I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Frost on the pumpkins and the Brewers in the playoffs. What could be better? How bout another week full of ILYBYGTH-themed stories from around the interwebs?

More teens are abandoning traditional gender categories, at CNN.

genderunicorn1

What do some conservatives have against the unicorn?

Why are tests so hard to kill? New Jersey struggles to get rid of its common-core tests, at NJ.com.

What color is your Jesus? Three-quarters of white evangelicals still support Trump. Three-quarters of black evangelicals oppose him, at Vox.

Going up for tenure? Don’t bother with public scholarship, says a new survey at CHE.

Why so many Catholics and so few evangelicals on SCOTUS? Gene Zubovich says it’s a matter of school history.

By virtue of their 19th-century separationist anxieties and their investment in institutions of higher learning, Catholics have become the brains of the religious Right in the US.

Moody Bible Institute picks a new leader after a rough year, at CT.

Jerry Falwell Jr. explains why evangelicals love Trump, at The Guardian.

Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been a good, moral person, a strong leader, a tough leader – and that’s what this country needs.

Kirk on campus. No, not that Kirk. A review of Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk’s new book about conservative campus dreams at CHE.

Dirty tricks, done dirt cheap: Arizona Republicans get busted trying to donate $39.68 to their Democratic rivals, posing as communists. At The Guardian.

Advertisements

Can Science Oppose Heresy?

In a sense, it’s as old as Galileo. In another, though, our question today shows the uniquely modern state of our current culture-war climate. Can someone stand up for science by opposing heresy? If we really want to understand culture-war thinking, we need to make sense of the ways they can, even if we don’t agree with them.

ramm science scripture

MUST science denial be heresy?

A conservative lament about gender-bending school policy brings this question to our attention. Ideas about gender fluidity, Margot Cleveland argues, turn otherwise intelligent people into thugs and morons. In her view, insisting that young people can and should be able to identify their own genders is both “science denial and heresy.”

I don’t agree, but that’s not the main point here. More important, I want to know how any idea can do those do things at once. How can an idea—any idea—claim to be both religiously and scientifically orthodox?

For secular people like me, it seems like a contradiction, a paradox. Yet for conservative religious intellectuals, this notion has long been both obvious and vitally true.

After all, in the street-level, Bill-Nye sense of the word, “Science” can’t really care about heresy or orthodoxy. As Neil deGrasse Tyson defines it, “Science” means the opposite of such things. In his words,

Science discovers objective truths. These are not established by any seated authority, nor by any single research paper. . . . Meanwhile, personal truths are what you may hold dear, but have no real way of convincing others who disagree, except by heated argument, coercion or by force. . . . in science, conformity is anathema to success.

Before we talk about Cleveland’s claims about heresy and science, let’s acknowledge a few things to start.

  • First, for the past fifty years or so, philosophers and historians have challenged Tyson’s simplistic definition of science. One person’s voodoo might be another’s science, and so on. Fair enough.
  • And some pundits might say that Cleveland was talking about a merely coincidental agreement between her idea of religious orthodoxy and science. That is, she might be saying that religious orthodoxies about eternal, unchanging, God-assigned gender identities happen to be biologically true as well. She might only be saying people are born with a certain set of sex characteristics and it is not scientifically nor religiously true that they can change their gender identity at will.

Those things make sense to me, but they don’t get to the heart of our dilemma. The interesting question, the difficult question is whether or not heresy and science denial can really go together as a general rule.

When it comes to the questions of evolution, climate change, sexuality, and now gender identity, conservative religious thinkers have long argued that they can. Indeed, that they must. To my mind, it is this point that is most important. If secular people like me want to really understand conservative religious thinking, we need to try harder to understand this logic. To me, it seems obviously false. To many people, though, it is compelling.

It is not only fundamentalist young-earthers who have made this case. Consider the most famous creationist dissenter from young-earth thinking, Bernard Ramm. In the 1950s, Ramm shattered the complacency of fundamentalist science with his blockbuster book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture.

In some ways, Ramm’s anti-young-earth work can be said to have sparked the modern young-earth renaissance. After all, it was in furious response to Ramm that John Whitcomb Jr. penned the young-earth counter-blockbuster The Genesis Flood in 1961.

Ramm denounced young-earth fundamentalist thinking in no uncertain terms. Young-earthers, whom Ramm called the “hyperorthodox,” missed the point of both science and scripture. Ramm explained,

If the theologian teaches that the earth is the center of the solar system, or that man first appeared on the earth at 4004 BC, or that all the world was submerged under water at 4004 BC and had been for unknown millennia, he is misinterpreting Scripture and bringing Scripture into needless conflict with science.

Instead, Ramm argued religious thinkers needed to reclaim their roles as scientific leaders. Real science, decent science, productive science, Ramm insisted, needed to be guided by the “light of revelation.” Without it, science could only be either “cheap or ironical.”

What does any of this have to do with gender-identity curriculum in California or Indiana? The way I see it, we have two ways to interpret arguments like the one made by Margot Cleveland. Either she is saying that religious truth and scientific inquiry happen to agree about gender identity, or she is making the much stronger case that religious truth and scientific truth must always agree about everything.

For those of us outside the world of conservative religious thinking, this second argument is very difficult to comprehend or even to recognize. Many of us default to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s heresy-promoting vision of true science. If we want to understand our religious friends and neighbors, though, we need to understand a world in which heresy is the very heart of science denialism.

If You Don’t Teach about It, Will It Go Away?

Nothing is touchier than teaching young kids about sex. A new bill in South Dakota’s state senate illustrates the painfully deep culture-war divide we face on this topic. Progressives like me think teaching young kids about sexual identity and gender identity can save lives and create a more equitable society. Some conservatives think it warps minds and turns children into homosexuals or transgender people. But just like evolution and US history, the real divide isn’t over what to teach, it’s over how to teach it. The real issue, as always, is not sex or evolution or history, but TRUST.

Here’s what we know: A bill in the South Dakota senate would simply prohibit schools from teaching elementary students about transgender identity. It’s brief:

No instruction in gender identity or gender expression may be provided to any student in kindergarten through grade seven in any public school in the state.

This is the first bill of this sort, but it joins a group of similar bills about teaching sexual identity. As the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports, those laws, sometimes called the “no-promo-homo” laws, are in effect in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. They prohibit teaching positive messages about homosexuality to young students.

And, as SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, it’s the “positive” part of the subject that is the trickiest. As we’ve seen in these pages time and again, conservatives mobilize to block certain books and ideas that hope to teach children that homosexuality is perfectly natural and wholesome.

PACE 1107

Image from PACE 1107.

But it’s not the case that conservatives don’t want their children to learn about homosexuality. In fact, even the most ardent fundamentalists teach their children about sexual identity and gender identity. The staunchly conservative Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, for example, includes a lot of information about homosexuality. For example, children will read the following:

Some people mistakenly believe that an individual is born a homosexual and his attraction to those of the same sex is normal. Because extensive tests have shown that there is no biological difference between homosexuals and others, these tests seem to prove that homosexuality is a learned behavior. The Bible teaches that homosexuality is sin. In Old Testament times, God commanded that homosexuals be put to death. Since God never commanded death for normal or acceptable actions, it is as unreasonable to say that homosexuality is normal as it is to say that murder or stealing is normal.

Now, this is a fairly extreme attitude toward homosexuality; most conservatives wouldn’t want their children learning this sort of idea either. Accelerated Christian Education is only popular among a certain subset of religious conservatives. However, when even those most anti-gay-rights conservatives teach their children explicitly about homosexuality, we see that the problem isn’t the topic, but the approach.

The problem, I think, for many conservative activists is a deep and abiding mistrust of how schools will teach young children about these issues. Conservatives (not all, but it gets repetitive to keep writing “some,” so I’ll shorten it from here on out to “conservatives”) worry that schools will indoctrinate young children with pro-gay, pro-trans messages.

To be fair, those fears are well-founded. Most educational programs that I’ve seen really do hope to foster a sense that homosexuality and transgender are healthy ways to be a person. To cite just one example from my adopted home state of Wisconsin, activists staged a reading of the controversial book I Am Jazz in order to help trans students feel “safe and accepted.”

Indeed, the intention of such books and curricula is precisely to help young people see sexual identity and gender identity in a non-traditional light; the goal is to help everyone accept non-traditional gender identities and sexual identities as healthy and normal. The kind of gender-identity education I support doesn’t just teach students neutral facts about gender. It really does hope to help young children see sexuality and gender identities as variable.

i am jazz

What should children learn about gender identity?

And, to be double fair, if the shoe were on the other foot, I would protest as well. That is, if children in public schools were learning ACE’s message about homosexuality, I would do everything I could to block it.

In South Dakota, and likely in other states soon as well, conservatives are hoping to ban a topic they can’t control. They worry that any instruction about transgender issues will turn into an attempt to indoctrinate young minds. They fret with good reason that progressives hope to get young children to accept non-traditional gender identities and sexual identities. In the end, conservatives don’t trust the public schools to teach their values, so they simply block certain topics altogether.

“Conservative Thought” or “Bigotry”? A Conservative Professor Makes Waves

Is it “conservative” or “bigoted” to express skepticism toward sensitivity training about transgender people? About sexual-harassment investigations?

Steven Hayward finds himself facing these questions as he completes his one-year position as visiting professor of conservative thought at the famously left-leaning University of Colorado at Boulder. ILYBYGTH readers may remember the program that brought Hayward out to Boulder. Conservative critics of the university had complained that the school did not include any conservative intellectual presence. As a result, outside political pressure pushed through the program to welcome a series of one-year visiting professors to the campus. The hope was that these prominent conservative intellectuals would spark debate and a more profound sense of intellectual diversity.

Steven Hayward

Steven Hayward

Predictably, the sparks have begun flying. Hayward has been accused of bigotry. His representations of conservative thought, he has charged, have been said to “‘border’ on ‘hate speech.’” In response, Hayward declared, “they’re welcome to fire me if they want.”

What’s the issue? Hayward publicly questioned university policies about sexual harassment and gender sensitivity training. In an interview and an editorial a few weeks back, Hayward asked if the CU philosophy department was really guilty of sexual harassment. In his editorial, Hayward compared the investigation to a witch hunt:

Unquestionably philosophy is among of the most male-dominated disciplines in universities today, but inviting outside review by the American Philosophical Association’s (APA) Committee on the Status of Women was guaranteed to produce a finding as predictable as the Salem Committee to Investigate Witchcraft in 1691. The irony of this situation is the unacknowledged reversal of the presumption of “privilege” that was at the heart of the original (and justified) feminist complaint about sexism a generation ago. While it may still be justified in the case of academic philosophy, it should not be beyond question whether mere statistical “underrepresentation” should be regarded as prima facie evidence of guilt, and therefore allowing the APA report to assert damning findings about the whole department while disclosing virtually no concrete facts.

And recently, Hayward poked fun at campus sensitivity trainings. New faculty at Boulder, as at many college campuses, must attend a session geared toward increasing their awareness about transgender sensitivity. What pronouns should we use when addressing students? How can we avoid unintentional offense to those who do not fit into neat traditional gender divisions? Hayward dismissed this sort of training as “gender-self-identification whim-wham.”

Students reacted with predictable fury. “Bigotry is not diversity,” proclaimed student editorialists Chris Schaefbauer and Caitlin Pratt. In Hayward’s breezy dismissal of the complaints of sexual harassment in the philosophy department, Schaefbauer and Pratt charged, he engaged in the worst sorts of “victim-blaming.” In his dismissive comments about sensitivity toward gender-identity issues, Hayward “invalidate[d] the lived realities of transgender individuals and mock[ed] the LGBTQ community as a whole.”

The kerfuffle has raised some important questions about intellectual diversity and culture-war politics. Is it possible for a university to include a diversity of opinions? Or is there a need for inclusive environments to police any ideas that challenge that sense of inclusivity?

As we’ve seen recently with the case of Brendan Eich at Mozilla, some issues seem to include less wiggle-room than others. It is widely considered “bigotry” these days to oppose same-sex marriage. But I would suggest, in spite of what some conservative intellectuals have asserted, that it is not seen as bigotry to oppose abortion. It might be seen as “bigotry” to make fun of non-traditional attitudes toward gender identity, but it is generally not seen as bigotry to press for lower taxes or more free-market solutions to social problems.

Can a university include a diversity of opinions about sexual-harassment policies? About gender-sensitivity training? Or, to paraphrase one pithy conservative commenter on Hayward’s blog, have birkenstocks become the new jackboots?

It wasn’t a tough call to predict this sort of situation. Back when Hayward was announced as the first Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought at Boulder, your humble editor made the following guess:

this experiment seems certain to degenerate into the most fruitless sort of culture-war grandstanding.

It’s not very satisfying to be proven right when the case was so clear. It can be depressingly difficult to engage in discussions that cross culture-war trench lines.

Conservative thought has always struggled with accusations of bigotry. By framing themselves as defenders of tradition and traditionalism, conservative intellectuals have put themselves in the position of defending the gender and racial hierarchies that were part and parcel of those traditions. Perhaps most famously, conservative intellectual guru William F. Buckley supported segregationism in the 1950s. Though Buckley later repudiated those views, we must ask a difficult question: Will conservative intellectuals always have to defend yesterday’s traditions?

And, on the other side, student leftists have struggled with accusations of hypersensitivity. It is not difficult to lampoon campus activists. Students preach diversity while sometimes demonstrating a stern intolerance toward ideas that ruffle their feathers.

Is this just a question of irreconcilable cultural politics? Will conservative intellectuals continue to outrage leftist sensibilities? Or is there some way to find agreement about the definition and value of intellectual diversity across the culture-war trenches?

 

Christian School: Be a Girl

Does an eight-year-old girl have the right to like traditionally “boy” things such as baseballs and short haircuts? Or, more precisely, is she permitted to cause confusion about her gender identity among her fellow students? Not if she wants to attend Timberlake Christian School in Virginia.

Does this story represent an outrageous outlier along the fringes of Christian education, or is this typical of the strictly gendered worldview of conservative evangelical Protestantism? Here at ILYBYGTH, we try not to rush to assume the worst about conservative schooling. In this case, however, it seems the school really did push Sunnie to be more of a girl.  And prominent evangelical intellectuals are willing to defend this decision as central to the cultural politics of conservative evangelical Protestantism.

According to a story by James Gherardi at WSET TV in Lynchburg, Virginia, eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle likes to have short hair. She likes to dress in jeans and t-shirts. She likes to play outside. For all these reasons, school administrators at Timberlake Christian School worried she was not acting enough like a girl. To be more specific, they worried about student confusion. Apparently, a group of boys had attempted to pull Sunnie into a boys’ bathroom.

It seems this is not a case of a student who chooses to identify as a different gender than the one she has been assigned. Sunnie agrees that she is a girl. She just likes to have short hair and play outside in the mud. Her fellow students think she acts too much like a boy and insisted she use the boys’ bathroom instead of the girls’ room.

School administrators worried that Sunnie’s dress and behavior did not match the school’s gender standards. As principal Becky Bowman told Sunnie’s guardians (her great-grandparents) in a letter,

we believe that unless Sunnie as well as her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education.

For their part, Sunnie’s great-grandparents insist they will not accommodate the school’s demands. Sunnie is just fine, they insist. They pulled her out of TCS and enrolled her in the local public school.

For those of us outsiders trying to understand conservatism in education, we have some questions we need to ask: Does the attitude of TCS represent the thinking of many other conservative evangelical Protestants? Would other Christian schools have acted similarly? Or was this an outrageous exception, a story that garnered international attention precisely because it was so outlandish?

As we’ve noted in the past, conservative Christians have long worried about loosening gender norms in schools. School bathrooms, specifically, have been a hot-point in these school-gender deliberations. Can students who were identified as one gender at birth, but who choose to identify as another, use bathrooms of their chosen gender? That is, can a student who was called a “boy” at birth but who calls herself a “girl” use the girl’s room? This has been a concern far beyond the reaches of Timberlake Christian School.

And significantly, Mat Staver of Liberty University School of Law has waded into this controversy. Staver has announced that Liberty will represent the nearby Christian school. This issue, Staver announced, “is far beyond a simple ‘hairstyle and tomboy issue’ as inaccurately portrayed.” The support and involvement of Staver and Liberty University makes it appear as if this issue represents something widespread among conservative evangelical Protestant educators.

For their part, the school clarified its position. This was never about hairstyles or clothing, they insist. Nor was Sunnie every kicked out of the school. Rather, this was in line with the school’s duty to create and maintain a Christian environment. As the school explained in a public statement to the Roanoke Times,

Parents and guardians send their children to the School because of our Christian beliefs and standards. We have a duty to create an environment that is supportive of these Christian values. We cannot have conflicting messages or standards because such conflict will confuse our students and frustrate the parents and guardians who have entrusted the education of their children to us.

When elementary children and their parents or guardians express concerns regarding use of the restroom and other matters arising from the sensitive issues here, the School has a duty to address those concerns and to ensure that all interests are heard and protected in accordance with the Christian mission of the School.

At least according to these sentiments, this episode was more than just an over-hyped miscommunication. The school really did insist that Sunnie make her gender identity clearer to other students. And school administrators really did envision this as part of the central mission of the school.

But note also that the school was not the gender-monolith we might think. According to Sunnie’s great-grandmother Doris Thompson, Sunnie’s kindergarten teacher worried about Sunnie’s gender identity. But Sunnie’s first-grade teacher did not. Then again this year in second grade, the issue cropped up once more. It seems the teachers at TCS have different attitudes themselves about the centrality of gender identity to proper Christian education.

So what’s the connection between gender identity and conservative Christian schooling?   It seems the attitudes of Timberlake Christian School administrators represent widespread feelings among conservatives. Girls must be clearly girls. Boys must be clearly boys. This is not just a question of haircuts and blue jeans. This is a more profound question of public behavior and gender expectations.  At TCS, traditions of gender behavior and identification have become a central part of non-negotiable theological principles.

 

Help! My Teacher’s a Girl Now!

Do young children need to be protected from transgender teachers?

Ryan T. Anderson thinks so.  And in his argument, he joins a long conservative tradition of insisting on special culture-war protections for children.

Anderson, a prominent voice in the anti-gay-marriage coalition, argued recently in the pages of the National Review that transgender teachers would force young people to wrestle prematurely with issues of sexuality and gender identity.

His argument came in the context of his opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would make it illegal for some employers to discriminate against gay or transgender people.

In Anderson’s opinion, this is not the latest civil-rights bill.  Sexual identity and gender identity, Anderson argues, are self-identified and self-defined, unlike race.

Perhaps most compelling, Anderson thinks, this bill might force elementary schools to employ men who used to be women, or women who used to be men.  It would force children, Anderson says, to know too much too soon.

As he put it,

Issues of sex and gender identity are psychologically, morally, and politically fraught. But we all ought to agree that young children should be protected from having to sort through such questions before an age-appropriate introduction. ENDA, however, would prevent employers from protecting children from adult debates about sex and gender identity by barring employers from making certain decisions about transgendered employees.

Although ENDA includes some exemptions for religious education, it provides no protection for students in other schools who could be prematurely exposed to questions about sex and gender if, for example, a male teacher returned to school identifying as a woman.

Anderson’s argument about age-exemptions for culture-war issues echoes a traditional theme among educational conservatives.  On the issue of evolution, for example, many conservative intellectuals of the first generation of fundamentalists argued that evolution could fairly be taught, but only at the college level.

As I argued in my 1920s book, this seemingly moderate view was held by some of the most vituperative anti-evolutionists.

William Jennings Bryan, for example, the Bible-believing man-of-the-people who stood up for the Bible at the Scopes Trial, repeatedly insisted that evolution should be taught, but with proper regard for the intellectual maturity of students.  In colleges, it should be taught as an influential theory about the origins of life.  But in primary grades, students must not be taught that evolution was the simple and only truth.

Even the hot-headed polemicist T. T. Martin, author of the relentless Hell and the High Schools, didn’t insist that evolution must be utterly banned from all schools.  In a 1923 speech, Martin suggested a new set of “graded books, from primary to university.”  These books could introduce evolutionary ideas gradually, until at last for the most mature students the books would present “fairly and honestly both sides of the Evolution issue.”

Martin's Booth at the Scopes Trial, 1925

As Anderson’s recent argument about transgender teachers makes clear, the notion that young people in school must enjoy special protection from threatening ideas still has punch in today’s culture-war debates.  Conservatives have long insisted that children must be protected from premature exposure to issues of sex and origins.