A recent survey, reported in Christianity Today, notes that ‘Major (25%) and other (23%) evangelicals were more likely than mainline Protestants (17%) to have 10 or more close friends at church. They were also more likely to have close black friends (43% major, 45% other, 31% mainline) and close Hispanic friends (26% major, 33% other, 19% mainline).’
That is rather a difference from 91% of the average white American’s social circle being white as opposed to 84% of the average black American’s and 64% of the average Hispanic American’s.
The cause, however, does not seem to be as simple as Evangelicalism. The surveyors further note that ‘congregations who distance themselves a little from the traditional denominations—such as Mosaic and Saddleback Church, both of which downplay their affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention—tend to be more multiracial […] “major” evangelical denominations look a lot like mainline Protestant denominations, 32 percent of which are racially diverse. And “other” evangelical churches look a lot like Catholic churches, 58 percent of which are racially diverse.’
Indeed, putting together the surveyors’ comment that ‘some congregations, especially evangelical ones, promote a pan-racial, religiously-based identity … and actively recruit members of different races’ with the youth and relative smallness of the churches in question, it’s worth asking a) whether the motivating value might be a larger income base, and b) what is going to happen to the diversity of these groups over time.
Why am I so sceptical? Well, first there are the experiments conducted by a couple of researchers on the racial attitudes of Evangelicals, who found that ‘social actors in white evangelical churches play a central role in continuing racial segregation by executing what we term ‘race tests, on incoming people of color”. Then, in 2016, 74% of non-white voters (and 89% of black voters) said that Trump was a bad idea, but 80% of Evangelicals ignored their concerns. In Alabama in 2017, 88% of non-white voters (96% of black voters and a stunning 98% of black women voters) said that Trump’s man, Roy Moore, was a bad idea, but again 80% of Evangelicals ignored their concerns.
Now, maybe the white Evangelicals just imagine that they know better – in which case, they are racists. ‘Only half (50%) of white Americans believe blacks face a lot of discrimination, while roughly as many (47%) say this is not the case’, in the face of the testimony of 85% of black Americans. Similarly, 66% of white Evangelicals think that black people are treated fairly by the US criminal justice system, a belief contradicted by 82% of black Protestants.
Or perhaps they just don’t care about non-white people’s concerns – in which case, they are racists.
Or possibly the 43% of Evangelicals who claim to have black friends map perfectly onto the 11% of black voters who didn’t realise that Trump would be a bad idea, but they would still have to ignore the concerns of every other black person in the country, in which case, they might just be sectarian bigots instead: believing that only Evangelicals – and particularly members of their church, regardless of colour – know what is right.