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Sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith asked in their book Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America: will the evangelical church remove the color line? Phillip Luke Sinitiere offers a “history” of Divided by Faith since its publication in 2000. This article traces out the book’s impact on scholars, accounting for its place in the fields of American religious history and religious studies. Then he gauges Divided by Faith’s impact on American evangelicalism, linking it to an increase in “racial justice genre” books published by evangelical presses over the last dozen years. Finally, an overview of Michael Emerson’s subsequent scholarship that followed Divided by Faith suggests that it remains salient for those interested in a nuanced analysis of race and religion in America. Mr. Sinitiere is Professor of History at the College of Biblical Studies, a multiethnic school located in Houston’s Mahatma Gandhi District.

Race and religion, it has been remarked, are fearfully entangled in the guts of this nation, so profoundly that to speak of one is to conjure up the other. One cannot speak of sin without referring to blackness, and blackness stalks our history and our streets. Therefore, in many ways, perhaps in the deepest ways, the minister and the sheriff were hired by the Republic to keep the Republic white—to keep it free from sin. But sin is no respecter of skin: Sin stains the soul. Therefore, again and again, the Republic is convulsed with the need for exorcism. … Salvation does not divide. Salvation connects, so that one sees oneself in others and others in oneself. … Complexity is our only safety and love is the only key to our maturity.—James Baldwin, “To Crush a Serpent”1


“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” African American scholar and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois enshrined this iconic observation in July 1900 while speaking in London at the Pan African Congress. Du Bois repeated this phrase in his famous 1903 book Souls of Black Folk. Thirty years later Du Bois recycled this maxim in a Christian Century article titled “Will the Church Remove the Color Line?” one of his many publications that analyzed the state of American religion. In his Century article Du Bois offered incisive commentary to express grave doubts that America’s Protestant and Catholic churches would offer structural solutions in pursuit of racial justice.2

Du Bois’s attention to matters of racialized religion did not diminish in his twilight years, which spanned from the 1940s to the early 1960s. He was affiliated with two New York City congregations that prized racial and ethnic diversity. Du Bois was a longtime friend of Community Church minister John Haynes Holmes, for example, and in the 1940s lectured in Holmes’ pulpit. Along with his second wife Shirley Graham Du Bois, whom he married in early 1951, Du Bois attended Holy Trinity Episcopal Church during the 1950s. In his 1968 posthumous Autobiography, Du Bois called Holy Trinity’s pastor John Howard Melish “a young man of ideal character; of impeccable morals; a hard worker, especially among the poor and unfortunate,” particularly as the neighborhood in which the church was situated transitioned to a community of “white-collar and laboring folk of Italian, Negro and Puerto Rican extraction.” In her memoir Shirley Graham Du Bois recalled that Holy Trinity welcomed a diverse assembly of people that “included Negroes, Puerto Ricans, the foreign-born and the poor. Holy Trinity thus became a community church in the truest sense of the word.”3

In the year 2000 – not unlike Du Bois’s observations a century earlier – sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith asked in their book Divided by Faith: will the evangelical church remove the color line? To answer this question the authors framed their analysis around racialization in American society. Emerson and Smith defined racialization as “a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” Divided by Faith also noted that white evangelicals possess a social “toolkit” by which they view society in starkly individualist terms. Emerson and Smith contended that such a perspective prevents white evangelicals from understanding social problems in structural terms. For white evangelicals the race problem in the United States is a personal problem; therefore personal problems require “personal” solutions such as heart change, conversion, or fostering friendships with nonwhites. Based on these frameworks the authors used statistical measures, interviews, and historical observation to assess a broad cross-section of white evangelical attitudes and actions about racial division. Emerson and Smith, in drawing a conclusion similar to Du Bois, found little reason to believe that white evangelicals would shed an individualist ethos in order to address the systemic problems of racism and white privilege. Employing a clinical analogy, the authors observed that “[just] as undetected cancer that remains untreated thrives and destroys, so unrecognized depths of racial division and inequality go largely unaddressed and likewise thrive, divide, and destroy.” Despite such dismal prospects, again not dissimilar to Du Bois, Emerson and Smith displayed measured hope about the transformative possibilities of education, cultural literacy, and deep commitments to economic justice. “Good intentions are not enough,” they cautioned, “But educated, sacrificial, realistic efforts made in faith across racial lines can help us together move toward a more just, equitable, and peaceful society. And that is a purpose well worth striving toward.”4

In what follows I offer a “history” of Divided by Faith since its publication in 2000. First, I trace out the book’s impact on scholars, accounting for its place in the fields of American religious history and religious studies. Second, I gauge Divided by Faith’s impact on American evangelicalism, examining how it framed the appearance of numerous books that addressed racial justice. The advent of Divided by Faith reinvigorated what I call a “racial justice genre” in the evangelical publishing industry. Finally, I end with a reflection on Michael Emerson’s subsequent scholarship about race, religion, and evangelicalism that followed Divided by Faith. A postscript maintains that Emerson’s work remains salient for those interested in a sustained and nuanced analysis of race and religion in America.

Divided by Faith and the Academy

Early scholarly reviews of Divided by Faith offered effusive praise for Emerson and Smith’s ground breaking work. Writing in Christian Ethics Today in early 2001, Darold Morgan called Divided by Faith “especially timely” and commended it as a “sharp wake-up call for all sincere Christians.” Historian Paul Grant, in an insightful bibliographic entry at, found Divided by Faith “an exciting, moving, and shocking” study. Reviewing Divided by Faith in 2004 for The Journal of Religion scholar Eddie Glaude deemed Emerson and Smith’s work “fascinating” and “helpful” for understanding racial dynamics within white evangelicalism. Finally, in a 2004 review in Church History historian Randal Jelks described Emerson and Smith’s book “a splendid, if not troubling, monograph … [that] might strangely warm the heart of Karl Marx” for the way it explained white evangelicals’ blindness to structural racism.5

Reviewers also registered several criticisms of Divided by Faith. Glaude found Emerson and Smith’s history of racism in American evangelicalism short and “rather sketchy.” But Glaude also appreciatively noted the book’s emphasis on the post-civil rights period, particularly a section on the history of the evangelical racial reconciliation movement. Morgan, respectful of how Divided by Faith diagnosed the problem of race, longed for a prescriptive end to the book. Morgan lamented that Divided by Faith lacked “conclusions as to how to move American evangelicals to cope positively with the problem itself.” Jelks found class analysis largely absent from Divided by Faith. “Could more working-class evangelicals feel a more imminent economic threat from African Americans than, say, the wealthy evangelist Pat Robertson?” he queried.6

Within these criticisms of Divided by Faith reviewers wrapped suggestions for topics that demanded further study. While Emerson and Smith accounted for the social dimension of evangelicals’ cultural and theological understanding of race, Glaude called for more analysis of everyday language and the “discourse of race.” Jelks’ comments about class prompted him to suggest that Divided by Faith might have benefited from engaging the work of whiteness studies scholars. For Jelks the study of religious history might offer clearer understanding of how whiteness informs evangelicalism and how “evangelical Christianity seems essential to certain aspects of the ideology of whiteness.” These specific proposals suggest that Divided by Faith unveiled the possibility for new avenues of study. I address two of these subfields below: the study of the evangelical racial reconciliation movement and the study of religion and whiteness.7

Divided by Faith offered one of the earliest historical accounts of the evangelical racial reconciliation movement. “The last third of the twentieth century marked a turning point for the evangelical movement on race issues,” contended the authors. “White evangelicals were more engaged with race relations than in the previous 100 years, and their recent swell of activity surrounding race relations may only be matched by the abolitionist period.” Emerson and Smith dated the reconciliation story to the 1960s and 1970s – the era of the modern Civil Rights Movement – with the work of John Perkins, Bill Pannell, Tom Skinner, and Samuel Hines. White activists such as Jim Wallis, Ronald Sider, John Alexander, Tony Campolo, and William Stringfellow emerged simultaneously and joined the conversation, adding their voices to the quest for racial and economic justice.8

Emerson and Smith argued that the evangelical reconciliation movement hit another stride in the late 1980s and 1990s when local and national organizations, agencies, and ministries worked to bridge divisions. Developments during this period included the Promise Keepers movement, the “Memphis Miracle” (1994) of racial unity between Pentecostals and Charismatics, and the Southern Baptist Convention’s 1995 apology for supporting slavery and segregation. Around the same time, evangelical publishing houses and denominational presses began to publish more books and produce videos and workshops that offered strategies for pursuing reconciliation. In this context the authors cite the work of white activist, minister, and university professor Curtiss DeYoung. DeYoung’s impact on the reconciliation movement developed from strategic mentoring relationships with black clergy, and an immersion in African American religious culture professionally, academically, and spiritually. While the narrative of the evangelical racial reconciliation movement offered in Divided by Faith is short and dominated by male historical actors, it nevertheless anticipated important scholarship on evangelical Christianity and race. Scholars historicize racialized Protestantism in the early modern world, trace its contours across the Atlantic World and the colonization of the Americas, and address the confluences of race and evangelicalism at both the national and state levels.9

Divided by Faith’s focus on white racial attitudes, as Jelks pointed out, provided a foundation for scholars of American religious history to consider the relationship between evangelical Christianity and the construction of whiteness. While several key theological studies astutely analyze how whiteness shapes the social, political, and cultural history of evangelicalism in the United States, Edward J. Blum offers some of the keenest historical observations on the subject. Blum’s scholarship documents the central role whiteness played in the United States from Reconstruction to the present. Blum’s first book, Reforging the White Republic (2005), found that whiteness deeply informed nationalism as white politicians, writers, ministers, and missionaries sought to rebuild the nation after the Civil War. Through biography, Blum next studied how black Americans, namely W. E. B. Du Bois, critically confronted whiteness during the first half of the twentieth century. And most recently in collaboration with historian Paul Harvey, Blum canvassed American history to understand how racial categorization has influenced depictions of Jesus in art and culture. While Blum’s work as a scholar depends on archival-based historical analysis, his arguments about racialized religion pivot on Emerson and Smith’s sociological assessments in Divided by Faith.10

Upon its publication, Divided by Faith made a scholarly splash. Reviewers noted the book’s important contributions and Emerson and Smith’s peers in the the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion handed Divided by Faith the Distinguished Book Award in 2001. Yet the book’s analytical purchase continued well after its appearance, since all of the work cited above came after Emerson and Smith published their findings. It therefore seems in retrospect that the publication of Divided by Faith anticipated the ensuing decade of scholarly reflection on race and religion. But as further testimony to its significance, Divided by Faith’s influence has stretched beyond the ivory tower.11

Divided by Faith and Evangelicalism

To understand Divided by Faith’s impact on contemporary American evangelicalism, I explore selected issues from the evangelical magazine Christianity Today that tackled the tangled relationship between race and religion. To attend more fully to the book’s historical impact I then connect Divided by Faith’s appearance to a marked upsurge of books since 2000 that deal with race matters published by major evangelical presses.

In its October 2, 2000, issue Christianity Today published a round table review of Emerson and Smith’s Divided by Faith. Moderated by editors Edward Gilbreath and Mark Galli, participants included pastors Elward Ellis, Robert Franklin, Charles Lyons, and John Ortberg, along with evangelical theologian J. I. Packer. The forum dealt with questions about racial construction, evangelical theology, race and preaching, race and church growth strategies, and embodied practices of racial reconciliation. Participants responded to Emerson and Smith’s analysis of how American society is racialized, and assessed the implications this reality might have on bridging racial division. “The old labels – bigot, racist – don’t help this conversation move anywhere,” said seminary president Robert Franklin. “But can the Emerson/Smith way of talking about a ‘racialized society’ help the average white person admit that society assigns certain privileges and benefits, certain doors of access, on the basis of possessing white skin?,” he continued, “For many in the black community, having whites acknowledge this is a kind of litmus test as to whether or not we can have an honest dialogue.” Regarding theology, the pastors collectively lamented evangelicalism’s individualism. Charles Lyons commented that evangelicalism’s “[b]iblical theology is adequate, but our cultural adaptations and interpretations of it are twisted and warped.” The role of power in ministry relationships, according to Lyons, is a real impediment to efforts of reconciliation. “I stopped going to white-run meetings that had reconciliation on the agenda because it’s usually just talk,” he admitted. “It’s well-intentioned talk, but it’s a dead end just the same. The white guys want to run the show, not because they don’t want to let anybody else run it but because they’re used to running it. This is what we do, we run things.” In turn, Lyons called for a more robust theology that could foster honest Christian engagement. There is a “need for an incarnational theology,” Lyons explained. “If we are more willing to be incarnational and multicultural in our understanding, in our thinking, in our worship styles, in our embracing, then we will have a more credible witness.” Franklin recommended a “move towards a transformational ministry. One key for me is to have a diagnostic conversation in our congregations in which we address issues of reconciliation and justice.” Franklin personalized this approach by citing an example from his seminary teaching days:

When I taught at the Colgate–Rochester Divinity School in New York, we used the Lenten season as a time to bring black, white, Latino, and Asian church congregations together for worship and a potluck fellowship on Wednesday nights. I admit, the worship was always a bit clunky, because creating a cross-cultural service that really works is frankly difficult. We did agree that “Amazing Grace” was a hymn we could all sing. We sang it six different ways. Though it was a bit awkward at times, we did worship. We listened to each others’ stories of how we first discovered ethnic and cultural differences. We broke bread together. We laughed with each other. And we learned.12

As one of the leading periodicals in modern evangelicalism, this Christianity Today forum provides one indicator for understanding Divided by Faith’s reception among evangelicals, particularly since the magazine did not always engage constructive dialog on matters of race and religion. Several letters published in response to the Divided by Faith forum serve as an additional gauge of the book’s impact on evangelicals. In the November 13, 2000, issue of Christianity Today the late ministry leader Glenn Kehrein, echoing Divided by Faith’s conclusion, proposed that education, a kind of cultural and historical literacy, constituted one strategy for attempting reconciliation. Another writer from Cross Plains, Tennessee, compared America’s intractable racial problems to the difficulties of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A letter from Margaret Goodwin of Manchester, Missouri, stated that racial division is merely about personal choice and preference. Manifesting the individualist orientation Emerson and Smith targeted as stultifying to evangelical progress toward racial justice, Goodwin maintained that, like God intended, she saw people as people, and did not categorize individuals according to race or ethnicity.13

A final way to assess Divided by Faith’s impact on American evangelicalism is to consider the recent upswing of books on topics dealing with race, ethnicity and reconciliation, what I call evangelicalism’s “racial justice genre.” A discernible turning point occurred within evangelical publishing after the appearance of Emerson and Smith’s book. Evangelical publishing houses – most particularly InterVarsity Press – published more books on racial justice in the decade following Divided by Faith than at any time in evangelicalism’s history. Some racial justice genre volumes arranged arguments in direct relation to Divided by Faith. Other racial justice genre studies referenced Emerson and Smith’s sociological findings as a way to document evangelicalism’s racialized dynamics. With these studies, and numerous others besides, canvassing the last dozen years of evangelicalism’s racial justice genre suggests that Divided by Faith acted as a compass, pointing scholars, practitioners, pastors and activists in directions that aimed to document, wrestle with, assesses, analyze and work to redeem the racial divisions that have long bedeviled evangelicalism’s history.

It is important to recall that the recent expansion of evangelicalism’s racial justice genre is not the only time in contemporary memory that evangelical publishers released books focused on race and justice. During the 1960s and 1970s evangelical presses like Regal, InterVarsity, Zondervan, Revell, Word and Eerdmans published books by writers such as John Perkins, William Pannell, Howard O. Jones, Tom Skinner, and Columbus Salley and Ronald Behm. Additional studies about race and evangelicalism appeared during the 1980s and 1990s with the same publishers, along with books from Baker and Moody. During these decades the work of John Perkins and William Pannell continued to come off the presses, as did the writings of Perkins’ son, Spencer, and white activist Chris Rice. Carl Ellis’s contributions about African American Christianity made inroads as well. During the mid-1990s, leading studies included those of theologians Glenn Usry and Craig Keener, who coauthored two books published by InterVarsity Press about black-white relations within evangelicalism. Documenting the growing numbers of black Christians partial to Reformed theology and Calvinistic doctrine, Crossway and Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing have in recent years put out books and essay collections by Anthony J. Carter, Anthony Bradley, and Eric Redmond that canvass concerns over race, justice, and biblical studies. Responding to larger political and social changes within the United States and across the world during the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s that prompted wider conversations about race and culture, the books and authors referenced above also provide helpful perspective to document further how Divided by Faith provoked wider analysis and more rigorous discussion about racial justice within evangelical Christianity.14

Among many racial justice genre books published since 2000, a number of writers have been consistent, critical contributors to the conversation and are making unique, constructive inroads that demand sustained attention. Sampling the work of theologian Vincent Bacote, sociologist George Yancey, journalist Edward Gilbreath, pastor Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, writer Brenda Salter McNeil, and professor Soong-Chan Rah and how they use Divided by Faith yields a variety of approaches to racial unity resident within evangelicalism’s racial justice genre.15

Wheaton College theologian Vincent Bacote, an African American, contends that theology is always contextual and critical reflection born from theological analysis must grapple with the lived dimensions of one’s historical and theological surroundings. Put another way, theology cannot exist abstracted from lived faith and practice. To explain theology’s belief and action Bacote cites Divided by Faith’s analysis of white evangelicals’ individualistic cultural toolkit that obscures racialization’s structural realities. It is only by a thorough, intentional practice of congregational, communal Christianity that white evangelicals can start to upend an “atomistic conception” of the church. “From the standpoint of ecclesiology,” Bacote writes,

the identity of the church rises above racial and ethnic allegiances and appropriately affirms them when the church acquires a gospel-based perspective on humanity … a focus on [spiritual] practices resists the bifurcation between theology and ethics, between belief and action.16

Black sociologist George Yancey combines uniquely the critical perspective of a scholar, and the challenging, exhortative voice of a caring pastor. Being a spouse in an interracial marriage also infuses Yancey’s authoritative reflections with experiential dimensions of crossing the color line. “I am calling the church to a deliberate action that will challenge the racial barriers that we have placed about us,” Yancey maintains in Beyond Black and White: Reflections on Racial Reconciliation (1996). Yancey continues:

Such actions may be indispensable if we are to deal with segregation in our pews. The natural course of our tendency to separate may never be broken unless some of us begin to take deliberate action that challenges the way we choose to separate ourselves.

Yancey’s solution is found in what he terms a “mutual responsibility” approach to racial healing. Yancey contends in Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility (2007) that racism is a profoundly “spiritual and moral problem,” and argues that programs of reconciliation grounded in colorblindness and assimilation do not fully account for the human condition. A mutual responsibility model works specifically against the white evangelical habit of seeing racialized issues in individualistic terms, realities Yancey references from Divided by Faith’s findings. “Christians,” Yancey says, “should look to Christ as our ultimate role model” of reconciliation. Yancey comments about how he believes Jesus embodied mutual responsibility:

A careful reading of the Gospels shows that even as he sought relationships with members of other ethnic groups, Jesus also dealt with issue of oppression and justice. He reached down to a woman who was considered inferior to him, and he did so on her terms rather than his own. He served Romans without playing guilt games with them. He refused to let his kingdom become entangled with the Roman kingdom on this issue of taxes. Jesus’ actions … fit a model in which we have mutual responsibility to each other.

Yancey expounds upon the mutual responsibility model enacted in the context of Christian community and extends it to a broader institutional level in what he calls a “mutual obligations” approach. In a co-authored book with Michael Emerson, Transcending Racial Barriers (2010), the authors maintain that too often strategies with the goal of racial justice fail to recognize the supple and dynamic ways that racialization in American society perniciously perpetuates division. As a result they contend that a more programmatic approach focused on interracial engagement “under controlled conditions” that enhances clear communication about shared goals and validates the unique nature of cultural distinctiveness will more likely result in negotiated solutions of common agreement. A mutual obligations approach within groups of evangelical conviction, for example, means that multilayered integration of Christian congregations works against assimilationist tendencies that maintain the power of the cultural majority and subvert the legitimacy of cultural differences.17

Similarly, Yancey’s social scientific analysis has a bearing on the execution of racial justice in Protestant Christian institutions of higher learning. Yancey found disconnects between the demand multiracial congregations have for leaders trained with a critical cultural competence and the largely homogenous populations of most Christian colleges. Yet schools that established a theological rationale for cultural diversity, created multicultural programs and classes, and hired faculty of color not only fomented an expansive integration across the institution but also trained graduates conversant in skills that might lead to “organizational alternations” in ministries, denominations, and churches.18

Bacote’s theological emphasis on context and congregational life and Yancey’s social scientific models of mutual responsibility and mutual obligations demand thoughtful engagement with racial others to advance the possibility of Christian unity. Their approaches complement two additional works that model the ethnographic practice of participant-observation, an approach that practices the intentional traversing of racial boundaries while conscious of racialized power dynamics within both institutions and interpersonal relationships.

Journalist and writer Edward Gilbreath’s Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity (2006) is a probing book that is part memoir, part history, and part plea for justice. Gilbreath has spent a lifetime moving across borders and boundaries – often located within largely white evangelical circles – and his enriching, honest reflections imagine the possibility of racial and ethnic unity. Given how entrenched individualist evangelicalism is within white communities, the work is taxing, something Gilbreath credits Divided by Faith with articulating powerfully. “On the heels of the Promise Keepers-inspired reconciliation excitement of the 1990s,” Gilbreath points out, “Divided by Faith brought the church back down to earth, confronting us with the deep-seated issues that work against our good intentions. The book was a cold reality check that people who had been working in the reconciliation movement knew was needed.” The work for reconciliation and justice is fraught with difficulty, a blues journey comprised of both joy and sorrow. The road is not easy, Gilbreath observes, but it is rich with possibility. “That’s why reconciliation blues isn’t just a sob story; it’s a call to action. The good news is that, despite our frequent missteps, the church is the one institution that’s best equipped to overcome the racial divide.”19

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a pastor from North Carolina, wrote Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line (2008), a book about the experiences of a white minister transgressing racial divisions to lead a black congregation. Also part of an interracial family, Wilson-Hartgrove’s position of straddling multiple cultures comes with rich historical awareness. “White supremacy has been more determinative than the blood of Jesus in shaping our worship, our readings of Scripture, our economic relationships, [and] our notions of what is beautiful,” Wilson-Hartgrove points out. “White supremacy is a principality that shapes how we live and makes our lives a living death. We have, for centuries, been held captive within the logic of race by the ruler of the kingdom of the air.” Like other racial justice genre writers, Wilson-Hartgrove assails the tragically problematic nature of white evangelicalism’s individualism. Basing his observations on Divided by Faith’s articulation of the white cultural toolkit, Wilson-Hartgrove reminds readers,

We assume that close relationships will be enough to overcome the dividing power of race. But the problem is not that blacks and whites in America have not had close relationships; the problem is that we’ve inherited five hundred years of unjust and abusive relationships based on a lie.

Wilson-Hartgrove’s commitment to justice comes from an intentional divestment of social power and cultural capital coupled with an illuminated understanding of structural racism. “To plead the blood of Jesus in our racialized society is to confess that white Christians like me need to learn from the black church’s prophetic tradition of apocalyptic hope and radical love what it means to be the church,” he argues. “We need to be struck dead in the social space that black folks own and wake up to find ourselves under the leadership” of black believers or black religious leaders. “Only they can teach us what it means to be the church in America. Only with them can we become the body of Christ.”20

The work of theologian and pastor Soong-Chan Rah offers another example of grappling with a religious tradition divided by faith. Positioned as an Asian American theologian of Korean descent, Rah calls evangelical churches to confess sins of oppression. Rah’s unflinching approach to racial and ethnic justice is born from life as an ethnic minority in the United States, from pastoral experience in a multiracial congregation, and from academic reflection as a seminary professor. His first book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church form Western Cultural Captivity (2009), addresses the insidious influence of whiteness on evangelical Christianity. Rah supports steps that draw out a new awareness of how race and power operate, something Divided by Faith argues white evangelicals have a hard time seeing. “There needs to be not only the awareness of overt racism,” Rah counsels, “but also of covert privilege … there needs to be a willingness to acknowledge corporate sin and express a public, corporate confession of sin.” Through such collective repentance, Rah maintains,

the Western, white captivity of the church can be overcome by the humble willingness to submit to the spiritual authority of nonwhites. Will white evangelicals who have never been in a position of submission to nonwhites see this situation as an unacceptable state? Are white evangelicals willing to enter into places of submission (maybe for the first time in their lives) to those outside of their ethnic group?

Rah followed this line of questioning in a May 2010 Sojourners article titled “Is the Emerging Church for Whites Only?” Rah offers a set of systematic answers to his critical questions in a book titled Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church (2010). “Cultural intelligence is not a quick or easy fix,” cautions Rah. “Human lives and cultures are much too complex for us to reduce our understanding of them to a simplistic formula.” Rah’s approach focuses on “honor[ing] different cultural expressions and acknowledging that God is at work in every culture, not just our own. Cultural intelligence is about developing a biblical view, rather than a socially derived view of culture.”21

Activist, author and minister Brenda Salter McNeil, an African American who speaks and writes on racial justice and Christian unity, builds much of her work on Divided by Faith. Maintaining a critical focus on the necessity of truth-telling to display the “heart of racial justice,” McNeil (and co-author Rick Richardson) suggests that one of the first steps is to understand how evangelicalism’s “theological individualism has rendered most evangelical Christians completely ill-equipped to deal with major social structures to grapple with corporate and institutional evil.” Part of McNeil’s overall strategy for racial unity – which includes embodied aspects of Christian spirituality such as worship and prayer along with attentiveness to cultural context, power dynamics, and intentional cultivation of authentic relationships – zeroes in on education and learning to develop an experientially-based “credible witness” that capitalizes on Emerson and Smith’s work. To establish effective cross-cultural partnerships and intercultural understanding, McNeil recommends “go[ing] beyond the confines of traditional thinking and question[ing] the message they have received from their ethnic group or family of origin.” Listening to “educated others,” to use Divided by Faith’s formulation, McNeil commends cultivating a “new openness and willingness to learn … as an act of ongoing engagement and partnership.”22

The preceding paragraphs provide a small sample of the numerous publications Divided by Faith inspired. They also testify to the book’s major impact on evangelicals willing to address racial injustice. Collectively, many of these works offer critical yet constructive ways to overcome division and subvert inequality. These works demand from evangelicals honesty and expect from evangelicals accountability. Coupled with the social scientific analysis of evangelicalism’s race problem, numerous resources exist that might equip individuals willing to congregate around an ethic of authentic inclusion. While only time will tell if evangelicalism will remove the color line, Michael Emerson’s scholarly production continues to push in that direction.

Divided by Faith: A Retrospective in Hindsight

This essay has chronicled the influence of Divided by Faith on scholars of American religion, and it has assessed the influence of this important book within American evangelicalism. To grasp better how Emerson’s scholarship on racialized religion offers critical assessments of racial division while it simultaneously suggests strategies to redeem such disjuncture, this closing section links biographical aspects of Emerson’s life to his work subsequent to Divided by Faith.

In Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice (2010), scholar and activist Mark Warren identifies what he calls “seminal experiences” in one’s journey to pursue racial justice. According to Warren a seminal experience constitutes “at least once incident that dramatically alter[s] [one’s] sense of race” where the act of racism stirs “profound moral shocks” that “are accompanied by powerful emotions, typically anger or outrage at injustice.” Warren asserts that “these experiences make whites aware, for the first time, of the reality of racism. … Seminal experiences represent abrupt events, a crystallization of awareness in time.” Warren notes the moral imperative to act that many activists and writers feel once enlightened about race matters. Other activists, Warren maintains, interpret moral and ethical outrage at racial injustice through the concepts and vocabulary provided by faith communities and religious commitments.

Warren’s categories of analysis help to situate Emerson’s work historically.23 Emerson’s “seminal experiences” occurred over time through a series of personal changes and professional commitments during the 1990s. Conscious of racialized Christianity through observing the segregated congregational landscape around Moody Church in Chicago where he went to college, a turning point happened during what Emerson calls his “Pentecost moment.” Attending a Promise Keepers meeting in Colorado around 1994 stirred in him an awakening desire to grapple with issues of racial inequality. Born in part out of Promise Keepers’ emphasis on attempting to deal with racism, Emerson sensed a calling to pursue racial reconciliation. Simultaneous adjustments in Emerson’s personal life – which included moving to an area of town where Emerson and his family became minorities and attending a multiracial church – tethered his personal circumstances to his emerging scholarship on race that eventually became Divided by Faith. During the 1990s Emerson was part of a large group of sociologists studying evangelicalism. Scholarship, teaching, and faith ultimately converged as Emerson collected data, studied interview responses, and began to grasp the deeply embedded racialized structures of American society. Trained as a scholar of race and urban studies, Emerson thus began to understand the intimate connection between race and religion, what he calls racialized religion. Reflecting on a decade of analyzing race and evangelicalism, Emerson stated: “The more I study, the more I read other people’s work, [and] I become more convinced just how entrenched [racialized religion] is. This is the devil’s stronghold” that divides Christians along racial, ethnic and cultural lines. Articulated further in the language of faith, Emerson writes that

We need to focus our attention on undoing our racialized society … making our congregations places that do not reinforce racial division, but which instead bring people of all backgrounds together for the common purpose of glorifying God.24

Emerson’s scholarship subsequent to Divided by Faith has continued to explore structures of injustice while unleashing strategies for change. The first move in this direction came in 2003 with the publication of United by Faith. “Christian congregations, when possible, should be multiracial,” Emerson and his co-authors argued. “The twenty-first century must be the century of multiracial congregations.” The vitality of such congregations, the authors maintained, would emerge from a clear theological articulation of oneness and unity. Moreover, lives lived in close proximity that attended to social power and crossed racial and ethnic boundaries increased the possibilities of communal vitality. United by Faith’s constructive commendation of cross-cultural Christian faith found further expression in Emerson’s 2006 study, People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States. This book not only profiled a congregation to which Emerson was personally committed, but he also teamed with an experienced, multiracial pastor to capture more of the qualitative significance of life in multiracial community. Emerson began attending Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston as it began to transition from a homogenous church to a multiracial congregation. “It was definitely coming out of the white frame[work] still, all the deacons were white,” Emerson observed: “While we’re there our kids are growing up … the church is transforming … it is a great case study, watching what’s happening, what the reactions are [and] why it’s happening.” People of the Dream nuanced critical scholarly analysis of multiracial congregations – which account for roughly 13.7% of congregations in the United States – by identifying the crucial structural factors necessary to maintain a theologically-based, goal-oriented, cross-cultural Christian identity.25

A 2012 co-authored study with Jason Shelton, Blacks and White in Christian America, found that both quantitatively and qualitatively race is a defining factor in how black and white American Christians think about and express religious faith. Both black and white Christians affirm core doctrines of the Christian faith, but divert significantly over thought and practice of that same faith, what the authors call “religious sensibilities.” Emerson and Shelton note white Christians fixate on individual spiritual cultivation while black Christians understand their faith lives in structural terms. To the extent that these conceptualities remain in place, future hope for reconciliation is bleak. Framed more positively, the authors contend that racial justice is possible to the extent that white Christians admit that race problems remain and that both blacks and whites submit to God’s divine mandate of unity as well as commit to an energetic pursuit of cross-racial friendship. Moreover, Emerson and Shelton comment that physical relocation coupled with a redistribution of resources will also factor heavily into oneness that is simultaneously personal and structural.26

Despite releasing numerous studies that document how hostile white Protestant individualism is to achieving a faith-informed racial and ethnic unity that enacts serious structural change, recently Emerson has begun to talk about what he calls “Cracks in the Christian Color Wall.” Emerson singles out well-known, large Protestant congregations such as Willow Creek that were once racially homogenous, but have started to acknowledge white privilege, seek to divest themselves of it, and aim to transition into a multiracial body of committed congregants and partners in a multiethnic faith. While there may indeed be cracks in the color wall, as Emerson acknowledges there is yet more work to do. Thus, building beyond Divided by Faith Emerson has produced work that imagines the possibility for Christian racial unity, at each step acknowledging the difficulties of achieving such an ideal.27

In just over a dozen years, to date Emerson’s social scientific analysis of race and religion in America has commanded the attention of Christians who struggle to come to terms with living faithfully in a highly racialized society. Whether read by pastors or academicians, Emerson’s studies of racialized religion have advanced scholarship in the following four ways:

  1. Race remains a highly determinative factor in how white and black Christians think about faith and practice faith on a daily basis.
  2. White evangelicalism’s core conviction of relational Christianity is a chief impediment to understanding entrenched structural inequality, and therefore renders racial reconciliation next to impossible.
  3. Education, cross-racial contact and friendships, a commitment to realizing God’s mandate of unity, and a material redistribution of resources – factors that combine both individualist and structural initiatives – renders racial reconciliation at least possible.
  4. Multiracial congregations – a rare occurrence in American evangelical Protestantism and often prohibitively difficult to maintain and sustain – to the extent that congregations possess a diverse leadership, a shared, core theological rationale for cultural diversity, a willingness to remain flexible in approaches to unity, a commitment to cultural diversity education, and institutionalized assurances for racial equity, represents a possible “harbinger” of racial and ethnic unity in the United States.28


This article began with W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1931 essay that pondered whether the Christian church would assist in resolving the divisions manifested by America’s color line. Writing in the Chicago Defender in June 1946 about his recent travels, Du Bois offered something of an answer to his question posed fifteen years earlier. Du Bois noted Howard Thurman’s interracial congregation in San Francisco, but he also mentioned Los Angeles’s Church of Christian Fellowship. Impressed with the church’s co-leadership between an African American, a white Quaker and a Japanese man named Royden Susu-Mago, visiting on Easter Sunday Du Bois found his experience “interesting” and participation in “sincere ceremony” meaningful. Nevertheless Du Bois remained skeptical about American Christians removing the color line. “I doubt if the pioneer work in interracial churches on the west coast is going to have much influence upon the East and the Christian church in general,” Du Bois lamented. The color line “is going to yield last in religion,” argued Du Bois, “and this is the strongest attack upon religion that could be made and is being made by the church itself and not by outsiders.” Like scholars writing about race and religion decades later, Du Bois found Christianity’s racial division distressful. But he also believed, as many today, that the elimination of the color line could bear witness to Christianity’s most sublime ideals.29


During the course of revising this article for publication, George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in February 2012. In July 2013, a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter. The case generated a flurry of national press, highlighting not only the racialized dynamics surrounding Martin’s death itself, but also the racialized reactions to it. Pundits and politicians weighed in, including President Barack Obama who stated that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon. In a press conference after Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict, President Obama stated that in his younger years, he could have been Trayvon—in other words, as a black man in the United States he could have lost his life while being racially profiled. The racial fractures manifested in responses to the Martin case revealed persistent racialized cleavages in American society.30

A variety of Christian voices rose in response to Trayvon Martin’s murder. Pentecostals and Charismatics weighed in most specifically since the murder took place within miles of Charisma magazine’s offices in Sanford, Florida. As the leading voice of Charismatic Christianity in the United States, Charisma’s coverage of the Martin case provides a way to ponder the profound salience of Emerson’s work on racialization in American evangelicalism.

Charisma devoted its June 2012 issue to racism in the evangelical church. A bold declaration of solidarity with the suffering, the cover story (and magazine cover) featured a black male in a hoodie, the symbol most associated with Martin’s murder. Charisma publisher Stephen Strang noted a long history of racial division in Sanford’s churches, but also mentioned collaborations across the color line in Sanford. Strang acknowledged racism’s grip across the nation, but argued that “even more so, believers must deal with the sin of racism. Our cover story offers a take on the church’s response to racism, but I believe every Christian, as part of the body of Christ, must ask the question: What is my response to racism?” Strang explained that a fortuitous series of events led to a meeting of 75 church leaders in Sanford, followed by a public press conference in which pastors aimed to display a unified front in response to Martin’s murder. As part of his interracial solidarity, Strang co-authored the magazine’s lead article with black minister Harry R. Jackson, Jr. and Samuel Rodriguez, head of National Christian Hispanic Leadership Conference. The article issued a passionate call for the church to address the sin of racism. Recounting some of the key moments in Pentecostalism’s interracial history, the authors demanded that Christians deal with racism “confronted by the redemptive and reconciliatory work of the lamb” since “at the end of the day, only the oracles of righteousness can defeat the pathetic with the prophetic. Only the anointed voices of justice can speak into these issues with moral clarity and biblical soundness.” The article shied away from policy pronouncements but instead opted for a more engaged practice of “meaningful dialogue and authentic relationships.”31

Charisma editor Marcus Yoars commented on the Martin case as well. Yoars pronounced a prophetic denunciation of racism, and like Strang, Jackson, and Rodriguez, presented a solution. “[R]acism isn’t something we can apply a Band-Aid to with a conference session on identificational repentance or a Sunday sermon series on John 17 unity,” Yoars explained. “Racism is a spiritual principality that Satan has successfully established on earth since humanity’s earliest days.” No longer will “lip service” work is such dire situations, Yoars said; Christians must commit for the “long haul” in the quest for justice. For Yoars the long haul “begins and ends with relationship – relationship that goes beyond interracial handshakes at the occasional reconciliation meeting. At its heart, racism reveals a lack of relationship.”32

By stark contrast, some of Charisma’s web commentary included an article by Frederick K. Price, Jr. In the 1990s Price’s father famously preached against racism and later published a three-volume study of racism and the church. Price Jr.’s July 5, 2012, blog post about the Martin murder on Charisma’s website called for individuals to reframe their understanding of race and ethnicity. Addressing racism more directly, Price stated that “racism is not about color; it’s about money and power … when we do deal with ‘racism,’ we’re actually talking about economics, money and power.” Price, like Strang, Jackson, Rodriguez and Yoars, presented a plea for unity, but more specifically highlighted the structural framework that often defines black and white responses to racial issues.33

Just as Charisma published numerous commentaries following Martin’s murder in 2012, Christianity Today featured several reflections following the Zimmerman verdict in 2013. Like the Charisma pieces, the Christianity Today editorials testify to the continued pertinence of Emerson’s work on racialized religion in the United States. The majority of Christianity Today editorials proposed renewed dialog, deeper discussions, and the expression of more passionate prayers to overcome the color line. For example, Sanford, Florida, pastor Victor Montalvo focused on the racialized fears that animate an individual’s suspicions of racial others and counseled prayers that would “deal with the sin of our hearts that so deeply distorts everything it encounters.” Similarly, Washington, D. C. minister Peter Chin focused on individual fear to ask, “Will we ever get beyond race?” and writer Margot Starbuck proposed learning, listening, and praying as a solution to Christianity’s racial divisions. Conversely, Minnesota psychology professor Christena Cleveland addressed structural privilege in order to prioritize an ethic of listening on the way to unity and healing. Cleveland commented that, “due to long-standing injustices in both the American Christian church and the broader society, the viewpoints of the privileged have enjoyed greater prominence while others have been silenced. Privileged folks typically benefit from being the dominant voice in any conversation between groups. As a result, the blind spots of the dominant privileged group are rarely addressed.” For Cleveland such blindness undermines Christian unity, allows majority groups to maintain privilege, and obfuscates the reality that “cross-cultural advocacy is central to the work of the cross.”34

In view of the research presented in this article, Charisma’s and Christianity Today’s willingness to acknowledge heartily that racialization still shapes spiritual practices and commitments registers as a positive development, given evangelicalism’s storied history of racial division. Yet to read in Charisma and Christianity Today that most of the proposed solutions to Christianity’s racial problems are merely about cultivating “relationships” or praying for hearts to change highlights an antistructural framework that subverts the needed success to overcome racial division. As Emerson (and much of the scholarship on race and evangelicalism) shows, building interpersonal collaborations to fight injustice is a crucial step toward unity, but talk of relationships tends to perpetuate evangelical individualism and assists white evangelicals in the maintenance of power. Unfortunately, the classic white evangelical, individualist-oriented response ultimately belies Charisma’s and Christianity Today’s attempts to tackle the structural inequities that produced the racialized dynamics that led to Trayvon Martin’s murder in the first place.

Surveying Emerson’s work to date along with the racial justice genre for which Divided by Faith renewed inspiration – and in the context of this article’s postscript – it seems that to express more fully the ideals of Christian neighbor love and New Testament unity evangelicals claim fidelity to, the evangelical church must remove the color line. Removing evangelicalism’s color line is not a call to a colorblindness that perpetuates injustice and works to undergird white dominance. Rather, obliterating evangelicalism’s color line will attend to where and how social and economic power operate in settings that reproduce America’s racial hierarchy, what Emerson terms the “stronghold” of race. Based on Emerson’s work and the scholarship referenced in this article, removing evangelicalism’s color line could result in a multiracial body of unified worship; it could include and embrace people of the dream; it could foster theologically-based arguments for unity and diversity; it could recognize a mutuality of shared obligations working toward goals that express the ineffable – the reality that unity and community and diversity co-exist within the triune God that evangelicals affirm.35

Cite this article
Phillip Luke Sinitiere, “Will the Evangelical Church Remove the Color Line?: Historical Reflections on Divided by Faith”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 43:1 , 41-63


  1. James Baldwin, “To Crush a Serpent” (1987), in James Baldwin, The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, ed. Randall Kenan (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010), 162, 165.
  2. W. E. B. Du Bois, “To the Nations of the World,” in W. E. B. Du Bois Speaks: Speeches and Addresses, 1890-1919, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), 124-127; W. E. B. Du Bois, “Will the Church Remove the Color Line?,” in W. E. B. Du Bois on Religion, ed. Phil Zuckerman (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira, 2000), 173-179.
  3. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007 [1968]), 271-272; Shirley Graham Du Bois, His Day is Marching On: A Memoir of W. E. B. Du Bois (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1971), 232-235; Edward J. Blum, W. E. B. Du Bois: American Prophet (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 187-188; Michael O. Emerson, “Introduction: Why a Forum on Racially and Ethnically Diverse Congregations?,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47.1 (2008): 1-4.
  4. Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 7-19, 74-86, 169-172. While Smith’s scholarly work subsequent to Divided by Faith has not readily addressed issues of race and inequality, it is interesting to note that Smith cited evangelicalism’s racial divide as one reason for his conversion from evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism. See Christian Smith, How to Go From Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 45-46.
  5. Darold H. Morgan, review of Divided by Faith, Christian Ethics Today 7.1 (February 2001),; Paul Grant, review of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America,; Eddie S. Glaude, review of Divided by Faith, The Journal of Religion 83.3 (July 2003): 513-514; Randal Jelks, review of Divided by Faith, Church History 73.4 (December 2004): 895-897. While not addressed in this essay, also important is Rhys Williams, review of Divided by Faith, Sociology of Religion 65.2 (Summer 2004): 178-179.
  6. Glaude, Ibid; Morgan, 1; Jelks, 896-897.
  7. Glaude, Ibid; Jelks, Ibid.
  8. Emerson and Smith, Divided by Faith, 51-68. On John Alexander’s involvement in civil rights and racial justice, see David R. Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 26-46, and Brantley W. Gasaway, “`Glimmers of Hope’: Progressive Evangelicals and Racism, 1965-2000,” in Christians and the Color Line: Race and Religion after Divided by Faith, eds. J. Russell Hawkins and Phillip Luke Sinitiere (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 69-96. For William Stringfellow’s contribution to struggles for racial justice, see Marshall Ron Johnston, “Bombast, Blasphemy, and the Bastard Gospel: William Stringfellow and American Exceptionalism,” (Ph.D. diss., Baylor University, 2007), ch. 2; and William Stringfellow, A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow, ed. Bill Wylie Kellerman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996). I thank Myles Werntz for introducing me to the work of William Stringfellow.
  9. Ibid. For important work from sociologists see Gerardo Marti, A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2005); Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008); Worship Across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Kathleen Garces-Foley, Crossing the Ethnic Divide: The Multiethnic Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 35-78, and Korie L. Edwards, The Elusive Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). For the racialization of Protestantism – and by extension evangelicalism – representative studies include Colin Kidd, The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Charles Marsh studies John Perkins’ early work in The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 153-188 and engages with Perkins in justice-oriented discussion in Charles Marsh and John Perkins, Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009). See also Curtis J. Evans, “White Evangelical Protestant Responses to the Civil Rights Movement,” Harvard Theological Review 102.2 (2009): 245-273; Rebecca Anne Goetz, The Baptism of Early Virginia: How Christianity Created Race (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012); Richard A. Bailey, Race and Redemption in Puritan New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); and Peter Slade, Open Friendship in a Closed Society: Mission Mississippi and a Theology of Friendship (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). Additional studies include Mark A. Noll, God and Race in American Politics: A Short History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); Brantley W. Gasaway, “An Alternative Soul of Politics: The Rise of Contemporary Progressive Evangelicalism,” (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008); Swartz, Moral Minority; Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race, and American Politics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).
  10. For groundbreaking work on theology and whiteness, see James W. Perkinson, White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010); and James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011). Theologian Brian Bantum has also analyzed whiteness, but creatively through the prism of mulatto theology in Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010). For Blum’s representative reflections, see his “Forum: American Religion and Whiteness,” Religion and American Culture 19.1 (2009): 1-35; Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2005); “‘God of a Godless Land’: Northern African American Challenges to White Christian Nationhood, 1865-1906,” in Veil of Tears: New Essays on Religion and Reconstruction, eds. W. Scott Poole and Edward J. Blum (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2005), 93-111; W. E. B. Du Bois: American Prophet; with Paul Harvey, Jesus in Red, Black, and White (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012). Blum draws specifically on Divided by Faith in “Race and Christian Scholarship: The Case of W. E. B. Du Bois,” Fides et Historia 40.1 (Winter/Spring 2008): 25-41; a co-authored chapter with Michael Emerson (“Dreams”) in Michael O. Emerson with Rodney M. Woo, People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 5-27; and “Beyond Body Counts: Sex, Individualism, and the Segregated Shape of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism,” in Christians and the Color Line. For examples of other scholarship that investigates whiteness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in various parts of the Unites States, see Tracy Fessendon, Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); Derek Chang, Christians of a Christian Nation: Evangelical Missions and the Problem of Race in the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010); Luke Harlow, “From Border South to Solid South: Religion, Race and the Making of Confederate Kentucky” (Ph.D. diss., Rice University, 2009); and J. Russell Hawkins, “Religion, Race, and Resistance: White Evangelicals and the Dilemma of Integration in South Carolina, 1950-1975” (Ph.D. diss., Rice University, 2010).
  11. For more on Divided by Faith’s impact, see J. Russell Hawkins and Phillip Luke Sinitiere, “Introduction,” in Christians and the Color Line, 1-11.
  12. “We Can Overcome,” Christianity Today (October 2, 2000),
  13. Letters to the Editor, Christianity Today (November 13, 2000): 12-14. For a historical perspective about Christianity Today’s uneven engagement with racial justice see Miles Mullin II, “Neoevangelicalism and the Problem of Race in Postwar America,” in Christians and the Color Line, 12-41.
  14. See, for example, books by Tom Skinner, Black and Free (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1968); Words of Revolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970); William Pannell, My Friend the Enemy (Waco, TX: Word, 1968); Columbus Salley and Ronald Behm, Your God is Too White (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1970); Howard O. Jones, Shall We Overcome: A Challenge to Negro and White Christians (New York: Revell, 1966); John Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down: John Perkins Tells His Own Story (Glendale, CA: Regal, 1976); Tony Evans, Are Blacks Spiritually Inferior to Whites?: The Dispelling of an American Myth (Wenonah, NJ: Renaissance, 1992); Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice, More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993); Carl F. Ellis, Jr., Free at Last?: The Gospel in the African-American Experience (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995); Glen Kehrein and Raleigh Washington, Breaking Down Walls: A Model for Reconciliation in an Age of Racial Strife (Chicago: Moody, 1993); John Perkins and Thomas Tarrants III, He’s My Brother: Former Racial Foes Offer Strategy for Reconciliation (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 1994); William Pannell, The Coming Race Wars: A Cry for Reconciliation? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994); Craig S. Keener and Glenn Usry, Black Man’s Religion: Can Christianity Be Afrocentric? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996); Defending Black Faith: Answers to Tough Questions About African-American Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997); Dwight Perry, Breaking Down Barriers: A Black Evangelical Explains the Back Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998); Clarence Schuler, Winning the Race to Unity: Is Racial Reconciliation Really Working? (Chicago: Moody, 1998); Anthony J. Carter, ed., Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009); Anthony J. Carter, ed., Experiencing the Truth: Bringing the Reformation to the African-American Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008); Anthony J. Carter, On Being Black and Reformed: A New Look at African American Christian Experience (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2003); Anthony Bradley, Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010); Anthony Bradley, Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2013); and Eric C. Redmond, Where Are All the Brothers?: Straight Answers to Men’s Questions About the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008). Other important titles in the racial justice genre from this period include Manuel Ortiz, One New People: Models for Developing a Multiethnic Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996); Stephen A. Rhodes, Where the Nations Meet: The Church in a Multicultural World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998); and Norman Anthony Peart, Separate No More: Understanding and Developing Racial Reconciliation in Your Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000). Important post-Divided by Faith titles include David Anderson and Brent Zuercher, Letters Across the Divide: Two Friends Explore Racism, Friendship, and Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001); Bruce Fields, Introducing Black Theology: 3 Crucial Questions for the Evangelical Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001); Douglas Sharp, No Partiality: The Idolatry of Race & the New Humanity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002); Orlando Crespo, Being Latino in Christ: Finding Wholeness in Your Ethnic Identity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003); Howard O. Jones with Edward Gilbreath, Gospel Trailblazer: An African-American Preacher’s History Journey Across Racial Lines (Chicago: Moody, 2003); E. K. Bailey and Warren W. Wiersbe, Preaching in Black & White: What We Can Learn From Each Other (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003); Randy Woodley, Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004); Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp, Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004); David Anderson, Multicultural Ministry: Finding Your Church’s Unique Vision (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004); Sandra Barnes, Subverting the Power of Prejudice: Resources for Individual and Social Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006); David Anderson, Gracism: The Art of Inclusion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007); Robert Kellerman and Karole A. Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007); Thabiti M. Anyabwile, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007); Alvin C. Bibbs, Crazy Enough to Care: Changing Your World Through Compassion, Justice and Racial Reconciliation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009); David Anderson, Multicultural Ministry Handbook (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2010); Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced: Through the Eyes of Tony Evans (Chicago: Moody, 2011). Although not directly inspired by Divided by Faith but certainly relevant, oriented toward justice, and directed at Pentecostals, Charismatics, and members of the Word of Faith Movement see Frederick K. C. Price, Race, Religion, Religion & Racism, Vol. 1: A Bold Encounter With Division in the Church (Los Angeles: Frederick K. C. Price Ministries, 1999); Price, Race, Religion & Racism, Vol. 2: Perverting the Gospel to Subjugate a People (Los Angeles: Frederick K.C. Price Ministries, 2001); Price, Race, Religion & Racism, Vol. 3: Jesus, Christianity & Islam (Los Angeles: Frederick K.C. Price Ministries, 2002).
  15. Space limitations prevent a focus on Latino evangelicalism, but the following work combines history, sociology, and theology to offer critical reflection on the issues surrounding race and religion this article addresses. See, for example, Crespo, Being Latino in Christ; Arlene M. Sánchez Walsh, Latino Pentecostal Identity: Faith, Self and Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003); Walsh, “Will (White) Evangelicals Veer Left? Who Cares?,” Re-Generación (February 25, 2013); and Walsh, Pentecostalism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming), ch. 5; Juan F. Martínez and Lindy Scott, eds., Los Evangélicos: Portraits of Latino Protestantism in the United States (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009); Juan F. Martínez, Los Protestantes: An Introduction to Latino Protestantism in the United States (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011); Daniel A. Rodriguez, A Future for the Latino Church: Models for Multilingual, Multigenerational Hispanic Congregations (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011); and Felipe Hinojosa, Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith, and Evangelical Culture (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming 2014).
  16. Bacote draws on Divided by Faith specifically in “Church as a Lifestyle: Distinctive or Typical?,” in This Side of Heaven: Race, Ethnicity, and Christian Faith, eds. Robert J. Priest and Alvaro L. Nieves (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 195-209 and “Fade to White: How White is Evangelical Theology?,” in Building Unity in the Church of the New Millennium, ed. Dwight Perry (Chicago: Moody, 2002), 49-60. See also Vincent Bacote, “Theological Method in Black & White: Does Race Matter at All?,” in The Gospel in Black and White: Theological Resources for Racial Reconciliation, ed. Dennis L. Ockholm (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997); “What is to Be Done… in Theology?”
  17. See George Yancey, Beyond Black and White: Reflections on Racial Reconciliation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), 137-138 and Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 79, 122-123, but also One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003). See also Michael O. Emerson and George Yancey, Transcending Racial Barriers: Toward a Mutual Obligations Approach (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 10, 119-122. On Yancey and interracial relationships see George Yancey and Sherelyn Whittum Yancey, eds., Just Don’t Marry One: Interracial Dating, Marriage, and Parenting (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 2003); George Yancey, “Crossracial Differences in the Racial Preferences of Potential Dating Partners: A Test of the Alienation of African-Americans and Social Dominance Orientation,” Sociological Quarterly 50 (2009): 121-143; George Yancey and Richard Lewis, Interracial Families: Current Concepts and Controversies (New York: Routledge, 2008); and George Yancey, “Experiencing Racism: Differences in the Experiences of Whites Married to Blacks and Non-Black Racial Minorities,” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 38.2 (2007): 197-213.
  18. George Yancey, Neither Jew Nor Gentile: Exploring Issues of Racial Diversity on Protestant College Campuses (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 136.
  19. Edward Gilbreath, Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 21, 168-175.
  20. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Free to Be Bound: Church Across the Color Line (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2008), 100-102, 132-133.
  21. Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing Church from Western Cultural Captivity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 203, 205. “Is the Emerging Church for Whites Only?” Sojourners (May 2010) article&issue=soj1005&article=is-the-emerging-church-for-whites-only; Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church (Chicago: Moody, 2010), 195.
  22. Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson, The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 20, 141-144. See also McNeil’s A Credible Witness: Reflections on Power, Evangelism and Race (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008).
  23. Mark R. Warren, Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 27-39, 49-50.
  24. Michael Emerson, Interview with Author (Houston, TX: December 2010); Michael Emerson, Interview with Edward Gilbreath (October 2010); Divided by Faith: A Decade Retrospective Conference, Indiana Wesleyan University; Michael Emerson, “The Persistent Problem,” Christian Reflection (2010): 17; Michael Emerson, “Foreword,” Christians and the Color Line, ix-xii. For more on the connection between Emerson’s scholarship and personal commitments see Darryl Scriven, “Theological Afterword: The Call to Blackness in American Christianity,” in Christians and the Color Line, 250-268.
  25. Michael Emerson, Interview with Author (Houston, TX: December 2010); Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey and Karen Chai Kim, United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 2. See also the United by Faith excerpt Christianity Today published as “All Churches Should be Multiracial: The Biblical Case” (April 2005): 32-35. Like it did for Divided by Faith, Christianity Today published a forum for United by Faith. See “Harder than Anyone Can Imagine,” Christianity Today (April 2005): 36-43. Similar to the Divided by Faith round table, only male pastors reviewed the book (Noel Castellanos, Bill Hybels, Soong-Chan Rah and Frank Reid), which unfortunately marginalizes the important voices of female clergy. On a more positive note, Christianity Today published five letters in response to the United by Faith forum in its June 2005 issue, offering a balanced cross-section of perspectives on multiracial churches (10-11). On Wilcrest Baptist as a multiracial congregation see Emerson and Woo, People of the Dream and “A Place to Call Home,” in Against All Odds: The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations, eds. Brad Christerson, Korie L. Edwards, and Michael O. Emerson (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 36-57. On multiracial churches, see Michael O. Emerson, “A New Day for Multiracial Congregations,” Reflections 100.1 (Spring 2013): 11-15.
  26. Michael O. Emerson and Jason Shelton, Blacks and Whites in Christian America: How Racial Discrimination Shapes Religious Convictions (New York: New York University Press, 2012).
  27. Emerson, “The Persistent Problem”; Michael O. Emerson, “Cracks in the Christian Color Wall,” Duke Divinity Call & Response Blog (February 1, 2010)
  28. Emerson uses the term “harbinger” in People of the Dream, 172.
  29. W. E. B. Du Bois, “Interracial Churches” and “Religion Not Practiced,” in W. E. B. Du Bois, Newspaper Columns by W. E. B. Du Bois, Volume 2: 1945-1961, ed. Herbert Aptheker (White Plains, NY: Kraus-Thomson, 1986), 684-685. On Howard Thurman’s congregation see Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt, Vision of a Better World: Howard Thurman’s Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African American Nonviolence (Boston: Beacon, 2011), 151-181.
  30. See the online news source The Root for reliable, well-sourced and ongoing coverage of Trayvon Martin’s case
  31. Stephen Strang, “Hope in Sanford: The Untold Story,” Charisma (June 2012): 22-23; Stephen Strang, Harry R. Jackson, Jr., and Samuel Rodriguez, “The Church’s Response to Racism,” Charisma (June 2012): 25-30.
  32. Marcus Yoars, “Can’t We All Just Move On?,” Charisma (June 2012): 6.
  33. Frederick K. Price, Jr., “Race, Religion, Racism – and Trayvon Martin,” Charisma News (July 5, 2012) available at
  34. Victor Montalvo, “The Verdict Is In . . . and We All Lost,” The Exchange (July 13, 2013),; Christena Cleveland, “3 Things Privileged Christians Can Learn from the Trayvon Martin Case,” The Exchange (July 13, 2013),; Peter Chin, “Will We Ever Get Beyond Race?,” Christianity Today (July 24, 2013),; Margot Starbuck, “Responding to Trayvon Martin: Our Renewed Call to Suffer Together,” Her.meneutics (July 16, 2013), While not specifically about the Trayvon Martin case, writer Hope Ferguson’s article on post-racialism and Christianity is nevertheless important for its commentary on structural racism. See Hope E. Ferguson, “What Post-Racial America?,” Her.meneutics (July 5, 2013),
  35. For the Trinity reference, see Ravi Zacharias, The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us through the Events of Our Lives (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 134-137. This article originated as conference paper at the Divided by Faith: A Decade Retrospective Conference at Indiana Wesleyan University (October 2010). I thank CSR’s anonymous reviewers along with Karen Johnson, Edward J. Blum, Anthony Smith, France Brown, Shlomo Ben Yaakov, and Rusty Hawkins for critical comments and insightful conversations on earlier drafts.

Phillip Luke Sinitiere

College of Biblical Studies
Phillip Luke Sinitiere is Professor of History at the College of Biblical Studies.