeply spiritual problem and as such this book is one I highly recommend for anyone that loves Christ's bride and desired for her continued conformity to her bridegroom.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Heidi Mandt

    “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.” Very interesting to learn about how religious beliefs impact racism. This book was really eye opening to me about all the different facets of racism that exist. This book was written from a study that Emerson and Smith conducted. Because of that, the book is very statistics heavy and has a lot of numbers, so “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.” Very interesting to learn about how religious beliefs impact racism. This book was really eye opening to me about all the different facets of racism that exist. This book was written from a study that Emerson and Smith conducted. Because of that, the book is very statistics heavy and has a lot of numbers, some of which just went over my head. On the other hand, I really enjoyed all the quotes from the research and thought those were a helpful addition. All in all, this book really exposed me to all that I still have to learn about race and racism. This was a great start and I am looking forward to reading more similar books like this one.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ian Clary

    Helpful sociological study of the divisive question of race in American evangelicalism. Emerson and Smith's work is based upon a 2500 person survey of white evangelicals to determine their church practices and what they reveal about the racial divide. Provides informative vignettes of representative examples of individual experiences. The work gives some helpful category distinctions like the relationship between race, racism, and racialism. They argue that, by and large, America is not overtly Helpful sociological study of the divisive question of race in American evangelicalism. Emerson and Smith's work is based upon a 2500 person survey of white evangelicals to determine their church practices and what they reveal about the racial divide. Provides informative vignettes of representative examples of individual experiences. The work gives some helpful category distinctions like the relationship between race, racism, and racialism. They argue that, by and large, America is not overtly racist, but racialised. No outright racist terminology is used, but the practices of things like where we live and how we worship indicate a deep, and seemingly interminable division. Though the Christian gospel has within it the means to defeat any kind of racial divide, statistically evangelicals have not done a good job and using them. As informative as this study is, it was also quite sad. In spite that, I highly recommend it as a starting place for understanding race and evangelical religion in the US.

  29. 4 out of 5

    John Pawlik

    Read this back in March but have been thinking about it more, offered really good insight into the more sociological data of church segregation. It offered very few answers to the embedded division across racial lines in American churches, but diagnosed them in a way that clarified the topic. It goes in depth, for instance, at explaining why churches have remained segregated after many other parts of American life have integrated, describing the cultural differences like worship preference that Read this back in March but have been thinking about it more, offered really good insight into the more sociological data of church segregation. It offered very few answers to the embedded division across racial lines in American churches, but diagnosed them in a way that clarified the topic. It goes in depth, for instance, at explaining why churches have remained segregated after many other parts of American life have integrated, describing the cultural differences like worship preference that leaves black churches wanting to remain black churches and vice versa. If you are looking for answers the book will leave you wanting, but if you want to understand the problems more clearly, this is a good book for those who want to become aquatinted.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    This book is great at defining the problem and explaining why it is so intractable, but frustratingly lacking in any actionable solutions. The authors repeatedly and patronizingly criticize white evangelicals for being unable to properly address the problem of a racialized society because they have a limited "cultural tool kit," but never suggest which measures should be considered if they would only listen to those with a more enlightened "cultural tool kit," such as those held by, presumably, This book is great at defining the problem and explaining why it is so intractable, but frustratingly lacking in any actionable solutions. The authors repeatedly and patronizingly criticize white evangelicals for being unable to properly address the problem of a racialized society because they have a limited "cultural tool kit," but never suggest which measures should be considered if they would only listen to those with a more enlightened "cultural tool kit," such as those held by, presumably, the authors themselves. 3.5 stars

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