University Study Finds Racial Bias Among Mainline Protestant Church Denominations

churchResearchers at the University of Connecticut have found in a new study that mainline protestant denominations, many of which participated on the front lines of the civil rights movement, were less likely to be welcoming to prospective Black members than conservative evangelical denominations.

Researchers sent emails to more than 3,100 protestant churches inquiring about membership opportunities. The emails were sent from people with names typically associated with Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or Whites. Some 67.1 percent of the emails where the sender had a White-sounding name received responses from the mainline protestant churches. For senders with Black-sounding names, 57.5 percent received responses. The results also showed that for those who did receive a response, senders with White-sounding names tended to receive longer and more welcoming responses.

But at the evangelical Christian churches, the response rate was virtually the same for senders with Black- or White-sounding names.

Bradley Wright, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut and a co-author of the study, stated that “this is something that Christians, and non-Christian Americans, should be concerned about. It’s one thing to express a commitment to racial harmony, but it’s another thing entirely to live up to that commitment.”

The study, “Religion, Race, and Discrimination: A Field Experiment of How American Churches Welcome Newcomers,” was published on the website of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. It may be accessed here.

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