Myths of Christianophobia Part 3 – It is about Loss of Privilege

This is my third post dealing with the myths concerning Christianophobia. In the first blog of this series I dealt with the myth that Christianophobia does not exist. In my last blog, I addressed the myth that Christianophobia is an indicator that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. For the third myth I will look at one of the ways some attempt to justify Christianophobia. They argue that Christians are not experiencing bias or discrimination, but instead Christians have been privileged in the United States and are now losing that privilege. Therefore, Christians feel mistreated when in fact they are only now being treated the same as the rest of our society. For simplicity sake let us call this the privilege argument which contends that Christianophobia is merely the loss of Christians’ privileged status. It implies that Christianophobia is a correction of previous mistreatment of non-Christians. The privilege argument that Christianophobia only reflects the loss of privilege for Christians is the third myth I will tackle.

Looking more deeply at the concept of privilege and the way Christianophobia is manifested in the United States helps us to understand the viability of the privilege argument. Such an analysis is needed because I have not seen a well-developed articulation of the privilege argument. Generally, it comes out in comments responding to Christians, like myself, who point out Christianophobia or anti-Christian treatment. I speculate that those putting forward the privilege argument have not thought too deeply about the implications of their assertions or even what privilege really means.

Peggy McIntosh is generally given credit for the origin of the notion of privilege with her famous article on white privilege. She was attempting to communicate the gender advantages of men, but in doing so realized that she, as a white woman, benefits from racial advantages. Her conceptualizing of white privilege was done in the hope that by recognizing her racial advantages that she would also have a tool to talk to men about their gender advantages. The recognition of her own racial advantages could provide legitimation when dealing with gender issues since it would be clear that she does not merely look out for just people in her own social category. Her basic definition of white privilege is that it is an invisible package of unearned assets that whites can count on cashing in each day. In her famous article she provides several examples of this privilege. Several items such as the color of crayons, media representations, being asked to represent their entire race and wondering if the police are pulling one over for racial reasons are aspects that McIntosh considers to be some of these assets. Here is one of the lists of such racial privileges, or advantages. Basically whites can take advantage of racialized elements of our society and those advantages are often so subtle that they do not have to recognize their advantage. This creates an illusion of fairness which is used to justify the higher status whites enjoy.

In the original concept of privilege two important aspects emerge. First, it is clear that privilege is not a focus on overt forms of discrimination. McIntosh is not addressing the ending of Jim Crow or permitting Indians to leave reservations. The individuals she is trying to reach are not the type who would endorse overt racism. She is trying to show whites that they have advantages not tied to overt mistreating of people of color. Sometimes when I hear people talk about privilege they seem to be referring to previous laws of overt bias. That is not what is at play when issues of privilege are brought up. What is at play is the unspoken and subtle ways some groups have advantages over others.

Her second point is tied to the fact that McIntosh is a white woman. As a woman she realizes that men have privileges, but as a white she realizes that she has them too. In other words, she is not making the argument that she enjoys nothing but privileges or that she is always the victim of the privileges of others. Rather she is saying that her life is a mixture of statuses. Some of these statuses provide her with privilege and others do not. It is not as simple as merely saying that some people are always privileged while others are always disadvantaged because of the privileges of others.

I want to expand on this second point in ways that McIntosh probably would not support, but that I believe are closer to social reality. It is not just that we are a mixture of statuses, some of which are privileged and some of which are not. It is also the case that the statuses themselves are a mixture of being privileged or not. As an African-American it is clear that I will not enjoy the fruits of white privilege. But I am self-aware enough to realize that there are times where my racial status works for me. This can be from the mundane, such as more respect in a pick-up basketball game, to the important, such as a small advantage when seeking certain academic positions. I would argue that overall my racial disadvantages outweigh my racial advantages, but there are racial advantages even for one in a minority racial group.

This propensity towards a mixture of advantages and disadvantages in a given status is important when looking at the question of Christianophobia and privilege. Those who make the privilege argument seems to imply that we lived in a world where Christians had all of the privileges and now are only asked to give up those privileges for the sake of equality. This is an oversimplistic interpretation. A more realistic interpretation can be that Christians are leaving a status where they had more advantages than disadvantages towards one where their advantages and disadvantages are roughly equal. Furthermore, non-Christians are leaving a status where they had more disadvantages than advantages towards one where their advantages and disadvantages are roughly equal. This scenario best supports the privilege argument if it can be shown that Christians have to lose their advantages for non-Christians to lose their disadvantages. If this can be shown then supporters of the privilege argument can claim that what has been called Christianophobia is merely the development of an egalitarian society.

So let me take this argument with an issue where it seems to be quite strong. One of the arguments in the recent rulings against Christian bakers and florists is that they must work for same-sex marriages because public accommodations should be available for everyone. Theoretically in a free market society anyone who turns away business loses money and so the market regulates fairness. But in the spirit of privilege it can be argued that in such an economic environment Christians can turn away the business of non-Christians more easily than vice versa due to their larger numbers and societal influence. (Not sure if this is true anymore given the willingness of non-Christian groups to engage in boycotts of businesses they find unacceptable.) Therefore, a strict adherence to rules of public accommodations can take away unnecessary privilege enjoyed by Christians by forcing them to serve everybody. This theoretically levels the playing field between Christians with other religious or social groups by taking away the privilege of Christians and providing advantages to those non-Christian groups.

But reality is quite different from theory. The reality is that instead of eliminating a defacto differential treatment of Christians and non-Christians, where Christians have advantages over non-Christians, we have produced a dejure differential treatment of Christians and non-Christians, where non-Christians have advantages over Christians. The recent court ruling in Colorado is noteworthy not just for the sanction faced by the Christian baker, but also because in Colorado the rights of gay bakers to refuse work they did not want to do was upheld. David French argues that it was clear that the judges were eager to take sides in the culture war and were eager to find a solution that punishes the Christian bakers without also punishing the gay bakers. If this is correct then we do not have a situation where to gain the rights of non-Christians the privileges of Christians had to be short-circuited. Instead, we have a situation where non-Christians are given rights or privileges being denied to Christians. This is not the reality described by those who bring up the privilege argument. Christianophobia is not merely the loss of privilege for Christians so that others can have rights, but it is taking of the rights of Christians that are not taken from non-Christians. The disparate impact nature of this effort in Colorado is totally in keeping with the plausible deniability desires within those with Christianophobia. However, the unwillingness of the courts to punish non-Christian bakers in the same manner as Christian bakers exposes hypocritical claims of religious neutrality.

This is a situation where a seemingly neutral right, such as businesses turning away certain customers for a given event, can produce a subtle privilege for the majority group. Yet expressions of Christianophobia have not resulted in equality. The privilege argument of merely creating a level playing field does not hold weight. It is even harder to make the privilege argument when we look at some of the other expressions of Christianophobia. For example, I outlined in a previous blog the empirical evidence that conservative Christians face bias in academia. My own study shows that if an applicant for a position allows it to be known that he or she is a conservative Protestant, then many academics are less willing to hire him or her simply because of that religious identity. In no other religious, or any other social, group was this bias nearly as strong as it was against conservative Protestants. How does discriminating against conservative Christians in academia provide a fairer society for non-Christians? Clearly it produces advantages for them since they can obtain a position if their competitor is a similarly, or perhaps even higher, qualified conservative Protestant. But is it a privilege to be judged for an academic job based on one’s credentials, instead of one’s religious beliefs? Are we to believe that to be fair to other religious groups we have to be unfair to conservative Christians? Such questions illustrate that Christianophobia is not about the mere loss of privilege of conservative Christians, but rather it is the natural consequence of the irrational anti-Christian hatred and fear of those with social and cultural power.

All of this is not to say that Christians still do not have advantages in some areas of our society. More than once I have been accused of arguing that Christians are the most oppressed group in the United States. Since I have never made such an argument, this is a classical strawman approach. I fully recognize that Christians still have certain societal advantages. For example, while those rewards are shrinking, there are still political advantages for having a Christian religious preference. It is easier to get elected as President as a Christian than as an atheist or Muslim. Advantages for Christians in our society can be found and at times rightly challenged. However, the diminishment of Christian advantages is not always tied to the creation of an egalitarian situation. Christianophobia has motivated some individuals to create an unwarranted disadvantage for Christians in certain social dimensions. Stating that claims of Christianophobia are only attempts to keep Christian privileges have little merit unless one can illustrate how all of the ways Christians are punished is connected to the loss of unwarranted privileges. Space does not permit me to document other examples of Christianophobia failing to meet this test, but having the same rights to refuse service as other groups and not being punished for religious beliefs in academia clearly do not meet the standard of showing this connection.

Myths of Christianophobia Part 2 – It is about Persecution

This is my second post dealing with the myths surrounding Christianophobia. In my last blog, I dealt with the myth that Christianophobia does not exist and/or has no impact on American Christians. The next myth I will tackle may be a natural outcome of researching the problem of Christianophobia. Whenever we start exploring attitudes of bigotry and bias there is the possibility of individuals reading more into the work than it is intended. Some people have taken my research and used it to talk about anti-Christian persecution. Some have accused me of promoting the idea that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. I have never used the word persecution in discussing the plight of Christians in the United States and the notion that Christians in the United States are being persecuted is the second myth I will tackle.

This issue became clear to me after I did an interview for the Christian Post. During the interview I wanted to illustrate the intensity and irrationality of the anger some individuals had towards Christians. In my book there is a quote from a respondent in my research who stated that Christians should be eradicated. I think it was the next day when I saw the headline, “They should be Eradicated”, for a story in the Blaze that was based on that article. I was not contacted ahead of time and disliked the headline as it implied that violent killing of Christians was a major focus on those with Christianophobia – a totally incorrect conclusion as anyone who read my book would see. This brought home to me the point that some conservatives and Christians would take my findings much further than they should.

In the past I have blogged about how unwise it is for Christians to talk about being persecuted in the United States. In comparison to real persecution Christians in certain countries face, it was almost insulting for American Christians to complain about facing persecution. Furthermore, I have admonished Christians about looking at the Charleston shooting as an example of religious bigotry when clearly it was driven by racial animosity. While I maintain the conclusion in my last blog that Christianophobia is real and has an impact on Christians in society, I also have a track record of pushing back against efforts to promote an anti-Christian persecution narrative. Despite my efforts I have read comments about my work from irritated individuals who state that I advocate the idea that U.S. Christians are being persecuted. Whenever I hear someone make such a claim I know that they have not bothered to read my books or blog writings where I have clearly made the case that Christian persecution in the United States is a myth.

Why are Christians so eager to embrace the mantle of being persecuted? The initial answer is that Christians are similar to a lot of other social groups in that they want to use claims of victimhood to increase their ability to gain social resources. I am not proud of this tendency within Christians and it is especially problematic because such desire for victimhood inhibits our ability to accurately assess the way Christianophobia impacts our society. But if we are honest this is not a tendency limited to Christians as many social groups seek out an image of being victimized as a way to gain social power.

Beyond this tendency to use a victim status to gain social resources, there is also a history within Christianity that feeds into a willingness to take research like mine to justify claims of being persecuted. Historically, it was fairly common for one segment of Christianity or another to face real persecution. This means that they were vulnerable to being thrown in jail or killed because they believed the wrong thing. Sometimes other Christians were the culprit, but this was not always the case. Furthermore, the origin of Christianity occurred in a society where Christians faced persecution for following a “discredited” Messiah. So from the very beginning there is a cultural understanding that to be a Christian is to face persecution. I suspect that Christians who have grown up with this general understanding about their faith are especially sensitive to detecting potential persecution, even when it does not exist.

This is not an excuse for some of the persecution claims made by Christians. However, it is an explanation that helps show why Christians are quick to use the results of research on Christianophobia to validate their own presuppositions about social reality. In the United States individuals with Christianophobia are no more likely to show violent tendencies towards the eradication of Christians than Christians are to show violent tendencies towards setting up a theocracy. The fear of both possibilities is irrational and supply reasons for Christians and those with Christianophobia to hate their religious out-groups. Christians would do well to recognize what those with Christianophobia want to do, such as keep Christians out of the public square, rather than become concerned about persecution.

A great example of a tendency for Christians to seek out persecution often occurs when making complaints about being wished “Happy Holidays.” I agree that there is likely a certain level of symbolic hostility by some people who do not want to wish others “Merry Christmas.” I will go as far as to say that some individuals have Christianophobia which motivates their hesitation to say “Merry Christmas.” Okay, but so what? As long as people are not compelled to wish others “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” then this is not a big deal and it is definitely not persecution. If someone wished me “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” then I have a two word answer for them – “Thank you.” If someone gets mad at me for wishing them a “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” then that indicates their lack of maturity rather than an attack on my Christian faith. Christians seeking to turn such occasions into opportunities to complain about persecution trivialize real persecution.

What would real persecution look like? According to Webster’s online dictionary to persecute is: to treat (someone) cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs. So in the context of Christianophobia, actual persecution would be to punish someone directly for being a Christian. I acknowledge that there is an unreasonable anger and/or fear of Christians exhibited by some members of our society. But they rarely, if ever, directly advocate throwing Christians in jail or fining them simply because they are Christians. They want to use measures with disparate impact that hamper the ability of Christians to have influence in the public square. They promote dehumanizing stereotypes about Christians. Are these things wrong? Yes. Are they examples of persecution? No. The day may come when there is real persecution against Christians in the United States. If that day comes I hope to be brave enough to speak against it. But for now, given how persecution is defined, there simply is not credible evidence of anti-Christian persecution in the United States today.

Some may argue that stating that future anti-Christian persecution in the United States is possible is an example of being paranoid. Of course those making such claims are also claiming to know what is going to happen in the future. None of us can say with certainty that we know future events. Groups that at one time were quite powerful in a society may eventually fall into such disfavor that members of those groups face persecution. In communist countries many religious groups that were once quite powerful found themselves persecuted when communism became the dominant cultural ideology. So it is not unreasonable to consider that there may be a future where Christians truly are persecuted in the United States. My guess is that this will not happen in the United States but I consider it foolish to dismiss such an occurrence as impossible. Unfortunately, silly articles like this one can feed into fears about persecution as this author basically advocates labeling religious individuals “insane” – a policy straight out of the anti-religious persecution that occurred in the Soviet Union.

But for now I make a strong plea to Christians to stop talking about being persecuted in the United States and instead to focus on the real issues that have developed due to Christianophobia. There are some individuals who will always deny the existence of Christianophobia and others who already know it exists. However, a yet undetermined number of individuals are open to learning that Christianophobia is a problem. They will not be influenced by an excessive crying of wolf. Honest appraisals of anti-Christian bias, and an acknowledgement of the advantages that Christians still enjoy, will present a much better case.

Myths of Christianophobia Part 1 – It does not exist

This post will start a series concerning the topic I have been studying the last few years – Christianophobia. I have watched the reaction to the concept and seen major criticisms that laypeople have of it. So I am going to tackle the different myths that have developed as it concerns Christianophobia. I am not going to address the methodological questions from my research since this is not the proper forum for that discussion. But rather I will deal with common arguments I have noted from time to time on the entire idea of Christianophobia. This entry will deal with the myth that Christianophobia does not exist.

Let me clarify what I mean when I talk about whether Christianophobia exists or not. I am not talking about whether there are people who do not like Christians. Obviously that is the case for any social group. Christianophobia is the unreasonable hatred and/or fear of Christians. In the United States this has usually manifested itself against conservative Christians. Indeed given the results of research I recently blogged about, it is reasonable to consider whether there is significant Christianophobia among progressive Christians. My argument is that the level of hatred and fear is nontrivial and that we can see some of the effects of this Christianophobia in the larger society. I am not arguing that Christianophobia is worse than other types of intolerances. Indeed my contention is that it is worse in some situations but irrelevant in others. But I do argue that it exists and is a factor in our society. In this entry, I will document its existence and show a couple of examples of how it has manifested itself.

Let us start with assertions that are beyond dispute. First, some of the sentiments towards Christians are clearly over the top and offer face validity of Christianophobia. In my book, So Many Christians, So Few Lions I documented several times when respondents “joked” about feeding Christians to lions. Jokes of torturing people to death can be seen as hyperbole; however, such jokes are also rightly seen as immoral when launched against other social groups. One needs not look at my respondents to see other distasteful hyperbole towards Christians that are distasteful and unreasonable. Review of comments place at Patheos and other Christian blogs often reveal comments that are as demonizing and depersonalizing as comments of some of my respondents. So yes those with unreasonable hatred of Christians do exist. The second undisputable fact is that there are a lot of people with at least lower levels of disaffinity towards conservative Christians. In my book I documented that around a third of the country have some animosity towards them and other work show a fourth of all Americans are unwilling to vote for an evangelical Christian.

A more disputable question is what percentage of those with disaffinity towards conservative Christians also possess the type of unreasonable attitudes connected with Christianophobia. It may be that only a tiny percentage of all Americans have the sort of dehumanizing attitudes that find pleasure in thinking about lions tearing Christians apart. It may be up to about a third of the country that dehumanizes conservative Christians in such a manner, yet with our current data we cannot determine the extent to which Christianophobia characterized social attitudes. We do know, from my quantitative results, that those with Christianophobic attitudes are more likely to be white, male, wealthy, and highly educated. Thus the people with Christianophobia tend to have a high level of per-capita social power.

Statements about feeding Christians to lions are unreasonable expressions, but I want to go beyond hyperbole when assessing the unreasonableness of Christianophobia. There were certain patterns of thought that, while not as mean-spirited, also were unreasonable. For example, many of my respondents talked about Christians wanting to bring about a theocracy. Conservative Christians want what other interest groups want, which is to push forward the issues they care about. This does not make what they want a theocracy where they would appoint clergy to rule in the name of God. The conservative Christians I know want people to become Christians but are not attempting to use the government to force such a conversion. And attempts to push one’s theological ideas do not end with Christians. Indeed one could argue that the recent statements by Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United, that Christian schools should house same-sex married couples in their schools as attempts to impose theological changes in those schools. Why should this not be considered the imposition of a theocracy while efforts of conservative Christians to end a practice (abortion) they consider to be murder are consider theocratic? The claim that conservative Christians are uniquely attempting to set up a theocracy is the type of irrationality one would expect when individuals are motivated by hatred and anger instead of mere disagreement.

There are other assertions that seem to come from an unrealistic hatred or fear of conservative Christians. Remember that those with Christianophobia are more likely to be white than others in society? Yet one of their criticisms of conservative Christians is that it is a religion for whites. Comparing the population of those with some level of anti-Christian disaffinity to Christians who believe that the Bible is the word of God indicates that those with anti-Christian disaffinity are significantly more likely to be white (71.3% v. 50.9%). It seems to be a misplaced criticism to talk about conservative Christians being too white when the subculture the criticism comes from is even more “white.” Yet this lack of introspection is understandable if the criticism comes not from a reasonable assessment of those conservative Christians but from an unreasonable hatred that simply seeks to locate negative stereotypes to attach to those Christians.

My quantitative research also indicated that those with high levels of Christianophobia are more likely to be politically progressive and to have low levels of religiosity. These factors are important when I qualitatively explored these attitudes. Part of the social identity of those with Christianophobia is the notion that they are tolerant. The notion of religious neutrality is also part of this ideology. Thus they are relatively hesitant to directly punish Christians for their faith. Yet there is not a need for such individuals to directly threaten their religious out-groups. Some of my respondents talked about using rules that disproportionately punish conservative Christians as long as a rule can be justified for non-bigoted reasons. In studies of race and ethnicity this has sometimes been called symbolic, or aversive, racism. Just like Americans today want to avoid being labeled as racist, those with Christianophobia want to avoid being labeled as bigoted. In similar ways to see whether there is an effect in society, we have to assess whether institutionalized disparate impact results from the efforts of those with Christianophobia. Given that they have high levels of per-capita social power, many of them may be in a position to support such institutional efforts.

Let us see if we can find an example of disparate impact. There has been an argument about public accommodations that state that businesses have to serve everybody. And several Christian businesses have gotten in trouble for refusing to serve same-sex weddings. These stories are so well known that there is little need for me to identify them. But I have yet to hear of a recent case where a non-Christian has been prosecuted for not serving the entire public. I did a quick Google search for public accommodations concerning weddings and only found accusations against Christians. In fact, it was hard to find any recent accusation of public accommodations where a Christian was not the accused. One way to interpret this fact pattern is to assert that only Christians refuse to serve the entire public. Yet that is simply not true.

So what is the conclusion even though others refuse service that basically the only ones running afoul are Christians? When we have seen laws that disproportionately impact a social group, we have talked about the disparate impact of those laws. Generally if it is a group we want to protect then we need strong justification for those laws. For example, immigration laws today are generally scrutinized because we recognize that they can disproportionately impact certain racial or ethnic groups. While Christians are not a recognized minority group, religion is a category by which we are not supposed to discriminate. So in theory, a Christian should not legally be subject to discriminatory behavior more than those of any other faith or nonfaith.

Given the legal requirements to not discriminate based on religion and the willingness of those with Christianophobia to use disparate impact measures, Christianophobia is at least part of the reason why only today it seems that Christian business are prosecuted as noncompliant with this particular offence. I have a hard time believing that these prosecutions are due to the principle of public accommodations since those principles should be content neutral. Clearly the different ways businesses are treated depend on whether they are a Christian business or not which shows that this principle is not being applied in a content neutral way. It is much more reasonable to assert that those with Christianophobia have helped to interpret public accommodation laws in ways to disparately impact the Christians they do not like. I am certain that some critics will work hard to differentiate between the actions of Christian businesses and others; however, when the only guilty businesses are Christian, then one should be suspicious. Indeed I submit that those who attempt to differentiate between the Christian and other businesses would act completely differently if atheists or Muslim businesses were the only ones being punished with the application of anything similar to public accommodations.

Does this mean that Christianophobia is the only explanation of these actions? Such patterns are generally too complex to be explained by a single factor. Yet, it is hard to image that Christianophobia does not play some role. I do not believe that racism is the only factor accounting for the immigration policy desires of conservatives. But given how “get-tough” immigration policy generally impacts certain groups of color, it is naïve to suppose that racism does not play some role in support of those policies. This is true even though there are Europeans, or whites, who occasionally are punished with immigration laws. When there are not Muslim or homosexual businesses punished, but clearly Christian businesses are punished, then we have even more evidence that part of the motivation is driven by anti-Christian animosity. Combine this observation with the tendency of those with Christianophobia to hide their animosity with disparate impact measure and their desire to drive Christians from the public square, then we see that Christianophobia may be the best, although not only, explanation for the way public accommodations laws have recently been enforced.

There are several social events or patterns that are explained, at least partially, by looking at theories of Christianophobia. Obviously, I do not have the time to illustrate all of them in this short blog. In So Many Christians, So Few Lions I provide a deeper discussion of possible ways Christianophobia can manifest in our society. The example above provides a situation where Christianophobia is an excellent explanatory theory. But most people are not working in an industry that deals with weddings and so it is limited in scope. So I look to education to see evidence that Christianophobia may influence our higher educational system. The reality affects not just those who attend higher education but just about everyone since highly educated individuals have significant societal influence.

In a previous blog I enunciated the evidence of anti-Christian academic bias. Research has shown that conservative Christians systematically face prejudice among academics, and this prejudice results in those Christians being in lower status positions, even after controlling for their academic accomplishments. We have documented cases, such as Mike Adams, that provide the anecdotal evidence of anti-Christian discrimination. I have heard arguments that there is not any significant anti-Christian discrimination since Christian colleges are able to discriminate against non-Christians. That is like arguing that there is not racial discrimination since there are a few black barber shops that do not hire whites. The evidence indicates that there is an institutional wide disadvantage for conservative Christians, and any small advantage they may gain from a few Christian colleges and universities is negated by the moderate to huge disadvantage they face due to de facto discrimination.

What is occurring in our educational system offers more evidence for Christianophobia. Higher education is an institution that prides itself on being open to other cultures yet does not seem to have the ability to recognize anti-Christian bias. Many of the stereotypes and fears documented in my research help explain this inability. This explains why research has documented that social conservatives have to be more qualified to obtain a similar position as other academics. This explains why there are documented efforts to sabotage the promotion of conservative Christians in academia. On the one hand, such efforts go against the desire of those with Christianophobia to portray themselves as religiously neutral. On the other hand, this discrimination usually happens behind closed doors where the ugliness of prejudice and discrimination is often allowed to flourish.

These are two examples of how Christianophobia is manifested in society. Future work can explore the degree to which Christianophobia impacts our society but these examples, as well as others discussed in my book, document that Christianophobia does have a real effect, and that effect is not trivial. I anticipate some who will say that these two examples are not proof that Christianophobia has a major impact in our society. They will argue that I do not have people admitting that they are discriminating against Christians. Yet few people openly admit that they are discriminating against blacks, and we still talk about racism. Methinks some critics have a different standard of evaluation for Christianophobia than for other types of intolerances. If there are rules that are disproportionately enforced on a given social group and there is powerful evidence that members of that social group face discrimination in an important social institution, such as higher education, then that is strong evidence that the group is being unreasonably treated in some quarters of the society. It is logical to assert that such unreasonable treatment is motivated by hate and/or fear.

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.