Christians, prejudice and love for 'enemies'

Girl holding sign

Jesus told his followers, quite definitely, to love their enemies, and warned them against hatred. Yet today, the public image of christians is somewhat tarnished – some christians are seen to be loving and caring, but others are seen to be prejudiced and intolerant, especially towards groups like gays and Muslims.

What is the evidence for this?

Studies on religious belief and prejudice

A number of studies have been conducted and reported, giving some consistent results, and some differing conclusions. Several recent studies suggest the following:

The way a belief is held makes a difference

Religious belief and practice can increase or reduce prejudice. More flexible or personal belief may lead to tolerance whereas more rigid or social belief may lead to prejudice.

Gays, atheists and perhaps Muslims

Christians in the US are more likely to be prejudiced against gays, atheists and Muslims, but are not commonly prejudiced against people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Strength of belief in God

One study suggests thinking about God will tend to have a positive impact whereas thinking about religion tends to have a negative effect. But another study found that strong belief in God was generally associated with prejudice.

A disturbing conclusion

We should be careful about our response to these studies, for two reasons:

  1. The studies were all undertaken in the USA with specific groups of people, and using methods the researchers hope will ascertain real-life attitudes. They may not reveal the truth and they may not apply outside the group surveyed or in other countries.
  2. The US is a very religious country, and it can be hard to discern christian believers from ‘cultural christians’.

Nevertheless, the following conclusion from the Science on Religion website is surely concerning:

The call to love one’s enemies appears to have gone unheeded.”

How did it come to this?

Are christians prejudiced? Do we treat people from groups different to us (whether gays, atheists, believers in other religions or people of other races) with something less than christian love? And if so, why?

My observations come from one who lives outside the US.

A dominant culture

Christianity has been the dominant culture in the USA from the beginning, and probably still is today. Dominant cultures tend not to treat their minorities well, sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently.

This is sometimes expressed today in an expectation that laws in our pluralist society should reflect christian ethics on matters such as sexuality, thus not allowing non-christians some of the freedoms that democracies are supposed to guarantee.

Dominant cultures also tend to want to protect their privileged position, and can consequently be fearful of outsiders who may threaten that dominance. Some christians express hatred towards ‘outsiders’ such as atheists and gays.

Patriotism: confusing America with the kingdom of God?

From the outside, it seems that some Americans think that their country is somehow the kingdom of God on earth. For some, patriotism can become a greater force than christian faith, so that christianity can be subverted to become a tool of patriotism. President George W Bush’s rhetoric at the start of the second Gulf War was sufficient for the University of Bradford Department of Peace Studies to judge the Gulf war to be a religious war.

Unfortunately, patriotism is often about “them and us”.

Sheer pragmatism

Because christianity is the dominant culture in many parts of the USA, failure to identify with it may make it more difficult to be elected, do business or even socialise. This can create in-groups, out-groups and prejudice.

Legalism vs grace

All the above can encourage christians to see christianity as a moral standard and a way of living that non-believers are refusing to abide by. Christians can become very conservative and judgmental about non-believers, or people they don’t approve of, for example gays, pacifists, atheists, Muslims, sex workers, addicts and alcoholics, the unemployed and leftists.

As a result, a movement of grace has often transformed into an in-group set of rules and approvals, and bad behaviour follows – christians express anger, fear, contempt and even hatred when we should be showing love. It is no longer the way of Jesus.

Living in the opposite spirit

I remember years ago hearing a teaching by Dean Sherman from YWAM about combatting unchristian attitudes by “living in the opposite spirit” – if the secular or christian culture around us is mean, we live generously; if we see anger around us, we live peacefully and lovingly; etc.

This post is long enough. I will further discuss how we might respond in my next post.

Studies referenced

Photo Credit: Kaptain Kobold via Compfight cc

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  1. The link doesn’t seem to be working. Can you check it out?
    Every blessing Felicity

  2. Concerning today’s message, “Christians prejudice and love for enemies,” one needs to face the truth of what has happened within the different ranks of Christianity today.

    As South African, I can only speak about what is actually happening with Christianity in South Africa, which is strictly based on the Eternal Living Word of God.

    With great concern, it is without any doubt, that Christianity has lost a great deal of it’s God given values, leaving many Christians without any form of Spiritual fulfillment. The Godly calling and process of total obedience, perfect love, faith and hope, has been exchanged for worldly pleasures and leisures.

    Many of the Churches are running dry, and the chasm between the rich and the poor Christian is becoming wider.
    Attending a prayer meeting one night, the Pastor of the Church asked the congregation to pray that God keeps the begging poor away from the Church doors. He went so far as to put up a sign on the gates of the Church, which clearly stated, “No Beggars.” This is a clear sign of hate, which God does not accept.

    We have visited many Churches throughout South Africa, only to find that poor people are not easily accepted. This is scary, and makes one wonder what has happened to God’s command unto all believers; “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Do Christians really understand the serious warning given within this God given command?

    So yes, Christianity in South Africa has a major problem that needs to urgently be eliminated. God who is not a respecter of persons, makes it very clear in His Eternal Living Word what He expects from all Christians, and not only some. God’s calling and godly process must be totally obeyed at all times by all Christians, with perfect love, faith and hope. There is no other way than God’s way to eternal life, which very few will find.

    Charles Palmer-Allen
    South Africa

    Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom – let your email find you!

  3. Hi Felicity, I’m not sure what link you are referring to, but I think it is OK now. The problem was I accidentally posted this before it was finished. I quickly “unposted” it again, but that must have allowed you to still see it, but incompletely. Sorry about that.

  4. Charles, thanks for your comments. A church not wanting to interact with beggars seems like a contradiction. I can understand that it would be easy to be overwhelmed, but there must be a better way.

  5. Join the Devil and he tears you apart, reject the Devil and he will flee from you. Something Christians need to know and believe.
    Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom – let your email find you!

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