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

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


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

ratings:
4/5 (72 ratings)
Length:
8 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Nov 14, 2017
ISBN:
9781541488311
Format:
Audiobook

Description

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.

Publisher:
Released:
Nov 14, 2017
ISBN:
9781541488311
Format:
Audiobook

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What people think about Divided by Faith

3.8
72 ratings / 7 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    This book, when it was published, confirmed what I knew in my gut.
    The sad fact is that we, as a nation, are guilty before God in making Sunday morning "the most segregated hour in America" and ignoring the words of Matthew 25. The failure of American Church, Black as well as White, has led us to this moment. Emerson's study is a stinging indictment of the church. In a very sophisticated study he opens the evangelical, and the protestant mainline church for a careful analysis of why racial reconciliation has failed. The only thing that can be said about American Christianity? "Mene, mene, tekel, parsin".
  • (5/5)
    Irenic and convincing book on the institutional disadvantage faced by blacks and the semi-political views of white evangelicals which makes it difficult for them to see this.
  • (5/5)
    Great read, educational historical account, wonderful book for evangelicals starting the journey of becoming a to-racist.
  • (5/5)
    Well written ! research presented insightfully !!!! Well done. Grateful for this work time energy given to lay bare what is ever present yet often feels illusive to diagnose
  • (4/5)
    Divided By Faith A Review by Joseph Esposito Tracing the Thesis: “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…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. ” But, how is this a real possibility? How is it that religion makes no difference in bringing persons together? Isn’t religion the one thing that might have the power base sufficient to challenge this arrangement? This is of course the burden of the rest of the work, to build the case that religion in America is so deeply affected by its situation in both historical racialization as well as unrestrained capitalism, that change is so very complex and difficult. At the root of much of the initial resistance to take this issue seriously is that “because evangelicals view their primary task as evangelism and discipleship, they tend to avoid issues that [the perceive will] hinder these activities. Thus, they are not generally countercultural…this… unwittingly leads to granting power to larger economic and social forces. ” By understanding evangelism itself to be directed toward individuals rather than the structures, systems and persons, our witness is drastically constrained to the arena of the private . By focusing on private “individuals only, then justice does not mean working against structures of inequality, but treating individuals as equals, regardless of actual economic and political facts. Equality is spiritually and individually based, not temporally and socially based” . Thus the reality that “the most segregated hour is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” is seen as simply a result of choice of a private person, rather than a systemic issue that requires our attention. Largely because white evangelicals perceive the race problem as either benign or simply individuals treating individuals poorly, “the racialized system itself is not directly challenged. What is challenged is the treatment of individuals within the system. ” This of course renders the system unchanged. This type of thinking most readily arises out of the dominant individualist tradition “dating back to shortly after the sixteenth-century reformation ”. In most discussions, there is not then the ability to recognize that “poor relationships might be shaped by social structures, such as laws, the ways institutions operate, or forms of segregation ”. Even after weeding through many of the less system wide realities of racialization, there remain two major structural arrangements—“racially homogenous in-groups” and the “segmented market”—that “not only generate congregational segregation by race, but contribute to the racial fragmentation of American society, generate and sustain group biases…and generally fragment and drown out religious prophetic voices calling for an end to racialization” . The former inherently lends itself toward sustaining and reproducing this racialization by making the problem invisible. Even our relative isolation as white, middle-class Americans, makes invisible the depth of the problem of race. Thus, “for most white evangelicals, it is obvious that prejudice and discrimination are minimal, and if others realized this, the race problem would essentially disappear ”. Thus, the in-groups themselves have never experienced life in those geographies which are so devastatingly affected by the movement of resources out of the urban centers. This leaves only those incapable of migrating away (because of means) from the desperate circumstances to shoulder the cost of the systemic realities. Market segmentation produces a literal smorgasbord of choices for individual consumers to make. And given the choice, most will choose to associate with those whom they feel most comfortable with, in surroundings that affirm the music they like and theologies that affirm their current sitz im leben. As economic animals, fallen humanity will almost always choose to consume that product or service which will give them the most benefit for the least cost. Thus, “church growth specialists capitalize on this” using the homogenous units principle and “churches grow, and religious strength is increased…thereby consolidating racial division” . Indeed, “those who are successful in the world…in positions of power…rarely come to church to have their social and economic positions altered” . The net effect of this is that the prophetic voice is often diminished, not because it lacks merit, but because it would often lead to just another casualty of choice as the congregation either a) fires its “employee”, or if ‘a’ proves untenable, b) begin a mass exodus to somewhere more comfortable. Unfortunately, even the best intentioned efforts that produce the vigor necessary to challenge these systems, says Emerson, are undercut by their “heavy reliance on racially homogenous in-groups and the segmented market” . Personal Reflection: Let me begin by offering a critique—the work that was done here most certainly is descriptive and thus helpful in beginning to determine a new way of practicing our faith together. However, this text stops short of offering any real solutions to the very big problems that it outlines. It would have been more helpful to get a sense of what the authors may offer in order to begin to counteract the obvious issues explored here. One cannot help but be left with a feeling of relative hopelessness if one merely reads the text and has no ideas as to how to begin to challenge the system wholesale . Having said all of those things, I understand that the authors set out to describe the oppression that exists at the systemic level and not so much at the ‘individual’ level. This certainly makes any sort of remedy terribly complex, almost paralyzing anyone who wants to effect change. Thus, it is understandable to some extent that this text is mainly a ‘deconstruction’ of the dominant understandings of how race affects poverty and oppression. It then becomes our task to use this research and critique to ‘reconstruct’ an adequate response. Their critique provides the church with a gift—the ability to see that which often remains hidden in the shadows. This text will be an ongoing resource for me as I think more deeply about issues of social justice and what the church’s appropriate response must be to these realities.
  • (3/5)

    2 people found this helpful

    I had heard for quite some time that Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith, was the seminal work on race in the American church. And while I began reading it with high expectations, the authors failed to provide a convincing argument. The book was full of many useful statistics, anecdotes, and themes, but Emerson and Smith failed to tie it all together in a meaningful and persuasive way.The central thesis of Divided By Faith is twofold: we live in a racialized society, and, despite good intentions, Evangelicals actually make the problem worse, rather than better. By “racialized society,” the authors simply mean that we live in a place where race still matters “for life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships,” opting for this term over the more common phrases of prejudice or racism. But even here, we do not get a clear explanation of why it matters that we live in a racialized society, at least not from a biblical perspective. They point to problems such as income disparity, education differences, and de facto segregation—all of which are certainly bad things—as proof of our racialized society. But what they never tie together is the idea that these bad outcomes are the result of racialization.Secondly, Emerson and Smith say that Evangelicals make the problem worse by having access to a limited “toolbox” from which to draw solutions to this problem. White evangelicals, the authors find, focus on freewill individualism as the chief explanation for the difference in outcomes between whites and blacks, while African Americans point to structural problems, spiritual warfare, and incipient racism as the reason for inequality in America. Additionally, they find that the more time a white Evangelical spends with African Americans, the more likely he or she will cite structural problems as well. Here again, unfortunately, we see Emerson and Smith’s inability to tie loose ends together. Both explanations may very well be true, or perhaps only one or the other is correct, but instead of making a convincing case as to why one is right and the other is wrong, the authors just assume that the explanations African Americans give are correct. Let me be clear, I am not saying that that is not the case, I simply wish that Emerson and Smith would have done a better job proving their thesis.The second half of the author’s thesis—that white Evangelicals make the race problem worse—is initially harder to swallow, but interestingly, this is actually the strongest part of their work. The problem is clearly stated in their description that, following the civil war, whites and blacks went from sitting in separate pews in the same church, to attending different churches entirely. This is due to the fact that in a free market such as ours consumers choose the product that fits them the best. In the church world this means that parishioners will attend the church that is the easiest fit for them; the one with the least amount of friction. Since inter-racial relationships carry with them a certain amount of friction, the authors assert, races will tend to congregate together. This then strengthens the bonds that already existed between people of the same race, only furthering the de facto segregation that exists in America. It is from these relationships that better jobs can be acquired, along with a host of other economic and social benefits. Therefore, separate churches only add to the disparity between the races.Overall Divided By Faith was certainly an interesting read, and while they failed to convince on many points, the book was thought provoking enough to make it worth the time. No one can deny that, while things have certainly improved, the race problem in America is still an issue that needs to be dealt with, especially for the Evangelical church. Let us all pray that as we continue to grow in Christ, we would grow closer to racial reconciliation in the Church.

    2 people found this helpful

  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    definitely a hard pill to swallow, glad I listened to it.

    1 person found this helpful