American Christians are oft too quick to cry persecution. The hot anger and violence that Christians across the world face is far more serious than anything suffered in this nation; however as sociologist George Yancey demonstrates,there is a growing anti-Christian bias. Yancey explores this anti-Christian bias in Hostile Environment. He calls this Christianophobia and identifies it as a very real phenomenon that Christians need to contend with. Christians with a traditional, conservative bent will wrestle more directly with this.
Yancey is a Christian academic at a secular university (University of North Texas). When he was an adjunct professor he taught classes on the sociology of race and the sociology of religion. Some collegues questioned his ability to teach on the sociology of religion given his Christian commitments; however no one questioned his credentials to teach about race, even though he was African American (12). This and other experiences and observation of hostility towards Christians led Yancey to study hostility towards Christians. In So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is there Christianophobia in the United States? he unfolds the results of his qualitative studies on the anti-Christian bias in American culture (his Appendix in this volume gives a brief explanation of his research methodology).
Yancey finds two big errors in Christian approaches to Christianophobia. The first is to exaggerate it and claim that Christians are being persecuted (24). Christians on the far conservative side of the spectrum tend to this sort of overstatement. The other error is to minimize and ignore Christophobia altogether. (25). This is done especially by more progressive Christians. Yancey advocates a third way. He demonstrates that anti-Christian bias exists, that it is real and measurable, through his research. He wants Christians to respond when and where they are discriminated against and their convictions are maligned; yet he isn’t pushing us to dig a trench and prepare for battle. He isn’t commending a renewed culture war but a place at the table for respectful dialogue between Christians and non-Christians.
The seven chapters of Hostile Environment catalog and describe the reality of Christianophobia and the response that Yancey advocates. Chapter one forms an introduction. Chapter two describes the roots of Christianophobia (i.e. those who desire change and see Christianity as an enemy, those who feel threatened by Christianity, those who think Christianity poses a threat to religious neutrality). In chapter three, Yancey describes some of the specific grievances his research reveals about people’s problem with Christians (i.e. seperation of Church and State, proselytizing, etc). Chapters four and five explore how much Christians are to blame for Christianophobia. Yancey shares the responses of those surveyed who were personally jaded by their interaction with Christians (97) and those who are at loggerheads with Christian ‘political’ goals (98). He also acknowledges that some of the anti-Christian sentiment is driven by stereotypes from social institutes and the media (101) and the reality of Christian failure to live up to their ideals (106-110). Yancey doesn’t absolve Christians of the blame for Christianophobia even if the reality of it exceeds the impact of Christian failure to love their neighbors well. Chapters six and seven impart advice on how the church ought to stand up against Christianophobia.
I appreciated the balance that Yancey brought. Christianity is not universally loved by American culture, art, politics or academia, There is animosity and Yancey names it and quantifies it through his research; yet he is careful to not overstate his case. I appreciated his call for a rational, measured and respectful response to anit-Christian bias. I think this makes this a very good book. Nowhere does Yancey tell conservative Christians to abandon their convictions; nevertheless he does help us to have a more magnanimous and courageous response to the wider culture. I give this five stars.
Notice of material connection: I received this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.