I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Believe it or not, Labor Day is already here. Time to put away those white shoes, fellows. It has been a hectic last week of summer here at ILYBYGTH. Here are a few stories of interest that you may have missed:

Are some cultures better than others?

Love means never having to say you’re sorry: Trump pardons Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

At The Gospel Coalition, an open letter from Christian scholars denouncing racism.

Are white evangelicals more racist than Christian?

The problem with “privilege.” Jeffrey K. Mann wants us to look beyond race and gender.

What happened to all the Christian bookstores?

Yes, you read it correctly: Reese Witherspoon will be playing the role of a defector from the “God-Hates-Fags” Westboro Baptist Church.

Where are all the sinister atheists who are trying to undermine Christian America? The Trollingers couldn’t find them at the American Atheists Convention, from Righting America at the Creation Museum.

Family sues NYC schools over their son’s “gender expansive” preference for dresses. The school accused the parents of sexual abuse.

Vouchers and stealth vouchers: The Progressive offers a guide to the wild and woolly world of public-school funding options.

What should conservative evangelicals think about gender and sexuality?

Only in New York: A Brooklyn school principal accused of recruiting her students into the communist movement.


Yoga in School? Yes, No, Maybe So

Is yoga a religious practice?  Can it be taught in public schools?

Here at ILYBYGTH, we’ve been following the story in Encinitas, thanks to contributions from Natalia Mehlman Petrzela.  In that case, the judge said yoga was okay, in spite of the powerful argument made by religious studies scholar Candy Gunther Brown.

Today three evangelical writers weigh in at Christianity Today.  Can yoga be part of public education?

Laurette Willis says no way.  Yoga, she warns, turns children’s minds towards the “idols” of Hinduism and Buddhism.  Even if the practice is taught in a secular, physical way, it instills in young children “warm fuzzies” about Hindu imagery and theology.

Matthew Lee Anderson says, “It depends.”  If it is taught as physical exercise only, then it should be fine.  If it is used to proselytize for Hinduism, then no.

Amy Julia Becker says bring it on.  Yoga as physical exercise should be encouraged in public school.  What’s more, yoga as spiritual exercise should also be encouraged in public schools.  It is important for people of all religious faiths, Becker argues, to insist on the rights of children to engage in spiritual practice in public schools, as long as that practice is student-initiated and student-led.  Just as evangelical Christian students insist on their right to form public-school prayer groups, so evangelical Christian groups should insist on the rights of students of other religions to form their own spiritual groups.


In the News: Anti-Fundamentalist Hate Crime?

FRC President Tony Perkins.

According to a story from Religion News Service, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins accused the Southern Poverty Law Center of inciting a hate crime against them on Wednesday.  The irony is beyond painful.  The SPLC has long been a leading voice identifying and condemning right-wing hate violence.  Is Perkins’ accusation a mere stunt? Or does the SPLC have to acknowledge its role in this crime?

On Wednesday, Floyd Lee Corkins II allegedly entered an FRC office in Washington DC and shot unarmed security guard Leo Johnson in the arm.

FRC President Perkins blamed the SPLC for inciting this violent act.  Perkins claimed,

“Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations as hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy.”

The SPLC has, in fact, accused the FRC of some despicable actions.  According to the SPLC, the FRC demonizes homosexuality.  FRC leaders, according to the SPLC, have publicly advocated the expulsion of all homosexuals from the USA.  The FRC, according to the SPLC, has also equated homosexuality with pedophilia.  These are not insignificant claims.

As Chris Lisee reported for Religion News Service, the alleged shooter had been an activist at some local gay-rights organizations.  Even more curious, he had been carrying a large bag of Chick-fil-A sandwiches.  The symbolism seems unmistakeable.  After all, given the recent culture-war dust-up over Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, a gay activist might not usually purchase fifteen sandwiches from the chain.  Fox News claims that just before opening fire,  Corkins said, “I don’t like your politics.”

So was this an anti-fundamentalist hate-crime?  Can the SPLC be held accountable?  The SPLC’s Mark Potok called the FRC claim “outrageous.”   Other gay-rights organizations quickly condemned the shooting.  Potok’s defense makes an important point.  The FRC shooting was a tragedy, Potok claimed, but Perkins was cynically taking advantage of this event to claim a “false equivalency” between the FRC and other victims of hate crimes.

Nevertheless, Perkins’ accusation raises important questions.  As we’ve seen with other recent culture-war violence, such as the deadly shootings at the Sikh temple near Milwaukee, the dangers of escalating America’s culture war are real.  Language that demonizes the opposition hurts us all.  The solution must be more along the lines of Matthew Lee Anderson’s and John Corvino’s response to the Chick-fil-A affair: we must talk to one another.  Openly, honestly, and even painfully and awkwardly, if necessary.  We don’t need to agree, and we must avoid the false solution of merely papering over our disagreements.  But we must also all agree–as most groups do in this case–that violence is not part of these discussions.

Required Reading: A Summer List from Matthew Lee Anderson

If we want to understand most people, we just need to look at the car they choose to drive and the clothes they choose to wear.  But if we want to understand smart people, we should look at the books they choose to read.

For this Fourth of July holiday, Mere Orthodoxy‘s Matthew Lee Anderson has offered a terrific list of his summer reading picks.

From Unpacking My Library, Steven Pinker’s bookshelf

As Leah Price noted recently in Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books (Yale University Press, 2011), book collections say a lot about an intellectual life.

Of course, not every book lover is necessarily a brainiac (See figure 2).  But Anderson’s list demonstrates some of the intellectual richness of today’s conservative evangelical Protestantism.  His picks include some new releases that will likely be of interest mainly to evangelicals themselves, such as Fred Bahnson’s and

Figure 2: Ol’ Blue Eyes sounding it out.

Norman Wirtzba’s Making Peace with the Land or Richard J. Mouw’s Talking with Mormons.  But it also includes titles that promise to help outsiders understand the intellectual culture of Fundamentalist America, such  as Roger Scruton’s The Face of God and Amy Black’s Honoring God in Red or Blue.  And it  features new books of interest to all, such as Andrew Delbanco’s College and a new translation of the Bhagavad Gita.

We here at ILYBYGTH are going out to celebrate our nation’s birth by blowing up a small piece of it.  But after that, we’ll hunker down with Anderson’s list and do some summer reading.

Required Reading: Shields and the Civility of the New Right

Another reason to spend time at Mere Orthodoxy: Matthew Lee Anderson today shares his interview with Jon Shields.  Shields is the author of The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.  Even if you don’t have time to spend with the whole book, it is worth taking a few minutes to read this interview. 

Shields elaborates on the thesis of his book, viz., that the incivility of the Christian Right has been overplayed by journalists looking for a good story.  Using interviews and a participant-observer method, Shields found that such headline-grabbing fury did not fairly represent the movement.  As Shields notes in this interview,

If one looks at Christian radio personalities or at direct mailings or at fringe organizations, belligerency is quite common. The media picks up on these latter examples partly because they are somewhat more visible, partly because they make for more interesting stories, and partly because of the sociology of the newsroom itself. So the media has identified real incivility in the Christian Right.

Of course, such distortion takes place all over the political and theological spectrum.  In my research into the history of conservative educational activism, I find that conservative writers and pundits also relied on the tactic of the hyperbolic example.  For example, the early Soviet-friendly statements of John Dewey or George Counts are often used by conservatives to demonstrate that all of progressive education is nothing but a communist plot. 

It seems to return us to the central dilemma of America’s ballyhooed culture wars.  Even though most people–even people politically, culturally, and theologically committed on issues such as abortion or gay rights–prefer to act in civil, “small-d” democratic ways, the fevered punditry of voices on each side dominate the headlines.  One religion-bashing quip by Richard Dawkins, or one minority-bashing pronouncement by Glenn Beck, does more to define the two sides than thousands of people working quietly and politely to promote their vision of America.


Required Reading: Matthew Lee Anderson on Non-Culture War Conservatism

“Why do the angry people get all the attention?” 

That was one of those audience questions that has stuck with me.  It was at a talk about the history of American creationism I gave a while ago to an audience of (mostly) committed students of biological evolution.  I had included one of my go-to bits from the aggressive atheist Richard Dawkins.  I often explain my purpose in studying conservative religion in American public life as a quest to deflate Dawkins’ 1986 warning: Anyone who does not believe in evolution, Dawkins insisted, must be “ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”  Though I don’t believe in creationism, I think many people who are not ignorant, stupid, or insane do believe it.  Our talk turned after that to the prominence of mean-spirited, angry culture warriors.  Why do such voices get all the attention, when most of us, whatever our beliefs, would prefer a respectful dialogue?  

Yesterday at Mere Orthodoxy, Matthew Lee Anderson posted another in his series on what it would take for conservative religious Americans to create a post-culture war persona.    

Anderson suggests “four moves” that would move the public engagement of conservative religious Americans in healthier directions:

1) Recover a robust doctrine of creation that is isn’t afraid to be doctrinal.

2) Emphasize the moral imagination and attempt to construct arguments that both appeal to and buttress it.

3) Remember that the church does not simply engage the culture, including politics, but is a culture and so has her own political order.

4) Reframe American exceptionalism around America’s responsibilities rather rather than its virtues. 

As Anderson admits, some of these moves might just be restatements of the goals of the last two generations of culturally engaged evangelicalism.  Carl Henry’s call in 1947 for a “progressive Fundamentalism with a social message” comes to mind.  But for those of us from the outside, those of us trying to understand conservative religion in American public life in order to take away some of the power of all the “angry voices,” understanding Anderson’s moves (and his supporting reading lists) might be a good place to start.