Racism: A Mainline Reality

EmailsMeet the Researcher

Bradley (Brad) Wright is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut where he studies American Christianity and spirituality.   He is the author of two books: Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites… and Other Lies You’ve Been Told (2010 – my review), and Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of Our World (2011 – my review).


Research Overview

Wright and another researcher researched how Christian churches in the United States do when it comes to welcoming people from different racial and ethnic groups.  In an attempt to measure implicit racism, the researchers sent e-mails to over 3,000 congregations (about 1% of all US congregations) from fictitious people claiming they were moving into the area and seeking a new church.  The e-mails were identical, but each was sent from one of four “names” that people tend to associate with specific racial groups:

  • Greg Murphy and Scott Taylor (white)
  • Jamaal Washington and Tyrone Jefferson (black)
  • Carlos Garcia and Jose Hernandez (Hispanic)
  • Wen Lang Li and Jong Soo Kim (Asian American).


Research Findings

  • The overall response rate to the e-mail inquiries was only 59% (Willow Creek Association congregations had the highest response rate at 72% while Southern Baptist, Presbyterian and Pentecostal congregations had the lowest response rate at 49%).
  • The overall response rate differed based on who sent the e-mails. More specifically, for every 100 churches responding to letters from Murphy or Taylor,  93 responded to Washington or Jefferson, 93 responded to Garcia or Hernandez, and 85 responded to Li or Kim.
  • The variance in response rate varied significantly by Christian traditions.  Mainline Protestant congregations had the highest rate of discrimination.  Willow Creek Association congregations had the highest response rates to all groups  and replied more equally to all groups than any other tradition studied.


So What?

Mainline Protestants think of themselves as leading the way in the cause of racial justice.  Given such, Wright was so surprised by his findings that he re-ran the data multiple times to be certain he had not made any mistakes.

Why is it that Mainline Protestants fall short when it comes to comparing our rhetoric on racial equality to our actions?  Wright’s research does not offer the answer.  It is, however, essential that we work to be the answer.

  • Why do you think Mainline Protestants showed the highest rates of implicit racial bias in this research?
  • How welcoming is your congregation to those who have a racial or ethnic identity that differs from the majority identity? What data do you have that supports your answer?


Source: Bradley Wright. “Dear Pastor, Can I Come to Your Church? Inside a New Experiment on Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants and Race.” in July/August 2015 Christianity Today, p. 32-42.


  1. Bob White says:

    Greg, I want your counsel about this idea. I have toyed with the thought of encouraging a brief discussion about this idea at our Aug. Tr Tm meeting. I don’t know if this is the right ‘way’ or ‘place’ to start. Being aware of the seeming separation/isolation in Fort Myers of the community called Dunbar, I’m curious about the larger community level of operative and current racial discrimination, today. We, FMCUCC, might provoke an answer for ourselves by posting “Black Lives Matter” on our College Street signage for a few weeks. This mantra does have a current national media relevance, today. What would our few current Black members think? Do we want to talk about it?

  2. Bob, you are asking all the right questions! The UCC (see http://www.ucc.org/worship_worship-ways special note at the top of the page) is asking all congregations to consider prayers for racial justice on Aug. 9. I encourage you to mention this when we next gather.

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