The Silencing of the Christians

A couple of years ago I was approached with an opportunity to collect some data on college teachers in the United States. I was quite busy and the project took more of my time and energy than I thought it would. But in the end, we finished the project, and now the paper has been accepted in a peer review journal. The paper is now online and so I decided to talk about it and some of the implications that flow from these results. The general aim of the paper was to use an online survey to look at the attitudes of these college teachers towards different Protestant groups.. We had the respondents define fundamentalist, evangelical and mainline Protestants. After rating each of the three groups, we asked them how the groups were distinguished from each other. We also asked other questions about their religious attitudes. This is the type of combination of quantitative and qualitative data I find quite useful.

Using factor analysis, we found that the coded answers could be broken into three different groups: Conservative Protestant Critics, Theological Definers and Low Information. The Conservative Protestant Critics come as no surprise. These were individuals with very hostile and negative attitudes against conservative Protestants (fundamentalists and evangelicals). Given my past research on academic bias against conservative Protestants and the Christianophobic nature of highly educated individuals, I would have been shocked if we did not have a fair amount of what we called Conservative Protestant Critics. Indeed, the largest group in our sample was Conservative Protestant Critics (However, this is not a probability sample, so I cannot say with certainty that this is the largest group in reality).

Neither was I surprised by the presence of what we called Low Information respondents. These were individuals who were not very knowledgeable about any of the Protestant groups nor did they care about the groups. There were fairly apathetic about religious issues in general. I have run into such individuals many times in my career and knew that they would be out in the general academic population.

So I will not spend more time on these two expected groups. Instead what I think is the real knowledge added by this research is the exploration of what we call Theological Definers. These were individuals who were most supportive of conservative Protestants. They were more likely to be Christians and especially likely to be evangelicals who were more likely to attend church, compared to the rest of the sample. So it is not surprising that they rated conservative Protestants higher in our quantitative questions and were less negative of them in our open-ended questions. On the one hand, I expected to see some theologically conservative Christians in the sample. Being such a Christian in academia, I am more likely to have social networks with them than other academics. So I knew there would be some conservative Christians in our sample, and such individuals would naturally be more sympathetic to conservative Protestants.

Where the data gets interesting is how the conservative Protestants expressed their support of conservative Protestants in compared to how Conservative Protestant Critics expressed their non-support of that group. For example, the Conservative Protestant Critics were overtly harsh in their condemnation of conservative Protestants:

Social, cultural, and economic political agendas of this group, in general, run counter to humanistic, scientific, open, and diverse multicultural societies. Their decision makers, lobbyist, and political figures have historically developed hegemonic power bases that benefit few at the expense of numerous, creating disenfranchised (both legally and economically) social groups. Social politics of this group seem “hell-bent” on limiting the rights of others while creating top-heavy societies that are unsustainable, unethical, and, ironically, immoral. See creationism, cuts to social programs and education, art censorship (film ratings), limits to stem cell research and scientific funding, pathologizing LGBTQ communities, monotheist binary ideological constructs, and global evangelism. Historically have marginalized women, gay folk, persons of color, artists, and atheists. (Kinesiology Professor age 36-45 in four year school)

Self-identified Fundamentalists as I have encountered them tend to be more narrow and rigid in their religious views and more extremely conservative in their political views, usually with an extensive political agenda that has little or no respect for Constitutional safeguards on the separation of Church and State. (History professor age 56-65 in Doctorate program)

These were typical statements demonstrating how free those hostile to conservative Protestants felt to criticize them. They were making a quick online statement so it is not reasonable to expect a deep academic analysis from these respondents. Thus it is not surprising that those with grievances towards conservative Protestants would illustrate them with many of the basic stereotypes and negative images I outlined in my book So Many Christians, So Few Lions.

But such simplistic stereotyping was not the case when looking at how Theological Definers described conservative Protestants. Instead they were careful to express their descriptions in academic, and even technical, terms. Those comments, unlike the typical comments from Conservative Protestant Critics, were the type of comments one might find in an academic treatise.

Local church governance, perhaps only slightly beholden to a denominational hierarchy, but remaining fairly independent. Belief that faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the only path to heaven and reconciliation with God the Father. Belief that the Bible holds the truth of the word of God, and understanding that truth is communicated in various literary forms. (Theology professor age 46-55 in Doctorate program)

A segment of Protestantism that emphasizes the gospel teachings of redemption, individual conversion, and the immediacy of Christian experience–often enthusiastic experience–centered on Christ as manifested in Scripture. (English professor age 56-65 in Doctorate program)

These examples indicate a desire to be precise in their descriptions of conservative Protestants. They do not illustrate the sweeping stereotypes the Conservative Protestant Critics tend to rely upon. Thus the powerful negative rhetoric of Conservative Protestant Critics is not met with powerful positive rhetoric by Theological Definers. There are distinct approaches for each group in their description of conservative Protestants.

The question is why the two different approaches. To get at the answer to this question, I tap into some of my previous work on academic bias, as well as other work on that bias, which I have discussed in the past. That work shows the disadvantage conservative Protestants have in academia, merely because of their religious beliefs. Conservative Protestant academics are not fools. They quickly realize that their religious beliefs can be used against them in their chosen profession. As a result of this realization, they likely dampen a positive expression of their faith. So even when discussing their religious beliefs to an online survey, they may strive to be academic in their descriptions and forego overt claims about the virtue of conservative Protestantism. On the other hand, critics of conservative Protestants feel no similar pressure to moderate their views with an academic presentation and can be very overt about their negative perceptions of conservative Protestants.

I am not the only one who thinks that our findings reflect the social pressures in academia that conservative Protestant face. One of our reviewers commented that there is a closeted effect that applies to conservative Protestant academics. While we alluded to this potential dynamic in the article, I prefer to think of this as a “silencing” effect. It is not that conservative Protestant academics completely hide their religious identity from their colleagues (Although those who are graduate students tend to do so for good reason). It is more accurate to envision this as their unwillingness to allow their colleagues to know their full religious beliefs. It is simpler to use the generic description of a Christian rather than to let on that one believes in Christ’s resurrection or that Hell exists. The comments of the Theological Definers usually distanced themselves from these beliefs whereas there was evidence in our closed ended questions indicating that many of the Theological Definers accepted those beliefs. A scholarly description provides protection against the charge of being unscientific and those who are Theological Definers understand that they need this protection.

This point was made clear to me when I think about some of the events in my past. For example, when I was a teaching adjunct, I had a semester where I taught two introduction courses, a race/ethnicity course and a religion course. But some of the professors were worried about my teaching the religion course since I was a Christian. None of them questions me teaching a race/ethnicity course because I am black. Being black is not seen as being a barrier to teaching racial issues as it is thought that being black helps me to bring something to the course. These professors did not see my Christian faith as something that I could bring to a religion course. Of course my race helps to shape how I teach racial issues, and my faith helps to shape how I teach religious issues. But anyone who teaches either race or religion is going to be biased by their race or presuppositions about religious answers. But being black is something to be respected in academia while being a Christian is something to be watched and regulated. This is just one example of the type of silencing that I suspect established the type of answers the Theological Definers shared on our survey.

While I am discussing this research, I want to touch on another issue that can be addressed with these findings. One of the criticisms of my work on Christianophobia is that the data from the American National Election Study asked individuals to rate fundamentalists. Some have argued that this is not a true test of attitudes towards Christians as clearly fundamentalists are only one subgroup among Christians. I would have preferred if they had asked about evangelicals, a group I see as mainstream conservative Christians, but I have to work with the data provided to me, not the data I want in my fantasy world. Furthermore, I have argued that this is a good measure for assessing conservative Christians in general. The more I study Christianophobia in the United States the more I conclude that it is an affliction limited to conservative Christians. My blog on how progressive Christians reject their conservative co-religionists merely reinforces this perception. But now with this data I have an opportunity to see if these educated individuals distinguished between evangelicals and fundamentalists.

Looking at the thermometer ratings of these highly educated respondents, I should get the attitudes of those who are highly educated and should be the most knowledgeable of differences between fundamentalists and evangelicals. Thus I can see if fundamentalists are a good representative of conservative Christians in general. There was a difference between the two groups. The average score for evangelicals is 47.78 while the average score for fundamentalists is 44.99. That is less than 3 percent of a difference between these two groups. It is hard for me to see how this small of a difference indicates a dramatic contrast in how our respondents envision fundamentalists and evangelicals.

We asked in one of our open-ended questions how they may perceive the two groups to be different. The major difference they articulated is that evangelicals were more concerned with proselytizing than fundamentalists and fundamentalists were more likely to believe the Bible to be the inherent word of God. Really not much of a difference as there was the same tendency to see members of both groups as intolerant, stupid, bigoted and other negative stereotypes that the highly educated tend to possess about conservative Protestants.

Ultimately, I came away from this research believing that my decision that fundamentalists are good proxy for conservative Christians is valid. Ideally I would love to run the evangelical and fundamentalist thermometer questions to the general public and see if the answers wildly differ from my respondents. Such a test is the only way to put to bed forever the argument that fundamentalists do not represent conservative Christianity to the general public. But given the results of this current research I am satisfied, at this time, that my findings about Christianophobia and its effects on conservative Christians are basically correct.

Crunchy Christians

I am a fortunate man to be married to a woman with whom I am highly compatible. We share the same Christian values, and by that I do not merely mean that we are both Christians but also the way we interpret our faith on a variety of issues is very similar. Our child rearing philosophies nearly match. We have a great deal of agreement on our financial goals. I do not agree with her on every political issue, but there is probably nobody that I politically agree with all the time (That is what it means to be a political independent). I wish every couple can be as well-matched as we are.

However, there is one area where we do have disagreement. It is not a major area, but when we have disagreements it is usually connected to this issue. That issue concerns, for lack of a better term, how granola we are going to live. You see my wife believes in organic products. She does not like products with GMOs. I, on the other hand, do not want to spend money on those sorts of things. I believe that it is a waste of time to locate these products, and I do not want to spend the extra money on them. She is not anti-vaccination, which would be a line I would draw. Overall we have learned to compromise on what sort of items we will purchase.

Needless to say, these tendencies developed before we married. She had concerns about organics and GMOs before we married while I generally purchased what I thought was the best deal. Consequently, I have learned more about people who have much more of a granola mindset than I. I have shopped more at the natural store and read a few articles about GMOs and organics to learn how people rationalize spending their money on this stuff. It is not surprising that a lot of businesses make a generous amount of money catering to people with a granola lifestyle. But because of her faith, I have discovered a subset of those businesses that I did not know existed before marrying. Those are businesses that cater to Christians living a granola lifestyle. I simply did not consider that many Christians would have the same granola values as my wife.

For example, when my wife became pregnant, she sought out a doula. But in keeping with her values, she wanted a Christian doula. To my surprise, there are quite a few of them out there. Those doulas also know other Christian professionals such as children’s dentist and chiropractor that she could direct us to that had a granola approach to their practice. So they had a definite granola perspective but with a distinctively Christian touch. Christian music and posters in their office set an unmistakable religious tone. As I sat in those offices I just wondered about how strong the niche market that be for these professionals to sustain themselves. It meant that my wife was not an anomaly but there were plenty of Christians who wanted the sort of services she sought. In the spirit of Dreher’s book “Crunchy Cons,” I will name these individuals Crunchy Christians.

As I became curious about this phenomenon, I decided to see if anyone else had thought about crunchy Christians. I found a couple of websites that used the term. One was a blog that went by the name of Crunchy Christian Mama and another website featured a discussion about Christians living out this naturalist lifestyle. Yep. I was right. My wife is not alone in this. The number of crunchy Christians is not overwhelming, but there is a presence of them in our society.

Let me be clear that from what I have gathered about them so far, this is not a very active political movement. Crunchy Christians seem distinctive from Christians working for environmental concerns (although of course I suspect that some of them do work for such causes). My very limited exploration of this phenomenon suggests that these individuals are more concerned about living out a healthy lifestyle. I suspect that most of them vote Republican and have traditional conservative moral values. So I would not mistake them for progressive Christians. My best guess is that they are conservative Christians who choose to live a granola lifestyle. Unlike the progressive Christians I discussed a couple of posts ago, these individuals are more likely to see conservative Christians as their ingroup rather than an outgroup.

One aspect I like about Crunchy Christians is that they challenge some of our religious assumptions. Some of those assumptions concern the hyper traditional lifestyle of Christians. Crunchy Christians show that one does not have to be an adherent of a naturalist religion or progressive subculture to be concerned about GMOs or to seek out essential oils. There are a variety of ways in which Christians live out their faith. We should not make assumptions about individuals due to either their lifestyle or religious affiliation.

What I would find interesting is how Crunchy Christians interpret scripture differently from other conservative Christians on issues that pertain to their lifestyle. I would like to know if they saw these lifestyle changes as sacred or mere personal choices. How do they prioritize their lifestyle choices in light of other aspects of their faith? Do they feel like outsiders among other Christians? How much does their social network include people with their own particular faith and lifestyle choices? I do not think that there are fantastic world changing implications to the answers of such questions. I just find them kind of fascinating to think about.

As a Christian I do not believe in reincarnation. But if I did, I could see myself conducting in-depth studies of a variety of different groups in my next life. I find it fascinating to see how people interpret their beliefs about reality and how they live those beliefs out. Among the groups I would study in that reincarnated life are crunchy Christians. As a group at the intersections of conservative Christianity and a naturalistic lifestyle, it would be interesting to see how they construct their social reality. Of course I already have insight into this intersection with my wife. All it will cost me is more expensive organic non-GMO food.

Racism, Not Christianophobia

This morning I woke up to the news of the horrible shooting in South Carolina. Given my recent research I pondered for a second if we had another Floyd Corkin situation. But once I found out it was an historical black church, I was 90 percent sure it was racial. Once they caught him and reported on his facebook page, that went up to 100 percent.

Given that reality, it was dismaying to hear a few Christians suggest that this was religiously motivated. So to my fellow Christian brothers and sisters, I have one thing to say about making such an argument. DON’T DO IT. This was racism straight up and there is no two ways about it.

I do not think I have to show my “street cred” to make this assertion. A quick look at my recent publications and this blog will show that I do not shy from pointing out anti-Christian bias and bigotry. Christianophobia is real, and some of my future blogs will continue to talk about it. This is not it. The shooter does not fit the profile for having this ailment but shows all the hallmarks of a racist. All of the other evidence points to racial but not religious animosity. Treat this for what it is – the ugly sin of racism.

Some white Christians will say that we do not know everything and perhaps we still will see anti-Christian bigotry. In the spirit that there are few things that can ever be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, I will agree that it is possible anti-Christian treatise might be discovered as a motivation of this shooting. However, the chances of that are so slim that until I see that evidence, and given all the other evidence we have, it is reasonable to ignore any potential religious motivations until that evidence is produced.

Some Christians are hanging on to the fact that this shooting took place in a church for evidence of its anti-Christian bias. The black church has a special place in the African-American community. It was the location where resistance to first, slavery and then other types of oppression could be organized. It has historically been the place where the leaders from our communities came from. And it is the place where racists and white supremacists have attacked in times past. Given this history of pain, someone with anti-Christian bigotry would not select an historically significant black church to launch a violent attack. If such a person is given to violence, it would be more like a Wedgewood shooting situation than today’s insanity.

In my former academic career, I dealt a great deal with racial issues and worked hard at reconciliation by trying to understand the perspectives of white Christians. I understand that some of them are frustrated because Christianophobia does tend to be ignored by the larger society in ways that it would not be ignored if it was some other type of intolerance. I feel you there. But nothing is gained by attempting to appropriate the pain of the black community today. I do not ask you to accept every solution blacks offer for racism, but I do ask that you understand why it is inappropriate to attempt to paint yourself as a victim today. Doing this not only alienates you from African-Americans, but it reinforces some of the stereotypes that Christianophobes have of Christians being whiners.

So I ask my Christian brothers and sisters to do what they can to be there for those who have been victimized. But do not make this about anti-religion or anti-Christian. My wish is that we get through this together and respecting the legitimate pain out there.

Does President Obama Hate Conservative Christians?

I tend to take people at their word. I also make what I see as logical connections from what they say to how they feel about others. Thus, given what we know about favoring in-groups, when someone says he is a Christian then I assume that he likes Christians. Yet President Obama, who proclaims himself to be a Christian, has sometimes been accused of not liking Christians. This makes me wonder if progressive, or liberal, Christians do have some degree of animosity towards other Christians.

To do this examination, I have to recap some of my methodology in So Many Christians, So Few Lions. In that book we qualitatively documented some of the hateful, bigoted rhetoric some individuals had for conservative Christians. But our quantitative work was based on a measure of whether the affinity towards Christian fundamentalists was assessed a standard deviation below the measures of affinity towards other religious and some racial groups. While we could not argue that such disaffinity was automatically linked to the angry comments in our qualitative research, this measure was useful in determining the characteristics of those most likely to have hatred towards conservative Christians. If you do not want to read the full findings in that book, then you can see the start of my blog series of the book here.

I decided to go back to the data source of our quantitative work – American National Election Studies – to ask questions about whether progressive Christians can have the sort of animosity I cited in the book. Because I do not have access to the type of qualitative data I collected for the text, I am not in a position to see if progressive Christians have the same type of hate and vitriol associated with Christianophobia. But I can explore whether they have the type of disaffinity that is likely linked to those with Christianophobia. So for the balance of this blog, I am not going to talk about Christianophobia but disaffinity, or animosity, with the understanding that these results may tell us something about the potential of progressive Christians to have unreasonable fear and hatred towards conservative Christians.

Let me put this into context. When my book came out, some pointed out that I was not talking about hatred of all Christians but of those who are conservative in their theology and politics. I countered that such images are generally how those with Christianophobia see Christians and indeed for many of them this is true. However, I did not appreciate at the time that Christians who were not politically or theologically conservative also may have animosity towards conservative Christians. My focus is more on the theological differences as I found in my assessment of academics that religious conservatism attracts more discrimination than political conservatism. So I begin to ask the question of whether Christians with a more progressive theological outlook would have a level of animosity that rivals that of others or whether, as I hypothesized, their Christian identity provides more sympathy for those in their faith.

I now apologize for those who do not have statistical training. I have to be a little technical in the next paragraph or two for those who would question my assertions on the basis of methodology. If you prefer to skip that section then just go down to the paragraph below that starts with “Okay, that is enough of the statistics.” I promise that I will summarize in laymen terms what I have found and discuss some very interesting implications.

I defined progressive Christians with a question on whether the Bible should be taken literally. If the Christian indicated that it should not be taken literally, then I recoded that person as a liberal Christian. Among liberal Christians, 36.1 percentage ranked Christian fundamentalists a standard deviation below other groups. A t-test indicates that liberal Christians are more likely to have disaffinity towards Christian fundamentalists than the rest of the sample (36.1 v. 20.2: p < .001). It may be the case that the inclusion of conservative Christians in the control group artificially lowers the percentage of people who rank conservative Christians in such a low position. In a sample where I eliminate all non-Catholic Christians who assert that the Bible should be taken literally, liberal Christians were still more likely to have animosity towards conservative Christians but the difference is not significant (36.1 v. 33.0: ns). However, when I compared the percentage of liberal Christians who rank Muslims a standard deviation below the other groups to those who rank fundamentalist Christians in such a manner, I found that liberal Christians have more disaffinity towards their fellow Christians than to Muslims (36.1 v. 32.7: p < .05). Clearly, liberal Christians are at least as willing to have animosity towards the fellow Christian brothers and sisters and may even have less disaffinity towards those of other religious faiths.

The results get really interesting when I use the Bible question to look at only Christians who not only think that we should not take the Bible literally but also that the Bible was written by humans instead of God. Almost three out of four of them (59.4%) rank fundamentalist Christians a standard deviation lower. They are more likely to have disaffinity towards conservative Christians when looking at the entire sample (59.4 v. 26.0: p < .001) and when I remove the conservative Protestants from the sample (59.4 v. 32.6: p < .001). Furthermore, they not only are more likely to rank conservative Christians lower than Muslims (59.4 v. 29.1: p < .001) but also than atheists (59.4 v. 21.8: p < .001). If you are a conservative Christian and you run into a Christian who believes that the Bible was written by humans, then chances are good that he or she does not think much of you.

I was curious about whether these differences were due to demographic and social differences between liberal Christians and others in society. So I ran a logistic regression model that included independent variables that measured sex, race, age, education, income, religious preference and region as well as a dummy variable for liberal Christians. Even after controlling for all those factors, liberal Christians were significantly likely to rank fundamentalist Christians a standard deviation lower than other groups. In fact, the liberal Christian dummy variable had an odds ratio measure of 3.901, indicating that liberal Christians are almost four times more likely to have disaffinity towards conservative Christians than other individuals after these social controls. Liberal Christians do not rank conservative Christians lower simply because they are more politically progressive, better educated or some other basic social or demographic factor. It is more reasonable to argue that being a liberal Christian itself produces such animosity regardless of these factors.

Okay, that is enough of the statistics. Basically, liberal Christians are just as willing, and maybe even more willing, to have animosity towards conservative Christians than others in society. Being a Christian does not generally lead them to have sympathy for those they disagree with theologically. Instead, these theological disagreements harden into disaffinity towards those Christians. This was not what I expected when I first looked at the data, and it has important ramifications for how I understand social conflict between Christians. I used to assume that Christians have a natural sympathy for each other even if they have theological disagreements. I am now cured of that naïve belief, and it shapes how I understand certain social events.

This allows me to address the provocative title of this blog. When President Obama first started running for president; there was nonsense about him being a Muslim. There is no evidence for such a claim. From what I can gather from my observations, he seems to be a Christian with fairly universalist perspectives. I believe that he sees many ways to spiritual truth, and he happens to be on the Christian path towards that truth. I may be incorrect in assessment of his spiritual beliefs, but I am confident that I am closer to the truth than those who see President Obama as a Muslim.

Along with the claims that he was a Muslim there was what I thought to be a similarly silly claim that President Obama did not like Christians. My comeback was that this made no sense given that he was a Christian. In the light of these findings, I have to reconsider that comeback. If our president does not believe that the Bible should be taken literally, and I tend to think that this is his belief, then according to my data, there is a basic 36.1 percent chance that he sees conservative Christians with a significant degree of disaffinity. If he believes that the Bible is written by humans, something I am less confident about but is possible, then the chances of this disaffinity goes up to almost three of five. Of course there are other factors besides his liberal Christianity that may predict this potential animosity but even controlling for such factors, liberal Christianity still leads to animosity towards conservative Christians.

So does President Obama hate conservative Christians, despite his identity as a Christian? I do not claim that President Obama does not like conservative Christians. I do argue that making this assertion is not unreasonable and the fact that he is a Christian is not an adequate defense of such an assertion. I am certain that some would be glad if the president has animosity towards conservative Christians. But even if they justify such animosity, it is still the case that conservative Christians who claim that progressive Christians are hostile towards them cannot be dismissed as merely being paranoid. Conservative Christians still have the burden of showing evidence of President Obama’s animosity as some have argued through his recent Prayer Day speech, but arguing that he does not like conservative Christians is no longer an unreasonable thesis. In my mind from this day forward I no longer see the fact that he/she is a Christian as a reasonable defense against the charges that one person does not like other Christians. (The phrase “I am a Christian too but…” comes to mind as one that has lost all of its rhetorical weight in my opinion.) In fact, if they are liberal Christians then, all things being equal, I will be more likely to suspect that they have animosity towards conservative Christians.

I believe that part of this animosity is due to the allegiance liberal Christians have towards certain political and social issues. The areas where they do agree with Christian conservatives (i.e. basic beliefs about the existence of God) are not as important to them as their different approaches to society (i.e. social gospel v. personal evangelism). They may be embarrassed at the political actions of conservative Christians, and that embarrassment can be a vital source of their animosity. Nonetheless, there are powerful barriers that will work against potential alliances between conservative and liberal Christians. In fact, it is reasonable for members of each group to see the other as their political and cultural enemy.

It is quite possible that the type of animosity that liberal Christians have is not the same type of Christianophobia where participants joked about feeding Christians to lions or bombing churches. In fact, the few respondents in my cultural progressive activist sample who identified as Christians did not tend to make such wild statements and seemed less likely to accept the most dehumanizing stereotypes about conservative Christians. I suspect that anti-Christian animosity may manifest itself in different ways from how non-Christians may resent conservative Christians. In time I hope to do some work, or find an enterprising graduate student who will do that work, that may disentangle the different ways animosity towards conservative Christians is reflected in progressive Christians and non-Christians. I have an open-mind about whether the animosity of progressive Christians may develop into a Christianophobic level of unreasonable hatred and fear. However, I will not again assume that such bigotry is not possible simply because an individual identifies with the Christian faith.


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