If You Want to Fight Islamophobia then Deal with Christianophobia

Anti-Fascist sign at a gay rights protest at Federal Plaza, Chicago on November 15, 2008.

By George Yancey Published on January 3, 2016

Because of my study of Christianophobia, some have criticized me for being unconcerned with prejudice and discrimination against those of other faiths. Not so. For example, I am deeply concerned with the level of Islamophobia in the United States. The violence that sometimes emerges from this bigotry must be confronted, as the conservative Christian commentator Michael Brown has also insisted. But this situation isn’t either/or — that is, either we deal with Christianophobia or we deal with Islamophobia. Instead, there’s a crucial both/and dimension to the problem. A recent survey suggests as much, indicating that an important but widely overlooked aspect of fighting Islamophobia involves rooting Christianophobia out of academia and elsewhere.

The survey was focused on college campuses and indicates one source of Islamophobia is when people feel their own religion is not respected and don’t feel safe to express their own faith. This should come as no surpirse. When we think others want to silence us, a natural human reaction is to try to silence others.

I appreciate the efforts of the authors of the study, but I don’t think their presentation goes quite far enough. They seem hesitant to suggest which religion is most often disrespected on college campuses, and thus which type of anti-religious bias is likely tied to Islamophobia. I will fill in that missing piece with a couple of observations. First, in my book on Christianophobia I found that, unlike animosity towards Mormons or atheists, animosity towards Christian fundamentalists was more likely among those who are white, highly educated, politically progressive, irreligious and financially well-off. That sounds like a lot of college professors and administrators. So anti-religious perspectives fostered by those in power at universities is more likely to be focused on conservative Christians than on Muslims or Jews.

Second, I blogged recently about some data in the University of Colorado system showing that Protestants, as well as Jews and Mormons, are the religious group most likely to perceive disrespect, prejudice or to be intimidated due to their religious beliefs. And I suspect the findings would have been even stronger if it had looked at specifically conservative Protestants.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of conservative Protestants on U.S campuses. If most of them regularly have their faith disrespected by anti-religious, secular faculty and students, it doesn’t seem unlikely that some fraction of those conservative students would develop Islamophobia, in part from their sense of feeling constantly under attack for their faith.

Let me be clear that I do not approve of Christians who develop Islamophobia because they encounter Christianophobia (an unreasonable fear or anger towards Christians). As Christians we are called to be better than that. When given a chance I will confront a Christian who justifies hatred of others from his having faced hate. However, as a social scientist I have to deal with reality and not how Christians should act ideally. So if we want to deal with the lack of respect towards Muslims, if we want to minimize the problem in our country, then it is prudent to ask questions about the lack of respect towards Christians at institutions of higher education.

It is not hard to find evidence that supports the idea that conservative Christians are not respected on colleges and universities. Some colleges have successfully used all-comers rules to derecognize Christian groups. After all, how can a Christian group remain a Christian group if it is forced to accept leaders who openly oppose Christianity? Christian students also have faced sanction for public prayer.

The reality is that many academics are more willing to discriminate against conservative Christians than against those of other faiths. We have seen the results of this willingness in court.

Sometimes conservative Christians exaggerate their problems, but they do have legitimate concerns about intolerance towards them in academic settings. If college administrators want to deal with Islamophobia, then they would do well to address concerns about Christianophobia in a respectful manner.

Given the type of person who tends to have anti-Christian animosity (i.e. highly educated, irreligious, politically progressives) there is a good chance that at least some college administrators who want to deal with Islamophobia themselves have animosity towards conservative Christians. If those administrators are serious about dealing effectively with Islamophobia, then they may have to deal with their own anti-religious prejudices first.

Of course, the problem of Islamophobia in America stretches beyond college campuses. But some of the Islamophobia in our wider society likely is also fueled by the disrespect and prejudice aimed at conservative Christians. Perhaps many who are talking about ending Islamophobia should question whether they are fostering unfair anti-Christian attitudes, attitudes that contribute to an overall atmosphere of religious bigotry in society. Ridding the Christianophobia in their hearts, it seems to me, isn’t a bad price to pay for helping reduce the Islamophobia they rightly decry.

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