Gov’t Fights Anti-Christian Bias: Will Conservatives Celebrate?

Maybe you didn’t see this one, because no one seems to be talking about it. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against a Pennsylvania company for bias against three Christian employees. On first blush, it seems like a story that culture-war conservatives would want to celebrate.

EEOC

Big Government fighting for persecuted Christians…

After all, this seems to be good news for conservative Christians. In this case, the EEOC alleges that three workers were insulted and treated badly. Their Pentecostal religion was demeaned as a “disgusting cult.” The suit points out that creation of a “hostile work environment and disparate treatment” due to the workers’ national origin and religion constitutes “unlawful practices.”

On its face, this diligent protection of conservative Christians might seem like good news for anxious religious conservatives. Very different types of conservative Christians have lamented the fact that mainstream society and government persecute traditional Christians.

From the crunchy side, for example, Rod Dreher warns,

the cultural left—which is to say, the American mainstream— has no intention of living in postwar peace. It is pressing forward with a harsh, relentless occupation, one that is aided by the cluelessness of Christians who don’t understand what’s happening.

And from the Kentucky creationism side, Ken Ham has insisted,

It’s not enough to just tell students, ‘Believe in Jesus!’ Faith that is not founded on fact will ultimately falter in the storm of secularism that our students face every day. . . . Our country has forsaken its Christian soul. We need to see that for what it is.

Rod Dreher and Ken Ham probably wouldn’t agree on much, but as Christian conservatives they agree that mainstream society has turned hopelessly anti-Christian. Yet I’m guessing they won’t take this story as good news. Why not?

First, it is simply bad strategy for them to notice. Like a lot of conservative cassandras, Dreher and Ham have both put all their chips on a persecution story. A more complicated version of that story won’t help them much.

If more thoughtful folks like Dreher DO comment on this story, they could explain it a couple of ways. First, they might claim that conservative religion was more of a free-rider in this case. The government was really interested in protecting these particular Christians because they were also insulted for their Puerto Rican heritage. Plus, intellectuals like Mr. Dreher might point out that this sort of legal protection is beside the point. Sure, the EEOC might fight against insults and harassment, but the EEOC will then turn around and persecute Christians who do not recognize LGBTQ rights. The actual beliefs of conservative Christians, Dreher might say, are nowhere protected.

So although these three plaintiffs might have the government on their side when they are mocked for being Puerto Rican Pentecostals, Mr. Dreher might retort, when they actually try to live their lives as demanded by their Christian faith, they become instead the target of the EEOC.

Or maybe conservative pundits just won’t say anything at all.

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Badger Bound!

When conservative activists have won their battles about public education, how have they won? I’m excited to make my case next Monday at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

bucky badger

Thanks, Bucky. It’s great to be back!

Thanks to an invitation from my grad-school mentor William J. Reese, I’ll be traveling to sunny Madison, Wisconsin this week to talk about the history of conservatism and American education. SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware that I explored this history in my second book, The Other School Reformers (Harvard University Press, 2015).

In that book, I wondered what it has meant to be conservative about education in these United States. It’s not as simple a question as it seems. Some conservatives want one thing, others want another. Most people–whether they consider themselves conservative or not–don’t have crystal-clear ideas about what they want out of schools.

In my talk next week, I’ll share some of that research, but I’ll also expand it to include my more recent findings. In short, I think that conservatives have won NOT by proving their case for conservative values and ideas, but rather by doing something else.

What’s the “something else?” Well, you’ll just have to come to Wisconsin on Monday to find out. Good seats still available: Monday, October 14, 12:00, Education Building room 245.

madison talk flyer

I’ll Give You $1,000,000 if This Creationist Plan Works

Here comes Halloween, and in the USA that means giving out candy to neighborhood kids who come to your door dressed as Elsa. The radical creationists at Answers in Genesis have offered their fundamentalist friends a way to spread the gospel among trick-or-treaters. Can we put aside our differences about creationism and evolution for a second just to consider this simple question: Would any child REALLY prefer a creationist tract to a candy bar?

First, a little background: Like a lot of super-conservative Christians, the folks at Answers in Genesis are nervous about Halloween. They warn that this holiday can turn children’s heads and embroil them in the very real dangers of witchcraft and Satanism.

AIG money treats

Want some candy? How about these tracts instead?

What can Christian parents do? AIG suggests giving out tracts featuring dinosaurs and fake million-dollar bills. As AIG leader Ken Ham enthuses,

Kids love these, and it’s a fun way to share the gospel—something worth far more than a million dollars!—with children and their families.

Ken Ham and I disagree on a lot of things, but this just might be the simplest, starkest disagreement we’ve had.

“Kids love these”? Really? I can’t imagine many kids being excited to receive a fake million dollar bill instead of a Kit Kat or Twix. If I were a creation-evangelist, the last thing I would do is replace candy with fake money and creationist propaganda. I can’t imagine a better way to turn kids AWAY from the radical-creationist message.

Empathize with Racists? Really?

Historians—especially K-12 teachers and public historians—have been struggling with the challenges of teaching the history of slavery. It is time for us to learn from the dearly bought experiences of our science-education colleagues. The hardest lesson of all? Sometimes it’s not about being right.

BBC slave plantation

Sometimes tourists say some nasty things. What should we do about it?

First, some background: You’ve probably seen the disturbing stories lately about how difficult it can be to teach tourists about the history of slavery. At Monticello, for example, tourists ask guides not to focus so much on the negative stuff. In South Carolina, tourists sometimes actually defend the institution of slavery. As the BBC reported recently,

“Slavery was not that bad – it’s probably the number one thing we hear,” says plantation tour guide Olivia Williams.

“To my face, people have said: Well, they had a place to sleep. They had meals, they had vegetables.”

It’s not only museums that are having problems. As one contributor to the NYT’s 1619 project described, the history of slavery in the USA has long been ignored by schools, at best. In her words,

It’s ugly. For generations, we’ve been unwilling to do it. Elementary-school teachers, worried about disturbing children, tell students about the “good” people, like the abolitionists and the black people who escaped to freedom, but leave out the details of why they were protesting or what they were fleeing. Middle-school and high-school teachers stick to lesson plans from outdated textbooks that promote long-held, errant views. That means students graduate with a poor understanding of how slavery shaped our country, and they are unable to recognize the powerful and lasting effects it has had.

So what are history teachers to do? There are a lot of resources out there to help students understand the history of slavery, like Teaching Tolerance, PBS, and Stanford History Education Group materials.

But there’s another place to look that might not seem obvious at first. Like historians, science educators have been struggling for generations to break through popular hostility toward central scientific ideas. Most powerfully these days, many people have a strong visceral distrust of any ideas about human evolution and human-caused climate change.

How have science educators grappled with these challenges? What can historians learn?

In the latest edition of Reports of the National Center for Science Education, Kate Carter describes the ways she trains tour guides at the Smithsonian. Carter knows that many visitors will come already hostile to the messages of mainstream science. They are often already convinced that concepts of deep time and human-caused climate change are bogus. For example, she describes one typical couple that walked away from the information concluding, “There are two sides to every story.”

rncse empathy

Can history educators learn from this kind of science-ed training?

What are educators to do? We can’t just throw up our hands and conclude that some people are just not willing to learn about science or history. Carter suggests we avoid a simple “rookie mistake.” Instead of preparing to bombard our students or visitors with the evidence for our cases—whether it be about human evolution or American slavery—we should start with a very different idea: EMPATHY.

Make no mistake: Carter is not suggesting we avoid the subject, or agree that there are simply two sides to every story. No, she agrees that communicating the best information about science is our main goal. To get there, though, she suggests beginning by trying to understand the people with whom we’re speaking. As she explains,

While effective and accurate communication of science is a crucial element, it is not enough to reach the most skeptical populations. By taking time to assign real human emotions to the visitors, volunteers can better empathize and use this newfound understanding to decide the best way to share their evidence.

Seems obvious, right? But when it comes to teaching the full, unvarnished, unpleasant history of American slavery, empathizing with resistant listeners can be extremely difficult. If a tour guide tries to understand a visitor who doesn’t want to learn about Thomas Jefferson’s slaves, is she continuing the lamentable tradition of overlooking the truth? If a teacher spends time trying to understand why her students reject the evidence for the brutality of slave markets and slave labor, is she guilty of contributing to the long, shameful silence of those crimes against humanity?

In short, it seems like the time for polite empathy about the history of American racism and slavery is over. Teachers and tour guides might blanch at the prospect of bonding with racist tourists and students.

In spite of these important challenges, we can still learn from our science-ed colleagues. No one is suggesting any kind of watering-down or truckling, either to neo-creationists or neo-confederates. All we want to do is begin a conversation by filling in culture-war trenches and building connections so that a real conversation can take place. If we don’t start with that, no amount of proof, evidence, or explanation will do any good.

The Good News: Teachers Have Always Known What to Do about Culture War Topics

What is a teacher to do? How can she teach her class if parents are always suspicious of her motives? Someone out there in interweb-land has been searching for answers, so today we’ll share the good news about America’s educational culture wars.how to deal with fundamentalist parentsHere’s what we know: Someone has been stumbling across this blog lately searching for answers to the age-old school culture-war question: How can I deal with fundamentalist parents? I don’t know what this person is going through. I don’t know where they are or what they do for a living.

But if the question is about how public-school teachers should “deal with” parents who come from conservative evangelical backgrounds, let me share a little bit of my argument from my upcoming book about creationism.

Let me start with the least-obvious part: The thing Christian fundamentalists most fear about public education has NOT been evolution, or sex ed, or any of those things. After all, even the more-creationist-than-thou folks at Answers In Genesis advocate the teaching of evolution to kids. And plenty of conservative Christian groups have long actively promoted sex ed in public schools.

The big questions in school culture wars have not been WHAT should be taught, but HOW it should be taught and BY WHOM. Fundamentalist Christian parents–like (almost) all parents–want their children to learn how to thrive in the modern world. That means learning about sex and science. But from the fundamentalist perspective, too often sex and science are taught with a dangerous do-what-feels-good attitude. Fundamentalist parents want their kids to learn about sex, but not be encouraged to have premarital sex. They want their kids to learn about science, but not to be encouraged to ditch their religious ideas.

And that brings us to the good news: We can all agree on those things. Public schools shouldn’t be cramming religious ideas down students’ throats. Schools have an obligation to help students learn the best information out there about sex and science, but schools also have an obligation to leave students’ religious ideas to students.

So what should a teacher do about fundamentalist parents? What good teachers have always done: Begin by building trust. Build a positive relationship with students. Reach out to parents to let them see what you are doing.

gallup local schools

People LIKE the schools they know.

And here’s the better news: It works. Teachers and parents have been bridging the educational culture-war trenches for a long time now. How do we know? When Gallup asks parents what they think of their kids’ schools, parents usually give positive responses.

Why? Because teachers, parents, and students have been working together, building trust. Fundamentalist parents might be nervous about the kinds of sex ed they read about in newspapers. They might read about science teachers trying to cram atheism down their kids’ throats. But when they meet their kids’ teachers and principals, they like them. They trust them.

And that’s the place all of us should start. So how should teachers “deal with” fundamentalist Christian parents? Just like all parents: Get to know them. Tell them how much you love their kids and want the best for them. Share your lesson plans with them and listen to what they have to say.

What Does Radical Creationism Look Like?

A reminder, if anyone needed one, that radical creationism does not always look like what you might think. This week Turkish arch-creationist Adnan Oktar is heading off to trial. For Americans who think creationists all look like Christian televangelists, the story is worth a look.

Unlike the American stereotype, Adnan Oktar’s brand of firebrand creationism is Islamic, not Christian. And unlike most of America’s radical-creationist leaders–except maybe Jerry Falwell Jr.–Oktar surrounded himself with roomsful of belly-dancing “kittens.”

Adnan Oktar–who wrote under the name Harun Yahya–was arrested last year on a list of charges ranging from sexual abuse of children to blackmail. If the name sounds familiar and you can’t quite remember why, it is probably because of Harun Yahya’s big creationist splash back in 2007.

harun yahya atlas of creation

Proof of creation! Also, bellydancing.

Back then, Harun Yahya sent unsolicited copies of his radical-creationist book Atlas of Creation to scientists and journalists worldwide. Religion and science agreed, according to Harun Yahya. Both had clearly “refuted the theory of evolution. . . . We never underwent evolution; we were created.”

What’s our takeaway? I have no idea if Adnan Oktar is guilty or innocent. I DO know that his expensive distribution of Islamic creationism didn’t seem to pay off. Most of all, this story serves as a reminder that radical creationism is not limited to northern Kentucky or the Texas state school board.

When the Saints Come Backtracking In

Bibles in schools, yes. Anti-LGBTQ sentiment, no. That was the combo pleaded last week by NFL quarterback Drew Brees. To this reporter, the most important question is not about Bibles in schools or Brees’s personal attitudes, but rather about the status of anti-LGBTQ organizations among other conservative evangelicals. Can anti-LGBTQ groups claim much support at all?

Here’s the story: Brees recently recorded a promo video for “Bring Your Bible to School Day.” In the short little clip, Brees tells kids what his favorite Bible verse is, then says,

I want to encourage you to live out your faith on Bring Your Bible to School Day and share God’s love with friends.

So far, so good. But a few progressive New Orleanians tracked down the sponsor of Brees’s video and accused Brees of sharing the anti-LGBTQ animus of Focus on the Family. Reporters asked Brees if he really was as anti-LGBTQ as FoF and he backed up faster than a [insert football-related sports analogy here.]

As Brees put it,

[My school-Bible video] was not promoting any group, certainly not promoting any group that is associated with that type of [anti-LGBTQ]] behavior. I know that there are, unfortunately, Christian organizations out there that are involved in that kind of thing, and to me that is totally against what being Christian is all about. Being Christian is love. It’s forgiveness, it’s respecting all, it’s accepting all.

There are a lot of things we could talk about. First, is it cool for kids to bring their Bibles to their secular public schools, hoping to “share God’s love with friends”? Absolutely. Religious kids in public schools are totally free to be as religious as they want, as long as they aren’t disruptive of school procedures.

The only thing that is necessarily “secular” about public schools is the school’s administration itself. Teachers are no longer allowed to preach any religion, nor are they allowed to imply that some religions are better than others. Students, on the other hand, can do whatever they want—pray by the pole, preach during lunch, whatever. As long as the school doesn’t imply its support (like with the famous Kountze cheerleaders), religious kids can religion all they want in public schools. More power to em.

We could also wonder if Drew Brees were still as awesome as we thought. But then we’d remember the time on the Bear Grylls Show that Brees tackled an alligator.

Finally, we’d get down to the really important issue, from the ILYBYGTH point of view. Namely, this episode makes us wonder if Focus on the Family has really lost its base. If FoF no longer can claim the support even of conservative evangelical Christians like Drew Brees, whom can it appeal to? If evangelical celebrities like Brees won’t allow themselves to be associated with FoF, is there any hope for FoF?

If I were an anti-LGBTQ ministry like Focus or Answers In Genesis, I’d be doing some serious soul- (and Bible-) searching.

Why Don’t Christian Colleges Brag about This?

If you’re interested in evangelical higher education, you’ve probably read Daniel Silliman’s piece in Christianity Today by now. And you may have asked why more Christian colleges don’t advertise their sensible approach to deepening students’ faiths. Today the other shoe drops over at the fundamentalist creationist ministry Answers In Genesis.ham on evang colleges

Silliman was following up on new survey data that show students in evangelical colleges are

more likely to feel unsettled about spiritual matters, unsure of their beliefs, disillusioned with their religious upbringing, distant from God, or angry with God than their peers at secular schools as well as those at mainline Protestant and Catholic institutions.

As Silliman found, in many cases, evangelical colleges actively promote religious crises in their students. Why? Because true faith requires it. As one college president told Silliman,

It’s part of the design of college and part of the design of being a young adult. Struggle is built in. What we try to provide are professional staff and faculty who are rooted in their own faith and able to journey alongside, in ways that honor the journey of the student.

Sounds smart, right? Especially for secular people like me, this kind of approach to Christian education makes admirable sense. So why don’t more evangelical institutions brag about it?

As I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, evangelical higher ed has always been ferociously divided about this approach to faith formation. Lots of administrators, families, and faculty members have always shared this vision. They have agreed that young Christians need to be open about their doubt, just as they are about their faith. The goal of evangelical higher education—in this vision—has been to be there for students when they doubt, guiding them lovingly and Christian-ly through this predictable crisis.

But not everyone has agreed. As fundamentalist creationist Ken Ham recently charged, Christian colleges who don’t protect their students from doubt don’t deserve to call themselves Christian at all. As Ham accused, colleges that help their students struggle with doubt

compromise God’s Word beginning in Genesis & aren’t teaching creation apologetics & a truly Christian worldview.

The right way to protect faith, Ham argues, is not by challenging it. Instead, evangelical students should be taught how to “stand against the secular attacks of the day,” not how to doubt and question. For parents who agree, Ham offers his list of “Creation Colleges,” staunch conservative schools that promise not to challenge faith.

So why don’t more evangelical colleges brag about their approach to faith formation? Because the world of conservative evangelical higher education has always been divided about it. Not just between more conservative schools and less, but even within many schools themselves.

At less-conservative schools like the ones Silliman talked about, I’ll bet dollars to donuts some faculty members and some trustees hope for a less-wishy-washy approach to student doubt. And at more-conservative schools like the ones Ken Ham praises, I bet there are faculty members and students who yearn to be in an environment in which they can talk more openly about their doubt and struggle.

Why Would a Christian Tell Kids to Cheat?

Usually whenever arch-creationist Ken Ham says something shocking, it is because of the zombie science or harsh anti-LGBTQ animus involved. This time, however, I was shocked to see that Ham seemed to be teaching creationist children to cheat in school.

ken ham gay wedding

Mean-spirited? Sure. But Ham’s recent advice goes even further…

To see why he would do such a thing and to read my take on why Ham’s advice is actually GOOD news for the rest of us, click over to Righting America for my two cents.

The Ink Is Dry!

For all you secular people out there: Have you ever wondered why so many religious people seem determined to make themselves look as stupid as they possibly can? And for the Christians: Tired of people assuming that you hate science? If so, my new book is just for you. I’m happy to announce that I’ve signed a contract for my new book about American creationism and evolution. Jesus and the Dinosaurs: Bridging the Impasse on Teaching Evolution will be published soonish with Oxford University Press.

Jesus on a dinosaur.jpg 1

Why???

Why another book about creationism? A bunch of years ago, my sister-in-law asked me why so many Americans believed in outlandish things, such as a 6,004-year-old planet, and a real, literal, even-though-it-is-absolutely-impossible worldwide flood. As she put it back then, “Why do they keep putting Jesus on a dinosaur?”

This book is my way-too-long answer to her question. I argue that secular people like me and my sister-in-law tend to misunderstand creationism. We tend to think that most creationists hold fairly radical views about religion and science. We tend to think that tons of our fellow Americans–up to 40% if we believe the new Gallup numbers–think that God created our species recently in Iraq.

In my new book, I’m arguing that we Americans have always had the wrong arguments about evolution and creationism. In fact, when it comes right down to it, the crux of our arguments have not really been about evolutionary science at all. Rather, the idea of evolution has been smushed into a contorted shape; “Evolution” has become an ill-fitting stand-in for all kinds of modern and post-modern cultural norms.

gallup creationism 2019

…can this really be true? Can this many Americans really believe in a radical creationist idea?

When radical creationists like Ken Ham and Henry Morris fume and fret about evolution, they are fighting about something much bigger. Yes, they dislike evolutionary ideas. Those ideas, however, are only the canary in the devil’s coalmine. The real dangers–from their perspective–come from a spiritual attitude that spurns God’s authority, that questions gender roles and sexuality, that allows abortion rights and encourages religious skepticism.

aig dangerous public school bus

Answers In Genesis, “One Generation Away,” 2015

As Ken Ham’s organization loves to point out, thinking in evolutionary terms is not necessarily dangerous in itself, but it is very dangerous in its spiritual implications, especially for innocent young minds. Once people believe in a long evolutionary history, Ham warns, they will be open to changing their ideas about sexuality and morality. The public-school bus, Answers In Genesis warns, takes kids down the road to environmentalism, abortion rights, and LBGTQ rights.

So when the radical fringe of young-earth creationism warns about the dangers of evolutionary thinking, they’re not actually angry about evolution itself. Indeed, as I found in the research for my book about evangelical higher education, conservative-evangelical colleges –even including the uber-conservative ones that Ken Ham calls “Creation Colleges” –teach evolutionary theory to their students. They just do it in their own way.

More than that, once we really understand American creationism, we understand that radical young-earth creationists are not typical creationists. When it comes right down to it, most Americans are creationists of one sort or another. Most religious people embrace some vague idea that God (or gods) had a role in creating life. But for most people, that doesn’t mean that we don’t want our children to learn the best modern science. Most Americans are creationists, in other words, and most creationists want their children to learn evolutionary theory.

So why do we keep fighting about evolution? In the new book, I’m making the case that “Evolution” stopped being about evolutionary science a long time ago. When we fight about “Evolution,” we’re not fighting about evolutionary science. We’re fighting about LGBTQ rights, and abortion, and the proper role of evangelical Christianity in our government.

Will my lil book stop all these fights? Course not. But it can’t hurt to clarify the real terms of our culture-war disagreements and stop shouting uselessly across our culture-war trenches.