What to see at the American Academy of Religion Meeting?

I head off next week to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in lovely San Antonio. Which presentations should I see while I’m there? Check out the program and offer suggestions. If you can’t go and want to get the notes on a presentation, let me know and I’ll see if I can make it to that session and share the information with you.


Until We Get a Direct Democracy, Try Direct Pressure

Trump did not win a majority of votes in 25% of the states where he won the popular vote. If you live in one of those states–Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Utah, or Wisconsin–consider contacting your state’s Republican electors and encourage them to withhold their vote from the Republican candidate on December 19. Remember that you will be talking to Republicans, so think about who your audience is and what they need to hear.

Here’s what I shared with state electors:

Dear Utah Electors Eager, Kimball, Jenkins, Greathouse, Chia-Chi, and Snelgrove,

Thank you for taking your work representing Utah’s voters in the electoral college process. During an especially contentious time in our nation’s history, your efforts can go a long way in restoring respect for our government institutions.

Because your work has such an important impact, not only in its results but in the way you undertake it, I hope you will consider withholding a vote for Donald Trump and instead cast your vote in a way that better reflects the will of Utah’s voters, thoughtfully considers the well-being of the state, and aligns with your conscience.

As you know, Donald Trump did not garner the support of the majority of Utah’s Republican voters in the Beehive State’s primary caucus. From the start, the state did not support him as a candidate. As the depth of his moral bankruptcy became clearer over the course of the campaign, our state’s Republican leaders followed their consciences and withdrew their support for a serial adulterer, alleged child rapist, and admitted sexual assailant. Donald Trump’s choice to abuse women, including his own wives’ trust, combined with his disrespectful comments about women, people with disabilities, veterans, Gold Star families; his appeals to anti-Semitism; and his plan to force Muslims to register and be monitored showed us a man with little respect for those who are more vulnerable than himself and a willingness to foment violence for political gain. Donald Trump’s pettiness and vindictiveness—for example, using the sacred ground of Gettysburg to threaten to sue the many women who have credibly alleged sexual assault against him—are a violation of Utah’s standards of respect. This is not the way of the people of Utah, who value family, religious freedom, and civility, even across lines of difference. This is why, on November 8, the majority of Utah’s voters chose Not Donald Trump.

I am proud that Utah put forward a conservative candidate who explicitly rejected Trump’s divisiveness and moral failures; would-be Republican voters deserve such a choice. Because of the many Utah Republicans who understand that no good fruit can come from a rotten tree, the state showed the nation what moral leadership looked like. Their leadership was recognized on election day by voters saddened by the thought that our nation is so confused that it would consider a man who has chosen, even during the campaign, to degrade fellow citizens and national heroes such as John McCain.   

We are already seeing the negative consequences of a Donald Trump presidency, from increased attacks on Utah’s minority populations to tanking investment in alternative energy. Utahans know firsthand the need for environmental regulation to reduce air pollution, the promise of alternative energy, and the importance of protecting wilderness—all of which Donald Trump vows to undermine. These are not vague issues but clear ways that our people and our economy will suffer under Donald Trump’s presidency.

Additionally, there is every real possibility that a man with a long history of stiffing his employees, including his own campaign staff, will be found guilty of federal crimes before inauguration. As you are likely aware, our own University of Utah law professor Christopher L. Peterson has provided an analysis that Donald Trump’s alleged fraud and racketeering in relationship to his predatory Trump University are felony crimes that could justify impeachment. Mr. Trump is currently attempting to delay a trial over Trump University, though he is set to appear before a judge (the one he said could not do his job well because his parents were born in Mexico) later this month. We deserve better in the White House.

Further, given that Trump did not win the majority of votes and that Utah does not have an instant runoff option, I think there is a need for you, as electors, to give full consideration to the fact that most of us wanted someone other than Trump; he cannot truly be considered, at this point, the “winner” or a reflection of the people’s choice; he does not have a mandate from the people of Utah or, having lost the national popular vote, the people of the United States. Finally, since November 8, he has already begun to pivot away from positions he claimed to hold during the campaign, such as being pro-life, showing us that he adopted those positions only to exploit pro-life voters.

I ask you to display the same moral courage as so many of our Republican leaders, including Mike Lee and Mia Love. As you know, Utah Code Ann § 20A13-304 indicates that electors must vote for the “winning” candidate “except in cases of death or felony conviction of a candidate.” You should also be aware, though, that this law is likely unenforceable, even in states where electors are threatened with a fine for voting their conscience or in a way that best reflects the desires of the state’s voters. Additionally, if all of Utah’s electors stood together and said “No—we will not be forced to make a bad choice that does not reflect the values or contribute to the good of Utah,” you would find the majority of Utah’s voters in enthusiastic support for your leadership.

You are entrusted with a difficult job—to both reflect the will of the people and to lead them. Casting Utah’s electoral votes for Donald Trump is not clearly the will of the people, nor is it responsible Republican leadership. I hope you will hold open meetings, invite letters, and allow yourself to hear what the people of the state have to say about the matter, particularly the majority of us who chose someone other than him. (And, in particular, do not assume that McMullin voters would have selected Trump as their second choice.)

This is, I expect, difficult work, and I do not envy you. I would not want to bear the guilt of casting a vote for a candidate the majority of Utah voters did not choose or be complicit in a system that elects someone who did not win the majority of the popular vote. In order to make the best decision for Utah, please deliberately seek out the insights of those who voted against Trump in the primary caucus and in the general election, and carefully consider what a potential Trump presidency would mean for the state and its people and for the endeavors that Utah’s Republicans care about. If you would like help doing that—setting up open forums, organizing focus groups, or soliciting feedback from citizens—please let me know. I care deeply about the validity of this process and the dignity of public office and am happy to help in the effort to restore public faith in our state institutions. I can be contacted via email at XXXXX or via phone at (XXX) XXX-XXXX. 

With gratitude for your service,


Rebecca Barrett-Fox


Teaching in a Time of Trumpism

What books/articles/films/exhibits/images/music/skills/strategies will you be teaching this semester or next to help your students address the rise and presidency of Donald Trump?

What I’ve been teaching this fall in my senior research course: Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political DifferencesDog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism & Wrecked the Middle Class, and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.  Yeah, I chose them back in March, when this whole mess was just beginning. Prescient, no? And, yes, I’m sure they are sick of the topic. 

Send me a photo of your stack of books, a list of citations to articles, a screen shot from the movies you will be screening with students, a copy of an assignment (or any other thing that can be shared), either by responding in the comments or via email to rbarrettfox@astate.edu. I’ll share what you share with readers in the next few weeks. Please send ’em by December 1. If you share, I’ll put your name in a hat (or maybe my favorite online random number generator) and pull a winner for a secret and totally awesome prize. Open to teachers and teacher-types (Sunday school teachers, piano teachers, yoga teachers, book club leaders, homeschoolers…) of all kinds.


Will your prize be as totally awesome as 2006’s Totally Awesome starring Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan? Even if not, you have the satisfaction of knowing you are inspiring other teachers by sharing your ideas. 


A Little Electoral College Contest

If you’re a fellow FiveThirtyEight junkie (or hater), you have probably been looking at a lot of electoral maps lately. I thought that, rather than worrying about it (or maybe in addition to worrying about it), it would be fun to have a little contest.

Let’s see if any of/how many of us can beat Nate Silver.


Above, a political cartoon shows a map of the United States with swing states Colorado, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, and Florida disproportionately large. The cartoon is titled “Map of the U.S. (As Viewed by the Presidential Candidates.”

Before midnight tonight, post your best electoral college forecast in the comments section of this post. You can visit a number of map-making website for help. (Please don’t just list states! A map  is most helpful here.) Once the final count is in, I’ll send whoever calls the greatest number of states right a prize. So be sure to either leave your name here, PM on Facebook, or email me at rbarrettfox@astate.edu. If you win, I’ll contact you with details about your awesome reward.

John Prine on Lincoln and Eisenhower, and me and Taylor Swift on the GOP

Of the many wonderful lyrics John Prine has written, one of my favorites comes from “Grandpa was a Carpenter,” from Sweet Revenge. In the autobiographical recollection of his grandfather, Prine remembers that the great man “voted for Eisenhower/ ’Cause Lincoln won the war.”

John Prine performs “Grandpa was a Carpenter,” 1983

As a lover of Lincoln and other great Civil War and Reconstruction Era Republicans—Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens and Robert Smalls being among my heroes—I am charmed by Prine’s portrait of his grandpa, who died in the mid-50s, before the Republican party laid Lincoln’s mantle down in pursuit of the “Southern strategy”—fostering white resentment to solidify white voters, particularly those whose economic interests would otherwise align them with Democrats.

Robert Smalls, former slave turned statesman

Ten years ago, the Republican Party issued “an empty apology,” in the words of NYT columnist Bob Herbert, for the strategy, but it never changed course. Indeed, Donald Trump’s rise to prominence relied on the racist appeals put into place decades ago—back when “Grandpa was a Carpenter” came out, in 1973, just after the re-election of Nixon, who, in the words of his Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, knew that  “[t]he key is to devise a system that recognized this while not appearing to.”  That is Prine’s humor–to sing, in the midst of Nixon’s brutal politics, about a man who loved Lincoln and so supported Eisenhower.

Eisenhower’s choice to run saved the nation from the worst of the Republican Party. The general was praised by Democratic leaders during World War II and by sitting president Harry S Truman, who urged him to run in the presidential races immediately after the war and was disappointed when the general chose to run as a Republican. Eisenhower, capitulating to the Draft Eisenhower movement, had chosen to run against Robert A. Taft, a conservative Republican who had worked against the New Deal and against labor and who held isolationist ideas about foreign policy. By running as Republican, he put himself into competition with Taft during the primary, insuring that Taft wouldn’t get the opportunity to be on the presidential ticket. The bitter primary race and Republican convention made clear what was at stake: the domination of the Democrats (who had been in power for decades) that would likely continue if Taft was placed on the ballot, or the possibility of the popular war hero bringing a moderate Republican party into office. Eisenhower narrowly won the primary race, setting the stage for an overwhelming victory against Adlai Stevens, who lost, for the first time since Reconstruction, a few Southern states (Florida, Texas, and Virginia) to the Republican victor.


Eisenhower’s boyhood home in Abilene, Kansas, a state that has, in the past, fostered some of the best progressive, pragmatic leadership in the nation. Not now. 

But within a little more than a decade, Eisenhower’s vice-president, Richard Nixon, would dramatically reshape politics, making a vote for the Republican party an affront to the memory of Lincoln and securing the South for the GOP for a long time–though this may be changing.

In the 2016 primary, no Republican would do what Eisenhower had been willing to do—serve in order to prevent the nation from veering too far to the right. The conventional wisdom has become that the primary election is where candidates are most polarized, that they will veer more to the center post-primary, when they are no longer mostly concerned about getting out the base of voters who bother to show up for primary elections but instead want to appeal to a wider pool of voters. Eisenhower did just the opposite, bringing his party into the White House for the first time in decades because he was willing to be moderate. His moderation on issues of Civil Rights has tarnished his legacy (though he was the strongest advocate of Civil Rights since Lincoln) but that moderation also allowed him gravity when he did use presidential power, as he did when he forcibly integrated Central High School in Little Rock by federalizing the state’s national guard. In these ways, he was very much like Lincoln—committed to unity for as long as he could be, then able to use force effectively.

Today’s Republican party would be unrecognizable to Lincoln, Eisenhower, or Prine’s grandfather. This is why Trump calls up the ghosts of General George MacArthur in his warmongering speeches but not Eisenhower, saying that that MacArthur is “spinning in his grave” at America’s international leadership. But MacArthur, brash with threats of nuclear war, inconsiderate of the cost of war, dismissive of the presidency and elected office, and irresponsible with his words, is not the general we want our leaders to emulate.  It’s not a surprise, though, that he’s the person Trump picks to hold up.


Lincoln, who won loyalty to the Republican party for generations, for good reasons

If Lincoln won the Republican party nearly 100 years of loyalty, Trump risks losing the party for generations. I’ve been a Republican voter, particularly in local elections where political philosophy matters less than expertise in governance. I’ve been a registered Republican as recently as the 2012 election. (Granted, this was in a region of the country where the local Democrats urged like-minded folks to register Republican to vote in the primary election for the Eisenhower-like figure, knowing that that person, not the Democrat—if one was even running—would win. In fact, it was in Kansas, Eisenhower’s birthplace, now a disaster because of Republican politicians.) But, to repay the Republican party for inflicting Donald Trump on us, I will never ever ever vote for a Republican again, not for dogcatcher or county coroner, not if his opponent is a turd sandwich. And I resent that my loyalty can’t be to a transformational figure, like Lincoln, but to my rage at a Republican party willing to sacrifice women, Muslims, African Americans, Jews, and immigrants rather than reject its own worst elements.

Reading Round Up, Presidential Edition, November 5, 2016

Petula Dvorak gets right down to it in “The Epic Failure of the American Electorate” in the Washington Post.

You can find out if you are an informed voter with this PBS quiz.

Bill Clinton gets specific in “I am a White Southerner. I know what Make America Great Again Means.” In a speech in North Carolina, he named Republican racism for what is is:

“It means first, I’ll give you the economy you had 50 years ago, and second, I’ll give you the society you had 50 years ago: I’ll move you up and move somebody else down.”

And the society of 50—or 140—years ago is exactly what Republicans are aiming for. From North Carolina to Arkansas, Republicans are using voter suppression and voter intimidation to prevent people of color from getting to the polls. It’s almost like the Voting Rights Act was necessary after all.

Michael Shulson at Religion Dispatches walks us through the recent PRRI data suggesting that white evangelicals are way more likely today than in 2011—like 42 points more likely—to say that a little immorality in a president isn’t such a problem.

Given that he’s a racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic child sex abusing creep, why does Donald Trump have any support at all? The New Yorker considers “Two Americas: Why Donald Trump Still has a Lot of Support.”

And Kurt Eichenwald, who needs to be getting all kinds of journalistic credit these days, explains “Why Vladimir Putin’s Russia is Backing Trump” in an op-ed in Newsweek.

Can neighbors survive political tension? Yes, says Joshua Rothman in “Red Neighbor, Blue Neighbor”—and more than survive but perhaps even transform politics. Or maybe the bitterness is sometimes too much, as Simon Adler shares in this fascinating Radiolab piece, inspired by reporting in the Omaha World-Herald, about how the tiny town of Seneca, Nebraska, couldn’t overcome its differences well enough to stay alive; instead, it voted itself out of existence (with the final vote being 16-17).

Evan Osnos gives us a glimpse into a Trump presidency in “President Trump’s First Term” in The New  Yorker. His begins by noting that the ugly, extended Trump campaign has itself provided us, with no digging in the dirt needed, ample evidence that the candidate is a monster:

After more than a year of candidate Trump, Americans are almost desensitized to each new failing exhumed from his past—the losing schemes and cheapskate cruelties, the discrimination and misogyny—much as they are to the daily indecencies of the present: the malice toward a grieving mother, the hidden tax records, the birther fiction and other lies.

Still, Osnos does the journalistic work to show us just how bad it would be. How bad? Awfully, awfully bad, in every domain, not the least of which would be our eventual realization that we hadn’t been suckered after all but had just refused to listen when Trump told us exactly who he was. Writes Osnos,

his victory would be not a failure of imagination but, rather, a retreat to it—the magical thought that his Presidency would be something other than the campaign that created it.

Pussy Riot’s video for “Make America Great Again.” The video contains images and words from Trump’s campaign that are bigoted, sexist, and violent. It also contains images of torture, sexual violence, abortion-related violence, and violence against women. 

Thank God for Pussy Riot. Given their previous work criticizing Trump’s friend Putin, they were well prepared to address Trump. In “Make America Great” (the video for which is extremely upsetting), they sing:

What do you want your world to look like?

What do you want it to be?

Do you know that a wall has two sides?

And nobody is free?

Did your mama come from Mexico?

Papa come from Palestine?

Sneaking all through Syria

Crossing all the border lines


Let other people in

Listen to your women

Stop killing black children

Make America Great Again


Could you imagine a politician

Calling a woman a dog??

Do you wanna stay in the kitchen?

Is that where you belong?

How do you picture the perfect leader?

Who do you want him to be?

Has he promoted the use of torture and killing families?


Let other people in

Listen to your women

Stop killing black children

Make America Great Again

Pussy Riot’s video from “Straight Outta Vagina.” 

More cheerfully, in “Straight Outta Vagina,” they sing a tribute to that most feared thing. Verse 4 is what I’ll be singing when I vote:


My pussy, my pussy

Is sweet just like a cookie

It goes to work, it makes the beats

It’s C.E.O., no rookie

From senator to bookie

We run this shit, got lookie

You can turn any page, any race, any age

From Russia to the States

We tearing up the place


I rip shit like Sinead O’Connor

I wear my vag as a badge of honor

I take pride in the way we rise

One love to Maya Angelou, the 8th world wonder

How we do it all, sometimes I wonder

I could play nice or I can bring that thunder

So sad I gotta end right here

But this vagina gotta go make them numbers


What’s on my reading wish list right now? Lincoln Inc.: Selling the Sixteenth President in Contemporary America by Jackie Hogan, Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society by Charles Derber and Yale S. Magress, Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism by George Hawley, and The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign by Brendan J. Doherty.

Kansas Republicans Stoke Anti-Muslim Fear so You Don’t Notice Them Turning the State into a Place Where You’d Rather Not Live

On mid-October, three militia members attempted to blow up a housing complex in Garden City, Kansas. Their hope was to destroy the complex, which houses many Muslim Somali immigrants, on November 9, the day after the election, the same day former Representative and general deadbeat Joe Walsh said loser Republicans should “grab a musket” to undermine the peaceful transfer of power. The three domestic terrorists,* all from Kansas, targeted the complex because of their hatred for immigrants, Somalis, and Muslims. They wanted to insure “a bloodbath,” killing everyone, including infants, and modeling their planned attack on Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City.

Their rhetoric is drawn directly from rightwing militia groups and white supremacists. They called their group the Crusaders—a reference to the medieval Christians who sought to regain the Holy Land from Muslims, destroying Muslim and Orthodox Christian communities and artifacts in the process. The crusader is also a trope that appears regularly in white supremacy, including in literature and on websites. [I’m not hyperlinking to one of their websites.  The Crusader is one of the major themes I’ve identified in my own work on the YouTube archives of the Aryan Nations; if you want sources, contact me and I’ll happily share. This research is currently funded by the National Institute of Justice.**] These domestic terrorists did not come across this image by accident but because they are white supremacists who saw their targets—because they are immigrants, because they are Muslims, because they are Somalis, because they are black—as “cockroaches.”

But this language and these images aren’t just part of the work of the KKK, neo-Nazis, and Aryan Nations. It is also the language of the Republican Party, from Donald Trump on down. Hillary Clinton noted in her speech about Trump’s embrace of the alt-right that “what he’s doing… is more sinister” than simple racism.  It’s empowering the worst, most violent, bigots to act.

It’s why violence against Muslims has been rising ever since he arrived on the scene.

It’s why Hussain Saeed Alnahdi, a Saudi engineering student, is dead.

But the problem isn’t Trump’s alone. It belongs to the Republican Party more broadly.

Just days after the plans to bomb Garden City were interrupted by the FBI, the Kansas GOP chose to send out campaign flyers equating Muslims in the state with ISIS. The flyers include a windmill, a symbol of Kansas’ farming history, with the ISIS flag in the center of the page. The right-hand quarter of the page is an image of brown-skinned man, all but his eyes covered by a keffiyeh. The mailer ominously asks “Have you met the new neighbors?”

Above, Kansas Republicans’ mailers. The state party used focus groups to determine that “the whole feeling that’s there violence out there” helps drive Republican turnout. Yes, that’s right–they are stoking fear among non-Muslims and provoking violence against Muslims to win elections, not because there is anything to fear.  And they have been very open about this strategy, giving interviews to the Wichita Eagle.

Kansas have some reasonable concerns about unwanted Muslim “immigrants.” Guantanamo detainees may be released to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth in the eastern part of the state.

But that’s not the worry here.

And it’s not the worry in the other mailers they Kansas GOP has sent—pictures of beautiful blonde-haired children worrying “What is ISIS? Will they hurt me?” and, also with a little white girl, this one holding an American flag, explaining that would-be State Representative Joseph Scapa wants you understand that “the first step to keeping Kansas safe is to recognize who the enemy is.” In the corner, the mailer says, “Let’s keep terrorists out of Kansas.”

Anti-Muslim groups have praised the flyers, saying that “one can only hope” [CW: Hate website] they incite more ill-will toward Kansas’ Muslim population.

Senator Brownback showed true Republican leadership (that is, cowardly capitulation to racists) when he withdrew Kansas from the Refugee Resettlement Program State Plan.

But I suspect that Brownback and Scapa, though Republicans, understand that the problem isn’t really Muslims. It’s domestic terrorists—homegrown Americans, white Christians, who are bringing their votes to the GOP, along with their violent racism. But Republicans are benefitting—and with no cost to anyone but people they dislike anyway—from that racism, so they let it go—and, perhaps, they are genuinely afraid of the monsters they’ve empowered. They are engaged in classic victim-blaming, saying that they will fight domestic terrorists (who are, by and large, white men) by banning immigrants and refugees.


Slaughterhouse Blues: The Meat and Poultry Industry in North America by Donald D. Stull and Michael J. Broadway addresses the way that Garden City, Kansas, has been supported by immigrant labor in its meatpacking sector. 

The great irony is that Kansas, like the rest of the US, is made stronger, not more vulnerable, by immigrants. At a time of depopulation, particularly in the western region of the state, Garden City thrives because of immigrants—some of them documented and some of them not—come to work in meatpacking there. Like all cities, it has its struggles, but it is also a model of multicultural cooperation in many ways.  The community is rich with conversation about how different people can work together to strengthen the city and the state.

The problem isn’t just Kansas, and the violence isn’t targeted only at Muslims. Above left, a mosque in Waterloo, Iowa, is vandalized with the word “Trump.” At right, a predominantly black church in Greenville, Mississippi, is burnt and the words “Vote Trump” spray painted on it.

Kansas’ Republicans worry about refugees, who are called “poisonous Skittles” and “rabid dogs,” but the fact is that the state’s demise has not been because of immigrants, refugees, Muslims, or people of color. Highly ideological Republicans’ plan to dismantle public service and undermine the common good is working, just as Brownback (and Grover Norquist) promised—and as residents of the state are noticing, to their dismay.  Tax breaks for the wealthy; restrictions on welfare, including the end of services for some of the state’s most vulnerable; the privatization of parts of Medicaid; destructive cuts to education; massive government layoffs and the closure of important service agencies—all of these have impacted Kansans. The state lacks enough underpaid teachers to staff its public schools. School years are ending early as districts run out of funds. Abused and neglected children are left without help, and child sex abuse investigators are unable to manage their caseloads, leaving children to be repeatedly abused. Highways are in disrepair as infrastructure is ignored.

All of these problems are not problems for Brownback and other Kansas Republicans. They are part of their Tea Party utopia, where the government fails so thoroughly that citizens turn to private resources and the poor die or at least disappear from view. Destroy public schools so private schools can take up the responsibility of educating children. Destroy public health services so that the poor die as the wealthy turn to private medicine.

You have seen this in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq. Walled compounds where the rich hire private tutors to educate their children, private doctors to tend to their health, private drivers to chauffeur them through cities without safe roads, private guards to prevent anyone from breaching their walls of their homes, which are powered by private generators. It’s a Tea Party dream—no government, a fractured country, an America that looks like a “third world” country, one marked by extreme income inequality and widespread poverty. Brought to you not by Muslim immigrants and their sneaking, feared “sharia law” but by the very men Kansas voted into office.

*Including at least one domestic abuser. As always.

**Which I apparently always have to say when I talk about it, according to the NIJ.



Want to send a message of welcome to your neighbors, especially those who have been targeted by Republicans’ extremist rhetoric? Consider buying one of these: 



Foul Mouths v. Purity Culture: Which Leads to Sexual Violence?

For Every Mom writer and future Zondervan author Shauna Shanks* has recently published a piece on her blog that really does a fine job of capturing the thinking of many evangelical women who are sticking by Donald Trump.

And I don’t mean that as a compliment. (Though I do mean it as a compliment when I say you should read Kelsey Burke’s piece for Religion Dispatches on the topic. It’s generous and sensitive and just great.)

In “I Don’t Get the Outrage Following Trump’s Lewd Comments and Here’s Why,” Shanks stakes two claims:

  • American culture is sexualized and raunchy in ways that demean women.
  • Donald Trump is a symptom of our culture.

I agree with Shanks on both claims but not with her effort to link them.

First, every piece of evidence of America’s raunchiness she cites is an example of a woman violating what she considers appropriate sexual norms. NFL cheerleaders, women the red carpet at award shows, teenage girls who dress “to sexually allure,” girls who get cosmetic surgery, models, “dresses with slits up to their bellybuttons and v-necks cut to the same,” the dancing at the Super Bowl halftime show and the dancers’ costumes. When she references specific people, it’s often women of color or white women in relationships with black men—Beyonce and Kim Kardashian. Shanks never once gives an example of a man participating in this kind of culture, nor does she reference specific examples of white people. Anytime a white person chooses only black women for examples of “bad” behavior, you should be getting skeptical about what else they have to say.

To the right, a woman who owns her sexuality. To the left, a man who sexually assaults women and girls. 

Second, while Shanks claims not to be telling people how to vote, she’s drawing from ridiculous examples used by Trump surrogates themselves, all examples taken from hip hop culture, all thus racialized.  As if Donald Trump learned how to publicly comment upon women’s breasts from Nicki Minaj or Rihanna.

Third, Shanks’ comments also ignore the fact that a hypersexualized culture also harms boys and men not just as “consumers” of that culture but as participants in it. Boys, for example, on average engage in sexual activity earlier than girls, with more people, and in riskier circumstances, than girls. If raunch culture is bad for kids, that includes boys, but Shank, the mother of three sons (and no daughters) keeps her focus on what girls are doing wrong. She argues that while it’s the duty of parents to help their kids navigate this stuff, her words do not address what boys need, only the ways that girls become part of the problem of sex in the media. When she does address boys, her focus is on covering their eyes.  Boys seem to be the victim here, while girls are the temptresses—old garbage from purity culture that Shanks seems to want to rise above but can’t quite.

Finally, while the larger problem is a vague “Hollywood and media,” Shanks keeps her focus on women. She says that the problem with football is the “pelvic thrusting, grinding and sex-dancing lingerie-clad performers” but doesn’t mention their terrible, exploitive pay, the large numbers of domestic abusers and sexual assailants held up as sports stars, the racism within the sport, or the known risks that players take with their long-term brain health in order to satisfy fans who equate violence with masculinity. Instead of recognizing that football is dangerous to women (or rather, men who watch football are a danger to them), she focuses on how the few women in football—cheerleaders—interrupt her family’s fun.


Above, NY Giants kicker Josh Brown, on paid leave after admitting to domestic assault. NOT a role model for your kids. 
Below, Alexa Brenneman, a leader in the fight to secure fair wages for NFL cheerleaders. A role model for your kids. 


Now, this isn’t an argument to let your kid do/watch/play anything. Violence against women in song, film, television, and video games can normalize violence and lower inhibitions against violence and disrespect. We know that this is particularly true of pornography. And, in general, I agree with Shanks’ concern that parents must guide their kids through this and that it would be a lot easier if pop culture would relent a bit, give us some space to have a conversation. We can help them make sense of the world because, to quote scholar Janice Radway, “reading”—or watching—“is not eating.” We get to choose how we make sense of the media we engage. It’s hard to do that, as Shanks says, when the visual onslaught, in particular, is so relentless.

And I suspect that Shanks I would agree on a lot of child-rearing strategies and share a lot of the same complaints.

My real beef with Shanks piece is that she sees Donald Trump’s comments about women as a result of the raunchiness of our larger culture, which she keeps illustrating with examples of women taking up hyper-sexualized roles, rather than as a result of a patriarchy that is built upon violence against women; it’s why she blames cheerleaders rather than football. In contrast, I think that purity culture, more so than Beyoncé’s lyrics or dance moves, is a danger.

It’s a culture that says that girls belong to their fathers and women belong to their husbands, who are tasked with protecting their sexual “purity” until a suitable trade—a Christian husband in exchange for a virgin daughter—can be made. It says that a woman’s worth is in her intact hymen (a lie! A damned lie!) and that the great challenge of adolescence is to escape it without having “lost” your mythical “virginity.” It says that boys cannot be blamed for being focused on sex and that it’s girls’ jobs to keep them pure, too. It says that sex is degrading and filthy until, on your wedding night, it magically becomes the most wonderful thing in the world. It says that if you have sex before that, you are worthless, and if you don’t find sex to be the most wonderful thing in the world after that, you’re selfish or lacking in spirituality.

If you wanted to design a culture in which sexual assault flourished, this would be the blueprint: Don’t let women’s bodies belong to them, confusing sex and assault. Make women and men enemies over sex, with women as gatekeepers to men’s sexual pleasure, to which they are entitled by their natures as “alpha males.” Discard women who have sex—and, because you confused sex and assault, discard those who have been assaulted, too. Watch as the quest for purity robs sex of its pleasure, as I Kissed Dating Goodbye author Joshua Harris has been slowly coming to realize.

To the left, a book you don’t want your teenager to read. To the left, a book you don’t want to read, either. 

In short, Christian mothers should worry less about Beyoncé’s invitation to the White House and more about the ways that Christian patriarchy and purity culture set us all up for sexual harm.

Elizabeth Smart, a victim a sexual assault, is the wisest person on the topic.

In an update to her original post, Shanks notes, “Donald Trump’s comments were not only lewd, but what he describes is sexual assault” but then says that this “is NOT what I am talking about in this post.” But her post makes no distinction between Trump’s “lewdness” and his violence (which is why this update was necessary).

Throughout, her argument is that we should expect Trump to behave lewdly because we live in a lewd culture. But, of course, this is not true. Leadership is doing better than your situation requires of you or, in the most heroic cases, even allows.  Both Shanks and I are rearing children in a lewd culture—but we expect them to resist it personally and dismantle it structurally. We can certainly expect the same of a presidential candidate.

But the bigger concern is Shanks’ implication through the piece, despite the updated comment, that lewdness and violence go hand-in-hand. And they don’t, at least not necessarily. Many, many gentlemanly gentlemen are sexual assailants. They are teachers and politicians, grandfathers and uncles, Sunday school teachers and youth pastors, powerful men and less powerfulall made powerful by patriarchy and purity culture. They are heartbroken and scandalized at yoga pants, and they never, ever say “pussy.”

And yet… and yet… and yet


If you want to learn more about how to protect your children from sexual abuse, consider consulting the work of Dr. Nina Burrowes, who maintains an active YouTube channel focusing on this topic. If your church needs to address sexual assault within its community or work on sexual assault prevention, consider contacting GRACE—Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. And if you are a survivor of assault and want support, consider reaching out to RAINN, a national network that can help you find local resources.

*I don’t want to pick on Shanks. A lot of evangelical women think this way. She just gets my attention because Zondervan gave her a book contract and thus she has more influence than other Christian mombloggers. 





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