If recent surveys of religious beliefs and practices have revealed anything, it’s that white evangelicals are out of step with the rest of the nation on just about every social and political measure.
“White evangelicals are just on another planet, even when compared to other white Christians or Christians of color,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of Public Religion Research Institute.
Now a new PRRI survey confirms that white evangelical Christians differ from other Christians and the nation as a whole on how religious liberty intersects with LGBTQ and reproductive freedoms. And even when majorities of that demographic oppose discrimination, they almost always trail other segments of the population in doing so.
“They are moving, but they are much slower and lagging behind,” Jones said. “We do see some movement among white evangelicals that seems to be moving with the public as a whole, but they still lag behind, particularly around LGBTQ rights.”
While only 22% of Americans favor allowing businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian people for religious reasons, 43% of white evangelicals said they agreed with such limitations. Support for denying service dropped to 24% among Protestants of color, 23% among white Catholics, 20% among white mainline Protestants and 11% among those claiming no religious affiliation.
The study also examined U.S. attitudes toward transgender Americans.
“Most Americans oppose allowing hospitals or medical providers to refuse to provide reproductive health services like contraception or sterilization to transgender people, if doing so would violate their religious beliefs,” PRRI reported. “Less than one in four Americans (23%) favor religiously based refusals to provide reproductive health services for transgender people, while three in four (75%) oppose this type of refusal.”
“They are moving, but they are much slower and lagging behind.”
The highest support for denying such care came from white evangelicals at 40% compared to 25% of white Catholics, 23% of white mainline Protestants, 22% of Protestants of color and 10% of religiously unaffiliated Americans.
Likewise, only one in five Americans believe taxpayer-funded religious adoption agencies should be allowed to deny gay and lesbian people as adoptive parents. However, “around one-third of white evangelical Protestants favor allowing publicly funded, religiously affiliated agencies to reject gay men (33%) or lesbian women (32%) as adoptive parents,” the survey found.
And while “solid majorities of white evangelicals” (64% for gay men; 65% for lesbian women) oppose allowing faith-based agencies that receive public funding to discriminate, that percentage again lags the nation and other Christian subgroups in double digits.
Similar discrepancies were found when asking about gays and lesbians being allowed to serve as foster parents to children in need.
Once again, “white evangelicals are just out of step,” Jones said.
That lag is most glaring in the sections of the survey covering beliefs about religious freedom and perceptions of religious persecution.
“It is only white evangelical Protestants who think religious liberty is threatened today.”
“We see that it is only white evangelical Protestants who think religious liberty is threatened today, while it’s not a broad concern for other Christian groups,” Jones reported.
The PRRI survey found 72% of white evangelicals believe religious liberty is under threat in the United States today, compared to less than half of all other religious groups who believe the same.
This belief in modern threats to religious liberty is shared by 44% of white Catholics, 42% of white mainline Protestants and 41% of Protestants of color. Religiously unaffiliated Americans (24%) are the least likely to believe religious liberty is threatened.
When the focus turned to personal religious liberty, 71% of white evangelicals said their own freedom is being threatened, compared to only 43% of Protestants of color, 42% of white mainliners and 42% of white Catholics. Nationally, only 39% of Americans say their own religious liberty is threatened.
Another telling finding is the percentage of white evangelicals, at 59%, who believe it is Christians who bear the brunt of discrimination in the United States, Jones said. “They believe they are facing more discrimination than any other group, including Muslims, African Americans, transgender and gays and lesbians.”
White evangelical Christians are more likely than the rest of the population to say white people face discrimination in America today.
Likewise, white evangelical Christians are more likely than the rest of the population to say white people face discrimination in America today. Asked if they believe there is a lot of discrimination today against white people, only 32% of Americans as a whole said yes. But far more evangelical Protestants (51%) believe white people face a lot of discrimination today. White evangelicals outpace all other religious subgroups in holding this belief.
PRRI found that most Americans adopt a “do no harm” position about allowing others to follow their own religious beliefs and practices — meaning everyone should be free to follow their beliefs so long as they do no harm to others.
This is true among 93% of religiously unaffiliated Americans, 92% of Protestants of color, 91% of white mainline Protestants, 90% of white Catholics and 81% of white evangelical Protestants. That still leaves nearly one-in-five white evangelicals who do not affirm the rights of all people to practice their beliefs even if no harm comes to others — another gap compared to the general population.
White evangelicals are more in step with other Americans on the topic of coronavirus vaccinations, PRRI reported.
“Americans are divided on whether people who would otherwise be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccination should be allowed to opt out for religious reasons. Just under half of Americans (48%) support religiously based exemptions to vaccine requirements, while 51% oppose such exemptions.”
Broken down by people of faith, 65% of white evangelical Protestants and 60% of Protestants of color (60%) favor religious exemptions for vaccinations, as do 51% of white mainline Protestants and 43% of white Catholics.
The survey was conducted online between Jan. 15 and 18, 2021, with a random sample of Americans ages 18 and older.