American evangelical Christianity is ready for its Sally Field moment.
The actress's 1985 Academy Award acceptance speech is famously quoted as, "You like me! You really like me!"
But we often forget that Field was accepting her second Oscar in five years. She had already won the recognition of her peers. What she really said in 1985 was, "I've wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn't feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!"
Similarly, somewhere along the line we evangelical Christians have gotten it into our heads that our neighbors, peers, and most Americans don't like us, and that they like us less every year. I've heard this idea stated in sermons and everyday conversation; I've read it in books and articles.
There's a problem, though. It doesn't appear to be true. Social scientists have repeatedly surveyed views of various religions and movements, and Americans consistently hold evangelical Christians in reasonably high regard. Furthermore, social science research indicates that it's almost certain that our erroneous belief that others dislike us is actually harming our faith.
So, come on. Join me on stage to exclaim, "You like me, right now, you like me!" No takers? How about at least, "You don't hate me"?
If you have trouble believing this, you're not the only one. My wife and I live in a university town, and the Bible study we host in our home includes a number of graduate students. During one dinner, several students got into a lively discussion about how much people do not like evangelical Christians because of all the stupid things we do.
I had just finished researching this topic for a book (Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites ...