Toward a (mostly) Mennonite politics

menno
Good ol’ Menno Simons.

Dear Rebecca:

The slogan of this blog is that we write from a “(mostly) Mennonite” perspective. It’s a recognition that we both have long ties to the church, while also acknowledging there are areas where we part with church orthodoxy.

And let’s face it: There are days when our minds are Mennonite, but our hearts aren’t. In our anger over the Florida school shooting of recent days, I think it’s fair to say we’ve both approached that state of being.

There’s nothing more Mennonite than pacifism, right? Here’s part of what the confession of faith has to say about that:

As followers of Jesus, we participate in his ministry of peace and justice. He has called us to find our blessing in making peace and seeking justice. We do so in a spirit of gentleness, willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for war, or participate in war or military service. The same Spirit that empowered Jesus also empowers us to love enemies, to forgive rather than to seek revenge, to practice right relationships, to rely on the community of faith to settle disputes, and to resist evil without violence.

Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the will of God. We witness against all forms of violence, including war among nations, hostility among races and classes, abuse of children and women, violence between men and women, abortion, and capital punishment.

As I say: I don’t think either of us are 100 percent on board with this. But I think we both largely are.

I wonder how the confession of faith would be written in today’s American political climate?

Our political debates are not usually violent, per se, but there’s no denying that — these days, at least — they’re extremely hostile. Mennonites used to sit politics out. Not so much anymore. But should we be witnessing against that hostility in our politics and political speech?

There are practical reasons to think so. For one, it’s clear that outside forces are using that hostility against us.

Moreover: One of my core beliefs is that almost nobody in life sees themself a villain. There are rare exceptions. But treating people like villains hardens hearts and makes progress more difficult in 97 percent of cases. So it seems incumbent on me to treat people like they believe what they say, even if I can spot what should be cognitive dissonance a mile away, even if what they say seems like transparent bullshit. Screaming and name-calling rarely produce solutions or consensus. Hostility only breeds more hostility. It almost never breeds justice. That’s true even if the hostility is utterly deserved.

And justice is the aim, right? Or, depending on where you’re at on the Menno spectrum, one of the aims, right?

I don’t just think this stuff because I’m a nice guy who can’t take his own side, though I know some folks think that about me. I also happen to think it’s true, and because true, the best path toward lasting justness and rightness.

I have fallen short of this standard, frequently, in thinking about our politics. All we can do is stumble, dust ourselves off, and resume the journey. And pray that we’re doing it right.

We fall short sometimes. But this is my statement of purpose.

–Joel

How I, Joel Mathis, accidentally helped Russians get Donald Trump elected

laptop computer, laptop keyword, Alex Knight

Dear Rebecca:

We’ve been so busy being angry about the Florida school massacre — rightly — that we’ve not taken notice of Friday’s indictment of 13 Russians accused of using American social media to campaign for Donald Trump.

For example, one ad innocuously instructed people to follow a Facebook page if they were a follower of Jesus, but the page later spread a meme of Hillary Clinton with devil horns.

The Internet Research Agency’s ads on Facebook also only made up a tiny portion of its overall strategy. Facebook estimates that 10 million people saw paid ads, whereas up to 150 million people saw other content from fake accounts.

But the Russians’ influence was even broader, because of how other Facebook users reacted to their posts. Posts on just six of the IRA’s most popular Facebook pages received 340 million shares and nearly 20 million interactions, including likes, comments, page shares, and emoji reactions, according to Albright’s analysis.

Now. I don’t believe I spread any of these memes. But I might’ve. That’s not really the point.

But here’s where I blame myself: I’ve spent the last decade, at least, arguing on the Internet. I helped fertilize the Facebook soil where Russian flowers bloomed.

And I did it a lot. It has been, frankly, my most-consuming activity: I’ve done it professionally, I’ve done it as an amateur, but whatever has happened, I’ve kept the argument going.

Listen to this testimony from a professional Russian troll:

Who really reads the comments under news articles, anyway? Especially when they were so obviously fake. People working there had no literary interest or abilities. These were mechanical texts. It was a colossal labor of monkeys, it was pointless. For Russian audiences, at least. But for Americans, it appears it did work. They aren’t used to this kind of trickery. They live in a society in which it’s accepted to answer for your words. And here — I was amazed how everyone was absolutely sure of their impunity, even as they wrote incredibly offensive comments. They were sure that with the anonymity of the Internet, no one would find them.

Ugh.

Democracy needs robust debate. But I’ve been part of creating an ugly tone. All too often, I’ve failed to treat my ideological rivals as my neighbor — failed to consider why they might believe what they believe and instead (lazily) attribute evil motivations to them. I have raised the temperature when I didn’t need to do it. Sometimes I did it for fun.

And now, it’s had consequences.

This isn’t just my fault, of course. But I don’t get to avoid the fact that I’m part of the problem,either.

The temptation is to go on strike, to declare silence as an act of rebellion, and simply to shut up after that. But … I’m not built that way. Maybe I should be. But I’m not.

So. How to resist? How to do better? The time to stop is now.

–Joel

Children don’t stay little. They will hold us accountable.

Hi Joel,

Gun fetishists insist that dead children is just the cost we have to pay to protect the enumerated right of gun ownership. Freedom isn’t free, and children have to pay the price.

Children can’t fight that. They don’t vote. They have no lobby.

But I’m taking heart today in the words of Kyle Stephens in her testimony against child rapist Larry Nassar: “Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”

The children we are training to run, hide, and fight–they are going to grow up and look at us and ask why we were so selfish with our guns and so careless with their lives. The dead ones won’t greet us in heaven, because people who defend guns deserve to go to hell. The ones who live with injuries will send off to die on the last of the icebergs. The ones who held their friends’ hands as they bled out will let us die alone. The ones who lived in fear every day will vote against us and our interests.

And when the mass shooters turn their guns toward nursing homes and senior centers, football stadiums and the Toby Keith farewell tour, bingo halls and the Silver Sneakers aerobics class, they’ll let our bodies rot where we fall.

Image result for bailey holt

Above, 15 year old Bailey Holt is one of 150,000 students who have experienced a school shooting. She was murdered by a classmate with a gun, parents who refuse to secure their weapons, a gun industry that preaches the fear that drives parents to leave guns always at the ready, and members of Congress who refuse to act.

We deserve no better.

Rebecca

UPDATED: In response to reader concern that a previous remark in this post suggests violence against member of Congress, I’ve removed a reference to imprecatory prayer (a rhetorical device in which a person prays for that God will destroy their enemies if he won’t change their hearts) so that it doesn’t distract from the key argument here. Members of Congress and their families also suffer from the threat of and reality of violence, and I should have been more kind in considering their experiences. –Rebecca

Republicans: The tough on crime party* (*This offer does not apply to crime.)

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Dear Rebecca:

Remember Donald Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention?

Our Convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.

Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims.

I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored.

How about his inauguration?

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

This echoes decades of successful GOP campaigning as the “tough on crime” party.

You can argue that Republicans only mean this rhetoric when it can be used against blacks and Muslims. I wouldn’t argue. But let’s leave that convo for another day: We’re still faced with the matter of trying to stop the slaughter.

I still believe, as I wrote earlier today, that we should give conservatives a chance to lead on this issue. If they can come up with action that reduces mass shootings while preserving what they believe to be their Second Amendment rights, I’m down with it.

But if they fail to deliver that plan – if, as in previous massacres, they sit on their hands – it’s time to make them pay politically. Let me propose that the way to do it is not to make it a gun issue, but a crime issue.

Think about the ad:

“Representative Doe said it was time for the school shootings to stop. But when it came time for action, what did he and Republicans do? Nothing. John Doe: Soft on crime, bad for Florida.”

And, yes, for good measure, slap a picture of John Doe’s face next to Nikolas Cruz’s.

Ugly? Yeah. I hate it. But politicians respond to incentives. Pain is an incentive. Instead of pointing out that crime is actually relatively low these days, it’s time to depict the GOP as the soft-on-crime party. And to do it relentlessly.

–Joel

It’s time for conservatives to give us a plan on mass shootings

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Dear Rebecca:

Politics, again, is the art of the possible. One thing that’s not possible in the short-term? Large-scale disarmament of American society. Conservative writer David French, I think, gets at the dynamic here:

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I think that’s right. It’s either going to take forever or the destruction of society to achieve disarmament to any great degree. Let’s assume the latter will be a destructive process to be avoided, and I think  it’s fair to say we don’t want to watch children die for 100 years before we start to save them.

So what then?

It’s time for conservatives to present a plan. The ball is 100 percent in their court.

Why do I say this? Because American liberals have offered a number of ideas over the years to address the problem. They’ve been roundly rejected.

Close the gun show loophole? Nope.

Require the reporting of stolen or missing guns? Nope.

Prohibit bump stocks? Maybe….nope.

Australia-style disarmament? Nope, nope, and nope.

Conservatives have talked about beefing up mental health care in this country, and while there’s reason to believe that would be insufficient, I suspect a lot of liberals would be on board anyway. Only problem is: Nothing ever happens.

(It is rather amazing that we’ve had a series of school massacres over the last 20 years and done, essentially, nothing to try to stop it. There’s no other area of life where the routine slaughter of children — something *everybody* agrees is bad — would elicit so little action.)

So. Republicans hold the presidency and Congress. They control most of  the state governments. If there’s action to be taken, it’s incumbent on them to take it. (French,  to his credit, has offered one idea.)

Instead of debating guns versus anti-gun, let’s focus on the art of the possible. We need to challenge conservatives: “OK, we know you believe in an expansive reading of the Second Amendment. Fine. Tell us what solution you can offer, instead, to the problem of mass shootings — and give us a timeline for implementing that solution.”

Liberals, in turn, should be willing to say “yes” to almost anything that conservatives come up with along these lines. (Almost. There are exceptions.) And we shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. But ultimately, it’s not our responsibility.

Liberals have offered their vision for reducing massacres in this country. It’s not going to happen. It’s time to hold conservatives to account — you can be for the Second Amendment and still be more vigorous in tackling this problem. What are you going to do about it? When? Act, or stand aside.

Time for the GOP to act.

–Joel

 
 

This week’s mass shooting targeted Jews.

Hi Joel,

Did you know that about 40% of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School population, where a white male student killed his peers this week, is Jewish? Or that five of the 17 dead are Jewish? Think about the strain this puts on the synagogues this week, just in terms of comforting those who mourn.

In debates about guns and schools, we often think in abstract terms. Instead, we need to think specifically about these people. Where will all the funeral goers park? Will they be too scared to come, out of a fear of a follow-up shooting? How will the elderly who want to join with the community in grieving get there? What does it mean to miss a funeral because you are in the hospital recovering from your own wounding? How, in this day and age, do you trust your neighbor not to kill you? How do you open up your synagogue to neighbors who would do this to you?

Image result for parkland florida synagogues

Above, Congregation Kol Tikvah, near the high school in Parkland, Florida, where a student murdered 17 of his peers, has been supporting people all week. How do you open yourself up to that work when you were also a target of this violence? I don’t know. 

This wasn’t just an attack on the shooters’ peers who he hated or the girls who wouldn’t date him. It was in effect–and given the shooters’ white supremacy, in purpose–also an attack on Jews.

White supremacy, misogyny, anti-Semitism, toxic masculinity, guns–this is a familiar story. Please don’t forget it.

Rebecca

 

 

People who cling to guns cling to hate

Good morning, Joel,

There’s an angry young white man at your area elementary and junior high and high school this morning and he has access to a gun.

This is true about every high school in America. It’s true about your kid’s school and about your alma mater and the highest achieving school and the one getting flagged right now for failing to meet No Child Left Behind’s standards. It is true about Barron Trump’s school and about the poorest school in the poorest county in the poorest state.

This young man is a loser. At least, he feels that way. He hears this message–that men are losing, that white men are losing because of women and people of color and immigrants–from his father, his friends, sometimes his male teachers, and all kinds of mainstream conservative media. Like most white men, he believes that he’s the victim of reverse racism. He is drawn to white supremacist websites through his misogyny. He finds friends there who agree with him, and he finds that he gets more and more validation the angrier and angrier he is. There, he is important in a way he isn’t at school.

He is socially and physically awkward, like teen boys are, or he’s handsome and insecure, like teen boys are. But he’s fairly sure everything is someone else’s fault, like do boys do. He can’t get over this, though, because Fox News tells him this every moment his father blares it and the white supremacist podcasts he listens to make it even more clear: If you don’t do something, white men like you are going to be victims of a genocide. Don’t be like the Jews, who didn’t fight back and so got what they deserved. Strike first. Because his parents keep guns in their home, he can do something. Maybe today will be his day to change history. Every boy dreams of that, and boys who have been given poisonous dreams dream of violence.

He plays video games, but, like most people who play video games, he can distinguish between reality and fantasy. He isn’t loading a gun into his truck this morning as a game but as an act of assertion: I matter because I can kill. He can kill because some adults secretly agree that white boys should be allowed to kill and leave their guns available to him.

He listens to bizarre music that worries his parents. He participates in a bizarre subculture that is meant to scare them. He paints his face to look like an insane clown. Or he wears contact lenses that make his eyes two different but both weird colors. Or he wears a jacket with the Rhodesian flag. But this music and makeup and clothing can’t make allow him to kill someone. Only the gun his father leaves unlocked and loaded under his bed, “in case,” will do that.

Sociologist Michael Kimmel gave us insight into this young man 500 school shootings ago: His rage is rooted in his “aggrieved entitlement”–the sense that the world does owe him something, because, as a white man, his is actually better than women and people of color. And, for most of Western history, he’s been received that way. Women believed it (or so they told him, even if they rolled their eyes behind his back, knowing that it wasn’t true). People of color believed it (or so he thinks, ignoring that it was his violence, not his superiority, that kept them “inferior”). Now they don’t. He can’t stand the change, even though their real loss of power isn’t due to women or people of color.

Writer Richard Wright explained anger like this in Native Son: 

They hate because they fear, and they fear becasue they feel that the deepest feelings of their lives are being assaulted and outraged. And they do not know why; they are powerless pawns in a blind play of social forces.

As a young person, he can’t even remember the time before gender and racial equality were at least lip-service values, but he knows that the world has changed for the worse for him. In his view, the world has tipped the other direction entirely, giving women and people of color advantages white men never had, he is sure, especially if those white men were poor.

He is not the only young white man to feel this way. It’s the classic profile of men who murder their wives and girlfriends, of neo-Nazis, and of school shooters. You don’t have to be crazy to believe it, and most of them young men laying their plans to shoot up a school or a mall or a movie theater today aren’t crazy. They’re simply tuned in to a culture that tells them that life is getting worse for them because of women and African Americans and Latinos and Muslims.

And they have access to guns. They are skipping school today to practice target shooting and outfit trucks with cattle catchers.

Eventually, he will kill your child or your child’s friend or teacher or coach or janitor or librarian. It will be Mr. Ernesto as he fixes the broken water fountain or Ms. Cammie as she scurries the pre-K class from the playground. These are my children’s teachers. Some of them are going to die.

**********

You have probably seen (maybe argued with) someone on the internet in the last few days who lament that it’s the person, not the gun. It’s the sin in our hearts, not the gun.

Yet they have no plan to address the person or the sin.

This is because the gun and the person and their sin are all from the same source: white men’s fear of a changing world, their rage at it, their entitlement. Gun fetishists cannot be sincere in their plea that we change the hearts of mass shooters because their hearts are nurtured by the same fears and hate that nurture gun ownership itself: get rid of the aggrieved entitlement of white men and you get rid of the reason why so many people buy so many guns. 

This isn’t just about the economics of the gun market–though it relies heavily on racism and fear to sell guns.

It’s about every day gun owners having to own up to the fact that their hearts are also wrong. The anger of gun owners and mass shooters is often just a matter of degrees. Those degrees matter–they are the difference between teenagers coming home from school with stories of their day or in grumpy teen silence and kids dying in the hallways–but to end school violence would require ending the hate and fear and entitlement that drives gun ownership.

Image result for james baldwin hate and fear

Above, James Baldwin reminds us, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” In that guns are a form of hate, they also hide pain. 

There are many people among us who would rather wallow in their entitlement and anger and fear–and never address their pain–than let children live.

Rebecca