Something is Profoundly Wrong at the Heart of the White Church

This post was originally published on the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog, on the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website on August 27, 2018

“Charmaine Pruitt wrote the names of 12 churches on strips [of paper], and dropped them into a bag. It was Sunday morning and time to pick which church to attend.”

That’s how journalist Campbell Robertson began his investigative account of how Christians of color are abandoning white Evangelicalism (“A Quiet Exodus: Why Blacks Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches,” New York Times, March 9, 2018).

“Two years earlier, there would have been no question,” Robertson continued. “Ms. Pruitt would have been getting ready for her worship service” at Gateway Church, a mostly-white megachurch in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But she stopped attending that church after realizing that it was not meant for people of color like her.”

She pulled a strip of paper out of the bag. “Mount Olive Fort Worth. That was where she would go that day.”

Remarkably, Ms. Pruitt’s story—a story about racism in the white church—was not dredged up from America’s Jim Crow past; rather, it was composed and published in 2018.

In recent decades, sociologists and religious leaders had dared to hope “that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning might cease to be the most segregated hour in America.” Denominational leaders talked about “racial reconciliation;” religious organizations dedicated themselves to integration; and many Christians of color “join[ed] white-majority congregations. Indeed, the 2012 National Congregations Study reported that more than two-thirds of those attending white majority churches were worshiping alongside black congregants.”

Then Donald Trump was elected President; white Christians went ga-ga over the election results; and that was the end of racial reconciliation.

Actually, the erosion started before the 2012 election. Black congregants in white churches “had already grown uneasy as they heard prayers for law enforcement;” they heard that they should keep their eyes fixed on Jesus; and “they heard that the church was colorblind—but they never heard their pastors condemn police shootings of unarmed African-Americans.”

Many Evangelicals “did not even know” who Trayvon Martin was. When Christians of color mentioned his death, white church members accused them of “being divisive.”

If white pastors and congregants sensed the disquiet, they “didn’t talk about it much,” Robertson noted. They seemed to think, “O.K., there may have been racial conflict in America, back in the 1960s. But it settled down. People of color got a national holiday—Martin Luther King Day—and then a Black president. What more do they want?”

In the weeks before the 2016 election, it was impossible to miss the not-so-subtle message proclaimed from Evangelical pulpits: If there is a minor “race problem in the country,” it isn’t important. But this “election is extremely important. The country is in trouble” economically; “a critical Supreme Court appointment awaits;” and the Democrats want to “us[e] ‘your taxpayer dollars,’ for abortion [and] to change our constitution . . . .”

To read more of this post, go to the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog on the CARD website, at

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Chris Xenakis

Chris Xenakis is a pastor, an adjunct lecturer in political science, an old school black and white photographer, and a sometime amateur actor.