What are we consenting to when we consent to sex?

By now you may have seen news coverage of stealthing, the practice of man removing  or damaging his condom without the consent of their partner during intercourse. Yale Law professor Alexandra Brodsky wrote about the phenomenon in the most recent Columbia Journal of Gender and Law (The full text is available for free here.), and CNN, CBS, and Huffington Post have been running stories on it.

Much of the conversation is about how to categorize this kind of activity so that we can better care for those who have been victims of it. One of Brodsky’s informants call is “rape-adjacent.” When the victim who believes that the condom is being used to prevent pregnancy, the act is one of reproductive abuse–sabotaging birth control.

Is it also rape?

(If you can’t wait to the end to find out my answer, it is: Yes.)

The FBI’s definition of rape, new since July 2103, is:

“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

That’s much clearer than the old definition (“carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will”), because it recognizes that people of all genders can be victimized and names specific acts. But the idea of consent–central to sexual assault prevention trainings on college campuses right now–remains unclear.  It must be verbal and “enthusiastic,” which means that it’s got to be explicit: Yes, I want to have sex. But, though we now have a law in California mandating enthusiastic consent prior to sex and enthusiastic consent is the go-to concept in teaching rape prevention on campuses, many people still don’t really understand it, and we do a lousy job of teaching it. It’s easy to get dismiss the conversation about consent by saying “Just don’t rape!” and while most people have no obligation to explain how not to rape to a potential sexual assailant, some of us (parents of teens and young adults, social workers and educators who work with teens and young adults) probably do.

Having taught, at this point, about 750 students in Sociology of Sex, I can say that many students are asking great questions about what consent means. Here are some of them:

Do you have to ask for and receive consent for every part of every sex act? (“May I nibble your left ear lobe? And the right?” If not for every act, which acts? And how do you ask without sounding “like a pervert or physician?”)

We have to have consent before contact between sex organs and any part of another person’s body, but what are “sex organs”? Penises and vaginas are obvious, and the law is explicit about anal contact. We’d probably easily put rear ends and probably but not as obviously women’s breasts in there, but what about men’s nipples? These narrow definitions seem to ignore the biggest sex organ of all (skin!). Sexual pleasure isn’t limited to sex organs (Yes, I’m linking to Cosmo, but readers can fill in the blanks however they like.), and we might be losing something when we keep the focus on penetration of/by “sex organs.”

How far from those consented-for acts can you stray without having to ask for consent anew? (“If she consents to a finger, can I use a thumb? Do I need to ask her again? Is a finger close enough to a thumb not to matter? But a toe–that would be too far off, even though it’s still technically a ‘digit’?” “If I ask if we can kiss, how specific do I need to be on details? And what if I don’t know what I want until we start?”)

Are other kinds of reproductive abuse also inherently acts of sexual violence? Lying about having an IUD or other form of long-acting birth control or deliberately misusing your or destroying your partner’s oral contraceptive are forms of reproductive abuse. Because they are non-consensual, are they also forms of sexual violence? (Answer: Yes.) If a cis man ejaculates into the vagina of a cis woman who claims to be using oral contraceptives but isn’t, he’s now having sex with a body (one without contraceptives in it) that he didn’t consent to have sex with, risking consequences he didn’t agree to risk. Is that sexual assault? If it’s not criminal, is there a civil case to be made?

What rights do we have to know accurate information about the bodies we have sex with?

We lie all the time in the pursuit of sex–about our height, our weight, our income, our sexual histories, our real hair color, the length and girth of our penises. Some of us lie about our HIV status, with legal punishments for lies or nondisclosure that vary widely and are often used to punish men of color in particular. If a woman consents to sex with a man who says he’s the real life inspiration for Christian Grey or the secret love child of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed or Idris Elba’s body double and it turns out he’s not, is that rape since the penis involved is not the one the person it is attached to said it was? After all, she consented to a far more prestigious penis than the one she got. If those examples seem far fetched, what about a man who claims to be single but is really married? If I wouldn’t consent to sex with a married man, but I might to a man who is single, if a married man lies to me about this marital status, is a penetrative act now rape because I didn’t consent to sex with a married man? Or what if I consented to sex with a with a man I understand to be white (as I am) but find that he’s biracial? If he lies about his ethnicity or religion?

What deceptions constitute “rape by deception”?

And finally, what are the implications for trans people here? If a trans man presents as traditionally masculine or a trans woman as traditionally feminine, do they have to out themselves as trans prior to a sex act? Here I’m thinking specifically of the ways that trans panic has been invoked as a defense of violence against trans people. (In the “classic” version, a cis man consents to sex with a person he believes is a cis woman. When, during intercourse, he finds that she has a penis, he responds to what he sees as a breach of trust with violence, including murder.) A common thread in this defense is that the cis man “felt like he was being raped”–not because he was having sex against his will but because he didn’t consent to sex with a trans person’s body. “Trans panic” defenses have been successfully used in many cases in which a trans person–particularly trans women–have been killed. They are based on the idea that someone was lying about their body–and that lie somehow produced enough fear to warrant homicide.

In short, if we argue that all penetrative acts must be “consensual,” what information do we have to disclose to be consented to? “My penis has a funky curve in it” doesn’t seem to be a big deal. “My penis isn’t going to wear a condom” is. But how do we figure this all out?

And how do we teach this so that people can enjoy honest, great sex?


So, is stealthing rape? Yes. Like other forms of rape, it is about power and control, rooted in misogyny (whether it is aimed at women or at men who have sex with men), and it aims to uphold patriarchy.

Engaging with Communities for Justice Conference

SAVE THE DATE: Oct. 19-21, 2017

Engaging with Communities for Justice

4th International Conference on Hate Studies
3rd floor, Hemmingson Center, Gonzaga University
Spokane, Washington

Presenter submission deadline: May 30, 2017 (Click here for submission form)

Early attendee registration deadline: September 15, 2017 (Click here for registration form)

This conference is one of the leading interdisciplinary academic forums on hate, related social problems, and ways to create socially just and inclusive communities. It convenes leading academics, journalists, law enforcement personnel, educators, representatives of governmental and non-governmental organizations, human rights experts, community organizers, activists, students, and others to discuss hatred and ways to engage communities with justice. Conference topics will address research, education, practice, and advocacy.

If hate is understood better, the result can have real-world impact, including creating models for changes in society, government, culture and our individual and communal lives. For additional information, please visit the conference web site, or contact Dr. Kristine Hoover, Director for the Institute of Hate Studies at againsthate@gonzaga.edu.

The conference is sponsored by the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, and the Gonzaga Institute of Hate Studies.

The Benefits of Guns on Campus

Though the overwhelming majority of postsecondary educators don’t want guns on their campuses and most states, in keeping with centuries’ old wisdom, have refused to expand guns to their campuses, two more states are set to bring firearms to higher ed. Arkansas and Kansas are joining Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin as places where guns are permitted.

Most of these states have significant restrictions on who can carry (Tennessee doesn’t allow students to have guns, for example), what training you must have, and where you can have guns, but some states still permit them in university-run daycares and hospitals. Kansas’ law is particularly foolish. On campuses in that state, 21 year old students can drink booze but 18 year olds with no training can bring guns because the state doesn’t require a permit or training to conceal and carry a lethal weapon of choice in college student suicides and intimate partner murders.

Campus carry

Above, a poster on the University of Kansas’ main campus in Lawrence. The original poster has an image of a gun with a red circle and a slash through it, indicating that guns are not permitted in the building, but a yellow sticker has been added to note that this prohibition will expire July 1, 2017.

The case against guns on campus is well-established, as you might expect when you pick a fight with people who are professional researchers and who navigate difficult conversations with young minds every single day. But, thanks to generally spineless higher education administrators and gunhumping state legislators who just can’t risk losing their NRA A+ grade, even though, yeah, people are going to get hurt and some are going to die because of this law, guns are being forced onto campus in some places close to my heart.

But, Rebecca, you say, you are always so sad and angry, thinking about students, staff, faculty, and visitors dying. Why not look on the bright side for a change?

Okay, here are the benefits of guns on campus:

  1. Thousands of hours have already been put into job searches as faculty and staff members seek positions in places where their lives are not being deliberately endangered by their bosses. This is great, because it renews their confidence that they have marketable skills that are valued in other places and other industries. You should always keep your CV, like your go bag and your passport, handy, just in case. And you should always be looking for a new job! Don’t focus on the past or even the present—like your current job duties—when you can be looking ahead to the future!
  2. Educational institutions in places with policies that protect human life are going to get some terrific scholars, staff, and administrators (I think they do exist, though in small numbers, as the decent ones will admit) as the best and brightest leave Kansas and Arkansas. Sure, that leaves those who don’t care, are so close to retirement that they are willing to risk it, just aren’t good enough to get jobs elsewhere, or have no options for other employment in the region but need to stay there for other reasons, but surely there’s no problem with having a faculty population that’s comprised of people who are lousy at their jobs, fearful, and desperate. That keeps salaries, and therefore tuition, low.*
  3. Border states with respectful gun policies are going to get great students! If I were Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, and Louisiana, I’d be running a tuition discount for refugees from Kansas’ and Arkansas’ gun policies. Who cares if if students empty out of that Utah-Idaho-Colorado-Kansas or Texas-Arkansas-Mississippi stretch of the country? If an Obamacare repeal happens, those places don’t need to attract med students to fill the need for rural doctors since they won’t have rural hospitals anyway.
  4. Regional and national academic organizations won’t have so many campuses to consider when debating where to hold conferences and meetings. Shorter meetings for that committee!
  5. Small liberal arts schools will flourish. Instead of giving to my graduate school alma mater (the University of Kansas), I’ll be donating to private schools to insure that the tax-paying students of Kansas and Arkansas can afford a high quality liberal arts college. Maybe Arkansas Baptist and Philander Smith, two private HCBUs in Arkansas? I’m also a big booster of Bethel College in Kansas and Juniata College in Pennsylvania, and I am happy to recommend students for scholarships there, so if you are fleeing a gun state and are considering applying to one of those two schools, please let me know.
  6. Universities can now promote themselves as “destination universities” for people who love, love, love guns so much that they can’t imagine leaving them in their off-campus apartments while they head to chem lab. This self-selecting student population will reduce diversity naturally, so the Tennessee legislature and the racist students of Kansas and Arkansas won’t have to work so hard to scare off people who aren’t conservative white Republicans.
  7. Our family has just considerable shortened our list of colleges and universities to consider for college for our own kids. We’re saving a bundle in application fees!
  8. Conservative state legislators can actually have a war against women (who are most likely to be killed in mass shootings on campus since we comprise such a bigger percent of students and staff) and academics at the same time! Every day will be Christmas—or the first day of hunting season!—for misogynistic, anti-intellectual ammosexuals.

*JK! Tuition has nothing to do with faculty salaries. You’re paying for the new Vice Provost of Syngergistic Leadership, Free Enterprise Boosterism, and Academic-Athletic Partnerships for Student Exploitation. Or potentially a second home, in Spain, for the ex-Chancellor.


_God Hates_ Reviewed in _Kansas History_

Thanks to Kansas History for reviewing God Hates: Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right in its most recent issue.  From the review:

The heart of the book is devoted to positioning the WBC on the antigay religious spectrum. Barrett-Fox cites potent antigay quotes from leaders of the Religious Right that are nearly identical to rhetoric from the WBC. She intimates that the church gives voice to what many Americans believe: “Westboro Baptist Church’s linking of homosexuality and military death is consistent with the tradition within the Religious Right that generally links homosexuality and national doom” (p. 143). Barrett-Fox urges her readers to look beyond the bounds of this fringe church to the seemingly more palatable churches of the majority culture of America, where shockingly similar beliefs are held.

I’m especially honored that Kansas History tapped playwright Marcia Cebulska as the reviewer. Cebulska’s work focuses on pivotal moments, transformative characters, and complex places from Kansas’s history–including Greensburg, Kansas (Rooted), a town destroyed by a tornado and rebuilt on a sustainable model, playwright William Inge (Touched: The Last 2,000 Heartbeats of William Inge), and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (Now Let Me Fly).

Cebulska is also the writer of Visions of Right, which tells the story of a photographer targeted by a Fred Phelps-like preacher. The play is a direct response to the picketing “ministry” of Westboro Baptist Church and is informed by Cebulska’s own experience as a target of hateful anti-gay protest. Cebulska’s own experiences are a reminder that “no amount of theological history or positioning can serve as balm” when you have been harmed by hate, as so many Kansans have been.

Above, a trailer for Visions of Right. 

May Writing Challenge Starts Soon!

typewriterYou probably don’t write on an ancient typewriter, like the one in the picture above. Whatever works for you is great–but if you want to put some money on it, it’s even better. 

For the past few weeks, writers participating in the Any Good Thing Writing Challenge have been pumping out words–400 x 5 days per week per person. While the April results aren’t in yet, here are the results of March’s Writing Challenge:

Total words written: 243,079

Average number of words written per day: 606

Average number of words written total among those who finished: 14536

If these numbers are encouraging to you, I hope you’ll consider joining us for our May Writing Challenge, which starts April 30 (a little confusing, but we run Sunday-Saturday, and I don’t want to wait until the first Sunday in May and lose a whole week!) and goes for FIVE weeks, through June 3. Here’s how it works:

  1. You commit to writing at least 400 words each day for five days of the week, Sunday through Saturday. That’s 2000 words per week or 10,000 words in five weeks!
  2. Email me at anygoodthing@outlook.com to let me know you are participating. Let me know your name, your email address, how you want to pay, if you want to join our FB group (and be sure to include the email address linked to your FB account so I can send an invite to you), and if you’d like an accountability partner.
  3. You send me a check for $20 to cover one month of participation or pay via PayPal. (Be BE SURE to mark the funds “friends and family” so I don’t have to pay a processing fee, please. I love hosting this Writing Challenge for free, but I can’t lose money on it.) I don’t cash your check…yet.
  4. Each day that you write, you email what you wrote to anygoodthing@outlook.com.  (No, I’m not going to read it, but, yes, I’m going to make sure it’s new words each day.) Include the word count in the subject line to make my life easier.
  5. If you write at least 400 words for 5 days a week for 5 weeks, you get all your money back. (Plus probably more.) That’s less than $1 per day of writing. I’ll return it via PayPal, or I’ll send your check back or rip it up, as you prefer. Or you can use your money to buy into the next month’s Writing Challenge.
  6. If you write for 24 days of the 25, you get $17 back. If you write for 23 days, you get $14 back. If you write for 22 days, you get $11 back. If you write for fewer than 21 days, though, you surrender the full $20.
  7. Any funds surrendered for not writing the full 25 days go into a kitty that is divided between all those who wrote each of the 25 days MINUS $5 that will be awarded as a gift card to one 25-day-writer whose name is drawn at random.

This is a free exercise, so there’s no cost to participate (unless, of course, you don’t meet your goals), and all the money pooled goes back to participants.

Sign up by the first day of the Writing Challenge to participate.

Why _I_ Teach Online

If you are skeptical about the ways that online learning is an act of social justice, check out Devooney Looser’s recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why I Teach Online.”  She focuses on the way that women, in particular, benefit from online courses, which can be as (or more) rigorous and engaging as in-person courses. I’ll add a few more reasons I am committed to teaching online:

  1. Students can show up to learn when they are at their best. This respects their autonomy as adults, making choices and taking responsibility for their education–exactly what we want in students. Traditional courses impose a structure on students; online classes force them to cultivate their own good habits.
  2. Students who are caretakers for young children (including grandparents acting as parents), adult children with disabilities, and elderly relatives can learn in a setting that accommodates their needs.  Every semester, I teach at least one woman who is going to have a baby during our course. An online course allows her to continue her degree when that just might not be possible in a face-to-face setting.  Nothing makes me happier than seeing these women and their babies in graduation regalia.
  3. Older adults who had to forgo education at an earlier point can enter it now. This is absolutely a blow to historic patriarchy. Women who lacked support for higher education, left it due to unexpected pregnancy (a significant interrupter of college), or were told a degree–or at least a challenging one–was a poor investment if their main roles were going to be wife and mother can come back.
  4. Students who work swing shift can earn their degrees. This includes people working in factories, prisons, and hospitals.
  5. An asynchronous schedule insures that students can take their time in responding to their classmates, thinking deeply and planning what they say with an eye toward respectfully challenging and pushing each other forward. This deepens learning for everyone and especially gives introverted students a chance to shine.
  6. Those who oppose guns on campus, for whatever reason, don’t have to come to class knowing that their classmates may be armed. For students who have lived with gun violence, this is the very least we can offer them.
  7. Without face-to-face interaction, barriers can fall. College students probably worry less about the physical markers of “coolness” than high schoolers, but pushing all interactions online removes some (though not all) opportunities for bias based on attractiveness, weight, disability, accent, or material displays of wealth. When students aren’t worried about getting dolled up for class, they can focus on course content and be more vulnerable in their interactions.
  8. Online courses make an archive available so students can review as they need.  This means that students can visit and revisit class material until they learn it. They can slow down my lectures to insure that they catch all the content, and they can pause a lecture to work through an example or exercise. My interactions with students are no longer about “What did I miss?” Instead, they can review the course material until get the general outline, bringing their deeper questions to me.  Everyone’s time is respected, and they carry more of the burden for their learning (which is good!). An online course is much more adaptive to individualized student need–and student initiative.
  9. Online classes allow students to learn where, geographically, they are. This doesn’t just open up education to them–it also means that they are bringing knowledge into their communities, which are strengthened. The rural brain drain is real, leaving rural areas without enough doctors, teachers, or other professionals with high degrees of education. The problems that this creates are myriad–including increasing hostility across political party lines. Everyone benefits when rural areas include more educated people. Image result for arkansas population density

Above, a map of Arkansas’ counties. More populous counties are darker. Only three counties in the state have populations over 150,000 people. Twenty-five counties have populations of fewer than 15,000 people. We can keep people who want to stay in rural areas and improve their communities by offering more online courses. 

All of this means that online education isn’t just good for students–it’s good for me as a teacher (because I grow as I teach a greater diversity of students) and for their peers inside the classroom (who benefit from the experiences and insights of a broader range of students) as well as their family and community members outside of it.

How Much of Your College Costs Pay the People Teaching You?

Adjunct educators at Youngstown University in Ohio recently “celebrated” a special occasion: 25 years without a raise. That means that they’ve had the same exact pay since before many of their students were born–potentially, in fact, before some of them were born.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of a year of public university attendance (tuition, fees, room, and board) in 2014-2015 was $18,632. Many of the educators–who must have at least a Master’s degree–who teach these courses earn around $2500 per course and sometimes less. Casual labor comprises the majority of educators at most public universities at this point. Individually, contingent educators are great teachers. However, lack of university support for them in all kinds of ways has corresponds to less effective universities. 

Image result for cost of college tuition

Above, a chart from the New  York TimesNew  York Times tracking the increased cost of college through 2011. 

For those considering college (and their parents), it’s important to understand what a very small portion of the money you pay goes to support the people who are most important to your college education: your teacher. Every state provides information on public university employees’ wages, but not all tell the full picture. (Yes, it’s true that your state’s highest paid public employee probably coaches football or men’s basketball. And, yes, it’s true that the University of Alabama football coach is the highest paid public employee in the U.S.)

In Arkansas, where I teach, the public university salary database is searchable by name or institution, so you can see everyone at your school. (Because men’s sports are rewarded so well and are almost universally coached by men, only one of the top highest paid employees is a woman. Among the top 25, only 5 are women.) HOWEVER, the database only catalogs those earning more than $37,823 per year–the median income in Arkansas. This hides the immense labor done for low wages (much of it by women) for the university, from administrative assistants and facilities workers. Some of them earn just 16,780 for 12 months of full-employment. Jobs here  with pay in the low $20,000s require a college degree. Even the online budget doesn’t show all the work performed by employees, as it ignores some temporary labor.

Would-be students have a right to know how universities spend–and misspend–their money. Like most college professors, I’m not a fan of austerity measures. I think almost everyone at a university is underpaid. And I’m also very weary of calls for universities to be “run like businesses.” (“Return on investment” is a term I hear flung about a lot at my institution. Given that faculty have to compete against each other–a terrible way to encourage collaboration!–for meager travel and research funds, I’m not sure what “investment is being referenced.) But I find universities’ exploitation of their most vulnerable workers–despite the great cost of tuition and despite the fact that casual labor provides so much for them–to be even more troubling. Businesses–at least not ones that thrive–do not treat their employees with such disdain. Even worse is universities’ and tenured faculty members’ attempt to shift blame to factors beyond their control when they are failing to control the many factors well within their control.

Students deserve to know where their tuition money goes. If you are thinking about being a student (or thinking about taking a job with a higher ed institution), consider these questions:

  1. What percent of courses are taught by tenured or tenure track faculty? What percent of students are taught by them? (Contingent faculty often teach large course sections at low wages, carving out money to pay tenured faculty to teach small classes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with large classes subsidizing smaller, more specialized ones–if the lower wages are fair.) How long is it going to be before you are taught by someone whose job is secure?
  2. How much are the lowest-paid educators paid for their time? I’m less interested in averages, as contingent educators in some fields earn a fair wage. But in fields where the pay is low–the comp I instructor, for example–how much are they earning? As a student, it may surprise you to learn that your teacher isn’t even earning $1 per student per class. That’s right–if they passed around a collection plate and asked for a free-will offering, they’d probably earn more.
  3. What percent of your tuition is paying educator’s salaries and benefits?
  4. What is the wage gap between the lowest paid educator and the highest paid one? Does the highest paid person perform that much more for the mission of the university?
  5. Which educators yield the biggest profit margin for the university? We often hear that the salaries of professors in business and law are higher because, if we didn’t pay them more, they’d move to private enterprise. But how much are they really making for the university? Should the profit they bring in influence their salary? If so, how should the profit brought in by those in the gen ed trenches–of the casual, contract labor who are the first contacts students have with their disciplines–be rewarded? What value should highly paid professors be bringing besides tuition dollars? The highest paid educator in my college doesn’t even teach in a degree with any majors. (All of this is public information, so I’ve got no concern about sharing it. Our general unease about talking about salary is one way we self-inflict low salaries.)
  6. What percent of those in casual positions are women? What is the university doing to stench the leaky pipeline of highly qualified women from tenure track jobs to casual ones?
  7. Is the university doing its part to reverse the national trend of contingent labor? How?

_God Hates_ Reviewed in the American Journal of Sociology

Thanks to the American Journal of Sociology and reviewer Bernadette Barton of Morehead State University for reviewing God Hates: Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right this month. I love both Pray the Gay Away: The Secret Lives of Bible Belt Gays and Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers (which is on my soc of sex syllabus for the summer!), so it was really an honor to hear her feedback on my own work. My highlight:

“…WBC serves the same homophobic political and religious aims of the Religious Right, even as neither conservative Christians nor the WBC would actively align themselves with one another. Barrett-Fox makes clear that, of the two, she finds the Religious Right far more dangerous, and I concur.”

I’ve shared page 1 of the review, and you can find the whole thing online if you have access to a library that subscribes to the journal.

Journal of American Sociology

2017 Lincoln Ideas Forum: Hate of the Nation

Lincoln Cottage flyer.PNG

Measuring Hate by its Consequences: Love and Hate in Westboro Baptist Church Pickets

Only in the most extreme cases do people see themselves as hateful. Most of the time, they see themselves as loving. This is as true for Westboro Baptists, the most (in)famous anti-gay church in the US, as well as more violent extremists, such as Nazis or members of the KKK. They are all loving something (God, their nation, their race). Devotion to a good and noble cause can result in hateful actions, though, which are justified as acts of love, sometimes even toward their very victims.  This presentation explores the way that what some people see as love can result in actions that others experience as hate by focusing on Westboro Baptist Church. The church pickets daily, picketing the message that God hates—and is destroying—individuals and the nation because of our collective tolerance of homosexuality. They share this message at scenes of national tragedies, military and police funerals, and pop culture events. Given their insistence that LGBT people are damning the nation, expressed in vulgar and derogatory language, one might expect the church to be filled with personally hateful people. And yet that is not the case. Individually and collectively, church members are kind, generous, gentle, encouraging, and loving—both to each other and, generally, to those outside the church. That is, as long as they are not on the picket line. Even here, though, church members see their mission not as a hateful one but as a loving one. They are quick to point out that it is God, not the church, that hates LGBT people; in contrast, they insist that they, as picketers, love them, which is exactly why they are picketing: love of their neighbor requires them to warn them of God’s wrath. While that experience may be painful for the one being “warned,” it is less painful, in the church’s perspective, than being in the line of God’s wrath. Thus, the church sees itself as sacrificing—traveling, picketing, risking life and limb in their pickets—for those (always ungrateful) people they are picketing. Their motivation is love, they would say, but their actions are experienced as hate.

But Westboro Baptists are not alone in this, even if they are extreme in it. Many of us have people in our own lives whose love—of family, of country, of God, or of other “good” things—results in harm to others, including those who are excluded from that love. What are our obligations to these people? Do we have empathy for loving people whose actions are hateful because we understand their motivations to be good? Do we ask them to change their actions without changing their motivations? Do we try to change their motivations so that their actions will change as a consequence, assuming a kind of coherence between thought and action? Or do we refuse to recognize their love as love because it results in hate?

Join the conversation at the Lincoln Cottage on April 13th to discuss Hate of the Nation with me, Dr. Laura Shiavo of George Washington University, Seth Levi of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute.

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