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Tag: white evangelicals

Poll: Atheists More Likely To Get Vaccinated Than White Evangelicals

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Although some anti-vaxxers identify as liberal or progressive, the vast majority of people who have been angrily railing against COVID-19 vaccines in the United States have been far-right white evangelical fundamentalists, Christian nationalists and MAGA Republicans. And recent Pew Research polling has found that atheists have some of the United States’ highest COVID-19 vaccination rates.

According to Pew, 90 percent of atheists in the U.S. have been vaccinated for COVID-19 compared to only 57 percent of white fundamentalist evangelicals. Among the overall adult population in the U.S., 73 percent have been vaccinated.

None of that is to say that all people of faith are anti-vaxxers or that everyone who is religious in the U.S. is far-right politically. Some African-American AME churches, for example, have done an excellent job helping people in the African-American community get vaccinated for COVID-19. And there are plenty of people of faith who hold liberal/progressive views and don’t care for the right-wing white evangelical movement.

But strident anti-vaxxers in the U.S., in many cases, do tend to follow a certain pattern: white, far-right politically, open to conspiracy theories, stridently supportive of former President Donald Trump.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation cites the Pew Research poll as evidence that “atheists are among the best neighbors an American could wish for.”In a press release, FFRF Co-President Dan Barker is quoted as saying, “Atheists believe in this life, not an afterlife, and we don’t need a god to threaten us with hell to do the right thing. We’re good for goodness sake.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of FFRF, is quoted as saying, “This is one of the great moral issues of today — and religion is simply failing. Religious folks are often suspicious of a tiny little shot to prevent the spread of a lethal contagion that has killed 1 in every 500 Americans and has completely overwhelmed and overworked our heroes on the health care frontlines. It takes religion to make the immoral seem moral.”

Gaylor notes that Catholics, according to Pew, fare better than white evangelicals when it comes to getting vaccinated for COVID-19.

The FFRF co-president is quoted as saying, “It seems like a rare instance of American Catholics listening to their pope — and the pope having the correct message. Now, if he would only apply himself to the scourge of rape and abuse within his church.”

Since it was first reported in Wuhan, China two years ago in December 2019, COVID-19 has, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers in Baltimore, killed more than 5.3 million people worldwide. COVID-19 vaccines, however, offer considerable protection against the dangerous coronavirus — and President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical expert in the white House, have been encouraging Americans to receive widely available booster shots.

Poll: Most Americans Reject Religious Exemption From Vaccine Mandates

Majorities of Americans across all major religious denominations believe there is no legitimate religious basis to object to getting vaccinated against COVID-19, new public opinion research shows, yet religious objections to vaccine mandates remain a popular and effective way for vaccine-hesitant individuals to avoid the shots.

Just over one in ten Americans say getting a COVID-19 vaccine would violate their religious beliefs, according to a Public Religion Research Institute and Interfaith Youth Core survey released in December, while 60 percent agree that there are "no valid religious reasons to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine."

Meanwhile, 59 percent of Americans told the pollster they thought too many people were using religion as an excuse to avoid COVID vaccines, and just under half (47 percent) of respondents went so far as to endorse eliminating all requests for COVID vaccine exemptions on religious grounds.

As with most matters pertaining to the pandemic, however, Americans' opinions were split along partisan lines. A total of 20 percent of Republicans indicated that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 went against their personal religious beliefs, compared to just seven percent of Democrats. Among those who said they got their news primarily from far-right outlets like OAN and Newsmax, known for amplifying anti-vaccine content, the number with religious objections jumped to 41 percent.

Unsurprisingly, those who've refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 expressed the strongest opinions in support of religious exemptions: 52 percent in that group indicated the COVID shots violated their personal religious beliefs, and just over three in ten said they have already asked or planned to request a religious exemption to a vaccine requirement.

As the American Independent Foundation was among the first to report, religious exemptions stand as one of the few legal avenues for vaccine objectors to avoid vaccine mandates. When more employers and government entities began requiring vaccines, some vaccine skeptics turned to online marketplaces to purchase such exemption request letters, the investigation showed.

In October, the Biden administration moved to tighten the rules relating to religious vaccine exemptions, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission formally noting that employers could reject exemption requests if granting unvaccinated employees' accommodations would place an "undue burden" on their workplace.

Yet in recent weeks, several Republican-led states have enacted new policies making it easier for religious objectors to avoid vaccination. In Kansas, lawmakers approved a measure that requires employers to grant any request for a religious exemption to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate so long as the request was submitted in writing. In Utah, lawmakers went even further, enabling objectors to dodge vaccine mandates based on any "sincerely held personal beliefs," even if those beliefs aren't tied to a specific religious identity.

Yet the issue of religious exemptions is hardly settled law. On Monday, for example, the Supreme Court declined to block a vaccine mandate for New York health care workers even though the policy didn't allow for religious exemptions.

No major religious denomination or sect directs its members to resist COVID vaccines, and in fact, many spiritual leaders have been among the most vocal advocates encouraging vaccination. Pope Francis has called getting vaccinated against COVID-19 an "act of love," while several Catholic leaders across the U.S. have formally instructed priests not to grant religious exemption requests.

But the practice remains popular, with growing numbers of U.S. service members, health care workers, city staff, and private employees seeking exemptions as a means of bypassing mandates.

The poll showed that majorities of Americans did endorse granting exemptions for those who have refused other vaccines in addition to COVID, those who belonged to a religious sect known to ban vaccination, and those who had a letter from their religious leader attesting to their beliefs against vaccines. Only 39 percent of Americans said anyone who simply says vaccines violate their beliefs should get one, though 57 percent of Republicans indicated they supported that view.

The PRRI-IYC poll was conducted online from October 18 through November 9, included responses from 5,721 Americans 18 and older across all 50 states, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Virus Outbreak Spurs Campus-Wide Quarantine At Liberty University

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In the United States, far-right white evangelicals and Christian nationalists have often been the first to downplay the severity of COVID-19, oppose social distancing measures, and push bogus anti-mask and anti-vax conspiracy theories. But in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University has enacted a temporary quarantine across the campus after being hit hard by a COVID-19 outbreak.

The Associated Press' Alicia Victoria Lozano reports, "The quarantine is scheduled to end September 10, the university said. There were 159 active COVID-19 cases among students and staff as of Saturday, (August 28), according to the school's coronavirus dashboard. The university has about 15,000 students and 5000 faculty or staff members on campus. The majority of infections, 124 cases, are among students."

According to Lozano, the current COVID-19 outbreak at Liberty University is even worse than the one it suffered in September 2020.

"Last week," Lozano observes, "40 students and staff members had tested positive for COVID. The current spike surpasses the previous high of 141 cases last September when nearly 1200 people connected with the campus were quarantined."

Liberty University doesn't have a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for either students or faculty, according to Lozano.

During the quarantine, classes at Liberty University will only be held online — not in person — and large indoor gatherings will be forbidden.

Liberty University was co-founded in 1971 by the late Jerry Falwell Sr., the former segregationist who also founded the Moral Majority and was one of the leaders of the Christian right movement during the 1980s and 1990s. His son, Jerry Falwell Jr., served as president of Liberty University before resigning in August 2020 because of a sex scandal.

Poll Shows Devout Evangelicals More Likely To Join QAnon Cult

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Although QAnon isn't a religious movement per se, the far-right conspiracy theorists have enjoyed some of their strongest support from white evangelicals — who share their adoration of former President Donald Trump. And polling research from The Economist and YouGov shows that among those who are religious, White evangelicals are the most QAnon-friendly.

The Economist explains, "One prominent theory is that Americans who have no religious affiliation find themselves attracted to other causes, such as the Q craze. Another, posited by Ben Sasse, a Republican senator from Nebraska, is that modern strains of Christian evangelicalism which 'run on dopey apocalypse-mongering' do not entirely satisfy all worshippers — and so, they go on to find community and salvation in other groups, such as QAnon. Using The Economist's polling with YouGov, an online pollster, we can test both of these theories."

Sasse's willingness to call out "dopey apocalypse-mongering" among some white evangelicals shouldn't be taken as a criticism of religion in general. The conservative Nebraska Republican draws a distinction between extremists and non-extremists within Christianity. And the Economist/YouGov poll underscores the fact that among Christians, one finds a variety of opinions where QAnon is concerned.

"From July 10 to July 13, 2021, YouGov asked Americans their racial and religious affiliations, whether they thought of QAnon favorably or unfavorably and whether they believed in a variety of popular conspiracy theories," The Economist notes. "Those theories included old stand-bys, such as whether the moon landing in 1969 was faked."

The Economist continues: "According to YouGov's recent polling, which we combined with an earlier survey from March to obtain a larger sample size, Americans who attend church the least are also the least likely to have a favorable view of QAnon. Among those who say they 'never' go to church, just nine percent who have heard of the QAnon conspiracy view it favorably. Fully 92 percent of these respondents view it unfavorably — a net favorability of minus 83 percentage points."

According to The Economist, "The rating among people who attend church the most — once a month or more — is minus 52 points."

"We ran a statistical model to control for potential links between attitudes towards QAnon and other demographics — such as race, age, gender, education, party affiliation and vote choice in 2020," The Economist notes. "Our model confirmed that the relationship between church attendance and QAnon was not a statistical fluke: adults who attended church at least once a month were eight percentage points more likely than we predicted to rate QAnon favorably."

The Economist didn't find that QAnon is universally loved within Christianity by any means, but it did find that among Christians, white evangelicals are the most likely to be QAnon-friendly.

"White evangelicals, the most religiously devout group among those surveyed by YouGov, are particularly susceptible to supporting QAnon and believing other conspiracy theories," The Economist reports. "They also tend to attend church frequently. Twenty-two percent of evangelicals who know about QAnon view it favorably, according to YouGov's numbers — compared with 11 percent among the rest of the adult population. At the other end of the spectrum, 24 percent of evangelicals rate QAnon as 'very unfavorable,' compared with 58 percent among other people."

QAnon believes that the U.S. government has been infiltrated by an international cabal of child sex traffickers, pedophiles, Satanists and cannibals and that Trump was elected president in 2016 to fight the cabal. And as extreme as QAnon's beliefs are, some of their supporters are serving in Congress. Republican QAnon supporters who have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives include Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado — and Michael Flynn, who briefly served as national security adviser under Trump in 2017, was a featured speaker at a QAnon event in Dallas.

Among white evangelicals, The Economist observes, a fondness for conspiracy theories isn't limited to those promoted by QAnon.

"White evangelicals are 34 percentage points more likely than other Americans to believe that 'millions of illegal votes' were cast in the 2020 election," according to The Economist. "These adults also tend to be more conservative, and vote for Republican politicians more often than non-whites and members of other religious groups do. Evangelicals are influenced by the official party line on issues of the day — even if they are conspiratorial. And adoption of one wild theory, perhaps made more persuasive by a politician's avowals, tends to lead to the adoption of others."

How White Evangelicals’ Hostility To Science Fueled Spread Of Coronavirus In The South

Reprinted with permissin from Alternet

When the coronavirus pandemic was killing thousands of New York City residents in the spring, many far-right Republicans in Texas and the Deep South argued that they shouldn't be forced to practice social distancing or wear protective face masks because of a Northeastern Corridor problem. They failed to realize that pandemics, from the Black Death in medieval times to the Spanish flu in 1918, can rapidly spread from one place to another. Historian Laura Ellyn Smith, in a blistering op-ed for the Washington Post, discusses the fact that COVID-19 has been hitting the South so hard recently — and argues that the "anti-science" views of far-right white Christian fundamentalists are partly to blame.

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Will Cries For Justice Resonate With Trump’s Voters Of Faith?

For so long, the Supreme Court was the deal-maker and -breaker for white evangelicals and, to a lesser extent, white Catholics and their unshakable partnership with the Republican Party. The GOP knew it in ways the Democratic Party never did, to its peril come election time. In 2016, with a narrow victory, President Donald Trump won the right to transform the federal judiciary and, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's help, has delivered.

But with the court's decision this week protecting the rights of gay and transgender workers, written by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump's prime-time appointee, some of those voters were a little shook. This would not be the only reason to wonder if Trump is losing his grip, if only a bit, on his most faithful (no pun intended) voting base.

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Excerpt: 'UNHOLY: Why White Evangelicals Worship At The Altar Of Donald Trump'

Trump's appeal to the religious right still seems incongruous: How did a serial adulterer with no history of upholding conservative Christian values manage to win the loyalty of voters profess to moral principles? Combining more than a decade of investigative reporting with deep historical examination, UNHOLY: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump explores the common agenda that binds together Trump, the religious right, and the alt-right. In this excerpt, author Sarah Posner examines the career of Rev. Bob Billings, the impresario of Christian education, and the unwholesome alliance of Baptist conservatism and Southern segregationist racism.

When public schools were undergoing court-mandated desegregation in the 1960s, the Rev. Bob Billings, who in 1979 would go on to become the first executive director of the Moral Majority, was a leader in conceiving of, advising, and leading the nascent fundamentalist Christian school movement. A number of factors, along with school desegregation, converged to drive this effort to craft a religious public school alternative: fundamentalist suspicions about "government" schools; conspiracy theories that the secular humanist underpinnings of public schools were part of a communist plot; that a judicially-engineered separation of church and state—most notably the Supreme Court's decisions in the early 1960s striking down mandatory public-school prayer and Bible reading—would destroy Christian America. But the backlash against the federal government's moves to desegregate private schools became the spark that thrust Billings into national politics, as he crafted campaigns intended to bring rank and file churchgoers into his anti-government crusade. Billings portrayed his Christian schools as an antidote to everything about the 1960s that conservatives despised: the moral laxity, secularism, and most critically, the heavy hand of the federal government in public education, and, particularly, desegregation.

In 1968, Christian school organizers in Hagerstown, Maryland, an industrial town on the state's western edge, drew Billings away from a position as principal of a Christian school near Akron, Ohio, to serve as the administrator of the brand-new Heritage Academy. The town had a long and deep history of racism and segregation; slaves were once sold in its downtown, which remained sharply segregated through the Jim Crow era. In 1950, baseball legend Willie Mays, making his professional debut with the New York Giants minor league team, was forced to stay in the all-black Harmon Hotel because he was barred from staying in the hotel with his teammates—something Mays later recalled as remarkable because he was able to stay at hotels with his white teammates in nearby Washington, DC and Baltimore. During the game, local fans yelled racist slurs, calling him "nigger," "watermelon man," and "crapshooter."

Washington County, where Hagerstown is located, had begun desegregation of its high schools in the 1956-57 school year, and completed its desegregation plan for in the 1964-65 school year, when it moved 130 black elementary age children from segregated to newly integrated schools. In 1968, trying to persuade parents to support a Christian school, Billings turned to tropes about leftists, rather than explicit racial appeals. "We're not about to turn our young people into a bunch of draft dodgers, flag burners, draft card burners, hippies, yippies and beatniks," Billings promised at a fundraising dinner for the school. Billings' efforts were praised by the town's mayor, Herman L. Mills, who told the audience, "we'll keep our freedom and liberty because of people like you." Billings promised the school would teach creationism and impose strict discipline, saying, "we believe in using the other side of the hairbrush," citing the verse from Proverbs that "the rod of correction" would drive "foolishness" out of a child. Billings was hired as the school's first headmaster; the IRS granted the school tax-exempt status in 1969.

Billings did not spare anyone in Hagerstown his views on race, or his belief that the majority was besieged by minority rights. In an April 1969 letter to the editor of the local newspaper, Billings complained that, at a ball game, another spectator spilled part of a "spiked" drink on him, and didn't apologize. Billings raged that he was getting "an earache from listening to the pampering minorities who shout 'We want our rights!' Don't the rest of us have rights?" He segued into a diatribe about "false philosophies" in the classroom, while "old fashioned Americanism and Christianity are to be kept out. Is this freedom? Do we have freedom OF religion or freedom FROM religion?"

From Hagerstown, Billings continued his itinerant pursuit of Christian schools. He became the administrator of a Christian school in Elmira, New York, and then, in 1970, the principal of the new Hammond Baptist High School in Hammond, Indiana, which was affiliated with First Baptist Church, a fundamentalist independent Baptist church that at the time was considered one of the largest churches in the country. Its pastor, Jack Hyles, co-founded Hyles-Anderson College in 1972, part of his flagship fundamentalist complex he named Baptist City, and made Billings its first president.

Hyles, known as a "fundamentalist Baptist power-broker" and "the Baptist Pope," in the late 1960s rejected civil rights laws, sermonizing that "You can no more legislate people to love Negroes than you can cut the moon in pieces and have it for lunch. The only way you're going to have the race problem solved is when people believe the truth, and know Him Who is the truth and get born again; then the love of Christ fills their hearts and they are compelled to love their neighbor."

Hyles ostentatiously depicted public schools as dens of "sordid, wicked, communist" infiltration, where Black Panther literature was for sale and hippies had subverted all discipline. If students were to be exposed to Black Panther literature, Hyles said in one thunderous sermon, then the Ku Klux Klan should be permitted to distribute its literature as well. He urged his congregants to get a second job if they needed to in order to pay for his tuition at Hammond High so they could get their kids out of the "cesspool" and into a school where "clean-cut, dedicated kids sit at the feet of cultured, fine, educated, godly people who believe the Bible." He trained his ire on universities, too, telling his flock that he'd prefer his son to fight in Vietnam than attend Indiana University because "I'd rather him die for freedom than be taught filth and rot by folks trying to destroy freedom."

At Christian schools like Hammond Baptist High School, authority—in particular, that of Billings—was taken seriously, Hyles boasted to his congregation. "When Dr. Billings decides to discipline your child and your child comes home some night and has to stand up while he eats," the preacher warned, "don't waste your time calling me on the telephone saying, 'Preacher, I want to talk to you about what Dr. Billings did to my boy.' Because, brother, I'm going to be sitting there counting them as he gives them—Amen one, Amen two, Amen three."

Hyles, who died in 2001, was accused of sexual misconduct with a congregant, a charge he repeatedly denied. His protégé and successor, his son-in-law Jack Schaap, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2013 after he pled guilty to sexually abusing a teenage girl in the congregation. Hyles' son Dave, also a pastor, has been embroiled in sprawling independent fundamental Baptist sex abuse scandals in which he is accused of serially sexually assaulting teenaged girls at multiple churches, as leadership moved him around to different positions each time new allegations surfaced.

Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Billings—Hyles' respected authority figure— traveled the country promoting Christian schools, serving as a speaker and consultant to the fledgling movement. In 1971, he published A Guide to the Christian School, a detailed how-to manual for the aspiring Christian school administrator. In it, he advocated strict admissions requirements for students, and high standards for hiring teachers. An IQ of at least 90 would be required for admission for a student, Billings wrote, and the student must demonstrate "Christian indoctrination." Those who "show by their clothes, language, actions, and hair-dos that they have left the way of righteousness, humility, and reverence" should not be selected, and "emotionally disturbed" children "should never be admitted to the Christian classroom unless the teacher has faith to believe that the disturbing emotions and their influences will quickly be nullified."

As it turned out, the book had its origins as Billings' dissertation for his doctorate from the Clarksville School of Theology in Tennessee. A decade later, when he was serving in the Department of Education in the Reagan administration, it came out that Clarksville was a correspondence school which state authorities had shut down because the degrees it offered were "false and misleading educational credentials." The champion of Christian education had a "doctorate" from a diploma mill.

From the book UNHOLY: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump by Sarah Posner. Copyright © 2020 by Sarah Posner. Published by Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.