As this weekend brings focus to the life of one of the greatest American leaders, Martin Luther King Jr., we remember how he brought much needed attention to two Americas. No where is the division between Black and White America more than on Sunday morning. We Protestants have sins in our history that too many choose to ignore. It is this blindness that causes Christians in African American churches to scream loud about the problems that exist. The problem is that too many White evangelicals choose to be unaware of how African American Christians feel about the divisive rejection that was so much a part of early American history. This pain remains today, even two generations beyond the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century.
DIVIDED BY FAITH by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith is a serious study on the divisions within American Protestantism. One strength is the genuinely helpful historical review of racism in the United States from the colonial period through reconstruction after the Civil War. This section of the book is genuinely helpful in determining why racism is such a deeply rooted problem in the country. Also included is an extensive bibliography that will encourage those serious enough to study further racism in the church. Reader beware…you will be very angry after reading this book. The injustices recorded in this book within the church are appalling. From the refusal of White church leadership to allow Black members to the refusal to ordain Black ministers will cause the deepest head buried in the sand to come up and see the light.
A major weakness in the book could be seen as a lack of solutions as to how to move American evangelicals beyond this problem. But solutions are proposed in the sequel study UNITED BY FAITH by Curtiss DeYoung, Michael Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim. Both books are a must read. But read DIVIDED BY FAITH first…get mad, and then read UNITED BY FAITH for hope.
Many white evangelicals simply are unwilling to explore throroughly these issues because of inherent individualism, believing that blacks could solve their problems if they really wanted to. The peculiar conclusion evangelicals face is a reluctant pessimism about the entire issue–this group will not face up to reality.
Perhaps the strongest lesson from these books is in the challenge that there is much work to be done.
These books are a sharp wakeup call for all sincere Christians who currently are not aware of the seriousness and complexity of America’s racial problems. It is not pleasant reading, it will make you mad, but it is necessary reading for concerned followers of Christ, especially conservative, Bible-believing Christians who have unique barriers to overcome whether they see them or not.