As America’s religious landscape grows more diverse, we see Christianity’s cultural dominance fading. While a vast majority of the country and our leaders still identify as Christian, many conservative Protestants sense a growing animosity toward themselves and their beliefs.
For the Christian Right, recent conflicts around homosexuality, church-state separation, abortion, and other hot-button issues are viewed as threats, indicators that their values are no longer embraced or even tolerated, but under attack.
When Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran was fired earlier this year over a self-published book that briefly critiqued homosexuality, conservative Christians saw the incident as further evidence that they are losing their religious freedom.
Are these Christians worrying for no good reason?
Well, anti-Christian hostility is certainly real, captured by the American National Election Studies, which include questions about animosity toward various social groups. About one third of respondents rated conservative Christians significantly lower (by at least one standard deviation) than other religious and racial groups.
The only group to fare worse was atheists, who received low rankings from nearly half the respondents. But while atheists drew more global hostility than any other group, the negative rankings for conservative Christians came from a disproportionate number of white, highly educated, politically progressive, and wealthy respondents.
As this survey illustrates, animosity toward Christians involves racial, educational, and economic factors; the people most likely to hold negative views of conservative Christians also belong to demographic groups with high levels of social power. Rich, white, educated Americans are major influencers in media, academia, business, and government, and these are the people most likely to have a distaste for conservative Christians.
As a sociologist whose research focuses on race and religion, I was curious to know more about cultural progressive activists, individuals who oppose the political agenda of conservative Christians, and their views on the Christian Right. In 2009, I conducted an online survey of nearly 4,000 people who tended to fall into this politically progressive, highly educated, white and wealthy demographic.
Their attitudes reflected the negativity toward Christians found in earlier research, with some particularly extreme and troubling remarks. Responding to open-ended questions, they said:
“Churches and houses of religion should be designated as nuclear test zones.”
“Kill them all, let their god sort them out.”
“The only good Christian is a dead Christian.”
I cannot determine by my data the percentage of Americans with such a level of vitriol, but judging by the comments, it’s not a trivial amount.
In the United States, hateful bigotry is directed not only toward groups such as racial and sexual minorities, but also toward conservative Christians. The survey comments evidence that some of the anti-Christian animosity veers into unreasonable hatred and fear. It’s Christianophobia.
From this research, I wrote my latest book, So Many Christians, So Few Lions, the title itself inspired by several respondents who joked about feeding Christians to lions.
The “fear” part of this definition of Christianophobia came from respondents who saw conservative Christians as a dark force seeking to take over society and impose Christian rule. For example, some envisioned conservative Christians as similar to the Taliban or Nazis.