Celestial fruits on earthly ground, or a queer ex-evangelical looks at christianist thoughts on ‘chosen people’
First, let’s handle a few caveats: I was raised Southern Baptist in the U.S., so I am most familiar with that particular subset of the larger evangelical/christianist/dominionist community. I have considered myself both an ex-evangelical and ex-Christian for many years—I didn’t leave the church, the church rather violently drove this queer science-loving person out. Finally, I use the word christianist in these essays to refer specifically to people who claim to follow Christ and his teachings, but who actively engage in words and deeds that are contrary to those teachings.
I have several times found myself in discussion with conservative christianists of various stripes on the topic of religious freedom where a person will insist they believe in religious freedom, but then say that being muslim ought to be illegal or something similar. When you try to point out the contradiction, many of them are genuinely confused. If you question them closely enough, you’ll find that many believe the word “religion” only applies to Christianity and Judaism.
One of the most public examples happened a few years ago when a state legislator in the south freaked out when she found out that the school voucher bill she had fought so hard to pass was being using by muslims in her state to divert tax dollars to their religious schools. She was absolutely livid in her first response, even though allowing parents to use tax dollars to send their kids to religious schools was exactly what the bill had been about. Her staffers and fellow Republicans had to explain to her that “religious schools” meant schools sponsored by any religion, not just Christian and Jewish schools.
A friend has told me the story of how back in school she had once signed up for a Comparative Religions class thinking she would finally get to learn what the differences were between Catholics and Lutherans and Methodists, et al—and how only a few minutes into the first class session as the teacher started talking about Buddhists and Muslims and Taoists and so on she started feeling really embarrassed. She hadn’t told anyone that’s what she was expecting, she was merely metaphorically kicking herself because none of the other religions had even occurred to her when she had read the description of the class.
There are the large number of christianists who insist that buddhism isn’t a religion, “It’s a philosophy!” I’ve been told many times that hinduism isn’t a religions—“It’s like greek mythology, no one believes it any more!” Tell that to the millions of people participating in the Ganesh festivals every year! And so on.
Since about 66% of the U.S. population identifies as christian, while people who subscribe to non-christian religions amount to only about 6% of the U.S. population, it isn’t difficult to understand why many americans would be less well informed on the topic of non-christian faiths. It’s easy to shrug this all off as people being clueless about things outside their own experiences, but it has real world consequences. It influences their decisions in the voting booth, and the policies they are willing to support.
To get back to christianist attitudes toward Jewish people, the fact that many of them believe that the word “religion” only applies to a Christians and Jews isn’t a sign of ecumenical thinking. Because most fundamentalist and evangelical christians view Jews as just junior varsity christians. This takes a couple of different forms. Some of them think that Jews are god’s chosen people who just failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but they are still faithful adherents to the oldest of god’s teachings and still worship the one true god—they just aren’t doing it quite right. Others think Jews used to be god’s chosen people, but because they didn’t recognize Jesus, they no longer are chosen, and in fact no longer worship the true god at all.
The latter group is where I believe most of the more aggressively anti-semitic actions and rhetoric originates. Even the ones who aren’t openly anti-semitic, only tolerate the continued existence of Jewish people because they believe there is a special duty to convince Jews to convert to christianity. It’s like they think god will give them a gold star for every Jew they convert.
They also have that attitude toward other non-christians: our worth, to them, is solely as potential converts. And the less likely they think we are to agree to become born-again, the less value they place on our lives. And that also, has real world consequences.
Note: The title of today’s post comes from “We’re Marching to Zion” by Isaac Watts and Robert Lowry, #308 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal.
Haste to prepare the way, or an ex-evangelical explains christianist attitudes toward Israel and Israelies
I could keep going.
Before I continue, a couple of disclaimers: I have considered myself an ex-Baptist and an ex-Christian for a long time. I have often said I didn’t leave the church, the church drove me (a gay man) away. I was also the kind of nerd who read the Bible, on my own, cover-to-cover more than once (and had rather large swaths of it memorized). My passion for social justice was instilled at early age by some of the teachings of the church and its holy book, even as the contradictions I often observed in the teachings and practices of the church and their selective reading of that text fueled my doubts.
The negative attitude of many christians toward Jewish people has a long history, going back at least to the Third Century. And a lot of the rationalizations make no sense. As a for instance, take the “they reject him and executed him” argument. According to christian teachings, Jesus’ entire purpose for being sent to earth was to be sacrificed as a payment for human sin and make salvation possible. God’s plan required Jesus to be rejected and executed. Never mind that it was technically the Roman governor who ordered the execution, you can’t blame the crowds who supposedly demanded his death because they were just enacting god’s plan, right? Not the devil’s plan, god’s plan!
Similarly, taking various verses in the bible where the name Israel is used to metaphorically refer to all Jewish people collectively, and not a specific legal entity controlling a specific territory on the map to refer to the modern state of Israel is shaky reasoning, at best. And people today trying to claim that anyone who is critical of any specific policies of the current government of Israel is anti-semitic is equally absurd. And it’s pretty rich coming from Republicans, some of whom brought Holocaust deniers to the recent State of the Union Address, for instance.
All those contradictory things about Jewish people that evangelicals believe are baked deeply into the reasoning of the political rightwing in America. And it manifests in interesting ways. For instance, if anyone expresses any sympathy for the Palestinean people, the first thing that any journalist or pundit from Fox News and the like will ask is, “Does Israel have a right to exist?”
And it’s a bullshit question.
During the Obama administration, when Republicans would criticize things the government was doing, none of these talking heads ever asked them, “Does the United States have a right to exist?” When someone criticizes a policy of the government of Germany, or Mexico, or Japan or France, no one asks the person, “Does Germany/Mexico/Japan/France have a right to exist?”
And the truth is, no nation has a right to exist. A nation is a political and economic organization that has asserted control over a particular territory. A nation contains people, but the nation is not, itself, a person. People have a right to exist, but legal fictions that we create, like corporations, governments, social clubs, and so forth don’t.
And if anyone turned that question back on any of those talking heads—if a person who criticized the Israeli government would reply, “You’ve been critical of the U.S. government in the past, do think that the United States has a right to exist?” They would be offended and claim that it’s off-topic or not the same thing at all.
One of the reasons they think the “Does it have a right to exist” is a reasonable question is because they don’t perceive Israel as being just a government and its territory. They perceive it as the mythic entity cherry-picked from the bible. It is the chosen people of god, and it is a thing that must exist in order to bring about the second coming of Jesus. More than that, their reading of scripture demands that this mythic entity be embroiled in conflict, bloodshed, and the occasional war. Because again, the promised second coming and a new kingdom where they walk on streets paved with gold and all that can’t happen without horrible things happening in a place called Israel.
All of the other anti-semitic things they believe—the Jewish people are greedy, that they are untrustworthy, that they work in secret in various evil conspiracies and so forth—some from that betrayal of god thing. Evangelical thinking in particular is very ethno-deterministic. For a long time they opening taught that black people were descendants of either the biblical character of Cain or Noah’s son Ham. In either case, as descendants of those characters who were cursed by god, doctrine held that they were inherently less moral, less intelligent, and so on. Similarly, they believe (even if they are often less open about it these days), that because of the things their ancestors did, that now all of them are inherently aligned with evil.
So they don’t support Israel because they think the Israeli people deserve to be protected or that Israel is a great country. They support Israel because they think doing so will hasten the end of the world and fulfill god’s plan. Jewish people aren’t real people to them—Jewish people are sacrificial lambs whose blood is just one of the many prices they are willing to force other people to pay to get that mansion in heaven they think they’ve been promised.
And that’s how you get the same political party that inspires people to shoot up synagogs, that accuses rich Jewish people of financing every organization they disagree with, that claims that corrupt Jewish people control Hollywood, that refers to both neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers as “very fine people” pretending to be angry because one freshman Congresswoman criticized some specific policies of the Israeli government and claim that she’s anti-semetic.
Edited to Add: I got a comment from someone who seemed to think the intent of this post was to explain every single aspect of the attitudes of all christian sects toward the Jewish people. So let me first point anyone thinking that to the title of the blog post where I used the word “christianist” and not the word christian. What is a christianist, you may ask? A christianist is one who claims to be a follower of Christ and His teachings but who actively engages in acts and deeds that are contrary to Christ’s teachings.
Second, my usual goal is to keep my blog posts to roughly 1000 words (for various reasons). It is not possible to explore every nuance of any question in 1000 words. Some things need to be left as exercises for the reader. Or expanded further in a later post.
Note: The title comes from the hymn “What if it were Today” by Mrs. C.H. Moore, #124 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal
Similarly, when marriage equality began being enacted, the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies found that queer teen suicides and suicide attempts decreased by 14%. Which would confirm that perceptions of societal acceptance his a significant driver of the problem.
This is why I get so angry when politicians, such as our current Vice President, scream bloody murder when anyone criticizes the anti-gay policies and teachings of any of their favorite institutions. Adult religious freedom shouldn’t be an excuse to bully children to death. Period.
The rate at which LGBT teens are thrown out of their homes, bullied, and driven to suicide is exactly why queer adults and our allies get upset when, say, the wife of the Vice President of the United States goes to work at a Christian school which rejects queer students. It isn’t about her religious freedom, it’s about the health and welfare of children. And if you don’t believe me, you can listen to a queer person who attended and that very school:
When we talk about this sort of thing in relation to private schools, a lot of people who think of themselves as open-minded respond by pointing out that attending a private school isn’t mandatory. As if a five-year-old kid is the one deciding which school their parents are going to enroll them into. Part of the problem with these institutions is that they are part of an entire ecosystem—an anti-gay (and usually also anti-science) bubble in which kids are brought up surrounded by misinformation. More than a little bit of that misinformation being quite harmful to one’s health.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. The overwhelming scientific and medical consensus is that sexual orientation is not a choice, it can’t be changed, and whatever the cause seems to be set sometime before the age of two. It is also the overwhelming scientific and medical consensus that the differences in health outcomes and such that are sometimes cherry-picked from studies to prove that being queer is harmful are actually evidence that anti-gay discrimination is harmful.
Queer kids are born in all types of families. And even when the adults around us don’t notice or suspect us from an early age, we all notice that something is different pretty early. And the older we get in an environment where our feelings and interests don’t match what is expected by the adults around us, the more we try to hide our true selves and contort ourselves into something that will please our elders and peers.
“When you’re young and consistently told that who you are is incorrect and needs to be eradicated, you listen and start to eradicate yourself.”
—Luke Hartman, Immanuel Christian alumnus
As Luke points out, being raised in a church that taught that gays are abominations, and going to a elementary school and then middle school where everyone believed that and the curriculum assumed that non-straight people don’t even exist, stunts a queer kids emotional growth. When none of the role models match their feelings, they just go through motions without many important social developments happening. It was only when he transitioned to a public high school (because the private school didn’t cover the upper grades) that he began to get a hint that people like him even existed.
“I believe the most hurtful messages are the ones that are expressed silently. It was an unspoken truth that being gay, or deviating from a narrow definition of sexual orientation or gender identity, was a no-fly zone.”
They don’t learn how to form healthy romantic relationships in a context that matches their orientation. They also internalize all the absence as much as the outright bigotry. If the only possible acceptable visions of your future are things that you can feel in your bones aren’t who you are, well, that must mean that something is profoundly wrong with you. It’s like one queer author once observed: in myth monsters don’t have reflections and don’t cast shadows. If people like us don’t exist in any books, movies, stories, et cetera that we see growing up—if people like us aren’t reflected in the culture, and if our accomplishments aren’t acknowledged—then the only conclusion is that we are monsters.
That leaves scars and deep trauma—trauma that studies show makes physical changes to the brain just like that seen in war zone survivors!
And that’s why it’s important to call out the people who claim they are just exercising their religious beliefs. They aren’t “merely” doing anything. They are imposing those beliefs on children. And before you let them claim that they have a right to raise their children as they like, let me remind you that children aren’t property. They are a responsibility. We impose severe penalties when parents physically brutalize and even kill their children. We need to realize that abuse and trauma isn’t limited to broken bones, contusions, and concussions.
I had several answers—all of them true:
- It takes a lot of time and energy to try to educate someone on these complex topics, and that’s time and energy I will never get back and which I’d rather spend on writing or editing my own stuff.
- In my experience, very few people actually listen to your attempt to explain such things, they instead become defensive—sometimes extremely aggressively defensive. So you’re asking me to put myself into a fight.
- I’ve been explaining these things my whole life—just look through this blog!—and it’s exhausting. Please refer to the first bullet.
- One reason it is so exhausting to try to answer is because of what Foz Meadows once described as onion questions: “seemingly simple questions that can’t possibly be answered to either your satisfaction or your interlocutor’s because their ignorance of concepts vital to whatever you might say is so lacking, so fundamentally incorrect, that there’s no way to answer the first point without first explaining eight other things in detail. There are layers to what’s being misunderstood, to what’s missing from the conversation, and unless you’ve got the time and inclination to dig down to the onion-core of where your perspectives ultimately diverge, there’s precious little chance of the conversation progressing peacefully.”
- Thousands of other people have been explaining all of these things. There is no shortage of information about these things out there. I’ve educated myself on all sorts of things that don’t directly affect my life, why can’t they do that, too?
However, K. Tempest Bradford recently shared a link to a post she wrote on this topic a few years ago, Pearls Before Swine – Or, Why I Bother and she makes some good points. I’d read the post before, but had forgotten. In the post she’s referring specifically to a long article that astronomer Phil Plait wrote, attempting to answer questions from people who don’t believe in evolution and so forth:
“I’m fairly sure that the reason the creationists in the Buzzfeed article asked such ragingly stupid questions is because no one has ever bothered to answer them seriously before. I know why that might be. Like I said, the questions are really stupid.
“So stupid they can inspire rage. Or stupid enough that it makes people shake their heads and think This Person is Not Even Worth It. Not everyone has the spoons to deal with crap like that.
“If one does have the patience to answer and explain in a real way it helps both the person asking the stupid question and it helps people who have to deal with the kind of people who ask those stupid questions. They can either offer up the knowledge as they understand it thanks to the helpful answers and info behind those links or they can say: “This post over here answers all of that and more, go read it and stop talking to me.” Drop that link and mambo, people!”
And it reminded me of a recent exchange with a friend who shared something with me that was chockful of misconceptions and concealed bigoted assumptions. And I decided that his friendship was probably strong enough to deal with the discussion, so I wrote about a thousand word email explaining the misconceptions, false equivalencies, and so forth. Even though he is a good friend and generally a nice guy, I have to admit I was a little worried he would be upset. Instead, he replied thoughtfully and realized, having read my explanation, that there were some things that he had been taking in and just accepting in various videos and articles and such that were similarly full of false equivalencies, straw man arguments, and so forth.
So, I’m reminded that not everyone gets defensive. Also, as Bradford observes: “Other people have come to me over the years, usually at conventions, and told me how they, at first, thought I was SO WRONG about race and the community and so angry… But then their anger and defensiveness went away and they pondered and listened and read other people saying the same things and finally came to a better understanding.”
I’m not going to go back and unblock any of the people I blocked this week and attempt to re-engage. I am going to think about whether I could keep a list of handy links to certain blog posts or articles on topics that come up again and again and share those links when it might help.
Doubling-down isn’t how you make sf/f for everyone… and being southern isn’t a license to condescend
Although I already covered some of this last Thursday (Stop digging, don’t you see how deep you already are?), another incident has come to light that makes it even more clear that there are sadly a lot of people committing one of the most classic blunders—no, not that one about going up against a Sicilian when death is on the line—no, this one is from the Nixon era: it isn’t the crime that brings you down, it’s the cover-up.
I’m speaking metaphorically, though. I am not trying to imply that anyone has committed a crime, nor that they are trying to hide it. In the case of the Silverberg incident, while there was plenty that is of the gatekeeper-y style of racism/sexism (not to mention the bigoted trope of calling any marginalized person who is being anything other than deferential “angry”) in the original offense, the real problem came when he wrote about how he isn’t racist or sexist—using racist and misogynist arguments to do so. So, the original comments could have been apologized for as thoughtless or ill-considered (and hypocritical), the denial just made the unexamined misogyny and racist presumptions undeniable.
Turns out two weekends ago at LosCon Greg Benford got himself in a similar problem. Mike Glyer at File770 has several posts with statements from several people and there’s a lot to unravel, but the upshot was that Benford made a number of dismissive comments about works written by one black woman in particular and younger-than-him women writing sf/f in general during a panel, and then during the question-and-answer portion of the panel a pro sitting in the audience tried to call him on it and there was much yelling and recrimination.
The convention staff’s inconsistent handling of the subsequent complaints from multiple people in the panel are generating a lot of pedantic argument and deflection. I don’t feel like re-litigating that, I want to focus on the dismissive words and the problems there. The topic of the panel was supposed to be to discuss who the future Grandmasters of SF/F might be. One of the statements Benford made as part of a general dismissal of a lot of stuff being written today was, “If you write sf honey, gotta get the science right.”
A lot of people are trying to defend Benford by saying that everyone else is being bigoted against southern people by taking offense. They are making the claim that “honey” is used as a polite term to address a stranger in many social circumstances in the south. And they are right to an extent, however, it is not always polite, nor is it an entirely ungendered term, as Benford’s defenders are trying to claim. Straight men in the south never use “honey” to address another man, it is always gendered. Queer men can use it either way, though straight men are quite likely to take offense if a man refers to them as honey. Women can use the term to people of any gender and often it is considered a polite form of address, but it depends on the context.
An older woman might indeed address a younger person as “honey” if they are either asking them to do something, or suggesting that the way the younger person is behaving might be inappropriate for the situation, and so forth. The younger southern person would not take offense, and neither would anyone listening. Southern culture does have a very strong strain of respecting one’s elders, for one thing; the term “honey” in this case signals a difference in social standing. But if the significantly younger person were to call the older woman “honey” in the answer, she would be affronted, and other people overhearing would all agree that the younger person was being rude. Because this is inverting the social standing: the younger person’s use of the term “honey” in such a case signals that the older person doesn’t deserve the respect ordinarily accorded to elders.
If a man uses the term to address a woman who is not a close family member or intimate partner, it also signals a difference in social standing. But depending on the context, the difference being asserted might be simply that the man believes that all women naturally must defer to him. While it might sound friendly, it’s definitely got a message of “respect your betters (and that would be me)” about it.
As another old white bearded guy from the south, I have also used the term “honey” when addressing someone who wasn’t my husband. And as a queer man, I have used it without regard to gender. But I also have had friends explain to me that it just amps up the condescension when I do that. I didn’t consciously intend it, but once it was pointed out, I realized I have to learn to stop saying it, because they are right. Not just that it sounds condescending (which it does). And also not just that it can hurt someone to be talked down to that way whether I intend it or not (which it does). But also because now I know both of those things.
So, since Benford identifies as straight man originally from the south, we can safely infer that his off-the-cuff remark was aimed solely at women writers, and that it was more of an admonishment than friendly advice. It also is a bit of classic gatekeeper BS that conveniently is never used to disqualify any science fiction written by straight white guys. Something that John Scalzi pointed out in a chuckle-worthy way:
Another of my favorite authors, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, started a thread (which others contributed to) that gives more examples of science fiction written by white guys where the science is very, very wrong, but no one of Benford’s camp would ever say wasn’t sf.
Another Benford comment that was directed at a specific author is even worse: asserting that a trilogy which recently won three Hugos in a row isn’t all that because “psychic powers to control the earth and earthquakes had already been done in the fifties.” Which is another favorite gatekeeper trick to exclude people. Never mind that every one of Benford’s own books could be boiled down to a single “idea” that someone had written many years before he started being published. But that’s the nature of gatekeeping: rules are stated in a way that sound like an objective criteria, but aren’t applied to works by white straight cisgendered men.
But others have also explained that a bit better. Annalee Flower Horne did a twitter thread explaining how “the notion that ideas and tropes can never be re-used in SF and that anyone trying must be new here would be funny if it weren’t such an insidious tool of exclusion.”
But at this point I’m still just describing Benford’s original offense, and not how he dug himself even deeper into the hole. I’m not going to link to it because it’s hosted on sites that I refuse to give any support of. But his response boiled down to accusing everyone else of being too sensitive and lamenting the so-called victim culture. Ah, yes, that tired old chestnut! Every classic blunder deserves a classic racist/misogynist/homophobic dog whistle, I guess. But just to be clear: if you claim that other people are being too sensitive, all that really means is that you’re offended because you think you should be able to disrespect whoever you want and never face any consequences for it.
I didn’t do as good a job last week about explaining one aspect of why this doubling-down is not just pointless, but also ethically wrong. Fortunately, Brianne Reeves did a much better job:
You are at a playground. A gaggle of four year olds is running about. One of them is not paying attention and accidentally sends another plummeting off the equipment and into the asphalt. Suddenly, there is screaming and crying. Mothers race to the scene.
What do you do next?
You fix the wound as best you can, and the child apologizes. Not necessarily for the shove, but for the inattention. They didn’t *mean* to cause pain, but their lack of awareness meant that another is in pain.”
I mentioned above the time when a friend called me out for using the term “honey” in a condescending way. I wasn’t intending to belittle the person I was talking to, but intention isn’t an exculpatory factor. My friend was hurt by my words, and that is on me. More importantly, once I have had this explained to me, the onus also is upon me to avoid such thoughtless words again. It is tough breaking old habits, I know. I have screwed up since that was pointed out to me, but the answer isn’t to blame my friend for being overly sensitive. The onus is on me to keep trying to do better, and apologize sincerely when I mess up.
It’s also galling when a professional writer, of all people, tries to claim that words don’t matter. They do. We should take pride in taking responsibility for what we say and write.
So, a woman and her daughter went to use the pool owned by the neighborhood Home Owners Association, of which the black woman is a member (which means she is one of the owners of the pool). There are a couple of different videos of the incident, with the guy explaining that it isn’t racial, he’s just enforcing the rules. A white woman in the background of one video points out that she wasn’t asked to show her ID. A few moments later, after the police determine the the black woman has a valid keycard to unlock the gate, and the white guy tries to imply that the black woman stole the key card from a valid resident, an different white woman says, “You didn’t make me sign in!” The guy has subsequently resigned from the board of the home owners association, resigned from his position as the “pool chairman” and either was fired or agreed to resign from his job.
The funniest take I’ve read on this was written by Michael Harriot: Sentient Marshmallow Calls Police on Black Woman for Swimming in Her Own Pool, which is where I grabbed the image above, because he has a theory as to why certain white people, as he asks, who do “white people believe the cops are their personal fugitive slave catchers. Are police supposed to be universal technical support for white people? Why are white people like this?”
At least Pool Patrol Paul remained non-violent, unlike Pool Patrol Paula (no relation): A white woman allegedly hit a black teen, used racial slurs and told him to leave a pool. Then she bit a cop. Last week a group of 15-year-olds showed up at a pool, invited there by a friend, and this woman started yelling at them that they couldn’t be there. The boys (and at least one other witness) say that she used a racial slur, which is what prompted one of the kids to start recording it on his phone. The phone really set her off, because he shouts and comes at him, trying to bat the phone away and she hits him several times. She asks angrily, “How does that feel?” after hitting him. The boys retreat, at least one can be heard very politely saying, “Yes, ma’am, we’re leaving.” Police, reviewing the video and talking to at least one witness at the pool, then got an arrest warrant and went to pick her up. She fought the two cops at her home, injuring both of them—biting one severally enough to break his skin. She’s been charged with assault and battery on the teen, plus two counts of assault on the cops. She’s out on bond, but she has also been fired from her job.
I saw at least one comment to the effect that Pool Patrol Paula, since she got violent with the cops, has some other issues and this shouldn’t be considered a racial case. That’s the wrong way of looking at it.
Let’s go to the case of Pool Patrol Paul insisting that he was only doing his duty as the pool chair person, which including making sure the facilities weren’t used by non-members. When it was pointed out that he didn’t ask anyone else there to prove they belonged, he dodged the question. One of the explanations given over the fact was that he simply didn’t recognize her, since she had bought the house and moved in recently.
Seems plausible, right?
One of the big disconnects that people who are not members of a marginalized group have about the nature of racism, sexism, homophobia, and so forth, is that bigotry is about feeling a burning hatred for those people. But bigotry is much, much more subtle than that. The video indicates that the pool was pretty crowded. It was a hot day, it was Independence Day, so a lot of people were there. It is not possible to believe that in that situation that he carefully assessed every face around the pool, ticking off names from his mental list. As two of the white women there pointed out, he wasn’t enforcing the rule that everyone sign in—until the black woman and her black daughter showed up.
Systemic bigotry is a subtle, insidious force that we absorb throughout our lives. It tints our perceptions, creating filters in our minds that we don’t process consciously. Our brains are really good at classifying things, people, and sounds we recognize. But it classifies them according to these assumptions that we don’t always understand.
I have no problem believing that Pool Patrol Paul did not literally think, upon seeing the two enter the area, “Uh, oh! Can’t let the n—–s in the pool!” It’s more subtle than that. All of the white skinned people moving around him registered to his subconscious as folks who belong, without him thinking about it. The racial issue made him notice the woman and her daughter, and once he noticed, only then did he think, “I don’t recognize them.”
He asked her her name and address. He went into the office, then came out and asked for her ID. In subsequent attempts to explain himself, he first claimed that he forgot the address by the time he got inside to look her up. Then he changed the story to say that the address she gave was for a part of the subdivision that hadn’t completed construction. Then he said that she gave two different addresses.
What really happened is: she gave him a name and her address. He went inside and looked that name up, and it was the name of a home association member registered at that address. But his gut told him she was lying (later he told the police that it’s possible the key card was stolen). So he went back and asked for her ID.
And the problem is that he never asked himself why his gut was telling him she didn’t belong. And given what statements have come out since, he still hasn’t asked himself that question.
Similarly with Paula—she seems to be a more inherently violent person, but again, it isn’t just that she’s violent, it’s why she immediately assumed those boys didn’t belong at the pool (where she was just a person using it herself; she wasn’t responsible for enforcing any rules), and therefore were legitimate targets for assault. When the cops came to her home a couple days later to arrest her, of course she was outraged! She had done nothing wrong, in her mind.
Michael Harriot was on to something with the comment about perceiving police as personal fugitive slave catchers. These incidents happen because on a fundamental level, people like Pool Patrol Paul and Paula, and BBQ Becky, and Permit Patty, and the neighbors who called the police on a 12-year-old for mowing a lawn, all perceive certain people as not belonging. More than that, they perceive the presence of (in these cases) black people in these places as a wrong that must be righted.
Until they understand that about themselves, they’re going to keep doing things like this, while loudly proclaiming that they aren’t bigots.
A lot of people were sharing the above tweet, which is nice and succinct. When I quoted it on twitter, I added, “I would amend that the civility = treating cis het nonliberal white people with respect AND defference, but otherwise nailed it!”
Because that’s the thing, it isn’t just about respect, it’s about a very different bar for the definition of respect. The folks who are up in arms about civility aren’t just used to being treated with respect, they are used to being respected as an authority or someone else who deserves deference and reverence and esteem. They are not referring to the most basic level of respect that every person is entitled do just for being human.
And they think that when other people don’t honor them in this way, that means they were justified in treating other people as less than human.
It’s like they also have a nonlinear understanding of time, right? Their past actions and behaviors are being justified by the fact that people are calling them on the bigotry and intolerant behavior.
He tries in the article to layout the problems that denomination is failing to address. And he makes a nice point that simply praying for something without doing the work to make it happen is not merely impractical, it’s actual contrary to the teachings of the Christ they claim to follow.
But he doesn’t come out and say what really needs to be said. I can’t tell for certain if he is being vague in his comments about how they need to engage with the culture and spend less time pursuing culture wars because he knows the article wouldn’t be published if he is blunt, or if he is afraid to say it, or if he’s in denial himself.
He tiptoes around it, saying things like “As of yet, we’ve not made it to the point where we have… become known for what we are for rather than what we are against.”
But the clue that leads me to believe he probably is still in a bit of denial is when he says, after implying that the church is waging battle on two many fronts of the culture war, “For many of our neighbors, our warring is interpreted as being against them.”
No, Mr. Stetzer, it is not an interpretation Or perception that you are warring on us. Fundamentalist evangelical churches and affiliated organizations are literally attacking a whole lot of their neighbors.
The attacks on queer rights are the ones I most often link to or comment on, but that isn’t all of it. And even if they were, the way the fight is waged is a series of assaults on the lives and well-being of the queer people in question. At the same time that the church and related institutions keep cozying up to the special interests of big business and billionaires. So they are both ignoring Jesus’s teachings of “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” as well as “sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
Long before I reached a point where I could fearfully say outloud to a friend, “I think I might be gay3” I chafed at the church’s political choices. It wasn’t until my midteens (the early 1970s) that the SBC officially stopped opposing racial segregation. Even after that, a lot of churchs and affiliated organizations actively opposed civil rights laws, including the Voting Rights Act. That didn’t seem to line up with the command to Love Thy Neighbor.
I’m old enough to remember when official Baptist theology was not pro-life. In fact, among those Baptists willing to voice their anti-Catholic beliefs, the Catholic Church’s strong stand against abortion was used as an argument that Catholics were not a Biblical faith. Seriously! Southern Baptists used to look at the verse in the old testament which stated that a person who injured a pregnant woman such that she lost the baby was not the same as fatally injuring a child and was no worse than injuring a non-pregmant woman as proof that unborn babies were not yet people.
The shift in abortion was a calculated one by a number of evangelical leaders who met in the 70s to discuss what to do about fundraising now that segregation didn’t whip up the troops to donate. Again, that sudden about-face made no sense to teenaged me.
When Falwell’s so-called Moral Majority rose as a political force and allied itself strongly with the Republicans and doubled down on opposing women’s rights, gay rights, medical treatment for AIDS patients, and nondiscrimination laws in general, that was the final straw.
If there are people in the fundamentalist evangelical community in general–and Southern Baptists in particular–who want to turn around this downward spiral in membership, they have to change. They have organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom suing left and right to thwart gay and trans rights as well as lobbying politicians to pass anti-queer laws. Jesus never said a thing about queer people, but he commanded his followers take care of the poor, the sick, prisoners and even to welcome refugees4. Where is the evangelical organization suing government officials for withholding funds for the poor or the homeless or the disabled? Where is the evangelical organization lobbying in politicians for more funding for the poor, the homeless, the sick, the disabled or resettlement of refugees?
Their usual argument is some BS about charity being a private duty, rather than a governmental one. But you can’t demand that government enforce your private religious beliefs about marriage and gender and so forth while claiming to believe that government shouldn’t do these other things your holy book actually demands.
Evangelicals got themselves into this ridiculous hypocrisy because of two things: leaders who are addicted to money or power of both; and the dearly held evangelical myth that they are always the persecuted. The nakedly greedy leaders like Joel Osteen and Franklin Graham harp on the culture war issues and characterize any gains for “other” people as an assault against “true Christians” and rake in the dough. More sincere leaders like the late Billy Graham become so blinded by the thrill of access to Presidents and Congresspeople and other leaders, that they let their proximity promote the fearmongering of unscrupulous politicians.
And too many of their congregants eat up the rhetoric, becoming so inflamed with the fervor to fight so-called evil, that they don’t see the real evil they are inflicting on others. Instead of looking at other people as the neighbors they are commanded to love and care for, they see them as armies of sin. And their advocacy, donations, and rhetoric constitute very real attacks on people, not sin.
If they want to stop this decline, it won’t come from a new emphasis on evangelizing, as Stetzer asserts in his article. That would be as meaningless as praying without working. Instead, they need to focus on things their Christ actually told them to do: love your neighbor, feed the hungry, take care of the sick, clothe those who have nothing, be kind to the meek and powerless.
Do good, and people will see those good works and will stop feeling like enemies under attack.
0. The title of today’s post is a lyric from the hymn “The Kingdom is Coming” word by Mary B. Slade, music by Rigdon M. McIntosh, # 409 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal.
1. When I first read his assessment that the church will cease to exist for all intents and purposes in decades, my only thought was, “Darn! Not sooner?”2
2. Don’t get me wrong, I was raised Southern Baptist and I have a lot of fond childhood memories of deep friendships there. But as I have said many times, I didn’t abandon the church, the church drove me away.
3. Which didn’t happen until I was 25.
4. Again, I learned my strong sense for social injustice by reading the Bible they claimed to follow.
Bigot Bulletin: Principal and Police Officer who harassed students at Oregon high school are both fired
For some background: Gay teen says she went to school resource officer after getting bullied — and he told her she’s going to hell. The “resource officer” is a local police officer assigned to the school supposedly for the purpose of protecting the students. But he wasn’t the only problem. The principal of the school punished gay kids who reported incidents of being harassed (including at least one incident where the principal’s son nearly ran two of the other kids down with his car while yelling anti-gay slurs). Teachers who tried to help the kids in varying ways were retaliated against by the Principal and the district Superintendent, and so on.
So the Oregon Department of Education sent in an investigator. The local officials admitted to several issues, including that they had forced the gay kids to read and recite passages from the Bible as part of their punishment. The ODE investigator issued a report finding that the actions of the officials probably constituted illegal discrimination under Oregon law as well as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of church and state. A final finding was pending, but the state ordered to school district to come to a settlement with the kids and their parents by the end of April. They didn’t.
During that time, many more former and current students came forward, with more incidents of anti-LGBT and racial discrimination. Meanwhile, the ACLU was pursuing a lawsuit against the district.
Monday things came to a head: ACLU OF OREGON REACHES SWEEPING SETTLEMENT WITH NORTH BEND SCHOOL DISTRICT OVER LGBTQ DISCRIMINATION AND BIBLE READING.
- Principal fired
- District dismisses Resource Officer and requests local police assign a new officer
- District will create a diversity committee (keep in mind that teachers already tried to set up a Gay-Straight Alliance and were stopped by the principal) which will hold celebrations for Coming Out Day and Ally Week and will issue an annual report on how the school is doing on issues of diversity, inclusion, et cetera
- District will hire an anti-discrimination expert to help them craft policies to appropriately respond to harassment and discrimination
- District will donate $1000 to a local queer support group
Additionally, as a result of the state investigation, the district will be under supervision of the state ODE for at least five years while all of this is monitored. The remaining bit of less than awesome news from my point of view on this is that even though the state’s investigation and the discovery process of the lawsuit found that the district Superintendent knew about all of this and committed some of the retaliation from teachers who tried to help the queer kids, he isn’t being fired. Maybe everyone assumes with the state breathing down his neck he’ll behave?
I get such a bee in my bonnet on these stories because of my own experiences being bullied as a kid. More than one teacher and administrator told my parents that until I acted like “the other boys” or “normal” there was nothing they could do to prevent the bullying incidents. Never mind that some of the worst bullying came from teachers. In middle school I was called “faggot” and “sissy” by four specific teachers far more often than most of the other kids. And then there was the time I was the one threatened with expulsion for being bullied again and again, unless I attending regular counseling sessions where, apparently, the counselor was trying to teach me to act like a normal boy.
A lot of people think that those kinds of days are behind us, but these incidents happening for the last several years at this school are merely one of many such cases. Fortunately, the ACLU keeps coming in to represent the students, and again and again the districts wind up paying big penalties for their discrimination, bigotry, and bullying. As Dan Savage has asked (many times) when will public school administrators get it through their thick heads?
And I agree with Dan on another thing. This story is a good reminder to go make a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon!