Evangelicals: The Embattled Minority

Evangelicals: The Embattled Minority July 5, 2011

Christian Smith did all of us who follow the sociology of American evangelicalism a great service with his 1998 book, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving.  Therein, he described how evangelicals had developed a “sub-cultural identity,” wherein they told themselves a story about their own position as an embattled minority, even as they became the most powerful voting bloc in the electorate.

That self-defining narrative has continued unabated.  Witness Micharah Bachlin, using the bully pulpit of FOX News to decry the lack of balance in the “lamestream media.”  And, mark my words, Bachlin’s presidential campaign will be premised largely on the view that conservative evangelical voters are an underrepresented minority.

In The Atlantic Monthly‘s annual “Ideas Issue,” Idea #11, “Gay Is the New Normal” shows that evangelicals are already continuing this storyline:

Perhaps this had to happen: the straight-rights movement is here. No, it does not call itself that. (Yet.) But opponents of same-sex marriage, and others who are unfriendly to the gay-rights movement, have adopted the posture of a victim group. They are, it seems … an oppressed majority.

…This change is a watershed in gay-straight relations, and it brings a disorienting political role reversal. It is the condemnation of homosexuality, rather than homosexuality itself, that will be increasingly stigmatized as morally deviant. And it is the opponents of gay equality who will insist they are the oppressed group, the true victims of civil-rights violations. Indeed, they have already developed, and are vigorously marketing, a “gay bullies” narrative.

Read on at TheAtlantic to read unsurprising quotes from Catholic and evangelical leaders about how ungodly America is, now that the majority of Americans is accepting of homosexuality.  Just watch how this issue will play into the evangelical sub-cultural identity as we approach the 2012 election — evangelicals who oppose marriage equality will add this to their narrative of an oppressed minority.

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  • I think you’re right.

  • Ironically, everything you wrote gives fuel to the charge that Evangelicals are oppressed. The media has nothing good to say about the Biblical Christian faith, and now Tony Jones gladly lends his voice to our tolerant elite.

  • So conservative evangelicals are playing the victim card, again. They have been doing this since at least 1962. I mean, claiming that religious beliefs are being made illegal in America is simply hysterical fear-mongering paranoia.

    Daniel, maybe the reason the media have nothing good to say about the Biblical Christian faith is that they have never actually seen it.

  • Katrine

    Micharah Bachlin? I had to read that a few times before I understood who you meant. Has she become She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? I am not a regular reader of this blog and so if there is a history behind it, I wouldn’t know it.

  • Jason Douros

    I believe Micharah Bachlin is a concatenation of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin…I had to Google it though since it did confuse the snot out of me too :-)-

  • Larry,

    It’s true that we have to take some of the blame, but I can’t see that we are any more blameworthy than others.

    I think it pure denial to pretend that the media and the universities don’t consistently portray Evangelicals in negative ways. And it’s also so hypocritical.

  • Matteo Masiello

    I think we need an honest and open discourse on the matter. I think activism on both sides are preventing that with rhetoric and fear. I think that the media is to blame for lack of a true discourse. I also think it’s a bad idea to label “the media” as being exclusively liberal or conservative, despite how we perceive its content. Content is the bottom line. The more divisive it is, the more people will watch and get fired up about it. It doesn’t matter how substantive the content is. I think that true discourse is failing in this democratic and secular society because it seems that if one group is trying to show that it needs civil rights, the opposition will take the “victim” mentality and whine and complain that they are being discriminated against. I think there are some in the evangelical community who have a persecution complex (by whining and complaining) without really living up to what it means to be a Christian and live a Christian life. No one in this country is being persecuted, nor should any Christian think that their religious beliefs and convictions are being threatened. If you do, you need to reexamine your faith. If you succumb to that fear, then chances are Jesus does not abide in you. The bottom line is that evangelicals should not, in my opinion, be so quick to adopt a “victim” attitude and stop the rhetoric and fear mongering that some do when it comes to gay fellow citizens (who are brothers and sisters in Christ).

  • John Edmond

    You are quoting a book that is 13 to 15 years old in its content. If a certain kind of sexual activity (homo-sex) can constitute a category of people that deserve certain rights, then it isn’t hard for a certain kind of religious activity (evangelical-Christianity) to define itself as a group that deserve rights that needs to be protected as well.
    The GLBT movement is the aggressor against general societies, Evangelicals are not asking for the redefinitioning of basic social institutions (i.e. marriage). Already there is difficulty for Christian adoption, foster, and now the churches themselves are being discriminated against if it does not accept a state enforced morality of favorablity towards GLBT.
    State enforced conversion on issues of homosexuality is where we are at.
    Evangelicals are seeing the GLBT as an aggressor movement. I look forward to seeing evidence of this “minority” storyline, Tony.
    Also, media bias is a completely separate issue.

  • John,

    I think that the phenomena that you mention are ubiquitous. The media insures that all LGBT portrayals are positive and almost all Evangelical ones are negative.

    When one group is consistently demonized, it becomes simply a matter of time when they will also be victimized (physically). In fact, I recently read an article that there have been many church shootings over this past year that the mainstream media has refused to carry.

    While the media is very ready to carry any story about a gay who is victimized, the media seldom reports on gay violence and intimidation of gays against Christians.

  • Brian

    In all fairness, the embattled minority comes long before our current dividing lines. In most of the Hebrew stories, don’t we find the same theme? I too grew up in the evangelical/conservative/fundamentalist world and frankly, it now smacks of nothing more than power.

  • Tom

    As much as I don’t want to admit this, it is true that within our culture at large Christianity is portrayed negatively. Evangelicalism has to take at least part of the blame for this. They learned very early (in the 1970s) how to use television and radio to broadcast their message, so that is what the wider culture came to see as “normal” Christianity and have reacted to it by painting all of Christianity with the same broad brush. I think it is fair to stand up to such portrayals and say, “Look, we aren’t all like that. Please tell our story too.” We are responsible for that; we can’t expect the culture, and the media, to come looking for us.

  • John Edmond

    Tony & Co.’s positions on Christianity are not the fix for Evangelical wrongs. Jehovah worship eroded in ancient Israel and Judah into the cultural religions of the surrounding people groups. Tony would be loved and found in the court of Ahab. Tony’s generation of Evangelicals leaders would be Micaiah son of Imlah.

  • Ben Hammond

    “It is the condemnation of homosexuality, rather than homosexuality itself, that will be increasingly stigmatized as morally deviant. And it is the opponents of gay equality who will insist they are the oppressed group, the true victims of civil-rights violations.”

    I think these are very true statements. It takes some pretty intense twisting of what “oppression” means to say that the “oppressors” are being oppressed when not allowed to oppress.

  • Basil Kiwan

    I haven’t read Tony’s blog in a long time — clearly that was a mistake. There is some interesting stuff here.

    I find the comments on here, particularly from Daniel and John, to be bizarre and sort of tragic. Every group feels the media portrays them unfairly, including the LGBT community, so join the club.

    “State enforced conversion to homosexuality” — do you really think that someone who is straight can be turned gay? I know there are lots of evangelicals (Michelle Bachmann for one) who seem to think the reverse is true, that you can “pray away the gay”. That doesn’t work; the medical community (AMA, American Psychiatric Association, etc…) does not consider homosexuality a disease and has warned that therapy is ineffective at best (you can’t be cured if you are not sick), and is often dangerous since it pushes young people into anxiety, depression and often towards suicide. But what on earth makes you think that the “state” is going to turn straight people gay? If I may be so presumptuous, as a gay man, what makes you think that “we gays” want “you straights” to change? Do you fathom just how ridiculous a notion that is? I think there is a lot of fear going on here about “the gay”, as some sort of threat to civilization in America, and well, honestly, in this one instance I think I can confidently speak for every single homosexual in America in stating for a fact that however appealing the thought, “we gays” just don’t have the energy to destroy “general society”.

    If you want to know more about “therapy”, here’s two links to a young man with relevant experience:




    As for the more “homo-sex” constituting a category that create rights – that is just factually incorrect. If anything, the opposite is true. Our rights are inherent, as individuals and as citizens of the United States. Sexual orientation never really entered into the realm of legal rights until the early 20th century — when state and federal governments criminalized homosexuality, barred their employment in many fields (including barring them from military service), and began using sexual orientation as a reason to strip citizens of their rights. This reached its peak during the Eisenhower administration, when there was an active campaign to purge the civil service of homosexuals. This sort of witch hunt was emulated in the private sector, and actually still continues today — in most of the US it is perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay (the same is not true about someone’s religious belief, which are protected by the Constitution, and by our civil rights laws). The criminal sanction on homosexuality only ended in 2003, when the Supreme Court struck down the sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Kansas.

    Today, in addition to employment and housing discrimination, you cannot get a civil marriage license in 44 states if you are gay — which denies you hundreds of benefits under state law. Even if you are legally married, but are gay, your marriage is not recognized at the federal level, denying you 1148 privileges and benefits (according the GAO) afforded automatically to heterosexual married couples.

    No one faces these sorts of legal obstacles, or civil rights infringements because of their religious beliefs because our country has a Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion, and civil rights laws at the federal level which bar discrimination on the basis of religious belief. Unfortunately, federal civil rights laws do not yet protect citizens from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There is some hope that those civil rights protections will be extended someday to gay and transgendered Americans, but we are not there yet, in large part because of ferocious political opposition from the evangelical community.

    I don’t have a problem with evangelical hostility to homosexuality. I’m tired of it, I think it is immature, hateful, bigoted, and theologically suspect — based on cherry-picked and misconstrued passages of the Bible — but really don’t care if evangelical churches want to preach against the supposed sins of homosexuality, or even blame us for the societies woes. People have a right to believe whatever they wish.

    However, I do have a huge problem when those beliefs are enforced against me by means of civil law. There is no reason that my marriage (valid where I live, in DC) should not be recognized by the federal government, and in all 50 states. It denies us, as a couple, a huge range of rights and, among other things, it makes filing taxes an offensive nightmare — I am married as far as my state is concerned, but ‘single’ on my fed return. How strange is that? And since my marriage was in my church (Quaker), it means that the federal government is in fact discriminating against very deeply felt religious beliefs of my congregation, under whose care my husband and I were married.

    I don’t have any desire or expectation of being welcomed in an evangelical church, or for that matter, a Mormon church or a Catholic church. None of my friends, gay or straight, would have any such fantasies. I have a range of disagreements on belief, not limited to issues of sexual orientation. I think everyone can, and should, find the congregation where they can grow, and move closer to God. But that right to be hostile, and derisive, ends at the church walls. (We had big fights about that here in DC, when marriage equality passed – but this post is too long already) When you offer a good or service in the public sphere, including adoption, employment, photography (even for weddings), and especially if you are receiving public funds…., you don’t have a right to discriminate just because your religious beliefs. All men are created equal

    Tony probably knows the story about the Rabbi Hillel, who was being mocked about his religious studies. Some young smart-alecs taunted him, saying “Can you explain the Torah while standing on one foot?” And so he stood on one foot and said “Do not unto others what is hateful to yourselves. The rest is all commentary.”

    It would hateful to me if your rights were infringed and you lived as a second class citizen, because of your religious beliefs, even if I may disagree with those beliefs. I would hope that you would support my rights to equal treatment under the law, regardless of my sexual orientation. However, if you do not support my rights, my equality in the eyes of the law, that’s your moral failing not mine.

  • Jonathan

    Basil said, “When you offer a good or service in the public sphere, including adoption, employment, photography (even for weddings)…., you don’t have a right to discriminate just because your religious beliefs.”

    I really struggle with this. I’m not “offering” a good or service, I’m selling it. Because I own it. It’s mine. Why can’t I use it in accordance with my own conscience? Isn’t that the very premise of liberty? That we can do what we want with ourselves and our own things? And generally, we consider forcing people to do things a violation of liberty. Why should the majority’s opinion about morality prevail over the minority’s?

    (You can read all those questions in Rob Bell’s voice, if it helps.)

    • Basil Kiwan

      Hi Jonathan

      It wasn’t so long ago that racism and segregation were justified on Biblical grounds. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that African Americans were accepted by Mormons as clergy.

      Yet, it is unthinkable that we would countenance say, real estate agents refusing to sell homes to African Americans, or bakers refusing to provide a tray of cupcakes for an Asian-American birthday celebration, or a car salesman refusing to sell a car to a Jew. The realtor, the baker, the car salesman, all could easily have religious beliefs as grounds for their refusal to sell a good or service to a Jew, an African-American, a Muslim, Asian-American… However, it is no longer permissible under the law to do that. There was once a time when African Americans could not get served at a restaurant, or Jews were told not to apply for jobs, or…. And you are right, it is an infringement on your personal liberty if you can’t discriminate on who you want to sell to. But we outlawed that because we, as a society, wanted to be free of racism, segregation and all its pernicious effects. We want our society to come closer to the promise of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence – that all men are created equal.

      So why should it be permissible to discriminate in the public sphere against gays, lesbians, bisexual or transgendered persons?

      • Jonathan

        Basil – I do indeed have similar problems with the civil rights act. Not with the intent, of course. Racism is evil. But I understand that on many issues people disagree with me. I don’t think it’s appropriate to use the state as a weapon to force them to use their own property in whatever way I see fit. I’m willing to tolerate them being different, even if it means them acting in ways I don’t approve of.

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