Who is out of step with the country? Oh, you know. It's the white evangelicals.
That’s the apparent upshot of a story by the Religion News Service on a new survey. The study, by the Public Religion Research Institute, highlights anxieties among Americans about immigration, terrorism, discrimination and cultural change.
But for RNS, it seems to come down to a single social-racial-religious class.
Americans also are split on whether American culture and the country’s way of life have mostly changed for the better (49 percent) or worse (50 percent) since the 1950s.
And, the PRRI/Brookings report said, "no group of Americans is more nostalgic about the 1950s than white evangelical Protestants," with 70 percent saying the country has changed for the worse. Americans also split politically on the question: 68 percent of Republicans agree things have gotten worse, while nearly the same share of Democrats (66 percent) say times are better.
This despite the next paragraph, which says that overall, 72 percent of Americans agree that "the country is moving in the wrong direction" -- up from 65 percent in 2011. "And most (57 percent) believe they should fight for their values, even if they are at odds with the law and changing culture," the article adds.
RNS eagerly teases out a phrase from the PRRI report -- "no group of Americans is more nostalgic about the 1950s than white evangelical Protestants" -- but it would have been better context to quote the whole sentence: "While majorities of all white Christian groups say American culture and way of life has changed for the worse over the past six decades, no group of Americans is more nostalgic about the 1950s than white evangelical Protestants." That makes white evangelicals sound not quite so out of step.
The article also quotes an evangelical leader at the press conference announcing its findings:
The white evangelical Protestant community feels its cultural dominance in America has been lost, said Henry Olsen, senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, who attended the press conference.
"Over the last four years a growing number are seeing that it’s lost irretrievably," he said. "That has massive implications for our politics going down the road."
The article acknowledges that most Americans agree, for better or worse, that Islam opposes American values. And white Catholics and white mainline Protestants also agree, by solid majorities, that the American way of life needs to be protected. Just by smaller margins than white evangelicals.
It's worth noting that PRRI itself didn’t fixate on white evangelicals. The study was titled, "How Immigration and Concerns about Cultural Change are Shaping the 2016 Election."
And RNS is not inaccurate about basic facts in the report. PRRI says that most Americans believe the "values of Islam are at odds with American values and its way of life," white evangelical Protestants most of all. Same for the belief that "the American way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence."
And PRRI finds that most whites in general feel that "things have changed for the worse," although that view is stronger among working-class whites than among the college educated.
Some of the differences are rather in the "duh" category, like the finding that a larger percentage of whites than blacks feel that reverse discrimination is a problem. Other results are surprising -- like how most whites are uncomfortable around people who don’t speak English, but most blacks are not.
Also interesting is who worries most about terrorism: Hispanic Catholics, by 70 percent. That's far more than white evangelicals (57 percent) or anyone else.
Am I reading too much into the RNS article? Have a look yourself, and compare it with the PRRI report. To me, it just really, really looks like a skewed view of white evangelicals as a divisive, angry tribe that's slowing down the way the nation is moving. Or, to some minds, should be moving.