Next week the Multi-faith Matters Collaborative Inquiry Team will meet in Sacramento to discuss the first year of our two-year supplemental grant. This will include discussion of the findings from the psychological survey we conducted to try to understand what is underneath the defensive emotions and theologies that many conservative evangelicals have toward those in other religions, particularly Islam.
One of the significant findings from our research is that Christian Nationalism is strongly connected to these defensive postures. Christian Nationalism is the view that America is a Christian Nation, chosen by God, with a special place among the nations, and that our form of government favors Christianity. This means that those in other religions are seen as illegitimate in many ways, both in terms of the inappropriateness of their public place in our democratic process (as illustrated in the video clip above from Us and Them: Religious Rivalry in America), to the large number of evangelicals who believe that professing Christianity is required to being truly American (as in the Pew Survey below).
Other research data confirms that Christian Nationalism has a negative effect on perceptions of Muslims. Allison Shortle and Ronald Keith Gaddie from the University of Oklahoma have written on this in an interesting research paper. They state that "Ultimately, this line of research implies that it is the symbolic difference perceived between Evangelicals' perception of 'divinely anointed' in-group members (e.g., fellow Christians - if not specifically Evangelicals) versus the 'theological condemned' out-group members (e.g., Muslims) that leads to anti-Muslim sentiment on the part of evangelicals." They suggest that this is because of a conflated identity between evangelicalism and Christian nationalism. A little later in their paper they write:
The historic dominion of Protestant Christianity in defining and using the public space of the United States leads to conflicts in a modern, pluralist America, where Protestants, based on an early understanding of the values that define the nation, seek to defend the nation from alien encroachment. Controlling and defining the public space creates boundaries to secure the national identity. In the American case, this brings about conflict, as the presumed preferred position of Protestants is challenged. Americans seeking to incorporate the national space into their religious world; it should not be surprising for them to infuse the national identity with their religious identity, and to then use that basis of national identity to deny access to the national space by members of an out-group.
Christian Nationalism not only informs negative attitudes toward Muslims, but also other religions as well. In the clip below (also from Us and Them), you will see how this has played out in reaction to Hindus.
The influence of Christian Nationalism among evangelicals will likely increase, and in negative directions. For example, the election of a Muslim woman to Congress from Michigan to Congress will likely not be well received by evangelicals who hold to this narrative. In related research, Christian Nationalism has also been linked to the large number of white evangelicals who voted for Trump and continue to support him despite the conflicts he brings to evangelical values.
The research of Multi-faith Matters continues to demonstrate that evangelical attitudes and theologies toward other religions are complex and multifaceted, and that certain aspects must be accounted for as strategies for facilitating change are put into place. I'll share more thoughts and photos after our team meeting next week.