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Has Society Grown More Hostile Towards Conservative Christians? Evidence from ANES Surveys

Abstract

Several conservative Christian activists have complained of increasing hatred directed towards them and a majority of Christians today believe that persecution against them has increased in the United States. To date there has not been an empirical assessment of whether there are increasing levels of anti-Christian animosity with two groups as representative of conservative Christians: Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals. Levels of anti-Christian hostility has not significantly risen over the past few decades, however those with this hostility have become wealthier. Furthermore, there has not been a coalescing or lessening of support for conservative Christians by other Christians, as seen in the persistent level of mildly negative score by progressive Christians. One may envision hostility against conservative Christians in the twentieth century as something possessed by highly educated progressives with cultural influence but little ability to punish conservative Christians economically. The ability to threaten conservative Christians’ material well-being and the lack of support of conservative Christians by other Christians augments those with hostility towards conservative Christians in the twenty-first century. Conservative Christians are incorrect asserting that Christian hostility recently dramatically increased but may be correct in asserting that they face more problems due to that hostility.

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Notes

  1. However, it should be noted that such animosity can lead to attempts to oppress Christians and there is evidence (Yancey and Williamson 2014) that those with anti-Christians perspectives are attempting to remove Christians from having any influence in the public square. I am not currently addressing whether this hostility leads to oppressing or marginalizing anti-Christian actions, but whether negative emotive attitudes towards Christians have increased over time and potential changes in the underlying predictors of those attitudes.

  2. An examination of attitudes towards conservative Christians must take into account issues of race as well as religion. White conservative Christians tend to be political conservatives (Utter and True 2004; Layman 1997) unlike conservative Christians of color (Emerson and Smith 2000). Sources of political activism among conservative Christians of color differs from white Christians and is not as tied to political conservatism as it is for white Christians (McKenzie and Rouse 2013; McDaniel and Ellison 2008). Nevertheless, conservative Christians have an image of being political conservatives (Greeley and Hout 2006), indicating that Americans tend to overlook Christians of color when they assess conservative Christianity.

  3. The thermometer asked specifically about Christian fundamentalists and not fundamentalists in general. This minimizes the possibility that respondents are reacting to general religious extremism.

  4. It is reasonable to ask why I do not use the Christian thermometer rather than the Christian fundamentalist and evangelical thermometer. Since previous research indicates that anti-Christian hostility is directed more at conservative Christians than Christians in general, it is likely that assessments of a generalize Christian thermometer will not capture the effects of such hostility. On the other hand, while there are many possible interpretations of Christian fundamentalism, it is generally conceptualized as an extremely conservative form of Christianity. Indeed, Christians fundamentalists are primarily defined by a literal interpretation of the Bible, dispensational theology, and intentional separation from the world or “apostasy” while evangelicals are known for proselytizing and engagement with society (Woodberry and Smith 1998; Yancey et al. 2015). Evangelicals also have been tied to some of the conservative elements of Protestantism such as proselytizing (Smith 2000; Yancey and Williamson 2012). Thus using Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals are superior measure assessing the potential animosity faced by conservative Christians.

  5. It is possible that those who rank conservative Christians lower rank all groups lower. If this is true then I may be capturing an effect of generalized negative attitudes than of negative attitudes towards Christians. However I standardized the ranking using the techniques in Yancey and Williamson (2014) and constructed logistic regression models with dummy variables indicating dislike of Christian fundamentalists. I obtained the same basic results reported in the OLS models used in this project.

  6. Male, Whites, and South were all reference groups.

  7. I was able to condense the income categories across the years to a five point scale of (1) Under $15,000, (2) $15,000–$25,000, (3) $25,000–$50,000, (4) $50,000–$75,000 and (5) over $75,000.

  8. With the exception of the 1988 survey which only used groupings of years to measure age of the respondents.

  9. The models are available in the “Appendix”.

  10. I also calculated the percentages of individual each year who possessed significant animosity towards conservative Christians and found that in the years where average thermometer scores was low that the number of respondents with such animosity was high (see “Appendix”).

  11. This was assessed on a seven point scale whereby those who stated that they were very liberal, moderately liberal and slightly liberal were seen as liberal. Those who stated that they were very conservative, moderately conservative and slightly conservative were seen as conservative. Those placing themselves at the midpoint of being neither conservative nor liberal were not included in this variable.

  12. A similar pattern can be seen with the Christian subgroup which peaked in support in 2008 at 62.9% but fell to 54.9% by 2016.

  13. While I could have attempted to create a model merging the assessment of evangelical from 1980 to 1988 with the assessment of Christian fundamentalist from 1988 to 2016, this is impractical since both terms are used in 1988. Furthermore, while both evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists are considered conservative Protestants, and share a similar relationship with the major independent variables used to construct these interaction terms, there are subtle differences that may shape the strength, and possibly even direction of those interaction terms in relationship to anti-religious attitudes. Only using the Christian fundamentalist thermometer minimize these possible biases.

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Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 6 and 7.

Table 6 Percent of population who rank Christian fundamentalist a SD lower than mean of thermometer feeling variables (anti-fundamentalist) from 1988–2016
Table 7 Logistical Models with anti-fundamentalist as dependent variable

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Yancey, G. Has Society Grown More Hostile Towards Conservative Christians? Evidence from ANES Surveys. Rev Relig Res 60, 71–94 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-017-0303-8

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Keywords

  • Christian fundamentalists
  • Evangelicals
  • Anti-religious hostility
  • Longitudinal analysis
  • Christian activists