Child Abuse or Church Camp?

The way we ask the question says a lot.

We could ask it this way: Is it abusive to encourage children to have certain religious experiences?

Or we could put it like this: Should children and toddlers be coerced and terrified?

Either way, these questions are prompted by a new church-camp video that is making the rounds these days.  In the video, we see young children experiencing some of the typical manifestations of charismatic Christian worship.  They jerk their limbs, fall to the ground, engage in babbling speech, cry and shout.

Adults surround the children, clearly encouraging them to behave the right way.  Some children seem to participate enthusiastically.  Others seem confused, intimidated, or tearful.

There’s not much new here.  These sorts of behaviors have been manifestations of charismatic worship for a long time.  For just as long, they have been criticized by critics.  In the first Great Awakening of the 1740s, Boston minister Charles Chauncy famously attacked the revivalists for their embrace of “enthusiasm.”  Their emotional services prompted false conversions, Chauncy believed.  Attendees at big revival meetings found themselves caught up in the moment, jerking their bodies, crying out, falling down, but not becoming truly Christian.

More recent critics focus on the way young children are bullied into a traumatic emotional experience.  Atheist pundit Jerry Coyne, for instance, puts it this way:

It’s brainwashing, pure and simple. The kids have no choice. Is there anyone who wouldn’t call this abuse?

These behaviors seem bizarre to me as well.  But I don’t call it abuse.  The adults in this video, to my mind, don’t appear to be victimizing children, but rather trying to share an authentically held belief with them.  That’s a big difference.

I know this is a difficult topic to discuss.  I also know that I have absolutely no personal experience with this sort of thing.  And I sympathize deeply with those who found themselves traumatized by this sort of intense religious upbringing.

But if we call it “abuse” we are doing more than simply insulting these adult believers.  If we call it “abuse” we open the door to government intervention in these religious ceremonies, and others.

Perhaps some other examples will help make the case.  It is sadly not uncommon for religious people to insist on alternative medical care for children.  Instead of chemotherapy, for example, some believers may lay hands on a child who is suffering from cancer.  This is abusive.  The child is being substantially harmed by being denied effective treatment.

It is also sadly not uncommon for religious organizations—and, to be fair, non-religious organizations—to cover up sex abuse of minors in the name of religious solidarity.  Here, too, the government must intervene.  This is abuse.

Again, my heartiest sympathies go out to those who are struggling to overcome religious upbringings they found coercive.  Writers such as Samantha Field and Jonny Scaramanga have educated me a great deal about the ways religious beliefs can cause emotional harm and long-term trauma.

I’m not dismissing that.  But the church-camp activities here seem to be something different than “abuse.”  Am I wrong?


Fundamentalist Colleges Have the Last Laugh

In this cartoon from the 1920s, cartoonist E.J. Pace shows the ways the "modernists" took over every institution, including colleges.

In this cartoon from the 1920s, cartoonist E.J. Pace shows the ways the “modernists” took over every institution, including colleges.

What are the best colleges in America?  A trenchant new argument by Ivy-League insider William Deresiewicz suggests that conservative religious folks may yet have their revenge when it comes to higher education.

Since the 1920s, conservative Christians have complained that “their” colleges had been taken over by a secularizing elite.  As I argued in my 1920s book, there was a great deal of truth to these claims.  Elite schools such as Harvard and the University of Chicago really had been founded by conservative Protestants.  Their original missions were explicitly religious.  And, by the 1920s, those schools really had been transformed.  Instead of their traditional goal to train each new generation of “Christian gentlemen,” elite colleges became places where students learned to question religious verities.

As a result, conservative evangelicals faced a difficult situation.  Some schools, such as Wheaton College, allied themselves with the “fundamentalist” side of the growing divide among Protestants.  Most other elite schools, though, moved toward the new vision of higher education.  Some 1920s fundamentalists responded by opening schools of their own, such as Bob Jones University and Dallas Theological Seminary.  In my current research, I’m looking at the twentieth-century history of this alternative network of colleges and universities.

Deresiewicz argues that this alternative network of schools does a better job of educating young people than do the mainstream elite schools.  Religious colleges have often avoided the elite trap of ever-increasing expectations and the soul-crushing spiral of success.  At elite mainstream colleges, Deresiewicz writes, students become “anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose.” Without the same relentless pressure, religious colleges have remained true to their purpose of encouraging true thoughtfulness and intellectual risk-taking. As he puts it, “Religious colleges—even obscure, regional schools that no one has ever heard of on the coasts—often do a much better job in that respect.”

Is Deresiewicz right? Do elite colleges turn smart kids into zombies? In some ways, his is not a new argument. Sociologist James Coleman argued in his 1961 book The Adolescent Society that schools did not work the way we thought they did. It was not the most talented students, the brainiest students, who did the best on school tasks. Rather, the nature of the tasks demanded in most high schools led the smartest students to opt out. They focused on success elsewhere, such as sports or social activities. As a result, the best academic records were compiled by a “sub-group” of students who agreed to buy into the school’s irrational demands.

In other words, for generations now, our educational system has encouraged a weird sub-class of hyper-successful students. These students are not turned into zombies in college. Rather, they have been zombies all along. To excel in school—not just college but the whole way through—students have to be bright enough to do well at school tasks but not quite bright enough to realize that school is just a shell game.

If Deresiewicz is correct, religious colleges may have the last laugh. Conservative Christians complained that elite schools had been stolen from them. As a result, they opened their own schools, built their own network of colleges and universities. Getting pushed out of the academic rat race may have been the best thing that ever happened to conservative evangelicals.



The Movie that Will Save Our Children

A Florida lawmaker has offered a new definition of a summer must-see movie.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, State Senator Alan Hays has promised a bill that would force all public high-schools and middle-schools to screen Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine the World without Her.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, D’Souza’s film seems to be another conservative exercise in shadow-boxing.  The film assumes that American history teachers are pushing an ideologically inspired hatred against the United States.  Historically, that just hasn’t been the case.  As I argue in my upcoming book, conservatives have exerted outsized influence over the kinds of history their kids learn in public school for decades.  The notion that schools have been taken over by a scheming cabal of sneaky progressive educators and historians just doesn’t match the historical record.

Nevertheless, it is a notion that resonates strongly with conservatives.  As Senator Hays put it,

I’ve looked at history books and talked to history teachers and the message the students are getting is very different from what is in the movie.  It’s dishonest and insulting. The students need to see the truth without political favoritism.

Ironically, Senator Hays’ plans might just prove the case.  As the Hollywood Reporter points out, Hays’ bill might actually pass, given the political landscape in Florida.  If it did, or even if it made a strong showing, it would demonstrate the continuing influence of conservative activism on public education.


How to Hit your Child

What do you do when your kids misbehave?  Do you hit them?  Or is that a form of abuse?  It seems as if our culture is confused about this question.  Throughout the twentieth century, as I argue in my upcoming book, conservatives argued that parents and teachers MUST beat children in traditional ways.  Anything else threatened civilization itself.  Has that attitude changed?

Is this "abuse?" Or is this "parenting?"

Is this “abuse?” Or is this “parenting?”

In American culture, a certain form of physical correction of children by parents has long been the norm.  Especially “spanking.”  In this kind of punishment, the child is swacked on the butt by the parent, either with a hand, a spoon, a brush, a belt, or some other mild weapon.

As a survey article in National Review Online describes, states now differ in their laws about spanking.  In New York, for instance, a judge recently ruled in favor of parents’ right to spank, as long as it is done mildly, with only an open hand.  In the New York case, the parent insisted he had not used a belt on his child.  That would have crossed the line, he felt.  In other states as well, courts have struggled to draw clear boundaries between acceptable spanking and unacceptable child abuse.

Until 2012, according to the NRO article, all 50 states recognized parents’ right to spank their own children.  In that year, Delaware passed a law forbidding any form of physical punishment.  At the first and second degrees, parents in Delaware can be charged with a felony for causing harm to their children.

As you might expect, a certain sort of conservative finds this sort of law outrageous.  Not only should the rights of parents over their children be sacrosanct, some conservative activists have argued, but spanking is a healthy and humane form of punishment.  The Home School Legal Defense Association, for example, called Delaware’s new law “a violation of the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, including the long-recognized right to administer reasonable corporal discipline.”

It’s not a new issue.  As I found during my research for my upcoming book, educational conservatives have long insisted on the right and duty of both parents and teachers to use physical punishment on unruly youth.  For some conservatives, this sort of corporal punishment is the only way to properly shape character.  As the old saying goes, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”

In 1950 Pasadena, for instance, local activists bubbled over with their outrage at progressive novelties in their local public schools.  One parent insisted that teachers must use “whipping . . . when the situation calls for such punishment.”  The problem, many conservatives in Pasadena thought at the time, was not that teachers might abuse students.  Rather, the danger came from a generation of children left uncorrected and unbowed to authority.  Such unguided youth, one letter-writer complained, were in danger of total “moral disintegration.”  And the obvious reason for that disintegration, according to this anonymous writer, was the “fatal lack of the right kind of instruction in our schools.”

A few years later, conservative stalwart Max Rafferty agreed on the importance of corporal punishment.  In his 1964 book What Are They Doing to Your Children, Rafferty warned of the dangers of progressive methods.  New teachers, Rafferty explained, came

Fresh from college and still pretty Dewey-eyed about things, [they] compromise themselves and their careers in a hopeless attempt to convince some freckled-faced [sic] urchin with devilment coming out visibly all over him that he must discipline himself.

Instead, Rafferty believed, the traditional methods remained the best.  Each teacher should learn when and how to correct a student using physical punishment.  In the old days, Rafferty wrote, such things were beyond argument.  In times past, Rafferty described, some parents might

Storm into the schoolyard and whip the teacher for abusing little Willie, but by far the more typical parental reaction to the tearful complaint ‘Teacher licked me!’ was to reach for the razor strop and give a home version of teacher’s treatment out in the woodshed.

Rafferty and the Pasadena conservatives knew that such physical punishment was controversial in their own times.  Each conservative writer appealed to a past in which teachers and parents had an unfettered right and duty to use appropriate methods to raise children right.  In 1950 and 1964, conservatives saw themselves as stalwarts of traditional methods.  Those methods had already come under attack by dunderheaded progressives.

So there is nothing new to controversy over corporal punishment.  Yet clearly, as the NRO review shows, things are changing.  Could we be on the cusp of a new age for corporal punishment?  Will more states follow Delaware in outlawing all forms of physical punishment?


A Christian in the Lion’s Blog

Okay, be honest: How many of us are brave enough to try talking with people who really really hate us?  I talk a good game, but in real life I hardly ever interact with people very different from me.  Recently on the arch-evolutionist/atheist blog Why Evolution Is True Don McLeroy tried to defend his religion.  I don’t agree with McLeroy’s ideas about God or science, but I have to give him credit for his willingness to talk civilly with his culture-war enemies.

You may remember Dr. McLeroy as the Texas dentist who came to educational power a few years back on the Texas State Board of Education.  Viewers of the documentary The Revisionaries will remember some of McLeroy’s positions.  He wanted less evolution and more country music.  He wanted less hip-hop and more Ronald Reagan.

Those of us outside the world of young-earth creationism were wowed to hear McLeroy teach his Sunday-school class the verities of his religion.  How did all those animals fit on the ark?  Easy! How was it possible that all the evidence of an ancient earth was wrong?   No problem!

And some viewers poked fun at McLeroy for his anti-expert opinions.  “I disagree with the experts,” McLeroy famously intoned in The Revisionaries.  “Someone has to stand up to them.”  To many skeptics, this sort of attitude demonstrated McLeroy’s willful ignorance.  Why WOULDN’T we want experts to decide our school curricula, critics asked incredulously?  As I argued at the time, however, McLeroy’s ideas about proper expertise have a long and storied history among educational conservatives.

In his recent appearance on Why Evolution Is True, McLeroy defends his Biblical epistemology.  McLeroy had pointed out elsewhere that 500 witnesses had attested to Jesus’ rebirth.  For McLeroy, that seemed to be important evidence.  Not surprisingly, the commenters of WEIT tore McLeroy apart.  Some did it politely, calling him “Dr. McLeroy.”  Some did not, referring to him as “Donnie-boy.”

The crux of the disagreement concerned the nature of evidence and how we can know something.  For McLeroy, Paul’s biblical statement that 500 witnesses had seen the Risen Jesus seemed conclusive.  As the readers of WEIT pointed out—and I wholeheartedly agree—there are enormous holes with this sort of knowing.  How can we know Paul really consulted 500 other witnesses?  How do we trust what Paul thought he saw?  Indeed, how can we know Paul was a real person at all?  For folks like me and the commenters on WEIT, such evidence does not count as convincing.

For folks like Dr. McLeroy, the Bible’s writings carry greater weight.  If the Bible attests to something, we know with confidence that it is true.  If the Bible says God created the universe in six days, then we have no need to doubt it.  We can trust that it is true.  Indeed, if we don’t trust that it is true, we risk calling God Himself a liar.

'Cause the Bible Tells Me So...

‘Cause the Bible Tells Me So…

Obviously, these two very different attitudes toward knowledge have a difficult time communicating with each other.  But there seems to be a cottage industry of efforts to do so.  Conservative theologian Doug Wilson and atheist-at-large Christopher Hitchens spent some time together in the film Collision.  As Wilson and Hitchens found out, there is not much point in shouting at each other.  Each side misunderstands the other in such fundamental ways that time is better spent chatting politely and drinking beer.

In his recent appearance, Don McLeroy thanked WEIT commenters for their opinions, and promised to read the books suggested.  But he did not seem likely to be convinced.  Nor did WEIT readers seem likely to turn to the Bible the next time they had a question about science, history, or politics.  Nevertheless, McLeroy pointedly maintained his famous good-natured politeness.

In the end, that might be the extent of dialogue we can expect across these profound culture-war chasms.


Sneaky Subversion in Teaching US History

If standards and curricula seem balanced and fair, does that mean that subversives have done a good job of disguising their sneaky ideological poison? That has long been the accusation of conservative intellectuals. Leftist academics, conservatives have charged for decades, make their work seem neutral, while really injecting a biased and enervating leftism.

We see this tradition alive and well in conservatives’ recent attack on the teaching of US History. As I noted in an essay in History News Network, Dinesh D’Souza’s new film warns that leftist teachers have taught America’s kids to hate America.

Other conservative intellectuals take a similarly skeptical view of the new curriculum for Advanced Placement US History. Peter Wood of the conservative National Association of Scholars accused the new APUSH curriculum of insisting on a “worldview that emphasizes America as a place of European conquest, economic exploitation, and the struggle for basic rights against the power of the privileged.” Similarly, conservative activists Jane Robbins and Larry Krieger have warned that the new APUSH curriculum peddles a “consistently negative view of the nation’s past.”

Wood, especially, has offered examples of the sorts of negative attitude he critiques. One of the subtopics for the early period, Wood points out, depicts European settlers as devilish racists:

Reinforced by a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority, the British system enslaved black people in perpetuity, altered African gender and kinship relationships in the colonies, and was one factor that led the British colonists into violent confrontation with native peoples.

But more important than the specific examples of egregious anti-American sentiments, Wood charges, is a more subtle attitude embedded within the curriculum. As he puts it, “Sometimes these concerns break out into overt emphasis but they are present throughout.”

Apparently unconsciously, these conservative critics are echoing a long tradition of conservative educational thinking. As I argue in my upcoming book, throughout the twentieth century conservatives warned that schools were being led in leftist directions, often by this same sort of sneaky subversion. The leftists were so sneaky, conservatives warned, that readers might not even notice their subversion.

In the 1939-1941 conservative campaign against Harold Rugg’s social-studies textbooks, for example, critics warned that unwary readers could be duped into thinking the books were balanced and fair. One coalition of conservative activists called the books’ leftism “extremely clever.” Instead of openly proclaiming their leftist bias, Rugg’s books led children “with gentle language and a pedagogic smile . . . through the successive stages of indoctrination.” These conservatives conceded that many readers might find nothing wrong with Rugg’s books. But that only meant, they warned, that the danger was that much greater.

This sort of obvious-only-to-the-initiated analysis of leftist bias seems a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it presents conservative intellectuals with a difficult task. They must convince readers that even seemingly balanced curricular material is secretly anti-American, secretly leftist. That’s a tall order. But when school subversion is embedded cunningly within seemingly neutral material, conservative intellectuals are able to explain why so many popular textbooks and curricula have prospered in spite of their leftist implications.

Are the new APUSH materials really biased? Try it. Read the new curriculum guide. Does it seem like a biased leftist document to you? Its makers didn’t think so. But does that prove that conservative intellectuals are paranoid? Or does it show, rather, that the educational establishment is so dominated by left-leaning academics that they don’t even notice their own bias?



Protect Children from Jesus

Have you heard the Good News?  If you live in Portland, Oregon, your children might hear It in their public schools.  Or they might not.

Activists in Portland have protested against the school-based evangelical outreach of the Child Evangelism Fellowship.  According to protesters, the CEF is inflicting damaging psychological messages on unwary children through its aggressive Good News Clubs.  For their part, the evangelists claim to be the victim of anti-religious discrimination.  Do parents have the right to kick out Christians?  Do evangelists have the right to preach to children?

These are big and potentially scary questions.  Each side in this case is warning that the other side is using sneaky tactics to target children.  But that kind of rhetoric belies the fairly restricted nature of this protest.  In this case, at least, the activists on each side are actually limiting themselves to fairly modest goals.

Save Our Children from Jesus!

Save Our Children from Jesus!

The Child Evangelism Fellowship has been active for a long time.  This summer, it planned to expand its Good News Clubs into more schools nationwide.  These clubs invite children to come to meetings at which they learn prayers and conservative Protestant doctrine.  In a 2001 decision from a town in my backyard, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Good News Clubs must be allowed to use public-school facilities after school hours if other groups are allowed to do so.  A few clarifications: the Good News Clubs are not active as part of the school day; public schools are free to ban ALL after-school activities if they choose; and Good News Clubs are not mandatory for children.  Still, for the CEF, the Supreme Court’s decision came as a welcome shot in the arm.

Portland protesters were not impressed.  This summer, the Protect Portland Children group mobilized to warn Portland parents away from Good News Clubs.  Due to the SCOTUS decision, the PPC is not trying to ban the clubs, but only to encourage parents to keep their kids away.  Why?  According to Katherine Stewart, a parent and author of an anti-CEF book, kids exposed to the Good News Clubs come away with a terrible message.  As Stewart told The Oregonian recently,

I started to hear about how kids attending the clubs were targeting their peers for what I can only describe as faith-based bullying and bigotry. The kids attending the clubs would say they knew the religion of the Good News Club “must be true” because they learned it in school. As one little six-year-old girl said to her classmate, “They don’t teach things in school that aren’t true.”

One Seattle activist agreed.  She insisted she was not anti-religion, but rather only opposed to the sneaky way the CEF attracted kids to their clubs, and to the terrifying message spread by those clubs.  As she put it, “Good News Clubs teach dark, divisive and potentially traumatic doctrines that are unique to fundamentalist forms of Christianity.”

Not surprisingly, conservative evangelical Protestants are defending the Good News Clubs. Creationist leader Ken Ham argued that this anti-gospel activism represented just another tactic in the continuing culture wars. “Many secularists,” Ham warned,

are deliberately and aggressively targeting our children and Christian ministries that teach the truth of God’s Word to children—and for a reason! They are going after the hearts and minds of this and coming generations, and if they continue to do so successfully, they’ll win the culture.

Ham’s interest makes sense.  After all, as he points out, anti-creationism activists have insisted that teaching creationism amounts to “child abuse.”  This Portland parent protest makes similar claims.  The protesters warn that this sort of religious message can be “psychologically harmful to children.”

According to protesters, both the tactics of the Good News Club and its message are dangerous to young people.  Learning that one is sinful and destined to eternal damnation, some parents feel, is not the proper religious message for children.  And luring those children to after-school activities with promises of treats and prizes seems immoral.

For their part, CEF activists claim that their clubs teach only the central doctrines of Christianity.  Whatever protesters may assert, according to the CEF, the Good News really is good news.  Schools with active Good News Clubs report improved student behavior and school environment.  Students act more kindly toward one another.  Students act more politely and thoughtfully about their behavior.  Who would have a problem with that?

But let’s clarify the issue: Portland protesters are NOT trying to block Good News Clubs from Portland schools.  And Good News Clubs are not part of the public-school day.  In spite of heated rhetoric, this case will not decide whether or not conservative Christian doctrines are dangerous for children.  This case will not decide whether or not evangelists can preach in public schools.

Nevertheless, activists on both sides are bringing out the big guns: Both sides warn that the other side is targeting their children.  That is a scary thing.  But neither side in this case really hopes to stop the other side from doing so.  Rather, each side seems to be limiting itself to more immediate goals.  Protesters are encouraging Portland parents simply to keep their kids home.  And evangelists are simply running an afterschool club and hoping to encourage kids to attend.

In my opinion, this is exactly where these discussions belong.  Evangelists should be free to spread whatever non-violent messages they choose.  And parents should be free to encourage others to keep their kids away.  If parents think Christianity is psychologically damaging, they should certainly tell their friends and neighbors about their concerns.  And if conservative evangelicals think that their message is the only way to avoid eternal damnation, they should certainly be free to tell anyone they like about it.


Are Christians Too Bigoted to Work With?

You may have seen the headline by now: Christian College Discriminates Against Homosexuals.  And the follow-up: City Cuts Off Christian College.  But isn’t it weirdly ironic that non-religious governments now seem to be repeating the separatist struggles of fundamentalists?  Doesn’t it seem odd that the drive for tolerance pushes pluralists to act like the more extreme religious separatists?

In this case, it was the public decision of Gordon College President D. Michael Lindsay to sign a letter to President Obama that sparked the furor.  [Full disclosure: Lindsay and I worked together as 2009 Spencer/National Academy of Education postdoctoral fellows, and I admire Lindsay personally and consider him a friend and colleague.]  Along with a host of other prominent evangelical leaders and intellectuals, Lindsay asked President Obama for a religious exemption to a planned executive order banning workplace discrimination against homosexuals.

Lindsay’s participation caused a furious reaction.  Gordon alumni and students petitioned Lindsay to retract.  Gordon College’s accrediting agency promised to investigate.  And most notably, the nearby city of Salem, Massachusetts canceled its partnering contract with Gordon to operate an historic city building.

Let me be clear about a couple of points.  First, I personally agree that institutions should not discriminate against homosexuals.  Public governments, especially, have a duty to include all members of society, not only passively, but actively.  IHMO.  Also, I do not wish to argue whether Lindsay’s position is or is not “anti-gay,” since he has publicly insisted that Gordon College does not discriminate against homosexuals.  And though I find it curious, I don’t want to ask why President Lindsay has become the center of this controversy, even though the letter was signed by many other evangelical leaders as well.  Even on my humble little blog, for example, I’ve experienced a surge of search terms such as “D. Michael Lindsay bigot” and “Gordon College Anti Gay.”  Why has Lindsay become the focus in this case?  Why not all the other signatories?

Though interesting, we have to leave such questions aside for now.  From an historical point of view, there is a more interesting aspect to this case.  It seems that those who support tolerance and diversity have, in some ways, adopted the position of the traditionally conservative fundamentalists.

Here’s what I mean: In the twentieth century, conservative Christian colleges carried on a furious and often angry internecine debate about the propriety of partnering with non-Christian institutions.  Schools such as Gordon and Wheaton College earned the vicious denunciation of more conservative schools such as Bob Jones University.  Among the many accusations, more conservative, “fundamentalist” schools often insisted that the more open, “evangelical” schools had tainted themselves by their open association with non-Christian ideas.  Separatist fundamentalists often cited the Bible passage 2 Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 14:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

In order to be truly Christian, separatists argued, believers could not allow themselves to be joined with those who did not share their belief.  So, for instance, when fundamentalist megastar Jerry Falwell worked with conservative Catholics and Jews in the Moral Majority, fundamentalist leaders at Bob Jones University denounced Falwell as the “most dangerous man in America.”

This rigid separatism, indeed, has been one of the hallmarks of American fundamentalism.  Some fundamentalists have insisted that they must practice even a “secondary separation,” not sharing Christian fellowship with other Christians if those other Christians share fellowship with questionable folks.

Now, it seems the city of Salem feels it must practice a strangely similar form of separatism.  As Salem Mayor Kimberly Driscoll informed Gordon College in a recent letter, the city must separate itself from the college.  Why?  Because, Driscoll wrote, Lindsay’s position implied open discrimination against the LGBT community.  The college had every right to do so, Driscoll believed, but the city could no longer be affiliated with such things.  The city’s non-discrimination law, Driscoll informed Lindsay, “prohibits our municipality from contracting with entities that maintain discriminatory practices.”

This is not the only time when the beliefs of liberals and fundamentalists have neatly swapped sides.  In the creation-evolution debates, for example, creationists took over evolutionists’ positions.  As historian Ronald Numbers has pointed out, by the 1990s creationists began appropriating the language of 1920s liberals.  In the 1920s, evolution supporters insisted that teaching only one theory was bigotry.  By the 1990s, creationists started saying the same thing.

In this case, we see a weird and clearly unintentional echo.  Mayor Driscoll feels compelled to separate her government from any entity that practices discrimination against homosexuals.  It is not enough, morally, for her government itself to avoid such discrimination.  The principle of separation seems to have migrated from fundamentalists to their supposedly tolerant opponents.


America: Schools Taken over by Scheming Progressives

What sorts of history did you learn in school?  As I argue in a recent commentary published on History News Network, conservative thinkers and activists have often insisted that school history has been taken over by a scheming, America-hating, progressive history cabal.

It looks as if Dinesh D’Souza’s new film dives headfirst into that tradition.  In America: Imagine the World without Her, D’Souza denounces American education as woefully slanted.

In a recent interview about the film, D’Souza accuses even the best schools of teaching a “doctored account” of history.  Young people, D’Souza believes, have all been taught a skewed leftist history.  In his film, D’Souza hopes to counter this horrible history with a heroic counter-argument.

But as I found when I researched the twentieth-century history of conservative activism in the United States, I found that conservatives have exerted just as much influence over the nature of American education as have progressives.

So why do conservatives like D’Souza continue to insist that schools have been taken over by dunderheaded progressives?  If you want to read my humble opinion, you’ll have to check out the HNN essay.

The Kids Are Alright

Want to see a progressive society? Just wait. Each new generation gets less uptight about gay marriage, evolution, abortion rights, and gender equality. Right? Maybe not. Controversy-loving sociologist Mark Regnerus has produced another study sure to provoke more outrage. In this case, Regnerus claims to find that young conservative evangelicals are not swinging toward a glowing progressive future.

Regnerus first came to culture-war attention with his 2012 study of gay-marriage parenting. Unlike most other sociological studies, Regnerus found that children raised by same-sex parents did not fare as well as children raised by their biological parents.

In his new study of attitudes towards sex in America, Regnerus concluded that young conservative evangelicals are bucking the trend toward youthful progressivism. While young Americans in general might be more welcoming toward gay marriage, abortion rights, and gender equality, young conservatives are not, Regnerus claims.

Conservative Baptists Russell Moore and Andrew Walker take great solace from Regnerus’ findings. Moore and Walker, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, celebrate the “sexual counter-revolution” heralded by Regnerus’ study. Conservative Christians, Moore and Walker noted recently in the pages of National Review Online, can trust that the new generation will cling to tradition. As they put it,

Regnerus’s research suggests that younger Evangelicals aren’t hewing to the culture’s expectation that they conform to its values. That’s a welcome reality, especially given the significant cultural pressures that young Christians face in today’s culture. This lines up with what we, as conservative Evangelicals, see happening in our own congregations across America.

As American culture secularizes, the most basic Christian tenets seem ever more detached from mainstream American culture. Those who identify with Christianity, and who gather with the people of God, have already decided to walk out of step with the culture. Beliefs aren’t assumed but are articulated over and against a culture that finds them implausible. Evangelical views on sexuality seem strange, but young Evangelicals in post-Christianizing America have already embraced strangeness by spending Sunday morning at church rather than at brunch.

Certainly, ever since the birth of conservative evangelicalism as a dissenting identity in the 1920s, young evangelicals have stayed true to conservative ideas. In the 1920s, as I argue in my 1920s book, young members of the new “fundamentalist” coalition defied new stereotypes of “flaming youth” to assert a proudly traditional, religiously orthodox youthful conservatism. And as I’m exploring in my current research, in the 1960s conservative evangelical college campuses were hotbeds of a different sort of student activism, the “sexual counter-revolution” noted by Moore and Walker.

An Earlier Generation of Youthful Counter-Revolutionaries: YAF, 1967

An Earlier Generation of Youthful Counter-Revolutionaries: YAF, 1967

But just as Regnerus’ gay-marriage research seemed too pat, too comforting to conservative activists, so this finding does not seem to deserve the celebration lavished upon by Moore and Walker. Young conservatives may be more traditional than their young contemporaries. But those young conservatives might also be more progressive than their elder evangelicals. The times might not be a-changin’ as fast as some progressives have often assumed, but it seems a little weird for conservative evangelical leaders to conclude that young evangelicals are not moving toward the new mainstream on sexual issues.



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