The White Evangelical Church: White Evangelicalism as a Racial Social Movement
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White evangelical Christianity is widely recognized as a powerful force in US culture and politics. Most observers consider white evangelicalism to be a religious phenomenon that successfully mobilized to dominate Republican and national politics in the mid-twentieth century. I argue that such a characterization is incomplete and misleading. White evangelicalism, or the white evangelical church (WEC), is better understood as a white supremacist social movement that organizes itself through religious institutions and uses Christian discourse to promote white interests. To be sure, many WEC members participate because they truly believe in the religious purpose and benefits of evangelical Christianity. However, the WEC’s demographics, doctrines, and political mobilizations are consistent with a social movement centered on whiteness more than conservative politics or Christianity. My reading of race critical theories (e.g. systemic racism theory), social movement theories (e.g. political process theory), and theories of religion (e.g. civil religion) suggests that white evangelicalism is an ideal social institution for sustaining a white supremacist social movement. Unfortunately, most scholars have not explored this possibility. Using an enhanced version of extended case method, I expose tacit white supremacy at the heart of the WEC movement by examining its internal norms and social impact. My ethnographic research in evangelical churches in the South and Midwest reveals a pattern in which white evangelicals use what I call “race tests” to limit people of color’s access and participation in evangelical churches. I also argue that WEC growth strategies, popular literature, and collective behaviors evince a preoccupation with reaching white individuals who are failing to embody 18th century white virtue. Finally, I examine sermons and Bible studies to show how whiteness shapes the theological substance of the WEC and how white evangelicals place the Bible and God Himself in the service of whiteness. I conclude that the WEC operates as a white supremacist social movement by excluding people of color, mobilizing whites, and elevating whiteness to a sacred status.
white institutional space
white racial frame
white evangelical church
sociology of religion
Bracey II, Glenn Edward (2016). The White Evangelical Church: White Evangelicalism as a Racial Social Movement. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from
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