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Americans with Christian nationalist views more likely to flout COVID-19 precautions: study

Religious commitment 'completely unrelated' to incautious behaviors during pandemic

Americans with Christian nationalist views more likely to flout COVID-19 precautions: study

Unsplash/Mika Baumeister

A new study suggests that Americans who embrace Christian nationalism ideology are more likely to refrain from wearing a mask and social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The study published July 26 in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion was co-authored by Samuel Perry, an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma and author of the recently released book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, and two other scholars. 

“Christian nationalist ideology tends to make people really distrustful of scientists and science generally,” Perry told The Christian Post in an interview. “We suspected that … people who are scoring higher on Christian nationalism would be less likely to follow the advice of medical experts.”

The study analyzed data from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey in which respondents were asked how often they engaged in “incautious behaviors” such as eating inside a restaurant, attending gatherings of 10 or more people and going to work outside of their home. 

At the same time, respondents were asked how frequently they engaged in the “precautionary behaviors” of washing their hands more often than usual, avoiding touching their faces, wearing a mask and the frequent use of hand sanitizer.

The authors conclude that “at the bivariate level, Christian nationalism ideology is positively associated with Americans’ frequency of engaging in incautious behaviors” and “negatively associated with engaging in precautionary behaviors.” 

According to the study, “Christian nationalism is the leading predictor that one engaged in more frequent incautious behavior related to COVID-19” and the “second strongest predictor that Americans took fewer precautions like wearing a mask or sanitizing/washing one's hands.”

Perry, who has studied the topic of Christian nationalism for six years, was joined in authoring the report by Andrew L. Whitehead, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and co-author of Taking America Back for God; and Joshua B. Grubbs, associate professor Bowling Green State University. 

The study was conducted in three waves, with the first begging collected in August 2019, the second in February 2020 and the third in May 2020 “to gather data on experiences and interpretation of the COVID‐19 crisis.”

The survey waves were designed by the authors and “fielded by YouGov, an international research data and analytics company.” Due to sample attrition between waves and “a very modest amount of missing data,” the scholars report a final analytic sample for their study of 1,255 respondents. 

The study measured Christian nationalism based on respondents’ indications as to whether they agreed with or disagreed with certain statements.

Those statements include: “the federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation,” “the federal government should advocate Christian values,” “the federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state (reverse coded),” “the federal government should allow prayer in public schools,” “the federal government should allow religious symbols in public spaces,” and “the success of the United States is part of God’s plan.”

If respondents indicated that they “strongly agreed” with the aforementioned statements, they would score highest on the Christian nationalism scale while those who claimed to disagree with the statements would score much lower.

Perry did not find the results of the study surprising at all.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Perry defined Christian nationalist ideology as one in which adherents want to “institutionalize our religious beliefs and values” and “view religion more as something that is like a cultural marker of identity.” 

“Christian nationalist ideology is associated with a whole lot of really negative views and values,” he said.

“Christian nationalism tends to make Americans more racially prejudiced, more fearful of immigrants to an irrational degree, and hold views that are unequivocally xenophobic or racist."

According to Perry, the ideology of Christian nationalism has a profound impact on how people view the coronavirus. Perry argues that, because “Christian nationalism seems to make people inclined to Donald Trump” and “Donald Trump, wasn’t really encouraging a lot of precautions regarding coronavirus early on,” it should not come as a surprise those identified as having a Christian nationalist ideology are less likely to take precautions during the pandemic. 

Perry also cited a reluctance to “trust the media” among reasons for their reluctance to follow recommended coronavirus precautions. He also said that there is a belief that the United States has a “protective relationship” with God and that “if God punishes us with this disease,” “it’s not because we’re not social distancing, it’s because … we’ve slid morally.”

The professor said that some believe “the solution to coronavirus is not necessarily to wash your hands more or use hand sanitizer, or wear masks or social distance." Rather, he said, they think the solution is to "repent … of our … immorality publicly.”

While people who scored higher on the Christian nationalism scale were less likely to abide by recommended precautions for stopping the spread of the coronavirus, those who “attend church more or pray more or think religion’s more important to them” were “more likely to do things like social distance or wear a mask” once Christian nationalism was accounted for, Perry said.

The study states that "religious commitment was completely unrelated to incautious behaviors in our full models." 

“Findings document that Christian nationalism, not religious commitment per se, undergirded the far‐right response to COVID‐19 that disregarded precautionary recommendations, thus potentially worsening the pandemic,” the report reads. 

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