Christianophobia and Racism – The Similarities

In my last post, I discussed the differences between racism and Christianophobia. I am often asked if I think Christianophobia is the same as racism. I am always careful to note that there are critical differences between the two. I do not want to create the false impression that to be Christianophobic is the same as to be racist. I have seen this emotional, but overly simplistic, technique of conflating different types of bigotries used too much and so I have taken great care to make sure I do not employ it myself.
However, this is not to say that there are not similarities between those who are Christianophobic and those who are racist. Because those with Christianophobia (higher educated, politically progressive, wealthy) are quite different from those who tend to be racist (lower educated, more rural), it is reasonable to argue that similar qualities of Christianophobia and racism reflect similarities in all sorts of intolerances. There is no subculture free of bigotry and intolerance. As such the real question is not whether the group you hang out with is intolerant, but rather against whom are they intolerant. Once we know that, then the similarities in this blog suggest how that intolerance is likely to play itself out.
Unreasonable Hatred – The first similarity is that both racists and Christianophobes have an unreasonable level of hatred for those who they reject. This is pretty clear when discussing racists. Clearly, racists make unreasonable demands that people of color be denied their freedom to work where they want, to live where they want and even in extreme cases to live. While today we do not see a lot of racists making extreme statements, the undercurrent of racism is the treatment of people due to their skin color, or other superficial physical characteristics. It often plays out in unreasonable stereotypes and assertions about people of color. All reasonable people can see this as unjustified.
The dynamics of Christianophobia are a little different in that people are hated for what they believe instead of what they look like. But Christianophobia is also based on unreasonable hatred. My research indicates that people with Christianophobia do not believe that conservative Christians should be able to have a place in the public square. They do not deny this right to other groups, and it is not reasonable to deny it to conservative Christians. Of course there are other ways this unreasonable hatred can manifest itself such as joking about feeding Christians to lions, or refusing to hire them for academic positions, but that may be the most impactful way this hatred manifests itself.
Justification of Bigotry – Another similarity between racists and those with Christianophobia is their willingness to justify their bigotry. Indeed often they assert that what they are doing is for the good of the society and sometimes even for those they are discriminating against. Historically, racists justified enslaving blacks or placing Indians on reservations since these were people who needed the “guidance” of whites. Racists today do not tend to use such arguments but rather talk about the good of society. Thus, they may ban Middle Easterners from the United States because they believe that we need protection from those outsiders.
The tendency to justify bigotry is not limited to racists. Those with Christianophobia would argue that they must ban Christians from the public square for the good of the nation. My research indicated that one of the ways people with Christianophobia de-humanize Christians is by envisioning them as childlike and unable to think for themselves. Such stereotypes allow those with Christianophobia to justify treating Christians in ways they would not treat other groups. After all, I seriously doubt they would see a child’s onesie with a statement about too many Jews and not enough ovens as acceptable. Yet someone is buying this for their kid.
Let me be clear that I know that both the racist and the Christianophobe are sincere in their beliefs that their bigotry is justified. The racist truly believes that those of “inferior” races are dragging our society into the gutter and must be controlled. Likewise, the Christianophobe truly believes that those of “inferior” religious beliefs are taking our society backwards into a Dark Age whereby all who do not have the true faith will be harassed and punished. They contend that conservative Christians must be controlled or they will set up a theocracy that will end science and reason. The fact that both of these beliefs are nonsense does not mean that those who have these ideas are not sincere in their beliefs. I do not accept the rhetoric that people with bigotry only maintain that intolerance due to their own self-interest. Rather they really believe that they are doing the right thing. In the end, that may make it all the more difficult to deal with such bigotry.
Dehumanizing of the Other – I have already briefly talked about how those with Christianophobia sometimes dehumanize conservative Christians. In my research, I identified several patterns of their dehumanization. This type of dehumanization was based on seeing conservative Christians as more animalistic than human. But rather than go through all of those patterns, I can simply point out the way those with Christianophobia often use the imagery of animals when talking about Christians. They speak of Christians as sheep and lemmings as well as zombies (though that is technically not an animal, it is still pretty dehumanizing). These comments came up so often in my respondents’ answers to my question that it is hard for me not to believe that it is not commonplace to talk of Christians as if they were animals.
Unfortunately, animalistic descriptions are also quite common among racists as well. What differs is the type of animals used to describe those in the minority racial groups. Apes and beasts are terms that racists may use to describe people of color. Thus, the animals used to describe racial minorities denote a savagery, whereas the animals used to describe Christians denote a mindless passivity. Neither description is what we would call flattering. Both descriptions have the effect of making the targeted group seem less than human. We know that when minority racial groups have been seen as less than human, it then becomes easier to justify the removal of their human rights. Perhaps this animalistic tendency on the part of those with Christianophobia is also necessary for them to justify differential treatment due to religion such as attempting to remove Christians in the public square or being less willing to hire Christians in academia.
Deny that they have a problem – This is a similarity that is not quite accurate if we are talking about traditional racism from our past. Those racists had no problem admitting that they were racist. Indeed they sometimes were proud of being racist. But today there are few who will admit to being racist even if it is clear that they are. They will struggle to find a way to explain their actions and attitudes in ways that deny the potential racism motivating them. Race and ethnicity literature is full of efforts to denote this type of modern racism with concepts such as colorblind racism, aversive racism and symbolic racism. Ultimately, they describe a version of racism by someone who will deny that they are racist.
This same issue comes up when we look at Christianophobia. Those with Christianophobia are quick to deny that they have a problem. I have been amused at the sort of gymnastics some have employed when I have pointed out situations where it is clear that the behavior would not have taken place, or if it had it would have been seen as unacceptable, except that the person victimized was a conservative Christian. For example, when I point out my research that shows that academics are willing to discriminate against hiring someone because they are a fundamentalist or evangelical, the most common response is not to criticize how the research was done. Instead the person generally accepts the findings of the research but then justifies such occupational discrimination with anti-Christian stereotypes (i.e. Christians are not able to critically think). It is quite obvious that such discrimination would not be justified if used against Jews or Muslims based on Anti-Semitic or Islamophobic stereotypes. It is a classic case of denial when it is quite clear that there are Christianophobic tendencies on the part of a non-trivial number of academics.
These similarities suggest important lessons about the nature of intolerance. They indicate that intolerance and bigotry lead to unreasonable emotive and dehumanizing patterns, even among those who envision themselves as rational. It leads to a denial of the problem at a personal level and ironically attempts to justify mistreatment of the out-group. These are tendencies that I do not believe are relegated to only certain subcultures. Our ability to hate and mistreat out-groups seems to be part of the human condition. Only by recognizing this reality can we have the ability to engage in the level of introspection necessary to combat the intolerance residing in our hearts.

Christianophobia and Racism – The Differences

I find myself in a very unique position. I have done quite a bit of recent research on anti-Christian attitudes and biases. In the past, I have also done a lot of scholarly work dealing with racial issues. I do not know of anyone who has an expertise in both Christianophobia and racism. That places me in a position to understand both social dysfunctions.
When I have publically discussed my work I am often asked whether Christianophobia is like racism. I have always answered in the negative. In my writing, I make it clear that there are important differences between Christianophobia and racism. However, this is not to say that are no similarities between these two types of intolerances. There are certain commonalities within expressions of bigotry regardless of whether that bigotry is triggered by race or religious hatred. In that sense, understanding the differences and similarities between Christianophobia and racism can provide insight into human nature. In this current blog, I will look at the differences between the two, and my next blog will deal with the similarities. It will by no means be an exhaustive survey of such distinctions, and similarities, but hopefully I will touch on the main ones and generate an opening conversation about differences between racism and Christianophobia.
Violence – An important difference between racism and Christianophobia is the level of violence associated with each. As it concerns racial issues, we have a history of violence perpetrated against people of color. Even today when we look at what troubles activists of color, it is often tied to fear of violence or actual violence. For example, much of the recent conflict of late is tied to the criminal justice system and the shooting of black men. People of color fear for their lives and physical safety due to the racism they continue to address.
On the other hand, there is little fear of violence as it pertains to Christianophobia. This is not true if we are talking about some of the horrors that occurred to Christians historically or if we look at how Christians are mistreated in some countries. However in the United States, with the exception of some church burnings, there is little evidence that violence is a concern that Christians must face. I believe that this difference is tied to contrasts between who tends to possess racism and who tends to have Christianophobia. The powerful individuals who tend to have Christianophobia do not need to use violence to punish their outgroup while those who are racist tend to come from more violence-oriented cultures.
Innate versus Choice – Another clear difference is that race is innate whereby religion is a choice. Now I have to be careful about what I mean by innate. Any good race scholar will tell you that race is a social construction. Our notions of race identity are tied to how society decides to differentiate between the various races. I do an entire lecture on the social construction of race in one of my first classes in my race/ethnicity course, but I do not have the space to really go into it here. Just trust me that the social construction of race is well-established in race/ethnicity literature. It is also useful to point out that religion may not be as much of a choice as we like to think that it is. We are highly likely to wind up in the religion that we grew up in. It is true that many people convert in and out of different religions and some, like myself, have a crisis of faith that forces them to seriously consider whether the religion they are in is right. But honestly most people drift through life and accept it without much introspection. The religion one finds oneself in is clearly more of a choice than the race one is assigned. While society decides how to define race, I cannot easily change that decision. I can go around all I want saying that I am white, but I will still be treated as a black. There is pressure on us to maintain the religion we grow up in, but we still can pick an identity that differs from that religion. While there may be costs associated to making that decision, it still will be a decision that most will abide by. If a Christian deconverts to an atheist, there are not many people who will insist that he or she is still a Christian. So in the aggregate, this distinction is still very important.
It is an important distinction because we tend to treat those with innate qualities different than those with characteristics associated with choice. If it is a choice, then we tend to hold them more responsible for the situation they are in. That does not mean that we can mistreat people due to a status they choose. Note the condemnation of Islamophobia. But it does mean that we can ask them to stop doing what they did to create that status. People may ask me to stop being a Christian or at least to stop advocating for Christians. Nobody is going to ask me to stop being black. If they did, they would get a funny look from me and from anyone else who heard this request. It seems much more unfair to punish someone for a status (race) they had no say in possessing and there is more room to legitimate some discrimination for a status (religion) where people do have a choice.
Historical Status – Historically, people of color have had lower levels of social status than European-Americans. I, along with most other race scholars, would argue that this is still the case even though we have a black president. Nevertheless, it is clear that people of color have never enjoyed majority group status. This is not the case for Christians. Clearly throughout much of our history, Christians have had majority group status. In certain aspects of our society, they still have majority group status. However, in other areas, such as academia, the mounting evidence suggests this majority group status is a thing of the past.
When I teach race and ethnicity, I tell my students that we cannot understand contemporary race relationships without also understanding the history that contextualizes those relationships. Indeed if we want to understand much of the current conflict over police shootings, we have to understand the larger historical context of how the criminal justice system has been used to control African-Americans. It is a mistake to look at a single shooting and come to conclusions about racial conflict. Likewise, the history of Christians as the majority group has contextualized the current religious conflict we see in our society. Because Christians at one time had majority group status in most, if not all, of the sectors of society, there is a buildup dam of resentment they face today. Is that resentment justified? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But its existence creates a different element in anti-Christian bigotry as opposed to racial bigotry.
Who Hates – This is a key difference which really positions Christianophobia to be distinct from racism. Research indicates that those who tend to have overt types of racism tend to be lower educated, lower SES, politically conservative and, of course, white. My work in Christianophobia indicates that those with it tend to be highly educated, wealthy, white and male. In many ways, these are the people with powerful societal positions. Those with Christianophobia have an ability to punish Christians in ways that most racist individuals are not able to do.
This difference affects many of the dimensions shaping Christianophobia and racism. Remember the discussion on the differing roles of violence? Individuals with powerful positions in society are not likely to directly engage in violence. If they are caught engaging in violence, they often have more to lose in terms of reputation and status than those with lower levels of education and wealth. Furthermore, those with Christianophobia are more likely to have progressive political values, which would increase the possible loss they would experience if caught engaging in violence. This does not mean that they are above mistreating Christians, but they will do it through their institutional power rather than a violent attack. This and many other differences, are tied to who has Christianophobia and who has racism.
Goals – A final difference is the goals of those with Christianophobia and those with racism. The goals of racists can vary over time and place, but it is fair to say that generally they want to either eliminate the inferior race or subjugate them to do the necessary dirty jobs in society. In old fashioned racism, there is not much hiding of these goals. As racism has fallen out of favor as something to be desired in society, we have less of the old fashioned racism although the tendency to see one’s racial group as superior has not completely disappeared.
The goals of those with Christianophobia are different. Their social identity as progressives prevents them from overtly planning the elimination of Christians. However, they have developed the stereotypes and fears about Christians. Because of those stereotypes/fears, they can justify trying to control and subjugate Christians. Many of the comments from the respondents in my research have focused upon trying to keep Christians out of the public square. I have discussed in a previous blog why such a goal is unfair and will not waste space here. But just as the racist believes that he or she is in a superior belief, those with Christianophobia believe that they are superior in religious belief to conservative Christians. But how they want to reinforce that feeling of superiority is quite distinct.
Many of these differences work together to create the unique challenges we have with Christianophobia and racism. That is to be expected as each is a phenomenon that has to be understood on its own. However, each also touches on dimensions that are all too common among humans. Looking at some of those commonalities is the focus of my next blog.

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.

The Personal and the Political: Violence in our World

In talking about one of the recent crises in our world, a friend commented that he/she was trying to refrain from being too political in analysis. Since that time about a week ago, the feminist refrain, “the personal is political,” has been consistently on my mind. When feminists discussed the personal being political, part of the argument is that sexism isn’t just something people (especially women) experience in personal relationships – it’s about the political structures we are a part of shaping all of our relationships. That’s something that’s true for both those who benefit and those who lose.

I’m very aware that as a white, middle-class, well-educated woman living in the United States, too often I have the privilege of allowing myself to think in personal, versus political terms much of the time. When I think about the start of the new school year for my daughters [only two days away!], I can focus on such things about what they will learn or which talents I want to help them develop. I can think about what will make them thrive, the question almost all parents want to think about for their children. Even when I engage with political issues, I can think about the personal…. How will they choose to engage with diversity? How can I constructively teach them about racism today? How can I help them to become better at understanding the perspectives of others?

I am also aware what I DO NOT have to think about, because of my white privilege. Every story of violence, happening in the US Midwest, at the US border, or in Iraq, reminds me of this reality. I don’t wonder if my daughters will be shot out of fear, will be unwelcome because of their immigration status, or will be tortured because of their Christianity. Living in a system where my daughters are largely protected by the state means I can focus on their thriving versus their protection.

Those questions of thriving, while cast as personal, are very political. For white Christians living in the United States, our privilege can blind us to the ways that personal lives are shaped by political realities. For the most part (and I recognize this is not true all the time for everyone), we are materially “safe” from political decisions that are made. My physical life, and those of my children, are usually not threatened by a political policy. Yet the fact that my children benefit from an unequal (and yes, racist) society is just as political as the realities of children being denied their human dignity because of their race or immigration status or religion.

If I am honest, when I engage in causes for justice, it is something I often feel I can pick up (and drop) when I like. I can forget, for an instant, that black men’s lives are not valued when I play with my white daughters. I can forget, for an instant, that praising Jesus doesn’t come with a threat of bodily harm. I can forget, for an instant, about the thousands of Central American children, separated from their families, who are being denied dignity as my daughters are welcomed in their schools and neighborhoods. When in the company of other people, I also find there is even the expectation that I should forget these things… to just relax, to have fun, to enjoy life.

Even as I know that my life and life chances are undeniably intertwined with those of others around me, I can chose to forget this. Here is a list of things I commit to doing — some I’ve mentioned before — to not obscure that reality:

1. Voting and advocating for political change. Police forces, for example, need to have better training, and match the racial demographics of their communities. Immigration law needs to change. Foreign policy needs to take more seriously non-“American” lives. These are often not the single-issue topics that grasp the attention of the public in the United States, but they shape the lives of families everywhere.

2. Acknowledge that the oppression and violence directed towards others is linked with the benefits and protection I receive… that racism doesn’t just affect the lives of Black Americans, but of White Americans. Michael Brown’s death is about both the fact that the lives of Black Americans are undervalued AND that white Americans lives are valued more. Talk with that about my daughters, my students. Many people, for example, don’t believe that we still deal with much institutional racism in our society, which is one of the first steps towards changing it. Education and discussion are important.

3. Use my wealth in ways to support positive and healthy relationships, especially in regards to issues of race, nationality. In this blog, I mention the importance of our purchases.

4. Be critical towards my consumption of media and other public information. In another blog last year, I mentioned why this is so important in shaping stereotypes and how we think about others. One statement made in defense of Darren Wilson (the officer who shot Michael Brown six times) is that he was scared.

5. Pray and Worship and engage in Bible Study. In the gospel of Luke (3:10-14), John the Baptist calls for those repenting and turning to God to be in right relationship with others, especially those who are marginalized. When the crowd asks what to do to repent, he tells them to share your clothes and food with those who have none. When the tax collectors ask what to do, he tells them to not take more money than they must. When the soldiers ask what to do, he tells them to be just with people and to not extort money. I am thankful to serve a God who sees those right relationships with others as central to what it means to believe and repent. I want to join with God in God’s mission for the world. I do not think we should be obedient to God in the name of pursuing justice; we should be obedient because we are called too. However, better understanding God’s heart can help us to live more justly.


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