A study led by a University of Illinois professor suggests that Americans who oppose same-sex marriage or adding LGBT classifications to discrimination laws want to maintain a sense of "Christian privilege and hegemony."
The study, published in the American Journal of Community Psychology, surveyed over 1,015 heterosexual college undergraduates who self-identified as either Christian (68%) or nonreligious.
The respondents were asked a series of questions to determine their "thoughts and attitudes about Christian privilege and power in American society" as well as whether they support or oppose discrimination protections being extended to people who identify as LGBT.
The study was led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign psychology professor Nathan Todd, whose research interests include "how religion and Whiteness shape individual and group engagement with social justice."
The study was released ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court's Monday ruling extending federal civil rights laws to include protections for gay, lesbian and transgender workers from discrimination. The decision came nearly five years after the court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
"Although same-sex marriage is now the law of the land in the U.S., there continue to be problems with employment discrimination, housing discrimination and other types of discrimination against sexual and gender minorities," Todd said in a statement published by the university last Thursday.
"One of the key barriers to those rights has been opposition from some Christian and political conservatives. We wanted to know whether people's ideas about political power explain some of this opposition."
In the study, respondents were asked to rank how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements, such as whether they believed "to be Christian is to have a religious advantage in this country," and if "Christianity is valued more in this society than other religions."
The participants were also asked whether they think Christians "should have" a "religious advantage in this country" or if Christianity "should be valued more in this society than other religions."
According to Todd, these questions differentiated participants' awareness of advantages conferred to Christians in the U.S. from the belief that such advantages are right and should exist.
Todd further argues that since Christian practices and traditions are historically embedded in American society, being Christian confers many privileges. Some of those privileges, he says, are institutional in the fact that government and school calendars in the U.S. revolve around the Christian day of sabbath and Christian holidays.
"People who are Christian are not singled out or asked to speak for their religion on a regular basis, as members of other religions often are," Todd added. "Christians in the U.S. do not face systemic bias or violence based on their religion and they do not live in fear of this type of experience."
Survey respondents were also asked to rate their support or opposition to same-sex marriage, LGBT adults adopting children, and whether men who identify as female should be allowed to enter women's bathrooms.
Christian students were also asked to rate how strongly their religious beliefs aligned with conservative Christian views.
"Our analyses revealed that opposition to sexual- and gender-minority rights was correlated with Christian and political conservatism, and with the belief that Christians should be the dominant group in society," Todd contends.
Todd added that the data suggests that greater support for Christians being the most dominant group in the U.S. partially explains why Christian conservatives and political conservatives oppose such things as same-sex marriage and men going into women's bathrooms. He stressed that the findings were consistent across Christian and nonreligious students.
Todd said the goal of the study was not to "antagonize or demonize" political or Christian conservatives, but rather to "learn more about what drives them to support or oppose sexual- and gender-minority rights."
"I also think it's a mistake to characterize all Christians as thinking or acting the same way, especially as some Christians do support rights for sexual and gender minorities," he said.
Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, told The Christian Post that Todd's study seems to have been done "through a neo-Marxist analysis focused on power, 'privilege,' and oppression…"
"[It] is pounding a square peg into a round hole," Sprigg said. "The authors seek evidence that 'opposition to sexual and gender minority (SGM) rights' by Christian conservatives is rooted in a desire to maintain 'Christian privilege and hegemony.'"
Sprigg warned that while self-identified Christians in the U.S. remain a majority in the U.S., their "privilege" is "only numerical."
"To publicly assert a vibrant faith in Christ and seek to live by it in all areas of life is increasingly to invite responses ranging from ridicule to persecution," Sprigg explained. "If 'Christian hegemony' means a desire that all may come to know Christ, then we must plead guilty. The motive, however, is not a desire for Christian political or social power in this life, but a desire that all may know the blessings of eternal life."
Sprigg added that the "implication that we seek a theocracy" is false.
"Christians are at the forefront of the struggle for religious liberty for all faiths, at home and abroad, because only a faith that is adopted freely and without coercion is a meaningful and effective faith," he said.
"As for 'sexual and gender minority rights,' the presumption seems to be that unless government actively coerces private businesses and organizations to adopt the ideologies of the sexual revolution, sexual minorities lack 'rights.' The truth is that the presence of non-discrimination laws based on 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' (such as that fabricated by the U.S. Supreme Court this week) imposes government power upon the exercise of private liberty."
Sprigg noted that the absence of such laws "imposes nothing on anyone" because "employers remain completely free to hire homosexual or transgender employees if they choose."
Sprigg explained that missing from both Supreme Court opinions (this week and in 2015) as well as in the journal article is "any recognition of the real reason Christians (and others) disapprove of homosexuality or transgenderism."
"It has nothing to do with a struggle for power between different groups of people, but involves concern about the consequences (both spiritual and material) of certain chosen behaviors — sexual relations between people of the same sex, and public rejection of one's biological sex."
Sprigg went on to argue that both the Old and New Testaments "clearly prohibit homosexual conduct."
"Since God created humans' male and female' (Genesis 1:27), humans have no right to re-create ourselves otherwise," he said.
"These commands are merciful, not oppressive. Obedience to them would have spared over 300,000 American men who had sex with men from death as a result of AIDS. And it quite possibly would have spared transgender people the 19-fold higher rate of completed suicide — even after gender reassignment surgery."
Sprigg concluded by saying that liberal academics who are hostile to Christian conservative views should "check the 'privilege' they enjoy on most college campuses today."