Most Americans agree that Christians are treated worse today than they were in the past. Still, a sizable minority thinks they complain too much.
Those are among the findings included in a new report on religious tolerance from Lifeway Research, which regularly fields surveys on American religious life. The data showed that even non-Christians sense rising anti-Christian intolerance, said Scott McConnell, the organization’s executive director.
“Members of other religions are noticing it,” he said. “They’re minorities in America, and they’re saying, ‘Wow. American culture is not tolerating the Christian faith.’”
The report also highlighted concern about the state of religious liberty, a phrase that refers to laws protecting people of faith’s ability to freely live out their beliefs. More than half of U.S. adults (54%) said religious liberty is declining in America today, including 40% of those who don’t identify as a member of a faith group.
Because the survey featured in the report was fielded in September 2021, it doesn’t account for how the Supreme Court’s recently concluded term might have shifted public opinion. It’s possible that the court’s decisions to overturn Roe v. Wade and protect a football coach’s right to pray at school, among other rulings, could have “turned the tide a little bit,” McConnell said.
But he believes the numbers would have held pretty steady, since respondents were likely considering much more than how Christians are faring in the courts. “Religious liberty” may call to mind legal rulings, but “tolerance” is more about how people are treated in everyday life, McConnell said.
“Some of this is playing out within courtrooms and legislatures, but the ‘intolerance’ word is more on the social side,” he said.
As McConnell noted, a big win in front of the Supreme Court doesn’t necessarily lead to kinder treatment at home. Legal wins sometimes do the opposite by inspiring public backlash.
For example, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, several churches and faith-based pregnancy resource centers have been vandalized by abortion rights supporters. And the court’s recent decision in favor of the football coach led to calls on social media for students to refuse to play for him if he returns to his job.
Controversial legal wins may also increase the apathy that concerned Christians often face. More than one-third of U.S. adults (36%) already believe that Christians complain too much about how they are treated, even though many of these same Americans agree that religious intolerance is on the rise, Lifeway Research found.
“When it comes to religious beliefs and practices, the religiously unaffiliated ... and non-evangelicals are among the most likely to say American Christians complain too much about how they are treated,” the report said.
Taken as a whole, findings from the religious tolerance survey show that the country has a ways to go before Americans of all stripes will be on the same page in terms of what Christians need and deserve, McConnell said.
“There are not many settings where true dialogue is taking place,” he said.