When we think about “white flight” what do we imagine? Do we simply imagine white people leaving a community? Or do we consider dilapidated housing in segregated neighborhoods? Do we see the economic disparity created by the (primarily white) people who control the assets? White flight is a phenomenon which leads to a system of inequality. And believe it or not, it leads to institutional racism in churches. White flight is an individualist response to the presence of African Americans in white neighborhoods. The concept of “shades” means that there are more variables to “white flight” than just packing and moving because people of color are perceived to be encroaching into white living areas.
Calvin College Sociologist Dr. Mark T. Mulder’s work reveals how a dominant form of evangelical church polity —congregationalism (individual congregations being largely self-governing)— functions within the larger phenomenon of white flight. Shades of White Flight gives the reader a lens to discover the role of the church and how it can cause social changes, both negative and positive. As the neighborhood changes from predominantly white to ethnically diverse, the failure of the church to serve missionally in diverse neighborhoods causes a division and
rupture between churches and people in the community. Mulder scrutinizes the migration of Chicago CRC members, demonstrating through his research that 4 CRC churches in the Roseland and Englewood areas of Chicago not only failed to curb white flight, but actually furthered the congregations’ separation from African Americans.
The investigative resources used by Mulder include church archives, council minutes, and interview data. All of these expose the forces of institutional racism that shaped these particular neighborhoods and the way in which evangelical traditions contributed to the decline of urban stability and segregation. Mulder explains that the church can engender but also disintegrate community. Place can be manipulated as a gatekeeper, welcoming some, while deterring many others. Mulder applies this description of place to the way in which the Dutch CRC formed insular and sheltered social circles within their Christian schools and churches. Rather than embracing the local market and public square as the center point of community, the churches chose to remain insular and exclusivist. White flight has also fostered the false notion of individualistic solutions to racism and segregation. In Shades of White Flight, Mulder urges the CRC to move on a different path by investing in our communities and the culture of our neighbors, and honestly challenging institutional and systemic racism. Shades of White Flight is a must read for those seeking to minister in the church, who wish to understand the roots of institutional racism and to be a part of a more faithful mission in our cities. a