Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Contact, Congregations, and Children of Color: The Effects of Interracial Contact in Religious Settings on Whites' Attitudes towards Transracial Adoption

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Contact, Congregations, and Children of Color: The Effects of Interracial Contact in Religious Settings on Whites' Attitudes towards Transracial Adoption

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Research examining the racial attitudes of white Americans has on multiple occasions substantiated a positive relationship between interracial contact in religious institutions and favorable attitudes towards interracial marriage (Johnson and Jacobson, 2005; Emerson, 2006; Yancey, 1999, 2001, 2006). More specifically, researchers have found that Whites who attend interracial or multiracial churches-defined in various ways-tend to exhibit more positive attitudes towards interracial marriage in general (Johnson and Jacobson, 2005), for their children (Emerson, 2006; Yancey, 200 1, 2006), or for a non-specified relative (Yancey, 1 999) compared to Whites who attend uniracial churches. Accounting for this relationship, scholars have argued that the interracial contact experienced in interracial/multiracial churches meets a sufficient number of conditions prescribed in Allport's (1954) contact hypothesis to reduce social distance between racial groups, thereby fostering more progressive attitudes on a variety of racial issues, interracial marriage included (Johnson and Jacobson, 2005; Yancey, 1999,2001,2006).

Attitudes towards interracial marriage have, along with other indicators,1 traditionally served as an index by which to gauge whether social distance between groups has in fact lessened (e.g., Bogardus, 1933; Gordon, 1964; Emerson, 2006; Johnson and Jacobson, 2005; Powers and Ellison, 1995; Yancey, 1999, 2001, 2006). Yet, in light of recent research demonstrating a strong positive associationbetween willingness to engage in interracial romance and favorable attitudes towards transracial adoption (TRA) (e.g., Whatley, et al., 2003) it is arguable that attitudes towards TRA could serve this purpose as well (Peny, 2010). That is to say, one might reasonably predict that as social distance between racial groups lessens, individuals would be more approving of TRA, just as they are more supportive of interracial marriage. Correspondingly then, just as interracial contact within religious settings has been shown to reduce social distance between groups, thereby fostering greater favorability towards interracial marriage, such interracial contact would predictably promote more favorable attitudes towards TRA as well.

Previous research on the relationship between interracial church attendance and attitudes towards interracial family relationships has focused exclusively on attitudes towards interracial dating and marriage. Moreover, although Protestants and Catholics tend to differ significantly in their racial attitudes and in the racial composition of their churches (Fenster, 2003, King and Bratter, 2007; Perry, 2010) few of these studies have distinguished between Protestant and Catholic respondents (see Yancey, 2002 for an exception). To this author's knowledge, no research to date has investigated the potential effects of interracial church attendance, across two distinct religious traditions, on Whites' attitudes towards TRA. In view of this lacuna, this study utilizes nationally representative survey data to examine the effects of interracial contact in Catholic and Protestant churches on the attitudes of White Americans towards TRA.

The contributions of this study are threefold. First and primarily, this research extends the literature on TRA (and interracial families generally) by clarifying what social factors might engender favorable attitudes towards the practice among Whites. Given that Whites make up the largest pool of adopters and that minority children are disproportionally represented in the foster care population (Goldberg and Smith, 2009), greater clarity regarding what promotes favorable attitudes towards TRA among Whites might prove helpful for encouraging White potential adoptive parents to consider TRA and possibly move greater numbers of minority children into permanent homes.2 Second, this study contributes to race literatme more broadly by revealing the social contexts that promote more progressive racial attitudes among White Protestants and Catholics, two groups that consistently exhibit the least progressive racial attitudes among Americans (Fenster, 2003; Perry, 2010; Yancey, 2002). …

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