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Against All Odds: The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations

Brad Christerson
Korie L. Edwards
Michael O. Emerson
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 197
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  • Book Info
    Against All Odds
    Book Description:

    Religious institutions are among the most segregated organizations in American society. This segregation has long been a troubling issue among scholars and religious leaders alike. Despite attempts to address this racial divide, integrated churches are very difficult to maintain over time. Why is this so? How can organizations incorporate separate racial, ethnic, and cultural groups? Should they? And what are the costs and rewards for people and groups in such organizations? Following up on Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith's award-winning Divided by Faith, Against All Odds breaks new ground by exploring the beliefs, practices, and structures which allow integrated religious organizations to survive and thrive despite their difficulties. Based on six in-depth ethnographies of churches and other Christian organizations, this engaging work draws on numerous interviews, so that readers can hear first-hand the joys and frustrations which arise from actually experiencing racial integration. The book gives an inside, visceral sense of what it is like to be part of a multiracial religious organization as well as a theoretical understanding of these experiences.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9026-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Against All Odds
    (pp. 1-8)

    The leaders of a small multiracial congregation in Los Angeles County have called a special meeting on Sunday afternoon. The purpose of the meeting is to have an open dialogue among members about how the racial and ethnic diversity of the church affects the congregation.

    A Filipina woman begins by stating that she feels the church, while diverse in membership, is not diverse in the sense that all of the cultures in the congregation are equally valued and represented in the way God is worshipped. An African American woman agrees, saying that she feels constrained by the worship style—she...

  5. 2 The Need for Belonging
    (pp. 9-35)

    Forty or so members of Messiah Fellowship are packed into a suburban home in Los Angeles County, milling around, laughing, and joking. A group of eight young men are scattered around the floor in front of the TV watching the end of a basketball game, periodically yelling in happiness or disgust at the events unfolding on the screen. Folks mingle together as large packs of young children run in and out of the sliding glass door to the back yard. Young boys chase each other with plastic swords while the girls take turns climbing up the ladder to the slide...

  6. 3 A Place to Call Home
    (pp. 36-57)

    Like Messiah Fellowship, Wilcrest is an evangelical church. And like Messiah, Wilcrest is an interracial congregation. But Wilcrest diverges from Messiah on many points. While Messiah is nondenominational, Wilcrest is solidly Southern Baptist, both in theology and—by virtue of its location in Houston, Texas—geographically. There are more Southern Baptists in Texas than there are people in many other states, and Houston, with nearly 750 Southern Baptist congregations, is no exception.

    With average Sunday attendance running between 450 and 550 people, Wilcrest is four times the size of Messiah Fellowship. Yet the congregation considers itself small, sitting in the...

  7. 4 White Flight or Flux?
    (pp. 58-79)

    It is Sunday morning worship service. Pastor Barnes, a middleaged African American man, asks the Holbert family to join him up front at the pulpit. Bill, Jane, and their three boys walk to the front of the church and join Pastor Barnes. Pastor Barnes asks Jane and Bill to share with the congregation their future plans. Bill approaches the microphone and explains that “God has called our family to walk a different path. While we will miss the congregation, we need to follow God’s leading. And sadly,” he continues, “following God at this time in our lives requires us to...

  8. 5 Embrace and Division
    (pp. 80-103)

    As I enter the sanctuary of Brookside Community Church in suburban Los Angeles, sounds of a traditional hymn played on an organ fill the air. A friendly middle-aged white man greets me with an outstretched hand and a warm smile. The pews are filled mostly with middle-aged white people, quiet and focused on the front of the church. The service begins with a prayer, and a guitar player leads the worship band, which includes a keyboard player, drummer, flute player, and backup vocalists. All but the keyboard player are white. The congregation stands and sings heartfelt choruses shown on the...

  9. 6 Together and Separate
    (pp. 104-125)

    Thus far we have focused on churches. However, in this chapter we examine the barriers to racial integration within a university student religious organization, Christ in Action. This case expands our understanding of the dynamics of interracial religious organizations in three key ways. Unlike churches, student religious organizations have, by definition, temporary memberships. Moreover, members of these religious organizations typically also are members of churches; the student religious organizations serve as spiritual and social supplements to their church. Furthermore, college is a time and place where people are open to exploring different identities and experimenting with new situations. Given these...

  10. 7 Jesus Is Color-Blind
    (pp. 126-150)

    A visit to the campus of Emmanuel Bible College (EBC) on the West Coast is a pleasant experience. Large trees and immaculately manicured lawns wrap the campus in a feeling of calm serenity. Smiling young clean-cut students say “hi” as they walk past you, and groups of friends sit and laugh or pray together on the grassy lawns in the courtyard. Also noticeable is that it is relatively racially diverse, at least in comparison to other private evangelical colleges. Approximately a quarter of the undergraduate population here are students of color—Asian and Hispanics account for roughly equal percentages (around...

  11. 8 What We Learned
    (pp. 151-186)

    We have covered a great deal of ground in our case studies, and we have visited a variety of places and religious organizations. For each case, we conducted around thirty in-depth face-to-face interviews with affiliates of religious organizations, including current members, former members, and leadership. We also observed religious meetings and “hung out” with members and leaders in less formal contexts. In doing so, we shared in the challenges, joys, and satisfaction that come with being a part of an interracial religious organization.

    We have studied these organizations not just to get an inside look at them and gain a...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 187-188)
  13. References
    (pp. 189-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-196)
  15. About the Authors
    (pp. 197-197)