Evangelicals and their propensity to think that everyone is against them

Sociologist Bradley Wright draws attention to an issue among evangelicals: a common belief that fellow Americans do not like them:

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.

The statistics Wright presents suggests evangelicals are somewhere in the middle of favorability among different religious groups. For example, a 2008 Gallup survey suggests Methodists, Jews, Baptists, and Catholics are viewed more favorably than evangelicals while Fundamentalists, Mormons, Muslims, Atheists, and Scientologists are viewed less favorably.

Wright goes on to argue (as he also does in this book) that the perceptions evangelicals have might be harmful:

If American evangelicals do have an image problem, it’s not our neighbors’ image of us; it’s our image of them. The 2007 Pew Forum study found that American Christians hold more negative views of “atheists” than non-Christians do of evangelical Christians. (The most recent Pew survey found similar attitudes; see the chart above.) Now, I am not a theologian, but this seems to be a problem. We Christians are called to love people, and as I understand it, this includes loving people who believe differently than we do. I’m not sure how we can love atheists if we don’t like them.

Ultimately, evangelical Christians might do well not to spend too much time worrying about what others think of us. Christians in general, and evangelical Christians in particular (depending on how you ask the question), are well-regarded in this country. If nothing else, there’s little we can do to change other people’s opinions anyway. Telling ourselves over and over that others don’t like us is not only inaccurate, it also potentially hinders the very faith that we seek to advance.

This is an ongoing issue with several aspects:

1. There is a disconnect between the numbers and the perceptions. Wright looks like he is trying to make a prolonged effort to bring these statistics to the masses. Will this data make a difference in the long run? How many evangelicals will ever hear about these statistics?

2. There may be positive or functional aspects to continually holding the idea that others don’t like you. Subgroups can use this idea to enhance solidarity and prompt action among adherents. Of course, these alarmist tendencies might not be helpful in the long run. (See a better explanation of this perspective from Christian Smith here.)

In the end, this is useful data but there is more that could be done to explain how these perceptions are helpful or not and what could or should be done to move in a different direction. Providing people with the right data and good interpretations is a good start but then people will want to know what to do next.

0 thoughts on “Evangelicals and their propensity to think that everyone is against them

  1. Well, the Google search engine for evangelical Christians is tuned to detect and report mostly anti-evangelical comments about evangelical believers and nothing from the National Association of Evangelicals and similar organizations. Evangelicals have good reason to see that they are being discriminated against. For example, in appears that in many cases there seems to be religious freedom and freedom of conscience in America for everyone except evangelicals.

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  2. Pingback: What journalists should know about religion | Legally Sociable

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