Anger, and the present moment

Dear Rebecca:

I don’t trust my anger. I don’t trust it to help me be wise or to act with love or even, really, to be just. I think it’s why Mennonite pacifism appeals to me so: Violence is the most natural response to anger, and eliminating it from your toolbox forces you to consider other ways of channeling it.

You know that scene in The Avengers? Let’s say I understand it better than I prefer to admit:

Here’s the thing: I think my distrust of my anger might also be a luxury. There’s lots to be righteously angry about. A president who can’t quite condemn racism, for example.

And let’s face it, Jesus — well, he never killed or injured anyone. It’s impossible for me to imagine doing so in his name.

But… he could get pissed once in awhile, couldn’t he?

(What I love about that scene: The 80s action-movie horns.)

I don’t have a grand conclusion I’m drifting towards here: I am constantly enraged these days, depressed when the rage wears off, and I don’t really know the best way to make it something productive.

So I find myself lingering on these verses. I hope you’ll forgive the sexism of the King James Version here, Rebecca, because except for that, this is my favorite version of this passage:

He hath shown thee, O man, what is good:
and what doth the Lord require of thee
but to do justly
and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God?

Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

I’ve got a long way to go.

With respect, Joel

Why do Christians think they need to oppress gay people?

Dear Joel,

Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger, in the English and history department of the University of Dayton, blog at Righting America, which is associated with their book Righting America at the Creation Museum (Johns Hopkins 2016), an examination of how the Creation Museum serves the interest of religious conservatives.

For our Mennonite readers, Sue and Bill might be familiar names. They were faculty at Bluffton College, and Susan is associated with the Young Center at Elizabethtown College. She is the author of Selling the Amish: The Tourism of Nostalgia (Johns Hopkins 2012) and other scholarship on Anabaptists.

Sue and Bill invited me to share some thoughts at their blog recently on the question of why conservative Christians are so invested in the battle against gay rights.  You can read my response here. 

Above, Gustav Klimt’s 1917 Adam and Eve. What kind of blasphemy is it to insist that Christianity can’t work unless its founded on heterosexuality?



Countering Hate: Make It about You

Dear Joel,

Some of our readers might know that I occasionally work with communities facing hate protest, mostly but not exclusively in response to anti-gay groups. This emerged out of my research on hate protest and counterprotest. I’ve been fortunate to get to work with people who really care about meeting hate head-on in their communities, and I’ve learned from that work.

Right now, though, I want to answer a specific question I get asked frequently: If we ignored this, would it go away? If we signaled through our actions that the behavior of Republican white supremacist rioters was silly, foolish, and unimportant, would we make it so?

No, I don’t think so. Here’s why: The audiences being targeted–nonwhites that protesters aim to terrify, whites they hope to recruit–ARE paying attention. The first set of people would be foolish not to; their survival depends upon paying attention to haters. For the second set, our messages need to overwhelm the messages of hate–both by showing that those who choose hate will face severe social penalties and by showing where the “off ramps” from hate are.

For haters, these are the goals: to intimidate, recruit, and solidify the group. Upsetting the rest of us is a bonus, one that absolutely feeds into the sense of persecution and provides a decent thrill.

More importantly, though, I think this is the wrong question.

When I work with groups planning counterprotests, many of them quickly move to questions like “How do we defeat the haters?”

But, it’s like what your therapist tells you: You can’t change other people. (You can make more noise than them, stand between them and their targets, drive them off, and make life unpleasant for them, as some lovely contemporary Nazi hunters are doing. But you can’t change their hearts and minds.)

Angel Action

Above, counterprotesters participate in an Angel Action event to stand between anti-gay protesters and those they target. 

I work to reorient people asking that. Instead of asking how you can make the haters feel defeated, ask What does my response need to say about me? What does it need to say to the people I am responsible for? 

You are not responsible for these hateful people. (Unless you are, I mean–but those aren’t usually the folks asking this question.) You ARE responsible for the people they are attacking, narrowly (the actual people of color actually living in Charlottesville, Virginia, right now) and broadly (nonwhites everywhere). The more privilege you have to exercise, the more responsible you are for exercising it.

Your response is the only thing you can control. Rather than thinking about what you want to say to haters, who are very unlikely to be convinced by your counterprotest, you must keep your focus on what you want your legacy to be here. Then you need to make it happen. 

Will you be a person who intercedes with your body to protect those under physical attack?

Will you give your money to support justice?

Will you work behind the scenes, all the time, not just when hate groups show up, to root out hatred, violence, and aggression toward others?

Will you make the powerful listen to the voices of the powerless?

Will you amplify the words of the vulnerable?

Will you make the space for them to lead? Will you follow?

If you have been doing this right all along, then what you say now will align with what you have already done to keep others safe and free. If you haven’t been fighting hate, perhaps because you’ve been denying it, this is a good time to take stock (though not to express surprise. That’s just insulting to those who have been telling you about the racism, nativism, misogyny, homophobia, and ableism they’ve been facing.) and see how your silence has allowed this hate to take hold.

Though you will read much commentary arguing that, right now, white people coming to consciousness about white supremacy shouldn’t make it about them, I’m saying make this about you.  Not in the sense that your feelings are the feelings that matter now or that you should ask people of color to clue you in. Instead, make this about what kind of person you are. Are you a person who finds racism to be good, acceptable, or tolerable, or is hatred antithetical to your values in such a way as that you will actively oppose it?

White people, this is about us–our response to a hatred we have let grow. 







Who is responsible for the Republican White Supremacist Riots*?

Image result for andrew johnson

Andrew Johnson, who deliberately destroyed the possibility of holding white supremacists accountable for their actions, looks down from heaven and smiles on today’s GOP. 

Dear Joel,

In light of Trump’s failure in Charlottesville, my comments are brief and less kind than yours.

Charlottesville is not a surprise or even a revelation. It is exactly what many of us who opposed Trump said would happen when he was elected because it is exactly what his supporters wanted. He was elected by people who wanted this, for the purpose of achieving it. 

You are careful not to put every Trump voter into the “basket of deplorables,” but the same spirit that animates “Make America Great Again” rallies animates the violence in Charlottesville. Not every Republican likes it when violence erupts, but everyone who voted for Donald Trump is responsible for contributing to the climate where such violence will inevitably happen. You saw it as he advocated violence against peaceful protesters at his rallies. You saw it when he failed to immediately and with revulsion reject David Duke’s endorsement. This is just another expression of allegiance to the white supremacy that Trump has eagerly embraced. There is a reason why the mother of the young man who plowed his car into a crowd, killing one peaceful protester and injuring 19 more, thought her son was at a Trump rally: it’s because this white supremacist violence, which has always been there, was emboldened by Trump’s administration.

Does Trump, who has Jewish grandchildren those protesters would kill in gas chambers, believe in the white supremacy that had the protesters chanting Nazi slogans? That does not matter. Look: the man cannot denounce the Nazis who would kill his own grandchildren because he cannot bear to lose their adoration. With narcissism like that, you don’t need to feel racist to produce evil.

Trump can’t say “no” to this violence because this is his base: white men who see the threat to their unearned privilege as a cause worth killing for.

And he can’t say “no” to this because, even if he did, he would be a liar, and we now have more than a year of his flirtation with Nazis and Klansmen as evidence of it.

This is the culmination of Nixon’s Southern Strategy: to win the South by fostering white and resentment. Do not let Republicans be embarrassed by it now. It’s what they’ve chosen, year and year.  Every Republican who does not want to own this should, right now, speak against not just the violence in Virginia but a party, not just a president, who prefer Andrew Johnson over Abraham Lincoln.

Will they?

Why would they? In the absence of solutions to our common problems, a politics of white resentment is all they have.


*Thanks to my friend Todd for the language here.




Nazis, Republicans, and Donald Trump

Dear Rebecca:

Here’s what I wanted to say yesterday, but a technical error prevented it:

When conservatives complain about the horrors of Nazi authoritarianism, they’re referring to universal health care.

When liberals complain about the horrors of Nazi authoritarians, they’re referring to … Nazi authoritarians.

Pithy. Clever. But, frankly, cheap.

In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain both call out the evil in Charlottesville for what it is: The work of white supremacists at odds with what’s best in American culture. Good for them.

Don’t get me wrong: Both have enabled Donald Trump at various times. And that enabling led to yesterday’s shameful equivocating by the president. But it’s not so easy to say Republicans = Nazis and leave it at that. So let’s not make this so easy on ourselves.

What we can say, however, is this: Donald Trump, in his inability to ever denounce the David Dukes of the world — or to do it grudgingly on the rare occasion he has — has revealed to us who he is. Racist? I don’t know that man’s heart. But his actions say this: He is reluctant to denounce the clearest examples of racism that exist in American society. And the people he is reluctant to denounce proclaim him their leader.

We know how such silence would be met if, say, left-wing eco-terrorists proclaimed themselves to be acting in the name of Barack Obama.

I have been reluctant to say that Trump supporters are objectively racist, though many of my friends on the left have felt no such compunction. But at this point, again, Trump has revealed who he is. If you endorse him, you endorse racism.

And because, again, this seems to come down to religion and abortion for so many of the president’s supporters: To be silent or neutral or equivocating on racism is not pro-life. You cannot lament the black babies killed by abortion, suggest that it is racism, then stand silent when clear racism declares some lives — black lives, Latino lives — less valuable than others. This president does not deserve your support. Your continued backing of him will be your witness.

We know who Donald Trump is. Who are you?

Respectfully, Joel


Dear Rebecca,

I assume by now you’ve heard the news:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — This picturesque college town devolved into a chaotic and violent state on Saturday as hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members — planning to stage what they described as their largest rally in decades to “take America back” — clashed with counterprotesters in the streets.

Despite the decision to quash the rally, clashes continued on side streets and throughout the downtown. In the early afternoon, three cars collided in a pedestrian mall packed with people, injuring at least 10 and sending bystanders running and screaming. It was unclear if it was accidental or intentional.

    There was at least one death,

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer indicated in a tweet. The Post could not confirm the death.

I have no wisdom to offer here.

I know that evil must be resisted. I know that racism is evil. And I know that overt David Duke-style racists feel suddenly empowered to parade their evil through American public life.

And so I know this, from President Trump, is insufficient: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” he said.

Nope. Liberals have many, many flaws. And we aren’t always as right on race as we should be.

But this is not a “many sides” kind of issue. There is good and there is racism. There is good and there is bigotry. The two reside on opposite sides of the spectrum. President Trump’s equivocation is wrong.

This feels like a good moment for repentance. And that’s just to start.


White Supremacy Brings us to War, Again


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

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

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

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

Image result for american flag middle finger

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

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

What is more selfish than that?