White, Black, and Blue: Christians Disagree Over Policing

Black Christians overwhelmingly say police treatment is biased against them. Why don’t white evangelicals believe them?

Do police officers generally treat black and white Americans alike?

White evangelicals are more likely to say “yes” than any other major religious demographic in the United States. Black Protestants are most likely to disagree.

This rift has appeared repeatedly in surveys on American policing over the past five years, as have disparities in how these two groups understand high-profile police killings of black men and in how police make them feel. The numbers are striking:

  • A 2015 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found white evangelical Protestants were the only major religious group in which a majority (62%) said police generally treat white and black people equally. Only 20 percent of minority Protestants agreed.
  • Survey data from Pew Research Center and the Baylor Religion Survey in 2017 showed that gap between white evangelicals and black Protestants was intact two years later.
  • The same 2015 PRRI poll found 6 in 10 white evangelicals called high-profile police killings of black men isolated incidents; 7 in 10 minority Protestants said they see a broader pattern.
  • In a 2018 poll by PRRI, the isolated incident vs. broader pattern contrast was starker: Now 7 in 10 white evangelicals said the deaths were isolated incidents, while 84 percent of black Protestants said there’s a pattern.
  • And the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey showed white evangelicals and black Protestants were, of 16 religious demographics, furthest apart on whether the police make them feel safe or unsafe.

The latest of these polls (the most recent I’ve found) is two years old, and it’s possible opinions have shifted some, especially over the past few weeks, as the police killing of George Floyd in …

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