Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith

Reviewed by Debbie Boyce

This summer, Reader's Reviews is partnering with the Koinonia Team at Stone Hill to highlight books related to racial reconciliation and social justice. This review is the fourth in our series.

For the past four years, the Koinonia Team at Stone Hill Church in Princeton has been discussing ways to make our church more welcoming to newcomers and a better home for diverse worshippers. Incorporating new and diverse members challenges all of us to grow.

Stone Hill Church is increasingly blessed with wonderful diversity in our congregation, but the question is sometimes asked, “Why we should make the effort to become welcoming to a multi-ethnic population, when this will possibly alienate some of our present attenders?” Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford University Press, 2000) gives important answers to why it is worth taking this risk.

Our impact as Christians on racial injustice requires a corporate effort, say the authors.  Emerson and Smith argue persuasively from extensive survey data and statistics that evangelical churches matter in American race relations. While individual Christians may do herculean deeds of service, if our churches remain largely mono-ethnic, the impact of individual effort is cancelled out.

We have all often heard the criticism that 11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. As long as evangelical churches remain racially homogenous, the effect of the church on our culture is to increase racial division and injustice in American culture. Conversely, when evangelical churches are multi-ethnic, they can have a profound effect against racial injustice and poverty, because the eyes of white evangelicals who hold considerable power and wealth will be opened to the problems and needs we otherwise would not see.

I have always believed that God intended his family to be multi-ethnic. In Revelation 4, the people of God are shown as coming from every tribe, nation, people and tongue. The power of a multi-ethnic church, say Emerson and Smith, is significant, both for advancing the Gospel and for the relief of suffering caused by racial division.

At Stone Hill, I am deeply encouraged to see diversity in our body, and I believe our Gospel witness is strengthened by unity across racial and socio-economic lines. As a diverse body of believers, we can mobilize in unity and greater wisdom to meet needs, challenge systems, and effect change in our communities.

Learn more about the book:

The evangelical church plays a role in preserving the racial chasm, says co-author Michael Emerson.

“Why 11 o’clock Sunday morning is still a mostly segregated hour,” Christianity Today, October 2, 2002.

Two podcasts addressing key questions for the church, from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention:

“Evangelicals and the future of religious unity,” July 10, 2018.

Should we give up on multi-ethnic churches,?” June 26, 2018.  

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