Over the last few weeks in the United States, the black community and its allies have spoken out against the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Powerful and at times contentious protests have taken place in every state and even other nations to call attention to racial inequality and police violence. Though the reach of these demonstrations and related actions are unprecedented, the divides they expose are not new.
A recent Barna study, undertaken with the Racial Justice and Unity Center alongside Michael Emerson, Glenn Bracey and Chad Brennan, highlights stark racial contrasts in perspectives, even within the Church. For instance, only two in five white practicing Christians (38%) believe the U.S. has a race problem. This percentage more than doubles, however, among black practicing Christians (78%). As this survey was conducted in late summer 2019, it can’t account for any shift due to the present, heated national discussion surrounding racism and white supremacy. But these recent responses point to a disconnection that has led us to this moment: disagreement about whether there is an issue in the first place.
Some initiatives for racial justice take the long view and suggest a need for reparations for the country’s past transgressions of colonization and slavery. Here, too, movement toward certain solutions may depend on reaching agreement about the presence of problems; three-quarters of black practicing Christians (75%) at least somewhat agree that the U.S. has a history of oppressing minorities, while white practicing Christians are less likely to do so (42%).
Further, there are polarized views in the pews about whether the root of the nation’s race problems is primarily systemic or individual in nature. Data show that two in five white practicing Christians (61%) take an individualized approach to matters of race, saying these issues largely stem from one’s own beliefs and prejudices causing them to treat people of other races poorly. Meanwhile, two-thirds of black practicing Christians (66%) agree that racial discrimination is historically built into our society and institutions.