A poll issued last week by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows just how disconnected from reality many viewers of Fox News have become: They actually believe that Christians in America face more discrimination than Black citizens.
PRRI asked if members of certain populations face a lot of discrimination in America. Among so-called “Fox News Republicans,” a whopping 73% said Christians face such discrimination, and 58% asserted that white people in general face it. Only 36% felt that Blacks face a lot of discrimination. The numbers who believe that Latinos and Asians deal with high levels of discrimination were 34% and 27% respectively.
As PRRI points out, Republicans who consider Fox News to be a reliable source are much more likely to be evangelicals than the overall population.
So what’s the source of this persecution complex among white evangelicals? Evangelicals, after all, are free to worship in America just as all religious groups are. They seem to have done pretty well for themselves: Their churches dot our religious landscape; they own and operate schools from kindergartens to colleges; their houses of worship, publishing arms, websites, charities and television and radio ministries pull in billions of tax-free dollars every year; they are free to spread their faith in a multitude of ways, from old-fashioned door-to-door canvassing to the latest social media sites. They have considerable political influence.
To many people, this looks like a position of privilege, not persecution or discrimination. But one thing we’ve learned about white conservative evangelicals over the years is that they have a peculiar definition of words like “discrimination” and “persecution.” To them, being denied the ability to use the engine of the government to promote their version of Christianity (such as, for example, being told they can’t use the public schools as instruments of evangelism) is discrimination. When the government balks at erecting their towering religious symbols in public spaces that are meant for us all or insists that other groups be given the same right of access, that to Christian nationalists is persecution. Increasingly, they are even arguing that the government’s refusal to fund their religious activities with tax dollars discriminates against them.
When conservative evangelicals operating in the secular world, such as business and commerce, are expected to obey our laws and cease discriminating against others or causing them harm, most people would see that as a reasonable attempt to protect the rights of members of vulnerable populations. To Christian nationalists, it’s the conservative evangelical who’s the victim of discrimination, not the person who has been turned away and denied service. Conservative evangelicals even cry persecution when a government official, such as former county clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky, is sanctioned for refusing to do her job and serve all people, including LGBTQ couples.
We’re hearing a lot these days about polarization and division in our nation. Many Americans are hopeful that we can find a way to bridge these gaps and find unity. It will be very difficult to pull that off when so many of our fellow citizens refuse to acknowledge their own considerable privilege and instead embrace a story that makes them feel like victims of discrimination rather than seek to understand the pain and understandable anger of those who really are.
Photo: Attendees of the Religious Right’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.