Discrimination Against Evangelicals and the Evangelical Victimization Narrative

Evangelicals 2

Earlier this month I was at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the Boston area for a panel discussion with Dartmouth religion scholar Randall Balmer on “Evangelicals and Politics.”  Mark Massa of Boston College’s Boisi Center served as the moderator.

Massa asked us if evangelicals had a “distinctive political style.”  I suggested, as I did in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, that much of evangelical politics is defined by fear, power, and nostalgia.

Balmer summarized evangelical’s political style in one word: “victimization.”  I thought about his answer again after reading Griffin Paul Jackson’s recent piece at Christianity Today: “Half of Americans Say Evangelical are Discriminated Against.”  Here is a taste:

Though evangelical Protestants remain the largest faith group in the country, as clashes over their beliefs turn up in the public square, half the country has come to believe evangelicals face discrimination in the US.

A new report from the Pew Research Center reveals that Americans see discrimination on the rise or holding steady across demographic groups, with evangelical Christians and Jews experiencing a significant uptick over the past few years.

Fifty percent of US adults agree that evangelical Christians are subject to discrimination, up from 42 percent in 2016. One in five (18%) say that evangelicals—about a quarter of the population—face “a lot” of discrimination.

Read the rest here.

Evangelicals only represent about 25% of the American population.  This means that a lot of non-evangelical Americans also believe that evangelicals face discrimination.  As the readers of this blog know, I am not a fan of the victimization narrative that defines much of political discourse on the Christian Right.  Balmer is right.  But I also think some of the discrimination of evangelicals is probably real.  Perhaps we brought it upon ourselves, but it is nonetheless real.  I wrote about this a few years ago at Aeon.

13 thoughts on “Discrimination Against Evangelicals and the Evangelical Victimization Narrative

  1. so many Christians act like this is “our” Christian nation and some bad guys have taken it from us.

    This is classic Grievance Culure, i.e. a culture whose only reason for existence is Revenge upon The Other.

    Every Grievance Culture is based upon three axioms:

    1) “Once WE were Lords of All Creation, and Everything was PERFECT In Every Way!”

    2) “Then THEY came and took it all away from Us!”

    3) “IT’S PAYBACK TIME!!!!!!!!!”

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  2. “I know some who when they share their news of discrimination do seem more excited and primed for righteous indignation than truly harmed.”

    Agreed. Minor Inconvenience and the loss of assumed privileges is frequently represented as discrimination and persecution–like being forced to bake cakes for gay people or being asked to host your college club meetings off-campus is the same as being thrown to lions or forced into servitude.

    I think it’s because the New Testament suggests real Christianity will be uncomfortable and provoke hostile reactions, and so people who actually have very comfortable lives really seek to find evidence of their martyrdom where there is none. Christianity has a popular image of persecuted saints at its core, so people will contort themselves into those positions to validate their own saintliness.

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  3. Further thoughts on the subject:

    Christianity spent its first three centuries as a underground outlaw religion. (Yeah, yeah, “It’s not a (sneer) Religion, it’s a RELATIONSHIP!” Bear with me on this…) Getting stomped on periodically by hostile Roman authorities. “Suffering Persecution” became linked to “Living Godly in Christ Jesus”, a sign of Godliness.

    Then Constantine legalized this outlaw faith, and the stomping pretty much stopped. Another Caesar or three, and they not only became legal, but the Official Faith. If Persecution = Godliness, then No Persecution = Ungodliness/Apostasy, and what happens when REAL Persecution ends? How then can you know you’re a Real Christian?

    1) You go as a missionary to hostile barbarians (like St Boniface, name-saint of my parish); not only will there be persecution, but a chance of that capper of faith, Martyrdom.

    2) You persecute yourself, substituting asceticism and Mortification(TM) to become spiritual until you’re gargling lye along with St Rose of Lima. Add in the pan-human tendency towards Virtue Signalling and One-Upmanship (“More Spiritual Than Thou” in this context) and things can get very weird very fast.

    (According to one blogger who’s an Eastern Orthodox clergyman, the favorite way for EOs to really go off the deep end is the “Monk-a-Bee”, or wanna-be ascetic monk. Dressing like an EO monk, growing the long beard and hair of an EO monk, taking more vows (and more extreme ones) than an EO monk (“Can You Top This?”), and somehow neglecting to put yourself under the authority of a bishop or abbot like a REAL EO monk. Very hard on the Monk-a-Bee’s surrounding family, but then there’s always Luke 14:26.)

    3) Or you can start looking for PERSECUTION(TM)! everywhere, even if you have to resort to what’s now called “Micro-aggressions” (to be followed by “Nano-aggresions” then “Femto-aggressions”, then “Pico-aggressions” as entropy sets in over time), and end up finding out just how deep the rabbit hole can go. (Or how high you can climb the crazy tree.) This seems to be the dynamic at work in the above-mentioned Persecuted Hegemon Syndrome. (And in the regular Trump-fanatic troll over at Wondering Eagle.)

    What ends up getting neglected (as “not REALLY important/spiritual”) is what the Jews call “Tikkun Olam”, going out and bettering a broken world. What in Christianese is called “Being salt and light” in more ways than the exclusively Spiritual(TM). Yet another corollary of Evangelicals’ Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation, where Spiritual Good, Physical Baaaaaad and It’s All Gonna Burn anyway.

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  4. I know some who when they share their news of discrimination do seem more excited and primed for righteous indignation than truly harmed.

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  5. “I also think some of the discrimination of evangelicals is probably real.” Probably? That’s the best you can do? Check out the travails of InterVarsity on the college campuses across America.

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  6. Sometimes it seems like evangelicals are so eager to be victimized (maybe because it feels like a martyrological validation of their religion?) that they fail to pay any heed to the ways in which they are actually victimizing others.

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  7. “Does a corollary hold that a casual Christian life will bring a degree of worldly acceptance?”

    I heard this kind of thinking all the time (ALL the time) growing up, generally as a judgment by conservative Christians, against other Christians who weren’t being rigorous enough in the faith to attract persecution or judgment from outsiders. This kind of thinking is literally judgmentalism towards ordinary, regular believers (the “poor in spirit”) by rigorous, dogmatic believers who have very detailed and rigid ideas about what “true” faith really is (“for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”)

    Like we were talking about earlier in a different thread, this is a lot like the situation described in the New Testament for Jesus and his disciples. They were preaching and living a more liberal Judaism that didn’t venerate social and religious traditions as divine commandments–and they were vilified for not being traditional enough in their spiritual practices, for including or validating people who didn’t conform to traditional morality, and for expanding God’s salvation to people outside their culture and institutions of faith. To be fair, this is not an exclusively “Christian” problem, more like the psychology of dogmatic exclusivism across multiple traditions. In the United States, it seems to be a symptom of ongoing spiritual pride among the dogmatic religious.

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  8. I am guilty probably to some degree of casualness. I think many of us avoid trouble by compromising. I am not sure always how outspoken we are supposed to be.
    I take this passage from 1 Peter to describe a context of a Christian living out their faith graciously and people who know them coming to them with questions. Not descriptive of someone hammering home how others are wrong.

    “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”

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  9. First, “More Victimized Than Thou” is a common way to Virtue Signal/Count Coup these days. Why would Christians NOT jump on this bandwagon as they have so many others?

    Second, I’ve heard this attitude called “The Persecuted Hegemon”. From the outside, the USA looks like Christians(TM) are on top and firmly in charge — Trump Tower DC (formerly The White House), GOP (God’s Own Party) minions out-Virtue Signalling each other, pilgrimages by Court Evangelicals to Trump Tower DC to Anoint with Oil replacing those of GOP hopefuls to Bob Jones U to receive Anointing from The Anointed One, Real News media (as opposed to Fake News).

    We Won and Now We’ll Throw Our Weight Around. HARD. (Deus Vult!)
    Yet these same guys go on and on about “PERSECUTION!!!!!!!”
    To outsiders, they’re holding the whip (or about to) while playing the Persecution Card off the bottom of the deck. (Too bad those 21 Copts al-Daesh chopped (including the one Baptism of Desire) are unavailable for comment; I’d like to hear their opinions on the subject.)

    Is “PERSECUTION!!!!!!” a way to convince themselves of Their Own Righteousness?
    (“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”.
    II Timothy 3:12)

    Is it trying to justify the final phase of a Grievance Culture, i.e. PAYBACK TIME?

    Is it making sure their followers circle the wagons against The Other, whipping up an Outside Enemy?

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  10. Another corollary is “Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake” or “Persecuted for being an asshole”?

    A lot of Christians mistake the latter for the former.

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  11. Most of my Christian friends would say we are discriminated against.
    Personally my life experiences have been to do well in the working world, to have a nice home and stuff.
    I go to a Wednesday morning bible study and a Friday evening study. Church on Wednesday evening and Sunday. For a pretty long time we had a weekly, lunchtime bible study at work. I worked for a global wide chemical manufacturer.
    I have believing and unbelieving friends.
    There are lots of folks who would disagree with my worldview but I fail to see how I have been discriminated against.
    I am sure there is, as there should be, points of contention, friction and what can be called discrimination of Christians. Didn’t Christ say that would be the case of Christians in a world largely populated by unbelievers? There will be persecution? Something is wrong with us if there are no issues between us and the world.
    It keeps coming back to a senseless frustration because so many Christians act like this is “our” Christian nation and some bad guys have taken it from us.
    Nothing like that is described in the scriptures.
    The NT epistles were written to people living under Roman rule and local governments in league largely with Rome. Those people weren’t given encouragement to dominate their government or to demand their government come in line with Christian thinking.
    They were told their’s is a different kingdom.

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  12. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”. II Timothy 3:12

    Does a corollary hold that a casual Christian life will bring a degree of worldly acceptance?

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