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Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America Paperback – 2001
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
And then I grew up.
In recent years, the issue of racism has seemed to get more and more attention. It seems like a white police officer shoots an innocent, young, black male every other day and the media fires up a conversation about racism.
As a Christian, I believe that the Gospel gives dignity to every human being. I believe that the Gospel is for every tribe, nation and tongue. I believe that the Gospel is powerful enough to fix our broken relationships with God and with one another. And, for those reasons, racism and the divisiveness that it causes is not okay with me.
We all have different perspectives on racism in America and I picked up this book because I wanted to try to understand perspectives that are different than my own. And this book did not disappoint.
A couple of take-aways:
It is amazing to me how history impacts society. I have never been a history lover, but the more that I discover about the past, the more I understand the present. The history of racism has caused a lot of ripple effects in our society. This book did a great job of unpacking the history of racial issues in America. The history alone is worth the price of the book.
THE FORM OF RACIALIZATION
As a white evangelical male, it is difficult for me to see racism in society. One thing that was helpful was how they showed different forms of racism. Prior to reading this book, I understood racism to be hatred and intentional discrimination. That view was formed mostly by my understanding of the Civil Rights movement and the violence that I’ve seen in videos. I assumed that as long as I didn’t do that, then I was ok. What I realized after reading this book was that racism exists in a lot of different forms.
INDIVIDUALISM VS. COMMUNITY
What the authors found in their research was that racism for a white evangelical is viewed on an individual basis (“I don’t have a problem with blacks and if other individuals didn’t either then racism wouldn’t exist”). But, most blacks view racism as a systemic problem. The issue of individualism is very challenging in white evangelicalism. There is often an over emphasis on our personal relationship with God and very little emphasis (or none at all) on my “white culture.” As a white evangelical, I find no affinity or connection to other people who happen to be white. My perception is that other cultures feel more of an affinity for one other because of their shared history, their shared experiences, their shared language, etc. These opposite approaches to the race issue often make it difficult to have helpful dialogue.
THE CALL TO ACT
Early in the book, the authors said,
"If anyone should be doing something about the racialized society and if anyone has the answers to the race problem, they said it is Christians.”
The authors pointed out the emphasis that Christians put on evangelism and discipleship to the detriment of handling social injustices as well. The book ended by saying:
"Our analysis has not led us to specific solutions for ending racialization, and we will not attempt such a grandiose leap into policy. But this work does suggest some general paths that white evangelicals might want to explore in their quest for racial reconciliation.”
"With a few exceptions, evangelicals lack serious thinking on this issue. Rather than integrate their faith with knowledge of race relations, inequality, and American society, they generally allow their cultural constructions to shape one-dimensional assessments and solutions to multidimensional problems. This will not do. The first new step evangelicals might consider, therefore, is engaging in more serious reflection on race-relations issues, in dialogue with educated others: What are the problems? In what directions are the United States and its people heading? What influences will class, growing racial-ethnic diversity, changing occupational and political structures, and complex systems of stratification play in altering the landscape of American race relations? How is the problem understood from different racial and ethnic group perspectives? How do individual-level versus group-level phenomena operate differently and simultaneously in the problems of race relations? What solutions have already been tried? What else helpful is currently known about these questions and solutions?”
I thought that this was extremely helpful in getting to the root of the issue of dealing with race in the Church. We must engage this issue through the Gospel-lens. Period.
I did not receive a free copy from a publisher, I joyfully paid for my copy. Therefore, my review is 100% honest and unbiased. Check out more of my reviews at aaronnichols.net
The authors conducted a national telephone survey of more than 2500 Americans, interviewed almost 200 evangelicals, and collected data from variety of different sources to base on their argument. Their main these is that America is a "racialized society" and religion, more specifically evangelical religion, without intention, makes the problem worse by focusing on strengthening the relationship that already exist in the same group. They state:
Religion, as structured in America, is unable to make 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....... The structure of religion in America is conductive to freeing groups from the direct control of the other groups but not addressing the fundamental division that exist in our current racialized society. (p. 18).
At the individual level, the authors believe that the white evangelicals do not see that we have a racialized society; rather, they see racial problem only in individual cases and bad interpersonal relationships. By this the white evangelicals are minimizing the race problem, and thus they offer poor solutions that are profoundly individualistic and interpersonal and do not exceed their individualistic view. These solutions do not touch "the system," because they do not include any financial or cultural sacrifices. "They maintain what is for them the noncostly status quo."
At the organizational level, the authors believe that "the religious market" in America leads congregations to become focused on marketing themselves to "homogenous" congregations in order to survive as organizations in a competitive market, which generate internal growth and external division, leading to racially separate congregations. They argue that "internally homogeneous congregations more often provide what draws people to religious groups for a lower cost than do internally diverse congregations." In other word, the religious market principle leads the congregation to do what makes its "consumer" happy in order to stay, which consequently will cost the congregation to lose its power as a prophetic voice. Thus instead of providing "the moral force" to change what violate the moral standard of what evangelical believe in, the congregation, unintentionally, perpetuate the status quo.
I would have liked the authors to tackle the psychological issue of the race problem in America. They spoke about confessing and healing from the white evangelical side, but what about blacks? Do not they also need healing? I believe that the black people's self-image, not to minimize the racialized culture of America, needed to be addressed. The impact of hundreds of years of slavery and segregation cannot be wiped out in five decades. It is going to be a journey in the desert until the whole old generation dies and a new generation that "have a dream" rise up. In my point of view, the race problem is two-way road. When both blacks and whites do their part, they will eventually end up sitting in one church, but this time in the same pews.
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America