American evangelicals and race 2: today

It is easy for people like us today to think we are progressive and play no part in racism. The brief history of evangelicals and racial injustice (see earlier post)demonstrates that while the contexts and forms may be different, white evangelical thinking about racial problems today shares many similarities with the past. Most evangelicals – if they even see a problem – still tend to focus on the need to improve interpersonal relationships.  Again, we turn to Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000),

emerson-divided-by-faithCommon terms used to describe the race problem were prejudice, bigotry, anger, ignorance, lack of respect, fear of each other, poor communications, individuals hating or being angry at each other, and lacking Christ-like love for one another (75).

Most white evangelicals, directed by their cultural tools, fail to recognize the institutionalization of racialization – in economic, political, educational, social, and religious systems. They therefore think and act as if these problems do not exist (171).

Only a few actually seem willing to challenge the economic and cultural systems that preserve segregation and inequity. There continues to be a strong desire for separateness, if not explicitly stated, at least betrayed by actions. Even where intentions seem more pure, many of the solution to race problems proposed today are not that different from those proposed in the past. In essence, white evangelicals continue to be blind to what people of color experience, and as a result, their attempts as solving the “racial problem” reflect this ignorance. “With regards to reconciliation, whites often approach it with the expectation that black people will assimilate and essentially ‘become white’” (Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. More than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel. Rev ed. InterVarsity, 2000, 76.)

Even so-called progressive whites tend to dominate leadership structures in multi-cultural settings. Without giving it a second thought, they just assume that they have the gifts and skills for leadership. On the whole, whites tend to be fairly ignorant about – and definitely uncomfortable in – black cultural settings, and so blacks and whites rarely have close, confiding friendships (Perkins and Rice, 77). Given this data, the possibilities for racial justice look quite bleak. Although, Emerson and Smith do not propose any grandiose solutions, they do warn against culturally shaped one-dimensional assessments and solutions. Instead they challenge us to think more seriously about the multi-dimensional problems of racialization and dialogue with others educated on the subject (Emerson and Smith, 171).

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3 thoughts on “American evangelicals and race 2: today

  1. Hey Ben. How’s things been? I watch your blog semi-frequently and am glad you decided to keep it going. You’ve got lots of good stuff and helpful links, etc.

    Anyway, I think this was an important post. It’s sad but true that many white evangelicals continue to be blind to what people of color experience. I just noted yesterday that Focus on the Family’s major culture encounter series “The Truth Project” identifies several “giants in the land” facing Christians in America. Terrorism, homosexuality, liberal media and judicial tyranny all make the list, but racial injustice is nowhere to be found. While recognizing FoF’s right to pick the problems it chooses to engage, I think it’s really incredible that racism fails to even appear on the radar.

    I can’t wait to get back to NEGST! Hope it’s not too long! Blessings.

    • Ben says:

      Funny to hear you say that you are glad I decided to keep it going. A few weeks ago, I decided to shut it down until I finish my dissertation. I need to focus a little better. I’ve already written my, “I’m out for now post.” I’m just doling out previously written posts. I have about a week left.

      Thanks for your important comment; the recent example is very helpful. I’m not sure when we will get it. When Obama became president, I think a lot of people were saying, “Whew, at least we won’t have to hear people complain about that topic any more.” It also strikes me – as I see your FoF list – what a contrast to NT emphasis on “Who do you eat with?” and all the ethnic boundary breaking that Paul focuses on.

      We’d love to see you here again.

  2. Jackson says:

    Very good post. Looking forward to seeing you write much more about this subject.

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