R-E-L-A-X…

Is the sky falling for evangelical colleges? Rod Dreher says yes. I say no.

Dreher is responding to a recent NPR piece describing the tensions at evangelical colleges over student sexuality and gender identity.

As the article describes, colleges aren’t sure what to do. For many conservative evangelicals, homosexual practice is unacceptable. But so is rejecting and harassing Christians. To Dreher, the conundrum is proof that evangelical colleges—like all evangelical institutions—need to take drastic Benedictine steps. As Dreher puts it,

the environment in which traditional Christian colleges and educational institutions work is rapidly changing: politically, legally, and culturally. We cannot count on anything anymore. . . . Somehow, faithful small-o orthodox Christians have to figure out how to educate within this hostile new heterodoxy. We will have to form new institutions, ones built to be resilient in the face of anti-Christian modernity.

Sounds scary. But as I argue in my new book about the history of evangelical higher education, this predicament is nothing new. To the contrary, this dilemma has been the driving force behind evangelical higher education for a hundred years now. Consider this plea from Dean Lowell Coate of Marion College, c. August, 1923. Mainstream higher ed, Dean Coate fretted, had been taken over by “evolution, destructive criticism, and liberalism.” What evangelicals needed, Coate insisted, was to

ignore the whole worldly system, and organize courses independent of the world’s stereotyped curricula, engage the strongest conservative scholarship in America, raise the educational standard above the present unchristian philosophy, stablish [sic] it upon ‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints,’ and then challenge the world to meet the new scholarship.

Guess what? It worked. The fundamentalist movement of the 1920s set up a startlingly successful network of colleges, universities, seminaries, and institutes. Evangelical colleges have faced the challenge of rapid change for almost a century and they have always found a way to remain true to both their religious mission and their academic aspirations.

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Is the sky falling? Yes, but it has been falling for over a century now…

Now, as SAGLRROILYBGTH are tired of hearing, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not evangelical, nor am I personally invested in evangelical higher ed. If I were, though, I would listen to Aaron Rodgers and not Rod Dreher. The challenges faced by schools today are serious and dire—but they are not more serious and dire than the challenges that have always confronted evangelical academics.

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Free to Discriminate?

Does a creationist have the right to free speech? That’s the question we’ve been wondering about here at ILYBYGTH lately, ever since arch-creationist Ken Ham got bumped from a talk at the University of Central Oklahoma. News from state legislatures brings up another campus challenge: Do student groups have the right to discriminate?campus-protest-getty-640x480

First, the update, thanks to Donna: According to Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis organization, he has been re-invited to UCO. Apparently, Ham will talk on campus, then move to a nearby church for a Q&A.

Today, we’ve got an even trickier free-speech/free-assembly question to examine. Should student groups be forced to abide by university anti-discrimination rules? Even for their own leaders? Americans United for Separation of Church and State lists a burgeoning new crop of state laws that would force campuses to make exceptions.

In Virginia, for example, a state senate subcommittee unanimously approved a new bill that would allow student groups to discriminate in their leadership choices. Emphasis added below:

Establishes several provisions for the protection of expressive activity on the campus of each public institution of higher education, including (i) permitting any individual who wishes to engage in noncommercial expressive activity on campus to do so freely, as long as such expressive activity does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the public institution of higher education and (ii) prohibiting any public institution of higher education from (a) denying a student organization any benefit or privilege available to any other student organization, or otherwise discriminating against a student organization, on the basis of the expressive activity of the members of such organization or (b) restricting a student organization’s ability to require any leader or other member of such organization to affirm and adhere to the organization’s sincerely held beliefs, comply with the organization’s standards of conduct, or further the organization’s self-defined mission or purpose.

Why do some conservatives see the need for such bills? As SAGLRROILYBYGTH may recall, evangelical groups on campus have been under fire for the past few years. Intervarsity, for example, has been derecognized on many campuses. Why? Because the group requires its leaders—not members, but leaders—to agree to its statement of belief. And that statement of belief includes traditional definitions of sexual morality.campus-free-speech-720

Conservative religious folks have long fretted about these definitions of discrimination and inclusion. Why can’t conservative evangelical student groups insist that their leaders share their ideas?

The rub comes once again with the question of university support. Speakers on campus are generally free to do whatever they want, short of issuing threats or starting riots. People can talk their heads off in public areas. There have been important exceptions, as when one professor physically attacked an anti-abortion speaker on the campus of UC-Santa Barbara. campus free speech berkely republicansIn Ken Ham’s case, he wasn’t merely speaking on campus. He was sponsored and promoted by the student government. Some student groups objected to university sponsorship of a speaker that they saw as beyond the pale of legitimate public speech.

Liberal critics make the same case against these student-group laws. In AU’s opinion, such laws are a travesty. As they put it,

Religious freedom is the right to believe—or not—as we see fit. It doesn’t include a right to discriminate—and especially not while using taxpayer dollars or using the tuition fees of the very students who are being excluded. Religious student groups, of course, still have First Amendment rights on campus. They have been able to access school facilities for their meetings and use school bulletin boards to advertise their events like any other group. But they don’t have the right to force public universities to subsidize discrimination. If student groups want to discriminate, they shouldn’t receive public university recognition, tuition fees, or state taxpayer money to do so.

What do you think? Should student groups be free to discriminate? Should public money support student groups that discriminate?

Is Creationism Hate Speech?

It wasn’t about evolution or creationism. When a student group at the University of Central Oklahoma rescinded a speaking invitation for radical-creationist impresario Ken Ham, it wasn’t the biology or geology departments that had protested. Rather, it was women’s groups and LGBTQ+ organizations that objected to Ham. The controversy in Oklahoma points to a central problem for religious conservatives, one that all the bluster about “free speech” only obscures.

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Ken Ham’s organization makes no secret of its anti-homosexuality opinions.

I’m no conservative, but if I were I would not care as much about college speaking invitations as I would about the much-more-important real reason why Ham’s talk was canceled.

Before we get into that, though, let’s clear out a few of the distracting issues. Ham has protested that he had a contract in place and that the university “reneged.” The university says no contract was in place, only an invitation. We can remain agnostic on that question—the central issue here isn’t one of legal contracts, but of moral and social commitments.

Let’s also remember that this case doesn’t involve creationism as a whole, but only one form of creationism. Ham’s organization promotes a specific young-earth version that I’ve been calling “radical” creationism. As I argue in my current book, too often pundits equate radical creationism with creationism as a whole. It’s always important to remember what creationism really is and what it isn’t. As a whole, creationism certainly can’t be equated with Ken Ham’s ideas. For now, though, let’s move on to the central issues in this particular case.

Ham insists that his free speech rights were denied. But were they? Ham still plans to give a speech in the same town, at a nearby church. No one took away Ham’s right to speak, only an invitation to appear at a university-sponsored event. To use an intentionally inflammatory analogy, pornography is not allowed in public-school libraries, but that does not mean pornographers have lost their rights to free speech.

Today, though, such questions of contracts and free speech rights are not what we’re going to focus on. Instead, let’s look at a tougher question. Let’s examine the confusing language at the center of this case. Ham has protested with justification that his banishment violates the university’s stated goal of “inclusivity.”

The local creationist pastor who had invited Ham to Oklahoma quoted angrily from the university’s policies:

UCO claims that it “is committed to an inclusive educational” environment, and in its “Campus Expression Policy,” the university declares that it “is committed to fostering a learning environment where free inquiry and expression are encouraged. The University is a diverse community based on free exchange of ideas.”

If the tax-funded university is committed to diversity and inclusion, the pastor asked, why did it exclude the different ideas of Ken Ham?

For its part, the university and affiliated student groups would likely explain (and for the record I’d agree) that “inclusivity” on a pluralist public campus must always exclude certain notions. Those who do not agree to the fundamental ideas of social equality can’t be included. If someone at an open public meeting refuses to let other people speak or to acknowledge other people’s rights as citizens, that person will be ejected. His or her rights to be included have always been premised on the condition that he/she recognize the same rights for all other members of the community. Whether you agree with it or not (I do), that exclusionary rule has always been central to the idea of “inclusivity.”

In the end, it was not creationist science that moved Ken Ham beyond the pale of civil speech, but rather his ideas about sexuality. As I was reminded recently on my trip to the Ark Encounter, a primary commitment of Ham’s creationist ministry is an insistence on the illegitimacy of homosexuality. In the eyes of Oklahoma protesters, Ham’s stance against same-sex marriage removes Ham from the circle of legitimate civic participants. By hoping to take away other people’s rights to participate equally in society, the argument goes, Ham has torn up the social contract and pushed himself out of the circle of civic rights, including the right to have his speech welcomed at a pluralist public institution.

If I were a radical creationist—and I’m not—I wouldn’t join Ken Ham and his allies in protesting about free speech rights. There is a larger issue that conservative Christians are losing—the right to have their ideas about sexual morality included in the list of legitimate opinions for public forums and institutions.

The free-speech issue, IMHO, is only a symptom of a much more profound loss by religious conservatives. In this case, Ken Ham didn’t have his rights to speak freely taken away. He still plans to speak in the same town. He is free to invite whomever he likes. He is free to say whatever he likes.

The big question, I think, is not whether or not radical creationists are allowed to speak freely. The big question, rather, is whether or not conservative Christian ideas about sexuality are still included in the list of legitimate political opinions. In this case, at least, they are not…not even in Oklahoma.

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.

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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.

Hookers for Jesus; or, Fundamentalists on Valentine’s Day

Well…didn’t Jesus hang around with tax collectors and prostitutes? Former sex worker Annie Lobert is promoting her new book, Fallen: Out of the Sex Industry and into the Arms of the Savior. She told The Christian Post recently that romance—real romance—should start and end with the love of Jesus Christ. It prompts us to ask a central but awkward question: Are evangelicals really all that different from the rest of us when it comes to love and sex?

To those of us outside the circle of evangelical Christianity, this sort of religion-ized sexual tell-all can seem like a cheap way for sexually repressed evangelicals to get their jollies. Time and again, as an outsider observing conservative religious culture, conservatives’ attitudes seem like nothing so much as a “health” lecture at a strict Midwestern high school in 1953.

But is that fair?

The pages of evangelical magazines exploded recently with comments about Fifty Shades of Grey. Evangelical women were scolded for reading the book, which one writer condemned as “a written form of pornography, plain and simple.” Other conservatives offer visions of what real Christian romance is, what Fifty Shades of Grace might look like.

To me, such huffing and puffing sounds downright embarrassing. Are conservative Christians really still so flustered over sex that Fifty Shades of Grey can cause such hand-wringing? But then I remember that silly flouncing over FSoG is not at all limited to evangelical culture. Americans as a whole seem to share the desire to half-condemn and half-giggle at the goings-on between the covers of FSoG.

Certainly, non-evangelical writers have also condemned the cartoonish sex and romance of the FSoG movie. And who can forget Saturday Night Live’s funny-because-it’s-true parody of Americans’ goofy obsession with the book?

In my current research, too, I’m struggling to figure out how much fundamentalist sexual angst is different from the sexual angst of mainstream culture, and how much it is largely the same. The archival record at evangelical colleges and universities is full of real anguish over questions of proper courtship and sexuality.

You’ll have to wait for the book to read the full stories, but from one college I find a 1950s story of a gay divinity student who faked his own death to escape from the condemnation he felt as a gay fundamentalist. Faked his own death. And escaped to a new life in Texas. From the 1940s, I read a bittersweet diary of a college student who agonized over her choice of future spouses. She did not feel much attraction for one potential mate, but as she wrote to her mother, a campus speaker turned her around. This speaker told of what true Christian romance should feel like. In this speaker’s case, God

showed him that God’s intent is for the man to be a special means of communicating his love to the woman, and vice versa. It is like the offerings of honey and frankincense. The honey is natural sweetness, and is never to be burned. It stinks. It cannot stand the test of fire. But frankincense smells sweeter the hotter the fire. So the natural love and the divine. His natural love for Irene ebbed and flowed, rising and falling with the state of his soul. But God’s love, in Christ, through Bill, to Irene, was constant—a thing of divine origin and purpose, pure and living. What a revelation!

For this young woman in the 1940s, the fact that she did not feel much actual attraction for her future husband became swathed in layer after layer of indecipherable religious enthusiasm.

To me, that seems awfully odd. As does faking one’s own death and secretly absconding to Texas. But I ask myself: in the 1940s and 1950s, how different were these fundamentalist feelings about sex and courtship from those prevalent in non-fundamentalist America?

Certainly, in the 1950s, almost no one felt comfortable living openly as a homosexual. In the 1940s, the romantic experiences of young heterosexual couples on secular college campuses reeked of unhealthy layers of this or that cultural imperative.

And now, conservative evangelicals fuss and fume about proper sex and relationships.  But so do the rest of us.

To put it bluntly, the question is not: How sexually messed-up are evangelical Christians? Rather, the question is: Are evangelical Christians notably MORE sexually messed up than the rest of us?

The Kids Are Alright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Persecution, Mozilla, and Gay Rights

Who is the bully? Who is the victim? Is it former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich? Or is it the many LGBT people who might not have equal marriage rights?

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard the story by now. Co-founder and former Chief Technology Officer of Mozilla Brendan Eich recently resigned from his new job as Chief Executive Officer. Why? In 2008, he donated $1000 to support California’s Proposition 8. The Proposition would have banned same-sex marriage. His donation caused such a backlash against Mozilla that Eich resigned.

Throughout the furor, Eich made conciliatory noises about the values of diversity and tolerance, but he did not abjure his political beliefs against gay marriage. For many in the tech community, such beliefs are tantamount to bigotry and politicized hatred. To be against gay marriage, for many folks (full disclosure: I include myself in this group), implies a willingness to deny equal legal rights to a category of people. This is the very definition of bigotry. Such a position, pro-gay-marriage activists insist, is akin to denying people the right to marry across the race line.

In short, by opposing gay marriage, Eich defined himself as a bully and a bigot. To oppose gay marriage, many felt, puts Eich and his ilk beyond the pale of civil society.

In the conservative intellectual community, of course, the shoe is on the other foot. Conservatives insist that the bullying is being done by the pro-gay-marriage crowd. How is it “tolerant,” conservatives ask, when successful business leaders are forced to step down strictly because of their political beliefs? The bigots here, conservatives argue, are those who won’t allow a true intellectual or political diversity. The real bullies, conservatives say, are those who won’t allow for any disagreement with their worldview.

As usual, one of the most perspicacious articulations of these positions came recently from Princeton’s Robert George. In the pages of First Thoughts, George argued the case that the victims here were religious folks. Anti-Eich-ism, George asserts, threatens to squeeze religious folks out of the public sphere entirely. As Professor George puts it,

Now that the bullies have Eich’s head as a trophy on their wall, they will put the heat on every other corporation and major employer. They will pressure them to refuse employment to those who decline to conform their views to the new orthodoxy. And you can also bet that it won’t end with same-sex marriage. Next, it will be support for the pro-life cause that will be treated as moral turpitude in the same way that support for marriage is treated. Do you believe in protecting unborn babies from being slain in the womb? Why, then: “You are a misogynist. You are a hater of women. You are a bigot. We can’t have a person like you working for our company.” And there will be other political and moral issues, too, that will be treated as litmus tests for eligibility for employment. The defenestration of Eich by people at Mozilla for dissenting from the new orthodoxy on marriage is just the beginning.

Are conservatives the victims here? Is it legitimate political activism to oppose same-sex marriage? Or is it bigotry and intolerance?

 

Lesbians and Libraries: We’re All Victims Now

The recent fuss over Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mothers’ House has followed a familiar pattern.  First, a mother from conservative Davis County, just north of Salt Lake City, complained when her daughter brought the book home from her school’s library.  The book celebrates a family with two mothers and three children.  Next, the school district decided to keep the book, but put it behind the library counter.  Students would need a parent’s permission to check out the book.  Finally, the American Civil Liberties Union sued, claiming the book must be freely available for all students.

In this case as in so many others, both sides rushed to insist on their own victimhood.

Both sides make the customary arguments.  The ACLU fights for First Amendment freedom.  In the words of one ACLU blogger,

“Removing library books because they ‘normalize a lifestyle that parents don’t agree with’ or contain positive portrayals of LGBT protagonists violates the First Amendment rights of all students to access ideas in a school library on a viewpoint-neutral basis.” 

Conservative Christians claim the books are part of a widespread conspiracy—the “homosexual agenda”—to teach children in public schools that all sexual lifestyles are equally valid.  In this case, opponents of the book cite Utah law, which they say forbids school curricula that promote homosexual lifestyles.

Just as predictably, both sides depicted themselves as the victims.  Consider the author’s defense.  Polacco, writing on the ACLU’s blog, told the story of the book’s origins:

“One year I was visiting a fourth grade class and the teacher had arranged for me to hear essays that her students had written entitled: ‘My Family.’ . . . one little girl stood up and began to read. She was immediately asked to take her seat by an aide. The aide said scornfully, ‘No dear…you don’t come from a real family…sit down!’

“This child came from a family of two mothers and two adopted siblings. I was so appalled and insulted on that child’s behalf that I immediately, after school that day, went back to my hotel room and wrote, In Our Mothers’ House.”

From the other side, one commenter on a conservative Christian website asked, “Does the ACLU also require that Bibles be on the shelves!”  Another lamented, “Law suit by law suit [the ACLU] are coarsening the moral fabric of America, and our children are the victims!”  A third chimed in, “I don’t hate these people [i.e. homosexuals] & if they want to live this way that’s their business but don’t try to push it on the rest of us!! God help them!!”

Clearly both sides in this school-library dispute focus on their own victimhood.  The ACLU insists that hiding such books behind library desks hurts families.  Polacco argues that treating some families as illegitimate hurts children.  Conservative Christians, for their part, worry about the creeping influence of the ACLU.  Conservatives fret that they have no voice in public institutions.  Their books, most notably the Bible, have been “kicked out,” while books that denigrate traditional lifestyles and morals are promoted.

Neither side publicly notices their own strengths.  We will not hear conservative Christians gloating over the Christian-friendly policies of this Utah school district.  Nor will we hear ACLU types celebrating the power and influence of their national watchdog presence.

Does the rush to victimhood matter?  Only in the sense that a cornered animal fights the fiercest.  By reassuring ourselves that we are the true victims, we condone any escalation in culture-war rhetoric or strategy as a matter of simple self-defense.  If we are all victims, we all have the moral high ground; we all have license to fight dirty.

Schools, Sex, and the War that Isn’t

Sex in our Public Schools is in the news again.  How about this for a headline: “No One Cares”?

It doesn’t promise to get a lot of readers.  But it seems the closest to the truth in this case.

Here’s the story: Thirteen public high schools in New York City will now dispense free contraceptives to high-school students, including the morning-after “Plan B.” As reported by the New York Times and the New York Post, the pilot program, Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health, or CATCH, will supply students with free condoms, birth-control pills, and/or the morning-after pill.

According to the NYT, the new program has not caused any of the traditional controversy.  Only 1-2% of parents returned an opt-out form.  Yet the headlines from more conservative media have emphasized the outrageousness of the new program.  Glenn Beck’s The Blaze declared, “File this one under ‘controversial.'” Fox News’ headline announced, “Parents not told NYC schools dispensing morning-after pill.”

But is a program controversial if it doesn’t raise any controversy?  We are remined of Ben Justice’s terrific 2005 book The War That Wasn’t.  Justice examined nineteenth-century discussions in New York about religion and culture in public schools.  In most cases, Justice argued, “the warfare thesis” does not explain the way schools really work (9).  People usually resolve their disputes about schooling peacefully and even amicably.

That might be the case here.  However, simply because only a small minority of parents have opted out does not mean that most parents support the program.  It might simply mean that parents are not aware of the program.  Or that parents are not aware of their opt-out option.

After all, the fact that very few families complained about prayer and Bible reading in 1960s schools does not prove that such policies were uncontroversial.  It simply means that school policies often fly under the radar until enough parents and activists complain.  In this case, we might still get a public debate over the propriety of issuing birth-control pills to high-school students.  This certainly seems to be the hope of editors at The Blaze and Fox News.

NEW TOPIC: Family & Sexuality

What makes up a family?  What is the right way to have sex?  Fundamentalist America has strong feelings about these questions.  For many outsiders like me, conservative opinion on these issues is truly perplexing.  If it is “conservative” to want a smaller government, for instance, why is it also “conservative” to regulate all the sexual behavior in all the bedrooms in the country?  If Fundamentalist America wants strong families, why do they deny same-sex partners the rights to marry and raise healthy, happy children?  Even more foundationally, why does Fundamentalist America even care if people are gay, straight, or otherwise curved?  How does it stop a conservative Christian from following her religion if other people have sex in ways she doesn’t like?

For the next several weeks, ILYBYGTH will explore these questions.  Posts will fall into three basic categories:

  • The fights against same-sex marriage;
  • Notions of sexuality; and
  • Contraception.

Just as we’ve done with the topics of creationism, traditionalist education, and the Bible, our goal will be to present the best possible arguments from Fundamentalist America.  Our goal as outsiders will be to understand conservative thinking on these issues, not to attack or defend it.

This will certainly be tricky.  It is much easier to speak calmly and dispassionately about such things as evolution, John Dewey, and Bible apocalypses than the intimate relationships that make up family life.  Attacks on homosexuality, for example, come much closer to home for many people on both sides of the issue than, say, denunciations of evolution.

One more reminder: when we talk about “Fundamentalist America” here at ILYBYGTH, we mean something wider than simply those very conservative evangelical Protestants who might call themselves small-f fundamentalists.  We are talking here about a broad conservative, traditionalist impulse, shared among many different types of conservative people.  Conservative Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims may all be part of this sweeping interpretation of FA.  Indeed, even mainly secular people who favor traditional society may include themselves as part of this coalition.

The purpose of ILYBYGTH is to understand the ideas of this deeply conservative tradition in America.  You can help.  Share your experiences, comment on posts, ask questions.  Even with this intensely personal and highly emotional topic, we’ll resolve to talk calmly, respectfully, and with a sincere desire to understand, even if we can’t agree.