Monday, November 12, 2012

Jason Shelton & Michael Emerson's "Blacks and Whites in Christian America"

Jason E. Shelton is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Arlington. His articles have appeared in Social Science Quarterly, Du Bois Review, Sociological Perspectives, Journal of African American Studies, and other respected publications. Michael O. Emerson is the Allyn and Gladys Cline Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. He is author or co-author of several books, including Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Transcending Racial Barriers, and Against All Odds: The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Blacks and Whites in Christian America: How Racial Discrimination Shapes Religious Convictions, and reported the following:
Page 99 of our book finds us near the end of an in-depth discussion on differences in how black and white Protestants view the Bible. A few pages prior, we present results from a widely-respected public opinion poll – the General Social Survey – that clearly shows that African Americans are more likely to interpret the Bible literally. For example, 71% of black Protestants in the survey feel that the Bible is “the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word-for-word.” However, only 41% of white Protestants feel this way. In fact, most white Protestants (50%) say that “The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything should be taken literally, word for word.” These sharply divergent views, as well as others that we present in Chapter 5, strongly suggest that racial group membership color-codes beliefs about the Bible.

We realized early in the process of researching this book that statistics alone could neither explain the rich complexity nor real-world consequences of our findings. Therefore, we complement our analysis of survey data with one-on-one interviews and focus groups with Christians across various denominations and regions of the United States. We specifically asked high-ranking clergy members (including senior pastors) to comment on the stark racial differences in our survey findings. On page 99, we find Rev. Shannon – an African American female pastor from Cleveland – describing a personal tension that she sometimes feels when reading and interpreting the Bible. Her words are especially powerful considering that she is a volunteer counselor at a battered woman’s shelter:
“I believe [literally] in everything in the Old and New Testament. But I am informed by how the word inspires my heart to exegete it, to understand it.

“There are some things I’m going to interpret differently in the Bible, like when Paul said women should be seen and not heard. In the Bible, you can’t be a preacher and be a woman. It’s right there, in black and white. But the Bible is God’s infallible word [her emphasis].

“I have women who come to me for religious counseling, who say: ‘My husband beat me up and he pointed to a passage in the Old Testament where a man beat up his wife and he says that’s okay? He stripped her naked. He killed her and that’s okay because man controls his wives? My husband beat me. Why is that alright?’

“So I say to Him: ‘Okay, Lord. I’m putting my hand on your word. Now what am I supposed to tell these women who are abused? I need for you to breathe some life into this.’ And He does. It is still His infallible word… and I’m sold.”
Learn more about Blacks and Whites in Christian America at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue