Sex Ed Begins at Home: Halloween Edition

It’s Halloween, which means that the past 11 and ¾ months have been spent squashing my children’s dreams about their costumes. Nothing violent, nothing gory, nothing sexy, nothing racist, nothing that promotes warmongering or imperialism, nothing homemade unless you do it yourself and it must be done at least three days prior to avoid a meltdown at 6 pm on October 31, nothing expensive, nothing made by children in a factory in Bangladesh, nothing flammable, no latex masks (allergies), and, this year, no clowns, as per school rules.

My children are relatively kind, culturally-aware kids, so this isn’t too hard, though the fact that we have a family friend who is a children’s clothing designer (and her kids have super rad costumes) makes my refusal to help sting a little, so I try to make it up in other fun ways that don’t involve me ever going on Pinterest, which is far worse for my self-esteem than Cosmo or Women’s Health. My daughter was considering dressing up as a geisha but worried it might be racist. (If you don’t go in yellowface, you’re probably fine.) before she settled on Flo, the fictional spokesperson of Progressive insurance.  That took us to the local costume store, where we began the search for a costume not made by slave labor.

It was fruitless, of course (and though Flo’s costume is relatively simple, it would have required me to buy a button maker), so we turned to alternate choices. My daughter made a list—Greek goddess, rag doll—before we strolled the aisle to help us stay focused. Even so, we soon found ourselves confronted by the sexualized costumes for little girls.

Two years ago, we’d struggled to find a Dorothy costume that was appropriate, so this wasn’t a new issue, and my daughter was quick to comment. And, to be clear, her comments weren’t about the girls but about the costume makers, who “don’t seem to realize that it’s COLD on Halloween,” in my daughter’s words, and also “they need to remember that girls want to play in these clothes after Halloween, and that doesn’t look like you can do a cartwheel in it without everyone seeing your undies.” She walked down the aisle, comparing the “boy” and “girl” versions of each outfit, noting the boy versions were “like pajamas” so you could stay warm and the girl versions were miniskirts and corset-style tops. (This is why last year’s Robin Hood costume was the boy version.) Walking through the section of the store for grown-ups was even worse. “Sexy police officer, sexy inmate, sexy nun, sexy nurse, sexy vampire, sexy cowgirl,” she ticked off as we wended our way through the store. “Dominatrix.”

Errrk. That was the sound of every head in the store swiveling to see what little angel voice noted the dominatrix costume. This wasn’t a sex store, after all, but a costume and party supply shop. Here was the costume:


HOT S.W.A.T., available at a costume shop near you

So, it’s not a dominatrix but a “Sexy S.W.A.T” officer, a woman. (Of course. The men’s S.W.A.T. costume involved a riot shield, not fishnet stockings.) But that was hardly the point. The question was why a 9-year-old knew and was using this word at all, much less so nonchalantly. The startled looks told me that there was something wrong with that kind of knowledge and confidence.

But, actually, what’s wrong is sexy Dorothy, sexy Robin Hood, sexy Little Bo Peep, sexy Little Red Riding Hood, sexy Pikachu, sexy vampiress, sexy pumpkin, sexy clown. It’s doctor costumes for boys and nurse costumes for girls. It’s Johnny Reb costumes and blackface. It’s a S.W.A.T. officer who could easily be confused for a dominatrix.

What’s right is that the day before, my daughter had read a political cartoon that included a Bettie Page reference. She handed it to me right when I walked in the door from work, asking me to explain it to her. Why was this woman dressed like that? And why was she holding a paddle and saying she was going to spank that man?


Bettie Page, Pin Up Queen and occasional BDSM model

This is how it’s supposed to be. A kid sees something they don’t understand about sex. They ask their parents. They ask because they trust us to answer them accurately and honestly. If your kids aren’t asking you about sex, there is already a problem, because kids have questions. Answer quickly, honestly, and accurately so that they know they can always ask you. You’re a better source of information than their friends or the internet. If you’re not, you need to be.  And you need to trust your child—that if they’re asking you the question, they can handle the answer.

So I explained the comic:

Is pain ever a little bit fun?

Like when you snap Dad with a towel in the kitchen?

Or when he pinches me on the behind.

Yeah, that would be mean if you told him not to do it, but since you said it was okay, it’s okay. Because you know he loves you and he’s being loving, even if pinching is mean in other cases.

Exactly. There are some people who think spanking feels good, and they include it as part of sex.

But only with permission?

Yep. And sometimes women dress up in these costumes—see the fishnet stockings and the paddle?—as part of that. They’re called “dominatrixes,” and Bettie Page was probably the most famous one. She had hair like this, with these bangs, and she was a model for a lot of calendars, wearing costumes like this one.

So the joke is funny because this CEO says he’s willing to be punished for being greedy, but he doesn’t think that getting spanked by a woman in a sexy outfit is really punishment after all?

You got it, kiddo.

That was it. No need to talk about BDSM, dungeons, Catherine Robbe Grillet, snuff films, or the horrible writing of 50 Shades of Grey.  Safer than a Google search, less damaging than a dodge or a lie. But, most of all, it told her that it’s always okay to ask me questions about sex, that I’ll always answer her in ways that are appropriate and accurate. It confirms her trust in me—and it makes me feel more assured that she’s keep coming back with her questions.


The comic panel that started the conversation: July 28, 2008’s Opus. A CEO enters our hero’s bedroom from his anxiety closet, confessing that capitalism can be saved if greedy fatcats like himself are properly punished. In the final panel, his “punisher” arrives to discipline him. 

We settled a Greek goddess costume. It was labeled “Venus,” the Roman goddess of love, but my daughter modified it to be Hera, the Greek goddess of women.

  • Hera.jpg
Hera, wife of Zeus, whose symbols are the cow, the lion, the peacock, and the pomegranate

This girl is doing alright.


Reading Round Up: Hate Studies edition, October 28, 2016

It’s not quite a “Reading Round Up” in the usual sense, but I wanted to share with the books that will be reviewed in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Hate Studies. As guest editor, I was fortunate to work with some outstanding reviewers for the issue. I hope you like what they share:

Stephen Sheehi, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Chair of Middle East Studies, Professor of Arabic Studies at the College of William and Mary, on Christopher Bail’s Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream (Princeton 2016)


Sondra Perl, professor of English at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and director of the Holocaust Educators Network, on Dan McMillan’s How Could this Happen? Explaining the Holocaust (Basic Books 2014)


Matthew Hughey, professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, and Bianca Gonzalez-Sobrino on Beyond Hate: White Power and Popular Culture by C. Richard King and David J. Leonard (Routledge 2014)


Monique Laney, assistant professor of history at Auburn University, on The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men by Eric Lichtblau (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2014)


Lisa King, assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, on Alex Alvarez’s Native America and the Question of Genocide (Rowman & Littlefield 2014)


Doretha K. Williams, the project director of the District of Columbia Africana Archive Project at George Washington University, on A Forgotten Sisterhood: Pioneering Black Women Educators and Activists in the Jim Crow South by Audrey Thomas McCluskey (Rowman & Littlefield 2014)


Together, they remind us of the excellent work being done in hate studies and the importance of continued interdisciplinary scholarship in the field. I’m grateful for their intellectual generosity.

JHS is searching for book, film, and exhibit reviewers for the next issue. If you are interested in sharing a review, please contact me at with the title and a short statement of your qualifications (A brief CV is fine for those who are in higher ed.). The list below includes some of the books JHS is interested in reviewing, but it is not exhaustive; if a new (June 2016-June 2017) book, film, or exhibit of interest to readers in hate studies is on your reading list, consider sharing a review of it. If you are an author or publisher with a book that you think would be a good fit for the journal, please let me know. And if you are reader who wants to see a particular book, film, or exhibit reviewed, share that, too. The journal is particularly interested in promoting books by scholars from Latin America, South America, Asia, and Africa and books by and about people of color, women, queer people, and other historically marginalized populations. We especially appreciate established scholars who generously highlight the work of new authors, and we welcome reviews written jointly by senior scholars and advanced PhD students.

  • Acting White? Rethiking Race in Post-Racial America by Devon W. Carbado and Mitu Gulati
  • Class, Race, Gender and Crime: The Social Realities of Justice in America by Gregg Barak, Paul Leighton, and Allison Cotton
  • Collaborating Against Human Trafficking: Cross-Sector Challenges and Practices by Kirsten Foot
  • Drones and the Ethics of Targeted Killing by Kenneth R. Himes
  • Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in our Daily Lives by Howard J. Ross
  • Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and Its Threat to Democracy by Cherian George
  • Jim Crow’s Legacy: The Lasting Impact of Segregation by Ruth Thompson Miller, Joe R. Feagin, and Leslie H. Picca
  • Our Promised Land: Faith and Militant Zionism in Israeli Settlements by Charles Selengut
  • Projecting 9/11: Race, Gender, and Citizenship in Recent Hollywood Films by Mary K. Bloodworth-Lugo and Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo
  • Religion, Politics, and Polarization: How Religiopolitical Conflict is Changing Congress and American Democracy by William V. D’Antonio, Steven A. Tuch, and Josiah R. Baker
  • Reluctant Witnesses: Survivors, Their Children, and the Rise of Holocaust Consciousness by Arlene Stein
  • School Shooters: Understanding High School, College, and Adult Perpetrators by Peter Langman
  • Seeing White: An Introduction of White Privilege and Race by Jean Halley, Amy Eshleman, and Ramya Mahadevan Vijaya
  • The Dynamics of Radicaliiztion: A Relational and Comparative Perspective by Eitan Y. Alimi, Charles Demetriou, and Lorenzo Bosi
  • The Historical Uncanny: Disability, Ethnicity, and the Politics of Holocaust Memory by Susanne C. Knittel
  • The Human Right to Dominate by Nicole Perugini and Neve Gordon
  • The Long Defeat: Cultural Trauma, Memory, and Identity in Japan by Akiko Hashimoto
  • Violence, Inequality, and Human Freedom by Peter Iadicola and Anson Shupe
  • White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology edited by Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
  • White Privilege and Black Rights: The Injustice of U.S. Police Racial Profiling and Homicide by Naomi Zack
  • Whitewashing the South: White Memories of Segregation and Civil Rights by Kristen M. Lavelle

“Hate and Heritage,” on its way

I just wrapped up editing a special issue of the Journal of Hate Studies, an interdisciplinary endeavor of the Institute for Hate Studies at Gonzaga University. I proposed “heritage and hate” as the theme for a self-serving reason: I wanted to better understand the pro- and neo-Confederate movements, the continuing calls for secession, and the cultural heritage of Arkansas, where I’d be living for three years and working as a professor of sociology at Arkansas State University.  I figured that one way to do that was to find scholars working on those themes and bring their work into conversation.


Southern Confederate Heritage Park, located in Jonesboro, Arkansas, home of Arkansas State University. I was traveling out of the area when the shootings in Charleston, SC, happened. Would these flags, which fly in a private park in Jonesboro, be removed? No.

It worked, and I’m so grateful for what I learned from the contributors. Of course, they addressed concerns beyond the American South (though we have great article about the South and Confederate heritage), to Zimbabwe, Ireland, and Poland, using different methodologies and theoretical orientations to illuminate an interesting and important set of cases and questions. I couldn’t be happier with the results—or with the process, which allowed me to connect with scholars from around the world in a truly international effort.

Article contributors to the forthcoming issue are:

  • Christopher M. Strain, professor of American studies at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University
  • Deborah Cunningham Breede, professor of communication, Coastal Carolina University
  • Christine S. Davis, professor of communication studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Jan Warren Findlaw, associate professor of public health sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Njabulo Chipangura, curator of archaeology at the Mutare Museum in Zimbabwe
  • Tom Maguire, Senior Lecturer in Theatre Studies at Ulster University
  • Kevin McCarthy, independent scholar and author of Robert Briscoe: Sinn Féin Revolutionary, Fianna Fáil Nationalist and Revisionist Zionist
  • Brett A. Barnett, associate professor of communication at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania

 The issue will be out before the end of the year. If you would like a copy, visit the JHS website.

The journal is currently searching for a guest editor for the 2017 issue. If you are interested, please be sure to visit the JHS website for details. Proposals for the 2017 theme are due November 1.

“The 4th R”–Religion in the Classroom–now available

I’m so pleased that NEA’s Thought & Action has published my article “The 4th R: Encountering Conservative Christianity in the Classroom.”  The article considers what assumptions many of our conservative Christian students–particularly evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants–bring with them about higher education and shape their experience of learning in college. It draws specifically from some of my teaching in sociology in Arkansas and Kansas. Plus, I finally get to talk a little bit about God’s Not Dead. I hope you find it useful.

NEA is a union for educators, including those who teach in higher education. As this past week’s strike in Pennsylvania showed us, unions play an important role in insuring high quality education for students and a safe and dignified workplace for those in education. You can join the NEA if you are a public educator, or you can make a one-time gift to the NEA Fund if you are an NEA member or a family member of an NEA member. If you read “The 4th R” and like it, please consider an NEA donation or even membership to support the work of the union’s peer-reviewed journal Thought & Action or, as always, a donation to your local public university or k-12 school.

Why the Christian Right Wants King Donald

Since the release of Donald Trump’s sexually violent comments about women surfaced two weeks ago, the conservative Christians who have been among his most reliable supporters have been struggling with what to do. Many of them long ago bought into a Hillary Clinton who is “the devil”—some literally believing that she is satanic. They’ve constructed “a woman who stands against everything they believe in,” according to an email that Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins sent to supporters last week encouraging them to vote for Trump. Some are backing third party candidates, which has given Independent Evan McMullin a possible opening in Utah, where Mormons were among the early defectors from the GOP. Others are arguing that Hillary Clinton, despite being pro-choice, will actually do more to reduce abortion than Trump. Others are continuing to defend Trump as choice for conservative Christians by turning to some troubling uses of Scripture.

We’re voting for a president, not a Sunday school teacher, complain Religious Right supporters about critics who call the Religious Right hypocritical for throwing its support behind a pornography-promoting, philandering, gambling magnate. (They mostly ignore his racism and anti-Semitism, though some of them are quiet or active supporters of these kinds of bigotry.)   Instead, they are voting for the viable candidate who claims to support the key points of their agenda: the appointment of conservative Supreme Court Justices, the curtailment of abortion rights, the promotion of “religious liberty” laws that will permit religiously-inspired discrimination against LGBT people.

All of these hopes, of course, rest on the premise that President Trump would either keep his promises or be sufficiently competent as a leader to see them implemented. Given his temperament, history, and skill set, this is unlikely.

And even if he did, none of these promises would necessarily result in the outcomes conservative Christians want. As much as folks try to whip up voter anxiety that if the political opponent wins we’ll be stuck with justices who will ruin the nation, Supreme Court Justices are remarkably independent. For example, Chief Justice Roberts, appointed by George W. Bush, wrote the decision that upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare. Our abortion rates are at about their lowest levels since Roe, though higher than pre-Roe, and, as in other nations, harsher abortion laws (which are mostly implemented at the state, not federal, level) haven’t prevented abortions—better birth control has. In states that have seen tightened restrictions, such as Texas, illegal abortion is increasing. In other words, the law doesn’t have as much impact on actual abortion as conservative Christians might assume. And in terms of gay rights—the battle was largely won prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefull. By the time the Court recognized the legal right of same-sex couples to marry, the majority of Americans already supported that right. Those in the minority on the issue deserve to have their right to disagree protected, and it has been in cases that have found their way to court so far.

In short, Trump isn’t likely  to keep these promises and even if he does, they aren’t likely to dictate the future of the Supreme Court, reduce abortion, or protect religious freedom. (Indeed, Trump’s attacks on and threats against Muslims are a violation of the principle of religious freedom that should make conservative Christians, especially Baptists, shudder.) So why do they stick with him?

Conservative Christians have been invoking Biblical narratives to explain how they can vote for a candidate whose entire life has been—and promises to continue to be—in violation of their ethical standards. Unsurprisingly, Jerry Falwell Jr. made the comparison to King David, a comparison that has been critiqued widely by Christian and Jewish voices, such as Rabbi David Wolpe. When king, David made huge mistakes, culminating in the callow murder of a faithful military leader after David, probably figuring that “[w]hen you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Whatever you want,” impregnated the man’s wife. But even conservatives aren’t buying that argument Trump is a David; he story didn’t begin with a calling by God to fight for his people, and he shows no sign of true remorse for his repeated exploitation of those weaker. Indeed, these are points of pride for him. When confronted by the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel with his sins, David recognized them and accepted the consequences. Trump has never asked God for forgiveness, and he will not be rebuked or corrected by the consequences of his actions, which include violence and terrorism.


The prophet Nathan tells King David a parable about a rich man who steals the only little lamb of a poor man, a man who loved the lamb so much that “it shared his food, drank from his cup, and even slept in his arms.” What should happen to to the rich man? David is moved by the story and announces, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die!”  Then Nathan reveals to David his own sin in murdering Uriah in order to steal his wife: “You are the man!” Clearly not an “Alpha Male” in the world of Donald Trump.
Nathan and David by Peter F. Rothermel. 

In the same way, Trump is no Samson, the hero of Judges 13-16 who carelessly traded away his strength and, as a result, wound up as a circus act. In arguing that Trump is God’s candidate, Grandstand News argues that we might be treating Trump as a clown but, just as God used Samson’s buffoonery to knock down the pillars of the arena where he was on display, killing all those laughing at him, so, too, might God use Trump to lay to waste all of God’s enemies. The argument that God will use Trump to kill Democrats (which, to be fair, Grandstand News doesn’t say explicitly but just implies) makes Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” sound like the Gettysburg Address. But here are conservative Christians, making it, again ignoring Samson’s backstory—that he was dedicated to God before birth and gifted by God with supernatural strength. If Samson erred in his faith by cavorting with Delilah, he at least had a faith in which to be grounded. Trump has none. Voting for him with the hope that his foolishness will destroy the country is a sign of the sick cynicism that drives too many conservative Christian voters.


Samson loses his strength after his affair with Delilah and is captured by enemy Philistines. They blind him and force him to grind meal. Biblical historian Donald Trump’s verdict? Total loser!
Samson Grinding Grain in Chains after being Blinded and Imprisoned by the Philistines in Gaza.Undated print.

Some in the Religious Right, originating, it seems, with charismatic Christians, are calling for a comparison to King Cyrus, referenced in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1-6; Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1,13; Daniel 1:21, 6:28, and 10:1; and (for Eastern Orthodox Christians) 1 Esdras 2.  In the widely-read and influential Charisma magazine, Lance Wallnau explains “Why I Believe Trump is the Prophesied President,” rooting his argument in the story of Cyrus.

Don’t remember Cyrus? It’s probably because he’s not a hero of the Jewish or Christian faith per se, though the Persian king is a hero to them. According to (my very simple retelling of) the narrative the Hebrew Bible, the nation of Israel cycled through a series of shorter- (Saul, Ishbaal) and longer-term (David, Solomon) kings before splitting into northern and southern kingdoms. The northern kingdom is eventually conquered by Assyria, resulting in the exile of the people, and 135 or so years later, in 587 or 586 BCE, the southern kingdom is taken by Babylon. Times are bad for the people who had had such high hopes in Saul, David, and Solomon.

Then, in 539, King Cyrus the Great saves the day. The Persian king allowed more than 40,0000 Jewish people to return to their homeland, led by with religious to establish a theocratic state, still tied politically to Persia and without its own king. Though Cyrus is hailed for advancing human rights dramatically, his purpose wasn’t entirely altruistic—Cyrus wanted someone to develop the area and send resources back to the Persian empire. But one consequence was the rebuilding of the temple and a reawakening of the faith, including the development of a more exclusive faith—one that, for example, prohibited intermarriage.

Cyrus is like Trump in that both are outsiders to the people they claim to save. Cyrus wasn’t a Jew, and Trump isn’t a Christian. In fact, Cyrus didn’t save the Jews because he cared about Jews, exactly, just like Trump doesn’t care about Christians. The salvation Cyrus delivered was a side effect of his desire to expand his own power. The glory that Trump promises Christian voters—the glory that only he can restore to them, he says—isn’t a result of his love for them or for God; it’s their reward for giving him power.


Cyrus meets an untimely end. According to one version of the story, told in Herodotus’s Histories, Cyrus sought to expand his empire into Central Asia by marrying Queen Tomyris. When she refused his offer, he tried to take her kingdom by force–and trickery. He set up a camp of his weakest soldiers and a lot of wine, which was unfamiliar to the Empress’s forces. After her men slaughtered his, they got drunk–and that’s when Cyrus sent in his more competent soldiers to kill them. The Empress’s son, a military leader, survived the battle but killed himself from the shame of the loss. Seeking revenge, Empress Tomyris leads troops into battle herself against Cyrus. Her forces defeat his, and she searches for his dead body on the battlefield. When she finds it, she slices off his head and puts it into a wineskin of blood, declaring, “I warned you I would quench your thirst for blood, and so I shall.” Donald Trump accuses this battle of being “rigged.”

Head of Cyrus Brought to Queen Tomyri by Peter Paul Rubens

Conservative Christians leaders are clear-eyed about his. He’s the one who will best promote our interests, says Perkins. Jerry Falwell, Jr. gives a thumbs-up to Trump’s campaign in front of a framed copy of Playboy that has Trump on its cover and says not to worry about Trump’s ideas about sexuality because he’ll give us Justices who defend traditional sexual values. They’re on board with Trump because they hope he’ll be their King Cyrus.

Authoritarianism appears to be a strong predictor of support for Trump, whose vision for America looks a tad fascist, and conservative Christians are prone to authoritarianism, including in childrearing and in their vision of God.

If conservative Christians are digging through their Old Testaments looking for models of leadership, they might remember that God never wanted to give the people a king. The early nation of Israel used a system of judges—including a woman!—who were appointed to leadership.  But some of the people looked to their neighbors, who had hereditary kings, instead of judges and were jealous. A king meant consolidated power, national strength that they could see embodied in a symbol for the nation. A king means a bloodline and national identity that can be traced through blood, with those without the right “blood” subjected to injustices ranging from second-class citizenship to genocide. They approach Samuel, their last judge, who shares with them God’s warning about kings: they reign over you, forcing your children to fight senseless wars and to support those wars with their labor; they “take the best” of your efforts and property, even going so far as to enslave you. Samuel warns in 1 Samuel 8:18: “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”


Deborah was the only woman judged named in the Hebrew Scriptures. “A nasty woman!” according to Donald Trump.
Deborah’s Song of Triumph by Gustav Doré

Not surprisingly, things didn’t go well with a king. Cyrus may have eventually “saved” them, but it was from a problem that originated with their desire for authoritarianism. And it wasn’t for their own good but for his.

The troubling question isn’t whether Trump is a David (no), a Samson (no), or a Cyrus (no). It’s why so many religious conservatives want a king.






How Lazy Theology and Discipleship Made Trump the Evangelical Choice

The 2016 Republican primary should have been a smashing success for the evangelical Christians who comprise the core of the Religious Right, that coalition of social and political conservatives who ground their politics in conservative faith. After being asked for years to support Episcopal, Methodist, and Mormon candidates, they finally had a roster of firmly conservative, born-again Christians to choose from: Ted Cruz, whose father preaches a prosperity gospel message, and who yearns for the apocalypse to begin; former Texas governor and megachurcher Rick Perry; Seventh Day Adventist (which is troubling for some evangelicals, though not as troubling as Mitt Romney’s LDS faith) Ben Carson, whose election would finally prove that they’re not racist; former pastor Mike Huckabee, or Southern Baptist Lindsey Graham.* And instead, they chose Donald Trump, a man whose primary interest in church has been as a place to start an extramarital affair.

Or did they?


Donald Trump’s most important experience in a church was starting an affair with his second wife, Marla Maples. They would rendezvous  at Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan.

Photo from WikiCommons.

Post-primary analysis suggests that, yes, people identifying as evangelical Christians overwhelmingly voted for Trump, which gave him significant victories in states like Arkansas (where I was a primary voter), Mississippi, and Alabama. Indeed, every evangelical-heavy state except Texas (Cruz’s home), Kansas, and Oklahoma was won by Trump.

But were these voters, like, real evangelicals?

Further analysis suggests that a significant number of people who identify as born-again, evangelical Christians are pretty lousy at it. They have relatively little knowledge about their faith (or other religions too, for that matter) and are not very devout; that is, they don’t know it, and they don’t practice it. They have been derisively called “NASCAR Christians”—people who show up at church when it doesn’t interfere with a race. More thoughtful, committed evangelicals—the ones who are quick to point out that they voted for Carson or Cruz in the primary—are a bit frustrated with their co-religionists.

Philip S. Gorski is more careful with his language in contribution to The Immanent Frame. In “Why Do Evangelicals Vote for Trump?” he argues:

Trumpism is a secular form of religious nationalism. By “religious nationalism,” I mean a form of nationalism that makes religious identity the litmus test of national belonging. By “a secular form of religious nationalism,” I mean one that strips religious identity of its ethical content and transcendental reference. In Trumpism, religion functions mainly as a marker of ethnicity.

And later:

[T]he advent of Trumpism marks a worrisome turning point in the history of the already worrisome ideology. Loosed from its religious moorings, religious nationalism now floats free of the ethical tether of Christian ethics and political theology with a would-be messiah clinging to that frayed rope. Secular progressives have often wished for the demise of religious conservatism. They imagined that a reasonable form of secular conservatism would take its place. This now looks like wishful thinking.

This presidential race isn’t the first time that these folks have tarnished the image of the evangelicals who actually show up to church on Sunday. In 2014, Jennifer Glass and Philip Levchak published an article in the American Journal of Sociology that examined divorce rates in the context of religiosity. Turns out that, in general, states that were more densely conservative Protestant also had higher rates of divorce. (This, in turn, means that states that are more politically conservative also have higher rates of divorce. Indeed, states that were early adopters of same-sex marriage have, in general, have much lower rates of divorce.)

Now, in considering these results, we must avoid the ecological fallacy (assuming that the people within those highly religious states who are divorcing are themselves highly religious). It could be that the highly religious folks of Arkansas and other states are not divorcing at a fast pace but that the minority of residents who aren’t highly religious are making up for it. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that divorcing nonbelievers live in a state with a lot of believers. Indeed, conservative Christians were quick to defend themselves by saying that those who attend church regularly are less likely divorce than those who don’t, that religion, when done right, can be a protective force against divorce.

Which gets back to the divide between those evangelicals who are trying hard at faith and those who aren’t, between the faithful Cruz/Carson voters and the voters for Trumpism. They’re not “real” evangelicals just like the many divorced people of heavily born-again states aren’t–at least that is what the more pious evangelicals are arguing.

Now, I don’t feel too bad for the faithful evangelicals. Just as the GOP has relied on racists, misogynists, and other kinds of bigots to boost its power and now acts aghast at their demands for control, pious evangelicals have allowed their theology to get watered down to the lazy faith of the Sinners Prayer and lazy applications of the doctrine of once-saved-always-saved in order to wield political clout. The result is a large swaths of the evangelical population who don’t just drink your beer when no one is looking but who are confident that they all they have to do is say some magic words (“Call upon the name of Jesus, and you will be saved!”) to be a Christian. For a group that has historically criticized Catholicism for being vacuous and rote, this is a bad, bad thing. But it worked to boost their numbers—and mobilize voters whose politics are justified by faith.

But it’s bad for people as well as for faith. “Cultural evangelicals” have absorbed many of the political messages of evangelical Christianity, and those messages do influence their lives—but often in ways that are socially harmful. So, for example, the purity culture of evangelical Christianity—which teaches girls that if they have sex prior to marriage (and marriage is always the goal), they are like used pieces of chewing gum (no decent man will want them)—is inherently misogynistic, whether you are in the pew every Sunday, visit on occasionally, or never grace the door of a church. It values women only in terms of their relationship to men, simultaneously making them responsible for men’s lust (a sin) but also requiring that the be attractive (“Pretty Girls Love Jesus”). These ideas circulate beyond youth groups and Sunday school classes an infiltrate sex ed in public schools. The result is, not surprisingly, very high teen pregnancy rates (as teens still have sex—just without planning or contraception) and very young first age of marriage in heavily evangelical states. Both of these are good predictors of future divorce.

The problem isn’t that early marriage or delayed sexual activity are inherently dangerous. (I’m actually a fan of both. Well, not teen marriage, but I think the evidence is pretty solid that delaying marriage “too long” also creates its own risk.) It’s that the purity culture that springs from evangelical Christianity is damaging—and not just to evangelicals but to their neighbors, who also absorb it. And evangelical teachings about sex aren’t just the only damaging ideas that circulate among the non-evangelicals. Some lousy evangelical ideas about race, class, poverty, knowledge, and science do damage too.

Of course, it’s not the case that evangelicals produce these bad ideas and then enforce them on their neighbors. Culture is more recursive and dynamic than that. Evangelical culture’s worst elements—purity culture, racism, anti-intellectualism, etc.—belong to both evangelicals and non-evangelicals; they find sanctuary in both secular and religious culture because both cultures welcome or tolerate them.

But it is the case that evangelicals have allowed bad theology and poor discipleship–the practice of living a faithful life–to weaken their faith in order to boost their political power.

The American Catholic church has recently focused its New Evangelization efforts at its own members—people who consider themselves Catholic but who were never well-formed in the faith. This includes people who sit in the pews each week but are disconnected from or uniformed about their faith as well as people who enter the church only on Christmas or Easter or not at all. Evangelicals serious about making a political witness that doesn’t yield a lying, cheating, unfaithful, sexual assailant might consider a similar endeavor.

* Those evangelicals Trump beat out for the Republican nomination are also pretty intellectually lazy. Carson is just as unqualified as Trump, and Cruz actually appears to believe his own End Times theology, which is scary as hell. Huckabee’s politics show that a just because someone is a pastor doesn’t mean he is a decent, compassionate human being. So how should a good evangelical have voted? I’d argue for Sanders as a quality Christian choice.

Reading Round Up, October 14, 2016

Content Warning: Donald Trump, sexual assault

I’ve been teaching about sexual assault for the last two weeks in sociology of sex, timing that coordinated not only with the entirely unsurprising revelation that Donald Trump has sexually harassed a possibly endless parade of women and bragged about it but, closer to home, a third sexual assault reported this “Red Zone” on my own campus, Arkansas State University. My students are getting a tragic opportunity to apply their new knowledge about sexual violence, rape culture, toxic masculinity, victim blaming, and more this week.

Books I’ve been reading this week: We Believe You: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out by Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino and The Violence of Care: Rape Victims, Forensic Nurses, and Sexual Assault Intervention by Sameena Mulla.

Here’s what I’m reading to stay on top of the stories:

Eric Trump gives us a lesson straight out of an MRA handbook when he says that “alpha” men speak about women as targets of sexual violence. So rather than normalizing sexual violence, as his father did in his defense of “locker room talk,” Eric Trump actually says it’s a sign of power. It’s not that all men do it—only the best! This is the definition of toxic masculinity.

Of course, Trump has already said that only weak women get harassed. Strong women—his daughter, Ivanka, for example—don’t put up with that kind of thing. In other words, he selects victims who are weaker than him so he can get away with it. Like women who are emotionally or mentally fragile, which was part of his sexual attraction to teenager Lindsay Lohan. In comments he made on the Howard Stern show, he said that sex with a “troubled teen” would be especially exciting.

Guess what? That’s always the strategy sexual predators use to select victims: who is weak? Who can be destroyed if they try to fight back? Who can be doubted if they speak up? Who can you smear if they call for help?

His son Donald Trump, Jr. has argued that women who can’t handle harassment should take a job where they won’t face it—like a kindergarten teacher. This also means that “alpha men” don’t go into teaching, I suppose.

Donald Trump’s language isn’t vulgar; his violence, entitlement, and easy belittling of others is. Trevor Noah nails it when he helps us see that “pussy” isn’t the problem—“grab” is. Yet even Republicans who have stepped away from their candidate are struggling to frame this as a crime of violence rather than a problem of vocabulary. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions doesn’t even think it’s a crime. That’s a problem, because he is a lawmaker and a lawyer. It’s also sets a tone for all of Alabama to ignore crime. In fact, Republicans seem quite willing to be soft on sex crime.

The problem is also that the tears of those deeply offended Republicans are a little late. Lutheran(ish) pastor Tuhina Verma Rushke vulnerably speaks about the women we should already have been listening to in “The Sanctification of White Pussy.”

Why don’t victims speak out? Check out Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal episode “Rape Kit Backlog” to see one reason why.  Or look to Lou Dobbs, who doxxed one of Trump’s victims, putting her life in danger. We don’t speak out because our attackers do just what they promise they will do when they are assaulting us: If you tell anyone, I will kill you. I will kill your children. I will kill your parents. I can do it, just like I’m doing this now. No one will believe you anyway. There is no proof, and no one will believe a person like you. No one will believe that a person like me would assault someone like you. You are too ugly to be assaulted.  A slut can’t be raped anwyay.  If you tell anyone, I will ruin your career. My friends will attack you online. You’ll never get a job. No one will want to marry you. If you had just given me what I want, I wouldn’t have to take it.  We don’t report because these things they say are often true. A man who will rape is certainly a man who will destroy his victim for seeking justice.

If you have been the victim of sexual violence and need support, consider reaching out to RAINN, the nation’s largest resource for victims of sexual violence. You can expect to be treated with respect and dignity, your story heard and believed. This is a resource for men and women of all sexual orientations and identities.

If you have concerns about a friend’s safety in a relationship, learn how you can act to prevent violence through the Red Flag Campaign.



How Third-Party Voting can Fight Racism

Democrats have engaged in one a lot of worrying and hang-wringing about the possibility of third-party voters “spoiling” the election. The assumption is that those who vote third-party would 1) otherwise have voted and 2) otherwise have voted for Hillary Clinton—both of which are not necessarily true. They use the specter of Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential bid to warn that good-hearted, well-intentioned liberals and progressives could throw the election to a man who would be despot. When voters vote for a third-party candidate, they are ignoring the consequences of that vote for people of coloring, an act of white privilege.

There are a number of problems with that, including the fact that Nader didn’t cost Al Gore the election, so the comparison doesn’t work.

Another problem is that third party voters can actually advantage the Democratic party. So Democratic leaders can stop scolding about it.

I really like Robert Chappell’s October 5 opinion piece for Madison365, “Third-Party Voting is the Height of White Privilege.” In the contours of his argument, he’s right: American minorities will be worse off in every way if Donald Trump is elected president. White men will be worse off, too, because American broadly will be worse off and because a system that injuries some demeans our entire democracy, but the practical, daily ways in which they suffer will be bearable annoyances (having to listen to Donald Trump on a regular basis, explaining our stupidity to people in nations that don’t have the privilege of electing leaders, etc.) rather than outright assaults on their dignity, autonomy, and rights. I can’t imagine, if they really thought about it, that even Republican voters actually want a President Trump and the unending parade of buffoonery he’ll bring to the office. There is a reason, after all, why the National Enquirer endorsed him: stories about him sell a lot of papers.

And if Chappell’s argument moves you from voting for a third party to voting for Clinton, you should absolutely do that. Of course, you should also remember that Clinton has had a hand in policies, particularly military interventions, that have hurt people of color.

Before you condemn your friends who are choosing a third-party candidate, though, remember how this system actually works: the electoral college chooses the president. How those electoral votes are distributed by the college is determined on a state-by-state basis. You should get familiar with how your state works—if the winner “takes all” (most states and DC) or if the state divvies up electoral votes based on the popular vote (the more reasonable states of Maine and Nebraska).

In this system, your individual vote may matter very little. It’s why, until recently, I could “vote my conscience” without worry. I lived in Kansas, which was going to go Republican no matter how I voted during the years I lived there. I lived in Arkansas, which was going to go Republican no matter how I voted during the years I lived there. I moved to Utah, which was going to go Republican when I registered to vote in the state as a Democrat. At that time, I figured I’d vote for a third-party candidate—not because white privilege (which, for those reading this blog for the first time, is something I firmly believe in and work to dismantle) allows me to do so but because the Republican lock on the state allows me to do so. If Democrats wanted me to be able to vote Democrat without “throwing my vote away” rather than voting my conscience (which is also a “waste” of a vote), they could do something to change how Utah voters think about them, which would allow my vote to matter in the state.

But it hasn’t been Democrats who have made Democrats’ votes in Utah matter. It’s been Republicans.

This summer, Utah become the most interesting place on the political map. In July, Utah State Senator Mark Madsen, formerly a Republican, switched his affiliation to the Libertarian Party and, along with several other state-level politicians, is endorsing Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.  Republican leaders in the state were early defectors from the Trump campaign. They aren’t endorsing Clinton, but some of them will surely look at the electoral map and the polls on the morning of November 8 and pull the lever for her in the privacy of the ballot box. Why? Because they know that a vote for Clinton is now the best way to stop a Trump presidency.  Their conscience prevents them from voting Trump, and their desire for the Republican party to survive means they would prefer Clinton (who they can fight against) to Trump (who is destroying the party from the inside).

And now polls in the Beehive State are showing a close race between Clinton and Trump—something almost unthinkable earlier in the season, perhaps even with the possibility of victory for Independent Evan McMullin. In a recent interview, Cache County Libertarian Party Chair called on voters to vote their conscience in Utah, even if that means voting for Jill Stein or Evan McMillan rather than his candidate. This is in a place where Republicans haven’t lost since 1964—the second election in which my GRANDMOTHER was eligible to vote. Now that a Clinton win is a possibility, I’m voting for her and encouraging others in the state to do the same.

You see, I don’t necessarily vote according to my conscience—at least if the sense that I don’t vote according to who I think would be the person who best reflects my personal values. Because that would be Shirley Chisolm or Charles Sumner or Eleanor Roosevelt, and none of them are running this year. And I don’t vote for the candidate who can best further my personal agenda (Can we get minimum sentencing for people who use leafblowers and some kind of public health intervention for those who chew ice?) because my personal agenda isn’t necessarily the best for the rest of the country; in short, voting my conscience is unethical. My conscience tells me to vote for the candidate who I think is most committed to the most vulnerable. In a place where the Republican, who is never the candidate most concerned about the weakest, was going to win anyway, I could vote that way, which meant a Green party vote. In a place where my vote may actually sway the outcome, I don’t vote my conscience—or, as Chappell says, “take a stand.” I fall in line and vote Democrat.



Voting my conscience is not very strategic. Even if she won a write-in campaign, my candidate Shirley Chisolm wouldn’t  accept the nomination. 

But for would-be third-party voters in many states, a vote for Clinton that would have otherwise gone to a third-party candidate isn’t going to stop Trump. Sure, voting for someone who doesn’t know where Aleppo is, can’t name a single world leader, and is basically uninterested in the work of the presidency isn’t wise or, given Johnson’s actual politics, even very principled for a Libertarian. But Gary Johnson is probably not all that much stupider or unqualified than Donald Trump, and voting for him, McMullin, or Stein isn’t going to keep HRC from the presidency if that vote is cast in a firmly red state.

In fact, in Utah, it is Republican defections to third parties create the possibility of 6 new electoral votes for Clinton. While Republicans considering a third-party vote in swing states should vote for Clinton to avoid the debacle of a Trump presidency, those Republicans who cannot, out of conscience, vote for Trump—because of his sexism, his racism, his violence, his lewdness—but also cannot vote for Clinton should vote for a third party, which can also help avoid a Trump win.

Third-party voters don’t expect their candidate win but to help change the political landscape because they “raise the issues that no one wants to raise and in the process they change the political debate and even policy,” according to Princeton American Studies director Sean Wilentz.  Executed with consideration for the electoral college, they can also help prevent the rise of someone who has built his campaign on racism and the support of racists.

At some point after November 8, I hope that Democrats so seriously worried about the left-leaning members of the party exercising white privilege will come up with a plan that actually addresses white privilege and the oppression of people of color—topics that go far beyond the recognition of implicit bias (which is a great thing for HRC to mention in a debate) or vacuous promises about community policing and address the anti-POC voting laws that have flooded states since the Supreme Court decimated the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the income and wealth disparity between whites and people of color, mass incarceration, and the other concerns raised by Black Lives Matter activists and supporters.

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton, but I’m not holding my breath for that conversation.

Republicans are Fleeing like Rats. Thank Them.

Republicans should have long ago abandoned Trump and a party that supports him. When they failed to stand up for the vulnerable he attacked—people with disabilities, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants—they showed us that they don’t care about lifting up the least of these. In fact, they relied on Trump’s prejudices to increase voter turnout, trading in bigotry for power. When they didn’t depart over his earlier insults of women but now faint at the word “pussy” while refusing to recognize his role in promoting rape culture, they let us know that they don’t care about women but about their own sense of respectability. As I’ve argued elsewhere, they don’t get to pretend to be shocked—shocked, I tell you!—at his vulgarity, sense of entitlement, sexual violence, and lack of respect for others now.

But some of them are.

Among the leaders are Utah Republicans. Their actions just might turn this reliable red state blue.

It started months ago, back when Republicans in other states ought to have started to smell what they were stepping in. Clinton opened a campaign office in the state, which hasn’t voted for a Republican in a national election since LBJ in 1964. She’s been advertising in the state, calling him “unprepared and unfit”—words that mean something to people who pride themselves on being prepared. Before the most recent Trump indecency came to light, the Democratic campaign recognized that the people of Utah are fundamentally decent people, embarrassed by the behavior of Trump.

Note that this is not a love letter to Utah. I’m new to the state, and there is so, so much to love. (The town where I live is getting its own poet laureate.) There are also deep problems, including one of the nation’s highest suicide rates, including a teen rate that has tripled in recent years, sad facts linked, at least in part, to the LDS church’s failure to love its gay children and the availability of guns. Like everywhere, it has problems with race. And opiods.

And Utah can be a rightwinger’s refuge. We enjoy open carry, which is nutty and dangerous. Utahns stockpile weapons. There are lots of doomsday preppers here.

But Utahns are also reasonable, moderate, stalwart, and even-handed. They elect people like former governor and Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, not Ted Cruz.  The fact that the population is heavily LDS means that many young people have traveled abroad and speak foreign languages. They come back to Utah different than when they left it, with broader perspectives and insight into how America is seen abroad.

Romney and Huntsman have both criticized Trump, with Huntsman, who is a leader at No Labels, which seeks to reduce partisanship, calling on him to step aside. This week, the current governor, Gary Herbert, withdrew his support for Trump. He was joined by Senator Mike Lee, who used a video he posted on Facebook to directly tell Trump that his immoral behavior was a distraction from the values of the Republican party. Representative Jason Chaffetz also withdrew his endorsement, saying, “I’m not going to put my good name and reputation and my family behind Donald Trump for president when he acts like this. I just can’t do it.” He specifically cited his inability to reconcile support for Trump with care for his teenage daughter.

The conservative Deseret News, an organ of the LDS church has never endorsed a candidate, but it now called for Trump to step aside. “We did not see this as a political issue,” editor Paul Edwards offered. “We really saw it as a moral issue.” The paper explained:

[T]his is one of those rare moments where it is necessary to take a clear stand against the hucksterism, misogyny, narcissism and latent despotism that infect the Trump campaign.

Today I wrote to the former governors who have criticized Trump, the current leaders who have withdrawn their endorsements, as well as the state legislators and Senator Orrin Hatch and Utah’s Representatives to US Congress who have failed to speak against Trump. All are Republicans. I thanked those who have put their country before their party and reminded those who have not yet done so to remember that, for the first time in a long time, the nation is watching Utah. They can be leaders here in elevating the dialogue. Utah’s 6 electoral votes aren’t going to make a difference in this election. Even if the state goes blue, Clinton is likely to wallop him in the polls nationwide—especially if women “remember in November” what Trump has said about them.

What Utah can do, and what Utah’s leaders can help its people do, is change the conversation so we never have to suffer a primary season like this again.

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