Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith rocked the white evangelical world when it came out in 2000. It appealed to the evangelical’s love of wool shirts and launched a new genre of books and articles promoting white evangelical guilt over racism. In 2013, Christians and the Color Line: Race and Religion after Divided by Faith was the booster rocket to keep the movement in orbit.
Structural racism in the US in spite of the Civil Rights movement horrified the authors of Divided by Faith. By structural racism they mean free markets. They wanted to tax the rich at higher rates and redistribute it to poor. That such taxation would hurt rich blacks and that most of the poor are white (though the poverty rate among blacks is higher) didn't enter their calculations.
Frustrated by the white evangelical insistence on individual responsibility and personal evangelism, they determined to move white evangelicals away from their fixation on the individual and toward solving structural issues through the government. Their solution was for white evangelicals to get to know blacks personally by having them to dinner and integrating churches. They reasoned that if whites could know black people well enough they would become as socialist as the authors.
The real, but unintended, message of Divided by Faith is that the socialist efforts they advocate to repair racism have cratered. Busing and school integration were intended to provide the same educational opportunities for all. Affirmation action was going to put more minorities into colleges so they could get better jobs. The many welfare programs at the state and federal levels were supposed to transfer wealth from the rich to poor blacks. The federal government currently spends about 25% of its budget on such programs and that is often matched by the states. Equal Employment Opportunity legislation was designed to reduce discrimination in the workplace.
The authors assert that all of those state programs have failed because inequality between blacks and whites is as bad as ever. The authors ignore it, but the only successful economic advancement of black people has taken place in the free market arena of sports where black athletes outnumber whites by a wide margin in the dominant sports of football and basketball. Sports gives the black athletes access to better education in college and much higher salaries at the professional level.
In spite of the failure of government programs, the authors recommend more state action, such as forced integration of housing. They are frustrated that rich white evangelicals balk at such talk. They think rich white evangelicals would warm to more state action if they just got better acquainted with blacks by integrating churches.
Inequality of wealth between blacks and whites is an economic issue. Any discussion of the topic by academics without even mentioning economics is malpractice. Refusing to include the top black economists, and two of the best living economists of any race, Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell, is criminal. Yet neither are mentioned in Divided by Faith or the follow up book, Christians and the Color Line, or any of the articles on the topic in Christianity Today or The Gospel Coalition web sites. Williams’ and Sowell’s solutions to black poverty are very different from those of the authors’ of Divided by Faith. No writer should discuss race without having read Walter Williams’ Race & Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?
And it is inexcusable that none of the books or web sites mention Dr. Boyce Watkins,
"the founder of The Black Wealth Bootcamp, The Black Business School, The 48 Hour Business School, The Your Black World coalition and The Black Millionaires Of Tomorrow program which introduces youth to finance and entrepreneurship at a young age."
A subtle racism slithers between the lines of Divided by Faith that insinuates blacks are incapable of helping themselves; whites must save them. It’s similar to the prejudice that dominated development economics for decades, which the great Peter Bauer battled, that said poor countries were trapped in a vicious whirlpool of poverty and only the rich West could save them. Many poor countries proved them wrong and Bauer documented it.
During the worst of the segregation and discrimination against them, black people helped themselves by starting businesses. Many owners grew wealthy. In the 1920’s Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma was known as the Black Wall Street of America because the businessmen were so wealthy. Envy on the part of whites sparked a riot in which hundreds of blacks were murdered and most of the black business district was burned to the ground. Yet the black businessmen rebuilt and became even wealthier.
The Civil Rights movement brought with the good some unintended consequences. Black customers abandoned black-owned businesses for white-owned ones as they celebrated their new freedoms, but it devastated the black business community.
Black Americans should be proud that in spite of slavery, segregation, discrimination and eugenics, all designed to keep them poor, they have managed to scratch out a standard of living two-thirds that of the wealthiest group of people in the world and have become among the richest people on the planet outside of white America.
Reducing poverty for black Americans will happen only through increased entrepreneurship by blacks. The federal government has worked hard to thwart such efforts through massive regulations and taxation that favor existing large corporations, create oligopolies in most industries, and make starting new businesses very difficult. Whites can help by establishing venture capital funds that target black entrepreneurs, but there are enough wealthy black businessmen to do the job.
Socialists like the authors of Divided by Faith never tire of promoting them, but government programs have proven impotent to help anyone. The state almost never works for the common good.