The immorality of Trumpian immigration enforcement, continued

More of the same:

The Trump administration has said that it is considering separating parents from their children as a means of deterring other families, most of them Central American, from undertaking the perilous trip necessary to reach the United States and seek asylum. Now, without any formal announcement, that cruel practice, ruled out by previous administrations, has become increasingly common, immigrant advocacy groups say. In the nine months preceding February, government agents separated children from their parents 53 times, according to data compiled by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

I outsource my commentary to one Norma Wine:

So our govt. deliberately traumatizes children already fleeing war and violence and separates them from the only source of love and safety they’ve known. Sickening.

How the NRA Convention Reduces Gun Injuries (Hint: It’s Now How You Think)

Kansas’ Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, is trying to convince the NRA to hold a future convention in the Wheat State. Kobach is also running for governor, God help us all. Kobach described Kansas as “the most pro-gun state in America” in his call to get the gun manufacturers’ lobby to come.

As much as I think Kobach is a truly vile person and I hate guns, bringing the NRA to Kansas isn’t a terrible idea. It turns out that having a large gathering to celebrate guns decreases accidental shootings for a few days.

That’s the finding of Anupam Jena of Harvard Medical School and Andrew Olenski of Columbia University. Because the gun lobby has made it very difficult to gather information about the risks of gun ownership or the presence of guns, the two researchers got creative in their attempt to investigate whether guns contribute to injuries. So they studied what happens when the NRA is meeting. They hypothesized that the NRA convention removes guns from use since some of the nation’s most avid gun users–80,000 to 100,000 of them–are at the convention. Moreover, their presence might also drive down gun use elsewhere, since gun clubs and hunting groups might not be meeting during that time. At the actual convention, guns often aren’t permitted, so people would otherwise be concealing and carrying or open carrying aren’t.

The findings are telling: gun injuries go down by 20% on convention days.

Above, attendees at the 2015 NRA Convention in Nashville. Overwhelmingly older white men, they stand and clap under a banner that says “If they can ban one, they can ban them all. #nragreentip.” The hashtag references an AFT proposal to regulate the 5.56mm M855 green tip bullet, which has been called by some as “armor-piercing” and by others as simply “tactical.”

Most telling was that crime-related gun injuries and deaths didn’t go down during this time. That is, criminals who weren’t attending the NRA convention were still using their guns and still causing as much mayhem as usual. What changed was that responsible, trained, law-abiding gun owners of the NRA were removed from the gun-using population for a few days.

The authors of the study point out that their work demonstrates correlation, not causation. But the results fit with their hypothesis and with all kinds of other evidence that says that guns are a danger even in the hands of people who have been trained to use them and are confident that they know what they’re doing with them.

So having the NRA meet in Kansas keeps the public safe because it keeps gun fetishists away from their weapons–a different way of saying guns don’t kill and injure people; people who own guns and who lobby for more guns in more public spaces do, and the public is safer when guns are kept out of their hands.





KS GOP Seeks to Invalidate Trans Identities out of “Love”

CW: hostility toward trans people

I’ve been making the argument in this blog that most people who do hateful things believe–or at least say–that they are doing it out of love.

Like Republicans in Kansas are doing right now to trans people. On February 19, the party met in Wichita for its annual meeting and voted on a resolution to oppose the “validation” of trans identities, including opposition to surgeries or medical interventions to alter a person’s body so that it would conform to body expectations of someone of their gender.

Now, I have yet to hear about the GOP caring when a cisgender woman undergoes a breast augmentation surgery or has her breasts or uterus removed, nor do they butt in when cisman convinced that he has “low T” takes drugs to increase his level of testosterone. So, clearly, this isn’t about body modification but about making life harder to trans people. The outcome is hateful and, it appears, according to research, harmful, as children who are trans who are supported experience better mental health than those who are not and have similar mental health outcomes compared to cis kids.

So why do Kansas Republicans want to do something that hurts people? Here is Eric Teetsel, the Republican who proposed the bill and a leader in a state level “family values” group, explaining his logic:

“Ultimately, we are motivated by love. It is concern for the well-being of others that drives us to seek out what is true and not just for society, but for them personally.”

You’ve heard this before in the Nashville Statement. That was modeled on the Manhattan Declaration–and Teetsal has served as executive director of the Manhattan Declaration. And it is the core argument of Teetsal’s 2014 contribution to First Things, “Belief Rooted in Love.”

I think this is fair to say that Teetsel and the Kansas GOP have never been motivated by love for trans people.


In Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series, a young boy named Tip discovers that he is actually the long-lost Princess Ozma, whose gendered was changed to protect their identity.

Remember that this is the party that forwarded the (now, thankfully, dead) Student Physical Privacy Act, which would have allowed students who encounter ” members of the opposite sex” in restrooms or locker rooms to sue the school for up to $2,500 per incident. It basically put a bounty on the heads of trans kids. Whatever challenges trans bodies and genderqueer people pose to the binary systems of public school restrooms should be addressed by adults, without placing kids at risk as this act did.

And it’s the party that has sought to make it harder to trans people to change their birth certificates–something necessary to vote in the state with the nation’s strictest voter ID laws.

Teetsal insults us–and especially insults trans people–when he tells us that this is love. We’re not stupid. We know what love is. And the GOP treatment of LGBTQ+ people in Kansas ain’t it.




Into Account: An Interview with Stephanie Krehbiel

Stephanie Krehbiel joins us today to share about the work of Into Account, the organization that provides resources to survivors of sexual, spiritual, and other kinds of abuse in Christian contexts, especially Anabaptist ones. Rebecca asks her to help us understand why accountability, in particular, is so important, and what characteristics of peace churches might make them especially vulnerable to abuse.


Rebecca Barrett-Fox: The word accountability sometimes has business connotations (like accounting) and sometimes has religious connotations (like confession). Why do you think that accountability is so important for the work of justice for sexual abuse survivors?

Stephanie Krehbiel: We took up accountability as our central organizing principle very intentionally, because in faith communities it’s the last thing anyone seems to want to talk about in relation to sexual abuse. When churches are talking about this at all, they will talk about healing, and sometimes they will talk about prevention. But the point we’re always trying to make is that prevention and healing can’t be disentangled from accountability. When a church lets known perpetrators get away with abuse while simultaneously talking about healing and prevention, survivors are insulted and alienated. We were seeing that everywhere, and we wanted to do something about it.

Let me get to the heart of what we mean by accountability. This is what we believe at Into Account: If you rape, abuse, harass, or assault somebody, you’ve relinquished your privilege to be in community with that person and with other people who are vulnerable to your abuse. You’ve relinquished the privilege of secrecy: you should not be allowed to demand anyone’s silence about what you’ve done. You’ve relinquished the privilege of remaining nameless. The people you’ve victimized have nothing to be ashamed of. They deserve to speak of what you’ve done, and to speak your name, without fear. They deserve the protection and the support of the community around them. They do not have to forgive you, and no one has the right to make them feel as though they should.

Those are the general principles. The details, of course, are where it gets complicated, and navigating the details is where good advocacy comes in. The legal questions, the ethical concerns around confidentiality, the safety issues related to disclosure, the involvement of law enforcement, the institutional challenges around related to choosing transparency over protection from liability: there’s a huge amount of complexity involved in asking for accountability within all the overlapping systems that create the conditions faced by survivors. These aren’t systems that are built to protect people from sexual abuse; the protections that do exist, broadly speaking, are corrective measures that don’t necessarily change the fundamentals.

There’s no perfect justice in this system. But there are better and worse outcomes. And there are outcomes that make justice more likely for survivors in the future and make abuse less likely to happen again.


Above, from top to bottom, Hilary Scarsella, Stephanie Krehbiel, and Jennifer Yoder respond to a comment in response to an open letter that Into Account wrote to leaders in Mennonite colleges and that The Mennonite published this past fall. 

RB-F: Is your work equally divided between caring for survivors and working with institutions? What does a “day at the office” look like in this line of work?

SK: It’s so variable that it’s hard to describe a typical day. Sometimes I spend almost the entire day on communicating with survivors, generally through phone, Skype, or email conversations. I wouldn’t call it “caring for,” exactly; that could have a clinical implication that isn’t appropriate to our work. I think it’s more accurate to describe it as offering support, listening, conveying information about options, and then strategizing with survivors how to implement the options that they choose to pursue. There is no stage of that process in which the people who report to us aren’t in the driver’s seat.

When it comes to communicating with institutions, we’re generally part of the conversation mainly as a witness or a buffer between a survivor and an institutional representative. We create an extra layer of accountability and make sure a survivor’s boundaries are respected. Our presence makes it more difficult for survivors to be intimidated or manipulated in off-the-record conversations. (I suppose we have kind of a cantankerous reputation, but actually, my experience is that good administrators aren’t threatened by us. A little on edge, maybe, but not threatened. As long as they have nothing to hide, the transparency is good for them too.) Anyway, there’s usually at least one or two cases at any given moment where that kind of conversation is happening.

We usually have at least five or six ongoing cases, in which we’re working with one or more survivors for accountability within a particular church or church-related institution. We’re also starting to do more consulting work with churches and schools who need help creating better policy; I foresee spending more time on that this year.

Organizational planning also takes a lot of time. When the three of us have the luxury of uninterrupted Skype time, we will do that for hours on end. I don’t think donor money is going to be enough to sustain us, especially if we want to grow, so this year is going to have to be the year of the grants.

At least once a week, I try to spend the entire day writing. I read a lot, too, because there’s never not something I’m trying to learn more about.

I’m the only Into Account staff who is full-time. Jay Yoder, who co-founded it with me, has another job in child abuse prevention, and Hilary Scarsella is also finishing her PhD in theology at Vanderbilt. We dream of all being able to do this full-time, in the same location. We’re taking that one step at a time.

RB-F: In Into Account’s statement of philosophy, you link the fight against sexualized violence to other movements against oppression, such as white supremacy, patriarchy, and economic inequality. How are these forms of oppression related?

SK: Sexualized violence isn’t a cause that we can take out of the broader context of social inequity and systemic oppression. Just to pull us back to the individual/community binary for a second—who is allowed to be an individual, in this society? Whose body, and whose freedom, do we deem worthy of protection? Whose communities do we value? What kind of collective do we really serve? And how does our history—of settler colonialism, aggressive Christian missionizing, genocide, chattel slavery, economic exploitation of women and children—play into how we value certain individuals and communities over others? The answers to those questions tell us a lot about what sexualized violence looks like in our society. Almost every movement for the freedom of marginalized people has concerned itself with sexualized violence to some degree, even if that concern has been suppressed or kept under the radar.

“Almost every movement for the freedom of marginalized people has concerned itself with sexualized violence to some degree, even if that concern has been suppressed or kept under the radar.”

RB-F: Mennonites often think of community as key to their identity and one of their core strengths. How can the concept of community hurt people?

SK: In the Mennonite circles I’m familiar with, I see a lot of unreflective disdain of something that people call “individualism.” It’s the way a lot of people construct themselves as counter-cultural: there’s a “wider U.S. culture” that values the individual above the collective, and this is how we resist it, by rooting our spiritual identity in something else, which we frequently call “community.”

But it’s not actually that Mennonites, or Christians with similar values, place the “community” over the “individual.” It’s that some individuals are deemed to be more valuable to the community than others are. Within our communities, we protect some individuals and treat others as disposable. We view the protection of certain individuals as analogous to the protection of our communities. To accuse those individuals of wrongdoing, then, becomes an assault on the community.

“Within our communities, we protect some individuals and treat others as disposable. We view the protection of certain individuals as analogous to the protection of our communities. To accuse those individuals of wrongdoing, then, becomes an assault on the community.”

Perpetrators of sexual violence tend to target people who are easily disposed of, so to speak. So I invite people to look at their churches and ask themselves, within this community, who is dealing with social conditions that already tell them they are less than, or that they are the property of another person, or that they are just trash? Those are the people in your community who are most vulnerable to sexual violence. People with physical or intellectual disabilities. Foster kids. Recent immigrants. Undocumented people. The two or three black and brown children in a majority-white congregation. Gender non-conforming kids. LGBTQ folks in general, especially young ones. People living in poverty. Adults who were abused as children. Look for the people who can’t speak for themselves, or who aren’t legally protected in any way, or who are relationships shaped by financial dependency or the expectation of gratitude. Those are the people in your community who are most likely to be sexually victimized, because no matter how much your community claims to center the marginalized, there are other social scripts at work, and perpetrators usually know those scripts. They know who is the least likely to be believed. And if they get caught, they know how to use those scripts to create a narrative in which they are the “real” victims.

Mennonites, unfortunately, have a whole passive-aggressive vocabulary for shaming people whose requests for accountability are seen as a drain on communal resources. Most of the Mennonite survivors we’ve worked with have, at some point, been accused of being selfish and demanding too much attention for themselves, whether directly or, just as often, through subtext. I’ve noticed that church leaders really love telling sexual violence survivors how much of their professional time has been devoted to “dealing with” the survivor’s case, and how stressful it has been. The implication is always that there are more important things they could be doing, things that really serve the community, and their attention is a gift that they’re generously giving to a person with an exaggerated sense of their own individual importance.

Much of the time, when Mennonites speak about the importance of “community,” what they’re really saying is, “we protect the individuals who tell us the most attractive story about who we want to believe we are.”

RB-F: While religion isn’t the only social force that fuels sexualized violence, it is one that too frequently does. What are the ways that the Mennonite tradition, in particular, contributes to a culture in which sexual violence occurs?

SK: I’ll put it like this: Mennonites are bad at boundaries. And by that I don’t exclusively mean sexual boundaries. I also mean relational, emotional, and professional boundaries. Truly, I don’t think a lot of Mennonites even understand that boundaries are a thing worth paying attention to. It’s as if we think that boundaries are a concept that need not be relevant to us because of our peace theology. It’s probably linked to the individualism thing; boundaries are a way of preserving individual safety and autonomy, and those are things that our theology devalues. We idealize a church in which everyone is given implicit trust by virtue of membership, and in which broken trust can always be repaired. It isn’t a model that is prepared for the challenge presented by abusive individuals. If anything, it’s a system that is tailor-made for abusers to exploit.

Much of the time, when Mennonites speak about the importance of “community,” what they’re really saying is, “we protect the individuals who tell us the most attractive story about who we want to believe we are.”

I’ll elaborate: one of the most difficult things about surviving trauma is that it can be hard to recognize when we’re being drawn into trauma reenactment. Clinicians and social workers often use the concept of the “trauma reenactment triangle” or “drama triangle.” When you’re working with someone who is caught in those relational patterns, they see every situation as having a victim, a villain, and a rescuer. I remember a relevant conversation that I had with my colleagues Jay and Hilary a while ago: We were despairing over a particular situation, and Jay was pointing out the ways that the people involved were caught in trauma reenactment. I said, “It doesn’t seem like Mennonite theology really gives people the tools to get any distance from the triangle.” And then our resident theologian Hilary laughed and said, “Mennonite theology IS the triangle.”

Take that earlier example I gave—the church leader who responds to a sexual violence survivor’s requests for accountability by talking about how difficult it has made their job. At minimum, I’d call this unprofessional behavior. But in many instances it goes beyond that; it’s a way of insinuating that the person who has come to you for accountability should pay you back with emotional care for your situation. Rather than taking responsibility for appropriately seeking the care that you need, you create a subtly manipulative dynamic of indebtedness. That’s pushing a boundary.

When you do this, as someone who has accepted the responsibilities of leadership, you’ve supplanted your professional ethical obligations with a victim narrative starring yourself, and you’ve cast the person who is asking you to do your job, the survivor of sexual violence that happened under your watch, as the new perpetrator.

It’s a move that sets everyone up to compete for the title of Most Worthy Victim. Mennonites are taught to identify with victimhood, and we’re also taught that the best way to “do” victimhood is through spiritual submission to victimhood as a state of being. It’s bad theology. It teaches us to place implicit trust in authority, and to be automatically offended when we’re in authority and the implicit trust isn’t forthcoming.

And conversely, it also feeds our desire to be heroes and saviors, and to turn our lives inside out in service of the worthy victims. Unfortunately, despite the obvious Biblical example, there aren’t a lot of ethical accountability checks built into the savior business.

I’m not saying Mennonites are the only ones who violate boundaries. I mean, predators always violate boundaries—that’s part of what makes them predatory. But Mennonites do perhaps have a cutting edge in espousing a communal ideology that disdains boundaries. Honestly, I think some Mennonites perceive boundary-setting as more violent than rape.

We could also talk about how the historical legacy of shunning plays into all this, but I don’t want to go on for hours!

RB-F: What are the scriptural passages or Christian traditions that you wish people would understand differently, de-emphasize, put to the side, or just shut up about?

SK: I’m pretty sick of Matthew 18, except for the part about millstones.

SK: Many of our readers grew up hearing messages about sexuality, sexual behavior, and “purity” that had long-lasting negative effects on them. What are better models that parents, youth ministers, and others who care for young people can look to for help in preparing their children to care for their own and their partners’ bodies safely and respectfully? 

This is the hardest question for me, even though people ask me this question a lot. The heterocentric focus on sexual purity has done so much lasting damage to most of us who grew in Christian environments that even as we’re teaching our children about this stuff, we have to as honest as possible with ourselves about the trauma that we carry, so that we don’t inadvertently pass it on to our kids. The power of shame is so silencing.

I could rattle off a list of resources, but honestly, I’d rather encourage people to begin by asking themselves the hardest questions about what they truly believe in relation to sex, bodies, relationships, reproduction, and obligation. The Bible is frankly a pretty messed-up source when it comes to sexuality; if that’s the basis for your sexual ethic, it’s going to be a sexual ethic that devalues some people’s rights to be in charge of the boundaries of their own bodies. It will be a sexual ethic that is at the very least haunted by the notion that some people are the possessions of other people. It will be an ethic without clarity about the difference between consensual sex and rape. I realize that these are controversial assertions for a primarily Christian audience, but sexual justice is controversial.

The first sentence of Into Account’s philosophy statement is, “We believe that no institution, family, or community is more important than our right to autonomy over our own bodies.” We got immediate pushback for that: one person told us, essentially, “This statement is not true for Christians.” And to that I say, well, if that statement is an affront to your definition of Christianity and the values of your congregation, then expect your children to be raped. I don’t really care to make it sound any nicer than that. It isn’t.

Or, to again quote Hilary, our Director of Theological Integrity: “Put down your Sunday School materials and read Teen Vogue.” She’s not kidding.

RB-F: Do you see signs of hope? What is going well in the fight for accountability and justice? What is going well in the work of caring for survivors?

SK: Actually, yes, I see a lot of hope, despite all the obvious disasters. A lot that has been previously hidden is coming into visibility. I realize that the steady stream of survivors coming forward with abuse stories about prominent men is unnerving and destabilizing for many people, but for me, there’s a kind of catharsis in seeing people talk about this publicly. The reality is unnerving. The truth-telling about that reality, that feels like hope. Part of me feels like I need to talk about the things that aren’t happening, all the work that still needs to be done, all the ways things could go wrong, all the backlash that we’re fighting, the horror that is that narcissistic abuser in the White House. But the hope is real. And I don’t know if it’s correlated or not, but at Into Account, we’ve never been busier.

Thank you, Stephanie, Jay, and Hilary, for your leadership. 

Gun Owners: Your Delusions are Killing US

“There is no delusional idea held by the mentally ill which cannot be exceeded in its absurdity by the conviction of fanatics either individually or en masse.”–Lazare Hoche. 

Have I been angry about guns for too long? Is it time to put aside those feelings and work together with responsible gun owners for sensible gun reform? Isn’t it just too much to call firearms owners inherently irresponsible? To refuse to visit the homes of loved ones who refuse to lock up their weapons?

What about David French’s recent story in The Atlantic, in which the senior writer for National Review argues that carrying a gun ties him closer to his community? French begins with a scary story: man approaches his wife while she is in the yard playing with the kids on their trampoline. He wears an empty holster. He demands to see her husband, who is not at home. The police are far away and the woman forgot her gun inside. What is she supposed to do?

Well, she defused whatever “situation” that French doesn’t explain happens by talking to him. So, talking worked.

But it might not have, French implies. She might have needed to kill someone.

French believes that his life is frequently in danger. He writes:

In just the last five years, we’ve faced multiple threats—so much so that neighbors have expressed concern for our safety, and theirs. They didn’t want an angry person to show up at their house by mistake. We’ve learned the same lesson that so many others have learned. There are evil men in this world, and sometimes they wish you harm.

French is right. There are bad people in the world. They do bad things. But Clutter-style murders, in which a random bad guys murder you in your sleep, are very rare. Murders generally happen in networks. You are far more likely to be murdered if someone you know has been murdered.

French’s wife’s violent ex-boyfriend is a danger, as men who commit domestic violence are at increased risk of becoming murderers. French gives us a description of his wife being choked by her former boyfriend, suggesting that carrying a gun would protect women from such violence. The evidence suggests otherwise. The presence of a gun in a relationship where there is domestic violence simply increases the risk of death for the victim. Women who buy guns to protect themselves from violent partners are shot by those guns.

French’s argument is meant to invoke our empathy. Here is a good guy, a reasonable person, who just wants to protect his family. He buys a gun and trains to use it; he takes this seriously. He also discovers a community–a word that liberals love, right?–of others who come together around this issue. At the end, you might be convinced that French’s effort to normalize carrying a gun while on a trampoline is as much as an act of caring for his community as is helping  to build a handicap accessible playground.

It’s not. Look at his argument again.

His wife was playing with their kids on the trampoline, which, like other kinds of “attractive nuisances” (such swimming pools), requires extra insurance (which may be denied to the homeowner) and should be made inaccessible to children. Should she have had her gun on her while on the trampoline or taken it off and put it down (where?) while she played? Whose lives would have been endangered if she kept it on? Whose lives would have been endangered if she placed it on a nearby picnic table?

A stranger comes to the house, and he is carrying an empty holster.

Why does this scare French? He lives in Tennessee, he tells us, where both conceal and carry and open carry are legal. Does he think that a person with an empty holster is a danger?

His fear illustrates the point of all of us who oppose handguns feel: We can’t tell if someone is dangerous if they are open-carrying. I don’t know if the man behind me at the convenience store is going to rob the place or just always brings his gun with him when he buys Twizzlers and a gallon of milk. I long for the days where someone walking around with a gun was announcing himself as a danger. Now I just have to be scared of everyone.

Image result for safer with guns

Above, a political cartoon shows a sea of armed people, each pointing their guns at each other. One man says, “Okay, can we at least agree… that we all feel safer?”

French doesn’t get to invoke his fear of seeing someone who has an empty holster as a reason for him to get to carry a gun. Gun advocates like French are the ones who gave us laws that say that carrying a gun in public is a-okay. In a piece in National Review, he argues that we shouldn’t call such gun owners cowards, but what is it other than cowardice to support laws that put more guns in more hands, then say that you are afraid of the people who have guns? In another piece, French argues discusses how how deliberately states in public that his family is well-equipped with guns, even bragging on his child’s ability to use an AR15. (Reminder: Most school shooters learn to shoot their AR15s at home; it’s not video games, it’s a culture that tells kids models violence and a society that trains and arms children.) This violates one of those rules of “responsible gun ownership”–that gun owners should “fly under the radar.” Don’t put a decal on your pickup or the door of your house. That just lets criminals know that they can steal your guns when you’re not home, sending more guns into the hands of those bad guys that French fears. (That French does so should tell you he is not “well-trained” but just confident, which are too measurably different things, often in an inverse relationship.)

French’s thinking has made the world more dangerous, and then he asks us to trust him that the solution is adding the very thing that makes the world more dangerous: guns wielded by overconfident people.


Recently Joel shared a post in which he noted that it is different orientations toward communities that shape our attitudes about guns. Those who prefer hierarchies and individualism like ’em. Those who prefer community and responsibility to others don’t. (This is why French’s piece in The Atlantic might make your progressive heart melt for a moment. He got a community of gun-loving friends out of it!) I think that’s a smart assessment, and it’s also why fighting against guns requires change that is both cultural and societal.

But, in the end, those orientations aren’t facts. The facts are very clear: more guns endanger us more. No reputable scientific, scholarly research from any field–criminology, mental health, sociology, psychology–argues otherwise. There is simply no evidence that handguns keep us as a community or you as an individual safer. (Arguing that gun ownership has increased while crime has fallen is not a counterargument to this because we don’t know how much more crime would have fallen if we had fewer guns out there. It’s like if you eat a diet of nothing but Oreos and exercise 8 hours a day. You will probably lose weight, but not as much as if you’d not been putting Oreos INTO the system.)

The facts are this: If you own a gun, you are more likely to die by a gun as well as by other forms of violence. You are more likely to cause the accidental death of someone else. You are more likely to commit suicide or have a suicide in the home. You are not safer.

But what about the individual? Couldn’t David French be the exception, like that guy you once heard about who died BECAUSE he was wearing his seatbelt? Couldn’t the fact that a bunch of people in the alt-right really hate French and have it out for him mean he’s safer with a gun than without?

Sure, right. The rules of actuary science aren’t like the laws of physics. There are exceptions. But even if French’s life is being protected, not risked, by his gun ownership (and his bragging about his gun ownership), he is imposing a risk on the rest of us. If David French and I are in a room together, if he is carrying a gun, I’m in more danger than if he were not. I argue that it’s not within his rights to increase this danger to me without my permission (which is why I oppose conceal and carry–because I am unable to discern the level of danger others pose to me when I can’t know if they are carrying guns).

And gun fetishists all believe they are exceptional. Sure, police officers (who train a lot more than your average or even above-average handgun owner) miss their target almost 90% of the time, but we are told to believe that Mrs. French would have hit hers. Sure, AR15s overpenetrate,* making killing your target easy but not killing the man innocently watering his yard behind your target hard, but somehow, your teenager, whose brain can’t accurately predict the stopping distance of a car on a slick road, is going to handle that weapon just fine. Sure, even the majority of kids who have been trained not to touch guns do just that, but your child, waiting his turn for the trampoline, won’t pick up that handgun your wife put by the grill.

Gun fetishists believe that they are somehow stronger, faster, smarter than guns–and their targets. But they aren’t. The evidence is in. Believing that you are safer with a gun is a delusion. Widespread belief that more guns make a safer society is the kind of “mental illness” (as Hoche says) that will kill us all.

But worse than the delusion of gun fetishists’ belief that guns make them safer is their belief, which is the heart of French’s essay, that their feelings of safety matter more than the actual bodies of other people. 

What an entitled position that is.

And what cowards we all are, for letting children face lethal violence at school so that gun owners can feel better.


*Yes, I know they overpenetrate less than some pistols, but your neighbor does not really care whether your teen accidentally shoots him with pistol or a AR15. He would prefer not to die. And, no, hollowpoint bullets are not a real answer to this problem, as you will find yourself realizing as soon as your toddler puts one in his sister. 


Considering Hate

Hi Joel

I recently read Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics by Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski (Boston: Beacon Press, 2015.). It is an accessible reflection on hate as it appears in our politics as well as our pop culture (including lots of talk about The Night of the Hunter, a film I think you like?). It also includes a list of further resources that would make this book a great choice for a small group that wants to discuss hate, violence, goodness, and justice.

Considering Hate

The core argument:

We don’t have to be terrible people to hate:

“[I]njustice and violence arise from a totality of conventional actions, beliefs, policies, and practices that degrade others, even when there is no conscious intention to do violence to an entire segment of the population. It doesn’t take monsters to inflict terrible injury.”

Because hate is built into our norms:

“What if sensational acts of hate violence, which media accounts often represent as aberrant, actually reflect existing community norms?”

In fact, our social structures and political frames relieve us of the responsibility for our hate:

“the intense animus described as hate is politically mobilized, and… hate as a political frame shapes societal views about violence and effective responses to it.”

So, how do we change those structures? How can art and film and fiction help us?

You can read an excerpt here. 



Gun Fetishism Makes Odd Bedfellows

Ah, rural Pennsylvania. You never disappoint me. I mean, if I’m looking for whackadoodles who mix guns and religion.

You probably have seen by now the images from Newfoundland (population 2,300 and some), up in Wayne County, near Scranton. (On the map of Pennsylvania that you make by turning your right hand horizontally, palm facing you, it’s about where the first joint of your pointer finger meets your middle finger.) Worshippers gathered this week for a service to bless weapons, and the service prominently featured the AR-15, the choice of gun of mass shooters, including the man who killed 17 in a Parkland, Florida school recently.

The pictures are grotesque: women in beautiful gowns and men in dark suits, many wearing crowns made of bullets, carrying weapons. It is a sick display of the marriage of violence and religion. It forced a local school district to move school students out of the area. The school was closed three years ago when an assassin used an AR15 to kill a state police officer and wound another, then lead police on a manhunt.


A church leader holds a weapon adorned with gold. She wears a crown and a dark blue robe and stands before a gold chair and a US flag. Weapons were not loaded during this week’s event at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary.

But you may have also noticed that this crowd is made of up people you usually don’t see together, especially in small town PA. Black, white, and Asian worshippers gather together. Signs are in English and Korean.

I developed my interest in rightwing religion by visiting many, many wild, weird, off-the-beaten-track, questionable churches in Pennsylvania. This looks nothing like the places I’ve been.

Reporting about the event focused on the guns, but there is another part to this story. How did an offshoot of the Unification Church (derisively called “Moonies,” after their founder, Rev. Sun Myung Moon) land 25 miles outside of Scranton, of all places?

The brief answer: When Rev. Moon died in 2012, a battle for power erupted between his wife and their son. Hak Ja Han ordered her son to leave to go to Korea, but Hyun Jin Moon instead set up shop in Northeastern PA. His brother, Kook Jin Moon, moved his gun manufacturing company out of New York to Pike County, PA, in the same area as Newfoundland, because, he said, Pennsylvania was “friendlier” to firearms–that is, didn’t regulate them as carefully as New York.

Hyung Jin Moon launched the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, a splinter group that the main branch of the Unification Church rejects. Still, if you look closely, you see some signs of the Unification Church, including an interacial, international mix of people and a focus on weddings. Indeed, this week’s event involved a lot of guns, but it apparently was an event in which people recommitted to their marriages–hence those clothes. Other symbols–like those crowns of bullets–are also familiar in worship in the Sanctuary splinter group.

But guns are central, too, even in weeks where they aren’t so prominent in the service. In fact, the group’s other name is “Rod of Iron Ministries”–a reference to both a passage in Revelations and guns, particularly the AR-15, which is revered in the group. The group preaches violence in multiple forms, too, offering training not just in the use of assault weapons but martial arts and knife fighting. (Click here for an 8 minute video of Hyung Jin Moon explaining the training.)

Now that you know that these folks aren’t even your regular wingnut Christians, do you feel better?

Well, you shouldn’t.


Paul Mango, a GOP contender for the governship of the Keystone state, appeared on Hyung Jin Moon’s YouTube show in January. In case you want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t know what Moon’s church was about, a representative from his campaign appeared on the show again, just two weeks ago. Since then, they hosted a “President Trump Thank You Dinner” where the guest of honor was Larry Pratt, president of Gun Owners of America, a lobby group to the right of the NRA, and the funds–$50 to $100 per ticket, sold out.


In other words, guns open the door between conservative Republicans and churches that preach that believers must be prepared to literally fight those who oppose them–including Sanctuary’s hateful anti-LGBTQ+ teachings–to death. That this is a splinter of the Unification Church is a quirky detail, but Hyung Jin Moon’s group is certainly not the only religious group–and not even the only one in Wayne County–to argue that God wants us to use guns.


PS. Kids–become a religious studies major! We need more people studying this stuff!