Culture Politics

Embattled evangelicals: ‘War on religion’ is aimed at us

Concerns about Religion in Society graphic courtesy of Tim Duffy, Public Religion Research Institute.

WASHINGTON (RNS) These are anxious times for white evangelicals, according to two new surveys.

At 20 percent of U.S. adults, they are statistically neck-and-neck with the “nones” — people who claim no religious brand. “Nones” now tally up to 19 percent in the 2014 American Values Survey, said Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, which released the survey Tuesday (Sept. 23.)

Concerns about Religion in Society graphic courtesy of Tim Duffy, Public Religion Research Institute.

Concerns about Religion in Society graphic courtesy of Tim Duffy, Public Religion Research Institute.

Evangelicals, said Jones, are on “the losing side of the culture wars, such as gay marriage, and they see that their share (of society) is shrinking and aging, adding to their sense of being embattled.”

“They can no longer say confidently they speak for all people of faith.”

Perhaps for that reason, white evangelicals, more than any other religious group, worry that the government will interfere with their religious liberty.

The survey asked which concerned people more: The government interfering with their ability to “freely practice their religion” or “religious groups trying to pass laws that force their beliefs on others.”

The overall answer was a tie — 46 percent of Americans overall for each viewpoint. But white evangelicals were significantly  more worried about government interference (66 percent) than any other group.

The reverse is the case for “nones” and Catholics, who are more concerned (63 percent and 51 percent, respectively) about religious groups seeking to impose beliefs on others. 

Another survey released this week — this one by the Pew Research Center — asked people what groups faced “significant discrimination” in American society.

On a list of eight groups, gays and lesbians led with 65 percent of all surveyed saying this group was under the gun. Atheists were cited next at 59 percent. Thirty-one percent considered white evangelicals to be victims of “significant discrimination.”

Yet, among themselves, 50 percent of white evangelicals see themselves as victims. That’s an unrivaled 19 percentage-point gap in social perception.

“This is directly related to the current political climate, with all the voices of Republicans in the 2012 presidential campaign claiming there’s a ‘war on religion,’” said David Campbell, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame.

About one in three white evangelicals say it has become more difficult to be a person of their faith in the U.S. today, according to the Pew survey, released Monday, (Sept. 22) . And about the same number say they think of themselves as a religious minority because of their beliefs. No other group comes close to this sense of unease.

More Difficult to Be Religious in the U.S.? graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center.

More Difficult to Be Religious in the U.S.? graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center.

But white evangelicals aren’t the only ones to feel embattled. In a discussion of the PRRI survey at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday, a panel of political scientists and journalists looked at the findings in light of the economy and the upcoming midterm elections.

“Ordinary Americans, not just political elites and activists, are more divided along party lines than at any time in the post-World War II era,” said Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz.

We don’t just disagree, “we hate the other party,” said Abramowitz.

His forecast for the next Congress was bleak, bleak and more bleak: “Continuing gridlock, continuing confrontation and continuing dysfunctional government.”

Conservative commentator Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center said if Republicans want midterm votes, the party has to address a white working class that is split, with white evangelicals “extremely different” than working-class mainline Protestants and Catholics. 

MSNBC host and journalist Joy Reid said the political divisions — the rise of minorities and growing numbers of people with no religious identification — are shaping up as a kind of “Armageddon” for the GOP in 2020.

The PRRI telephone survey of 4,507 U.S. adults was conducted July 21-Aug. 15, in English and Spanish. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.8 percentage points.


About the author

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues


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  • Once agin we learn just how difficult it is to be a white-heterosexual-Christian-male in our society. The 19 point gap is due to Christian organizations (FRC, ADF LC et al) promoting the idea that religious freedom means the right to discriminate; To say (in spite of laws to the contrary) “We don’t serve your kind here.”

    People are being recruited to become self-created victims. They are told that baking a cake is some sort of religious sacrament. There exists a lack of introspection and critical thinking. But, hey, disparaging gay people as a horde of angry evil people marauding to kidnap your freedoms is still a reliable fundraiser.

  • The article lumps every one together . What it says NO POSSIBLE WAY CAN IT APPLY TO Wels Lutherans who believe in Divine Monergism.. Also they probably are not aware of any nation in the world the largest percent of ITS people that are Wels Lutherans do not come from Germany or Scandinavia .. they come from the White mountain and San Carlos and are the Apache People. those Apache Nations per capita have more Wisconsin synod Lutherans than any other nations on this earth.

  • Paranoia, that’s all it is. The fear that someday someone is going to put his foot down and no longer allow white evangelicals to try to dictate to the rest of us how we should live and what we should believe. Are they kidding? They had eight years of Bush the Younger starting wars galore, bashing science, hating gays and turning his back on the environment. Luckily for the rest of us, Bush was just too ignorant and self-absorbed to fully use his powers to flesh out his white evangelical neo-con fundamentalist agenda. Paranoid because Obama is black, Democrat and other. Racism and immaturity. They are still fighting an abortion war that ended almost 40 years ago with Roe v. Wade, still fighting a losing battle over gay rights, still fighting a losing battle against the New Atheism, which is attracting thousands of young Americans every day (the Europeans and Scandinavians are already in a post-Christian transition). Preachers who rail against gays from the pulpit now sound like kooks, which they are. We have seen through and around them and we aren’t taking any more of their B.S.!

  • Jack Mathys — I have to laugh.
    My liberal yet racist pro-civil-rights (so long as blacks didn’t move next door to her) yellow-dog democrat Mother moaned when I grew up to become a Libertarian who often votes Republican.
    “And I raised you right” she reproached me.
    She brought herself to vote for Obama because he was a Democrat. She was over the moon when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for not being a George Bush. (Worst Nobel choice since Kissinger, or maybe Arafat)
    I said I would have preferred the first black POTUS to have been the intelligent and principled (Republican) Alan Keyes. I said I voted against Obama because of his political immaturity, his platform, and his socialist leanings.
    Now my mother says she regrets voting for Obama because he “embarrasses our country abroad” by his egoistic yet disengaged cluelessness; and because “he denigrates Christianity and romanticizes Islam as ‘the religion of Peace’.” Go figure.
    I as a Republican & Catholic was willing to cut him a little more slack than she — a Democrat– does. I almost feel sorry for the guy–.

  • Prosperity Gospel + GOP Endorsement + the Moral Majority + Betrayal of Middle Class congregations + Fixation on abortion or homosexuality + elimination of Christ’s harder sayings + decades of televangelist scandals = the end of the “Evangelical” curch in America

  • Evangelicalism today is a strange patchwork of selective Bible favorites (“if you don’t work, you don’t eat” or “God will give yoy the desires of your heart”); an ever shrinking list of “sins” (being pro choice, homosexual or Democrat, etc.); civil religion and an increasing correlation between one’s spiritual and financial success. It’s an unreflective and angry glob of unformed clay just waiting for the Donald.