Study: One-Third of White Christians Say Church Has No Role in Addressing Racial Injustice

New Barna research reveals how generational, racial, and political leanings impact Christians’ views on injustices tied to America’s history of Black enslavement.

church people
(Photo: Nicole Honeywill/Unsplash)

A study released by Barna Group titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” offers new data revealing the opinions of senior pastors and Christians on what the church should do about racial divisions, if anything at all.

Barna Impact Slavery
(Image: Barna Group)

The study, conducted in partnership with The Reimagine Group, was released on June 25, 2019. Surveyors posed several incisive questions to 1,502 practicing Christian adults and 600 senior Protestant pastors in the U.S. in April and May of 2018.

In addition to the surveyed data, Barna also gathered a panel of scholars and faith leaders to provide insights on racial reconciliation, the past and present of racism in the U.S., and the role of churches regarding racial injustice. Faithfully Magazine’s Nicola A. Menzie, Russell Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Nikki Toyama-Szeto of Evangelicals for Social Action, Philadelphia pastor Eric Mason, and Andrews University associate professor Heather Thompson Day were among those who participated in this panel.

Below are several vital points from the study’s findings.

Practicing Christians are divided on whether America’s history of slavery continues to impact Black communities today.

According to the survey, 50 percent of practicing Christians believe America’s history of slavery continues to impact Black Americans today, which is slightly ahead of the proportion of the general population (46 percent). This divide becomes even more stark when responses from  Black practicing Christians and White practicing Christians are compared. While 79 percent of Black practicing Christians believe that the history of slavery continues to impact Black Americans today, only 42 percent of White practicing Christians agree. Furthermore, while only 28 percent of practicing Christians say the U.S. has moved beyond the effects of slavery, a disproportionate number of White practicing Christians (34 percent) agree with that sentiment.  

There are generational divides among practicing Christians regarding racial reconciliation.

Sixty-six percent of Millennial practicing Christians acknowledge ongoing repercussions from the era of slavery, compared to 55 percent of Gen X, 40 percent of Boomers, and 41 percent of Elders that are practicing Christians. Additionally, the study found that Millennial practicing Christians are more likely to be in multiracial friendships, support Black Lives Matter, and want the church to be involved in matters related to racial reconciliation. Most pointedly, the study remarked that “Millennials appear to be the most sensitive to these conversations, even though they are the farthest removed from the civil rights era.”

Barna Ethnicity
(Image: Barna Group)

White Practicing Christians are half as likely as their Black and Hispanic counterparts to believe that minorities always suffer underserved hardship.

The study found that overall, practicing Christians align with the national average (43 percent) in saying that racial minorities “always” (18 percent) or “usually” (25 percent) experience undeserved hardship, while 47 percent say this is “sometimes” true. Black and Hispanic practicing Christians were more than twice as likely as their White counterparts to say minorities “always” suffer undeserved hardship. Similar to the first vital finding above, Millennial practicing Christians believe far more strongly than preceding generations that minorities “always” or “usually” experience hardship (60 percent v. 44 percent of Gen X, 31 percent of Boomers, and 35 percent of Elders).

Practicing Christians with more cross-racial friendships are more likely to be engaged in Christian practices and disciplines.

Barna’s study found that while two-thirds of practicing Christians say they have a long-term friend of another race or ethnicity, Evangelicals are less likely than nominal Christians to be in multiracial or multiethnic community. However, respondents who were involved in multiracial communities showed a significant increase in spiritual engagement, compassion, and cultural awareness. The study found that those in multiracial communities were more likely to read the Bible on their own, attend a church small group or Bible study, or volunteer at church. 

Additionally, these same respondents were found to be more likely to say that their churches engage in a diversity of relationships and keep justice at the forefront of their teaching. Furthermore, those who have friends from other races or ethnicities were more likely to have friends who fall in different income brackets or who practice a different religion, while having a higher compassion for the poor, people in distress, people who have wronged them personally, and even those who have committed crimes.


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    Written by Timothy I. Cho

    Timothy Isaiah Cho is an Associate Editor at Faithfully Magazine. Timothy enjoys reading, discussing and writing on topics related to racial justice, diversity, social justice and Christian engagement in society. He received a Master of Divinity from Westminster Seminary California and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from U.C. Berkeley. Email: timothy.cho (at) faithfullymagazine.com

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