Thursday, January 02, 2020

Evangelicals fear for their rights; 2016 poll suggests concern is overblown, and that they have an 'inverted Golden Rule'

"White evangelicals fear atheists and Democrats would strip away their rights," headlines The Washington Post. "Why? Right-wing media is warning of a civil war — and urging evangelicals to stock up on guns." The headline is based on research and conclusions by Paul A. Djupe, associate professor of political science at Denison University in Ohio and an affiliated scholar with the Public Religion Research Institute. His article appears in the Post's "Monkey Cage," a section where academics share their recent research on topics of public interest.

Djupe notes "voices on the extreme right" warning that President Trump's impeachment is the first shot in a civil war to come. “The Democrats are forcing me to stockpile ammunition, food, water, and medical supplies to defend my family, home, and church,” says Rick Wiles, who Djupe identifies as a "conservative evangelical conspiracy theorist." He notes that Trump has "said that Democrats were coming for the rights of Christians, and that evangelist Franklin Graham "claims that 'demonic forces' are pressing for the impeachment of someone that a significant proportion of evangelicals believe is God’s anointed president."

Those views are reflected among evangelicals, according to an online survey that Djupe and colleague Ryan Burge conducted in May of 1,010 U.S. Protestants, selected through Qualtrics Panels "and weighted to resemble the diversity of Protestants in the country," Djupe writes. "White evangelical Protestants made up 60 percent of our sample."

"We found that 60 percent believed that atheists would not allow them First Amendment rights and liberties," and that Democrats in Congress wouldn't allow them to "hold rallies, teach, speak freely, and run for public office," Djupe reports. The results showed party-affiliation influence; 23 percent said Republicans in Congress wouldn't respect their rights, either, but "Those were primarily the views of a small contingent of white evangelical Democrats in the sample," he writes.

But when Democrats were asked in a similar 2016 poll about civil liberties, the results didn't provide great support for those fears. It asked Americans to choose the group they “liked the least” among atheists, Christian fundamentalists, immigrants, white supremacists, Muslims, Trump supporters, Hillary Clinton supporters and homosexuals. "Just 5 percent chose Christian fundamentalists," Djupe reports. "That included only 5 percent of Democrats and 10 percent of atheists."

Asked whether their least-favorite group should be allowed to give speeches, teach in public schools, run for public office and exercise other liberties, "only 30 percent were willing to allow their disliked group three or more such activities," Djupe reports. "But 65 percent of atheists and 53 percent of Democrats who listed Christian fundamentalists as their least-liked group are willing to allow them to engage in three or more of these activities. That’s a much higher proportion with tolerance than the sample overall."

How about the folks who feel threatened? "A smaller proportion of white evangelicals would behave with tolerance toward atheists than the proportion of atheists who would behave with tolerance toward them," Djupe reports. Among the 13 percent of white evangelical Protestants who said atheists were their least-liked group, "32 percent were willing to extend three or more of these rights to atheists. In fact, when we looked at all religious groups, atheists and agnostics were the most likely to extend rights to the groups they least liked."

Djupe concludes, "Conservative Christians believe their rights are in peril partly because that’s what they’re hearing, quite explicitly, from conservative media, religious elites, partisan commentators and some politicians, including the president. The survey evidence suggests another reason, too. Their fear comes from an inverted golden rule: Expect from others what you would do unto them. White evangelical Protestants express low levels of tolerance for atheists, which leads them to expect intolerance from atheists in return. That perception surely bolsters their support for Trump. They believe their freedom depends on keeping Trump and his party in power."

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