Criticism of Christians and Chick-fil-A Has Troubling Roots
(Bloomberg View) -- The New Yorker has been taking it on the chin lately for its essay about Chick-fil-A’s “infiltration” of New York City. Although most of the piece is about the evils of fast food and the chain’s ubiquitous "Eat Mor Chikin" advertising campaign, the essay has been excoriated for its anti-Christian tone. “The brand’s arrival here feels like an infiltration, in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism,” we’re told. Not just that: “Its headquarters, in Atlanta, are adorned with Bible verses and a statue of Jesus washing a disciple’s feet. Its stores close on Sundays.” And lest we forget: “The restaurant’s corporate purpose still begins with the words ‘to glorify God.’”
What the author really seems angry about is that the company’s CEO opposes same-sex marriage. But the framing of the piece made Christianity the villain, and the headline -- “Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City” -- was sufficiently troubling that Nate Silver quickly tweeted “This is why Trump won.” Fair point. Religious bigotry is always dangerous. But there’s a deeper problem here, a difficulty endemic to today’s secular left: an all-too-frequent weird refusal to acknowledge the demographics of Christianity. When you mock Christians, you’re not mocking who you think you are.
A 2015 Pew Research Center study of race and ethnicity among U.S. religions provides some basic facts. In the first place, if you’re mocking Christians, you’re mostly mocking women, because women are more likely than men to be Christians. The greatest disproportion is found among black Christians, of whom only 41 percent are male. So you’re mocking black women in particular.
Overall, people of color are more likely than whites to be Christians -- and pretty devout Christians at that. Some 83 percent of all black Americans are absolutely certain that God exists. No other group comes close to this figure. Black Christians are far more likely than white Christians (84 percent to 64 percent) to describe religion as very important in their lives. Of all ethnic groups, black Christians are the most likely to attend services, pray frequently and read the Bible regularly. They are also -- here’s the kicker -- most likely to believe that their faith is the place to look for answers to questions about right and wrong. And they are, by large margins, the most likely to believe that the Bible is the literally inerrant word of God. In short, if you find Christian traditionalism creepy, it’s black people you’re talking about.
It’s true that, politically, black Americans are overwhelmingly Democrats, and that’s true of black Christians as well. On the other hand, black Christians tend to be socially conservative: the least tolerant of homosexuality, the most likely to oppose same-sex marriage and the least likely to believe in evolution. If you’re maligning traditional Christianity, the people you’re maligning are disproportionately black.
And then there’s this fascinating table:
Here we see something about the future. Look at the figures for the young, on the left-hand side. Only 9 percent of white Christians are young millennials, compared with 21 percent of Asian Christians and 16 percent of Latino Christians. Some 17 percent of white Christians are from the so-called silent generation. No other group comes close. In other words, white Christians are aging. Christians of color are youthening.
As I’ve noted before in this space, the figures are equally striking worldwide. Even as the U.S. and Europe see the growth of atheism and agnosticism, religious faith in general and Christianity in particular continue to explode in parts of the world that aren’t as white. That’s why the Vatican, for example, sees developing nations as the future of the church. And around the globe, the people most likely to be Christians are women of color.
Which brings us to one last point from the Pew study. Among Latinos and Asians, Christians are overwhelmingly first-generation immigrants.
Although the differences are obvious from a glance, the actual numbers are staggering. Only 3 percent of white Christians are first-generation immigrants. That compares with 10 percent of black Christians, 58 percent of Latino Christians, and 66 percent of Asian Christians. In other words, American Christianity is growing heavily through immigrants who are people of color. If Christians are really so scary, maybe it’s time to build that wall.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the article shouldn’t have been published. I don’t think the New Yorker owes anybody an apology. I’m a free-speech guy, and I don’t believe any group should be placed beyond criticism or mockery. But if you plan to mock, it’s useful to know whom you’re actually mocking.
Narrow-mindedness of this sort is alarmingly common on the left. A few years ago, a well-known progressive commentator mused to his large Twitter following that sometimes he wishes all the Christians would just disappear. I would like to believe he was simply too uninformed to realize that he was wishing for a whiter world.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a professor of law at Yale University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His novels include “The Emperor of Ocean Park” and “Back Channel,” and his nonfiction includes “Civility” and “Integrity.”
Headquarters are Only in the New Yorker. One has to love it. (Even though “headquarters” is generally considered one of the few pluralia tantum that can take a singular or plural verb.)
Pew measures the views of black Christians separately from the views of evangelical Christians, but most black Christians are in evangelical traditions.
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