"Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world."

It is a chorus many of us sang in Sunday school. But its truth is more easily grasped when we are still "little children." Something happens as we become adults that exacerbates our perceptions of race. Attitudes are molded, stereotypes embraced. The way of the world assails our childhood theology. Yet the simple truth of God's sovereign, all-inclusive love remains. The challenge is living out that truth in a racially fragmented, sin-crippled world.

The United States has been haunted by racial division—most enduringly between blacks and whites—from the very beginning. Slavery, civil war, and a monumental struggle for social equality imprinted the issue on the DNA of the nation.

While there clearly has been extraordinary progress in American race relations, the color line is still with us. Especially on Sunday mornings. In a recent New York Times poll, 90 percent of whites said there were few or no blacks at their religious services and 73 percent of blacks said their congregations had few or no whites.

Earlier this year, Oxford University Press released Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith. The authors conducted nationwide phone surveys of more than 2,000 white evangelicals, along with 200 face-to-face interviews. Their extensive research suggested an intriguing pattern: Most white evangelicals deny the existence of any ongoing racial problem in the U.S., and many blame the media and African Americans who refuse to forget the past for any lingering racial conflict. This perception, contend the authors, is not so much informed by racism but by a commitment to an individualized theological worldview that blinds many white evangelicals to certain societal injustices.

In this special section, we explore Emerson and Smith's controversial conclusions. We begin with an excerpt from their book, which represents a key argument of the authors.

Related Elsewhere

Color Blinded | Why 11 o'clock Sunday morning is still a mostly segregated hour." This excerpt from Divided by Faith kicks off Christianity Today's series on evangelicals and racial reconciliation, which will continue through next week.

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