Monday, March 27, 2017

Pastor Waxes Poetic About the Amish, Calls for More Childbearing

Peter Witkowski, associate pastor of preschool and children at the First Baptist Church in Eastman, Georgia, recently wrote a commentary piece about how to shore up declining evangelical Christian numbers. In a March 17th post at the Family Research Council blog, Witkowski argued that Christians should emulate the Amish by raising large families, doubling down on Christian instruction for children, and "protecting" children from the supposedly pernicious influence of "the world".

Witkowski approvingly cited a population study by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies showing that the Amish population has increased 18% over the past five years (more here).  He contrasted Amish population growth with declining Southern Baptist Convention membership. The culprit for these developments was breeding patterns among the Amish and Southern Baptists, with Amish couples having an average of 6.8 children compared to Southern Baptist couples' 2.1 children. Moreover, Amish retain most of their children in the faith, while children raised in evangelical homes are increasingly abandoning their natal faith as adults.

Witkowski interprets these trends to mean that evangelical Christians must breed more children if they want their faith communities to survive. He urged evangelical Christians to reproduce prolifically, even if they must sacrifice "traveling, nice homes, and our own tranquility" to do so.
"These numbers show that evangelism is not the major failing of our local SBC and evangelical churches. Our problem has everything to do with our view of children and the family. Churches that do not have members having children will not succeed.

Now, every Christian does not have to embrace the "19 Kids and Counting" lifestyle. Christ is still our ultimate goal and not family size. But, we must begin to revive pro-family values in our churches. Being pro-family goes well past having a catchy kids’ program. We need to celebrate birth. We need to praise parents for having big families instead of chastising them with snide comments. We need to come to the point where we value kids more than traveling, nice homes, and our own tranquility. We need to live as if children are a blessing."
No, parents should not raise large families if doing so would plunge them into poverty. People are entitled to make sound financial decisions, including the decision to have a small family or no children at all. The "tranquility" that comes from knowing where money for the electric bill will come from is called a good quality of life, and it has a profound impact on one's mental and physical health. No one should consign themselves and their children to a life of deprivation just because a pastor wants to boost church membership.

Prolific reproduction was only part of Witkowski's equation. Parents must also submerge their children in evangelical Christian culture, he claimed, so as to counteract the influence of "the world" which "evangelizes our kids 7 days a week" with "dangerous doctrines".
"And then, we need to commit to training our kids. We need to organize our families around the Gospel. We need to have intentional times of family worship. We must realize that going to church twice a week or twice a month will not provide our kids with an adequate religious framework. We must realize that the world evangelizes our kids 7 days a week. We must do the same. And we must intentionally find ways to protect our kids from the dangerous doctrines of the world and find ways to train them in righteousness."
Do any of these strategies sound familiar? I can think of one evangelical subculture that pressures couples to breed prolifically so as to increase Christian numbers, shelters children through hyper-Christian upbringing, and demonizes the outside world as a dangerous and contaminating influence: Quiverfull. Even if Witkowski doesn't use the terms "Quiverfull" or "Christian Patriarchy Movement" in his commentary piece, the strategy he describes is Quiverfull in everything but name.

If more evangelicals use these strategies to promote growth and retention in their faith communities, we can expect harm to befall women and children. For too many women, life in the Quiverfull subculture means patriarchal subjugation, health problems from repeated pregnancies, and spiritual trauma, as multiple ex-Quiverfull bloggers can attest. For too many children, life in that subculture is one of insularity, parental domination, and indoctrination as they are raised to be torchbearers for their parents. The existence of abuse in the Quiverfull subculture is well-known, thanks to the high-profile scandals involving Josh Duggar, Doug Philips, and Bill Gothard. The Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy Movement subculture shows us that using women as brood mares, raising children as human tools, and isolating families in insular communities creates suffering. No amount of growth or retention justifies so much human suffering.

The implications of Witkowski admiration for the Amish are unsettling. The reason why the Amish retain so many people born into their culture is because it's very difficult to leave (not unlike Quiverfull). Someone raised in insular Amish society may not know what options are available to them in the "English" world. Even the practice of rumspringa only gives Amish youth a short, superficial taste of the outside world. Unless they have loved ones living outside Amish society, they would have no support system or mentors if they left. With little education or money, how could they build a life for themselves without that support? Under those conditions, is it any wonder that most Amish youth stay within their natal culture? While some disaffected Amish people do leave, they are in the minority.

Let's not forget that insular, patriarchal societies where women are expected to breed prolifically are not automatically safe places for families. No matter how much Witkowski wants to label the Amish  "pro-family", the reality is that child abuse and rape culture exist in Amish communities, just as they do in the "English" world. Insularity and patriarchy do not prevent these evils, but only make it more difficult for victims to seek help. If evangelicals truly want to be "pro-family", they should focus on preventing and addressing family violence instead of making their faith communities more insular and fecund.

This kind of culture may help the Amish community retain members, but it comes at the cost of self-determination and individual flourishing. This is not something that evangelical Christians should emulate for the sake of stabilizing their numbers. The Amish insularity and fecundity that Witkowski praises could easily produce Quiverfull scenarios if cross-bred with evangelical Christianity. Furthermore, these strategies would do a disservice to women and children in those communities.

Southern Baptists and other denominations hemorrhaging members should either accept their declining numbers, or address the reasons why members are leaving. Urging believers to breed prolifically and raise children in sheltered, hyper-Christian environments to shore up denominational membership will only result in misery.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

News Tidbits

Southern Poverty Law Center: Federal court permits Vermont lesbian to sue Liberty Counsel, Mat Staver for role in international kidnapping

Reuters: Come down from pulpit to deal with sexual abuse, Catholic leaders told

Associated Press: Katy Perry says she 'prayed the gay away' as a youth

The Independent: Republican politician says rape and incest part of God's will

Philly*com: Religious groups sue school district over transgender student

Buzzfeed: This Bus Is On A Road Trip To Convince You That Transgender People Aren’t Real

Washington Blade: Kentucky governor signs ‘religious freedom’ bill against LGBT students

Washington Blade: Caribbean pastors ask U.S. to stop promoting LGBT rights abroad

Commentary Tidbits

The Guardian: Mike Pence, finding God, and the shifting agenda of Christian music festivals

The Atlantic: Steve Bannon's Would-Be Coalition of Christian Traditionalists

Ashley Easter: Why Patriarchy Is Abuse

The Advocate: Trump Gives Haters a Prominent Spot at the United Nations

New Report Looks at Lives of Muslims in the Trump Era

Donald Trump's anti-Muslim efforts -- from his 2015 call for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the U.S. to his executive orders banning entry to persons from several majority-Muslim countries -- have emboldened anti-Muslim activists and fueled anti-Muslim sentiments in the U.S. Similar sentiments among current and former members of his administration, as well as organizations that support him and his policies, have also shocked onlookers. Now, a new report is shedding light on the pernicious effect these developments have had on American Muslim communities.

According to Reuters, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding just released the results of a national survey of American Muslims. American Muslim Poll 2017: Muslims at the Crossroads presents the results of a January 2017 study of 1,249 respondents residing in the U.S., including 800 Muslims. While the report explores Muslim experiences and attitudes in a variety of areas, such as race issues, community involvement, and religiosity, the survey's findings regarding discrimination and safety are what concern me.

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, American Muslims report higher rates of discrimination and bullying and feel greater anxieties over their safety than the general population. The statistics presented in the report deserve attention.

  • Muslim respondents were four times as likely as members of the general population to report that their children had been bullied. Two-thirds of bullying incidents involved other students, 6% involved teachers or school officials, and 19% involved both students and teachers or school officials.

  • 36% of Muslims reported experiencing discrimination on the basis of religion "occasionally" or "regularly". Muslim women and Muslims of Asian or Arab ancestry were more likely to report occasional or regular discrimination.

  • 30% of Muslims reported being stopped by U.S. border officials for additional questioning upon returning from international travel, compared to 13% of Jews, 11% of Catholics, 11% of Protestants, 19% of non-affiliated respondents, and 12% of the general public.

  • As a result of the 2016 presidential election, 38% of Muslims feared for their safety or that of their loved ones and worried about violence from white supremacist groups. Only 27% of Jews, 8% of Catholics, 11% of Protestants, and 16% of non-affiliated respondents feared for their safety.

  • Safety fears impacted other parts of Muslim respondents' lives in the wake of the presidential election. 18% of Muslims admitted to making plans to leave the country "if it becomes necessary". 15% admitted to modifying their appearance to be less identifiable as Muslims. 11% reported that they signed up for a self-defense class.

These survey results are unsettling, especially when read alongside other reports showing a significant increase in anti-Muslim hate groups and anti-Muslim hate crimes during the 2016 presidential campaign and after the election. (More here.)

No community should have to live with fear of bullying, discrimination, and violence that comes with being demonized as "other". We should all be alarmed by the results of the ISPU report, as it demonstrates that the rhetoric of Trump and his allies are having a real impact on Muslim communities.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Religious Right Figures Among U.S. Delegation to U.N. Commission on the Status of Women

The 61st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women will take place at United Nations headquarters in New York City on March 13-24. The Commission on the Status of Women brings together representatives of U.N. member states and non-governmental organizations to promote women's empowerment and equality around the world. To the horror of LGBTQ and women's rights groups, Religious Right figures will be representing the U.S. at the meeting.

According to a March 13th press release, the U.S. State Department will include representatives from two right-wing organizations in its delegation to the 61st session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. Lisa Correnti, executive vice-president of the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM) and Grace Melton, Association for Social Issues at the U.N for the Heritage Foundation, will be part of the delegation. (Hat tip to Reuters.)

C-FAM and its president, Austin Ruse, have a long history of opposing LGBTQ equality and women's reproductive rights at home and at the United Nations. As recently as March 9th, C-FAM issued a statement criticizing U.N. staff for their resistance to the newly reinstated "global gag rule".

The Heritage Foundation's resume is more varied, but its right-wing credentials are solid. For decades, the Heritage Foundation has been a major mover-and-shaker of the American right, and is currently active in the push for "religious freedom" (which, as interpreted by the Religious Right, would allow anti-LGBTQ discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs). Right Wing Watch has documented the anti-LGBTQ activism of Heritage Foundation senior fellow Ryan Anderson. The organization has also engaged in troubling activism to undermine reproductive rights and oppose Planned Parenthood.

I doubt that representatives of C-FAM and the Heritage Foundation will have the best interests of all women -- women seeking reproductive health services, lesbian women, bisexual women, transgender women -- at heart during the 61st session meeting. By appointing representatives of these two organizations to its delegation, the U.S. State Department has signaled its indifference to women's reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights to the world.

Activists have condemned the decision. In a March 15th open letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Human Rights Campaign urged the State Department to rescind the appointments of Correnti and Melton.
"If the United States is truly committed to improving the lives of women, including LBTQ women, in the U.S. and beyond, then Lisa Correnti and Grace Melton and the organizations they represent should not be the public face of our delegation. We urge you to immediately rescind the appointment of these delegates who do not represent our shared American values."
In a March 15th press release, Out Right International observed that it is "a bad sign that two organizations that have tried to delegitimize the United Nations and human rights internationally now sit on the official US delegation."
"In their Senate confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Tillerson and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley repeatedly pledged to uphold the right to be free from discrimination as an American value. The appointment of these organizations to the official US delegation undermines their positions. I urge Secretary Tillerson and Ambassador Haley to ensure that the US delegation maintains non-discrimination at the CSW in the face of obvious pressure from these newly appointed members of the delegation.

Fundamentalist notions about how women and girls should behave should never be the basis of advising or negotiating US foreign policy."
These delegation choices are another example of how the Trump administration is choosing foxes to guard the hen houses. Rest assured, women's rights activists and LGBTQ equality activists will continue to teach the world about the needs of their communities -- and remind the world that the Religious Right doesn't speak for them.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Right Wing Watch: Trump Names C-Fam, Heritage To U.S. Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women

Dallas Voice: Trump administration embarrasses U.S. again by appointing hate group members to U.N. women’s rights meeting

Human Rights Watch: U.S. Sends Group Rejecting Rights to UN Women’s Commission

Today's Orange Horrors, and Glimmers of Hope

Bloomberg: Trump to Drop Climate Change From Environmental Reviews, Source Says

New York Times: Donald Trump Budget Slashes Funds for EPA and State Department

Washington Post: President Trump's first budget proposal

Washington Post: From ‘fake news’ to no news: Tillerson leaving press behind on Asia trip could send message to China

Reuters: Hawaii judge halts Trump's new travel ban before it can go into effect

CNN: Trump admin to appeal travel ban rulings 'soon'

Huffington Post: Cherokee Nation Members Troubled By Trump’s Visit To Andrew Jackson’s Tomb

Stay hopeful! People continue to stand up against Trump.

The Tennessean: More than 2,500 protest Trump rally

The Tennessean: Meet the protester who interrupted Trump's rally

Sexual Assault Victim Unhappy After Group Uses Her Attack to Promote "Bathroom Bill"

2017 has produced a bumper crop of transphobic "bathroom bills", which would prohibit transgender persons from using public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lawmakers in 15 states have introduced bathroom bills during the 2017 legislative session, with legislation pending in 12 of those states.

Bathroom bill proponents defend their work as an effort to protect women and children from alleged transgender predators. Such claims are ridiculous, as multiple commentators have noted. Bathroom bill proponents fail to provide any evidence that transgender persons are more likely to commit sex crimes. Furthermore, they ignore ample evidence that transgender people experience disproportionate rates of bullying, harassment, and sexual victimization  -- including in restroom settings -- due to transphobia. For example, The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that out of a national sample of over 27,000 transgender adults, 9% indicated that someone denied them access to a restroom in the past year, and 12% experienced verbal harassment while accessing a restroom. Over half of respondents admitted to avoiding using a public restroom in the past year due to fear of confrontations.

Anti-sexual violence services recognize that bathroom bills have nothing to do with protecting women and children and reject the myth of transgender restroom predators. Last year, multiple victim service organizations signed a joint letter supporting equal restroom access for the transgender community. Now, a sexual assault victim is also raising her voice against bathroom bills.

According to MyNorthwest, Kelly Herron fought off a male attacker in a public Seattle restroom this year. ABC News states that her reported attacker, Gary Steiner, has a record of multiple assaults against women and is facing attempted rape and assault charges.

Herron was disgusted when Washington's Just Want Privacy campaign campaign used her attack to promote an anti-transgender policy measure. Just Want Privacy supports I-1552, a ballot initiative that would require separate restroom facilities for males and females, as well as preventing transgender people from using facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

Herron described her shock upon seeing her assault used to promote I-1552. "I’ve been pretty even keeled throughout this recovery time," she told Dori Monson at KIRO Radio. "I haven’t really cried very much or been angry. When I opened up this link to a newsletter that went out for the bill ...the Yes on I-1552, and it’s got my bloodied face on the cover of this newsletter that's coming out, and on their Facebook page, using my violent sexual assault to promote an initiative that discriminates against transgender people. What?!"

Herron emphasized her respect for transgender people as well as her outrage at having her image used without her permission.
"I have transgender friends. I work with transgender people. They are people. They identify differently and I don’t care where they use the bathroom. When I see a transgender person in the bathroom, we talk about lip gloss ... Now my face is being used to promote discrimination. This is outrageous. One issue has nothing to do with the other."
Just Want Privacy issued an apology in a March 14th Facebook post.
"Last week a Seattle woman was attacked in a bathroom at Golden Gardens by a level III sex offender.

Because our campaign exists to help create safe spaces, we referenced her story—as we have many others before her—to highlight the need for common sense public policy to minimize danger to women and children from those who seek to harm others.

We have recently learned through several media outlets that the woman objected to our reference to her story in our communications.

Since many of the volunteers that comprise this campaign are themselves survivors of sexual assault, the last thing we want to do is make anyone feel exploited.

If our actions have inadvertently failed in this effort, we are sincerely sorry.

Our campaign would welcome the opportunity to apologize to her in person if she would like to reach out to us or provide a way for us to reach her."
According to Washington Won't Discriminate (an initiative opposed to I-1552), Herron has since joined efforts to fundraise for its Decline to Sign I-1552 campaign. "Using Kelly’s story to promote I-1552 is pure propaganda," the group wrote on its website. "I-1552 would not have done one thing to prevent the attack on her, and it’s already illegal to enter a restroom or locker room to harm someone, period."

I applaud Kelly Herron for speaking out against bigotry and the misuse of her story. Sex crime victims deserve respect and support, and their struggles should never be used as cheap propaganda. Society must realize that the struggle against sexual violence and the struggle for transgender rights are entwined, not mutually exclusive.

Monday, March 13, 2017