Are Christians a persecuted minority or just a bunch of whiners? The answer you get to that question depends on who you ask. In some cases the answer is that both are true. In other cases the reality is that Christians overreact to other people’s dislike of their positions. However, according to sociologist George Yancey, there really is an anti-Christian bias in the United States, though it does not yet amount to persecution.
Both because of the question he picks up and the manner in which he answers it, Yancey’s latest book may be one of the most significant popular level books published this year. This is a book that will be a helpful resource for many pastors and laypeople for years to come.
Summary and Analysis
Yancey’s recent book from IVP Books is a popularized version of his co-authored academic tome, So Many Christians, So Few Lions. In Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias, he repackages the peer reviewed statistical research with careful analysis and thoughtful applications of the lessons learned. This is a book that pastors, professors, seminary students, and any Christian seeking to live and work in our culture should read.
A key term in Yancey’s book is Christianophobia. Personally, I dislike the word because the “phobia” tag has been co-opted and misused for people that have rational objections to the position or behavior of a minority. Yancey, however, carefully defines the term and uses it consistently throughout; this makes his usage palatable. His chosen definition is that Christianophobia is “an irrational animosity towards or hatred of Christians, or Christianity in general.” This definition seems fair. It captures what should be a fairly narrow slice of people that act irrationally negative toward Christians.
The research Yancey presents demonstrates that Christianophobia is not nearly as rare as we might hope. In fact, Yancey has showed that in academia in particular more than half of academics believe they are justified in rejecting Christians from tenure applications or simply not hiring Christians for academic positions to begin with. Yancey asks the pertinent and obvious question: Would it be OK to say you wouldn’t hire another demographic category or deny them tenure because of their inclusion in that demographic? The answer right now, according to Yancey’s research, is that most people refuse to consider that a valid question.
Yancey is not claiming there is an active conspiracy to ruin the lives of Christians: American Christians are not experiencing persecution like that of Christ-followers in other nations. Neither is he claiming that it is impossible for Christians to get jobs, earn a living, or be in some ways accepted in society. He is, however, claiming there is often an overt and acknowledged bias against Christians in society. He also argues that in general those who demonstrate Christianophobia view anti-Christian as acceptable. In other words, there are a number of people that just don’t like Christians and they think that is perfectly fine.
Unlike some of the other societal biases, like anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Christians in the West rarely have to fear for their physical safety. Yancey argues this is because “those who tend to have Christianophobia are in a better position to punish Christians in nonviolent ways because they possess more social power than those who tend to exhibit overt racism, Islamophobia or homophobia.” This makes anti-Christian bias more difficult to track, yet the surveys Yancey conducted demonstrate it is a real thing and relatively widespread.
Yancey salts the chapters with comments excerpted from the surveys conducted as a part of one of his academic studies. He chose them because they were representative, not because they were the most extreme examples of anti-Christian bias. I won’t quote them here, but the bile of them is rather telling. It is worth noting that the comments were from an anonymous survey, but that may eliminate some of the sugar coating that might otherwise exclude clear expression of opinions. The frankness of many of the comments is revealing, because it demonstrates an overt dislike of Christians that would be unacceptable for any other demographic.
Analysis and Conclusion
Hostile Environment is balanced in pointing out the inconsistencies in the Christian witness in the public square. Christianity is divided with many who claim the label being largely assimilated to the ethics of the culture. Or, on the other hand, many of those who are doctrinally orthodox are often shrill and inconsiderate when making their arguments. Sometimes the bias against Christians is deserved. However, Yancey points out, that bias goes much deeper than internal problems between self-described Christians can explain.
Toward the end of the book Yancey offers suggestions on how to remain a faithfully orthodox Christian and educate people about what that really means. He also provides some practical suggestions on how to deal with anti-Christian bias. These final two chapters are perhaps the most significant of the book, though not the most eye opening. There is room for further development and discussion on these topics, but Yancey does well to begin that discussion.
Yancey’s book is a must-read. It appears that anti-Christian bias will remain a real thing and it is becoming even more politically acceptable to publically declare discriminatory beliefs against Christians and celebrate practicing such discrimination. If the Church is going to avoid capitulating doctrinal ground because of social pressure, we must think through how we are to live. If our children are going to learn how to be faithful in society, they must know something of the resistance to their beliefs.
Note: A gratis copy of this volume was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.