Christian scholars rip psychology study claiming that LGBTQ activism poses no threat to Christians

Christian scholars vociferously disagreed with a Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study

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Psychologists seeking to explain evangelical Christians' opposition to LGBTQ activism attributed this suspicion to "zero-sum beliefs" (ZSBs), the sense that as anti-LGBTQ bias decreases, anti-Christian bias increases. While the psychologists concluded that Christians' fears are baseless, Christian academics disagreed.

In "Is LGBT progress seen as an attack on Christians?: Examining Christian/sexual orientation zero-sum beliefs," published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Clara Wilkins, associate professor of psychological & brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and her team of five other psychologists concluded that Christians' zero-sum beliefs about "conflict with sexual minorities" trace back to their understandings of Christian values, social change, the Bible, and religious institutions.

"Heterosexual cisgender Christians endorsed ZSBs more than other groups," the authors wrote. "Christians reported perceiving that anti-LGBT bias has decreased over time while anti-Christian bias has correspondingly increased." 

Those results came from the first of five studies. The other studies found that Christians' ZSBs increased after they reflected on religious values and after they reflected on the waning influence of Christianity in America's broader culture. When researchers used "Biblical scripture to encourage acceptance" of LGBTQ people, the tactic "lowered zero-sum beliefs for mainline but not fundamentalist Christians."

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The psychologists dismissed the idea that conservative Christians face increasing hostility.

"Although Christians perceive increasing bias against their group, there is little evidence to support those perceptions," the authors wrote. They cited comparatively low hate crime data against Christians and claimed that "there is inconsistent evidence of objective favoritism of atheists over Christians (evidence in one study but not another)" in scientific fields.

In supporting this conclusion, the psychologists cited George Yancey, a professor of sociology at Baylor University and author of the book So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States? That book explains that Christianophobia, animus against conservative Christians, is just as real as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The authors cited Yancey's analysis of 40 years of attitudes toward conservative Christians based on the American National Election Studies (ANES) survey, claiming the study "provides no evidence of increasing negativity toward Christians over time."

Yet Yancey told Fox News that the authors excluded an important aspect of his study.

"They accurately cited that I did not find anti-Christian sentiment increasing but did not cite that I also found that those with anti-Christian sentiment have grown more powerful in society over the past few decades," Yancey told Fox News. "Needless to say even if those with anti-Christian attitudes do not increase in numbers, if they increase in power then they have more of an ability to act on their religious bigotry."

Yancey also faulted the study's authors for only mentioning one study on anti-Christian bias among scientists, despite the fact that "there is a lot more out there" on the subject. "So they, intentionally or unintentionally, distort the evidence of anti-Christian bias to make their case that Christians are incorrect in their assessment of anti-Christian bias."

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Yancey wryly noted that "when scholars assess groups they do not like," they often fail to include "real control groups" in their studies. "For example, it seems that they only primed Christians to see if they feel more threatened. It is not surprising that they found higher symbolic threat after the priming but you would probably find that with any other group."

"A lot of concepts such as right-wing authoritarianism and Christian nationalism are true but are presented as if they are unique to conservative Christians," Yancey added. "Without relevant tests with other social groups, such claims are unfounded. I think the linking of ZSB to Christians by the authors is also premature given the lack of control groups."

David Closson, a Ph.D. candidate who holds an M.Div. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as director of the Center for Biblical Worldview at the Family Research Council, told Fox News that the study appeared skewed. He noted a "throw-away paragraph about Christian nationalism," among references to Christian racism and opposition to science.

Closson faulted the study for appearing to rely on participants' self-identification, rather than using specific questions to determine beliefs and behavior. His center commissioned a study finding that while 51% of American adults claim to have a biblical worldview, only six percent of them answered worldview questions in a manner consistent with the Bible.

The psychologists' study claimed that there was significant "overlap" between Christians and LGBTQ people, but Closson noted that many denominations would not recognize someone as a Christian if that person was "identifying as homosexual and in a same-sex marriage and refused to repent of it."

"Small-o orthodox Christian beliefs on marriage and sexuality are increasingly seen as not just outdated and bigoted, but subversive and dangerous."

— David Closson, director of the Center for Biblical Worldview

Methodology aside, Closson gave numerous examples of increasing animus against Christians in the broader society.

"Small-o orthodox Christian beliefs on marriage and sexuality are increasingly seen as not just outdated and bigoted, but subversive and dangerous," the FRC scholar said. He noted that Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke said that religious colleges, churches, and charities should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage. He also drew attention to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who said that religious institutions should lose federal funding if they refuse to hire LGBTQ people. 

"Clearly, there’s been a profound shift in culture against those of us who believe, as scripture teaches, that God has a design for sexuality," Closson said. 

He pointed to the Equality Act – which the House of Representatives passed in 2019 and again earlier this year – as more evidence of anti-Christian animus. The act "has a provision that would block access to the courts granted by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," the FRC scholar noted. "In the name of LGBT rights, this law goes out of its way to limit the reach of America's foremost religious freedom law."

Closson also mentioned the Southern Poverty Law Center as "absolute evidence" of anti-Christian bias. The SPLC's map of "hate groups" plots Christian organizations like FRC alongside truly virulent and violent racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. He noted that the SPLC keeps FRC on the "hate map" nine years after a terrorist shot a security guard in an attempted mass murder at FRC headquarters. The terrorist told the FBI he used the "hate map" to target FRC. The SPLC condemned the attack, but it has kept FRC on the map.

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"SPLC has never apologized, and we are still listed on their hate map as a hate group," Closson said. "It’s ironic that a group like SPLC that positions themselves as an arbiter of what is hateful or not is one of the greatest purveyors of hate in our public discourse."

The SPLC did not respond to Fox News' request for comment about the study or Closson's claim that its "hate map" is evidence of anti-Christian bias.

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, vociferously denied the psychologists' claim that Christians do not face increasing animus in American society.

"There is no doubt that the Left is doing everything within its power to marginalize conservative Christians," Mohler told Fox News. "This is not a new ambition but it certainly has renewed energy, fueled by the LGBTQ revolution. Scriptural Christianity is increasingly at odds with a society of moral rebellion."

"They try to make it a pathological issue, using some kind of explanation from social psychology. You don't need social psychology" to explain the phenomenon, however. "All you need to do is understand that evangelicals believe that the Bible is the Word of God," he insisted.

While evangelical Christians' positions on marriage, sexuality, and gender are "not new in any way," but rather "as old as the Bible," Mohler argued that "the LGBTQ movement is demanding that Christians abandon biblical Christianity, and then they suggest that we are the ones who are the agents of conflict if we won't go along with their revolution."

"That's nonsense," the seminary president said.

As for the SPLC, he claimed that its "designation of a hate group would include all of classical Christianity."

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Mohler said he would encourage Christians to "be respectful but always convictional, never apologizing for biblical truth. We seek to be winsome but never at the cost of theological compromise."

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ activist group that has published guides for "LGBTQ Christians," did not respond to Fox News' request for comment on the study.