DACA, Jesus, and family: A letter

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A DACA demonstration, by Bread for the World.

Dear Family,

Greetings to my dear ones across the world. Some of you are in Pakistan. Some in Canada. Many of you are scattered across the United States—Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, Michigan, Kansas, California, etc. I am writing to all of you to tell you a little about myself. I know we see each other at weddings or funerals every few years. We hug and we take photos for Facebook (so we can show off our saris). But I am starting to realize we do not really know each other.

Let me explain.

As you know, I am an immigration attorney. But the work I do is public interest law — I serve low-income families, the vulnerable. Part of the reason I do this work is because of the religious tradition I inherited from you. I am proud to be descended from generations of Pakistani Christians who took me to church every Sunday and made me memorize chapters and chapters of the Bible. It shaped who I am. My values.

You taught me how to love. Empathize. How to be kind. Serve others. And now here I am, working with undocumented immigrants during a time when they are being vilified by our own president.

Soon, the government will stop accepting renewal applications for DACA aka Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA helped almost 800,000 young men and women who came here as children get protection from deportation. DACA helped them to work legally and achieve their dreams of going to college, owing a home, starting a family.

Fam, I wish you could come and follow me around for a day. For the last few weeks, young people have sat across from me and cried as they talk about the fear they feel. They’ve shown me their grades, pictures of their toddlers and talked about graduate schools plans they are afraid to pursue. And now they’re left waiting. Wondering. Afraid.

When I see them, I see my parents, uncles and aunts when they immigrated to the States. I see you.

This is wrong. This isn’t the Christianity you taught me. You taught me Christianity is beyond all borders and nations. You taught me “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” You taught me to treat everyone like an angel. You would say, “What would Jesus do?” You made me sing, “Jesus loves the little children/All the children of the world.” Does he though? Do you?

Do you know anyone with DACA? Odds are you do. You just don’t know you do. I am very thankful to know people like my former coworker and friend Rossmeri Ramirez. She has DACA and is speaking out about it. But we need others to speak out and support immigrants. We need you. I need you.

Family, we are scattered across the globe. We are the same. We eat the same food, flavor our basmati rice with the same mango pickle. We like the same clothes, we wear the same gold jewelry. We go to the same churches. But politically, we are very, very different.

Can you tell I am angry? I apologize. But I am angry. You shaped me into the person I am. You are proud of me. You believe in service and missions. And yet your politics is hurting the very people I am working to protect. This isn’t the Christianity I want to know. Can you explain it to me?

Yours,
Kishwer

Kishwer Vikaas is an immigration attorney living in Sacramento, California. She grew up attending Mennonite church and school in Lancaster County, Philadelphia and South Jersey. She used to write about South Asian pop culture for Sepia Mutiny, MTVDesi, The Aerogram, etc. but has since retired. You can find her on Twitter @phillygrrl.

Thoughts and prayers for Las Vegas

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Dear Rebecca:

When a horrific event happens, as happened in Las Vegas overnight, I’m torn between competing impulses:

• To cry for justice.
• To shut up.

The two impulses aren’t necessarily contradictory. One can hope for justice and still have a sense that the loss of live deserves a little reverence, a little silent contemplation, a little bit of awe for the horror we humans can visit upon one another.

We’re really good, as a society, at arguing about what’s right, but we’re really shitty at taking the moment for silence. This is understandable: To take that moment feels like conceding important rhetorical ground to people we don’t really believe have our best interests at heart.

I think it’s still important anyway.

So here’s the prayer I composed around the time of the Orlando massacre. It continues to be useful, unfortunately.

Lord, forgive me.

Lord, forgive me my need to make a point right away when tragedy happens instead of taking a moment to lament and grieve.

Lord, forgive me my refusal to see the fears that other people have and to understand how those fears shape their responses to each other, and to the tragedies of the day.

Lord, forgive me for failing to discern evil where it exists, and for inferring evil from mere disagreement.

Lord, forgive me for the anger that springs up in my heart when people refuse to give me and my friends the benefit of the doubt.

Lord, forgive me my failure to give the benefit of the doubt.

Lord, forgive me for any action that compounds the evil of an evil act.

Lord, guide me to help create peace and diminish injustice where evil is done.

Lord, forgive me my refusal to shut the hell up.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

Lord: Comfort and bless the families of those who suffer tonight.

Amen.

I will come girded for battle tomorrow. Today, I mourn.

 

Roy Moore, God’s Agent on Earth

Dear Joel,

There is reason to cheer the “Big” Luther Strange lost the Alabama Senate primary. Strange was endorsed by Trump (if Trump’s rambling and solipsistic speech to Alabama voters this Friday could be considered an “endorsement”), and we need for Republicans at the state level to understand that falling in line behind Trump is a losing proposition.

But then we get Roy Moore.

I’ve written about Moore before, but, for those who want the sum of it: Moore believes that all our rights and laws ONLY come from God, by which I mean a Judeo-Christian God, by which I really mean a born again Protestant God who only reads the Bible in the KJV, just as Jesus wrote it.

Despite having gone to law school, where I’m sure they teach something about the history of our legal system, Moore sees our laws as deriving from the Bible (not English common law, as legal historians note). Therefore, anyone who does not believe in the Bible doesn’t have those rights. Muslims and atheists don’t have freedom of religion because they don’t believe in the God who gives them freedom of religion. The only people who have religious freedom are those Christians and Jews (who are just pre-Christians in Moore’s kind of religion).

Image result for roy moore tiny gun

Above, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice, whose been removed from the bench TWICE, shows off his little pistol at a campaign rally to prove to voters that he’s a Second Amendment supporter. 

Moore goes farther, though: Because our laws come FROM God, they can never go ABOVE God. Therefore, any law (as Moore understands it) that might contradict the Bible (as Moore understands it) is invalid.

We can start to imagine where this goes: the mandatory practice of Christian traditions and rituals, from school prayer and Bible reading onward. (Can he make us say “Merry Christmas,” as Trump promised would happen?) The outlawing of all non-marital sex. Of contraception. (Abortion is an obvious target for Moore.) Of liquor stores and Sunday sales and the teaching of evolution and climate science and swearing in public.

For those who want a primer on Moore’s kind of theo-political activism, check out Sara Diamond’s now classic Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States

Rebecca

Shooting Deaths are Never Accidents

Hi Joel,

A one year old child–a baby–was killed in a what your local news is calling an “accidental shooting” last week. Not many details have been released yet, but we know that the child was in a home in North Lawrence.

You know what I think about guns: there is no such thing as gun safety and no such thing as a safe gun owner. Some of our readers have considered that statement overwrought, but I think it’s a sensible assessment. Once you decide to own a gun, you decide that you are 1) wise enough to decide if someone else should be killed by it and 2) careful enough to keep it secured at all times except when you think someone else deserves to immediately die.  Even if gun owners are wiser and more careful than the rest of the population (and we have no evidence of that), they aren’t wise or careful enough, every single moment of every single day, to insure that these conditions are met.

And the data leans in my favor: The presence of a gun in a home increases the chance of death by gun significantly.

Half of parents whose children are killed by the parents’ gun are not held legally accountable for their deaths. Forty percent of accidental shootings of children occur in the room where the gun is stored.

The high school sophomore who opened fire in a Spokane, Washington high school just two weeks ago, indiscriminately killing one and wounding three others, took the gun out of his parents’ gun safe. Most children who are mass shooting perpetrators get their guns from home.

You see where I am going with this?

Guns kill kids. Kids use guns to kill kids. Kids use guns to kill themselves.

These are not “accidents.” They are predictable outcomes.

My high school drivers’ ed teacher, Mr. Wissler, killed a man in an auto accident when he was younger. The man had laid down in the road in the night in an attempt to end his own life. He chose a spot where the street lights didn’t overlap, and the young Mr. Wissler was traveling too fast to stop even after his headlights illuminated the man. He ran over him, killing him. The lesson for us? Don’t drive faster than your headlights. Had he been driving at a lower speed, Mr. Wissler told us, he could have seen the suicidal man and stopped in time.

That may seem harsh. I think the whole class’s response was to assure Mr. Wissler that he hadn’t done anything wrong.

But Mr. Wissler was adamant: in driving, there are no “accidents.” There are collisions, with one thing hitting another, sometimes lethally. But all of these can be prevented by safe driving, safe road design, and safe automotive engineering. Lack of intention doesn’t make you less culpable for the harm you inflict with your actions. In other words: someone is always responsible–or should have been. (This was the most important thing I learned in law school, too, fifteen years after drivers’ ed.)

In gun ownership, there are no “accidents,” either. You own a gun, and you decide that you are increasing the risk of your child dying. You decide not to unload it and you are deciding that your desire to kill someone at short notice is more important than the risk of death to your child. You keep it unlocked, and you are deciding that your fear of a break in is more important than the incredible risk you are imposing on a child. You fire a gun and you are deciding that the power you are enacting in that experience is more important than whoever that bullet hits.

Above, data from Everytown for Gun Safety provides evidence that American adults love guns more than children. 

Is that too mean to say to grieving parents? Then say it to parents who own guns but haven’t yet had to grieve, before they do.

Rebecca

 

“Total Disrespect for Our Heritage”: What White Mennonites Can Learn from Kaepernick

Dear Joel,

Colin Kaepernick has done something no other athlete has ever managed to do for me: make me care about sports.

Don’t get me wrong–I still think that football is terrible, and I won’t be watching it, ever. Even a Super Bowl Sunday party has no appeal for me, and I’m a gal who likes wings and chili and all kinds of sour cream-based dips.

Kaepernick’s story has challenged me in particular ways as a white pacifist. As Mennonites, we don’t participate in rituals like playing the national anthem or saying the pledge, and it’s caused some backlash. Every year, when their classmates see my kids not saying the pledge, my kids have been asked why they hate God and America, and this year the elementary teacher actually welled up with tears (not in a good way) when we explained that our middle child would need to alternate assignment to singing the first stanza of “The Star Spangled  Banner” for a social studies/history project focusing on the US.

But we have an out. First, we don’t have to explain anything at all to schoolteachers or classmates about why our kids aren’t saying the pledge or standing for the anthem. We do, though, mostly because we don’t want them to assume that we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses (who also don’t say the pledge), not because we don’t respect our Jehovah’s Witnesses friends but because we don’t want to claim a label that’s not ours. Plus, our kids still get to participate in class Halloween and Valentine’s Day activities and enjoy birthday snacks, which Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t get to do.

And if a classmate asks how our kids can still be Christians but not say the pledge, our kids just say that our beliefs prohibit oath-taking. If they are feeling sassy, they explain that, as Christians, their loyalty is to God, not to any country. We only have one allegiance to give, and it certainly can’t go to the United States, a place that breaks God’s heart.

The larger story is that this isn’t a nation we love unconditionally. It’s a place we love deeply, but we’re never going to engage it uncritically, which is what the pledge and the anthem ask. We love America not as subordinates to it but as contributors to it, people who believe we can love it into being better than it is. We also think that God wants Americans, as a collective, to be better than we are. I don’t know what Colin Kaepernick thinks about God, but I think he thinks America can be better, too. At the heart of every protest is hope.

But, as white people, we don’t have to explain that when we don’t participate in these things. So Kaepernick’s actions have reminded me that it’s not a big deal for a white kid to sit out on the anthem. (And, after all, my kids aren’t taking a knee during the pledge; they’re staying quietly in their seats.)  It’s a white privilege to just be called a God-and-country hater, not a “son of a bitch.”*

As he isn’t able to actually do the work of a leader, Donald Trump continues to hold pep rallies in which he riles up racist sentiment. Yesterday’s rally in Alabama included a typically self-centered Trump meandering through an endorsement of Sen. Larry Strange, who is in a primary race against Judge Roy Moore. In one of his several tangents, he dipped into a criticism of Kaepernick, who he has a petty personal vendetta against, linking the football player’s taking a knee to a to declining viewership of televised football, which is just not accurate but is a good reminder that Trump uses TV ratings as way of judging the value of something. More concerning, though, is that he accused Kaepernick of

“Total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for. Everything that we stand for.”

Trump warns that “when people like you”–like the white conservatives in his audience–see Kaepernick kneel, they, their heritage (“our heritage”), and everything that they “stand for” is being “disrespected.”

And the thing is, he’s right. The white people in his audience do stand for the racial injustice and the brutal treatment of black people that Kaepernick and other players are protesting.  I don’t know any of those people cheering him on in Alabama, but I do know that every single white person I personally know who voted for Trump believes that the best parts of American culture and society are due to whites and the worst due to black people. They believe that American heritage is white heritage. And they are so protective of it that they cannot bear even one solitary black man peacefully protesting it.

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Above, Kaepernick in his San Francisco 49ers uniform, kneeling during the anthem, flanked by other players who have followed his lead. Maybe it’s naive to look to football–a racist, violent, jingoistic sport–as a place for social change. But I’m not willing to resign any parts of American culture to racism. 

Maybe you know some Trump supporters who didn’t vote for him because of he blared his racist foghorn in their face during the entire primary. But they were willing to vote for him despite that. But my experience is pretty clear: all the Trump voters I know think that the worst thing in America isn’t racism but black people.

Kaepernick is doing work that most of us, without a nationally televised audience or a stadium of fans watching, cannot do. But we can do the work that Kaepernick’s mother has done. A white woman who reared a biracial child, she was called a “bitch” by Trump to the cheers of thousands of Southerners who likely image themselves as genteel and well-mannered, especially toward older white ladies. In a December interview, she shared that, at first, she didn’t understand her son’s choices but that she always supported him. I don’t know the racial politics that the Kaepernicks taught their son, but I am encouraged that his parents support him now.

As a white mother of white children, my goal is to rear them so that Trump and his fans in Alabama calls my kids sons of bitches, too. That likely means being more explicit about our reasons why we don’t say the pledge or sing the anthem, about not hiding behind our Mennoniteness but prioritizing our antiracism as our reason for abstaining from nationalistic rituals.

May we get ourselves to the point of “total disrespect” for the the heritage of white supremacy!

Rebecca

PS. Want to support Kaepernick’s mission? He’s pledged $1 million to organizations working for racial justice and care for oppressed people. That includes a recent donation to the American Friends Service Committee. The Quaker-affiliated organization currently has a giving match that doubles all donations through September 1, up to $50,000. Make your donation here–and tell Kaepernick that you appreciate his support for this peace organization.

*updated to add: We know that Trump used “son of a bitch” because, even he, who could kill a man on Main Street and not lose a vote (if that man were a person of color), cannot,  at least not right now, even in a crowd of white Alabamans, call Kaepernick “a n———-.” But we heard it, and we heard, too, Trump say “fire him” and mean “lynch him”–because this is about race, as it always has been with Trump. And we heard thousands of Trump supporters hear those words too. These are not dogwhistles but foghorns.

The Mary Option: Let’s Stop Listening to Men Tell Women about their Sex and Faith Lives

Dear Joel,

How have we gotten so far into Sixoh6 without talking about Mark Regnerus?

For those who don’t spend their time following academic gossip, in 2012, Regnerus, a socially conservative Catholic at the University of Texas at Austin, published an article about the impact on children of being raised by same-sex parents. Well, that’s what Regnerus said it was about, but lots and lots and lots of researchers and research organizations, from Regnerus’ own chair to the American Sociological Association called the study bunk and it was really about arming anti-gay groups with pseudoscience, which is just what happened.

Research on couples parenting in same-sex relationships is hard for lots of reasons, in part because we simply don’t a large enough population of people doing it to capture them in a random sample. If you picked 1000 people out of hat, it’s very possible that none of them would be partnered with in a romantic same-sex household and rearing minor children together. (Only about 42% of “family households” have children in the home at all.) In the absence of a good random sample, sociologists can use other sampling techniques, such as snowball sampling (finding one same-sex couple who are parenting and asking them to help you find others), but this has its drawbacks, too. You can easily get yourself in a sampling corner–for example, surveying or interviewing only those with enough money to pursue artificial reproductive technologies or those who attend a welcoming and affirming church or who are part of a queer parenting support group.

Regnerus’ work aimed for a random sample, which is the gold standard in survey research, but the result was that the number of people he says were raised by gay parents was small. Even worse–and this is where we get to questionable choices in his methodology–Regnerus categorized lots of kids as “raised by gay parents” when they probably weren’t. Some were raised by a single gay parent but not by that parent’s partner; some were lived with their gay parent and their parent’s partner for less than a year, others just for 2-4 years.

Sociologists Simon Cheng and Brian Powell re-analyzed Regnerus’ data. Of the 256 survey respondents that Regnerus classified as having been reared by same-sex parents, just 51 respondents could be logically classified as having spent even a year in a household led by same-sex parents. That’s hardly being “raised” by “gay parents.”

I started by calling the Regnerus Controversy “academic gossip,” but that really underestimates the situation. During this time, Regnerus served as an expert witness in cases about same-sex marriage and contributed to an amicus brief opposing same-sex marriage. In other words, there could have been dramatic consequences for queer families if Regnerus’ sketchy research been heeded.

So I’m not surprised to see Rod Dreher taking up Mark Regnerus. And I’m not surprised to see Regnerus moving from data that suggests that religiously faithful women enjoy sex less than their more secular peers to the shaky conclusion that this is because women who have lost faith are looking for something to fill that God-shaped hole.

Above, William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s St. Mary of Egypt. Mary (344-421) ran away from home at age 12 to Alexandria. A sex addict and a sex worker (and a spinner of flax, as depicted in this painting), she joined pilgrims on a trip to Jerusalem in order to find new sex partners. When she arrived, she attempted to end the Church of the Sepulchre but found her way stopped by an invisible force. She recognized an icon of the Virgin Mary outside the church, prayed for forgiveness, and had a transformative religious experience, eventually moving to the desert to live as a hermit. Traditional interpretations focus on her repentance, but I wonder if she wasn’t also a little tired of having to listen to men like Dreher and Regnerus yap on about women’s sexuality and faith.

Below, a Greek Orthodox icon of St. Mary. In many depictions, her skin is tanned from her time outdoors and her gray hair long, and she is shirtless. Living life free of the sexual expectations of men! Let’s call it the Mary Option.

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If you think that was vulgar to say, just remember that Regnerus and Dreher are arguing that Christian women don’t like sex because Jesus meets whatever need sex would otherwise fill. I find that terribly vulgar. And sexist. And a really sad, limited way of thinking about religion. Regnerus’ argument relies on the idea that sex (impossibly) replaces the search for transcendence, not that it could be part of transcendent and holy experiences. This is an impoverished theology of sex.

If we accept Dreher and Regnerus’ arguments, it means:

  • If I’m a Christian woman and I like sex as much as my non-believing girlfriends, I must not be loving Jesus enough.
  • If I am religious and my sex life sucks, I should just accept that as a consequence of faith.
  • Those who choose abstinence as part of their faith lives, including nuns, aren’t making a sacrifice. (And on this, Dreher and Regnerus, as a former Catholic and a current one, should know better. To join religious life (to become a nun, priest, monk, or consecrated virgin), you have to be called it it, and it is a higher calling than marriage.)

So, if Regnerus’ conclusions are harmful to women (and their partners) and grounded in questionable social science, why does Dreher quote him? Is it so important to Dreher to hurt women that he relies on falsehoods to do it?

Women, religious and non, share your thoughts, please. Feel free to PM me on FB or email me at anygoodthing@outlook.com if you’d like to share.

Rebecca

Does losing faith make you want more sex?

austin powers
Because honestly, I couldn’t think of an image for this pos that seemed appropriate.

Dear Rebecca:

Sorry for the blunt headline. Sorry, also, for my quietness lately. But, say, have you read Rod Dreher lately?

Regnerus says the percentage of women who said they would prefer to have more sex is as follows:

16 percent of “very conservative” women
30 percent of “conservative” women
38 percent of moderate women
44 percent of “liberal” women
53 percent of “very liberal” women

Why is this?

So, he crunched the numbers to account for religious service attendance, importance of religion, “and a unique measure of having become less religious in the past decade” to see if the hypothesis could be grounded in data. What he found was that among young adult women, it’s not really political liberalism that correlates with wanting more sex (no matter how much one is having), but rather one’s loss of religious belief.

He then quotes Mark Regnerus, author of the new book “Cheap Sex”:

Sex does not explain the world. It is not a master narrative. It has little to offer by way of convincing theodicy But in a world increasingly missing transcendence, longing for sexual expression makes sense. It should not surprised us, however, that those who (unconsciously) demand sex function like religion will come up short.

This, it seems to me, is a rather astonishing conclusion to draw from the info at hand. Me? I don’t doubt that “very liberal” women report a lustier sex drive, or that women who’ve lost faith do so either. I don’t assume, however, that it’s a misguided attempt to replace religion with meaningless sex.

Instead, I suspect it has something to do with the fact that lots of religious traditions treat A) sex like it’s something dirty and B) make women solely responsible for keeping a lid on it — traditions and cultures punish women to a degree that they don’t punish men for engaging in precisely the same activity. Freed from those traditions, might a woman decide that she actually A) enjoys and B) wants sex?

I’m just spitballing here.

Anyway, the way this is written certain seems to perpetuate the whole “bad women are sexy women” vibe. Sexy women hate God! Yuck.

Sincerely, Joel