According to a recent survey, about half of all Americans believe that evangelicals face discrimination. Some have even talked about them facing persecution. Others argue that Christians are merely mistaking their loss of privilege for persecution. We are clearly living in a post-Christian society where Christian faith is no longer automatically respected. But does a post-Christian world mean that Christians are subject to discrimination?
Having studied Christianophobia—or the unreasonable hatred and fear of Christians—I can answer that question. First, I’ll look to see if Christianophobia exists to any meaningful degree. Then, I’ll examine the nature of Christianophobia to assess if it does represent unreasonable hatred of Christians. Finally, I’ll explore evidence of anti-Christian discrimination in one place in our society: academia.
Are anti-Christian attitudes widespread, or are we talking about a couple of nutcases? In my book So Many Christians, So Few Lions, I document that about 32 percent of all Americans like conservative Christians significantly less than other social groups. In comparison, about 31 percent of all Americans like Muslims significantly less than other social groups. So it’s fair to say that if we’re concerned about anti-Muslim prejudice, then we should also be concerned about anti-Christian prejudice—at least prejudice against conservative Christians.
It’s also worth noting who tends to have this type of animosity. My research indicates that those with anti-Christian attitudes are more likely to be white, male, wealthy, highly educated, politically progressive, and irreligious. Those first four markers indicate individuals who have quite a bit of per-capita social power.
Mild Disgust or Irrational Hatred?
On to the second question, about the nature of those who don’t like Christians. Do they merely feel mild disgust, or is it irrational hatred that can lead to discrimination? I sent a questionnaire with open-ended questions to a group of progressive activists who tended to be white, male, wealthy, educated, and irreligious. They were the type of people one would expect to exhibit Christianophobia. And they did. Here are just a few of the answers I received on my survey:
Kill them all, let their god sort them out.
A torturous death would be too good for them.
I’d be a bit giddy, certainly grateful, if everyone who saw himself or herself in that category were snatched permanently from our societal peripheries, whether by holocaust or rapture or plague.
I am only too well aware of their horrific attitudes and beliefs—and those are enough to make me see them as subhuman.
Clearly we are seeing the type of hatred that is unreasonable and can lead to discrimination. It is the type of dehumanization one expects to precede unfair treatment. But does it? Is it possible that values of tolerance and fairness among secular progressives inhibit their willingness to mistreat Christians?
Discrimination in America Today
To examine that question I looked at academia, an area where one expects to find the type of highly educated progressive secularists likely to have anti-Christian animosity. I asked academics if they would be less willing to hire someone who is either a fundamentalist or an evangelical. I found that more than half would be less willing to hire a fundamentalist, and almost two in five would be less willing to hire an evangelical. The academics answering my survey explicitly stated they would discriminate against a job candidate who is a conservative Protestant. (You can read about this research in my book Compromising Scholarship.)
There is other research indicating that conservative Christians face discrimination in academia. Stanley Rothman and Robert Lichter find that academics with socially conservative perspectives wind up with lower-status academic positions even when controlling for their productivity. Albert Gunn and George Zenner show evidence of religious discrimination against Christian medical students.
Some will argue that Christians still have advantages in America, such as political power. I don’t dispute that there are benefits to being a Christian in the United States. However, such advantages don’t negate the fact that among powerful individuals who tend to be politically progressive and irreligious, unfair treatment of Christians is possible, and perhaps even likely.
For example, my recent book looks at the media. My co-author and I find evidence that media are less sympathetic to stories where Christians face hate speech or violence than identical stores where other groups are victimized. Social institutions such as academia, media, entertainment, and the arts are likely to be places where anti-Christian prejudice and discrimination take place. Those institutions greatly shape our cultural values, and thus those with anti-Christian attitudes are in a position to create and sustain anti-Christian perspectives.
There is evidence that anti-Christian hate can lead to discrimination. Is it persecution? This is a complex question I recently struggled with. By a clinical definition of persecution, yes, Christians are persecuted in the United States. But I still discourage Christians in the United States from saying they are persecuted, since what we face today isn’t what most people envision when they think of persecution.
However, as Christians we should be aware that anti-Christian discrimination is real. Further, those likely to engage in such discrimination have an ability to shape larger societal values. Thus, anti-Christian discrimination isn’t going away any time soon.
How should we deal with this reality?
How to Live in a Post-Christian World
We must work together to protect each other from discrimination. We no longer live in a society generally supportive of Christians. We’re going to have to support each other. An important way to do that is to develop our Christian communities. For example, support of Christian-owned businesses may be vital to help minimize the economic costs of anti-Christian discrimination. Working together to socialize our children is vital for allowing us to pass down our faith in a post-Christian culture. We can’t count on support from the larger society.
But we can’t neglect working to influence the larger society. While those with anti-Christian perspectives have more power in cultural creation, we can still make our presence known. Our Christian colleges, media, and arts are going to be important, but we must also encourage talented Christians to work in mainstream academia, secular media, and the larger art community. We won’t immediately alter the anti-Christian attitudes in these institutions, but we can lessen some of the negative effects these institutions can have. Research on intergroup contact shows that it’s harder to hold onto negative stereotypes when we know members of the out-group.
Of course, Christians must also engage in politics. But we should consider how to use politics to defend ourselves rather than to assert power. When Christians look like they want power for its own sake, we only feed into the negative images some have of us. Don’t get me wrong: some who hate us won’t change their mind no matter what we do. But many individuals neither love nor hate us. They can be persuaded to reject measures that engage in religious discrimination if we’re seen as fighting for our freedoms and not to “take over” the country. A smart brand of politics, rather than a scorched-earth culture-war attack, is needed in a post-Christian world.