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Ambivalent Miracles

Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing

Nancy D. Wadsworth

Publication Year: 2014

Over the past three decades, American evangelical Christians have undergone unexpected, progressive shifts in the area of race relations, culminating in a national movement that advocates racial integration and equality in evangelical communities. The movement, which seeks to build cross-racial relationships among evangelicals, has meant challenging well-established paradigms of church growth that built many megachurch empires. While evangelical racial change (ERC) efforts have never been easy and their reception has been mixed, they have produced meaningful transformation in religious communities. Although the movement as a whole encompasses a broad range of political views, many participants are interested in addressing race-related political issues that impact their members, such as immigration, law enforcement, and public education policy.

Ambivalent Miracles traces the rise and ongoing evolution of evangelical racial change efforts within the historical, political, and cultural contexts that have shaped them. Nancy D. Wadsworth argues that the stunning breakthroughs this movement has achieved, its curious political ambivalence, and its internal tensions are products of a complex cultural politics constructed at the intersection of U.S. racial and religious history and the meaning-making practices of conservative evangelicalism. Employing methods from the emerging field of political ethnography, Wadsworth draws from a decade’s worth of interviews and participant observation in ERC settings, textual analysis, and survey research, as well as a three-year case study, to provide the first exhaustive treatment of ERC efforts in political science.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

In the time it took this book to find its true nature, three American presidencies, two wars, and several stages of my adulthood intervened. For a project with relatively modest ambitions, that is a lot of intellectual debt to accrue. While I am solely responsible for its shortcomings, this book has greatly benefited from the...

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pp. 1-12

This is a study of a growing, dynamic, increasingly influential, but little understood movement that has been unfolding in the last few decades within the diverse panoply of identities and faith-based organizations that is American evangelicalism. What I refer to here as “evangelical racial change (ERC) advocates...

Part One: What Stories We Tell

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1: The New Paradigm of Racial Change

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pp. 15-30

There was a time when most American evangelical Christians did not have to think about race in church—or at least not about race or racism as problems within the church. For people of color, of course, the impact of a historically racialized society is impossible to avoid. But race wasn’t supposed to matter among...

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2: Evangelical Race Relations in Historical Context

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pp. 31-55

With over sixteen million members, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Protestant body in the United States and the largest Christian denomination outside of Roman Catholicism (ARDA 2000). It was also once a bastion of white supremacist religion. The SBC was founded in 1845 after a regional split...

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3: Competing Racial Narratives in the Post–Civil Rights Movement Period

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pp. 56-78

In the world of evangelical racial reconciliation and multiracial church building, two different stories about race and power surface again and again. People told these stories in my interviews as frequently in the 2000s as they did in the 1990s, and I heard echoes of them from pulpits, in testimonials, at conferences, and...

Part Two: A New Wave

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4: Religious Race Bridging as a Third Way

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pp. 81-116

Social change is often awkward and uncomfortable. Even under the best conditions it requires us to alter the stories we have been telling for generations about ourselves, others, and “the way things are”—stories we understand to be if not always perfectly accurate, then at least acceptable truisms that guide action. Like...

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5: Epiphanal Spaces of Evangelical Culture

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pp. 117-156

In the late summer of 1997, in Denver, Colorado, an African American man named Gregory Fields had a Ford van stolen.1 Fields reported the theft to police, and a few weeks later a white detective named Colin Whitford came to his house to follow up on the case. In talking, the two men discovered that they each...

Part Three: Bridging the Future

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6: Troubled Waters under the Bridge

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pp. 159-192

The meaning-making systems and practices described in the preceding chapter served multiple functions within evangelical racial reconciliation (RR) settings in the 1990s. They also provided a first step toward religious race bridging. Guided by rituals of admitting, trust building, and apology/forgiveness practices...

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7: Politics, Culture, and the Multiethnic Church

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pp. 193-222

Barbara and her family moved to Colorado to help build something different than anything she’d been a part of before. An old friend, Curt Cutler, had followed his dream of planting a multiethnic church (MEC) in the heart of the city and asked her family to come join their lay leadership team. Having grown up a...

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8: On the Ground, In the Moment

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pp. 223-256

Entering a Sunday service at Resurrection Bible Church (RBC), a first-time visitor might wonder if she or he has stumbled into the wrong place—a public meeting about local police activities, perhaps, or a delegation of international tourists. Walking into the worn but well-kempt halls of the public high school...

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pp. 257-264

When I began following early racial change efforts among American evangelicals in the 1990s, the movement was not much more than a hatchling. Although a few tireless pioneers had long been broadcasting pleas for transformation, most white evangelicals were tucked too comfortably into their racially homogeneous...


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pp. 265-282


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pp. 283-296


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pp. 297-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780813935324
E-ISBN-10: 0813935326
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813935317
Print-ISBN-10: 0813935318

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 5 figures
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 869525345
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Ambivalent Miracles

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Evangelicalism -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Evangelicalism -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Race relations -- Religious aspects -- Christianity
  • United States -- Race relations.
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