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

Christian Smith , Michael O. Emerson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 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

Amazon.com 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
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look at religion and race February 1, 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Summary:
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).

Comments:
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
Format:Hardcover
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 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good, some bad in this book July 21, 2006
Format:Paperback
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 GOOD:
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 BAD:
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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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Emerson and Smith succeed where few sociologists have, in providing a readable and dynamic account of how well-meaning people unwittingly reinforce racial segregation and inequality. The book is compelling, and quickly and consistently helps the reader understand a basic sociological truth - that individual behaviors can have unintended, even ironic, consequences. In their focus on white evangelical Christians, they suggest that something is "lost in translation" when their leaders prescribe (as they have lately, to their credit) racial reconciliation. That "something" is the idea that there is more to repairing race relations than simply forging individual friendships with African-Americans. It is the individualized "cultural tools" of evangelicals, they argue, that cause them to be very suspicious of solutions to social problems that fail to emphasize the one-on-one relationship and individual "change of heart" that accompany how they think about their beliefs and faith in Christ. Changing people's attitudes one at a time is what will work, evangelicals appear to argue. But above and beyond such cultural trappings, the authors argue effectively that the free market of American religion itself not only breeds religious vitality (as compared to Europe), but also suffers the unintended consequence of further segregating the races. This is a very enlightening point - that the religious market in America leads congregations to become focused on marketing themselves to specific "homogenous" niches in order to survive as organizations in a competitive environment where people simply don't attend the church in their neighborhood anymore. But in so doing, people associate more and more with others who look and act like them, and thus black and whites become further segregated. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 1 month 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 2 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 2 months ago by Okaybluepanda
4.0 out of 5 stars This book will challenge your assumptions about race in the American...
I am completely convinced that I am not a racist; however, after reading this book, I have a belief system that contributes to the role of a racialized society. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Jack
5.0 out of 5 stars What it Boils Down to
This book does a good job explaining why churches are segregated in America. At the end of the day it still comes back to a lack of a real relationship with Christ with both... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Sandra L. Hasaan
5.0 out of 5 stars Jesus would like this book
Essential reading for anyone that sincerely desires deeper spiritual formation on how to live a life worthy of the Gospel.
Published 14 months ago by H2
3.0 out of 5 stars Great info.
Let me first say that I am grateful for the work of Christian and Michael put together. Both provide great information. Read more
Published 19 months ago by JD Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars good book
It helps you understand how badly america is messed up and why we need to give grace to the 2000 denominations out there.
Published 19 months ago by Graeme W. Royerson
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent look into a Divided Christianity
The need for a truly gospel defined Christian body that represents the beuty of all men and women made in the image of the Trinity is of utmost importance. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Rob Harris
5.0 out of 5 stars So sad that a book like this will reach so small an audience.
The church in America needs to clean up its act. Time as we know it is running out. The 7 churches cited in Revelation were precursors of the many "churches" of today. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Rev James H. Johnson
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