What Should Christians Do About Anti-Christian Hostility? Christian Sociologist George Yancey Offers Guidance (Interview)

(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)A protester dressed as a copy of the Bible joins groups demonstrating outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 30, 2014.

What should Christians do about the hostile environment they increasingly face? In a Christian Post interview, professor George Yancey talks about his new book written for fellow Christians, Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias.

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(Photo: InterVarsity Press)Cover for Hostile Environment: Understanding and responding to Anti-Christian Bias by George Yancey (2015)

Christianophobia exists among a powerful elite subculture in the United States, University of North Texas sociologists Yancey and David Williamson wrote in So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States? While that book was written in an academic voice, in Hostile Environment, Yancey writes as a Christian speaking to fellow Christians, and offers some guidance on how Christians should respond to that anti-Christian hostility.

In an email interview with CP, Yancey said he appreciated the opportunity to speak from the heart to fellow believers about how he thinks Christians should respond to Christianophobia.

The early chapters summarize much of his work in So Many Christians, So Few Lions and helps readers understand the sources of Christianophobia. The middle chapters, "Are Christians Responsible for Christianophobia" and "Trouble Within" discuss ways to deal with hypocrisy, sin and dysfunction within the Church. The latter chapters deal more specifically with ways to confront anti-Christian bigotry.

Yancey is also careful throughout the book to distinguish between the discrimination against Christians in the United States and the violence against Christians in other parts of the world. He does not use the word "persecution," for instance, to describe the negative experiences of Christians domestically.

"Christians are not being persecuted, but religious discrimination and bigotry in our society can affect us. We should combat that discrimination and bigotry when it rears its ugly head," he wrote.

Here is the transcript of Yancey's interview:

CP: Your previous book with David Williamson, So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States?, looked at anti-Christian hostility from an academic perspective. For Hostile Environment, you went with InterVarsity Press, a Christian publisher, and you're writing in the voice of a Christian speaking to fellow Christians. What did you hope to add to the conversation with this new book?

Yancey: The major purpose of So Many Christians, So Few Lions (SMCSFL) is to present academic research on the nature of Christianophobia and document the type of person most likely to have these negative attitudes. Such a book is important so that we have scholarly evidence about Christianophobia to use in our national dialog on religious rights and freedom.

Thus, SMCSFL plays an important role in providing evidence for the issues I discussed in Hostile Environment (HE). In fact, I could not write HE with any credibility if I had not written SMCSFL. But while we tried to write the book in an engaging manner, it is difficult to write an academic book for the average non-academic.

Since I wrote HE with a Christian publisher, I was free from using the complex jargon and sometimes stifling structure often found in academic books. I could talk from my heart in a way that is unseemly in scholarly work. I felt more open to discuss with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ what I believe needs to be done to deal with Christianophobia.

Finally, this book is priced better for the non-academic reader and can allow that reader to get a basic description of the evidence I produced in SMCSFL. So while the topic is the same for both books, they accomplish different important objectives.

CP: What do people with Christianophobia want from Christians?

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(Photo: George Yancey)George Yancey, professor of sociology, University of North Texas

Yancey: In a nutshell they want Christians to shut up and stay in their homes and churches.

Individuals with Christianophobia have a great deal of pre-capita social and cultural power as they are more likely to be white, male, educated and wealthy than other Americans. They indicated in my research that they believe they know what is best for our society, and perhaps that is because they possess such power.

They also argue that Christians are leading us back to the "Dark Ages," want to set up a theocracy, and oppose science. They also demand that Christians do not proselytize others since they believe that Christians are not very intelligent or are trying to manipulate others for money or power.

These beliefs and stereotypes provide them with justification to assert that they, and not Christians, should run our society and government. For this reason it is not surprising that they want Christians to stay out of the public square.

People with Christianophobia at least superficially value the ideals of religious neutrality. They perceive themselves as non-biased. So while they want to exclude Christians from the public square, they are unlikely to support measures that overtly single out Christians for punishment. This allows them to hold on to a social identity that is linked to "tolerance."

However, they have a willingness to support measures that disproportionately punish Christians, or remove Christians from the public square, as long as such punishment or removal can be justified with non-bigoted reasons. This is similar to the concept of disparate impact that has been discussed as a part of the racial problems in the United States.

CP: Some argue that Christians should stop "whining" about being mistreated. Do they have a point?

Yancey: There are Christians who cry persecution at everything. Let me be clear that I am not, nor have I ever, argued that Christians in the United States are being persecuted. Christians in the United States, unlike Christians in certain other countries, are not thrown in jail, or killed specifically because of their faith. If that changes in the future then I will talk of Christians being persecuted in the United States. But right now, it is imprudent for Christians in the United States to talk about persecution.

However, anti-Christian bias is real and produces tangible consequences. For example, I documented in a previous book, Compromising Scholarship, the willingness of academics to discriminate against conservative Protestants. Other research has supported the reality of anti-Christian academic bias. It remains to be seen if future research will register the effects of anti-Christian bias in other social institutions.

While Christians are not persecuted today, they do face the reality of anti-religious bigotry. Christians should take a middle ground approach where they avoid claims of persecution but recognize the reality of how modern Christianophobia impacts society.

CP: You wrote the book before the recent Duggar family scandal. Some critics are saying it is another example of Christian hypocrisy. What lessons do you think Christians should take from the scandal?

Yancey: It is not a story I have been closely following so I will stay away from any attempt to adjudicate this particular situation. My general perspective is that Christians should be careful placing too much trust in individual Christians. We have a tendency to try to portray our heroes as perfect. But all humans are fallen and we should not portray ourselves in that way if we want an honest dialog with non-Christians.

I have never engaged in anything like child molestation but neither am I proud of everything I have done in my life. Indeed our weakness and sin nature is why we need a Savior. If we recognize this then we can stay away from a celebrity mentality where we put certain Christians on a pedestal because they have achieved fame.

CP: You have conducted research and written about racial reconciliation. Did some of what you learned help you with this book?

Yancey: Racism is not the same as Christianophobia. However, there are aspects in our racialized society that can be seen in my examination of Christianophobia. For example, the dehumanizing I documented in SMCSFL is similar in the way minority groups have been dehumanized in other social situations. My work in race and ethnicity has allowed me to understand how racism can be manifested in symbolic and institutional ways which is not unlike some of the mechanisms by which individuals exhibit their Christianophobia.

To be sure there are critical differences between Christianophobia and racism, so it is a mistake to think of them as identical. For example, we do not have the history of violence in American Christianophobia that we do with racism. Furthermore, racial minorities have never been the dominant group as Christians have been in our society.

On the one hand, those who tend to exhibit racism in contemporary society do not have a lot of social power and one of the worst things a person can be called today is a racist. On the other hand, those who have Christianophobia today tend to have cultural power and anti-Christian stereotypes are fairly widely accepted among the highly educated. Thus, we have to be careful to recognize the real differences between racism and Christianophobia, even though there are common patterns of prejudice and dehumanization that seem to emerge whenever bigotry surfaces in human society.