Blacks and Whites in Christian America

Blacks and Whites in Christian America: How Racial Discrimination Shapes Religious Convictions

Jason E. Shelton
Michael O. Emerson
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 290
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  • Book Info
    Blacks and Whites in Christian America
    Book Description:

    Conventional wisdom holds that Christians, as members of a universal religion, all believe more or less the same things when it comes to their faith. Yet black and white Christians differ in significant ways, from their frequency of praying or attending services to whether they regularly read the Bible or believe in Heaven or Hell. In this engaging and accessible sociological study of white and black Christian beliefs, Jason E. Shelton and Michael O. Emerson push beyond establishing that there are racial differences in belief and practice among members of American Protestantism to explore why those differences exist. Drawing on the most comprehensive and systematic empirical analysis of African American religious actions and beliefs to date, they delineate five building blocks of black Protestant faith which have emerged from the particular dynamics of American race relations. Shelton and Emerson find that America's history of racial oppression has had a deep and fundamental effect on the religious beliefs and practices of blacks and whites across America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2277-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: Religion and Race
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Why Do African Americans Pray So Often?
    (pp. 1-30)

    Long before we got serious about writing this book, we had concluded that black Christians more often publicly display their religious faith than white Christians do. Two observations shaped our beliefs about this. First, we stopped counting the number of times that we had seen a black athlete, actor, or musician give glory to God after winning the Super Bowl, an Emmy, or an American Music Award. It happened so often that it seemed customary. However, we both admitted that we still take notice when white athletes or artists do so (especially non-country-music singers).

    Second, when asked the everyday obligatory...

  5. 2 So Rooted a Past: Slavery and African American Protestant Religious Tradition
    (pp. 31-47)
    Derek S. Hicks

    Human recovery from the grip of oppression is a messy affair.¹ Suffering leads people of faith to ask difficult questions about God. Questions about black Christian faith have always necessitated an understanding of African American experiences, including slavery, segregation, and the prevailing systemic issues continuing to carve a crater between the haves and the have-nots. What is the relevance and impact of Christianity for those—as the influential African American theologian Howard Thurman described it—with “their backs against the wall”?²

    The merging of religion and human recovery involves real human experiences. For example, Derek Hicks, the principal author of...

  6. 3 The Apostles’ Creed: Racial Similarities in Commitments to Core Christian Tenets
    (pp. 48-56)

    For nearly 2,000 years, Christians (especially in the Western tradition) across places, denominations, and cultures have subscribed to the Apostles’ Creed. The creed exists in two forms; a shorter and longer version. The shorter version, often called the Old Roman Form, can be traced back as far as 140 AD. The longer form, recorded above, took final shape somewhere between the 5th and 7th centuries. It is this version that is recited by Christians around the world today.² There are several Christian creeds, but it is the Apostles’ Creed that is upheld as describing the core essential beliefs of Christians,...

  7. 4 Learning and Burning: Racial Differences in “Academic” versus “Experiential” Models of Christianity
    (pp. 57-85)

    The preceding chapter showed that black and white Protestants are similarly steadfastly committed to core Christian theological tenets—those specifically referenced in the Apostles’ Creed. However, that does not mean that there are not profound differences between blacks and whites in their identification with and understanding of Christianity. Although black and white Protestants worship the same God and similarly subscribe to the faith’s bedrock beliefs, it will soon become clear thatworldlyforces impede Christianity’s ability to inspire an unyielding camaraderie among blacks and whites.

    In this chapter, we establish a framework for understanding how racial group membership color-codes one’s...

  8. 5 Religious Convictions: Everyday Faith-Based Actions and Beliefs
    (pp. 86-110)

    In this chapter, we build on our theoretical framework for understanding racial differences in religious sensibilities. Our goals are twofold. First, we continue our analysis of theExperiential building block of black Protestant faithby explaining how the African American Protestant religious tradition is active and experiential. By “active,” we mean that African American Protestants place a stronger emphasis on subscribing to and engaging in certain widely recognized faith-related thoughts and practices than white Protestants do. However, we cannot accomplish this objective without beginning to clarify theSurvival building block:(2)black Protestant faith is critical to survival and helps...

  9. 6 Shaded Morality: Not So Black and White
    (pp. 111-132)

    Sherita Wilson, a 37-year-old African American woman, has been working as a mail clerk at her local south-Atlanta-based post office for 12 years. The mother of three children aged 13 to 17, she has been divorced officially for 10 years, but her husband disappeared 13 years ago, when she was four months pregnant with her youngest child. Unable to hold down a solid-paying, full-time job and faced with another mouth to feed, her husband simply did not come home one day. While she occasionally received child-support payments, she had to find full-time work to keep her family going. Using connections...

  10. 7 Far-Reaching Faith: Evidence of an Inclusive Religious Doctrine
    (pp. 133-167)

    Beginning with this chapter, we expand our investigation beyond widely recognized domains of Christianity. While some of the topics that we examine are closely associated with Christianity (such as beliefs about angels and miracles), others are typically not associated with Christianity (such as beliefs about astrology and reincarnation). Our analysis of these religiously related though not distinctly “Christian” topics helps us to specify the extent to which religious identities among black and white Protestants are shaped by thoughts and practices beyond the boundaries of conventional (i.e., mainline or evangelical) Christianity.

    As will soon become clear, most of the high-ranking clergy...

  11. 8 Reconciling the Race Problem: Identity Politics and the Gulf between Black and White Protestants
    (pp. 168-198)

    In this final chapter, we turn our attention to beliefs among black and white Protestants that seemingly have little to do with religion at all. However, things are not always what they seem. In fact, it will soon become apparent that various dimensions ofidentity politics—that is, political beliefs and actions that are associated with a group of people that someone identifies with—are closely connected tobothblackandwhite Protestants’ religious identities. This is important because many people inaccurately associate identity politics withminoritiesonly. To the contrary, controversial racial issues as well as past and present...

  12. Epilogue: The Race Problem and Beloved Community
    (pp. 199-208)

    The findings presented in this book are clear: black and white Protestants often think about and practice Christianity in vastly dissimilar ways. Results from our survey and in-depth interview data show that racial group membership strongly influences how black and white Protestants go about their religious faith. In conversation with members of our own respective racial groups, we have heard people question whether blacks and whites pray to or believe in the “same God” (you may know people who have wondered this as well). Questions and criticisms of this sort are not baseless, because it is true that black and...

  13. Appendix A: Sampling Procedures / Sample Characteristics
    (pp. 209-214)
  14. Appendix B: Descriptive Tables
    (pp. 215-234)
  15. Appendix C: Interview Guides
    (pp. 235-238)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 239-252)
  17. References
    (pp. 253-270)
  18. Index
    (pp. 271-278)
  19. About the Authors
    (pp. 279-279)