When it comes to LGBTQ progress, conservative Christians see it as a zero-sum game at their expense. That’s the finding of a new research paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“Across five studies, we examined the causes and consequences of zero-sum beliefs (ZSBs) about Christians and LGBT individuals,” the authors write. Each of the studies revealed that conservative Christians believe that any advance for LGBTQ people comes at their expense.
One study found that white, cisgender Christians believe that as bias against LBGTQ people goes down, bias against Christians goes up proportionately. “Strikingly, Christians reported that bias against Christians is as severe as bias against LGBT people in the current decade,” the authors said.
Another major finding was that the more Christians reflected on their beliefs, the more likely they were to think that every gain came at their expense.
“Specifically, Christian participants who were randomly assigned to reflect on their religious values reported higher zero-sum belief endorsement than those who reflected on non-religious topics,” the authors found. “In other words, beliefs about the conflict between Christians and LGBT individuals stem, in part, from Christians’ interpretations of their religious beliefs.”
So would it be possible to use Biblical beliefs to convince conservative Christians that progress is more like “loaves and fishes” than a pie? As it turns out, not so much.
The researchers supplied some Christians with a passage from the Gospels that spoke about acceptance. The message resonated with mainstream Christians, but for conservative Christians, the message fell flat, even though it came from Jesus.
Moreover, the researchers found that the hard-core believers were more likely to be homophobic. “Christians who scored higher on zero-sum beliefs were more inclined to endorse statements like ‘Male homosexuality is a perversion,'” they found.
There’s no question that there’s a major change underway in America when it comes to religion. The country as a whole is becoming less religious, or at least less likely to identify with a religion. At the same time, the number of self-identified Evangelicals is shrinking, which, combined with America becoming less white, has created a fortress mentality on the right.
The irony is that in some ways, Evangelicals bear some of the blame for their predicament.
Their ultra-conservative politics are driving people away from religion altogether. Of course, that only makes conservative Evangelicals double down on their beliefs. Right now, they carry outsized influence in the Republican Party. But at some point, their numbers can’t justify their power. That will be a lesson in zero-sum beliefs that they won’t like.