Book Review: Hostile Environment, by George Yancey
When I first picked up Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias, I assumed it was going to overstate the level of cultural hostility against Christians today. After all, if you want to sell a book, it is probably an effective marketing strategy to scare Christians today in light of the recent SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage. And yet the author, George Yancey, warns against two common misperceptions. First, those who exaggerate anti-Christian bias and make claims of persecution. Second, those who minimize or even ignore it. He takes a firm and yet refreshingly non-alarmist view of anti-Christian hostility, and provides practical steps for what we can do about it.
Yancey spent much of his career studying racial issues, in particular as they relate to the African American community. And yet he began to notice increasing anti-Christian hostility in academia and decided to study it formally. He conducted social research on religious bias in America and found that evangelicals and fundamentalists are the groups most likely to face negative bias by academics (p. 13, 15). In fact, as an African American, he claims to have experienced more barriers in academia because of his faith than his race.
The term Yancey uses to describe the hostility against Christians in academia is Christianophobia, which is defined as “an irrational animosity towards or hatred of Christians, or Christianity in general.” Those with Christianophobia are more likely to be white, wealthy, and well educated, and to hold more social power than those who typically hold other types of prejudice (sexism, racism, Islamophobia.). Since he is an academic, Yancey focuses primarily on higher education, showing that there are a substantial number of individuals in our institutions of higher education that stated a willingness to religiously discriminate.
According to Yancey, there are three principles for understanding the desires of those with Christianophobia. First, they prefer measures that disproportionately hurt Christians, although they are not obvious in their intent to do so. For instance, taxing churches can be framed as being fair, but it can also allow those with Christianophobia to express their disdain. Second, they support private religious worship, but reject the expression of faith in the public arena. Roberts warned against this tactic in his dissent in Obergefell vs. Hodges. Third, they fear their loss of rights if Christianity is allowed to flourish (p. 37-46).
Chapter six is entitled, “Can’t Please All the People.” His point is that kindness and relationships can help minimize hostility towards Christians, but it cannot please everyone. Yancey provides the example of InterVarsity losing its status as a campus organization at Vanderbilt University. The group was quite moderate and aimed to show that it was not “homophobic culture warriors.” Nevertheless, the moderate InterVarsity group was dismissed from Vanderbilt in the name of tolerance. Many people will respond to graciousness and kindness, but many will not. Some will find reasons for Christianophobia no matter how well we treat them. And according to Jesus, this should not surprise us (1 John 3:13).
Yancey provides many practical stories and tactics for how Christians can deal with Christianophobia. My favorite was when Yancey highlighted the story of Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, who was the target of national boycotts and condemnation for supporting natural marriage. And yet despite the animosity, Cathy reached out lovingly to some people who opposed him to build common ground and reach understanding. I love that Yancey emphasizes listening, building genuine relationships, and being charitable to our critics, even if they don’t extend the same charity to us. That is what Christ would do! And yet Yancey does not shy away from encouraging believers to speak out against Christian hostility when necessary. For instance, he says,
“Does loving them mean that we lie down like a doormat? Surrendering to individuals with irrational hatred only invites disaster. Those with Christianophobia must be confronted, but they must be confronted in a way that minimizes damage...I will not hesitate to call out unfair statements, ignorance or poor logic” (p. 151).
Finding the balance between turning the other cheek and confronting hostility is not easy. And yet I commend Yancey for his helpful discussion (p. 119-139). Overall, Hostile Environment is an important book for Christians today. We do find ourselves in a time where Christianophobia seems to be on the rise. And yet for those who want effective strategies for proclaiming truth with graciousness and charity, Hostile Environment may be a good book for you. I give it four out of five stars.