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.

Political ideology may be the greatest dividing line regarding opinions about racism and racial reconciliation.

Practicing Christians from both sides of the political spectrum are equally likely to have friends of other races, but their views on race diverge by ideology. For example, 76 percent of practicing Christian liberals agree that effects of slavery are still felt today, while only 38 percent of practicing Christian conservatives say the same. Sixty-six percent of practicing Christian liberals say there are “always” or “usually” undeserved hardships for minorities, while only 30 percent of practicing Christian conservatives would agree. The study also shed light on the racial makeup of the political sides, finding that while 52 percent of practicing Christian liberals are White, an overwhelming 80 percent of practicing Christian conservatives are White. 

Black and White Christians diverge on the definition of biblical forgiveness.

Interestingly, while the study found that a majority of Black and White practicing Christians agree that forgiveness means repairing relationships, there was a significant divergence based on racial lines about the specifics of what biblical forgiveness looks like. Black practicing Christians were more likely to clarify that forgiveness did not mean forgetting an offense and were more likely to see forgiveness as a gift to the forgiver (i.e. granting relief to those whom the harm is done). White practicing Christians were more likely to see forgiveness as providing relief to the offender.  

Barna Generation Divide
(Image: Barna Group)

Non-White and younger practicing Christians are more likely to believe that the nation’s history of racial injustice requires a response from the church.

The study found that one-third of White practicing Christians don’t think the nation’s history of racial injustice requires a response from the church, while one-third of Black practicing Christians already had a clear next step in mind: repairing the damage. Similarly, the study found that Black practicing Christians are more likely than their White counterparts to see Christian organizations as the most responsible for institutional support in response to discrimination and racial injustice. As a whole, younger generations tended to believe that churches should be the primary source of support against discrimination and racial injustice (21 percent of Millennials; 22 percent of Gen X).

Astonishingly, the study found that 33 percent of White practicing Christians said that there’s nothing the church should do regarding the nation’s history of racial injustice, while their Black counterparts were twice as likely to say that the church should pursue restitution. 

Sermons about justice shape Christians toward racial justice.

Practicing Christians who responded that they often hear sermons about justice were more likely to affirm the reality of racial injustice and to see a role for the church in addressing it. Those who said they never hear about justice at church were twice as likely to say they have never considered the impact of slavery on Black Americans today. 

Pastors appear more attuned to racial injustice than their congregants and eager to see the church address it.

The study found that pastors of churches were more likely to be more attuned to racial injustice than their congregants. If a pastor identified as non-White or with a mainline denomination, these tendencies increased. The study remarked that pastors should be counted among leaders toward racial reconciliation and justice, and that many appeared willing to be a part of that journey. 

A research sample of the study by Barna can be found on their website

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Written by Timothy I. Cho

Timothy Isaiah Cho is Associate Editor at Faithfully Magazine. Timothy’s bylines have appeared in Religion News Service and Reformed Margins, and he has been interviewed for several podcasts including Truth’s Table and Gravity Leadership Podcast. He also runs a personal blog on Medium. 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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