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Surprise Change in How Multiethnic Churches Affect Race Views

They’re now altering black attitudes more than white ones. But is that bad?
Surprise Change in How Multiethnic Churches Affect Race Views
Image: Carsten Medom Madsen / Shutterstock

Multiracial churches—congregations in which less than 80 percent belong to a single racial group—are supposed to demonstrate the unity of the church for the sake of the gospel.

They’re also supposed to bring “common understanding of issues across race, which can in turn lead to real change in racial issues,” according to Michael O. Emerson, sociologist and provost at North Park University in Chicago.

And at first, they did. Early versions of multiracial congregations saw white attitudes changing to resemble those of minorities like African Americans or Latinos, Emerson said. Whites in multiracial congregations thought differently than whites in primarily white congregations.

But that’s less the case now, according to two studies published in religious journals this year.

The first study looked at what congregants think are important factors in explaining socioeconomic differences between blacks and whites. Racial discrimination? Inadequate access to quality education? Blacks’ lack of motivation or willpower?

The study found that 72 percent of African Americans in predominantly black churches believe that the reasons for racial inequality are structural, rather than an individual’s lack of motivation. But only about half (53%) of African Americans in multiracial churches believe the same thing.

The percentage closely tracks with whites and Hispanics in multiracial congregations, 54 percent of whom believe racial inequality is structural.

“The typical African American outside of the multiracial congregation is fairly aware that there are structural issues in place that continue to perpetuate inequality,” Kevin Dougherty, a Baylor sociology professor ...

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