White Supremacy Brings us to War, Again


One final thought about abortion and the current administration’s pissing contest in North Korea:

For folks who believe that women who choose abortion are making a selfish choice, you are usually right. In the vast majority of abortions, women are choosing to have abortions because they don’t want the children their pregnancies would produce, and they don’t want those children because those children will impede the lives they want to live. They are choosing the lives they want–free from this pregnancy and that child, right now–over pregnancy and parenthood. That is selfish in the sense that the choice focuses on their happiness, safety, and financial security. (Are there other reasons why women have abortions? For sure. But for most women choosing an abortion, the procedure isn’t a matter of their health but of their preference not to be a mother (usually again) right now.)

For folks who believe that the cost of a woman choosing the life she wants is too high–that that choice in fact comes at the cost of another human’s life–war should outrage you even more because it excuses killing other people for far less of a useful reason: to show that you can.

Why should the US be fighting a war? Why should we be talking about dropping a bomb in North Korea? Only for selfish reasons–and reasons that are not simply selfish but entirely immaterial because our lives will not improve if we bomb North Korea. At least a woman who is exercising her right to get an abortion is probably going to see her life improve because of it. (This isn’t to say that women don’t have ambivalent feelings about their abortions or that there aren’t negative personal consequences to abortion. But most women are relieved that they made the decision they did.)

Image result for american flag middle finger

Above, an extended middle finger, covered in the stars and stripes of the US flag, the symbol of what Joel has called the “Effyouacracy,” has shown up repeatedly in online conversations I’ve been following about whether and why the US should drop a nuclear bomb on North Korea. What is this worrisome threatening and posturing about except proving that we have a “real man” as a president, as one Trump Deplorable shared in a post. 

Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and a politics of resentment (and potentially collusion with Russia) gave us this fool of a president. There are Americans among us–60 million of them–who will destroy the world through nuclear war in order to insure that white people get to feel powerful.

What is more selfish than that?



If abortion kills children, what does war do to them?

Dear Joel,

I appreciate your empathy for a pro-life position–and your willingness to hold pro-life Christians to a fully pro-life position. “Birth to natural death” means nothing if Christians can find a way to excuse every war that their leaders bring to them.

To your well-made point that it’s not pro-life to advocate nuclear war, I’ll add a few more:

If you believe that abortion is wrong because it kills innocent people, you should oppose war, too, because most of the people killed in war are also innocent. Even with our most precise drone technology, we kill a lot of people we’re not aiming for. 


Above, the face of a Pakistani girl whose family was killed in a 2010 US drone strike, as seen from above. If you think that doctors who perform abortions are doing evil, what do you think that drone operators are doing?

If you believe that abortion hurts women, you should oppose war because it hurts women, too. Women are injured when rape is used as a weapon in war, and they die in attacks that kill civilians. The UN estimates that 86% of refugees fleeing violence in South Sudan are women and children. But it’s not just “bad guys” who hurt women. The international system of US bases feeds prostitution that harms women and children.

If you believe that women who have abortions are seeking an easy-way-out from a problem of their own making, see if you can tell me why we entered the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, or any war of the twenty-first century. Also, tell me how much military budget you are willing to cut to put toward efforts that are more likely to work than war. War isn’t just a moral failing–it’s a practical one. 

If you think that abortion is a sign of a self-centered culture that hates children and God, don’t say that the military protects people or that war is holy. Just admit it: you don’t love women and children. You love power over others.




The mythical “Responsible Handgun Owner”

Dear Joel,

Recently over at PennLive, you asked for an honest conversation about guns, which can only begin if we start by admitting that guns are for killing. In the US, there are a lot of guns owned solely for this purpose. I encountered one of them last week.

I had taken the kiddos out to Chuck-a-Rama, which is like a better Hoss’s (if you are from PA) and a much, much better Bonanza (which raises the question: Why are so many buffets Western-themed?). It’s perfect if you are feeding bottomless teens or preschoolers who have been pushed past their limit and need food NOW. The key detail here is that it’s a buffet, so you get up from your seat frequently.

Still, the table next to ours had been empty except for dirty dishes for a long time when I saw that there was a purse left on the bench seat. I watched it for a bit longer, but no one returned, so I asked by littlest (the hungry preschooler now in heaven because of the endless Jell-O options) to pick it up, and, escorted by me, he carried to the the parking lot, where we hoped to find a woman who realized she’d left it when she wasn’t able to find her keys. No luck, so we opened it, hoping to find a cell phone without too much sorting through someone’s personal belongings (The thing was huge!) so we could call the In Case of Emergency number and let them know that we’d found the purse. They couldn’t have gotten far, I thought.

That’s when I saw the little pink handgun, floating right there amid assorted cosmetics, tubes of lip balm, and a miniature pack of tissues. Which, by the way, is totally legal in Utah, where I live.

Utah is an open-carry state with very few laws that protect the public from the mishandling of weapons. Utah has a higher-than-average rate of accidental gun deaths among children, which is not a surprise at all given that we have the youngest population and many, many guns. And accidents from guns that are tossed into bags happen (like this one, this past April, in a busy college cafeteria) which is also not a surprise.

I say that gun accidents are “not a surprise” because handgun owners are inherently irresponsible.

Granted, I know a lot of dirtbags, but I also know of no–not one single one–responsible handgun owners. By this, I mean that I don’t know a single person who I know owns a handgun who is able to insure that these guns are kept in such a way that they have never presented a danger to the public.

Certainly not the woman who left her handgun in her bag. She hadn’t disappeared after all. She’d left it there on purpose while she went to the restroom, then refilled her plate. After, shaking with anger, I’d delivered the purse to the manager (Seeing that he did not share my fury about this, I realized that I should have just kept it, a justified theft, I think.)  and returned to my seat, I saw her seated again. She didn’t even realize that the purse was missing! How silly of her!

And how common. And how deadly.

If you are in my family and own a gun and my claim that you aren’t responsible with it hurts your feelings, ask yourself honestly: Have you ever lost track of that gun, even for a moment? Forgotten where it was? Told yourself that you didn’t need to lock it up because you’d hidden it somewhere where the kids wouldn’t find it? Not known exactly how many rounds it had left in it at any moment? Shown it off to someone because you wanted their admiration? Let a friend handle it who wasn’t trained properly? Taken it out in public when it didn’t need to go? Felt safer because you were carrying it (even though you’re not)? Not known the laws in the place where you were carrying it? Brought it into the home of someone you know who didn’t want it? Left your house or car unlocked while a gun was inside? Allowed your safety and shooting skills to lapse but not gotten rid of your guns?

Lest I sound too harsh, I’ve forgotten and lost many things: keys, phones, wallets, purses, children. I’ve left jackets hanging on the back of bathroom stalls, and I just forgot my favorite cardigan on an international flight. I’ve had to page children at the swimming pool, grocery store, and farmer’s market. I’ve forgotten where I parked the car and which one I drove to the grocery store.

Which is why I don’t believe that anyone should ever own a handgun. Handgun owners cannot be responsible enough to keep handguns safe because handguns are inherently dangerous (which is why we prize them), and to be used for their purpose–to kill people–they must be always kept in a state of constant dangerousness. If that woman’s handgun wasn’t loaded, what the hell was the point? (What was the point, anyway? If you really think you might need to use lethal violence there, why are you at Chuck-a-Rama?)

The point is always to kill, but to be constantly ready to kill requires constant vigilance–which most people (perhaps only members of the Secret Service and other bodyguard types) simply aren’t able to give.

This past May, Utah did not charge a father who rested his gun against the wall of the room where his two young children were playing while he went to wash up in the bathroom. While he was gone, his three-year-old daughter shot and killed his two-year-old son. The father, like about half the adults in such situations, wasn’t charged. The state called it an “accident”–though it is not an accident at all but an outcome that is going to happen to some children as long as we have handguns in homes. This doesn’t give me much hope that if my son had been the one to unzip that handbag and he had used that gun, that this woman would have been held responsible. A tragic accident, born out of her selfishness, fear, arrogance, and inattention.

We can’t make guns safe because they’re not. And, of course, many gun owners don’t want them to be safe–and neither does the gun industry. They want them to be stylish, accessible, deadly, and everywhere.


Gun purseTeal gun


Top, a handbag, with matching wallet, designed to store a handgun, which I suppose is an improvement over the free-floating weapon. It’s statement of faith–“With God all things are possible”–seems at odds with the faithless choice to carry a handgun. Below, a matching handgun. 

Conservative Christians flirt with blasphemy

Dear Joel,

This week, a Religious Right organization that I follow closely, Family Research Council, sent me the following press release:

Screen Shot 2017-08-03 at 8.54.19 AM.png

FRC is an off-shoot of Focus on the Family, an organization once headed by the terrible child psychologist (His Dare to Discipline! has been used to justify violence against children for a generation) James Dobson. FRC started as the research arm of that organization before becoming an independent group that seeks to influence policy toward the ends of religious conservatives: against abortion, gay rights, taxes, and environmental regulation and for the upward distribution of wealth and militarism.

While faithful Christians should recognize the devil in Donald Trump, FRC, like most other Religious Right organizations and their leaders, has embraced him, downplaying or ignoring his crassness and hatefulness and instead seeing him as a King Cyrus—if not a godly man, then a man called by God to lead American Christians out of this period of perceived persecution and into, ideally, a theocracy.

Historian John Fea, of Messiah College, calls this kind of Christian a “court evangelical”—and the term should sting. Rather than serving the people by challenging their evil king, as Joseph and Daniel and Esther did, court evangelicals are quick to bend a knee to King Donald. Writes Fea in The Washington Post:

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

Fea’s case is well-made at his blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home, and readers who want the follow the ample evidence he provides of religious conservatives’ present-day Constantinian shift should check it out. Fea provides enough examples to make those who take Jesus’ words that “the last shall be first” seriously very uneasy.

Case in point: the headline on that press release.

It references Psalm 100, a passage familiar to many Christians because it appears in the lyrics of a popular worship song. Here is the entire psalm:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.


Here, the people are rejoicing to enter into God’s court. In FRC’s version, they are rejoicing to enter into Trump’s.

A major conversation is happening on a subreddit scene devoted to Trump as “God Emperor.” Reddit is a cesspool of misogyny, racism, and homophobia—but it’s also a place that gives us a decent preview of what Trump enthusiasts are about. Conservative Christians should be deeply offended by what is an obvious affront to the first commandment. Instead, they’re some of the biggest pushers of a vision of Trump-as-God.

I’d encourage any reader who is a fan on FRC to contact the organization here and let them know that their Trump-worship isn’t just politically dangerous—it’s blasphemous.


Trans rights are human rights. The military kills humans. Let’s not call this progress.

Dear Joel,

Donald Trump tweets that he’s going to ban trans people from the military.

What’s a progressive Mennonite supposed to think?

Trump’s justification–that trans-specific health care is too expensive–is a lie. We can afford to provide health care for all our soldiers. We do a terrible job of it now, but the reason is a matter of will, not money.

The claim that the military budget is too high is also a lie. I mean, it’s true, but Republicans don’t care. Fighting wars costs money, but that never stopped them.

And to the claim that the US military is focused on “decisive and overwhelming victory”…  well, then we would choose to use military power to fight winnable battles instead of throwing soldiers at every problem we see.

It’s clear that Trump’s issue isn’t with military readiness or cost. This hot air isn’t even about Trump’s disdain for trans people. It’s about rallying his bigoted base, as usual. And, as always, decent people must oppose hatred and bigotry.

Which is what makes the threatened ban on trans people so challenging to engage–because the military, in its purpose and its actions–is absolutely about violence to people who are weaker. It’s about emnification, which is the start of the process of hate. And, in practice, the US military kills brown skinned people. It’s violence is not evenly inflicted on the Bad Guys of the world; it’s violence disproportionately harms the most vulnerable.

Should we oppose Trump’s threat because everyone should be free to choose whether they join the military? Fundamentally, I don’t think anyone should be free to choose mass death and destruction for others. I don’t think we have the right to engage in war. I don’t think anyone has the right to bomb another person.

I’ll keep fighting for trans rights and against any effort–including this one–that demeans queer people (because that, not military readiness, is the goal for Trump). But let’s not call it a progressive cause, please.


PS. Readers, if you haven’t seen Joel’s fantastic contribution on this issue to The Week, check it out!


Hope from the Inside

Dear Joel,

When I told our children we were moving from Kansas—literally, the Free State—to Arkansas, a state that spitefully celebrated Martin Luther King Day and Robert E. Lee Day on the same day for years and years, my oldest asked the question I’d already been thinking: Why would we move to a former Confederate State?

As a native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I’d grown up reliving the Civil War as much as the students I would come to teach in Arkansas had. For me, though, the stories were of radical bravery in the fight to root out the gravest of sins: the Christiana riots, which predated the Civil War; the white Quakers who moved people escaping slavery north to Canada; the Republicanism of Thaddeus Stevens. And always, the importance of the Mason-Dixon line, which continued to separate the good people of the North from those who inhumanely enslaved others. Of course, I knew that the stories were more complicated, that racism and hate exist in the North (including my beloved rural Lancaster County) just as cruelly as it does in the South (and more, in some cases) and true in the Free State. It is the home of both John Brown the liberator and John Brown the mass murderer, the site of the Exoduster town Nicodemus and a place that treated Langston Hughes terribly, a place where Brown v. the Board was won because, after all, segregation was legal there.

Above left, a historical plaque marking the battle of Jonesboro, an 1862 skirmish that left killed 8 Union soldiers and one fool willing to die to defend slavery. Above right, a historical marker honoring the Christiana Resistance. Maryland slave owner Edward Gorsuch traveled with a posse to Christiana, Pennsylvania, to retrieve men who had escaped slavery on his farm. Gorsuch met armed resistance from William Parker, a free black man, and others, black and white, who opposed the Fugitive Slave Act and slavery. Gorsuch was killed, and nearly 40 people, black and white, including several Quakers, were arrested and charged with treason. Most charges were dismissed.

But still, I had to answer the question. I stressed that the Civil War was over, even though I know it’s just taken new forms. The best part, I told my sweet, white son, is that he’d likely have a sizeable number of African American classmates, which hadn’t been the case in his Kansas public schools, though he had had many friends who were native American (especially when we lived in the Haskell neighborhood in Lawrence) and Mexican and central American.

He looked appalled. “Why,” he asked, “would a black person ever live in the South?” It made even less sense than the descendants of Union soldiers moving there.


Above, though progressive in other ways, Arkansas Governor Charles Hillman Brough responded to the massacre of black Arkansans in Elaine, Arkansas in 1919 by rallying whites. 

Below, Exodusters in Nicodemus, Kansas in 1855. 


There are good reasons, of course, beyond the difficulty in picking up your life and moving it to a new region. Racism is everywhere, and perhaps it is easier to navigate in Arkansas or Louisiana or Georgia, which bring the benefits of being in a place with a long history of African Americans. We read up on how so many of our civil rights heroes were Southern and learned about the beauty of the myriad cultures of the African American South.

But still, the question: Why stay in a place built (literally, the infrastructure, the agriculture, the commerce) on your oppression?

I’ve been thinking about the question again with Lawrence Ware’s announcement in the New York Times that he is quitting the Southern Baptist Convention.  The SBC was founded as a defense against abolitionist Christianity; it’s origin is as a theological justification for keeping the captives captive.

Ware is a professor of philosophy and co-director of Africana studies at Oklahoma State, plus a pastor ordained in both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, founded by King. He renounced his SBC membership after those gathered at the recent national conference in Phoenix refused to take seriously the call the reject the racism of the alt-right, racism that the Trump campaign has deliberately fostered. Ware writes:

I want to be a member of a body of believers that is structured around my Christian beliefs of equity, not one that sees those issues as peripheral. The equality of all people should be a fundamental principle that is a starting point of the convention’s existence, not a side issue to be debated.

Ware’s departure brought criticism from those with little sympathy for someone who had spent his life as part of an anti-LGBTQ+, anti-woman organization and only left once he realized it was just too damned racist to be a part of anymore.

I understand that response. It informed by Fannie Lou Hamer’s stirring call: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” It’s the point behind intersectional activism, which requires us to think about the ways that different parts of our identities intersect and how those intersecting identities make us different from each other—even as they require us to collaborate in the movement for justice. Those who seek only their own safety will always lose it.

But I’ve also witnessed the destructiveness of call-out culture and efforts to overcome oppression that have been as much about purity, not hospitality, as are the worst churches. We too seldom have patience for each other’s growth, and we use other people’s weaknesses as an opportunity to show our own strength rather than our grace. Ware knew that the SBC was homophobic as well as racist, and he mentions his long-term grief about the organization’s failure to confront those prejudices in his letter; surely, he also knows of the group’s sexism, including its removal of women from the pulpit. He stayed because he felt that pressure from within was more powerful than pressure from without; he was hopeful.

We shouldn’t mock that, even if we don’t understand it. And we shouldn’t deride those whose process of recognizing the connections between oppressions is unlike ours.


BSA Needs to Apologize

Hi Joel,

The sleeping bag hasn’t yet aired out from my oldest child’s stay at Boy Scout camp last week, and today I dropped my daughter off at Girl Scout camp. Despite some ambivalence about Boy Scouts in particular, our family has benefitted from Scouting in ways I’m very grateful for.

So I say with a lot of love for this organization: saying that you are “wholly non-partisan” after Donald Trump’s crass, inappropriate speech to boys gathered for the National Jamboree is not enough. In fact, it adds insult to injury.


Above, a Boy Scout uniform amid the rubble after an EF3 tornado tore through the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in Sioux, Iowa, in 2008. Emergency responders had to use chainsaws to cut their way to the camp as the twister left a path of destruction 14 miles long. Four boys died, and more were injured, but the boys worked hard to put their knowledge of first aid to good use. Donald Trump knows nothing of heroism, sacrifice, valor, or bravery–in fact, he detests those things. He doesn’t deserve to speak before BSA, as his speech proved. 

It’s a lovely tradition that the sitting president of the US is the honorary president of BSA. Anyone who has the character to serve as POTUS should surely be able to handle the duties of honorary BSA president. But, as so many of us yell daily, these are not normal times. The current president could not handle the duties of being a Denny’s hostess or a customer service rep at any of the major telecom companies. He should never be given access to children or families.

And so, that tradition should have been suspended at the election of Donald Trump. The Boy Scouts cannot be responsible for what this vile person said–words that violated the stated values of Boy Scouts of America throughout.

But BSA is responsible for bringing this moral failure to speak before their members. Boy Scouts of America should have seen this coming a mile away. The main problem with Trump’s speech wasn’t that it was “too political” but that it was disrespectful, unkind, and self-centered–as so many of his speeches are.

At some point, we have to hold those who hand this man a microphone accountable. That includes BSA.



If you want to share your concerns about BSA’s failure to vet speakers, you can do so by writing to myscouting@scouting.org. Here is my letter, in case it is helpful:

Dear Boy Scouts of America,

The tradition of the current president of the United States serving as as honorary president of BSA is a noble one, but it should have been suspended with the election of Donald Trump. However you feel about his politics (and BSA’s effort to remain non-partisan is noble), he lacks character. He made it clear through the election process that he despises weaker people, speaks ill of those who cannot defend themselves, and and violates every single one of a Boy Scout’s values. He’s a promoter of pornography, gambling, sexual infidelity, and sexual violence against women.  While I wish that the current president did follow the Boy Scout law (Certainly America would be a better place if every leader lived out these values!), the current president’s words, actions, and history mock the best of Scouting. You knew that and you endangered the boys entrusted to your care at the National Jamboree.  You were foolish to trust him near children. As a parent of a Scout, I’m not just angry or disappointed–I’m discouraged at your lack of judgment. I didn’t watch that speech and think ill of the children who likely don’t know this man’s history of crass comments, but I was motivated to re-evaluate BSA’s ability to identify role models for boys.

Instead of offering a mealy-mouthed non-apology, change your policy to nominate an honorary president from among the many political leaders we have who do encompass the values of a Boy Scout.  And apologize. (Start with, “We displayed a lack of judgment in inviting a guest to speak who does not understand or embody Scout values.” This is true, and it is not an attack on Trump, as he is quite proud about his lack of values.)  It will cost you the support of Trump voters, but your integrity is worth it.

Rebecca Barrett-Fox

Parent of X,

Scout Troop XXX

City, State