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Racial Diversity, Religion, and Morality: Examining the Moral Views of Multiracial Church Attendees


Previous research has identified an important link between participation in a racially diverse faith community and more progressive views on racial, political, and social issues, but researchers have yet to examine whether multiracial church attendees differ from racially-homogeneous church attendees in terms of their moral views. This research note utilizes national data (2005 Baylor Religion Survey) to examine the relationship between involvement in a multiracial congregation and views toward activities that are understood to be morally contentious. I estimate logistic regression models to isolate the relationship between multiracial church attendance and support for nine morally contentious activities related to sexuality, families, substance use, and suicide. Analyses reveal that, net of other factors, persons who attend multiracial congregations are more likely to express support for extramarital sex, premarital cohabitation, planned unwed pregnancy, marijuana use, and euthanasia, compared to persons who attend homogeneous congregations where they are the majority race. Multiracial church attendees thus appear to hold more permissive moral views on certain issues relative to attendees of racially homogeneous congregations. Significant interactions are also found between multiracial church attendance, race, and religious tradition. Alternative explanatory accounts (social contact vs. self-selection) are considered.

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  1. Within the literature on racially diverse churches, the term “interracial congregation” is often used to describe integrated black-white congregations specifically (e.g., Edwards 2008; Emerson and Yancey 2008), while the term “multiracial congregation” may be used to describe a church comprising a variety of racial/ethnic combinations (e.g., Christerson et al. 2005; Emerson 2006). Because the specific racial composition of respondents’ congregations is unknown in this study, I use the more inclusive term “multiracial congregations.”

  2. For example, relative to whites who attend racially homogeneous congregations, whites who attend racially diverse congregations are more willing to talk about racial issues (Emerson 2006; Yancey 2007); and they more likely to express support for economic policies that help disadvantaged minority groups (Emerson 2006; Yancey 2007); they are more willing to live next to persons of different racial groups (Emerson 2006); and they are more likely to express support for interracial marriage (Emerson 2006; Johnson and Jacobson 2005; Perry forthcoming a; Yancey 1999, 2001, 2007) and transracial adoption (Perry 2011).

  3. As can be seen in Table 2 below, the vast majority of missing cases in multivariate models were due to missing values on the congregational composition variables. Of these missing cases, almost three-quarters (73.5 %) did not attend church at all and about 93 % attended “several times a year” or less. Since this study is concerned with whether participation in a racially diverse congregation predicts moral views, these missing cases did not significantly affect the analyses. Indeed, the majority of these missing cases would have been appropriately excluded anyway.

  4. The BRS also asked respondents about their opinion regarding gay marriage and gay adoption. While analyses reveal that multiracial church attendees are indeed more supportive of these relationships (Perry forthcoming b), these measures were not used in the current study since (1) they are better understood as nontraditional relationship forms rather than morally contentious activities, and (2) same-sex marriage and adoption are so politically contentious that individuals may oppose/support these relationships not necessarily on moral grounds, but political grounds.

  5. Although the original coding of the dependent variables was ordered, binary logistic regression was chosen over ordered logistic regression as multivariate models did not meet the proportional odds (also called parallel lines) assumption, namely, that the relationship between the independent variables and one category of the dependent variable are approximately the same across all other categories of the dependent variable.

  6. Emerson (2006, p. 85) cautions that respondents may exaggerate the diversity of their congregations by rounding up to the nearest 5 %. To check for this possibility, I reran the analyses tightening the requirements to be considered a multiracial church attendee. I classified respondents as attending a multiracial congregation only if they reported between 26 and 74 % of attendees at church as their same race. This change did not significantly influence the effect of multiracial church attendance. Consequently, I kept the previous 80/20 cutoff.

  7. While a spectrum of political ideology (e.g., values from extremely conservative to extremely liberal) would be a more ideal measure to predict support for moral issues than party affiliation, the 2005 BRS unfortunately did not include any political ideology questions. Consequently, I utilize political party affiliation as a sufficient measure to use as a control.

  8. Although none of the net effects of multiracial church attendance attain statistical significance at the 0.001 level, these associations are significant by conventional standards (p < 0.05 and beyond, with two-tailed tests) with controls in place, and the consistent direction and size of these associations across all of the dependent variables affirms that the net relationship between multiracial church attendance and support for these activities is substantive.

  9. Interaction terms were also tested for multiracial church attendance and other religious traditions, but none of the effects were significant in any models.

  10. I also ran the models with the interaction terms included separately so as to check for the possibility that multicollinearity was causing the interaction terms to be non-significant. The effects are the same in substance and significance whether the interaction terms are included separately or together.


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Thanks go to George Yancey, Gabe Ignatow, the editor, and three anonymous reviewers for their feedback at various stages of this manuscript. Special thanks go to Jill Perry for her sacrifice and encouragement.

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Correspondence to Samuel L. Perry.

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Perry, S.L. Racial Diversity, Religion, and Morality: Examining the Moral Views of Multiracial Church Attendees. Rev Relig Res 55, 355–376 (2013).

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  • Multiracial congregations
  • Religion
  • Morality
  • Racial diversity
  • Social contact
  • Self-selection
  • Attitudes
  • Sex
  • Drugs
  • Euthanasia
  • Cohabitation