Browsing Tag



people who disagree with me aren't stupid

senate chamber

When I registered to vote in 2005, I registered as a Republican, and I followed the primaries closely during 2007-2008. I read a lot of papers, and magazine articles, and online analysis of the speeches and debates between the Republican candidates.

When McCain earned the nomination, I was a little dismayed. Out of all the primary candidates he’d been my least favorite, and when he announced that Sarah Palin was his running mate . . . well, I didn’t have a lot of respect for Palin. I felt that he was completely out of touch with the situation in Iraq, and I disliked that he seemed dedicated to maintaining the status quo and two financially ruinous wars. I was also uncomfortable with his response to the economy that summer. Overall, he did not inspire confidence.

That’s when I started looking at Barack Obama’s campaign. He wanted to disentangle ourselves from Iraq and Afghanistan– so did I. He was advocating for health care reform and pushing for universal health care, which I never really thought would make it out of a campaign speech, but was an idea I liked; and while I thought that alternative energy “solutions” are anything but, I did think we needed to invest in research, because being dependent on gas, oil, and coal just seems like a bad, bad idea.

I read an article in Newsweek that featured both Obama and McCain, posing the exact same questions to both candidates and publishing what seemed to be their full, unedited responses. It was an in-depth article, and reading it convinced me that I did not want McCain serving as my president, and while I was still on the fence about Obama’s economic policies, I realized that the only thing I really cared about that a President could control was getting our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, that November, I filled in the little oval circle next to “Barack Obama (D)”.


Last year, when the woman at the DMV asked me how I’d like to register to vote, I answer “Democrat,” and I felt pride. I was owning my decision, owning my beliefs, owning how far I’d come, how I’d changed. How I was different. I was doing something that the 20-year-old me couldn’t have imagined.

In the six years it’s been since I first voted for a president, my political views have shifted dramatically. Interestingly enough, even after I’d voted for Obama, I still considered myself a typical Republican– leaning slightly libertarian, but pretty conservative. When I started graduate school and I met a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist, for a second I thought I might faint when she started challenging me on everything I believed about American economics.

I started doing research. I became pro-choice. I embraced government programs like SNAP and WIC. I support raising the minimum wage. I am worried about the consumer-based approach we have toward capitalism, and I’m starting to dislike capitalism in general. I don’t like how the astronomically wealthy have turned my country into a functional oligarchy. I find it abhorrent that conservatives have consistently pursued legislation that directly lead to disasters like the Elk River chemical spill. I hate the military-industrial complex and how the the balance of powers seem to be evaporating slowly, with the Executive branch consuming more and more power. I want marriage equality and for our government to recognize that gender isn’t a binary.

There’s no real label for what I am politically, so I usually just refer to myself as “liberal” because it seems like the biggest-tent term I can find. All I really know is that I’m not a conservative, not a Republican, and I sort of hate everything the Republican Party represents (I have my problems with the Democrats, too).

I got here because I started reading. I did research. I educated myself about the issues, and found out that most of the time a few simple facts was enough to revolutionize my political stance on an issue– and it’s extremely rare that I become more conservative, although that does occasionally happen.

So, when I’m on facebook, and I see a friend “liking” Rush Limbaugh’s status mocking the First Lady, I cringe. When I see others posting memes that make fun of liberal ideals like “feed hungry people” and “end police brutality” I want to scream.

Every time, I have to fight this reaction to assume that people who disagree with me are stupid. I’m usually successful in moderating that sentiment down to something reasonable like “this person is uninformed,” but that is a battle every time, and even then, it’s still not compassionate.

I want to assume that they just don’t know any better, but how patronizing is that? I am positive that there are educated, knowledgeable, intelligent Republicans. They exist.

But it’s become difficult for me to keep that idea in front of me when I see a conservative pundit spouting about something ridiculous and people I know rushing to agree or “like” it. It’s difficult because when I became informed, when I began educating myself, when I actually started doing research for the first time in my life, I became a liberal. Because that’s my personal story, it’s easy to assume that if people knew what I knew they’d agree with me, therefore they don’t know anything. But that’s dangerous, and wrong-headed.

It also wasn’t just “having more facts” that changed my mind. It was a simultaneous change in how I thought about people, and my responsibility to them. I stopped thinking in terms of individual responsibility and started seeing myself as a member of a community– and as a cis, white, able-bodied person, a rather powerful member at that. I stopped believing in the meritocracy. I opened my eyes to the reality of what it’s like not to be a white middle-class American. In a way, I feel like I grew a heart.

Which adds another layer onto my judging-conservative-people complex. Not only are they uninformed, they’re also greedy racist homophobic bastards that don’t care about suffering people. Which is also not true (at least, not for all of them).

I have to maintain a mentality that will allow me to honestly engage with people who disagree with me. If I enter every conversation I have thinking “they just don’t know anything and they hate everyone,” we’re not going to get anywhere, and it’s not just about politics– this extends to theology and social justice and relationships and… well, everything.

Social Issues

being a progressive, being an optimist

Prometheus by Adam

The first time I ran into the broader concepts of political ideals– not just American politics in particular, but how many (at least Western) countries have only a few dominant political branches– was when I was reading the Anne of Green Gables series, and Matthew tells Anne that he’s a conservative; she decides that’s what she’s going to be, and then asks him what it means. Matthew gives a pretty basic definition of political conservatism: they’re a little suspicious of change.

Progressivism came out of the European Enlightenment, with the US and France very much embracing the concept culturally and politically. It was this grand idea that humankind was on an upward track, that things could only get better– that we were all heading in the direction of progress, and progress seemed to be inherently good. Then the Industrial Age happened, and you have the Romantics and Victorians questioning whether new really does mean good, but before they’d really figured that out we’d had two world wars and then the Bomb.

And, suddenly, most of us were suspicious of progress. Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should be done became a familiar phrase, and since the 50s there’s been a culture-wide nostalgia in America, a longing to return to the “good old days” that comes in a variety of formats– Christian fundamentalism, the rising popularity of “vintage” and “shabby chic,” the glorification of the past, how much American conservatives talk about “original intent” and the Founding Fathers. Not that I think this is particularly new phenomenon: even Plato spends an awful lot of time talking about how awesome things used to be. But . . . still, I think this nostalgia has gotten worse in the last seventy years.

However, there’s still people who describes themselves as “liberals” and “progressives,” and I think this has a lot to do with optimism. I wouldn’t have described myself as an optimist until I was in the middle of a conversation talking about chattel slavery, and part of my argument for why American chattel slavery was so egregiously awful was this unspoken expectation that Americans in the 1800s should have known better. It’s not that slavery had never existed– it’s that Americans should have been better than ancient Rome (or any other civilization that legalized slavery).

The interesting thing is– some Americans did know better. They wrote books, pamphlets, preached sermons, and eventually went to war over it. We ended chattel slavery and outlawed slavery of any kind  in this country. Today, any of the arguments made in support of slavery– even biblical ones– are heinous and evil to almost all of us except a select handful that everyone else condemns as twisted and immoral. Slavery still happens in this country– sex trafficking and human trafficking sometimes reap more profit than drugs or guns in this country– but, with rare exceptions, Americans know that it’s wrong.

There have also been other moments in our history that have the same core idea running behind it. The Civil Rights Era, and today’s slow march toward LGBTQ rights. The fact that we made it illegal for men to sell or beat their wives. How the the number of forcible rapes (the only kind of rape consistently measured) has gone down in the past 20 years. How, yesterday, researchers announced that making contraception more freely available resulted in less unintended pregnancies– and that 2011 had the lowest rate of abortion since Roe vs. Wade.

These are all fantastically good things, and I believe in what they mean.

I believe that rape culture could disappear in my lifetime– that any kind of rape could become rare, and that when it does happen the victim can receive justice. I believe that education and contraception– not forced births through horrible laws– could lower the abortion rate to 6 per 1,000 women like it is in Holland instead of the 24 per 1,000 it is here. I believe that we can empower people and make the widespread violence against cis women and trans* persons a thing from the past. I believe that the rampant and often deadly attitudes of racism and bigotry could evaporate. .

I do. I believe all of that is possible, and I believe I can be one of the people who can make that happen. That I can be a part of that change. That the world can become a better place, that I can help bring the kingdom of God to earth. That all oppression shall cease, that all bonds will be broken, that justice can be fought for and achieved.


Fascinating Womanhood: family finances

1950s Woman Shopping Frozen Food Section Of Grocery Store

Occasionally during the course of her book, Helen gives her readers practical, “down-to-earth” level advice. This is one of those chapters, which is dedicated to telling women how they can help their husbands by “developing the womanly art of thrift.”

Like she usually does, she opens up her chapter by appealing to the Bible, which “makes it clear” that it is “the husband’s responsibility to provide the living.” However, also like she usually does, she doesn’t reference any particular passage, just expecting us to know what she’s talking about. However, I can think of a few examples that render this claim completely unfounded:

  • The Proverbs 31 Woman. She’s been used to bludgeon Christian women for decades, but one of the things that “the Bible makes clear” that she does is not just “practice the womanly art of thrift” but she also makes money. Proverbs 31 describes a woman who is like “the ships of the merchant,” whose “merchandise is profitable.”
  • Priscilla, who with her husband runs a profitable tent-making business. Paul frequently talks about how indebted he was to this married couple, and he always lists Priscilla first. Considering that the culture of the time always listed the head of the household first, Paul’s decision to lead with her name is significant. (Acts 18).
  • Lydia, the “seller of purple,” and traditionally considered the first Christian convert in Europe. Because of her wealth and her status as a free woman, she invited Paul and his companions into her home, which she would not have been able to do if she was under the legal control of a husband or father. She was clearly in control of her home, independent of any man (Acts 16).
  • Phoebe, who Paul describes as “minister” (the same word he uses to label other notable pastors) and a “leader” or “patron.” She was tasked with delivering his letter to Rome, a duty that also would have required her to read and interpret it for the church there. She was certainly not staying at home, behind closed doors, hiding behind her husband. (Romans 16)
  • Titus specifically tells Roman-Christian women to be “keepers at home,” which as I’ve written about before, was a charge to run a profitable family business; it was not something Paul wrote to make sure women stay in the kitchen.

“The Bible makes clear” Helen? I’m not sure what Bible she’s reading, but it’s not the one I’m pretty sure everyone else in the world has.

But, the biggest thing that bothers me about this chapter is how harshly she divides up people. The way she talks about married couples in this chapter is incredibly divisive. She boxes every single last human being on the planet into what she thinks is “biblical” without any sort of exceptions, without extending grace, without viewing difficult situations with compassion.

She is strictly addressing wives, here, and what she tells them is that they are to be given “allowances” to cover the “household budget”– which does not include anything outside of groceries and clothing. She forbids women from making any sort of purchase– at all— that doesn’t fit inside of “anything in regular demand.” Any kind of need, like furniture or repairs, is to be sought out and paid for only by the husband, and he has “major jurisdiction and final say.” She tells us that we’re not allowed to discuss these sorts of things with him– ever. If we do, we risk emasculating our husbands and “relieving him of his responsibilities” which, somehow results in husbands becoming incapable of handling money wisely.

This actually fits into Helen’s pattern, and is a direct result of how she views communication. To Helen, any possible sort of discussion (“conflict”) is to be avoided at all costs. If a conversation between a husband and a wife could lead to any sort of disagreement whatsoever, she absolutely forbids you from having it. To Helen, a marriage is only “successful” if the two never disagree, and the only way for that to happen is for one person to never have a say. In Helen’s world, that person is always the wife. The fact that one of the biggest sources of conflict in marriages is money (couples who fight over money once a week are 30% more likely to get divorced) has led Helen to believe that husbands and wives must never, ever talk about it. If you never even discuss money, you can’t fight over it, and presto-change-o, happy marriage!

For families in “financial distress” she tells women they they aren’t allowed to go get a job. Instead, we’re supposed to “reduce expenses” and “trim the luxuries” which… gah. The suggestions she makes for how women could do this? Selling their second car. Cancelling vacations. Don’t be tempted by advertisements. Which, in some situations could be perfectly reasonable advice. However, I’m becoming more and more convinced that Helen has never interacted with a poor person in her entire life. People who have two cars and can afford to sell one of them aren’t in financial distress, I’m sorry. Maybe someone who has two cars is living outside of their means, but that is nowhere near the sort of scale many families are facing when 20% of all children go hungry because they live in “very low food security households.” Selling your second car isn’t going to fix that.

And what are we supposed to do when men “make a mess of things”? When they don’t pay the mortgage, or the bills, when they overdraft their accounts?

Let go completely and turn your back on things. Don’t be anxious, checking the books to see if he added right, or is neglecting anything. If he make a mess of things, let him suffer the consequences, no matter what they are. That is the only way he will learn.

I might have thrown the book across the room at that line. Because he’s not the only one suffering consequences when the bank forecloses on your house because he didn’t pay the mortgage. This sort of comment doesn’t even begin to make sense, but she justifies it with “psychology”:

He will begin to feel responsible, to know that if anyone is to worry about the money, it will have to be him. And he will notice your relief, that you are happier. Let him know you are. As he sees you brighter he will try harder to make a go of things, to keep you happy.

Helen doesn’t live on this planet. I’m positive. If she did, she’d realize how ridiculous a statement this is. Sure, some people are motivated by wanting to make the people in their life happy. I’m one of them. But there are plenty of people who couldn’t give a damn, but she doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. This chapter, while Helen has presented it as practical advice, it is almost entirely inapplicable for huge sections of humanity. It is only relevant to the top 20% of all American households, and is wholly incapable of even making sense anyone who doesn’t have the luxury of two cars and a $70,000-a-year income. Helen, here, is displaying an astounding lack of compassion or even awareness that some families really are destitute. Her white, middle-class privilege is pouring out of her, and it’s more that just disappointing.

Helen isn’t alone in this attitude, which is heartbreaking. Many people in conservative evangelical America share the exact same blinders that Helen has on in this chapter. We’ve forgotten that Jesus said “the poor you will always have with you” and that our primary responsibility as the Church is to care for the widows, the orphans, and the poor. We don’t even know they exist anymore. Not really. Oh, we do the Christmas shoebox drives and the book drives and the canned food drives and the backpack drives– one for each season. And then we completely forget about them, except for those four times a year.

I want to be angry with Helen, but I can’t be angry with Helen without feeling anger towards the modern American church in general.


and yet ANOTHER post about millennials

crumbling church

I didn’t want to get involved in this mess. In some ways, I’ve already said my piecetwice, really. I mean, the first time I wrote about “why are we leaving the church” was June 7– almost two months before Rachel Held Evans wrote about it on CNN. And yes, I feel like a hipster. “I wrote about it before it was all the rage!” #humblebrag

Not to say that I was saying anything new, or original, or that I was really contributing to the conversation at all. Those two posts were about myself, really. Interestingly enough, my “Why are we leaving the church?” post– I didn’t write it for my blog, actually. I wrote it for her.meneutics at Christianity Today. I wrote up a big long pitch, the editors accepted it, and then I spent a two weeks working on it. When I sent it to the editor, she ignored me for weeks, until I finally asked if she was going to put it up, or if I could go ahead and post it on my blog or maybe try to get it published elsewhere. She said that they weren’t interested in it because while “it is a very important topic,” it “doesn’t fit our emphasis going forward.”

Which is fine– I’m comfortable with this sort of interaction. It happens to writers all of the time. We probably just had a misunderstanding about where I was going with it based on my pitch, and when I turned in the 1,000 words, it was probably just a slight too liberal for them, Which is fine. I’ve hammered “remember your audience!” into my freshman composition students enough times to remember it for myself.

But, considering the reason she gave me (“it doesn’t fit our emphasis going forward”) I was curious when this article showed up on her.meneutics this morning.

None of the authors said anything I haven’t read yet– which, honestly, I stopped reading all these “oh, noes, the millennials!” articles almost immediately after Rachel posted hers. It got wearisome awfully fast, and trying to read the variations on a theme got exhausting. There were a few that were interesting– Sarah Moon’s was especially good, in my opinion.

But, I read today’s article anyway.

And then I read this:

As a true sign that I am getting old, Rachel Held Evans’s uber-popular CNN post Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church brought about a wistful, nostalgic response in me: Ah, to be young and turning my back on church again.

My mind traveled back to 1990, when I swore off church for good. I told God I still loved him, but his people I wasn’t so sure about. Like a good Gen-X-er, I was angry. Angry about what I saw as wrongheaded views on women in the church and a hostile stance toward the gay community. Angry because I thought the church was filled with hypocrites who cared more about sexual sins than greedy ones . . .

Today, I love church more than I ever could’ve imagined. I love it for the things that used to drive me nuts: for the hypocrites and other messy folks who gather together every Sunday

My heart sank, because these are the opening words of the article. Because this– all it does is make me feel incredibly hopeless. You mean you were frustrated enough to “leave church” because of the same exact issues? And you came back even though nothing had changed? Because nothing had changed?

That’s just… depressing.

I’ve read a bunch of articles on “if millennials want to see the church change, they should get into the trenches with us and work! Be the change you want to see!”

I tried.

And yes, I’m a millennial, and I’m 25, so how hard could I have tried, really? How much effort could I really have expended? Did I really give it my best effort?

But then I think back to a few of the encounters I had with church leadership– at a pretty typical, run-of-the-mill evangelical church– and I just want to cry all over again. Because I wanted to get involved, to work, to use my gifts to help my church. I was excited. So I went to people in leadership with some creative ideas– simple things, really, like wanting to use my choral conducting experience to put on a Christmas cantata. Nothing drastic– nothing that even touched the tough issues. And I was told no. When I asked why, the answer was always the same: you’re a woman, and our church is not ready for that yet.

Not, you’re young, or I think that would take more time than you have or our choir doesn’t have the skill to sing a cantata or any other BS reason that I, honestly, would have thought nothing of and gone on my merry way. No, he was honest.

I’m a woman.

And it didn’t matter that I had far more skill and ability than the current choir director– and had demonstrated that. The only thing that mattered was that I have a vagina instead of a penis.

Apparently, these ideas were enough to bother Generation X, but, in the paraphrased words of Caryn, Sharon, and Megan, they just got over themselves and came back.

Which makes me wonder if anyone is really paying attention. Because yes, Rachel’s article was a really, really good place to start. But there are so many other reasons– as many reasons as there are people. So when stories like these are shared, when my generation is groaning under the weight of back breaking religion, under the movements that have left deep scars– like the Purity movement, and the Courtship movement, and all the others that have left us with gaping wounds, ruined lives, and destroyed marriages, I wonder if anyone is paying attention. I look at all the articles floating around the internet, and I feel like Stephen watching the Sanhedrin stuff their fingers in their ears and gnashing their teeth.

Because we’re not just narcissistic. We’re not just selfish. We’re not just liberal. We’re not just impatient.

We’re hurt. We’re bleeding. We have been stabbed in the back so many times by the “church” that claimed to love us. And as long as no one acknowledges how deep our pain is– how real and life-shattering it is– we’re not going to come back.

Go on, “church.”

Go on saying that we’re just young, and foolish, and we don’t know what we want, and we’re going to change our minds in 20 years, that we’ll come back, that, eventually, we’ll realize that we need community, that church isn’t about us, that we shouldn’t make it about us.

And sure, some of us might come back.

Most of us probably won’t.

Social Issues

how I learned to stop worrying and love: empathy in politics


I was giving Melody* a drive back to campus and her car. All of the grad students had met up at Moe’s for dinner, and it had been a rousing time– lots of conversations, ideas being hashed out, laughter… You put a dozen humanities grad students at the same dinner table and what you wind up with is a whirling dervish of friendly discussions. That night, we’d even managed to get around to politics, and the resulting debate had been lively, entertaining, and intriguing. There were as many political stances as there were people, and I found myself feeling comfortable with my lack of political identity– no one else at that table was any more firm than I was.

But, during the drive back to campus, Melody laughingly said something that has stuck with me:

“You’re kind of required to be a socialist if you’re an English major. You don’t read Dickens or Dostoyevsky and walk away a capitalist.”

My instantaneous reaction to that was rejection: I wasn’t a socialist, and I doubt I ever would be. I no longer fell inside of the “capitalism is the only biblical economic system!” camp and I’d already given up my Reagan worship, but socialism? No, I didn’t think I’d ever think that was a good idea.

And then.

My second-to-last semester in grad school, I took a course on Utopian literature, but most of the works we studied were dystopian– 1984, We, The Handmaid’s Tale . . . For two of the projects, I worked with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (which is the inspiration for Bladerunner) and V for Vendetta (primarily the film adaptation of the graphic novel). Part of studying these works was asking the question what about these works makes them dystopian? which is a bit harder to answer than one might think.

In Do Androids Dream, one of the primary themes of the book is studying what it means to be human. In the book, part of how humans identify themselves is by setting themselves against the otherness of the androids– I am not an android, therefore I am human. However, this alignment is based on the belief that humans have emotions, primarily empathy, while androids don’t. When Deckard discovers this is not the case, his identity begins unraveling.

As I worked through Do Androids Dream for my project, I found myself heavily contemplating the idea that emotions, especially empathy, are a basic human quality. And, in other research I was doing about disordered conditions and character disturbance, the more I realized that Philip Dick was right– empathy should be universal, and when it isn’t, we notice.

At least, we should.

My project for V for Vendetta revolved around comparing V’s rhetoric to Sutler’s rhetoric, with the premise that you can lie to tell the truth. Sutler almost always tells the truth as he sees it, but it’s actually a lie, and V almost always tells a twisted version of the facts that are the truth– both to himself, to Evie, and to society at large. But, I also realized that the truth they told had everything to do with the world they saw: Sutler saw a world where people were essentially bad, a world that needed a strong, moral, Christian government, or it would spin into chaos and perversion. V saw a world where people are neutral– neither essentially good or bad– but capable of freedom, of making personal decisions that affected them and no one else, with empathy to guide them.

And then . . .

I met one of Handsome’s friends from high school and college. He works with a social program in Detroit– helping young men and women get their GEDs, take college placement exams, and training them in some kind of career skill. When he talks about his work, everything about him lights up. When he talks about the people he works with, there’s love and joy in his voice. He sees the steel-edged hardness of their lives, and he believes in doing everything he can to enable them toward a more hopeful future.

We were sitting on his living room floor, playing a board game, when he started talking about Marxism, and I remember inwardly flinching when he somewhat flippantly threw out “Karl Marx is my hero, man.”

I couldn’t help myself. “But didn’t Marx advocate for bloody revolutions?”

“So what?” He shrugged. Inwardly, I cringed, somewhat horrified. How could he say so what? “Thomas Jefferson said ‘the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’ Marx wasn’t arguing for anything very different from that.”*

I was speechless.

Karl Marx, and Thomas Jefferson, in the same sentence? It felt like sacrilege.

And then . . .

I met Handsome’s sister, who was working toward her degree in social work. She’s spent a substantial part of her college career overseas, and at the time I met her, was working with convicted sex offenders. She would go on to assist in a program dedicated to helping single mothers in Chicago. All I did was listen to her, and to the stories she told. I listened to her talk about how ineffective she felt, how her hands were tied against actually helping anyone because of the endless bureaucracy and red tape, how the system was infected with apathy.

After I heard her stories, I went looking for more. And I started soaking them up, and for the first time, listening to the suffering going on around me that I had no idea was there. Once the scales fell away from my eyes, I couldn’t look away. I started going back, sifting through all my old memories.

I went back to the single time I walked through the government-subsidized housing in my hometown. I remembered what I felt, what I thought, walking through that neighborhood. The absolute disdain and revulsion I felt for the people who answered their doors. Crack heads and alcoholics, all of them, I was positive. Wasting good government money on booze and cigarettes. Lazy. Perfectly willing to sit on the tax payer’s dime, laughing all the way to the bank. If a man doesn’t work, neither should he eat, I would think as I invited them to church and ask them if they were going to hell.

I relived a moment at the grocery store, when I saw a woman pulling out food stamps to buy her processed food. She should be buying meat and vegetables with that, not macaroni and cheese. I had absolutely no idea that meats and vegetables are some of the most expensive food items you can buy– until I started doing my own grocery shopping on $80 a month, and I spent most of my time in the grocery store enviously looking at fresh produce when I couldn’t afford it.

More and more, I started shrinking away from everything I thought I’d believed about economics, about politics, about society. Phrases that I’d had pounded into me started echoing louder: if you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you don’t have a heart, but if you’re not a conservative when you’d older, you don’t have a brain. All this time, I’d believed that being a liberal meant being stupid. When I started talking about the ideas I was wrestling with, I was dismissed– as ignorant, as young, as foolish, as stupid. I was told that I’d grow out of it, that, eventually, I’d learn to see it “their way” again, and I’d realize how silly and nonsensical I’d been in my 20s.

I pray to God I don’t.

Because, out of everything I’ve learned in the past few years, the basic lesson has been in empathy, in “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

*specifically, in an an interview at the Chicago Tribune, he said “no great movement has begun without bloodshed.”


celebrating the fourth


We gathered together in the fellowship hall. There weren’t that many of us, just the core of our church, the people I truly thought of as my extended family. I sat next to Christine* in the old wooden pew, one foot hooked over the rung and the other sweeping across the dusty concrete floor. Pastor stood behind his rickety podium, warning us of what we were about to encounter: we were going out into the world, and we were going to see things we weren’t ordinarily used to. We’d see people drinking and smoking, we’d hear people cursing and rock music blaring. But, we had to ignore all of that and focus on what was more important– witnessing to the lost. Be brave, he said. Have courage and not fear. Speak the truth to a dying World.

We stood and gathered up our bundles of flyers and tracks, packed ourselves into the church’s white sixteen-passenger van, and headed to the city park where they were going to have the fireworks display. When we arrived, the park was already packed. People everywhere had set up picnic blankets, camp chairs, were hanging off the back of pickup tailgates. Southern rock was in the air, and everyone was celebrating. Kids were playing in the fountain, a few people were floating in the lake. For one day, every person in our town was our neighbor.

For the few hours before sunset, Christine and I wandered around with her mother, asking every single family “would you mind if we gave you something to read?” or “could we talk with you for a minute?” Most of the people we talked to were congenial– who would say no to taking a slip of paper from two teenage girls on the Fourth of July, of all days?

But, as we moved around the park, I battled jealousy.

I wanted to have a picnic in the park. I wanted to talk and laugh and drink Coke and wear denim cut off shorts and sing along with Sweet Home Alabama and spread my blonde hair over the blanket and soak up the sun and bask in the spirit of the day, when all Americans are friends.

I fought the feeling as hard as I could. What I was doing was important. So much more important than anything I wanted. I should be ashamed of myself, wanting to waste such a golden opportunity just to do something so carnal.


The summer after I graduated from undergrad, some of the women from my parent’s church invited me to the fireworks display. Instantly, my mind flew to all the Independence Days I’d spent passing out tracks int he park. Initially, I was reticent until I asked what they’d be doing and what she was described was a picnic.

The fireworks were happening Sunday night, and our church had canceled the evening service so their members could attended. Had canceled church. That was simply unheard of, for me. The women carpooled down and we found an amazing spot close to the river. There were stalls everywhere– I gobbled down piping hot funnel cake and spent the lazy afternoon sipping home-crafted root beer. I danced as the 80s cover bland played Kid Rock’s All Summer Long, and spent the afternoon laughing with new friends.

I’m the one in the middle.


My favorite holiday has always been Independence Day. Seriously, I love it more than I love Christmas, and that’s a big deal, coming from me. I think it might have something to do with being an Air Force dependent– I grew up brutally aware of the kinds of sacrifices our military makes. I watched husbands be separated from their wives, mothers separated from their children. I watched parents weep when they found out their child was never coming home. After 9/11 happened, half the people at church disappeared, and when and the deployment length was extended from seven to fifteen months, they never seemed to come back.

After spending three years in a foreign country, I also appreciated the kinds of freedoms and privileges we have here– but I say that with an awareness of nationalistic elitism that plagues this country. But, it’s nice to be able to buy a pizza and not spend $80 for it.

But I have never been more proud of my country than I have been in the past few weeks.

Last week, the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act to be un-Constitutional, and I cheered.

Wendy Davis called on her State to do the right thing, to sit up and pay attention, and I stood with her.

Citizens begged Iowa’s governor to be aware of a line item that would do irreparable damage to homeschooling children.

Women in Ohio and North Carolina gather in sisterhood and solidarity.

President Obama called for a higher code of ethics with regards to UAV-enacted warfare.

Men like Snowden (whatever you think of him) exposed the rampant and horrific government monitoring of its citizens.

From all of this, I want to believe that good things are happening in this country. That, for the first time in a long time, we’re collectively marching up to our government and shouting Enough! I will be heard!

We are the People.

What we are capable of doing when we gather together, when we think of all men as our brothers, as all women as our sisters, when everyone is our neighbor, is magnificent. We can unite under a common banner, a common cause, and love each other until we make it. We can stand together and pick each other up; cheer with the victors and wrap an arm around the fallen.

To me, that’s what Independence Day is about. Celebrating our ability, as a people, to get shit done. Together.


guest post at Leaving Fundamentalism


I wrote a guest post on my experience with conservative Christian homeschooling textbooks for Jonny Scaramanga’s blog, Leaving Fundamentalism.

As a homeschooled child growing up in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement in the rural South of America, my family depended on textbooks provided to the homeschooling movement by Christian publishers. We used a smattering from a variety of publishers– Bob Jones Univeristy Press, A Beka (distributed by Pensacola Christian College), Saxon Math, McGuffy’s Readers, Alpha & Omega, and a few others.

I was intensely proud of my homeschooled education. In many ways, it was a good one. I studied Latin, Greek, and logic all the way through high school. I had the freedom to read everything Jane Austen and Charles Dickens ever wrote before I was sixteen. In some ways, my education was solid. It was good enough to get me through a Master’s degree, at least.

In other ways . . . it was dreadful.

There are huge– monumentally huge– gaps in my education, and I’m not talking about the fact that many homeschoolers tend to struggle with science and mathematics.

The most glaring problem with Christian-published textbooks is that they’re wrong. Factually and ethically wrong . . .

You can read the rest of it here.

Social Issues

learning the words: rights

we the people

Today’s guest post is from Sheldon, an agnostic who writes to expose some of the problems in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement and fundamentalism in general at Ramblings of Sheldon. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.


Rights are something that you are not supposed to have as a child, teen, or even young adult in fundamentalism. You’re taught from a young age that you don’t have rights, only your parents do. You see this in the way HSLDA wants a parental rights amendment to the US Constitution, but does everything it possibly can to dismantle legal protections for children.

You see it in the way fundamentalist circles often read Ephesians six, stressing the “honor your father and mother”, but skimming over or ignoring verse four, “do not provoke your children.” I saw it in an argument a few years ago, when at 21 years old, my own mother told me that if she were to beat me, I would deserve it, failing to see the hypocrisy of how she always talked about the way her father beat her as a child as though it was the horrible crime that it is. She was shocked into silence and walked away when I pointed that out to her.

Almost anything is acceptable so long as a parent does it. Why?

Because you have no rights.

You have no rights to your own opinion: you must agree with us at all times; after all, we’re the sole determiners of what is is isn’t acceptable when it comes to anything, at anytime.

You have no rights to your own emotions: it’s not just enough to agree with us, and follow our commands, but you should follow our commands without any expression of frustration, no matter how extreme or ridiculous the commands are. You should be a mindless, happy robot all the time, never acting angry, depressed or anxious– because after all, true happiness come from serving your parents and God the way we say you should. If you do become depressed, we’ll blame you for it. We’ll say that your depression and resulting nervous breakdown was nothing more than “guilt” and “not having a right relationship with God.”

You have no rights to your own body. If we want to hit you, or get up in your face shouting, and threaten violence against you, we can. If we want to hug and you don’t want it, tough luck. Personal space means nothing to us. To this day, I still can’t stand it when people crowd in too closely near me when there’s no good reason for it (plenty of space around), or decide to stand in front of all the exits to a room.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. Not so much for myself, for what I was put through. There’s hope for me, I have bought a house, and will be rebuilding it, and moving into it soon [editor’s note: Sheldon, due to circumstances, is required to live at home. The situation is less than ideal]. I’ll finally be able to put some distance between myself and my family and my past, but many others aren’t so fortunate.

I’m angry for the children, teens, and even young adults who are still trapped with parents like this, there are still many out there. No one should have to live in a family like this, and I want to see the abusive culture within fundamentalism end.

Everyone should have rights, everyone should be free to be themselves, and not live in fear.


learning the words: brainwashing

pocket watch

Today’s guest post is from Jonny Scaramanga, who blogs about his journey out of fundamentalism and into atheism, as well as his experience with Accelerated Christian Education at Leaving Fundamentalism. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

I was so excited to read Samantha’s post on Learning the Words, because the way fundamentalism uses language to control believers’ thoughts is fascinating to me.

Robert Lifton was one of the first people to study victims of brainwashing by the communists in the Korean War. In his book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Lifton gives eight criteria for thought reform (brainwashing to you and me). One of them is “loading the language”:

For an individual person, the effect of the language of ideological totalism can be summed up in one word: constriction. He is, so to speak, linguistically deprived; and since language is so central to all human experience, his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed.

Reading this was a eureka moment for me, because I’d always thought that my Accelerated Christian Education experience was an Orwellian instance of words being redefined so that it was hard or impossible to question their doctrine. Lifton describes how totalist ways of thinking use “thought-terminating clichés… brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases.”  Simple labels are attached to something you like or dislike, and they are the start and finish of all thought on the subject.

Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), like a lot of Christian fundamentalism, redefines terms in black-and-white, so things are either absolutely good or absolutely bad. Then you can just stick a label on something, and end the discussion. Want someone to accept that a politician is bad? Just call them a liberal, and the argument is over.

Here are a few thought-terminating clichés from ACE:


  • Biblical
  • Christian
  • Believing
  • Faith
  • Conservative
  • Free enterprise
  • Absolutes


  • Liberal
  • Secular
  • Humanist
  • Atheist
  • Unbelieving
  • Socialist
  • Communist
  • Left-wing

Here’s how this plays out in practice. When teaching politics to children, ACE doesn’t give reasons why Medicare or social security are bad. It simply says they are liberal and socialist. Conversation over. Often, I never saw these words explicitly defined. They were just used in a negative context repeatedly until I learned that ‘liberal’ ideas are always bad. Some examples:

pornographers drug pushers humanists

Although [President Kennedy’s] New Frontier sounds good, it was as socialistic as the New Deal and the Fair Deal had been.

The year 1933 was a dark one in American history. In that year, President Roosevelt began introducing socialistic programs which now play such an important role in American politics, economics, religion, and education. In 1933, America began shifting from a nation whose philosophy was a conservative, God-fearing one to a nation whose philosophy was a liberal and socialistic one.

As Congress became more conservative, President Truman became more liberal. He supported labour unions and such socialistic programs as government aid to farmers, expanding social security, and providing federal housing aid. President Truman called his program the ‘Fair Deal’. To many American voters, the Fair Deal was only an extension of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, and President Truman’s popularity dropped to its lowest point.

So if someone says, “Hey, maybe we could raise taxes!” the response is simply, “but Free Enterprise is Biblical. You wouldn’t question God’s Word, would you?”

If someone suggests that maybe Young Earth Creationism isn’t the best way to interpret the Bible, well, how dare they question Biblical absolutes with their unbelieving doubts.

If someone says, “Maybe we should use government to help the poor,” the response is “that’s how the liberals think!” Since liberal = bad, there’s no room for questioning. Thought is terminated.

If I could go back in time to reason with my 14-year-old self, I don’t know how I would even explain the views I have now. Most of the vocabulary that I could use just meant “evil” to me back then.


By depriving children of the language to question their political and religious ideology, Accelerated Christian Education indoctrinates them to believe that everything they disagree with is evil. As Robert Lifton notes, “these clichés become what Robert Weaver has called ‘ultimate terms’: either ‘god terms,’ representative of ultimate good, or ‘devil terms,’ representative of ultimate evil.”

What matters here is not whether you agree with ACE’s political views or not. What matters is that ACE stifles all debate and education by using language which demonizes all other opinions. It worked on me. When I left to go to a normal school, I told anyone who expressed sympathy for Tony Blair’s Labour party that they were Communists.

Social Issues

the first time I voted in a presidential election


I was at college in November, 2008– in the middle of my junior year. Being there made it difficult to do any sort of research on the candidates, because we didn’t have good access to news sources— there were no newspapers available anywhere on campus, there was only one television in my dorm and we could only watch Fox News from 7 to 8, and we also didn’t have open access to the internet. The college very deliberately locked down any sort of liberal media outlet of any kind, and I’d already learned to ignore the political opinions of Fox News– or any of the other conservative media outlets the school let us access.

The only thing I really heard about the political campaigns in pop culture was something about Sarah Palin and Russia– I never heard the full “I can see Russia from my house!” parody, and it took me a few years before I found out exactly what she had said that caused all of the hubub. The only thing that happened was that it was rare for a girl on campus not to have a Sarah Palin pin on her canvas messenger bag.

But, I managed to do my own research. I sat in Barnes & Noble and read Rolling Stone and Time and Newsweek and The New York Times and tried to get a balanced perspective on who Barack Obama and John McCain were, and what they would try to do as President– for realsies, not what they promised they’d do.

My absentee ballot arrived in the mail just in the nick of time for me to send it back before the deadline. I had my stamp book in my own canvas-and-faux-suede messenger bag, and I just wanted to turn around immediately and put it back in outgoing mail without ever leaving the campus post office.

So, I sat down at a table in the student commons, checked off everything in the local and state-level boxes, and left the President of the United States for last.

When it came time to decide who I wanted to vote for President, I hesitated.

I sat there, staring at all of the possible choices. Obama, McCain, Baldwin, Nader, Barr . . . I’d already decided I disliked the Constitution Party, and at the time, the Libertarian Party represented too much anarchy, and running “Independent” just seemed like a ploy to me.

I stared at the oval next to each of their names, my pen floating above the paper.

I was torn– it was like my brain was trying to rip itself to pieces.


In late November of 1996, I sat in abrupt surprise at my best friend’s sudden admission. We were getting ready for the hay ride out at The Farm, owned by one of the church members. I had been raving about how amazing it was to be out here, and how incredible the family was for offering to let us all come out here, and how incredible Aunt May’s chili was going to be.

“Well, I don’t know how amazing they are. They voted for Clinton.”

Initially, my first thought was how does this have anything to do with hay rides and chili?

My second thought was wait, how come they voted for someone who cheated on his wife? And isn’t Clinton a Democrat?

I had just turned ten years old, and I was already aware that, somehow, being a Christian meant voting Republican. Being a Republican would become a badge of pride for me in the next twelve years. I was staunchly pro-life, against gun-control, limited government . . . the whole bit. I knew that the Democrats were Evil and Wanted to Destroy Christianity and Oh How We were Being Persecuted by Those Liberals. I went to Republican political rallies, wrote letters, idolized Republican politicians, and took anything Fox News said as gold. I demonized those liberal newspapers like the Wall Street Journal.


But, in 2008, as I could feel my insides churning, I suddenly realized that I had no idea what I wanted to do.

McCain terrified me. Everything he’d built his campaign around horrified me. I was positive that if he became president, he would do something insane, something more damaging to my freedoms than the Patriot Act.

But . . . Obama was a Democrat. And there was a part of me so convinced that I’d never forgive myself if I voted for a Democrat. That I’d be responsible for ruining my country, or bringing judgment down on it.

As I sat there in that hideously uncomfortable metal chair, I could feel the seconds hammering away at me. Time slowed, sound faded, and the only thing I could see was that ballot and those two monumentally tiny ovals. I didn’t feel prepared for this. For a while, I considered putting it in the envelope without making a decision, or writing in Mickey Mouse, or maybe Jean Luc Picard. In that space, everything anyone had ever said about “my vote doesn’t matter” felt true. I didn’t want to vote for the “lesser of two evils”– I wanted to vote in something I believed in.

Slowly, I began filling in one of the ovals, trying hard to ignore the feeling that I was betraying a core part of me– that I was turning my back on who I was, and who I expected myself to be.

After I’d finally made the decision, I couldn’t get the ballot away from me fast enough. I stuffed it inside the envelope and practically ran to the outgoing mail slot and slid it in. For the rest of the day I tried to forget about it– a few weeks later, when people asked me who I’d voted for, I lied and told them I hadn’t gotten my ballot in time.

Two years later, in grad school, and when I was over at a friend’s playing Parcheesi, we stared talking about politics, and who we’d voted for the in the last election came up. The room was pretty split between Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Libertarians. And no argument erupted, no one blamed anyone else for being responsible for some horrible atrocity befalling this country. Someone very naturally, and non-invasively, asked who I’d voted for, and for the first time, I was honest. She even asked me why, genuinely curious, and surprised, because it’s not what she’d expected to hear.

When I began dating Handsome, one of the things we knew we eventually needed to talk about was politics– how important politics was to us (important, but not overly so), if having the same political beliefs was important (it’s not), and how we’d gotten to where we were politically. For him, growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, politics was a much different conversation than it was for me, who’d grown up in Literally the Most Republican County in Florida (not a joke. 80% of the population is Republican).

Part of that conversation was asking me who I voted for. I hesitated, even already knowing what his answer was, already knowing he wasn’t going to judge me for it. I sat across from him on my living room floor, next to the remains of an upside-down-red-bell-pepper spiced pound cake, and decided I was going to tell him.

“I voted for Obama.”

His reaction astounded me– he threw his arms around me and pulled me into his chest, where he held me close and tight. He kissed the top of my head and thanked me.

“What in the world are you thanking me for?”

“Because you were honest. Because you decided to break with what you’d been raised in. Because you are brave.”

At the time, his reaction amused me somewhat. It was just a single vote for a president– it’s not like it’s a really big deal. Since, then, though, I’ve thought about these moments– initially doing something I’d been taught was radical to the point of being dangerous, and then having the audacity to tell people what I’d done… and it is a really big deal. Our political identities are a part of who we are– what we believe about the role of government affects our lives in huge ways. A single vote may not be much in the way of statistics– but it matters, because it’s a part of who we are.

Voting for Obama changed my life, and not because of what Obama would go on to do. And it wasn’t even really that I’d dared to vote for a Democrat, although that was part of it. I’d decided to vote for Obama because of what I’d decided I thought was important– our military, medical industry reforms, and education. Whether or not he actually went on to do any of those things the way I wanted him to, to me, became irrelevant. I’d voted for something besides the ideologies I’d been taught were the all-consuming elements of our political process.

I’d voted for the hope I had that things could get better.

I’d voted for the possibility of changing things things that mattered to me, and not what I’d been taught should matter to a “Christian.”