This is the second of a two-post series discussing Divided by Faith, a book I read recently for class at Wake Divinity.
The main thesis of the book is that white evangelical Christians unintentionally perpetuate a racialized United States because the religious views of most white evangelicals cause them to fail to think about racial problems as attributable to systems, social structures, groups, and institutions, but instead cause them to attribute race problems almost exclusively to a relatively small number of prejudiced individuals, to exaggeration, or to fabrication.
The first post elaborated on two findings of the book:
First, white evangelicals have such views for two main reasons: (1) The religious views of white evangelicals emphasize (a) individualism and (b) interpersonal relationships, and white evangelicals apply those views not just to religious matters, but to racial matters, too; and (2) white evangelicals are generally racially isolated.
Second, the issue outlined in the paragraph above “is the radical limitation of the white evangelical tool kit” when dealing with racial matters.
This post briefly looks at three more questions discussed in the book. Below are the three questions and what the book says about them.
Third: What are examples of systems, social structures, and institutions that white evangelicals have difficulty identifying but that contribute to the race problem?
One on which Divided by Race focuses is religion: There are “many consequences that flow” from the “simple segregation by race in places of worship.” “The organization of American religion into racially homogenous groups lowers the probability of intergroup mobility (such as through marriage) and heightens the importance of racial boundaries, identities, and other differences between groups.” It also results in “categorization, for separate groups must be categorized by something,” and “research links categorization to at least five biases.”
Other examples (from the book and otherwise) include unequal access to quality education; school-construction policies set up to favor large, distant high-schools rather than smaller, walking-distance schools; and the social-network factor in job opportunities and hiring decisions.
Fourth: What is the result of white evangelicals assessing race issues with the individualism and relational construct from their religion?
“[W]hite evangelicals make this assessment with the best of intentions. … But white evangelicals’ cultural tools and racial isolation curtail their ability to fully assess [i] why people of different races do not get along, [ii] the lack of equal opportunity, and [iii] the extent to which race matters in America.” Their inability to fully assess these issues causes racialization because “a highly effective way to ensure the perpetuation of a racialized system is to simply deny its existence.”
They “are not doing this out of some old form of Jim Crow racism.” But “the result—the maintenance of a racialized United States—is the same.”
Fifth: What should evangelicals do about their application of individualism and other views from their religion onto race issues?
As an initial step, engage “in more serious reflection on race-relation issues, in dialogue with educated others. …”
Next, “bring together this knowledge with Christian understanding of freedom, love, universalism, justice, unity, and community. This could be done with the recognition that a Christian solution ought adequately to account for the complex of factors that generate and perpetuate the problems, and then faithfully, humbly, carefully, and cooperatively work against them.”
“[A]ddressing racialization must involve replacing structural barriers—such as segregation, inequality, and group competition—with structural supports—such as equality and cooperation and mutual interdependence.”
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford University Press 2000) challenged me because the authors’ description of a white person who places importance on individualism and interpersonal relationships and who is mostly racially isolated generally described me.
The authors’ assertion that my interpreting the race problem at any level but the individual level “would challenge the very basis” of my world seemed overblown. But I can certainly see how a person’s emphasis on only individualism and interpersonal relationships (to the exclusion of other considerations) would be significantly limiting to that person’s analytical thinking over the long term.
The book was convicting, particularly with its assertion of an unintentional impact of maintaining racialization. I appreciated the book’s encouragement of continued-but-more-thoughtful Christian thought and action relative to equality, cooperation, and mutual interdependence in relation to race.
I highly recommend Divided by Faith, particularly to white evangelical Christians who want to give more thought to racialization, as the book does a nice job prompting thought, regardless of whether you agree with its conclusions.
(Picture: The top picture is a picture I took of the cover of my copy of Divided by Faith.)
My two blog posts highlight only some of the points made in Divided by Faith. The book is rich in observations, and I encourage you to read it.
Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. Oxford University Press. 2000.