Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Are Christians Really….? 7

posted by Scot McKnight

BREWright.jpg

Now the big one: What do non-Christians think of Christians? This chp is an examination of one of the most common observations made in the last decade, and it is an observation made often among emerging folks. I’ve made the same one.
This chp is the chp that made me think we’ve got to get more rigorous in what we think about Christians in America.
We are looking at Brad Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media

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Yes, you may already have guessed it: the numbers do not prove what so many are claiming. So here we go…
But first the question: Do you believe Brad Wright’s conclusions?

Well, yes, Brad examines the theories of some friends of mine: Dan Kimball, Gabe Lyons and David Kinnamon. Yes, he disagrees with them… but let’s see what he says.
First, atheists think the same thing about themselves; they too believe they have an image problem. 
Second, the big theory out there today is that nonChristians have a negative stereotype of Christians, especially of evangelicals. They say Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, anti-gay etc.. For some reasons, many have embraced the negative stereotype and turned against the Christians … you see his point. If someone else has a negative stereotype we often criticize the stereotype and the stereotyper — we might take them to court. He suggests there is such a thing as “Christophobic.” Stereotypes are not rooted in reality but ignorance and prejudice. Think about what our culture thinks about women in the sciences… At least part of this problem is prejudice. Wright’s numbers will show some of this.
Maybe the biggest problem is our embrace of the prejudice!
2008 Gallup Poll. General population’s feelings toward various groups, and the numbers are positive, neutral and negative: Methodists (51, 45, 3), Jews (about the same), Baptists (49, 40, 11), Evangelicals (40, 38, 22), Mormons (25, 46, 29), Muslims (18, 34, 48), Atheists (12, 40, 48).
NonChristians on same: Methodists (32, 58, 10), Jews (43, 49, 8), Evangelicals (13, 36, 51), Mormons (26, 46, 28), Muslims (19, 54, 27), Atheists (36, 48, 16). Big issue here is that Baptists are not involved in this “Evangelical” number so that if one factors them in the whole thing shifts. Baptists had a higher rating of people who liked them. 74% of nonChristians were either positive or neutral toward Baptists. He suggests the word “evangelical” is now a pejorative term; it provokes negative responses.
He also studies numbers that show Evangelicals have negative attitudes toward folks of other religions — something mentioned in the previous post.
Are these numbers shifting? According to Wright the numbers actually show that attitudes toward Christians and evangelicals are improving.
Here’s an odd conclusions: older groups are more negative toward evangelicals than younger groups.
And another study: what we think others think of us matters more than what others actually think of us! Evangelicals are 30% higher in negative self-perception than our society!
The group most anti-Evangelical is university professors. 53%. The banner of tolerance, the guiding ethic of the university, is least shown toward evangelicals.
Brad confesses that he kept quiet about his faith until he got tenure.


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Dana Ames

posted July 21, 2010 at 12:43 am


Scot, what do you mean when you say “We’ve got to get more rigorous in what we think about Christians in America”?
Dana
captcha: book indigo



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DRT

posted July 21, 2010 at 7:25 am


Nonchristians have a more negative view of evangelicals than muslims by nearly a 2 to 1 margin. There is a perception problem.
It seems to me evangelicals need to disassociate themselves with the radicals in their religion.



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RJS

posted July 21, 2010 at 7:32 am


Wright’s confession at the end of your post is interesting – and pretty common. These perception problems don’t help.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 21, 2010 at 7:35 am


Dana, people are just saying things and are not looking at the evidence. That’s what I mean by being more rigorous.
Like DRT’s comment after yours: yes, 27% of nonChristians have a negative view of Muslims and 51% of nonChristians have a negative view of Evangelicals. Yes, but that’s the problem: Baptists are excluded from “Evangelical” so what does “Evangelical” mean to the nonChristian? If you exclude Baptists from Evangelicals it shows one is using a meaning of “Evangelical” that surely is inaccurate.



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Rick

posted July 21, 2010 at 7:36 am


DRT-
“It seems to me evangelicals need to disassociate themselves with the radicals in their religion”
Who would those radicals be? Osteen? McArthur? McLaren? Dobson? Piper? Claiborne?
Also, are radicals in the religion the problem, or could it be something else (politics? Limbaugh? scandal?). These stats don’t show the “why”.



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Diana H

posted July 21, 2010 at 8:22 am


This argument makes no sense to me (I had sad news this Am so this could be why). This is a big concern of mine as I find Christ sadly missing. In what region/area/demography, and beliefs of the non-Christians represented in this poll? I know for me, living in the way South/heavily Evangelical Right area, as a Christian, I have my own negative opinion of ‘Mainstream, in your face, Christians’. Things aren’t right if Christ is not visiable in our word and deed.



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Ray Ingles

posted July 21, 2010 at 8:41 am


There must be a typo in the ‘general population opinions on atheists’. The percentages add up to 110%…



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Scot McKnight

posted July 21, 2010 at 8:50 am


Ray, thanks. Did I get it?



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DRT

posted July 21, 2010 at 9:29 am


I grew up in an industrial northern city and worked in the same city for a several years as an adult. I have also lived in the mid-atlantic for a decade and now have lived in the rural south for more than a decade.
My northern perspective of Evangelical is the crazy healing people on TV who don’t seem very grounded in reality. My northern view of Baptist are the black churches where people are just like everyone else except that that have a lot more fun doing it,
My now southern perspective of Evangelical and Baptist are both intimately tied up in the crazy people on TV AND the Southern Baptists who I think are heading to cult status.
The views are not just definitional, but highly regional.



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Travis Greene

posted July 21, 2010 at 9:30 am


“Baptists are excluded from “Evangelical” so what does “Evangelical” mean to the nonChristian? If you exclude Baptists from Evangelicals it shows one is using a meaning of “Evangelical” that surely is inaccurate.”
This doesn’t make much sense to me. Are Baptists specifically a discrete category from evangelical in the survey? If not, then the different numbers for Baptist don’t matter, or at least we have no way of knowing how to factor them in. If so, then it is a bad question, because they aren’t discrete categories.
Also, I think that contributing to the narrative of Christians as an aggrieved and persecuted minority that is discriminated against is not only untrue, it’s missionally counterproductive. If people don’t like us, we shouldn’t look for the mote in their eye, complaining about prejudice, or talking about going to court, contributing to more identity politics. We should look to the log in our own eye; we really can be hateful, arrogant, entitled, and domineering, and we should try to emulate Jesus who was the opposite of those things.



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abbie nevere

posted July 21, 2010 at 9:53 am


Since 51% of nonchristians have a negative view of evangelicals, how can his data support the idea that perception and reality are wrong? The perception is the reality. If Baptists are a wild card and we can’t figure out how to factor them in regarding the term evangelical, then how does this data help?
I’m really trying to hard to understand how these numbers have any practical value for evangelicals.



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Richard

posted July 21, 2010 at 9:54 am


A question that comes to mind in light of Wright’s data:
If the Christian “image problem” is so outlandish, why are so many Christians willing to believe it, and seem to have personal anecdotes that reinforce the perceptions?
Maybe we should be surveying Christians with the surveys we’ve been giving non-Christians and seeing how the answers line up or don’t.
I don’t think it’s hard to imagine why “evangelical” has become a loaded term after 20-30 years of the conservative right religious/political movement. We didn’t make a lot of friends with that movement and we definitely alienated some.



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Randy G.

posted July 21, 2010 at 11:19 am


I have just one comment on this; it is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.
How is it that right now in America, Evangelicals and Secular Scientists, two of the most establishment figures with the most power in popular culture, both and at the same time see themselves as so assaulted and endangered? Clearly this has to do with far more than reality?
Peace,
Randy Gabrielse



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Jason Lee

posted July 21, 2010 at 11:22 am


So 51% of “non-Christians” have negative feelings toward Evangelicals. This may be a bit misleading for Christian readers, because when many Christians read “non-Christians,” they’re forgetting that in surveys like this most of America is “Christian.” So those being categorized as “non-Christian” isn’t the average Joe down the street who doesn’t go to church. Rather it’s the hard core secularist that rejects any affiliation whatsoever. This is a small select crowd…maybe only around 20%-25% of the US. So it’s not surprising that 51% of this select crowd dislike Evangelicals. And Richard hits the nail on the head … it’s probably mostly to do with the Evangelical-politics connection as well as issues like abortion and homosexuality.
The interesting thing in Wright’s chapter is how the general American public (again which is mostly at least nominally “Christian”) feels about Evangelicals. 40% feel positive. 38% feel neutral. 22% feel negative. So the take-away here is that folks like Dan Kimball, Gabe Lyons and David Kinnamon need to be very explicit and define their terms when they talk about “non-Christians” and “unchurched.” The data show that it’s only among a small select non-Christian subset of the population (25%) where there is negativity. And even here, it’s only 51%! Now Kimball can say…well I’m talking about Santa Cruz and stuff’s different here compared with the nation. Well that’s fine, but then why should the nation care about what only applies to Santa Cruz. He should be clear that what he’s talking about probably only applies to a tiny subset of the population nation-wide…not some big trend. Does Kimball make this qualification clear as a bell when we speaks and writes? In my opinion, if he really wants to serve the church he should.



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Robin

posted July 21, 2010 at 11:27 am


I will echo Wright’s concluding comments that as a Ph.D. student in a secular university and as a professional working with mostly Ph.D.’s I have definitely always kept my religious beliefs a secret until I had some security within the group. You don’t have to listen to ‘educated’ people bash your religion for too long before you realize that you should keep it under raps.
The thing that always amazes me is the level of hatefulness and religious prejudice people will spout off, even in a university setting, as long as they are attacking an acceptable target.



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Jason Lee

posted July 21, 2010 at 11:45 am


Robin’s experience has generally been mine as well. But it seems that this isn’t unique to academics…many groups of people have their own favorite pariah groups. For some groups it is a racial group that’s despised. For others it’s some religious or political group for on which there is a free-for-all of disdain. Even though the “tolerant” academic communities should know better, they’re still just humans with emotions, grudges, misinformation, and prejudice like the rest of us.
To me the real groups we should be concerned about in terms of prejudice are Christian communities. We ourselves should be held to a higher standard when it comes to prejudice and harmful words toward others. We have the transforming power of Christ in our midst…right? This doesn’t mean being affirming toward any and every behavior of others, but prejudice and callousness should be put in check. Unfortunately many of our Christian leaders are not so careful on this point. Nor do we hold them accountable.



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Robin

posted July 21, 2010 at 12:02 pm


Thanks for the affirmation Jason, and I agree on your point about Christian prejudice. I will say though, that of everyone I have come in contact with the most vocal and derogatory have been mainline Christians. The professing atheists and other non-christians might have harbored similar contempt for evangelicals or conservative Christians, but far and away the most vocally disdainful have been mainline Christians, mostly theologically liberal and politically libertarian (I’m around economists all the time, thus the libertarian aspect).



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Robin

posted July 21, 2010 at 12:03 pm


Lastly, since libertarians are kind of notoriously cantankerous, it might be more their libertarianism than their mainline church attendance that makes them so vocal in their hatred for conservative Christianity. Ayn Rand was both a libertarian and an atheist but I’m still not sure which part of her ideology made her hate Christianity so much.



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RJS

posted July 21, 2010 at 12:20 pm


Robin and Jason,
I find a relatively small percentage actively anti-evangelical. Perhaps 5-10%. The real problem is the quiet agreement and/or assent by those who are more or less neutral.
Abortion is an issue – but actually a very, very minor issue.
Homosexuality and views on this is the biggest issue, part of the reason the Illinois over-reaction didn’t surprise me much.
Attitudes toward women rank second. I have been asked repeatedly how I can remain a Christian given the total disrespect Christians (especially evangelicals) have for women.
Politics and creationism are other significant issues. Politics in disagreement (a healthy part of our system) and creationism as a source of ridicule.



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Jason Lee

posted July 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm


It seems both conservative and mainline Christians could improve quite a bit in terms of vocally despising certain groups.



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Matt Edwards

posted July 21, 2010 at 12:29 pm


That is fascinating. I am dumbfounded.



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Jason Lee

posted July 21, 2010 at 12:36 pm


Insightful comments RJS. However, in my experience I’d have to bump that 5-10% number up higher if you include all of the negative adjectives that get attached to “Evangelical,” “Catholic,” “religious,” etc… Phrases such as “rabidly Evangelical” or “rabidly religious.” The frequency of negative jokes and side comments also would boost that percentage for me. But this may feel more pervasive in the social sciences than other fields. In the social sciences religion and politics is frequently what we’re actually talking about. People like to chime in with jokes and colorful adjectives … because they’re humans prejudiced toward their outgroups.



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RJS

posted July 21, 2010 at 12:50 pm


Jason,
It may be more prevalent in the Social Sciences. But part of my number comes from perception of “instigators.” There are more who will chime in – but who will not initiate jokes against, who behave very differently in gatherings where the instigator(s) are not present. I think this is a rather common social phenomenon, but have no data or expertise to defend my anecdotal impression.
It is also quite common in Christian circles – with respect to many discussions of their/our “outgroups”. (Or so it seems to me.)
What kind of captcha is this?: crave surveillance



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Fish

posted July 21, 2010 at 1:07 pm


“Ayn Rand was both a libertarian and an atheist but I’m still not sure which part of her ideology made her hate Christianity so much.”
It’s ironic that Ayn Rand is so well respected among many conservative Christians. You could hear echoes of objectivism in the health care debate, for example.
I think you’re right in that libertarians are notoriously cantankerous and anti-authority, and this probably plays into their dislike of evangelicals.
But it gets really interesting when you get Evangelical Christian Libertarians. They acknowledge social problems but tolerate no government solution.



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Jason Lee

posted July 21, 2010 at 1:13 pm


good thoughts rjs. fair enough…instigators and (ready) accomplices. and of course the particular positions and amount of power the instigators have vis a vis accomplices in these situations also probably matters. tenured faculty instigators are going to get a lot more assistant prof accomplices who go along with their personal jabs at certain religious groups. all of this likely varies from department to department where the power faculty create more or less of an anti-religious climate … either emboldening instigators or keeping them (somewhat) in check.



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DRT

posted July 21, 2010 at 1:20 pm


Jason@14
This is a small select crowd…maybe only around 20%-25% of the US.
Per part 2 in this post, unaffiliated is 15% and presumably atheists are in addition to this number so you 25% may be right?..
But note (per post 2 in this series) that the percent evangelical is also 25%. That means the crowd having a negative view of evangelicals is the same size (or bigger?) than the number of evangelicals themselves. That?s not a small select crowd.
This is even more pronounced if the evangelical number quoted in the part 2 post included Baptists. In that case, there may be as many people having a bad impression of evangelicals as there are evangelicals.



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Jason Lee

posted July 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm


drt,
it’s not that i’m saying 20%25% of the country is a small number of people (keep in mind though that’s its only 50% of this 25% that’s negative). What I’m saying is that 25% is less than what evangelical readers think when they hear things about how most non-Christians are so anti-evangelical. When they hear “non-Christians” they’re not thinking 25% of America, they’re thinking much more…perhaps ~80%. Books like UnChristian makes it sound like most of Americans feel negative toward evangelicals. Wright’s analysis doesn’t bear this out at all.



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Tim

posted July 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm


Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ~ Jesus
Should we not expect to be called hate-filled hypocrites and other unfair negative stereotypes?
Is there a way in which this has been a “blessing”? Might the negative stereotypes be an opportunity to radically demonstrate the reality of Christ’s love?
Is there a danger is protesting too much against the negative stereotypes?
Is there a danger in worrying about opinion polls? Or, are these polls valuable?



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Tim

posted July 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm


Should I protest against Mainline Christians such as myself being called the most derogatory group? No.
Will I benefit by saying, “nope, we’re not the most derogatory, we’re the nicest!”? No.
Or, is it better to ask, “what experiences have you had with Mainline Christians?” Yes.
So… what’s up? what happened with some of you and the Mainliners?



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Peter J Walker - EmergingChristian.com

posted July 22, 2010 at 2:21 am


I don’t understand trying to argue or undermine or counter the negative assertions. I’ve been an evangelical my whole life. These critiques are absolutely true.
“Other lies you’ve been told”? Really? We’re gonna play that game? C’mon, let’s choose a little honesty in our self reflection. We’ve failed to embody the values we supposedly represent, so there’s no use denying the allegations. They’re valid. But we can do better… let’s take that angle.



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Ken Keith

posted July 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm


Many of these blog entries miss one main point:
Is the Bible God’s Word?
If it is then there are some very clear biblical stands on homosexuality and other controversial issues. If it is not then it contains some interesting moral tales that can be applied or not.
If it is then we ARE going to judged by God for our actions with some eternal consequences, if not then any good shrink can help us through life.
If it is creation is true, if not…and so on.
In my mind it doesn’t matter what thinkers of the past the past believed. Much of the Bible is very clear and it seems those are the parts we have the most trouble with. The easy thing is to simply analyze it away. We then avoid controversy and assuage our guilt at the same time. A two-fer.



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Anon

posted July 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm


If we are judged by God for our actions, we’re all going to Hell. I do not love my neighbor as I love God, I have walked right by Jesus when he was hungry and asking for spare change, and I had some shellfish yesterday.



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