Hope for reconciliation or agent of the status quo: multiracial congregations, their theological foundations and power dynamics
Lietz, Megan E.
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In this thesis, the biblical vision of egalitarian multiracial communities is compared to the present practices of Christian congregations in the United States. The thesis establishes that, while multiracial congregations bear the potential for racial reconciliation and equality, this potential may be thwarted by the unintended, counterproductive consequences of racial essentialism and white hegemony. Although I hypothesize that these results reflect the realities of multiracial congregations in general, the focus is on evangelical multiracial churches that are predominantly black and white. The thesis begins by exploring the arguments evangelicals have used to support and oppose racial hierarchy during nineteenth century U.S. slavery and the Civil Rights movement. Next, it traces theological beliefs used to advocate for multiracial congregations today. This is followed by an exploration of the development of multiracial congregations and how they can contribute to racial reconciliation, drawing heavily upon the national study completed by Michael O. Emerson in 2006. Despite the hope offered in the earlier chapters, I go on to present obstacles that blacks encounter in multiracial congregations. Following a description of the black church tradition, the thesis describes Gerardo Marti's research on how blacks can be utilized and essentialized in multiracial congregations in an effort to achieve diversity. Korie Edwards' study on multiracial congregations, which suggests that, under certain circumstances, potential for racial reconciliation and egalitarian relationships can be hindered by white hegemony, is also employed. This is followed by an examination of how the ideology of whiteness contributes to white hegemony and suggests white identity development as a tool to abate this inequality. Thereafter, formative influences on an individual's identity are explored and a case is made for how multiracial congregations can transform a person's racial identity. It is suggested that such a change bears the potential for racial reconciliation. The thesis concludes with implications for practice today and suggestions for future research. The objective of this thesis is to contribute to the actualization of a biblical vision within multiracial congregations by critically exploring the interactions between theological ideals and sociological realities.