Christians cannot be Mistreated

Christians cannot be Mistreated May 11, 2019

When I teach my sociology of religion class, I have creative way of introducing the students to the topic of Christianophobia. The section right before my discussion of that topic is antisemitism. So I tell the students of a study done at a megachurch. The study had about three to four thousand respondents who filled out a survey with open and close ended questions. They were asked about Jews. I tell the students that among the responses were these “gems.”

My favorite bumpersticker, “So many Jews, so few ovens.”
Bring back the Ovens.
Not enough ovens. They have abandoned their Jewish views for a political position.
I wish we could start putting them in ovens again, or burn them at the stake.
FILL THE OVENS.
Put them in the ovens.
So many Jews, so few ovens.

Then I allow the students to vent their anger at this church. I point out that it is only 7 responses out of thousands of respondents. But that does not satisfy my students. They conclude that the church must have an atmosphere that allows for such antisemitism. I do not disagree with my students.

But then I indicate that I have done a switcharoo. The study is not of a megachurch but of several cultural progressive organizations. There was a survey with nearly 4,000 respondents but instead of Jews the topic was conservative Christians. And the actual comments were:

My favorite bumpersticker, “So many Christians, so few lions.”
Bring back the Lions.
Not enough lions. They have abandoned their Christian views for a political position.
I wish we could start feeding them to lions again, or burn them at the stake.
FEED THE LIONS
Feed them to the lions
So many Christians, so few lions.

If you have read my book on Christianophobia, you will know that this is similar to how David Williamson and I start the book. I think it a useful way to consider if we as a society are willing to treat Christians in ways we would not treat other religious groups.

The response to my students over the past few years has been quite telling. Some of them immediately see the relevance of the comparison and come to the conclusion that both set of statements are equally troubling. Others intellectually know that both statements are wrong but cannot help but feel that the antisemitic statements are worse. Finally, some try to find ways to justify the Christianophobic statements as not that bad. They see them as either jokes or not as relevant since Christians are not being killed. (They do not seem to realize that by most estimates Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world).

This type of reaction is troubling to me for obvious reasons. I set up a scenario where two religious groups are treated exactly equally. The students can clearly see that they are both treated equally bad. Yet some of the students deny what is clearly before them and argue that one group is being treated worse in this given scenario. It seems that evidence of Christianophobia is not sufficient for convincing some individuals of its existence.

This has brought me to a sobering conclusion as I deal with the reality of Christianophobia in the United States. I believe that some individuals are unable to see anti-Christian discrimination no matter what evidence is presented to them. For them the cultural narrative that Christians are the dominant group is simply too powerful for them to consider alternative information.

I have marshalled strong evidence that Christians do face discrimination in key areas of our society, even as I acknowledged that they enjoy certain social advantages as well. Most notably, it is clear to me being a conservative Christian will work against an academic due to discrimination against him or her. Yet, if I am correct then my assumption that empirical evidence will convince some individuals that Christianophobia is a problem has been naïve at best. The cultural voices in their head will overwhelm any empirical evidence they receive and they cannot envision Christians being mistreated in any systematic way in our society.

My work on academic bias is not the only piece of evidence I have concerning this inability to conceive of Christians being mistreated. Alicia Brunson and I did an audit study with media personnel whereby they received similar scenarios but we exchanged different groups in those scenarios. So we had a scenario of a shooting in a church and one of a shooting in a mosque. Our respondents saw the church shooting as an example of the misuse of guns while seeing the mosque shooting as Islamophobia. We had a scenario of a professor making Christianophobic comments and homophobic comments. Our respondents focused on free speech with the professor making Christianophobic comments but hate speech with the homophobic comments. So scenarios were the same, but there was a different level of willingness to admit if Christians were being attacked simply for being Christians.

I think this may be behind the use of the “Easter worshippers.” I do not want to make too much of it but that does seem like an awkward way to describe the victims of the Sri Lanka attacks. Just saying Christians would have been pretty straight forward. But a hesitation to contextualize Christians as a group that can be mistreated would make one hesitate to directly state that the victim of such horrific attacks are Christians. One can lament the obvious unjust attacks without admitting that their religious identity is the main reason why these Christians were attacked.

So why the hesitation to admit that there are times that Christians are mistreated? I can speculate a couple of reasons for this. One is simply that victimhood can be currency in our society today. One can use that currency to gain political and social victories. In a society as polarized as ours, those who oppose conservative Christians may be eager to make sure that those Christians can never claim victimhood.

But there may be an even more basic reason for this tendency. I have already alluded to the fact that some of this tendency comes from certain cultural norms. In many sectors of our society there is a general assumption about the power of Christians. Christians are seen as living in a culture made for them and as such it is inconceivable that they would be unfairly treated. This attitude may be so powerful that even when Christians are abused in other countries it is hard to consider that they are suffering because they are Christians.

There are reasons to hold to such beliefs. Indeed for most of our history, Christians have enjoyed advantages that escaped those in other religious groups or the non-religious. And it is true that some Christians exaggerate the problem they face. Even though anti-Christian discrimination is quite real, I am on the record as being disturbed by the ease with which some Christians talk about being persecuted in the United States.

So it is understandable why some individuals have a hard time envisioning that Christians can face discrimination and prejudice in our society. But this does not mean that we should excuse their unwillingness to look at the evidence of Christianophobia when it is put right before them. Such unwillingness will make anti-Christian bigotry even more powerful since even obvious evidence of prejudice and discrimination will be dismissed by a significant section of the population.

Some are amazed that some of the latest polls indicating that half of all Americans say that evangelicals face discrimination. A common theme is that Christians cannot be discriminated against since they are so powerful. They are only losing their privilege, and that feels like discrimination. And yet given what I know about discrimination against Christians in places like higher education, I too would have answered the question as yes, Christian are discriminated against in our society. Elements of our culture deny that reality, but it still does not alter the truth.

We do not do nuance very well. Our culture has promoted the idea that Christians are always oppressors and never victims in any systematic way. And there are historical and contemporary examples of Christians mistreating others. But the notion that Christians are always the villains in our encounters simply does not comport with a nuanced understanding of reality. And given that those with Christianophobia are more likely to be wealthy and educated, and thus quite powerful, it stands to reason that certain sectors of our society will be especially prone to discriminate against Christians.

Can we change the culture so that more individuals become open to the possibility of anti-Christian discrimination? That is going to be a tough job. It is very hard to alter cultural beliefs as they are deeply ingrained into how we think about social reality. And the job was made much harder by the support of conservative Christians of a president who is held in such low esteem by younger individuals. Those individuals will eventually take over the reins of social control, and they will not forget the fact that conservative Christians supported a president who traffics in sexism and race baiting. So ultimately I am pessimistic that, at least in the short term, we can change our culture to one that takes seriously issues of Christianophobia.

Of course that does not mean that we as Christians should do nothing. We should confront anti-Christian bigotry when we find it. We should be aware that for some individuals, evidence will not suffice to convince them of that bigotry. We also have to protect ourselves by developing our own communities and supporting one another. I do not want this discussion to encourage fatalism. However, I do want us to be realistic about the depth of denial we will encounter as we tackle anti-Christian bigotry.

Update: I guess I should have wrote this line twice. “Even though anti-Christian discrimination is quite real, I am on the record as being disturbed by the ease with which some Christians talk about being persecuted in the United States. ” Seriously even if you do not follow the link it is clear that I am disputing calling what Christians face in the U.S. as persecution. The failure of some of you to see that indicates that you really did not read this blog to see if I had evidence but rather to automatically argue against the premise. And ironically in doing that you support my overall argument that certain individuals cannot accept evidence of systematic discrimination of Christians no matter how much evidence is presented to them.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Maine_Skeptic

    No doubt, this dissent will be seen as more persecution. So be it.

    Eighty-three percent of white Evangelicals voted for a blatant racist and fascist, and you’re worried about Christians in America being persecuted? Women’s rights are daily under attack from the religious right, and you’re worried about CHRISTIANS being persecuted? Immigrants are demonized, and Evangelicals support the president in traumatizing their children, and you’re worried about the majority religion in this country being persecuted?

    This is your priority? Not holding your brethren to task for the persecution THEY are dishing out on everyone else? Not on demanding that the president be held accountable for his many, many crimes?

    Just so we’re clear on this, I do not hold Christianity responsible for the debasement of America being done by Evangelicals. I don’t even hold Evangelicalism responsible. I recognize that any group of people who are coddled and kissed up to their entire lives will behave like spoiled brats, and white Christians have been told their entire lives that they are the backbone of America. But no one deserves to be hated for who they are, even those who specialize in persecuting others.

    You, however, are feeding the beast with articles like this one.

    • georgeyancey

      Come on. You know I have taken Christians to task for supporting Trump. One can both be mad at Christians for supporting Trump and be concerned about the anti-Christian bias in our society. And please do not link the term persecution to me when I stated in the article that Christians face discrimination but not persecution. I recognize the distinctions between them.

      • Dizzy The Egg (Donalbain)

        You haven’t taken them to task for supporting Trump. At most you have said it was a tactical error.

  • Al Cruise

    Your article is all anecdotal. You seem to have mastered the art of taking anecdotal events and turning them into something that is mainstream. Your brand of Christianity is not being persecuted the way you would like it to be. Your not fooling anyone here. What is really happening to your brand of Christianity? It is beginning to fade away like many other tribalistic theologies in the past. It will just be quietly swept into the dust bin of history, due to people leaving , and young people not interested in joining. Once the money dries up it’s days will be numbered. The real persecution you and your brand is going to experience is lack of interest. How’s that book of yours doing?

    • georgeyancey

      Actually if you follow the links to my research you will see that my work is systematic in nature. Check out my blog “revising compromising scholarship” for more systematic work. Also I find the tribalism comment interesting. I mean what is more tribalistic than the woke identity politics that is behind some of the anti-Christian attitudes in our society.

  • JustNTyme

    Although there were several thousand reasons for not voting for that Clinton woman in 2016, my top 2 were her “basket of deplorables” (of which I am one, apparently) and this zinger from the Secretary of State in 2015: “Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatosever to do with terrorism.” Excuse me, ma’am? “Nothing whatsoever”? You’re that blind – or delusional – and you want to be POTUS? Not gonna happen, toots.

    For the secular left – and, come to think of it, for the “Christian” left too – any hostility to Muslims is bad, but you can bash “deplorables” 24/7 and people will nod in assent. If you bring up jihad, or Muslims’ treatment of women, you’ll get the “Christians are just as bad” or “Christians have done worse” line. The recently deceased Rachel Evans wrote 4 books bashing evangelical Christians up and down, and she won a huge following of people who call themselves Christians. The poor woman had absolutely no clue what REAL oppression of women is, she just loved the sound of applause when she threw out the buzzwords “patriarchy” and “misogyny” and “literalists.” We’re already seeing lots of people who identify as evangelicals jumping on the bash-the-deplorables band-wagon, and most of the evangelical colleges who had sports teams named “Crusaders” caved in to Political Correctness and chose name less “offensive.” This may be the first time in history that a big percentage of people who identify as Christian are openly hostile to the actual practice of traditional Christianity, so hostile that when there is clear evidence of actual persecution here in the US (e.g., the Jack Phillips case), they’ll tell us to stop playing the victim, because after all, persecution is worse in other countries. Despite the fact that the liberal churches are declining rapidly in membership, they are on the winning side of the culture wars, because numerous “evangelicals” (especially the young) are more and more siding with the culture and against Christians. I suspect the “righteous remnant” is going to be much much smaller than anyone would have predicted.

    • Iain Lovejoy

      Your best example of Christian “persecution” is having to make someone you disagree with a cake? Jews and Muslims would go in bended knees begging for that to be their “persecution”.

      • JustNTyme

        These Christian-run businesses have been dragged through the legal wringer and forced to pay hundreds of thousand dollars in fines. In Oregon, Aaron and Melissa Klein of Sweet Cakes bakery were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for ONE lesbian couple. Does that strike you as “justice”? Jack Phillips was ordered by the state of Colorado to cease making ANY wedding cakes, which was 40 percent of his income – all for refusing to bake a wedding cake for ONE homosexual couple. I think an objective observer would agree that having your income reduced by 40 percent for refusing to bake ONE cake is draconian, and would count as persecution. Phillips’ fines and legal fees make the Kleins’ $135,000 fine seem tiny by comparison.

        Granted, they have not been killed or imprisoned or assaulted – but they have been placed in dire financial straits, plus the negative publicity, the constant harassment by phones and letters and emails. If events like these were happening to people who were NOT Christians, you would be very sympathetic.

        The reason you refuse to see this as persecution is that you are on the side of the homosexuals, not the Christians, which is a bit odd if you claim to be Christian yourself. Why would you side with people who target a Christian business and drag the owners through the legal system, at enormous cost? How can you have that much hatred for Christians, and still call yourself one? Not one shred of sympathy for these businesses. Are you that devoid of compassion? Can’t you exercise even a little bit of empathy and put yourself in the place of people who have been in and out of courtrooms for years on end, slapped with draconian fines, held up to public contempt in the media? How would you feel if your income had been cut by 40 percent, by order of the state? Are you that lacking in agape love for fellow human beings?

        There was a song – “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” Are you familiar with that song? Perhaps not.

        • Iain Lovejoy

          “Love” in this case meaning strenuously demanding the right to persecute people of whose lifestyles you don’t approve. Oh, and Jack Phillips can make as many wedding cakes as he likes, so long as he makes them for everyone. If he chooses to stop making them because he can’t bear to serve gays, that’s his problem.

          • JustNTyme

            So in your view, it is “persecution” that two homosexuals cannot get a cake from a certain bakery in town, but it is NOT persecution for that bakery to be slapped with a $135,000 fine because they refused ONE customer? And you call yourself a Christian and someone who favors “social justice.” You despise Jack Phillips, a decent family man, and side with the two homosexuals who targeted his business and attempted to ruin his life, and almost have.

            I think I know why you side with the homosexuals and against Christians, it’s very obvious. We have nothing else to say to each other. I will not discuss matters with someone utterly blinded by their hatred for Christians. Get help, hate is not healthy.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            I am a Christian. The bakery was fined because he refused service to homosexuals. It is not “persecution” to require people not to discriminate against others who do not share their views, whether or not they claim their religion requires them to.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    The difference is simple.
    There is persecution of Christians, but not in the US and not by the people who are making the “lions” remarks, and neither the makers of the remarks nor those to whom they are made take them as anything but silliness. The last Christians were thrown to lions (if they were at all, I seem so recall this particular story of persecution is actually a myth) nearly two millenia ago. It is not an incitement to murder. You know this.
    On the other hand, there is indeed persecution of Jews in the US, and by Christians; they are being murdered. It happened two weeks ago in California and last year in Pittsburgh. People still attend rallies with the flags of the people who put the Jews in the ovens and celebrate the crime. You know this, too.
    Such remarks about Jews are taken seriously, are treated as incitements to murder and are actually acted on.
    Can you possibly be so ludicrously self centered or oblivious that you genuinely can’t tell the difference?

    • georgeyancey

      Sorry but why can you people not read that I do not call this persecution. I cannot take anything else seriously if you have read the article so poorly that you think I am calling what happens to Christians in the U.S. persecution when I explicitly stated otherwise.

      • Iain Lovejoy

        My comment is lot shorter than your blog, but you apparently can’t read even that properly, since nowhere in it do I accuse you of claiming Christians in the US are persecuted. What I am accusing you of is knowing perfectly well Christians in the US aren’t being persecuted, whereas Jews are, Jews have experienced genocide in living memory and actual Nazis still exist, and you disingenuously pretending you don’t get that jokes about Christians and lions is not the same thing as Jewish people and ovens.

        • georgeyancey

          So Jews today are being persecuted in the United States. Methinks you do not even know what the word means. Persecution is systematic and not just isolated murders. (look up the FBI hate crime stats. Religious based hate crime murder is fairly uncommon regardless of group). Persecution is tied to systematic laws or wide scale oppression. If you have evidence this is happening to Jews today in the U.S. then please produce it. But it is always interesting reading someone who tries to justify joking about torturing Christians to death. Makes me wonder if that is their secret fantasy.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            His about two weeks ago in California when a Synagogue was shot up. Or again in Pittsburgh at the end of last year. Or rallies by (“good people”) neo-Nazis waving swastikas and chanting “Jews will not replace us”? How are you not aware of this?
            You are simply being out and out dishonest: your article is entitled Christianophobia in the United States, then weaselly claim you didn’t say there was “persecution” of Christians, your whole article was about hate speech by individuals, and then you say that Jews aren’t being persecuted because it is not being carried out systematically by government.

          • georgeyancey

            Dude. You really think isolated hate incidents are examples of persecution. You are worse than some Christians. Seriously look up FBI hate crime states. In 2017, the last year they have available there were exactly 0 deaths due to Anti-Semantic hate. Now that will not be the case in 2018 but clearly we are not talking the Middle East or Nazi persecution here. And if you want to talk about attitudes then check out the 2016 American National Election Survey where the attitude thermometer scores clearly more tolerance for Jews than Muslims or Christian fundamentalists. I ask for systematic research and you give me isolated incidents. Pathetic really.
            One final comment and then I am through. Of all my arguments in this piece you want to defend the obscene comments about feeding Christians to lions. I think a modicum of self-introspection is in order if one decides to defend dehumanizing comments about a religious groups. But hey you do you okay.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            I am a Christian. I object very strongly to the way you make the rest of us Christians look.

      • Maine_Skeptic

        “Sorry but why can you people not read that I do not call this persecution…”

        Dr. Yancey, it just comes off as bizarre and lopsided that you’re worried about mistreatment of Christians in a country where the overwhelming majority of Evangelicals are actively fighting to destroy the basic human rights of immigrants, minorities, gays, and women. This is a country where Evangelicals loudly cheer for a deranged narcissist, simply because he speaks to the hatred they feel for everyone not like them. It’s a country where most Evangelicals are complicit with voter suppression, gerrymandering, voter intimidation, voter harassment, and a justice system that throws minorities in jail but lets conservative whites walk away for the same crimes. It’s a country where immigrant children are stripped away from their parents and traumatized as a warning to other immigrants: with the endorsement of most Evangelicals. In Alabama, the semen of a rapist now has more right to a woman’s body than she does.

        It doesn’t matter whether you call the mistreatment of Christians “persecution” or not, because nothing that is happening to Christians can compare to what most Evangelicals actively support doing to everyone else. It isn’t that you can’t mistreat Christians, because that shouldn’t happen either, but you’re just not going to get much traction complaining about it when the majority of Christians are behaving like a raving mob.

  • BernankeIsGlutenFree

    Do you think that we should take cultural and situational context into account when we interpret statements? Or do you think we should just rely on the naked naive meaning of the words that are used without looking at what’s behind them?

    Let’s look at an example. The other day a friend of mine told me that nuking his hometown would probably be an improvement for it. If I were to say that nuking Mecca would be an improvement for it, do you think that I’d be communicating the exact same idea about Mecca that my friend was communicating about his hometown? Or do you think that even if all the words are the same there’s a good chance the statements aren’t very similar at all?

  • blogcom

    So the young people won’t forget other people exercised their rights and elected a President they don’t approve of?
    Well they’ll just have to get over themselves or America is finished as a nation.
    But I reckon its finished anyway- the writing’s on the wall, its just a question of time.

  • Joslyn Renfrey

    The difference between jews and christians is that half of the jews in Europe where killed by christians only 70 years ago.

    Now, it would be concerning to hear the phrase “So many christians, so few lions”… if you were in one of the countries where christians were a minority with a history of violence perpetrated against them by non-christians and a minimum of political representation, and indeed christians do experience quite significant discrimination in these places…

    However, as an american teaching in an american classroom, this is not the case for you, as almost all politicians are christian, and american protestant christians do not have a history of large-scale (in proportion to their population) violence perpetuated against them by non-christians. Indeed, part of America’s contribution to the holocaust was the turning back of fleeing german Jews, by a majority christian population.

    So the ‘switcheroo’ you alluded to, hides quite a large change of context.

    • Dunsworth

      So because Christians aren’t in serious threat of being thrown to the lions, it’s actually NOT hateful to wish that Christians would be thrown to the lions?

      • Joslyn Renfrey

        From a syriac perspective, its more like:

        Them comfortable safe white protestants are complaining so much about being “thrown to the lions”, so they supprt their leader’s middle-east travel ban… Which is actually preventing your family from getting into a country where you yourself will be safe from the people currently throwing you to the lions.

        Or like those catholic south americans who really need to escape from the violence in their countries of origin, but can’t because aforementioned safe white protestants think that they’re too dangerous to lend a helping hand to people of the faith.