About 12 years ago, I was hired by St. Louis Public Schools to
be the director of communications. The district was in the throes of
tsunami-like change, daily controversies, and protests. An outside management
firm had been hired to do what no district administration could politically do
on its own – downsize the district, close schools, outsource contracts, and lay
a lot of people off.
The year before this started, the communications department had
12 employees and a $1 million+ budget. When I was hired, it had one-and-a-half
people (I was the “one” of the one-and-a-half) and a $20,000 budget, which had
already been spent.
What went on in my hiring process was a story by itself. I was
told what went on sometime after I was hired.
I was one of 10 candidates interviewed, the only male and the
only one with corporate PR experience. I knew that, because all of the
candidates were told to show up at the same time on the same day, and we sat
together in a conference room until we were called out one by one. I was the
last one to be interviewed.
If that wasn’t unusual enough, it turned out that people outside
the district had checked all of us out ahead of time, learning things that
might have been illegal for the district to do.
Like find out what religion we were, and what churches we
That I was a member of an evangelical Christian church turned
out to be a point in my favor. The reason was that it was believed that an
evangelical Christian would likely find it easier to talk with and work a
school district whose administration and student body was majority
African-American. Because religion and faith were very important to many of the
teachers, staff and parents, someone thought that I would have an easier
Set aside, for a moment, all the things that were wrong with
that, and all of the biases and prejudices built into that assumption, not to
mention the ice-cold calculation that went into it. As it turned out, the
people making that assumption were largely
I didn’t know any of this going into the job. I did the job the
only way I knew how to do it, but something about me and what I did must have
communicated, or telegraphed, something to the people I worked with. I was
almost everything that employees in the district weren’t – I was white, male, and
suburban, with experience working for two Fortune 500 companies. And yet we
learned we had considerable common ground.
One group that doesn’t exhibit Christianophobia is
African-Americans. And it is likely because of the importance of faith and the historical
role of churches in African-American communities. In fact, the authors say, the
more religious faith (and related activities like church attendance) is
important to you, the less likely are you to feel hostile toward conservative
So who is who does exhibit this hostility?
Surprisingly, this isn’t a red state / blue state thing, or a
coastal-versus-flyover-country thing. This hostility is found in all regions of
the United States, and the South (the Bible Belt!) is not much different that
the rest of the country.
Based on various surveys and research studies, the authors found
that the people who tend to have and exhibit hostility toward conservative
Christians are generally higher income, higher educated, and in positions of
social influence. When they looked at what groups tended to find this pattern,
they learned that at least one group was very similar in the demographics and
degree of hostility – the people the authors called “cultural progressives.”
The roots of their hostility were, or I should say are, in fears
of a “takeover” by Christians, probably meaning a political takeover; the
belief that Christians are “crazy” and intolerant, not to mention homophobic; a
perception that the Christian Right is well organized and poised to move into
government, forcing its way of life on everyone; and other factors.
Interestingly enough, the hostility was less when those surveyed
said they actually knew conservative Christians, even among the people who
might be inclined to be hostile. Much like that work colleague I mentioned when
I introduced this discussion. She said she was frightened by “those
Christians,” but her head nearly exploded when she found out I was one of them.
There’s a word for this behavior – objectifying. It means turn a
person or a group into an object. It’s a form of stereotyping. It’s similar to
me saying “all newspaper editorial writers are boneheads,” which I might
conclude from reading what they write. But If I know an editorial writer, if
one is a friend or neighbor, I’m less inclined to characterize them all as
Objectifying is not a good thing. At best, it prevents real
communication. At its worst, well, consider people who’ve experienced it in its
more extreme forms – the Jews in Nazi Europe, the Christians in ISIS-occupied
lands, the untouchable class in India, African-Americans in the Jim Crow South,
the native peoples of America and Australia. Turning people – any people – into
objects is a despicable, destructive practice.