Black houses of worship have often been the foundation from which public battles for freedom and racial equality have been waged. At the same time, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, race plays a fundamental and complex role in the religious and personal lives of Black adults.
Three-quarters of Black Americans say opposing racism is essential to their faith or sense of morality, a view that extends across faith traditions.
The majority of Black Protestants – regardless of the race of their congregations – along with Black Catholics and other Christians, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Christians, and other groups, say opposing racism is essential to what being a Christian means to them.
Likewise, 82% of Black non-Christians – including Muslims, adherents of traditional African or Afro-Caribbean religions and other groups – say opposing racism is essential to what their faith means to them, and 71% of Black religiously unaffiliated adults say opposing racism is essential to their sense of morality.
While race is important to many Black Americans’ personal identities and faith, many Black Americans are open to increased diversity in historically Black congregations. About six-in-ten Black Americans say that historically Black congregations should try to “become more racially and ethnically diverse.” In contrast, a third say historically Black congregations should try to “preserve their traditional racial character.”
Black Protestants and Catholics have similar views on whether Black congregations should diversify. Black adults who say that being Black is a significant part of how they think of themselves (37%) are more likely than those for whom being Black is less important (26%) to say that Black congregations should preserve their traditional racial character. Black Protestants who attend churches where White people or some other racial or ethnic group make up the majority are only slightly more likely than those who attend Black churches to say that Black congregations should diversify (69% vs. 62%, respectively).
When asked what sorts of things they would prioritize if they were to find themselves looking for a new congregation, few Black adults would prioritize race. Only 14% of Black Americans say it would be “very important” to them to find a house of worship with Black senior religious leaders, and a similar share (13%) says it would be “very important” to find a congregation where most attendees are Black. In contrast, eight-in-ten Black Americans say it would be essential for houses of worship to have welcoming congregations. While about one-in-five say each of these factors is “somewhat important,” most Black adults say these factors are either “not too important” or “not at all important.”
A small share of Black adults who view being Black as an essential part of their identity say factors like having a Black congregation would be critical in their search for a new house of worship. Even so, they are more likely than those for whom being Black is less important to say that congregations that have Black leadership (18% vs. 6%, respectively) and Black members (16% vs. 5%) would be very important in a new church.
Kiana Cox is a research associate focusing on race and ethnicity at Pew Research Center.