Study: Most white evangelicals don’t want to live in a religiously diverse country

The new American Values Survey from PRRI also shows that 60% of white evangelicals believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. No other religious group comes close.

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(RNS) — Should America be a nation made up of people from a wide variety of religions?

A growing number of religious and non-religious Americans say yes, according to a new study from Public Religion Research Institute.

But there’s one religious group that stands out: White evangelical Christians; 57% indicate they’d prefer the U.S. be a nation primarily made up of people who follow the Christian faith. Only 13% of white evangelicals say they prefer the U.S. to be made up of people belonging to a wide variety of religions. The remaining 30% fell in between.

“On this question, there is really more going on than politics,” said Robert P. Jones, PRRI’s CEO. “One relatively small but powerful group is willing to live in a mostly Christian country. Everybody else is somewhere quite different.”

Their preference for Christianity comes up again in relation to Islam. Seventy-five percent of white evangelicals say the values of Islam are at odds with American values and ways of life — significantly more than any other U.S. religious group (white Catholics were the next, at 58%). 

"Preference for Religious Diversity vs. Christian Majority in the U.S., by Religious Affiliation" Graphic courtesy of PRRI

“Preference for Religious Diversity vs. Christian Majority in the U.S., by Religious Affiliation” Graphic courtesy of PRRI

Those are among the conclusions of the 2021 American Values Survey released Monday (Nov. 1). The survey, which tracks a wide range of questions about cultural change, economic anxiety, conspiracy theories and immigration, among others, was fielded online between Sept. 16 and 29 and included 2,508 Americans.

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The wide-ranging survey also finds white evangelicals to be outliers on a host of other issues.

Take immigration: Majorities of all religious groups support allowing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Those include Black Protestants (75%), Hispanic Catholics (70%), religiously unaffiliated Americans (69%), white mainline Protestants (55%), non-Christians (55%) and white Catholics (54%).

White evangelicals are the exception: A minority of white evangelicals (47%) would like undocumented people to find a path to citizenship and 42% want to see them deported. These views toward immigration are a substantial shift for white evangelicals since the 2013 survey, when 56% supported a path to citizenship and 30% favored deportation.

Their views are even more out of sync with the rest of America when it comes to the belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Thirty-one percent of Americans think the presidential election was stolen from former president Donald Trump, but a full 60% of white evangelicals believe this. No other religious group comes close. Among the other religious groups, 40% of white Catholics, 37% of mainline Protestants, 19% of Hispanic Catholics, 18% of Black Protestants and 17% of unaffiliated Americans believe the election was stolen from Trump.

Almost a quarter of white evangelicals (23%) believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory — more than any other religious group. QAnon believers maintain that the government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan- worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation.

White evangelicals are also the religious group most likely to say American patriots might have to resort to violence to save the country.

Twenty-six percent of white evangelicals believe that violence may be necessary, and that number climbs to 39% among white evangelicals who believe the election was stolen.

“Those other white Christian groups voted six in 10 for Trump,” said Jones. “They share political partisan views. But they accept the results of the election and they don’t believe we should resort to violence.”

Gerardo Marti, professor of sociology at Davidson College in North Carolina and the author of “American Blindspot: Race, Class, Religion and the Trump Presidency,” said white evangelicals are uniquely uniform in their attitudes. Their religious and political views are reinforced in their churches, parachurch organizations, media outlets and spokespeople.

“What you’re seeing is that they have a way of talking to each other in which they can reinforce a cultural identity that becomes unquestioned,” Marti said. “They’re immersed in it. They bow down to it, even those who aren’t evangelical, like Donald Trump. They can live in a world in which all these things are taken for granted.”

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