Anti-LGBTQ: Follow the Anti-Evolution Road

It must be a difficult time to oppose full inclusion for LGBTQ children. Two major banks have pulled out of a Florida voucher school program. Why? Because the program supported schools that discriminated against LGBTQ students, families, and teachers. The historian in me can’t help but wonder: Will anti-LGBTQ conservatives repeat the century-old model of anti-evolution activism?

I know it is silly to make predictions based on the past, but the anti-LGBTQ movement among conservative Christians certainly seems to be following the road laid down a century ago by anti-evolution activists. Here is how it worked back then:

Phase 1: We Are the Real Christians. In this phase, conservative intellectuals tried to fight the growing sense that their conservatism made them something new. Instead, conservatives insisted they were only upholding the time-tested truths of real Christianity. Their opposition to evolution, they insisted, did not make them anything other than “Christians.”

For example, in 1923 James M. Gray of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago lamented the tendency of anti-evolution “Fundamentalists” to call themselves anything other than “Christians.” As Gray put it,

As a matter of fact, not a few church members . . . believe that Fundamentalism is some new thing and some awful heresy that must metaphorically, be stamped out. . . . dear brethren, do not let the old name slip away from us. . . . It is a name that stands for the pure and complete gospel of Jesus Christ, a name that has never been identified with any movement, fanaticism, or fad, and which has been made so sacred to us by its defenders in all the years.

Phase 2: Scare Tactics. In the 1920s, evolution came to represent the best of modern science to many Americans. Conservative anti-evolution activists found themselves suddenly on the defensive, needing to prove to their co-religionists that evolution was truly dangerous. Many of them, like evangelist T.T. Martin, found themselves using more and more extreme language to describe the threat posed by evolution. As Martin wrote in 1923,

Ramming poison down the throats of our children is nothing compared with damning their souls with the teaching of Evolution.

Phase 3: Fight for our Right. At the same time, conservative anti-evolution Christians campaigned to purge public institutions of evolutionary ideas. At my alma mater the University of Wisconsin, for example, in 1921 William Jennings Bryan taunted President Edward Birge to either ban evolution or post the following signs on all classrooms:

Our class rooms furnish an arena in which a brutish doctrine tears to pieces the religious faith of young men and young women; parents of the children are cordially invited to witness the spectacle.

Phase 4: A School of Our Own. When those fights failed, anti-evolution conservatives turned inward. They founded schools of their own that would teach an anti-evolution version of Christianity. As evangelist Bob Jones Sr. described his new school in 1928,

Fathers and mothers who place their sons and daughters in our institution can go to sleep at night with no haunting fear that some skeptical teachers will steal the faith of their precious children.

At first glance, the anti-LGBTQ wing of conservative Christianity seems to be following the same path. Just like the 1920s, these days conservatives are confronted with rapidly changing mainstream attitudes. Back then, it was evolution. These days, it is about gender and sexuality.

Save our Schools Cover Art jpg

Will anti-LGBTQ activists in the 2020s follow the path of anti-evolution activists in the 1920s?

And we’ve seen a similar pattern. For example, as I noted in a recent commentary in the Washington Post, conservative Christians like Karen Pence often defend their anti-LGBTQ attitudes as simply traditional or (small-o) “orthodox” Christianity.

Second, anti-LGBTQ conservatives work hard these days to convince their fellow Christians that LGBTQ rights present a dire threat. For example, creationist activist Ken Ham has long warned of creeping LGBTQ acceptance. As Ham wrote back in 2015,

From what we’ve seen and know about the LGBT movement, the leaders don’t just want legalization of their immmoral behavior, but also want to force acceptance of this on everyone. They want everyone not just to tolerate their position, but to accept it while they themselves show intolerance for those who do not hold to their views.

Next, anti-LGBTQ Christians have certainly been competing for influence within mainstream institutions. From California to Missouri, activists have tried hard to purge public schools and libraries of pro-LGBTQ ideas. Most often, just as anti-evolution activists did in the 1920s, anti-LGBTQ activists have lost.

And some of them have moved to Phase 4. Perhaps most famously, crunchy conservative Rod Dreher has called for the Benedict Option, separating from an irredeemably corrupt mainstream society to form purer enclaves where traditional ideas of sexuality and gender can dominate.

How will it all play out? History is a famously bad guide to the future, but the trajectory of anti-evolution activism offers a few possibilities. Back in the 1920s, opposing mainstream science worked. Schools and colleges that planted a flag for anti-evolutionary “fundamentalism” thrived.

In Illinois, for example, Wheaton College declared itself an anti-evolution institution in 1925 and its enrollment grew in leaps and bounds. Between 1916 and 1928, enrollment at Wheaton grew by four hundred percent. (By way of contrast, similar non-fundamentalist colleges in the area grew by an average of 46%.)

The benefits of standing outside the mainstream had their costs, however. Back in the 1920s, anti-evolution fundamentalists tended to believe in a far less radical form of creationism. Most of them, even the firmest anti-evolution activists among them, still wanted to earn the respect of mainstream scientists. They mostly pooh-poohed radical ideas about a young earth and a sudden, fiat creation of all life.

When anti-evolution activists started their own institutions, however, it gave them the ability to encourage more radical forms of Christian belief. In schools like Bob Jones University, young-earth creationism became the norm. Perhaps because they had given up on mainstream acceptance, they were able to indulge ideas such as young-earth creationism that had absolutely no merit outside the charmed circle of radical-creationist schools.

Will that happen again? It just might. As anti-LGBTQ conservatives read more headlines like the ones we’re seeing today, they might grow more and more convinced that their ideas are unwelcome outside their own circles. It might seem more and more tempting to create separatist institutions in which their own ideas are welcomed. If that happens, perhaps we will see a repeat of the creationist tradition. Namely, the mainstream might grow more and more comfortable with LGTBQ acceptance while a small but energetic minority embraces more and more radical versions of anti-LGTQ thinking.

Espinoza v. Montana: The Case for Discrimination

It’s going to be a long wait until June. That is when we’re expecting the SCOTUS decision in Espinoza v. Montana. You might be sick of reading about this case by now, but here’s one more point to consider: Now is a good time for states to discriminate. Why? They need to discriminate against religious schools to avoid having to choose between good and bad religions.coolidge bible NYT

First, a little background: The issue in Espinoza v. Montana is whether or not states can discriminate between religious schools and secular ones. A parent wanted to use voucher money to send her kid to a religious school. The state’s constitution prohibits state funding of religious schools. The state supreme court said no. SCOTUS now has to weigh in.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH might recall that the “baby Blaine” amendments are often called “bigotry” by Espinoza’s supporters. These amendments—like the one in Montana that prohibits tax money for religious schools—really WERE adopted in an effort to limit Catholic-school influence. However, as we’ve discussed in these pages, Blaine amendments also represented a long tradition of “anti-sectarian” attitudes for public schools.

Recently, Mark David Hall of George Fox University made the case for Espinoza. He acknowledges the emptiness of the “baby-Blaine” argument. As he notes, the 1870s amendment may have been fueled by anti-Catholic bigotry, but it was re-upped in 1972 without any shred of anti-Catholic animus. He concludes by asserting that there is no cause for leaving religious schools out of voucher programs. As he puts it,

States should not be able to discriminate on the basis of religion unless they have a compelling reason to do so, and there is certainly no compelling reason in this case.

I agree with the first half of this sentence but not the second. States should not discriminate without a compelling reason. But the history of the twentieth century makes it clear: Society does indeed have a compelling case to limit its public support for religious institutions.

Back in the 1920s, it was widely assumed that public schools must actively teach a generic, non-denominational Christian religiosity. For example, between 1913 and 1930, eleven states passed mandatory Bible-reading laws. (Massachusetts already had one on the books, from 1826.) These laws had enormous public support. They were often seen as teaching simple moral truths, not divisive religious practices. Advocates commonly claimed that such basic religious ideas were a necessary part of any healthy society. For example, President Calvin Coolidge wrote in 1927,

The foundations of our society and our Government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings should cease to be practically universal in our country.

Throughout the first half of the 1900s, most public schools continued the traditions of the 1800s. Public schools were supposed to be “non-sectarian.” At the time, that meant they should not teach specific, controversial ideas about baptism or priesthood. But they included practices that were seen as non-controversial, such as Bible reading and reciting the Lord’s prayer. Public schools often arranged for students to be pulled out of school to learn specific denominational religious practices.

Over the course of the twentieth century, though, Americans’ opinions about the proper role of religion in public schools changed. By 1963, when SCOTUS heard the case of Abington Township v. Schempp, Bible-reading and teacher-led prayer were no longer seen as non-controversial. What if a non-religious student felt excluded? Or a non-Christian one? Even if they were allowed to skip the prayer or the Bible?

In 1970, SCOTUS reinforced the new vision of the proper role of government in school religion. In Lemon v. Kurtzman, the court laid out its famous three-prong “Lemon test.” In judging complicated cases of schools and religion, the court ruled that any law must 1.) have a secular purpose; 2.) neither promote nor inhibit religion; and 3.) avoid “excessive government entanglement with religion.”

When it comes to Espinoza, the dangers arise from the overthrow of these Lemon rules. States like Montana do indeed have a compelling reason to leave all religious schools out of their funding programs. If they do not, they will have to decide which religious schools to include and which to exclude, or simply to include all religious schools.PG prayer okee dokee

It seems too obvious to need elaboration, but neither religious groups nor state governments should want to put state governments in charge of choosing “legitimate” religion. As Curmudgucrat Peter Greene put it far better than I ever could, governments would need to establish

the Official Bureau of Religious Okee Dokeeness; now the state will determine which religious groups are “legitimate” or not.

If, on the other hand, states decide simply to include ALL religious groups in voucher programs, they will need to be prepared for the fallout. Certainly, that will include religions that endorse anti-LGBTQ ideas or racist ones. It will include religions that force brutal, even fatal “healing” services on children. It will also include churches of flying spaghetti monsters and Satan.

Is any state really ready for that?

They are not. We are not. I agree with Professor Hall that states should avoid discriminating against religious groups without a compelling reason. That might mean providing playground equipment for a religious school is okay. But when it comes to sending tax dollars to the actual religious schools themselves, states have a very compelling reason to avoid wading into religious wars.

Would You Ban Books if It Meant Secular Schools?

Okay, so here’s a question for you: Would you agree that schools should ban some pro-LGBTQ children’s books IF it meant that tax money would not fund private religious schools? Me, I don’t think so, but I DO know that this has been the normal way Americans have handled controversial issues in their public schools.

little and lion

Smut? Filth? Required reading?

Here’s the latest: Some conservative Florida parents are at it again. They’ve demanded that Little & Lion be pulled from their local high-school English classes. I don’t know the book, but at a public meeting parents denounced the book as “smut” and “filth.” Parents objected to passages like the following:

I ask him if he has a condom and he nods, grabs one from his jeans on the floor. But he stops and asks if I’m sure before he puts it on. I’m no surer of what I’m doing now than when I was with Iris, but like when I was with her, this feels right.

The book joins the long tradition of controversial books for children and teens. It’s no surprise to SAGLRROILYBYGTH that books with pro-LGBTQ themes and characters have been especially controversial, as have any books that discuss teen sexuality. Just a couple of weeks ago, you probably remember, Missouri lawmakers proposed to imprison librarians responsible for questionable children’s books.

As I explored in The Other School Reformers, the idea that public schools and libraries should be “safe” spaces for conservative religious children has a long history. In 1922, for example, Kentucky’s lawmakers did Missouri one better. They considered a bill that would have purged public libraries of any book that could,

directly or indirectly attack or assail or seek to undermine or weaken or destroy the religious beliefs and convictions of the children of Kentucky.

What would that even mean? What would a library look like if it contained no books that might “indirectly . . . weaken” religious faith? Like Missouri’s bill, it seems absurd, yet these sorts of book-bannings have proven extremely politically potent. It hasn’t always been pretty, but by and large parents have been able to ban books they don’t like.

I don’t approve of these book bannings. In fact, my early introduction to school culture-wars came back when I was a mild-mannered English teacher and a conservative parent wanted to ban one of our books.

But here’s the tough question I have to ask myself: Is it a fair compromise to ban some books from public schools and libraries if we can agree that we should also never use tax money to fund private religious schools? After all, the logic is similar.

Namely, as we detailed recently, Americans have always recoiled from using tax money to fund “sectarian” schools. There has been a lot of religion in America’s public schools, for sure, but historically schools have not been allowed to teach any doctrine considered religiously divisive. In the past, only generic Christianity—usually with a Protestant sheen—was allowed in public schools. As society in general became more secular in the twentieth century, public schools nixed more and more religious practices.

In my opinion, SCOTUS should respect this precedent when it rules on Espinoza v. Montana. If they do, though, should we also agree to keep other divisive, “sectarian” religious ideas out of public schools? Should we agree with conservative parents and lawmakers that some books should be banned from public schools?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Impeachment, impeachment, impeachment. There were a few other things going on last week that need noticing. Here are a few top stories from around the interwebs:

Ouch. Review of Diane Ravitch’s Slaying Goliath at NYT.

We now have “Slaying Goliath,” in which Ravitch takes a defiant leap over the line separating reasoned case-building from empty sloganeering and ad hominem attacks. The book sets out to chronicle and celebrate the resounding defeat of what people who are not Diane Ravitch refer to as the education reform movement. . . . They are, rather, to be called “the Disrupters” — “masters of chaos, which they inflict on other people’s children, without a twinge of remorse.” . . . even if Ravitch has often been justified in raising alarms, it’s painful to see the absence of nuance she exhibits here.

It’s a big one: SCOTUS heard Espinoza v Montana this week.

Are creationists bored with the giant Kentucky Ark? Attendance drops for two months running, at FA.ark attendance FA

School quality and city maps: How Chicago divides good and bad schools. At Quillette.

Turn north on Larrabee Street and walk seven blocks to Lincoln Elementary, one of the crown jewels of Chicago Public Schools. Lincoln gets a “1+” rating from the district, the highest possible rating. And the school encompasses the prestigious French-American School of Chicago, officially recognized by the French Ministry of Education and open only to students of Lincoln Elementary. Start once again at Larrabee and North. Turn south this time, and walk five blocks to Manierre Elementary, which receives a “3” rating from the district, the lowest possible rating. Manierre doesn’t just lag Lincoln. Manierre, by any objective standard, is a failing school.

How did fancy Democrats lose the confidence of the white working class? At NR.

Now those of us with postgraduate degrees and who are in the elite of the Democratic Party live in our own Versailles, and we don’t know any working-class people either—except perhaps the name of a barista at Starbucks or the woman who comes by at night to clean the office. . . . For this group, there is only one way to do it: Imitate us, the people who are the helicopter parents, whose parents were professionals, whose presidential candidates are Rhodes scholars or presidents of the Harvard Law Review. Can college for all solve the problems of this country? Well, it worked for us. Even some of the social Darwinians were subtler in rubbing it in. . . .

In the last election, it was such political genius for Trump to say: “I love the poorly educated.” Had Hillary Clinton or even Bernie Sanders been capable of saying that, they’d be on their way now to a second term. And it was also genius for Trump to make a point of pumping up his own moral squalor. It’s as if he wanted working people to know that at last they could vote for a president who was incapable of looking down on them.

Impeachment drama got you down? Check out this story from my local paper—GOP voters cheer their Dem Rep who voted for impeachment.

Is It “Bigotry” to Leave Religious Schools Out?

Don’t believe the hype. If you’ve been following the Espinoza v. Montana case, you’ve likely heard the argument that Montana’s constitutional prohibition against funding religious schools is rooted solely in old anti-Catholic bigotry. In order to understand why that’s not an adequate argument, we need to understand the 19th-century distinction between a “sectarian” school and a “religious” school.IJ BlaineFirst, a little background: The Espinoza case resulted from the desire of parents to use state vouchers to send their children to religious schools. Montana has a “baby Blaine” line in its constitution forbidding any funding of religious schools. The plaintiffs contend that these rules are discriminatory. If states fund any private schools, the argument goes, they cannot exclude religious schools simply because they are religious.

The Blaine Amendment itself failed. It was an attempt to change the US Constitution to prohibit tax funding for “sectarian” schools. The language was taken up by states, however, and inserted into dozens of state constitutions, including Montana’s. The original 1875 language proposed the following:

No state shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any state for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefore, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect, nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.

Back in the 1870s, the biggest “sect or denomination” that was competing for tax funding was the growing Catholic Church. For that reason, some conservative activists claim these constitutional amendments are rooted in “anti-Catholic bigotry.” An activist legal group, the Institute for Justice, represents the plaintiffs in this case. As they put it,

Blaine Amendments are controversial state constitutional provisions rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry. Their purpose was to prevent the government from funding Catholic schools. Today, opponents of educational choice employ Blaine Amendments—found in 37 state constitutions—as blunt weapons with which they attempt to block modern educational choice programs.

The argument has been around for a while. In 2000, Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his agreement that baby-Blaine amendments were merely crude anti-Catholicism. As Thomas wrote,

Consideration of the [Blaine] amendment arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general, and it was an open secret that “sectarian” was code for “Catholic.”

And that’s the rub. To our ears, the word “sectarian” has lost its old meaning. When we talk about “religious” schools, we generally mean something very different from what Americans generally meant in the 1870s or 1810s. To make sense of the history being bandied about in today’s argument, we need to understand the ways people used the term “sectarian” back in the 1800s.

So, first, were Blaine amendments anti-Catholic? Well, yes. They were rooted in ugly post-war politics of race and religion. Back then, Democrats accused Republicans of being “soft” on white supremacy. And Republicans accused Democrats of being “soft” on Protestant supremacy. In this race to the bottom, Republicans like Blaine hoped to bolster their political careers by appearing to be “hard” on Protestant supremacy, even though Blaine himself came from a Catholic family. (It’s complicated.)

But was “sectarian” simply code for “Catholic?” No. The politics of the Blaine amendments were more complicated than that. For decades, public schools had been evolving toward something similar to the way they are today.

One big difference back then was that all public schools were far more “religious” than they are today. It was typical and expected (and often legally required) that school would start with a teacher-led prayer and that students would read from the Bible in a devotional way.

Throughout the 19th century, public leaders generally agreed that public schools should be religious in that way, but not “sectarian.” What did they mean by “sectarian?” In short, “sectarian” meant any religious practice that was not commonly shared among Protestant groups. “Sectarian” meant teaching a certain denominational belief, such as Calvinism or Arminianism. “Sectarian” meant teaching any controversial religious idea, such as adult or child baptism. And accusations of “sectarianism” tended to be biased against a lot of different religious groups, including Catholics, but also Quakers, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons/LDS, and many others.

Maybe a few examples from my current research will help illustrate the 19th-century distinction. As cities such as Philadelphia and New York set up their first public schools in the early 1800s, this distinction between “religious” (as we know it) and “sectarian” (as they thought of it) was usually considered too obvious to be spelled out. It was assumed that all public schools would actively teach generic Christian religion, but that none of them would promote any “sectarian” idea.

Adelphi religionConsider, for example, the policy of the Adelphi School in Philadelphia at the start of the century. All students were exhorted to follow basic rules of Christian morality and “strive to be good children by loving [their] HEAVENLY FATHER.” The school founders told parents—without seeing any contradiction—that the school would not teach any religion. It would only instruct the children in reading the Bible and following “Christian morality.”

In New York, too, the Free School Society assumed its public schools would be full of religion, but devoid of sectarianism. What was the distinction? They claimed their board of trustees in 1814 included men from “nearly every religious denomination.” They carefully tallied up their students’ religious preferences, including 271 Presbyterians, 186 Episcopalians, 172 Methodists, 119 Baptists, 41 “Dutch church,” and 9 Roman Catholics. Every student read from the Bible every day in school, and on Tuesday mornings all students were pulled out of school to attend catechism classes at their church of choice.

The distinction that mattered in the 19th century was that “sectarian” education would never receive tax funding. The guiding principle was that tax dollars would not pay to teach children specific religious ideas that were not generally shared. As public thinking about religion and public education evolved over the twentieth century, the difficulties of defining a “sectarian” idea led US courts—including SCOTUS—to rule that public schools had to exclude more and more religious practice. In the 1960s, SCOTUS ruled that ecumenical prayers and Bible-reading were too religious for public schools, meaning they were not beyond controversy. Some students didn’t want to pray or read from the Bible. There was no such thing, 20th-century SCOTUS decided, as “non-sectarian” religious practices.

The distinction has a long history: Public schools have always been expected to avoid any controversial religious teaching. They have been expected to avoid—in 19th-century terms—any “sectarian” indoctrination.

What does that mean for Espinoza? Are the plaintiffs correct that they should receive tax funding for their religious schools? No. Not if SCOTUS wants to respect the two-century-old precedent of American public education. The general goal of public schools when it comes to religion is to avoid using tax money to pay for any controversial doctrine, any “sectarian” idea. And that is precisely the goal of Ms. Espinoza and the Institute for Justice.

Hope for Us All

Impeachment drama got you down? Then check out this story from my local paper. The tenor of our national debate may have grown sour, but people still endorse basic decency and decorum.

brindisi town hall

Anthony Brindisi: How to disagree in the Trump era.

Here’s what we know: My US Representative, Anthony Brindisi, held a town-hall meeting last night. Much of the goings-on were predictably humdrum. He posed for pix with a group of Girl Scouts; he talked about keeping the local AA baseball team in town.

At one point, though, an audience member grew belligerent. Brindisi, a Democrat in a heavily Republican district, had voted for Trump’s impeachment. The woman insisted that Brindisi had promised her he’d vote against impeachment. She grew increasingly hostile as other members of the audience and Rep. Brindisi tried to calm her.

Woman: You lied to us. I want an answer.

[hubbub in audience…]

Brindisi: I never said that. What I said was…

Woman (interrupting): You said you were…

Voices from audience: LET HIM FINISH!

Woman: …I have it on my phone. I would like to know an answer to that.

Brindisi: ..what I said…

Woman (interrupting): You represent US.

Brindisi: …what I said was I was waiting for all the evidence to come out before making a decision. And I did make a decision and I’m sorry we disagree.

LOUD APPLAUSE

Eventually, the woman was asked to leave by a sheriff’s deputy. My hunch is that plenty of my neighbors agree with her about impeachment. Trump has a lot of support around here.

However, my neighbors don’t approve of her in-your-face style. She didn’t come to listen. She came to shout. The audience preferred Brindisi, with whom many of them disagreed, to the woman, with whom many of them agreed. Not for their stance on the issues, but for Brindisi’s obvious regard for basic politeness and civil tone.

Seems like some pretty basic political virtues are still being practiced:

  1. Cheer for the home team, even when things look bleak;
  2. Love your neighbors;
  3. Be polite, ESPECIALLY when you disagree strongly.

Creationism’s Middle Ground—Is It Enough?

The radical creationists at Answers in Genesis have offered an explanation of their vision for proper evolution education. Short version: They want all kids to learn about mainstream evolutionary theory, in a way. Is there enough here for a long-lasting compromise?

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing about it, but I’m up to my eyeballs with my new book about creationism. I sent the manuscript to the Oxford folks and we’ll have a book ready for shelves soon. I’m arguing in the book that the real problem in America’s long-running culture war about evolutionary theory isn’t really evolutionary theory itself. (It’s about something, but for the full argument you’ll have to wait for the book version.)

This morning, the radical creationists at AIG offer a lengthy exposition of their view of proper evolution education (starting at 18:04 in the video above). (Why use the term “radical creationist?” My explanation here.) It gives us a chance to ask: Is there enough middle ground here for all of us? Or do radical creationists want too much?

First, a little background: Ken Ham and some colleagues from Answers In Genesis are reacting to evolution-education outreach from the Genetic Literacy Project, starting at about 18:04 in the youtube clip above. The outreach was apparently targeted to college instructors, hoping to help them help students overcome their religious resistance to evolutionary ideas.GLP AIG

There are a lot of things in this AIG commentary that we can all agree on. Let’s review a few of the big ones:

First of all, we can all agree that evolution educators shouldn’t be trying to convert their students toward or away from any religion. As one of the AIG commentators describes (19:19), the article is essentially asking,

How do you become an evangelist for evolution? To convert these backwater, very confused creationists into the “truth” that they would follow Science?

I don’t think the Genetic Literacy Project folks would explain their goals that way, but we don’t have to agree on that. We can agree that science educators have no desire to promote any specific religion.

Second, students should be learning more than just terms and facts about evolution. They should be learning a deep understanding of the underlying ideas. As the AIG commentator put it,

We need to promote true science and teach [students] how to think scientifically . . . not just dump facts at them.

Third, radical creationists should stop using bogus arguments against evolution. These radical creationists agree that those bogus arguments only muddy the waters. As another chimed in,

We wanna make sure we’re not setting up straw men or being fallacious with an evolutionary worldview so when we refute it we refute what they actually believe.

coloring book beginners bible basicsAlso, we can all agree not to poke fun at radical creationists for no good reason. The first image on the GLP evolution-education presentation was of a macho Jesus riding on a scary dinosaur. If you’re interested in American creationism, you’ve probably seen the image. It looks like it comes from a sad creationist coloring book, but in fact it was created by artist Derek Chatwood in 2014 to poke fun at radical creationism. It is not an artifact of American creationism, but rather a clever and cruel insult. The radical creationists objected to the (18:30),

stupid cartoon on the front. I don’t understand why this idea of Jesus riding a dinosaur…they keep using this…. I hate seeing this picture. It’s just a caricature of what creationists believe.

We can all agree on that. We can agree on all these things, and they are big things:

1.) There’s no need to insist on cartoonish misrepresentations of creationist ideas.

2.) Creationists should not make bogus straw-man arguments about evolutionary theory.

3.) Kids should learn more than facts about evolution; they should learn to “think scientifically.”

4.) And evolution education should not try to preach any religious idea to students.

Are we all in agreement about everything? Certainly not. The radicals at AIG insist that evolutionary thinking is itself a religion. It’s not. The radicals want children to learn, in the end, why evolutionary science is inadequate for explaining major changes in species. It’s not. They want to teach children that they must choose between mainstream science and their religion. They don’t.

Those are huge areas of disagreement and we can’t simply ignore them. When it comes to our public schools, however, we have enough agreement to move forward. We can all agree that science class should not mock religion of any kind. We can agree not to focus on fake arguments about the other side, and that students need to learn a deep understanding of the ideas that led to mainstream evolutionary theory.

Can we agree on the rest? No. To create a productive science class, though, we don’t need to.

Lamanites and the Ugly History of Racism at Evangelical Colleges

It must be jarring. Imagine opening the new Sunday-school manual of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and finding cruel racist histories and warnings against racial mixing. It’s not that plenty of white Christians aren’t sincere about fighting racism. But episodes like this show how paper-thin those efforts are, given the nasty history of white racism. It’s not only LDS, by any means. The history I researched in Fundamentalist U shows the same Get-Out-level nastiness in white evangelical institutions.

Here’s what we know: The LDS hierarchy recently apologized for a glaring “error.” (I know, we’re not supposed to use “LDS” anymore, or “Mormon,” but calling it the whole long name every time seems crazy.) The new Sunday-school manual included old language about race, ideas the LDS church no longer teaches. Most shocking, the new 2020 manual says the following:

“The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing,” the book explains, citing a statement made some 60 years ago by then-apostle and future church President Joseph Fielding Smith.

Erm.

Today, a spokesman announced, LDS churches “unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” Good for them. Nevertheless, this episode serves as a reminder of the explicit, official racism that was church policy until very recently. It helps show how inadequate it is to simply promise not to be racist anymore; it helps demonstrate why we haven’t moved beyond our racist history, even if many people would like to believe we have.tisby color of compromise

It certainly isn’t only a problem among LDS churches. I just finally ordered my copy of Jemar Tisby’s Color of Compromise. I’m looking forward to reading it. As I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, many evangelical colleges have an ugly history of racism. These days, even the schools with the most aggressively racist histories have disavowed racism, officially at least. But like the LDS “error,” its legacy is clearly visible. Like the painfully tense garden-party scene in Get Out, the history of institutional racism has been awkwardly papered over, leaving a painfully inadequate no-longer-racism where all the racism used to be.

Just a reminder: Yes, Bob Jones University—like the LDS—issued in 1960 a searing “Biblical” defense of racial segregation. But even up north, evangelical institutions such as Wheaton College and Moody Bible Institute suffered from explicit intentional racism.

bju race statement

Mea culpa, sorta…

At Wheaton, for example, in the 1950s there was only one integrated student club. Ironically, that was the Dixie Club for southern students. As one white Wheaton student later remembered from that era, one African American student seemed to prefer the company of her white southern friends, “even though obviously we represented repression for her in some ways.”

swartz moral minorityAs historian David Swartz described in his terrific book Moral Minority, Wheaton tried hard to become less racist. It led to some strange tensions. One white anti-racist faculty member in the 1960s edited an anti-racist newsletter, Freedom Now. If Wheaton students wanted a copy, they could get one at the campus bookstore, but only by asking for it by name. Copies were kept under the counter.

Wheaton wasn’t the only prominent evangelical school to wrestle awkwardly with its own institutional racism. At MBI, in 1952 an interracial couple was asked to split up. As Dean Maxwell Coder reported internally, he asked them

not to associate on or off the campus in anyway [sic] that would attract attention to themselves as a couple and give rise to criticism . . . because of the racial problem involved.

By 1970, MBI had taken bolder steps to fight its own racist history. In that year, segregationist fundamentalist John R. Rice had been invited to give a prominent talk at MBI. Rice had continued his pro-segregation rhetoric. MBI disinvited him. (For the intensely awkward details, see here. The MBI leaders had a hard time settling on language that would satisfy all parties.)

I recognize and admire the efforts of lots of white evangelical activists who have tackled this racist history, now and in the past. Yet it just doesn’t feel like quite enough. In the end, I agree with one LDS scholar:

The manuals “should have been shredded when this egregious error was found prior to international distribution,” said Jerri Harwell, associate professor in Salt Lake Community College’s English, linguistics and writing studies department. “The money that would have been lost on this is nothing compared to one day’s interest on $100 billion in [the church’s] reserves.”

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Okay, so now that the Packers are out of the playoffs we can see what else is going on in the world. Here are some top stories from last week:

Kicked out for a gay cake. How conservative school leaders can mess up on LGBTQ stuff, at ILYBYGTH.

gay cake

Out, vile monster!

FL teachers march, at TD.

Teachers, parents and their supporters brought downtown Tallahassee to a standstill Monday as they protested what they said has been a systematic attack on public education dating to the late 1990s — when, coincidentally, Republicans took over the Legislature and Governor’s Office.

fl teacher march

Progressive college has to change to survive, at IHE.

“They have a very different vision of what college would be and have different needs,” [President George] Bridges said. “They want to leave Evergreen with a degree they can use in a career, in a market,” and that’s explicable to employers. Students who attended in past decades grew up in a different economic climate, he said, and weren’t seeking such specific outcomes.

RIP, Roger Scruton. Eulogy at AC.

Taking Edmund Burke and Adam Smith as his exemplars in thought, Scruton’s traditionalist conservatism always revolved around his love of place and the need for real and organic community, held together by habit, custom, and experience. All good in society, then, flows from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.

Who is an evangelical? An interview with Thomas Kidd at R&P.

the media has come to discuss evangelicals in a very narrow way. The implication is that, when we use the term, we are talking specifically about white Republicans in the United States. But when you think about the evangelical movement on the world stage, this is very misleading.

Trump’s new guidelines for school prayer. What’s new? Not much, really, for schools, but a reversal of other rules, at WaPo.

Under current regulations, faith-based providers — such as health care entities, child welfare organizations, educational nonprofits — need to give beneficiaries notice of their religious character and their right to get services elsewhere. They also have to make reasonable efforts to refer beneficiaries to another provider if the person receiving services is uncomfortable. . . . The Trump administration announced rules to end the requirement, created under the previous administration.

god-is-my-heroMormon Sunday-school manual accidentally includes racist Mormon history, at SLT.

several early readers of the 2020 “Come, Follow Me” manual were troubled to see a note in one lesson that is a throwback to previous thinking.

“The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing,” the book explains, citing a statement made some 60 years ago by then-apostle and future church President Joseph Fielding Smith.

From the Archives: Protecting Children from Imaginary Threats

Okay, so we know Trump’s recent announcement about protecting student prayer in schools was nonsensical. Students already CAN pray in school if they want. In a different sense, however, Trump’s prayer defense was not only politically savvy, but a continuation of a long tradition of wildly disproportionate responses to non-existent threats. This morning, a few examples from the archives.

Trump prayer anncment tweetExample 1: Harold Rugg’s textbooks, 1939. I’ve read them. In a word, they are bland. Hardly the stuff to inspire violent protests. They were hugely popular in the 1930s, selling millions of copies. In 1939, conservative groups such as the American Legion and National Association of Manufacturers fretted that these books were indoctrinating students in left-wing directions.

What happened? In cities across the Northeast and at least one town in rural Wisconsin, conservatives threatened to pile the books up and burn them.

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Boring…boring…boring from within.

Burning textbooks in an era of Nazi occupation in Europe seems like a remarkably disproportionate response to a popular textbook. So why do it?

Among themselves, Legionnaires warned darkly that Rugg’s books were only the sharp edge of a long-planned socialist revolution. As one Legion activist wrote in a private letter, colleges like Teachers College at Columbia University had become nests of “socialist fanatics” who schemed to use Rugg’s textbooks as part of their plan to subvert American institutions.

roscoe letterWe can only make sense of the violent response to Rugg’s textbooks if we put the story in this imaginary context. In the imaginations of many conservatives, Rugg’s textbooks were an immediate threat to American society as a whole. Destroying them was the only way to protect children from that imaginary threat.

Example 2: Fast forward a few decades and conservatives again responded violently to an imaginary school threat. In Kanawha County, West Virginia, a new set of textbooks was approved by the state. When conservatives previewed the books, they were alarmed by what they saw. School-board member Alice Moore denounced the books as anti-American, anti-Christian, and even simply anti-proper-English.

Local conservatives agreed and they boycotted local schools until the offending books were removed.

The boycott became violent. Schools were firebombed, busses shot, and the school-board building dynamited. Two people got shot along the picket lines.

alice moore posterAgain, seems like a startlingly violent reaction to a fairly humdrum textbook problem. Along the picket lines, however, activists were circulating flyers with shocking language. The quotations were purportedly from the offending textbooks, but the offensive language was not found in the actual adopted textbooks. In the imagination of the protesters, however, it seemed entirely believable that school textbooks in 1974 might really include offensive sexual language. They were willing to take extreme measures to protect children from these threats, even though the threats never really existed.

alice moore again

Ms. Moore makes her case in a crowded 1974 school-board hearing…

We could cite other examples from throughout the twentieth century. When it came to racial integration, for example, attempts to integrate schools from Boston to Oxford, Mississippi were routinely met with ferocious violence.

It’s not surprising to find such violence in educational politics. People care a lot about their kids, obviously. And they care a lot about controlling schools. In this case, though, there’s a particularly virulent form of culture-war violence at play. It’s not only about actual policy, but of imagined threats to an imagined past.

For many conservatives, public schools traditionally included God. And that’s not imaginary–public schools really do have a long history of being dominated by white evangelical Protestants. The history of the twentieth century can be seen as a long struggle to nudge or shove evangelicalism out of its historically dominant role. Integration, school prayer, sexuality, history textbooks…all became symbols of the ever-diminishing clout of white evangelicals in public schools and in public life.

Consider one final example of the unique power of schools in America’s culture-war imagination. Years after the fact, one of the schemers behind the “New Christian Right” in the 1970s and 1980s remembered the issue that got conservative Christians most riled up. As Paul Weyrich recalled, it wasn’t “abortion, school prayer, or the ERA.” Sure, those things made conservatives mad in the 1970s, but they didn’t push conservative Christians en masse to the GOP. The issue that did? According to Weyrich,

Jimmy Carter’s [1978] intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation.

Against this historical backdrop, Trump’s nonsensical protection of school prayer makes a little more sense. Schools play a unique and uniquely influential role in culture-war politics. Even imaginary threats—perhaps especially imaginary threats—get people roused with violent fury.

In that sense, it should come as no surprise that Trump played the school-prayer card. It isn’t sensible policy, but it tends to get people angry. In that sense, it seems like a perfect example of Trumpism in action.