Riding the “L,” Pastor’s Harsh Book Critique Change Emerson’s Life

CHICAGO, IL (September 1, 2015) — Even though Covenanter Michael Emerson’s book Divided by Faith garnered awards and favorable reviews for its critique of racial separation in evangelical churches, the author’s pastor was less than congratulatory in his appraisal.

MichaelOEmerson250ashxThe pastor told him, “I just ate up your book. I was reading it late into the night. I was lying in my bed and I got to the last page and I finished…and then I threw the book across the room,” Emerson recalls in an interview posted on the website of North Park University, where he is the new provost. “He said I didn’t tell him what to do now.”

Emerson heard the same critique from others, so he wrote United by Faith, in which he says multiracial congregations are the answer to the problem.

Going beyond diagnosing problems to finding solutions, particularly in cities, is a theme that echoes throughout the interview that also highlights how a white man who grew up in Minneapolis and moved to California for the weather came to be a highly regarded commentator on race, religion, and urban issues.

It started with riding the “L” train to classes at Loyola University in Chicago, where he enrolled after deciding sunny California wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. He intended to study psychology and planned on becoming a banker.

But the train proved to be a mobile classroom that took his interests in a different direction.

“That experience fundamentally changed me,” Emerson says. “I got off the train for class and I could see the housing projects, Cabrini Green, which were notorious. And you walk a few blocks and there’s the Gold Coast, and all the prosperity associated with it. You just couldn’t have a more dramatic contrast so close together. I had no idea how this had happened and why you’d see people of different color in these two places. I kept asking myself why, and that started my journey to what I ended up doing.”

In the rest of the interview, Emerson discusses how he hopes North Park can play a role in helping transform the city into a more human-focused place and why the city’s bike lanes are inherently dangerous. He has a solution for that too.




  • I am so pleased that Michael has found a home at North Park. He brings a good heart and great research and academic chops to a fine institution. That being said, I think it would have been inappropriate to relieve his pastor’s anxiety by suggesting a quick fix. I got sick and tired of all the people who criticized Divided by Faith for not having “answers.” Sometimes we need to sit in the critique. United by Faith can be a pacifier for all who live vicariously off other Christians adventures. White evangelicals have sore shoulders from patting themselves on the back for the accomplishments of others. But the whole of the evangelical movement is not further along than in the mid-nineties when DBF was first written. Let’s not kid ourselves.

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