NASHVILLE (Christian Examiner) – A new study from LifeWay Research finds that American Christians are facing an increasingly intolerant culture and, perhaps, complaining too much about being persecuted.
The survey asked 1,000 Americans in September 2013 and September 2015 if Christians were facing increasing intolerance in society. The results of the two studies were then compared to examine the trend in opinion.
Results varied by geographic region, but surprisingly a majority of respondents in both the American West also believed Christianity is now seen in a less favorable light.
According to a summary of the survey, nearly two-thirds (63%) claim Christians face increasing levels of intolerance in society, up from half (50%) in 2013. Respondents in the South were more likely to agree that Christians are facing increased intolerance (69%) than those in the West (57%), but still, the data from outside the traditional "Bible Belt" is revealing.
The study found significant differences based on age and religious affiliation. Older Americans, those age 55-64 with a much longer historical frame of reference, were much more likely to believe Christianity is facing intolerance than those 18-24. According to the survey, 71% of the older group believed Christianity was not well tolerated, while only 58% of those younger than 24 believed the same.
Protestants also were at significantly higher levels (74%) than Catholics (54%). Self-identified evangelicals registered the highest level of certainty about intolerance toward their faith (82%).
Just what has prompted the dissatisfaction with Christians – increased secularism, turning to other religions, poor Christian responses to social issues, Christians' mingling of politics and religion among the possibilities – is not stated in the survey, but still, "researchers found some signs that Americans are tired of arguments over religious liberty."
In fact, the summary of the survey said, a "sizeable number of Americans (43%) believe Christians' complaints about how they are treated are excessive." That number was only 34% two years ago.
Still, in spite of that fatigue, fully six in 10 Americans said they believe religious liberty is imperiled. Those in the South were most likely to believe religious liberty is in decline, but surprisingly, a majority of those in the liberal Northeast (52%) said they believed the same.
Ed Stetzer, who oversees the research platform at LifeWay, said American Christians are facing a challenge as the nation becomes more secular and "calls for religious liberty may fall on increasingly deaf ears in the future."
"Most people now believe Christians are facing intolerance, however, a surprising large minority perceives Christians to be complainers," Stetzer said. "Both of those facts will matter as Christians profess and contend for their beliefs without sounding false alarms around faux controversies. It won't be easy to strike that balance."
LifeWay is the publishing arm of the 15.5 million-member Southern Baptist Convention. It conducts research into trends in Southern Baptist life and also examines the American religious landscape periodically.