Research: Protestant Religious Groups Perpetrate Racial Exclusion
Field experiments are an ingenious variety of study in which people (or the semblance of people) are sent into social situations. These people have been trained to act exactly the same way, and only vary in one aspect. The question of a field experiment is, how do people differ in their treatment of two people who vary in only one way? Thanks to the rise of the internet, this method has recently become more solid, as researchers have become able to send out of precisely-controlled electronic communications appearing to come from everyday people and varying in only one aspect.
In a new article published in last month’s Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Bradley Wright, Michael Wallace, Annie Scola Wisnesky and colleagues report on a field experiment they carried out in which the following e-mail message was sent to 3,113 mainline Protestant, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches across the United States:
In the field experiment his message was altered in only two ways. First, the word “parish” was used in e-mail messages to Catholic churches. Second, the name varied. With reference to studies in which Americans have been able to distinguish some names as strongly indicating “White,” “Black,” “Latino,” or “Asian” racialized identities, the following names were inserted into e-mail messages to indicate a racial identity to the e-mail recipient:
“White” names: Scott Taylor, Greg Murphy
“Black” names: Jamal Washington, Tyrone Jefferson
“Latino” names: Carlos Garcia, José Hernandez
“Asian” names: Wen Lang-Li, Jong Soo Kim
I’ll cut right to the chase:
- On average, mainline Protestant churches responded to the e-mails sent with “White” names in 4 days, but waited 6 days to respond to e-mails with “Latino” names, waited 7 days to respond to e-mails with “Asian” names, and waited 8 days to respond to e-mails with “Black” names. These differences are statistically significant.
- Evangelical Protestant churches also responded to e-mails with “White” names most quickly on average, but the difference was not statistically significant. Notably, however, Catholic churches responded to apparently “Asian,” “Black” and “Latino” requests more quickly than they did to requests with “White” names attached.
- All varieties of church wrote longer responses to the apparently “White” requests than they did to apparently “non-White” requests. The difference was most pronounced in evangelical and mainline Protestant churches. The difference was not a statistically significant for Catholic churches.
- Very terse e-mails (one or two sentences not substantively answering questions) were more often sent in response to “non-White” requests than to “White” requests by mainline and evangelical Protestant churches. There was no statistically significant difference in the likelihood of terse responses by Catholic churches.
In short, racial discrimination in how churches respond to potential new participants persists in American Protestant churches. But such racial discrimination in religion is neither ubiquitous nor inevitable — Catholic churches appear to occur racial discrimination toward potential parishoners, at least in the ways tested by this field experiment.
It’s behind a pay wall, unfortunately, but you can read the published results of the field experiment for yourself right here.