The Evangelical Ethic and the Spirit of Color-blind Racism


In the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, sociologist Max Weber sought an answer to an “historical question…as to the reason for [the] particularly strong disposition of the economically most developed regions toward [Protestantism]” (Weber 2002:2). That is, Weber sought to identify the religious origins of an ideal type of “Capitalism” in what he called the Protestant ethic. While some scholars contest the accuracy of Weber’s conclusion regarding the origins of capitalism, it is widely accepted among leading sociologists and other social theorists that religious institutions serve as mediating or legitimating forces between myriad spheres of life (Christerson, Edwards, and Emerson 2005). As such, Weber’s theory suggests that religio-cultural orientations can directly influence the conduct of both individuals and society (Allan 2011:75; Weber 1949). Therefore, studying religious institutions can provide crucial insights for understanding society. As the racial landscape of the U.S. is projected to change drastically over the next few decades, it is evermore crucial to understand the legitimating forces behind racial inequalities, past, present, and future.[1]

As Weber constructed the spirit of capitalism, I am concerned with the historical reasons for the significant disposition of segregated communities toward evangelicalism. Thus, the goal of this essay is to employ Weber’s sociological methodology, of historical concept-formation, to identify both the theological origins and cultural orientations of white evangelical color-blind racism. Also, I will demonstrate how white evangelical color-blind racism contributes to racial inequalities in the United States. In doing so, I will argue that the evangelical ethic (i.e. the “race-neutral” theological and cultural orientations of white conservative evangelicals) has contributed significantly to the spirit of color-blind racism and racial inequalities in the United States.


Following Weber’s methodology, the definition of the spirit of color-blind racism must be composed of “a complex of configurations…in historical reality which we group together conceptually from the point of view of their cultural significance to form a single whole (Weber 2002:8). Thus, we will arrive at “the ultimate definition of the concept…only at the conclusion of the investigation” (Weber 2002:9). Moreover, our definition of the spirit is not exhaustive of all the essentials of colorblind racism. Indeed, the concept of race is perhaps one of the most complex concepts with myriad configurations. Thus, I am merely proposing the evangelical ethic as one significant element in the complex configuration of color-blind racism today.

As such, first I will define the term evangelical. Second, I will identify the direct relationships among conservative evangelicals and racial inequalities. Finally, I will identify the cultural and theological orientations that compose the evangelical ethic and the spirit of color-blind racism, thereby linking the ethic and the spirit to racial inequalities today.

Due to the long documented history of black-white tensions in American history, this essay will focus on the influence of white evangelical colorblind racism on black-white racial inequalities in the United States.


The term evangelical is somewhat contentious, but the most widely-accepted definitions of these terms, among social scientists and nonpartisan agencies such as the Pew Research Center, are based on either core beliefs,[2] denominations, or self-identification (Brint and Schroedel 2009). In relevant scholarly literature and studies cited in this essay, the label conservative evangelical is often used interchangeably with the label conservative Protestant, and thus these two terms will be used interchangeably in this essay (Brint and Schroedel 2009).[3] Based on these definitions, white evangelicals comprise around 25% of the adult population, espousing “the dominant theological strain of the dominant faith in the United States today” (Lichterman, Carter, and Lamont 2009:189; Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 2008).

In 90% of Christian churches today, one race constitutes more than 80% of each congregation; to wit, most white evangelicals attend segregated churches (Emerson and Woo 2006; Scheitle and Dougherty 2010).


A study measuring poverty concentration in 2009, found that 36.3% of the total black population lives in high-poverty places, while 49.2% of black or African Americans below the poverty line are concentrated in neighborhoods with poverty rates greater than 20%. For all Hispanics, 23.9% live in high-poverty places, while 33.3% of poor Hispanics live in these communities as well. In sharp contrast, only 11.1% of non-Hispanic whites live in “high-poverty” neighborhoods (Lichter, Parisi, and Taquino 2012). Additionally, research indicates that over 60% of black or Hispanic students attend public schools where the majority of students are below the poverty line; compared to only “18 percent of white students” who attend high-poverty schools (Logan, Minca, and Adar 2012:288).

De facto segregation has been explained through the persistence of discriminatory housing practices such as redlining and restrictive covenants (Massey and Denton 1993; Sernau 2006). These willfully racist practices are indeed significant; yet, white evangelicals, today, need not be willful racists to perpetuate racial inequalities in the U.S.[4] Still, a recent study drawing on the 2000 Census and Church Congregations data, found that the strength of the white evangelical conservative base in a county, had a significant impact on increasing levels of residential segregation for black or African-American inhabitants in every region of the country (Blanchard 2007).

In their book, American Apartheid, Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton concluded that, “Residential segregation is the institutional apparatus that supports other racially discriminatory processes and binds them together into a coherent and uniquely effective system of racial subordination” (1993:175). It should be no surprise that the U.S. poverty rate for African-Americans and Hispanics is 25.8% and 23.2%, respectively; whereas the poverty rate for whites was below the national average, at 11.6% (Macartney, Bishaw, and Fontenot 2013). The life-chances (i.e. opportunities for success) of individuals living in these communities are significantly influenced by, and often limited to, the ties set by their segregated neighborhoods. Therefore, to the degree that evangelicals contribute to racial segregation, they contribute to racial inequalities as well.


For Weber, “very frequently the ‘world-images’ that have been created by ‘ideas’ have, like switchmen, determined the tracks along which action has been pushed by the dynamic of interest” (Weber 1949:280). World-images, according to Weber, are “systematized and rationalized images of the world,” examples of which are sets of cultural and/or theological orientations, that guide the ways in which individuals and communities interpret the world (Weber 1949:280). Subsequently, world-images determine the parameters in which humanity’s actions manifest. As such, rather than determine specific actions, their cultural and/or theological orientations primarily set the parameters for how evangelicals tend to behave.


In congruence with Weber’s theory, I will locate the cultural orientations (world images) of white evangelicals that have guided their actions toward color-blind racism. A litany of research posits the following orientations of white evangelicalism, in general:

‘accountable freewill individualism,’ ‘anti-structuralism’ (an inability to perceive, unwillingness to accept, or negative reaction to macro social structural influence), and ‘relationalism’ (assigning importance to interpersonal relationships) (Emerson, Smith, and Sikkink 1999:400; Gorski 2009)

To illustrate these orientations, we will briefly examine recent studies on this subject. A study using GSS national data found that white evangelicals “explain [racial] inequality in more individualistic, [relational], and less structural terms than other white Americans” (Emerson et al. 1999). [5] For example, 62% of white evangelicals believe that “most blacks just don’t have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty,” while only 27% of white evangelicals believe that discrimination plays a role in current racial inequalities (Emerson et al. 1999:404).

In comparison, 51% and 36% of all other white non-evangelicals gave the same, respective, explanations. The gap between white evangelicals who believe that either a lack of motivation or discrimination play roles in current inequalities is 35 percentage points—“more than twice as large as the gap for all other white Americans (15 percentage points)” (Emerson et al. 1999:404). White evangelicals were also more likely than other whites to emphasize dysfunctional familial and social relations as the source of racial inequalities today (Emerson et al. 1999).[6]

The sweeping theme among white evangelical respondents was that “black Americans lack hope and vision” (Emerson et al. 1999:404). To deny systemic racism and place blame for stark racial disparities primarily on “unhealthy” black families and their “lack of motivation” is a form of tacit racism. It perpetuates inequalities by neither confronting nor acknowledging the root of the problem. While most white Americans espouse these orientations, religion nuances and increases white evangelicals’ reliance on them (Emerson et al. 1999).

Conjointly, the individualist, anti-structuralist, and politically conservative orientations of white evangelicals[7] make them more likely to espouse a world-image that blames black people and black families for current inequalities, and to deny the effects of systemic racism or other larger social factors (Blanchard 2007; Emerson et al. 1999). As aforementioned, “world-images…like switchmen, [determine] the tracks along which action [is] pushed by the dynamic of interest.” Predictably, white evangelicals tend to “dampen [or directly oppose] local support for governmental interventions” that have otherwise been integral in reducing racial segregation and inequalities, such as: affirmative action, fair housing policies, and the dreaded “welfare state” (Blanchard 2007; Emerson et al. 1999). Thus, white evangelicals indirectly contribute to racial segregation and inequality via their “color-blind” cultural orientations.

In addition to undermining the potential success of governmental anti-discrimination programs, the “relationalism” of white evangelical congregations “[results] in strong network closure and an emphasis on in-group social ties (Blanchard 2007:417; Emerson et al. 1999). Since 90% of all Christian congregations are over 80% one race, not only do most white evangelicals oppose or dampen support for governmental programs aimed at racial equality, white evangelicals do not even maintain relations with their fellow non-white Christians, let alone partner with them in their church-based efforts to mitigate racial inequality on a systemic level (Blanchard 2007).

The lack of ties with people of other races undermines community and/or faith-based efforts to oppose segregation and inequality (Blanchard 2007; Granovetter 2011; Weber 2011). Conversely, studies have found that externally-oriented and civically-engaged congregations (most of which have been Mainline, Catholic, or other) have been more “instrumental [than evangelical congregations] in developing [community-wide coalitions]” that have “[stemmed] the tide of residential segregation” (Blanchard 2007:419).

Thus, it should be no surprise that according to the aforementioned study, for every 1-unit increase in number of white evangelical congregations per 1,000 non-Hispanic whites in every county in every region across the country, there were significant increases in all measures of segregation (Blanchard 2007). That is, the more white conservative congregations there are in a county, the more segregated the county will be.


I have heretofore demonstrated how the “race-neutral” cultural orientations of white evangelicals have guided their actions toward color-blind racism. While most whites in the U.S. tend to espouse these cultural orientations, what distinguishes white evangelicals are the ways in which these orientations guide their actions and the ferocity with which they are held (Emerson et al. 1999:400). Our investigation will now adopt a more historical approach to identify theological orientations that make up the spirit of color-blind racism. Because theology is neither created nor espoused in a cultural vacuum, we will see interplay between cultural and theological orientations in the complex configuration of the evangelical ethic.

The following are core theological beliefs generally accepted by most white evangelicals (Ammerman 2009; Gorski 2009; Wuthnow 2009): Inerrancy and/or or divine inspiration of Scripture; Personal relationship with and faith in Jesus Christ as the way to salvation from eternal damnation; “Born-again” converts live repentant lives; and Christians should share their beliefs with others (i.e. evangelism). I will locate the interplay of these beliefs with culture and color-blind racism through an analysis of key events in American religious history from the 18th Century “Triumph of Arminianism” to the 20th Century Rise of the Christian Right.”


To understand the significance of what Philip Gorski calls, “the [18th Century] strange triumph of Arminianism,” we will examine Weber’s analysis of Predestination. The primary effect of this doctrine, according to Weber, was “a feeling of unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual…[who was] forced to follow his path alone to meet a destiny which had been decreed for him from eternity” (Weber 2003:104). Calvinism, according to Weber, created an almost unbearable anxiety for individuals, because there was no way to know if one was “elected” for salvation, and there was nothing one could do if they were not. “Restless work in a vocational calling was recommended as the best possible means to acquire the self-confidence that one belonged among the elect” (Weber 2003:66). A life of hard work and good deeds was not a path to salvation, but it was viewed as its natural fruit. The emphasis was not on singular works, but on an entire life meticulously and consciously organized for God’s glory.

Protestantism also intensified an ethic of asceticism, because only the “eternally damned” were “given up to their own lusts and the temptation of the world” (Weber 2003:101). The combination of hard work, entrepreneurial skills in a special vocational calling, and asceticism—“all to the glory of God”—invigorated the capitalist ethic among Protestants, who understood wealth accumulation as a sign of God’s grace. That is, one way Calvinists were able to quell the anxiety of eternal hellfire damnation, was to rest in the knowledge that if they had a special calling, worked hard, and were economically “successful,” then they were surely among the “elect.”

While Calvinism is now a small minority of the “evangelical community dominated by Arminians” (Gorski 2009:87), both the individualistic work ethic and asceticism espoused by orthodox Calvinists remain among white evangelicals today, albeit for drastically different reasons. That is, as demonstrated above, white evangelicals tend to be more individualistic in explanations for one’s economic status than any other group in the United States. This ethic is related to the evangelical disdain for “idleness,” which manifests today in the individualistic view that “those who are generationally poor are generationally poor because they lack motivation to work hard.”

“Arminianism is the view that God’s grace is offered to all but accepted by some…[Its] universalist and voluntarist soteriology is radically at odds” with Calvinism (Gorski 2009:87). According to Gorski, the emphasis on personal transformation and individual choice turned Arminianism into “a potent weapon” for “heterodox fractions of the clergy and subordinate members of the laity…in a struggle against [New England “elites”]” (2009:87). By rejecting “the importance of hierocratic mediation…to achieving personal salvation,” and highlighting “the centrality of individual choice and self-expression,” Arminianism flourished in a synergistic relationship with the democratic and individualistic ideals of the budding American democracy.

Arminianism influenced the core evangelical belief that, unlike the Doctrine of Predestination, all people have equal access to God and the freedom to choose faith in Christ. It seems evangelicals believe that, “all are equal in the eyes of God; therefore all must have equal opportunity in the world.” This theological shift “paved the way” for the “alliance of conservative evangelicals with laissez faire” individualistic economics and anti-structuralist politics that dampen support for governmental programs for racial equality today (2009:87). Moreover, eternal salvation is still important for evangelicals; yet, instead of being helpless, the onus is on individuals to choose to believe. Since people are free to choose, then the theological requirement to evangelize individuals into Heaven is far more important for white evangelicals, today, than engaging in any anti-racist macro social reforms that appear to be part of the “liberal-agenda.”


In my opinion, the root of white evangelical anti-structuralism and color-blind racism is insidiously hidden in the history of pro-slavery “Christianity.” An analysis of pro-slavery “Christianity” will elucidate the Christological differences between Black and White Church traditions today. W.E.B. Du Bois described how Christianity in the Colonies functioned to justify slavery (2000). White Christians claimed that “slaves were to be brought from heathenism to Christianity, and through slavery the benighted Indian and African were to find their passport into the kingdom of God” (Du Bois 2000:70). Eventually, whites were confronted with “the insistent and perplexing question as to what the status of the heathen slave was to be after he was Christianized and baptized?” (Du Bois 2000:70). Many slave owners questioned whether to expose their slaves to Christianity due to “the implications of equality in the Bible and…the fear that education might cause the slave to fight for his freedom” (Cone 1997:75).

The measure taken by white Christians to appease this contradiction is still with us today—that is, the “White” Jesus of the slave master was completely divorced from any implications of freedom or justice related to civic matters (Du Bois 2000; Cone 1997). As such, “It was expressly declared in colony after colony that baptism did not free the slaves” (Du Bois 2000:71). The crux of pro-slavery “Christianity” was to ensure peace, by creating “good slaves” that would emulate “White” Jesus’ “meek-and-turn-the-other-cheek” side. While many abolitionists were eventually motivated (in part) by their Christian faith, the majority of the White Church then, as the White Church today, was silent about the oppressive and racist structures of America (Cone 1997). Like the slave masters’ “White” Jesus, the “White” Jesus of evangelicals today is not concerned with ameliorating the plight of the oppressed on Earth as much as he is concerned with “order” and “saving individual souls” (Cone 1997).

Conversely, black slave ministers emphasized the God of the Exodus who freed the slaves from Egypt. Many black-slave ministers who led slave rebellions identified with the suffering of Jesus and saw his resurrection as the triumph over the oppressive forces of his day (Du Bois 2000; Cone 1997). In addition to eternal salvation, the Jesus of the Black Church tradition is more likely to identify with the poor and oppressed of the land—unlike the Jesus of the White Church today (Cone 1997). In this way, “Black Christianity” has operated as “the expression of…and also the protest against real distress…the sigh of the oppressed creature;” White evangelicalism, on the other hand, even if unintentionally today, has operated as “the opium of the [oppressed] people” (Marx 1975:175).

Many contemporary white evangelicals usually claim “objectivity” in their Christology, but they have forgotten the racist roots of their “White-American Jesus” who is not concerned with social justice. This is why both White and Black Church traditions can be “Christocentric” while having incredibly different interpretations of what it means to emulate Christ, having either concern with saving individual souls or concern for social justice (systemic change) as well as saving souls.

These differing Christologies partly explain the political schisms between white evangelicals and Black Protestants with seemingly similar surface-level theological beliefs. The majority of Black (72%) voters with seemingly similar theological beliefs to white evangelicals either identify with or support the Democratic Party, while only 10% support the Republican Party (Sahgal and Smith 2009). In sharp contrast, 70% of white evangelicals identify with or lean toward the free-market (freewill individualism) and anti-government (anti-structuralist) platform of the Republican Party (Pew Research Center 2012).


The middle decades of the Twentieth Century imbued evangelicals, evermore deeply, with the isolationist and anti-liberalist spirit that tends to permeate their culture today. By the turn of the Twentieth Century, many Protestants struggled with tensions between modern science and literalist interpretations of the Bible (Brint and Schroedel 2009). From this tension emerged Liberal theologians who “tried to reconcile biblical truths with scientific developments” (Brint and Schroedel 2009:3). Conservative Protestants began calling themselves “Fundamentalists” and pointed to the horrors of World War I as reasons for “returning” to the “fundamentals” of Christianity—one being the literalist interpretation of the Bible (Brint and Schroedel 2009).

The belief in biblical inerrancy prompted the debate between fundamentalists and modernists over the tensions between Scripture and evolution, culminating in the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial (Brint and Schroedel 2009). Despite the outcome of the trial, white evangelicals emerged as “anti-intellectual opponents of science and progress,” and were portrayed as such in many media outlets (Belton 2010a). Since the embarrassment of the infamous trial, evangelicals have perceived liberals and secularist-humanists as enemies of “traditional Christian values.” The solution to the perceived “liberal-modernist onslaught on Christianity” was for evangelicals to retreat from public life and politics, resulting in an isolated, yet prodigious network of “Bible-centered schools and colleges, Bible summer camps…Christian radio programming,” bookstores and strong local churches (Ammerman 2009; Belton 2010a; Brint and Schroedel 2009:3; Gorski 2009).

These networks remain generally isolated from the broader community today, and as aforementioned, the lack of ties with people of other races undermines community and/or faith-based efforts to oppose segregation and inequality. The tension between biblical inerrancy and modernity solidified the wedge between conservatism and liberalism, which manifests in an aversion to any program that is perceived as part of a bigger “liberal agenda,” such as efforts to systemically reduce racial inequalities in the U.S. (Blanchard 2007).


Following the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, Americans questioned the modernist claims of “progress” and the “inherent goodness of the human being.” America was ripe for the fundamentalist message to “return to Christian values,” to be “saved from the evils of men.” Even President Dwight Eisenhower spoke of returning to the “Judeo-Christian” roots of the U.S. (Belton 2010b). However, it was the Cold War hysteria that prompted the masses to seek a blatantly “Americanized” version of the Gospel as salvation from the “evils of this world” (Belton 2010b). Much like the “Terror Alerts” of our Post-9/11 World, after the Soviet Union successfully tested an atomic bomb, it was perceived that the “world was on the brink of a nuclear holocaust” (Belton 2010b). In this ethos of fear, no single individual did more to marry an individualistic and anti-activist Gospel with right-wing ideals than Billy Graham.

Graham came to be “the primary engine of America’s cold war religious revival” (Belton 2010b). Preaching to thousands, Graham presented the Gospel as the only means of salvation from not only eternal hell, but from the “evil forces of Communism” as well:

The battle is between communism and Christianity! …When communism conquers a nation, it makes every man a slave! When Christianity conquers…it makes every man a king! (Belton 2010b)

The preaching of Graham was noticed by “media baron William Randolph Hearst, a staunch anti-communist,” who instructed his newspapers to “Puff Graham” (Belton 2010b). Hearst’s mass media support provided the medium that “rocketed Graham,” and evangelicals, “onto the national stage” (Belton 2010b). Graham’s anti-communist Gospel contributed to the marriage between conservative evangelicalism and right wing politics and economics, which oppose macro social programs aimed at racial equality today (Belton 2010b; Brint and Schroedel 2009).

It is true that Graham occasionally spoke about “racial tolerance,” but according to Graham, “racism [and all social injustice] is not a social/structural issue; it is merely a symptom of sin;” Therefore, all we need to do to save the country is to convert individuals to Christianity (Belton 2010b). Graham’s simplistic—“All you need is Jesus”—Gospel, required very little more than an outward expression of personal piety and church attendance, systemic efforts toward social justice be damned. Similarly, evangelicals today are focused on a Jesus who has little concern for macro social justice reforms that appear to be part of the “liberal-agenda.”


It is noted that “one of the feats of Billy Graham…was to refocus the evangelical movement around the figure of Jesus in a way that cut across denominational lines,” thereby creating stronger ties among evangelicals (Wuthnow 2009:29). However, since white evangelicals have failed to take seriously the legacy of slavery, they have failed to deconstruct the figure of Jesus that was promulgated by slave masters in the U.S. That is, the Jesus that Billy Graham made popular among evangelicals was eerily similar to the Jesus who was preached to the slaves—one who was more concerned with obedience and an outward expression of personal piety than he was with any notions of social justice, such as achieving racial equality in the United States.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that Graham was trying to create “good” slaves, however, he did very little to oppose other white evangelical “leaders and congregations [that] frequently condoned and sometimes actively supported segregation and subordination of African Americans up through…the 50s and 60s” (Lichterman et al. 2009:192; Vesely-Flad 2011). While Billy may have sincerely wanted to save souls from hell, his obsession with the afterlife and conservative political leanings were more important to him, and most other white evangelicals, than the racial oppression that was happening right before their eyes.

Graham went so far, in April of 1963, along with other white preachers, to call on Martin Luther King, Jr. to “put the brakes on a little bit” regarding direct action to end segregation (Anon 1963; Belton 2010b). While Graham preached a few “integrated” crusades, all he really did was remove a rope that divided white and black people at his crusades. His “efforts” paled in comparison to those of the children who were hosed down, bitten by dogs, and arrested for protesting segregation in the South. The complicity of white preachers, including Graham, in maintaining segregation prompted Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he chastised the “white moderate [and preacher], who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice” (Belton 2010b; King, Jr. 1963).

Herein lies a key theological distinction between white evangelicals and the Black Church today. The Jesus who identified with the oppressed is the same Jesus that motivated Dr. King and many other champions of the Civil Rights era—unlike the Jesus that motivated Graham’s individualistic, anti-structuralist, pro-conservative-politics gospel—which still influences evangelical thinking on race relations today.


The rise of evangelicals out of political inactivity undeniably occurred in concert with the racially motivated Republican Southern Strategy (Alexander 2010; Vesely-Flad 2011). Prior to Richard Nixon’s Presidency in 1968, social unrest abounded in America (Alexander 2010; Vesely-Flad 2011). Earlier that year, Dr. King had been assassinated, and “nearly one hundred fifty cities across the U.S. erupted in racial confrontations and riots” (Vesely-Flad 2011). Adding to the unrest, Vietnam protesters, feminists, and gay rights activists were emboldened to demand social equality (Brint and Schroedel 2009; Vesely-Flad 2011). Conservative whites perceived the movements of the 60s and 70s as an attack on “biblical values,” signs of moral decay, lawlessness and disorder (Brint and Schroedel 2009).

Republican leaders sensed that they could capitalize not only on anti-liberal white Southerners who feared they would have the most to lose from Civil Rights reforms, but they also capitalized on the fears of conservative evangelicals who were dismayed by the “moral decay,” “lawlessness and disorder,” of America. It is no coincidence that Nixon (and eventually Reagan) would make their platforms about “restoring law and order,” which many social and political analysts have interpreted as coded language to appeal to constituencies that were distressed by the progressive movements mentioned above (Alexander 2010; Vesely-Flad 2011). The end of the 1970s gave birth to a plethora of politically conservative organizations such as The Christian Right, the Christian Voice, and the Moral Majority (Brint and Schroedel 2009:5).

Since the 1980s, evangelicals have pledged uncanny allegiance to the Republican Party and conservative politics and economics. I would argue that a theological orientation that required nothing more than a personal relationship with Jesus and a life of individualistic repentance from sin, with no call to social justice, and selectively “literalist” interpretations of the Bible on issues of gender roles, homosexuality, and abortion are the prime orientations that guide evangelicals to detest progressive reforms that they believe are violating “biblical values.” Their propensity for “order” over justice is analogous to the slave master’s Christology, which elevated personal piety over both notions of justice and freedom related to civic matters. This anti-liberal ethos against Civil Rights reforms continues to cloud white evangelicals’ views on racial inequalities today, making them resistant to progressive reforms that they deem are part of a bigger “liberal agenda,” to oppress Christians.

In the decades following the desegregation of public schools (Brown v. Board of Ed.), and the Civil Rights years of the 60s and 70s, thousands of white families, including white evangelicals, moved to “more desirable locations,” and even opened privately-owned all-white “Christian” academies (Emerson and Smith 2000; Massey and Denton 1993; Vesely-Flad 2011). Today, many of these schools and neighborhoods remain just as segregated as they were forty years ago. As previously mentioned, the lack of ties with people of other races undermines community and/or faith-based efforts to oppose segregation and inequality.


At the end of our investigation we can define color-blind racism as such: seemingly “race-neutral” orientations that have a segregating effect on people of color, or that oppose or dampen support for macro social efforts to stem segregation and racial inequalities. White evangelical color-blind racism includes: accountable freewill individualism, anti-structuralism, relationalism, and internally oriented congregations. As stated in the first part of this essay, these orientations have had segregating effects in communities and have resulted in social closure of white congregations and the development of strong in-group ties that, even if unintentionally, have negative effects on racial equality today.

The spirit of color-blind racism derives from the evangelical ethic or the interplay between theological and cultural orientations that guide evangelicals toward the definition of color-blind racism above.

First, we have seen that the obsession with eternal salvation, and anxiety of eternal damnation, continues to drive the actions of believers today; in this case, white evangelicals tend to relegate social justice issues as subordinate to evangelizing individual souls into Heaven.

We have also seen how the belief in biblical inerrancy has caused events that have influenced evangelicals to draw sharp lines between believers and non-believers at first resulting in isolation (internal orientation/social closure/and relationalism), then resulting in an aggressive alliance with the Republican Party and anti-structuralist conservative politics and economics.

Most importantly, in my view, we have seen how the emphasis on a personal relationship with a Jesus who is divorced from notions of social justice is rooted in pro-slavery Christianity, which guides evangelicals toward individualism, relationalism, and anti-structuralism, today.

Together, all of these elements constitute what I would call the Evangelical Ethic and the Spirit of Color-blind Racism.


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[1] According to the Pew Research Center, “Non-Hispanic whites, who made up 67% of the population in 2005, will be 47% in 2050” (Passel and Cohn 2008).

[2] Inerrancy and/or or divine inspiration of Scripture; Personal relationship with and faith in Jesus Christ as the way to salvation from eternal damnation; “Born-again” converts live repentant lives; and Christians should share their beliefs with others (i.e. evangelism) (Ammerman 2009; Gorski 2009; Wuthnow 2009).

[3] All research studies cited in this essay either use the terms (conservative evangelical and conservative Protestant) interchangeably or there is enough similarity in core beliefs or denominations to use them interchangeably for the purposes of this essay.

[4] Though I do not deny that willfully racist evangelicals exist.

[5] General Social Survey (GSS)

[6] Additionally, in 117 face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of self-identified white evangelicals, 72% cited either a lack of motivation, cultural deficiencies, or both, as reasons for black-white inequalities (Blanchard 2007).

[7] 70% of white evangelicals identify with or lean toward the free-market (freewill individualism) and anti-government (anti-structuralist) platform of the Republican Party (Pew Research Center 2012).

© Daniel Ismael Aguilar and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Daniel Ismael Aguilar and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

2 thoughts on “The Evangelical Ethic and the Spirit of Color-blind Racism

  1. Pingback: A Personal Prayer of Repentance | The Tattered Rose

  2. Pingback: Genealogy of a White American Jesus: From Slave Master to Billy Graham | The Tattered Rose

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