African Americans who worship regularly are better able to handle racism and discrimination.

One can see the power of faith in black lives in places like Cleveland, where African American churches have remained—sometimes two or three to a block—even as the middle class and many businesses and predominantly white congregations moved away.

Now science is providing greater insight.

Several new studies build on past research to continue revealing how faith is associated with positive outcomes for black Americans amid the realities of discrimination and economic, political, and social inequality.

In one study of black adults, neither education nor income predicted a sense of optimism—a hopeful attitude about the future linked to better physical and mental health and lower mortality rates. What mattered most was belief in a loving, merciful God.

“It appears that the sense that one is loved and uplifted by God and the belief that one has received God’s forgiveness work in tandem” to promote hope as a critical and central theme in the faith of African Americans, researchers said in a special issue of the Race and Social Problems journal.

The studies in the special issue are among several recent works that generally indicate positive outcomes of religious involvement for black Americans.

Among the findings:

  • Having each other’s back: Seven in 10 blacks who attended services at least once a year reported both giving and receiving support from their congregation, according to research analyzing data from the National Survey of American Life. Feeling close to congregation members and having frequent contact with them predicted greater reciprocal support.

    A separate study also found that church members appear to be “significant sources of informal social support for African Americans.” The most frequent form of assistance was care during illness, followed by meeting transportation needs, financial assistance, and help with chores.

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