Hurting for Mamie Till, Hurting like Carolyn Bryant

Have you read Scott Russell Sanders’ “The Men We Carry in Our Minds”? The essay begins with a conversation between Sanders and a friend, a woman named Anneka. He remarks to her, “This must be a hard time to be a woman…. They have so many paths to choose from, and so many voices calling them.” Her reply–that she feels bad for men–surprises him. She explains: “The women I know feel excited, innocent, like crusaders in a just cause. The men I know are eaten up with guilt.” I’m wondering who these men Anneka hangs out with are as she tells Sanders, “I wouldn’t be a man for anything. It’s much easier being the victim. All the victim has to do is break free. The persecutor has to live with his past.”

The rest of the essay unpacks that, considering class in a way that makes the essay very teachable to poor white students who struggle to understand intersectionality, but it’s that line about how being the victim is easier than being the perpetrator that has stuck with me. I don’t think it’s true–I’d rather have your $1 than my 77 cents, and I suppose black people would like to be the ones living longer, wealthier, healthier, and safer–but I get the point. Of course, we suffer moral injury when we hurt others, but this isn’t just about a person’s individual past but our collective pasts, not just the history of your family or mine but of the white people to whom we are related if not through genes then through inherited privilege.

What we do with those histories is one question. What we aren’t allowed to do with them is another, and that’s the one you focus on with the example of Dana Schultz’s painting of Emmett Till in his casket. Protesters have blocked the painting from view, and some African American artists have called for the painting by Schultz, a white woman, to be removed from the Whitney and destroyed. (I had to pay careful attention to my own immediate response to the call for the destruction of the painting. It was, not surprisingly, a big “F-Off, Liberal Fascists.” Then I had to think about what I would need to feel in order to want to destroy a piece of artwork, for me to overcome my love of free speech. If I assume that Schultz’s protesters also love the First Amendment, then what do they have to be suffering in order to throw it aside?)


Above, a photo of Mamie Till crying over the casket of her son, 14-year-old Emmett, who was murdered by two white men after being accused of whistling at the wife of one of them. Both men were acquitted of the murder by an all-white jury and later admitted to committing the crime.

Schultz was kind, if a bit naive, in her response. She said:  “I don’t know what it is like to be black in America but I do know what it is like to be a mother. Emmett was Mamie Till’s only son. The thought of anything happening to your child is beyond comprehension. Their pain is your pain. My engagement with this image was through empathy with his mother.”

But, of course, Mamie Till wasn’t just a mother; she was a black mother to a black son. How close can a white woman who mothers a white son be to a black woman who mothers a black son? Is that answer different today than it was in the summer of 1955 when Emmett Till was murdered? Can her pain belong to anyone but her? If so, how far beyond black motherhood can it travel?

Art helps us bridge our differences, which is why fascists hate it and why kids who read Harry Potter are more empathetic than those who don’t. But, of course, we have to walk across the bridge it provides, too, exercising what Michael Eric Dyson calls our “civic imagination” and doing what you call “empathetic shovel-work.”

We will never do it perfectly, because our experiences do not correspond perfectly with the experiences of other people, and we can’t always guess which of our differences may matter. We can only be gentle in our efforts to understand, hoping that others will gracious in accepting our attempts but also recognizing that we may be forestalled. And when our efforts–as white people trying to get the hang of this–are rejected, we need to respect that it could be that those who are rejecting us are smart not to trust us.

That might sound discouraging for white people trying to address their history of hate, but there is good news. You don’t have to have the same experience as someone or someone else to right; you don’t even have to feel empathy to do right. You don’t have to have daughters to think sexual assault against women is wrong. You don’t have to have a child to cry for Emmett Till or Alan Kurdi–or to oppose racial violence, war, and oppression.

It’s actually pretty easy to feel for Mamie Till. The harder work for white people is to own up to feeling like JW Milam, Roy Bryant, and Carolyn Bryant, to turn our eyes away from Till’s body, as rendered in photographs and painting, and to turn them toward ourselves, our own histories, and our own complicity, today, in actions and systems that kill black children.


Yesterday, the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger reported that the Justice Department is considering reopening the Emmett Till case. In his last days in office, President Obama signed an expansion of the Emmett Till Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016, which authorizes the FBI to investigate Civil Rights cold cases. White people should, of course, cheer this on–while remembering that we are the reason these crimes happened.

To learn more about the life of Emmett Till, consider engaging the Emmett Till Memory Project.

the-blood-of-emmett-till-9781476714844_hrAbove, The Blood of Emmett Till, released this winter, includes testimony from Carolyn Bryant that she lied when she said the teenage Till made sexual advances toward her.

On the appropriateness of appropriation


So far we’ve spent our time on this blog talking about three things: Christianity, race, and feminism. Which is kind of funny — and kind of not — because, well, I’m white, male, and agnostic-ish.*

* It’s complicated.

I’m aware that I bring my white guyness to these topics, but I’ve tried not to be white guyish about it. Which is to say: I’m aware there are big gaps in my experience and outlook when I address these topics. Sometimes I even choose to remain silent on them.

But not always, clearly.

I do think my white guyness requires me to approach these issues with a degree of humility, a willingness to drop my defensiveness, and — above all — knowing when it is time to shut up and listen. I am probably not always successful at that. But I still think about these things, and writing in a public forum is one of the ways I do my thinking.

To put it another way: I’m aware these conversations have been going on a long time, that there’s been a tendency among white guys to grab the advantage by diminishing the personhood of non-white guys at the table. That’s wrong. So punch me in the face if you catch me doing that.

All of this might be a prelude to that face-punching. I’ve been troubled by the reception to a piece of art, made by a white woman, depicting Emmett Till in his coffin. Here’s NYMag on the controversy:

At the opening of the 2017 Whitney Biennial, protesters blocked the painting from view, and over two dozen black artists signed an open letter requesting the painting be removed and destroyed because it co-opted black pain with a white gaze.

The artist, Dana Schutz, has pushed back, albeit gently. She said:  “I don’t know what it is like to be black in America but I do know what it is like to be a mother. Emmett was Mamie Till’s only son. The thought of anything happening to your child is beyond comprehension. Their pain is your pain. My engagement with this image was through empathy with his mother.” She added: “Art can be a space for empathy, a vehicle for connection.”

So here’s where I have to tread cautiously.

There’s part of me that’s sympathetic to the protesters. (Not to their demand the painting be destroyed; that’s a quasi-fascist impulse that I’ll object to every time.) Over America’s lifetime, white people have made a practice of taking and breaking black bodies, taking and breaking black dignity, taking and breaking black culture. (We even have a new example this week thanks to Pepsi Cola.)

And yet…

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been reading Michael Eric Dyson’s “Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America.” It is indeed a sermon, and I fear that it mostly preaches to the converted — those whites who are willing to accept that America’s poisonous racial dynamic is carried out on their behalf, is at least partly their responsibility.

Dyson counsels his readers:

“Whiteness must shed its posture of competence, its will to omniscience, its belief in its goodness and purity, and then walk a mile or two in the boots of blackness. The siege of hate will not end until white folk imagine themselves as black folk—vulnerable despite our virtues. If enough of you, one by one, exercises your civic imagination, and puts yourself in the shoes of your black brothers and sisters, you might develop a democratic impatience for injustice, for the cruel disregard of black life, for the careless indifference to our plight.”

It seems to me that if we white people are to get over ourselves, we have to do a lot of this empathetic shovel-work. For an artist like Schutz, wrestling with the most horrible images of America’s history is the way she does that work.

Is it “appropriating” an experience to engage it and wrestle with it the way Schutz has done? If it is, how is culture — which often thrives on remixing two different things into a brand new thing — supposed to work? Is our responsibility to avoid or engage? And who gets to decide it?

To me, the Pepsi ad looks very different from Schutz’s painting — probably because the Pepsi ad is trying to sell me something, and worse, is trying to sell me something that’s pretty useless. But I think, from what I read, see, and hear, there are some people who see both things as equivalent.

At The Atlantic, Jonathan Blanks offers this advice:

Slavery is America’s Original Sin, and the racism that evolved to perpetuate it is an inextricable part of our social fabric. Whenever any artist tries to confront that, they inherently invite expressions of the often chaotic, almost inarticulable pain that exists as a part of black experience in America. I think the artist must deal with the resulting legitimate criticism and dismiss the illegitimate criticism as they come. The key is knowing enough about your subject in the first place to distinguish between the two.

That … sounds right? It means that people like Schutz and people like me have a lot of work to do — a lot. A lot of shutting up, a lot of listening and reading and listening some more — and then, just when we think we’ve got our shit together, go back and do all of that some more.

We don’t get to casually engage. We don’t get to blithely believe in our own good intentions. We don’t get to not listen. And we really don’t get to take somebody else’s experience and present it as our own. Having done due diligence, having been cautious, there’s still a chance we’ll get it wrong.

My own solution to this? Keep walking — but walk humbly. There will still, inevitably, be stumbles along the way.

What do you think?

— Joel

Strawberries and ICE: Why White Americans Love and Hate Illegal Immigration


Last week, ICE agents arrested five undocumented immigrants who, at the urging of the government, had come to appointments at the Lawrence, Massachusetts’ US Citizenship and Immigration Services office to seek a way to stay in the country legally.

The case seems to me to exactly illustrate your point: that a crime ought to be something that disrupts the life of individuals and, by extension, the communities in which they are embedded but that the “crime” of being in the US without proper documentation is anything but disruptive. Undocumented immigration builds America (literally, in the form of construction workers and roofers. It also feeds America.). The real crime—in the sense of a disruption of individual lives and communities—is, then, in the aggressive deportations that began under President Obama and have taken an even nastier turn under Donald Trump’s administration.

You focus on the fact that such activity undermines community, is racist, targets those seeking to comply (as in the Lawrence, Massachusetts case), cultivates fear of police (which in turn undermines police-community relations and leaves everyone more vulnerable to real crime), and harasses people who are here legally (including native-born Americans of “suspicious” skin tones and last names).

Perhaps a person could argue that those are risks we should be willing to take or costs we should be willing to pay (Very easy to say when you are so solidly white that you’ll never be asked to show proof of legal residency on an internal flight!) in order to crack down on the crime of illegal immigration.

But, actually, simply being here without proper documentation is a violation of the law punishable by civil, not criminal, penalties. Improper entry—coming into the US when you don’t have the proper authority to do so (swimming the Rio Grande, scaling the stupid wall we already have)—is a criminal offense punishable by up to 6 months in a jail and a small fine. To be found guilty of improper entry, the state has to show evidence beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that you entered improperly—just like with other crimes. Unlawful presence is also a violation of federal law—but it’s a civil offense, not a criminal one. When Americans travel abroad and overstay their visas, we often address this with a bribe.* When visitors to the US are not presently here lawfully, we can deport them—but that doesn’t make them criminals.

Florence, AZ

Above, detainees in the Florence, Arizona detention center, awaiting deportation. We waste human potential as people languish in such centers. Photo from Open Society Foundations

So, why do we want to make people who are here without documentation into criminals? If they entered improperly, why go to the hassle of arrest if they aren’t hurting anyone? (If they are hurting anyone, that’s a different story.) And if they didn’t enter improperly but simply overstayed their legal welcome, they aren’t criminals at all—yet we seem to be eager to treat them (that is, when they are not white) that way. Why do we want to disrupt their lives and their communities? And why do we want to do it to people who are, by and large, good to have around? What does that say about us?

This seems to me to similar to another contested, difficult issue to talk about: abortion.

Lots of us oppose legalized abortion. We hate it! We say it’s a contemporary Holocaust. We think the doctors who perform abortions are detestable, taking advantage of poor, scared women. And we think those poor scared women are monsters, too. (Yes, we think both of these things, depending on our mood at the moment and the audience we are trying to convince.) We vote on the issue of abortion alone. We picket. We protest. We might even harass nurses and bomb clinics and shoot doctors.

But we all benefit from abortion. (This is not to say that abortion doesn’t also have its costs. And those costs could outweigh the benefits. But we all benefit as well.) It sounds crass (and maybe it isn’t kind to call it a “benefit”) but fewer poor women have babies now than in the past, thanks in part to abortion. Those children who are born to poor women have fewer siblings, which means less competition for resources and better outcomes for them. And that means less of a tax burden to everyone.

Now, to be clear: I don’t see poor children as a problem; I see poverty as a problem. And I’d love to see every poor woman no longer be poor and for her to have as many babies as she likes and for none of them to be poor, and we could do it, too, if we wanted that.

But lots of us don’t want it. We don’t want abortion, but we would rather have abortion—and its benefits—than to pay for the costs of not having it (comprehensive sex ed, affordable and reliable birth control, prenatal care and maternity coverage, parental leave policies, equal pay—you know, the policies that are actually pro-family and that every “pro-family” Republican opposes).

So we want two things: to hate abortion and to have its benefits, to hate abortion but to never do the work to make every pregnancy a welcomed one.

What we do instead is to hate women who have abortions. It lets us discharge our responsibility to be morally outraged without taking up any responsibility for the reasons why women have abortions (overwhelmingly, economics and failure of a partner to support them, which, in itself, has a lot to do with economics). I can call women entering an abortion clinic bad names and vote to repeal prenatal health coverage benefits.  I get to do the second because I’ve fulfilled my duty to stopping abortion by doing the first. It’s so easy and so cheap!

I think we have a similar case with “illegal” immigration—which is what we mean when we lump improper entry (the criminal act) with unlawful presence (the civil offense). We don’t actually want illegal immigration to stop or undocumented immigrants to be deported. We might claim we do, but we don’t want to pay the costs (the logistics of removing 5% of the population, the hit to our international reputation, the extraordinarily expensive even stupider new border wall, the federal land grab that’s going to be required to build that wall, etc.), and we really don’t want to lose the benefits (the tremendous amount of tax money undocumented workers infuse into social security, the cheap tomatoes and meat on the $1 menu at McDonalds). And—white people, let’s get real!—many of us don’t want the labor shortage that would require us to stop locking up black men because we would need them back in the fields. But, by God, we still want to rail about “illegals” and how people have to have respect for the law and a nation must protect its borders if it is to be a nation!

Just as politicians vote against abortion knowing it’s safely legalized and that they’ll keep getting its benefits and against the policies that would make unplanned pregnancies avoidable or help transform them into wanted pregnancies, our politicians vote against illegal immigrants, knowing that if you jail five of them, 11 million more will still pick your crops and fund your social security.

Joel, you suggested that arresting undocumented immigrants disrupts communities, and it does—but it also consolidates white power (because we are only ever talking about immigrants of color and because white people do not want to unlock prisons full of black men) and an economic system that benefits a lot of us. (I like a cheap tomato, too! I want to pay 99 cents for a pound of strawberries! I can’t look upward to see the source of my problem–let’s just call it “neoliberalism”–so I look down and see “Mexicans are taking jobs from Americans”). Many white Americans find that terrorizing a few undocumented immigrants–or brown-skinned Americans who kinda look like they might be–is a fair trade.

*Does not constitute legal advice. But if you’re going to consider it, practice in the native language before you go.

Picking Our Poison: Policing White Women’s Sexual Borders

Above, at a January 12, 2016, rally thanking his collaborators voters for their support in Des Moines, Donald Trump reads the lyrics of the song “The Snake,” which he did at numerous rallies. Despite his deep respect for “the blacks,” Trump credits the song (which he calls a poem) to Al Green. It was made famous by Al Wilson and written by Oscar Brown, Jr (who, like Green and Wilson, was black).

Joel and I have been writing about the way that the Trump administration has validated and exploited centuries’ old white hatred of people of color, which they justify by fear-mongering about the threat of black and brown sexual violence against white women. This matters tremendously in that it incites violence against men of color, exploits sexual assault victims, reifies women as property, and reinforces the notion that the nation is for whites only. (That border wall is to keep out Mexican rapists, Trump tells us.)

Trump, who is a big supporter of powerful men sexually assaulting women, invokes the threat frequently. For example, he enjoys reading the lyrics of the song “The Snake.” They tell the story of a woman who rescues a half-frozen snake and nurses it back to health:

But if I hadn’t brought you in by now you might have died/Now she stroked his pretty skin and then she kissed and held him tight/But instead of saying thanks, that snake gave her a vicious bite

Trump uses the lyrics to talk about why we must reject Syrian refugees and immigrants. They are a poison that will destroy us because of our naive hospitality. It’s genetic–they can’t help it; it’s just in their nature, just as the cuckoo bird can’t help but destroy the other chicks in the nest.

But there is more: you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud or an literature PhD to understand that a snake bite (like a vampire bite) is sexual. And snakes, in particular, entice white women.

Hans Baldung Grien - Eve, Serpent and Death.JPGAbove, Hans Baldung’s Eve, the Serpent, and Death, painted in the early 1500. The painting shows a white Eve, hiding an apple behind her back. The serpent is wound around a tree, and she grasps it with one hand as Death, hiding behind the tree, grabs her arm that grasps the serpent. 

A few different fringe versions of Christianity teach a version of the Serpent Seed doctrine that says that Eve had sexual relations with the serpent, which may or may not (depending on the variety of the doctrine) may have been a real snake. The mid 20th century faith healer William M. Branham preached that Eve had sex with a creature like the “missing link,” producing Cain and causing all women from them on to carrying the literal seed of Satan inside of themselves. Not surprisingly, his theology misogynistic in other ways, too.

More worrisome is the this teaching in Christian Identity/British Israelism. Here, the “two-seed doctrine” (not to be confused with the two-seed-in-the-spirit doctrine of a very small minority of Baptists) says that Eve had sexual relations with the serpent, producing all non-white people. Various versions of this doctrine say that nonwhites are evil because of this, while others say that they are simply nonhuman–like the other nonhuman animals.

I don’t want to imply that Trump voters buy this racist theology. (They generally get enough racism at their own conservative Christian churches without having to go looking for extremist outfits.) Many of them don’t know the extremist version of it. But the mistrust of women–that they will betray us, that they can’t be trusted, that they are ruled by their appetites, that they are easily duped–continues to inform our politics, and that goes right back to the Garden of Eden.

Is immigration enforcement more a crime than illegal immigration?


I’ve got some traveling to do today and tomorrow, so not a lot of time to share this thought. But I want to say a few words about how the kind of enforcement we’re seeing against illegal immigration under the Trump Administration more closely resembles a crime than does the “crime” of illegal immigration.

A key feature of any crime worthy of the name, it seems to me, is that the act of committing it is clearly and negatively disruptive, either to an individual life — a person may be injured, killed, deprived of property or merely their sense of well-being — or to the community at large. (Indeed the disruption to an individual is seen as a disruption to the community: That’s why criminal prosecutions are carried out in the name of the state, rather than individual victims.)

Illegal immigration is a different kind of crime, because the negative disruption is, at best, debatable. Maybe undocumented migrants lower wages for everybody else, but maybe not — or at least maybe not so much. Maybe undocumented migrants commit crimes, but the numbers suggest crime rates are lower among migrants than among native-born people. There’s evidence that migrants tend to be more entrepreneurial than native-born folks; there’s evidence that the influx of migrants has kept some towns in, say, western Kansas from drying up and dying out completely.

In other words, there’s probably a mix of effects from illegal immigration — I tend to use the word to describe the issue, not individuals, because the “illegal” part is the point of the undocumentation — but one of them is this: Those migrants often become part of the community.

So. When you start getting heavy-handed efforts to enforce immigration law, and to deport undocumented migrants, what you get is:

• Attempts to deport people who are pillars of their community.

Attempts to deport people who are trying to comply, even belatedly, with immigration law.

Fear among immigrant communities about doing the normal stuff of life like going to work or church.

I’ve got a lot more examples than this, but you get the point: The enforcement of the law becomes the thing that disrupts the community.

Especially when you consider that the enforcement is also falling heavily on American citizens and other people who are here legally, because they — by virtue of skin color — become objects of suspicion. Immigration enforcement hurts American citizens!

My friends who want harder borders and bigger walls will no doubt respond that illegal immigration is, after all, illegal — that the disruptions to the community are caused, foundationally, by the initial transgression of immigration. OK.

But it’s worth pointing out that illegal immigration is a somewhat arbitrary crime. We know instinctively if somebody’s committed a crime when robbery or a murder or an assault takes place; these crimes have been understood and punished throughout the history of humanity. Immigration? There’s a lot of legislative negotiating that goes into deciding where the lines are drawn. Illegal immigration isn’t a crime because the conscience is shocked by it so much as it’s a crime because a committee somewhere decided that it is. (This is the kind of thing that conservatives are usually against, by the way.)

All of which leads me, again, to believe that some immigration enforcement is much more a “crime” in the traditional sense than is illegal immigration.

But maybe I’m just rationalizing?

— Joel

A dirty, racist etymology

In his post on white justification for violence against men of color this week, Joel mentioned the word cuck, a favorite insult from the alt-right that is fast making its way into the “mainstream” right’s vocabulary. It’s from the portmanteau cuckservative, which combines cuckold and conservative.

The cuckhold part is an aviary metaphor. A cuckoo bird will lay its egg in another’s nest for that bird to raise. It starts to appear as a metaphor in Medieval lit, most notably “The Miller’s Tale” by Chaucer, to describe a man whose wife is cheating.

Image result for cuckoo bird

Above, the very ugly, very mean, very selfish, very smart cuckoo bird. 

It’s also the major theme of Othello, a tragic love story about a jealous black man murdering his white wife. (“I will chop her into messes! Cuckold me?”).

It’s also a fetish (a word that I use with no pejorative meaning) as Joel notes when he draws from an article on the term that originally appeared in GQ back in August:

The cultural importance of the cuckold in America is rooted in racism: in pornography, the wife of the cuckolded (almost exclusively white) husband is most commonly sleeping with African-American men, meant to provide an additional layer of humiliation if the white husband sees that man as “inferior.” In the world of pornography meant to elicit humiliation as an erotic sentiment, cuckold porn takes advantage of its viewers’ racist perceptions.

That’s also a source of the use of the term in white supremacy/alt-right circles: they see men who enjoy this fetish as weak, emasculated, effeminate, and not properly in control of/protecting their women/nation. The collapse of white women with White Womanhood with White Nationalism happens pretty quickly from here.

White nationalists thus use cuck to describe conservatives who don’t mind their nation (women) getting “fucked over” by people of color. One example: When ex-Breitbart writer Ben Shapiro criticized this “alt-right” website, Milo Yiannopouls (who was behind the racist Twitter attacks on actress Leslie Jones) sent Shapiro, upon the birth of his son, a photo of a black (biracial) baby–the idea being that Shapiro (who is not black), in leaving and criticizing Breitbart, had become a “cuckservative.”

Read cuck like “race traitor” or “n—— lover,” but on a larger scale: someone who is deliberately betraying their people by allowing the population to be “polluted,” sexually, genetically, or through immigration. It means being a dupe–like the birds who raise the cuckoos babies. The cuckoo doesn’t even wait for the host bird to leave the nest; it lays its eggs while the nestbuilding bird is sitting right there, attempting to defend its own home and babies, unsuccessfully every single time. The cuckoo is larger than its hosts (three times bigger than the reed warbler, one of the birds it picks on), and it often hatches earlier. If it hatches earlier, it promptly rolls its foster mother’s babies out of the nest; if its foster siblings are born first, it pushes them out.

When racists say cuck (and racists are the only people who say cuck), they are thinking about nonwhites taking over white cultures by infiltrating them, then destroying or displacing people, all while forcing whites to pay for the process: anchor babies, refugees disguised as stealth jihadists, Muslims practicing taqiyya in order to penetrate Western civilization and topple it from the inside, demographic warfare.


Image result for cuckoo's nest eviction

Above, a featherless cuckoo, evil at birth, practices “nest eviction,” rolling its unhatched foster sibling to its death. 

This is why those in the alt-right don’t just talk about people as cucks but whole nations–white, European, Christian nations being dragged down by immigrants. Germany is held up as the primary example in white supremacist circles as a once-strong, homogeneous nation that is now weak, effeminate, emasculated, etc., as evidenced by its inclusion of Muslim/brown/immigrant bodies. Sweden is another place criticized for polluting its white population with brown and black skinned immigrants. If you wonder why Trump criticizes these nations for their immigration policies (even when such criticism sounds like nonsense to the rest of the world), know that he’s not talking to you; he’s talking to his extremist friends.

Cuck shows us how the alt-right (and their “mainstream” right allies) think about  white women (as white men’s property (a la Othello or, more importantly, the many women who are murdered each year by men who are “jealous” of their sexual attention) and nonwhites–people who, together, are fucking them over.



What Mike Pence Gets Right about Marriage and Wrong about Religious Freedom Makes Him Unfit for Office

I generally consider presidential and vice-presidential wives off limits for discussion, figuring that their lives are terrible enough, though I really struggle with anyone woman who could support either Trump or Pence.

Image result for mike pence wife inaugural ball

Above, Mike and Karen Pence wave at the crowd and one of the several inaugural balls this past January. Want to read more about how conservative Christian women understand freedom through constraint? Check me out

You may have heard that Mike Pence never dines alone with a woman who isn’t his wife, nor does he attend events where there is alcohol present without her. If he were someone else, I’d say cool, whatever your marriage needs.  Maybe it means he doesn’t trust himself not to sexually assault women. Maybe it means he doesn’t want to be falsely accused of sexual impropriety. Maybe it means he’s been unfaithful (or addicted to alcohol) before and that hurt his wife, or maybe her father was a philanderer or an alcoholic, and this is his way of addressing any insecurity she might have about lousy husbands. If it was just about them, I would be happy to give Pence the privacy and dignity in his relationships that he has withheld from same-sex couples.

But it’s not just about him. His decision to never meet with a woman alone means that men have had more access to him than women. That means that women have not had an equal opportunity to petition their government–our First Amendment Right. It means the women of Indiana (and now the women of the whole US) are not being treated equally under the law.

I’m sure Pence has his reasons–potentially even good ones–for this personal standard. If his reason is so worthwhile, though, he should have taken pains to insure that it didn’t undermine anyone else’s opportunities or rights. How?

He could meet with no one one-on-one.

If Pence could organize his life so that he never met with a woman alone, he could also have organized it so that he never met with a man alone.

This would have insured that all constituents had an equal opportunity to meet with him.

If that idea seems unworkable–How could he get any business done?–then you understand that his choice made politics unworkable for women. You also now see your assumption that politics is for men, not women.

This is typical Pence, though: willing to make women bear the costs of HIS personal choice. (Ironic, yes, for someone arguing against federal funding for Planned Parenthood on the grounds that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s moral failing.)

But it’s the same logic behind his anti-LGBT efforts in Indiana. An anti-LGBT Christian makes the personal choice to be a florist. She refuses to provide flowers for a wedding of two gay men. If you think that the First Amendment and equality are important, you probably think that the florist is choosing both her anti-gay faith and her job. She is not compelled to either, but the law does mandate that she treats customers equally. She has a choice: defy what she sees as a key point of her faith (Thou shalt not arrange flowers for gay weddings!) or quit being a florist.

You make your choice, and you take your consequences–but you don’t demand that someone else take the consequences of you living out your faith. That’s on you.

And you know who really should understand this, dear 606 readers? Mennonites. Even conservative Mennonites who oppose gay marriage. Because we are asked all the time to make the choice to compromise our faith or live with the consequences. And we do! Our kids get heckled for not saying the pledge. (“You must hate God!” as one sweet child told my daughter this year.) Our grandparents went to CPS instead of war, and our great-grandparents got tarred and feathered for refusing to serve in or support World War I.  Some of us pay the consequence of war tax resistance. The proudest parts of our history aren’t Anabaptists dying for their faith–they are the stories of Anabaptists refusing to let our enemies die so that our faith could be protected.

Image result for martyrs mirror

Above, a woodcut telling the story of Dirk Willems. A Dutch Anabaptist in the mid-1500s when the faith was illegal, Willems fled a prison guard by crossing thin ice. When the guard fell in behind him, Willems turned back to rescue the man, leading to his own capture and, eventually, burning. 

Pence doesn’t have to be a theologian or a church historian to understand this, though. He simply has to care that his constituents and his colleagues have equal access to his ear. If he did–or if he had bothered to consult with a woman with more insight than the women he apparently does bother to talk to–he would have either stopped his discrimination against women or changed his policy to insure that he didn’t dine with men alone, either. His other choice was to not take a job that would require him to be alone with women in order to guarantee their basic constitutional rights. (Other examples: if you don’t want to look at ladyparts, don’t become an ob-gyn. If you don’t want to pour booze, don’t open a bar. If you don’t want to defend people who have done wrong, don’t be a public defender.) That, not his perhaps unusual marriage protocols, is why he’s unfit for office.

And his selfish, lazy Christianity should have clued you in.