Q&A: What Obama's Election Means for the Segregated Church

Michael O. Emerson on why black and white evangelicals can't believe the other voted as they did.

Michael O. Emerson is founding director of the Center on Race, Religion, and Urban Life at Rice University. He is also the coauthor of People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, and several other books on congregational life and race.

While nonwhite Christians voted overwhelmingly for Obama, most white Christians backed McCain. Why did Barack Obama capture so many nonwhite Christian votes but so few white Christian votes?

We have separate cultures because of racial segregation in the churches. What matters in your culture comes from a lived experience. In the white evangelical world, what has been emphasized are the issues of homosexuality and abortion. Other groups—like African Americans and Hispanics—also stress justice in terms of equal rights, addressing poverty, and war, because those things are part of their life experience. Everybody feels frustrated because no party aligns with what we all believe in.

Is there a new or highlighted tension between white and nonwhite Christians this election that hasn't been there before?

Yes, because the election was a black/white issue in this case. It's not like the evangelical vote split got any wider this time. It's been that way for a quarter-century or so. But instead of a white Republican and a white Democrat, now we mixed in race. It does make it more complicated.

What does an Obama victory mean for potential racial reconciliation in the church? How would his loss have affected reconciliation?

If he had lost, I would be worried. There would have been less hope, among African Americans in particular. But the fact that he won has the opposite effect—there is a hope. ...

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Q&A: What Obama's Election Means for the Segregated Church
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