The North American church fragments along racial and political lines. But what if the division we experience is more about theology than politics? In their seminal book,Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith conclude that white evangelicals tend toward individualistic rather than structuralist explanations of inequality. Emerson and Smith attribute this tendency to three core beliefs held by this group:

  • Accountable freewill individualism: Individuals have freewill and are each personally accountable for their own actions.
  • Anti-structuralism: White evangelicals often do not perceive, are unwilling to accept, or harbor negative reactions to larger, structural forces that shape society.
  • Relationalism: Interpersonal relationships are centrally important and the locus of societal change.

According to Emerson and Smith, white evangelicals subscribe to anti-structuralism but are “selectively aware” of structural influences that impact them and undermine accountable freewill individualism. They elevate affirmative action as an example of structural influence and, since Divided by Faith’s publication, have shown that they also care deeply about Supreme Court appointments, prayer in schools, abortion, same sex marriage, and the so-called “bathroom bill.”

While white evangelicals are not the only Christians concerned about these matters, their structural concerns fail to transfer into advocacy or activism on other structural issues. For example, 73% of white evangelicals zealously endorse a prolife ethic regarding the unborn while steadfastly supporting the death penalty. This incongruence invites a discourse between Scripture and the three worldviews listed prior, what Emerson and Smith call ...

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