Michael O. Emerson is a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and co-author of the forthcoming The Grand Betrayal: The Agonizing Story of Race, Religion, and Rejection in American Life. Emerson's research is funded in part by the Lilly Endowment Inc., which also provides funding for Sojourners.
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What Happens When White Identity Comes Before Christian Faith?
MY COLLEAGUES AND I have done extensive research on race and religion for 30 years. We’re now wrapping up an intensive, three-year national research project where we heard from thousands of Christians and examined trends in church attendance and commitment. We have a clear conclusion: God is shaking down the U.S. church. It is currently in a reckoning, the likes of which has not been seen for centuries.
As our team interviewed Christians of color across the U.S., we heard a similar and painful story repeated: White Christians, by their actions, seem to favor being white over being Christian. Christians of color cited many instances of that type of behavior, national and local, communal and personal. We wondered if this was the case empirically and, if so, why. As we tested the hypothesis, we found a plethora of evidence substantiating what we heard.
My co-author Glenn Bracey and I are proposing a theory in our forthcoming book, The Grand Betrayal: Most church-attending white Christians are not bad Christians. This is because they are not Christian at all. Instead, we propose they are faithful followers of a different religion: the “religion of whiteness.”