Saturday, March 11, 2017

Important Finding in New PRRI Survey: "White Evangelical Protestants Stand Out" — As Opponents of LGBTQ Rights, With Claims That "Christians" Are Uniquely Persecuted

Yesterday, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) published the findings of a survey it conducted in February 2017, which breaks down perceptions of discrimination by American religious groups, and which also looks at the response of various U.S. religious groups to LGBTQ rights. A key finding of this survey, confirming findings of other surveys by different polling groups in recent years: white evangelicals are a significant outlier group when it comes to the claim that Christians experience stark, serious persecution in American culture, and as opponents of LGBTQ rights. 

Here's Emma Green at The Atlantic commenting on the PRRI findings: 

The people who stuck out, whose perceptions were radically different from others in the survey, were white evangelical Protestants. Among this group, 57 percent said there’s a lot of discrimination against Christians in the U.S. today. Only 44 percent said the same thing about Muslims. They were the only religious group more likely to believe Christians face discrimination compared to Muslims. . . . 
In terms of these kinds of hate crimes, Muslims fare far worse than Christians: 22 percent of religiously motivated crimes are against Muslims, compared to the 13.6 percent against Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, and other Christian denominations combined. Considering that Muslims are estimated to make up less than 1 percent of the American population, compared to Christians’ 70 percent, these numbers are even more stark. Jews, the group of people who are most likely to be the target of hate crimes, were not included in the PRRI survey as a category. . . . 
But the survey does suggest something remarkable: White evangelicals perceive discrimination in America in vastly different terms than all other religious groups, including their minority peers.

White evangelicals continue also to be outliers, as I've noted, with regard to LGBTQ rights. They continue to push the claim that, under the rubric of "religious freedom," private business owners and government instutitons should be permitted to discriminate against LBGTQ citizens — and in pushing that claim, they enjoy the powerful support of the U.S. Catholic bishops, though Catholic layfolks do not stand with the bishops in this regard. The PRRI report states,

White evangelical Protestants (56%) stand out as the only major religious group that favors allowing small business owners to refuse goods or services to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds. Fewer than one-third of white mainline Protestants (32%), Catholics (28%), black Protestants (24%), religiously unaffiliated Americans (21%), and members of non-Christian traditions (18%) support a religious exemption for small business owners. Notably, despite opposition to same-sex marriage, more than seven in ten (73%) black Protestants oppose allowing small business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.

PRRI also notes, 

Support for same-sex marriage is fairly consistent across regions with one notable exception: Americans living in the South [i.e., the region most dominated by white evangelicals] are substantially less supportive than Americans living in other parts of the country. Roughly seven in ten Americans living in the Northeast (69%), West (68%) and Midwest (67%) favor same-sex marriage compared to 54% of Southerners.

As German Lopez notes yesterday, commenting on the PRRI survey,  

Across the board, a majority of US adults are supportive of LGBTQ rights — whether it’s marriage, nondiscrimination laws, or bathroom access for transgender people. Most of the country is now supportive of these basic rights

Except. Except for that significant outlier group. Which voted by hefty percentages (4 in 5 white evangelicals) for the current president, and forms the solid core of his base. Which remains determined to support the new president through thick and thin whether he targets Muslims and immigrants or rips healthcare coverage from millions of poor Americans, as Anita Little points out in an article today commenting on how white evangelicals continue dancing with the one that brung them to power.

This is an exception we cannot allow ourselves to ignore precisely because white evangelicals have such outsized political clout, particularly in the Trump administration. Though they represent a minority (and an ever-receding one) of the American population, white evangelicals strongly believe that they have been endowed by God with the mission of ruling the United States as their uniquely Christian nation. They imagine that they should have the "right," Constitution and democracy be damned, to impose their peculiar religious views on the whole country and have those views enshrined in law.

This is a dynamic that has been going on for a very long time in the United States, and we who are cavalier about remembering our history must not allow ourselves to forget the following:

✣ This is the very same religious group that split the churches over the issue of slavery in the 19th century, claiming its pro-slavery religious beliefs were being discriminated against when the rest of the country wanted to abolish slavery.

✣ This is the very same religious group that denounced women's rights in the early 20th century as unbiblical, the work of the devil, and which claimed it was being discriminated against when it was forced to recognize woman suffrage.

✣ This is the very same religious group which declared that interracial marriage was unbiblical and the work of the devil, and demanded that its colleges be permitted to receive federal funds while violating federal non-discrimination laws. When the Supreme Court refused to uphold this peculiar strategy in Bob Jones University v. United States, this religious group screamed bloody murder, claiming there was national discrimination against its religious beliefs.

✣ This is the very same religious group whose churches were the backbone of resistance to civil rights for African Americans in the middle of the 20th century — and which began to shout that it was experiencing discrimination when it was no longer permitted to uphold and engage in racial discrimination.

This is the group 4 of 5 whose members elected Donald Trump, and who most ardently defend and bless his policies as he attacks immigrants, whips up hatred of Muslims, turns a blind eye to threats against Jewish places of worship and Jewish organizations, and moves to strip access to healthcare from millions of poor citizens.

We need to pay close attention to the significance of this outlier group in the PRRI report because, while it may be concentrated in one region of the nation and represent a minority of citizens of the nation, it demands the "right" to control everyone in the name of its religious beliefs — and it will keep asserting that right and using political power to enshrine it, if the rest of us do not push back in the name of our Constitution.

As a footnote, it's worth noting the following passage in Conor Lynch's essay at Salon this morning, whose subtitle reminds us that "Trump is surrounded by religious zealots":

In his prescient 2007 book, "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America," Chris Hedges observed the many other parallels between Christian fundamentalists and Islamic extremists: 
"The Christian Right and radical Islamists … share the same obsessions. They do not tolerate other forms of belief or disbelief. They are at war with artistic and cultural expression. They seek to silence the media. They call for the subjugation of women. They promote severe sexual repression, and they seek to express themselves through violence."
Christian theocrats who are "arrayed against American democracy," observed Hedges, "are waiting for a moment to strike, a national crisis that will allow them to shred the Constitution in the name of national security and strength."

We are, in my view, only a step away from this terrifying apocalpytic vision, and if it arrives, we must not allow ourselves to forget that it was brought to us by 4 in 5 white evangelical Christians and 3 in 5 white Catholics and Mormons — by 3 in 5 white Catholics as opposed to all U.S. Catholics; by 3 in 5 white Catholics acting in unison with the U.S. Catholic bishops, who have long since allied themselves with right-wing white evangelicals and their fascist agenda for the nation.

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