The Christian Death Schism: Why Critically Ill Black and White Christians Die Differently

“This project will explore why hospitalized critically ill black and white Christians die so differently, and how to address it for good of the Body of Christ. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Crystall Williams Nebraska Methodist Hospital Contact Me

About this pastoral study project

A 2013 Pew Research Center poll revealed that black Christians prefer to get aggressive medical treatment at end-of-life at significantly greater rates than white Christians. As a black chaplain working with black and white families struggling with end-of-life decisions, my experience mirrors this. This reality results in more African Americans dying in sterile hospital environments that are unconducive to peaceful deaths when compared to white patients.

Providers typically oppose aggressive care for both white and black ICU patients and struggle to understand black culture and spirituality’s role in death management. Statistically, black patients and families have less experience with comfort care, hospice, advance care planning and Palliative Care, and resist information on these services. Meanwhile, critically ill white Christians more readily accept medical advice, and ease into life everlasting through the solace of comfort care and/or hospice. This disparity in perspectives births tension between the faithful--white providers and black families--and increases stress among all involved.

Using focus groups and individual interviews with black and white chaplains, and palliative care doctors/APRNs, I plan to qualitatively explore this death dichotomy. The question is: Why does the black and white Christian death schism exist, and how can it be understood and addressed in a way that benefits both Christian communities and the greater Body of Christ?

Once the data is gathered, I plan to author a book (and numerous presentations) and share the findings with the same communities and professions with whom I conducted research.