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Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America [Kindle Edition]

Christian Smith , Michael O. Emerson
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In recent years, the leaders of the American evangelical movement have brought their characteristic passion to the problem of race, notably in the Promise Keepers movement and in reconciliation theology. But the authors of this provocative new study reveal that despite their good intentions, evangelicals may actually be preserving America's racial chasm.
In Divided by Faith, Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith probe the grassroots of white evangelical America, through a nationwide telephone survey of 2,000 people, along with 200 face-to-face interviews. The results of their research are surprising. Most white evangelicals, they learned, see no systematic discrimination against blacks; indeed, they deny the existence of any ongoing racial problem in the United States. Many of their subjects blamed the continuing talk of racial conflict on the media, unscrupulous black leaders, and the inability of African Americans to forget the past. What lies behind this perception? Evangelicals, Emerson and Smith write, are not so much actively racist as committed to a theological view of the world that makes it difficult for them to see systematic injustice. The evangelical emphasis on individualism, free will, and personal relationships makes invisible the pervasive injustice that perpetuates inequality between the races. Most racial problems, they 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, Emerson and Smith throw sharp light on the oldest American dilemma. Despite the best intentions of evangelical leaders and some positive trends, the authors conclude that real racial reconciliation remains far over the horizon.

Editorial Reviews Review

Divided by Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith has an ingenious, troubling argument. "[E]vangelicals 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." Emerson and Smith, who conducted 2,000 telephone surveys and 200 face-to-face interviews in preparing this book, argue that evangelicals have a theological world view that makes it difficult for them to perceive systematic injustices in society. In particular, evangelical emphasis of individualism and free will seem to predispose them to believe that most racial problems can be solved if individuals will only repent of their sins. Therefore, many well-meaning strategies for healing racial divisions (such as cross-cultural friendships) carry within them the seeds of their own defeat. Divided by Faith also includes a brilliant, concise history of evangelical thought about race from colonial times to the civil rights movement. Clearly written and impeccably researched, this book ranks among the most compassionate and critical studies of contemporary evangelicalism. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

Evangelicals, argue sociologists Emerson and Smith, have gotten serious about racial reconciliation. This, they suggest, is a break from traditionAin the 19th century, many white evangelicals supported slavery but then upheld Jim Crow laws through the postwar years. Over the last half century, however, evangelicals have increasingly found racism unpalatable, a transformation culminating, symbolically at least, in the Southern Baptist Convention's 1995 proclamation that it repented for its role in slavery. Today, the Promise Keepers call for reconciliation, while evangelical theologians and publications explore what reconciliation means. But white evangelicals, though well-meaning, often unwittingly contribute to racism, say the authors. Smith and Emerson explain this seeming contradiction by drawing on Smith's earlier work, in which he argued that evangelicals have a piecemeal approach to social justice: they are inclined to fix immediate problems, such as feeding homeless people at a soup kitchen, rather than address systemic crises such as the unequal distribution of wealth. Smith and Emerson recycle the same argument, tweaked ever so slightly, here. The tools evangelicals use to combat racismAsocializing more with members of another race, or integrating churches and racially segregated neighborhoodsAare well-intentioned but ultimately not adequate to the task of eradicating deeply entrenched racist patterns. This is a valuable critique of evangelical approaches to social change, although those familiar with Smith's previous work will learn little. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look at religion and race February 1, 2004
By A Customer
The book is based on the first author's doctoral dissertation and follows that format... It presents the problem, namely that white evangelical Christians have a long-standing relationship with race in America and that America remains racialized (a term explained in the book). Given the recent trend among white evangelicals to do `something' about the race problem, Emerson and Smith are interested in two things: (1) How do white evangelicals really feel about race and racism in America? (2) What are white evangelicals really doing about it, if anything?

The authors then employ a number of methods to answer this question, including analyzing survey data and conducting extensive interviews with hundreds of white evangelicals. These data are presented in the middle few chapters of the book. The conclusion is best summarized by the authors, "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" (p. 170).

Before I offer some criticisms of the book, let me begin by saying that this is an excellent text. It is clearly written and presents a persuasive argument (though the argument isn't without its problems). The authors have done their best to minimize sociological jargon and, when it isn't possible to avoid it, they clearly define the terms they use. The authors also employ a variety of theoretical constructs (the cultural tool kit is probably the clearest), simplified for an educated lay-audience, based in the current literature on the sociology of religion.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely riveting. June 22, 2001
I have to say that being an African-American male with an evangelical upbringing and background, I've found this book to be INCREDIBLY eye-opening. With an almost cold-blooded meticulousness and a vivid eye for detail, Emerson and Smith examine many of the underlying philosophical and theological foundations that shape the attitudes of evangelical White people about race in America.
One of the essential tenets of this book is their concept of "racialization" and how it differs in scope and functionality from what we would typically call "racism." If for no other reason, this book should be read just for that section alone. It would help many many people on both sides of the racial divide understand our collective experiences.
The risk of gross oversimplification prevents me from going much deeper into their arguments, because part of what makes the book so compelling is the methodical manner in which contemporary ideas are broken down. Absent from this book is any of the sentimentalist grandstanding that some social activists resort to when their work cannot speak for itself.
All in all, this book is dope. I'm feelin' it big time.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good, some bad in this book July 21, 2006
First off, I am a white evangelical in a moderately sized city to give you some idea of the perspective I bring to reading this.

The statistics in the book (the median net worth of blacks is $3,700 compared to $43,800 for whites, P.13...the subtle racism in depiction of the 'evils' of heavy metal music which is usually consumed by Caucasians and rap music which is more favored by urban blacks, p.15...the 1998 National Congregations Study showing 90% of U.S. congregations are formed at least 90% by one race, P.136) reveal that the Church has a long way to go to demonstrate that "Red and yellow, black and white they are precious in His sight".

The personal anecdotes of average evangelical laypeople, both black and white, help put a human face on the views of those on each side of 'the divide'. It helps to remind us that the answers may not lie in 'one size fits all' political solutions.

Chapter 7, as another reviewer mentioned, does a good job of explaining why it is difficult to maintain a mixed-race congregation. "Birds of a feather flock together" and over time, congregations tend to bleed toward one hue or another even despite the pastor's attempts and the founding members best intentions. (The story of 'First Church' 147-150 is illustrative) Also, the tendency of churches to 'market' themselves toward specific groups cause this too...most churches that feature hymns do not also feature contemporary rock-tinged praise and worship music..those who feature 'black' gospel chorals don't tend to feature country infused "Southern gospel".

The book seems to be very dismissive towards free will determination and individual effort, even as it states these are evangelicals' bedrock values.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best I've Read March 13, 2002
Divided by Faith is the best book I've ever read that explains the problem of why White Evangelical Christians have such a difficult time understanding the concerns of African-Americans. As an African-American growing up in the 60's and now a pastor of an inner city church I have spent the past thirty years attempting to understand and communicate the problem of race in America and what the evangelical church should be doing to address this problem. This book has become a tremendous resource for me. Highly recommeded to anyone truly serious about racial reconciliation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great Book to learn from and help us see Christ all around the world
Published 2 months ago by Timothy R
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
All I have to is "the most segregated day of the week is Sunday."
Published 2 months ago by Robert P. Kauffman
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking book.
Thought provoking book. It opens up a good dialogue about a very important issue.
Published 2 months ago by Bane
4.0 out of 5 stars we are using this in a church class on racial ...
we are using this in a church class on racial injustice and reconciliation.... thanks so much!!
Published 2 months ago by Judy Drozda
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
received as promised
Published 2 months ago by revhj
5.0 out of 5 stars should be required reading for all christians!
Must read for my fellow white (as well as everyone else of course!) evangelicals. This was very eye opening in revealing the "whys" behind my current views of race relations and... Read more
Published 2 months ago by David C. Messier
Divided by Faith has helped change how white evangelicals, including this reviewer, look at race. Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, the nation’s first... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Paul Froehlich
5.0 out of 5 stars The author answers the why better than anyone i know
A must read for all who are concerned with the growing gulf in race relations in our country. The more enlightened we are and the more open we are trying to be still leaves us... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Rob Irvine
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want to be sharpened, changed, and matured as a Christian, read...
This book will change you and mature you as a Christian like few others will. Highly highly highly recommended.
Published 6 months ago by Noah Filipiak
3.0 out of 5 stars kindlen edition disappoints me
Hate that the kindle edition doesn't have page numbers and it only shows the percent reading
Published 6 months ago by Okaybluepanda
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