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.

Image result for kaepernick kneeling

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.

Image result for st mary of egypt in iconography

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

Making White Privilege Work for Good

Dear Joel,

I’ve been thinking this week about your recent post on the casting for Hellboy. For the reboot, handsome and not at all Asian actor Ed Skrein was originally slated for the role of Ben Daimio, a biracial Asian-white character. He gave it up to make space for an Asian actor to play the role instead, and it appears (as of Monday) that Daniel Dae Kim will star instead. (Kim left his work on CBS’s Hawaii Five-o due to pay disparity between the white and Asian actors on the show, so this is especially gratifying.) As you note, this is laudable and relatively easy for Skrein. He’s not giving up his livelihood, just this one role. And, frankly, it’s a smart move–he gets a pat on the back for being aware of racial privilege and doesn’t have to deal with the criticism that other actors who have donned yellowface–Emma Stone in Aloha, Scarlet Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange.

Image result for daniel dae kim

Above, Daniel Dae Kim, on the set of Hawaii Five-o. 

Anyway, the real point of your post was that it’s easy for Skrein to do this because he’s a handsome white actor who’s going to have plenty of work ahead of him. How do those of us who have benefited, in terms of our employment, from our whiteness, at the expense of people of color, do the same?

To be clear, this is all of us. You can’t untangle capitalism and race in the US, because our system of capitalism was built upon the removal, genocide, and enslavement of people of color. We would have no US economy as we understand it today had the first hundreds of years of our history been determined, not merely shaped, by assaults on (and too often the destruction of) indigenous cultures and the the selling and buying of Africans and their descendants. That didn’t go away with slavery or even with the end of Jim Crow. By and large, unions preserved good jobs for whites. In 1945, we voted against a robust social welfare program and instead chose a system that links benefits to jobs, insuring that only those who had “good jobs” would be protected in sickness and old age; those jobs, of course, were (and still primarily are) for white people.

This isn’t hard to see, but it’s hard to fight, on an individual level. You can explain white privilege to “a broke white person,” but that doesn’t mean he’s going to enthusiastically give up his $7.25 job so that a person of color can work it instead and he can be unemployed.

White men out-earn black and Hispanic men and all groups of women

Above, data from the Pew Research Center highlights the wage gap between whites and people of color. Black men earn 73% of what white men earn, while Hispanic men earn just 69% of what white men earn. Black women earn 65% of what white men earn, while Hispanic women earn 58% of white men’s earnings. 

Which brings us to the central conflict: the difficulty recognizing and then acting on our own agency (We can do things to change the system.) in the context of a system that is very hard to change.

It’s a simple comparison, but I think of this kind of work kind of like caring for the environment: I must do what I can, but I also recognizing that doing all I can still won’t stop climate change. It’s up to me, but I can’t only act alone.

So, to get toward (if not to) an answer to the challenge you pose: As white people, we can do individual acts that work against a racist system–we have that power, and those acts will make a positive difference. We also have to act collectively.

What are some of the things you do to remedy this? Here are some of mine, not always executed perfectly:

I patronize businesses owned by people of color. If, for some reason, I need to use a ride share service, I choose Moovn, which is black-owned. If I’m looking for an artsy gift or a set of notecards for myself, I search for products crafted by artists of color. I give a lot of books as gifts, and I select books by and about people of color. When I need a realtor, auto mechanic, or piano teacher for my child, I ask around specifically for people of color. I choose to eat at restaurants owned by people of color.

You get the idea: get this white woman’s money flowing into the wallets of people of color.

Here’s another one: just as I seek out people of color for work, I seek to recommend people of color. For example, I serve on the editorial board of a major journal in my field. My main job is to suggest books for review and to locate reviewers for them. I work hard to identify books by scholars of color for review, and I locate reviewers of color to review books (and not just books about race or books by people of color). As much as possible, I make my top choice for a reviewer a person of color. Since a lot of academic work is done via networking, this brings more people of color into the journal’s network.

Depending where you are in life as a white person, you can do more. If you are part of a hiring committee,  implement a revised Rooney Rule, interviewing at least a few people of color for any job. (It turns out that if you interview just one member of a minority group, it doesn’t really increase the odds of hiring someone from that group. Instead, that single person sticks out to them as “strange”–1 woman among 9 men who were interviewed, 1 black man among 9 white ones–which doesn’t help.) Once people of color are seen as a part of a “normal” hiring pool, things start to change.

And, if you are white, take care of your colleagues of color. Ask them how you can help them advance. Protect their time. Advocate for them to take on leadership roles and limit their emotional labor. In institutions where most people are white, people of color are always doing work that white people cannot see, including the work of putting up with micoaggressions and white nonsense. Assume that they are working harder than you, because they probably are. Ask them straightforwardly how you can make their job more pleasant, more fulfilling, or easier. Ask to take an item off their to-do list. Ask them what they need to be more successful or happier at work, then find it and give it to them.

Beyond supporting your colleagues, work for a more just workplace. Make it the job of the white people there to address racism and structural inequality. You don’t even have to identify yourself as a person doing this work–in fact, it’s probably better than people come to see you (rather than you telling them) that you’re here to do this work. And here is the best part: because you are white, you are going to be more heard more easily by those white people higher up the food chain. You can exploit your whiteness here.

And, if you can do it, hand off paid work to people of color. Very often, we white people can. 

I’m interested in what our readers here suggest. White people: what do you do to insure the economic success of people of color, given the realities of our economic system? People of color: What do you need us white people to do more of?

Rebecca

 

 

 

 

Infamous Mennonites: Founder of the 1990s Largest White Supremacist Organization

Dear Joel,

The most recent issue of the Mennonite World Review includes an article by Rich Preheim addressing the Mennonite faith of Ben Klassen (b. 1918 and not be be confused with any other Ben Klassens out there), who founded the white supremacist Church of the Creator. The article is a nice introduction to Klassen, who was born in an Mennonite community present-day Ukraine. Facing a terrible famine, his family headed to Mexico, then to Saskatchewan when Klassen was a young child. He went on to have a successful career in real estate and as dabbled as an inventor.

And, along the way, he came to believe that Christianity was false because it was an extension of Judaism; an anti-Semite, he would never embrace Christianity. Additionally, he saw that, while white people would defend Christianity, Christianity would not defend whiteness–indeed, he saw it as too deferential to Jewish people and inclusive of nonwhites. Key Mennonite doctrines, such as the rejection of violence and loyalty to faith above state, drew more of his criticism. In the end, Mennonites were, like Jews and Roma, threatening white supremacy because of their rootlessness, though white ethnic Mennonites were not seen as racially inferior (or threatening) as Jews and Roma were.

And yet, though he rejected Christianity broadly and the Mennonite faith in particular, as Preheim explains, Klassen’s “Mennonite experiences were foundational to his development as a leading white supremacist.”

In 1973, Klassen founded the Church of the Creator (COTC), which isn’t a church at all but a racist movement; it is a religion in the sense that it provides a framework for understanding the world, but it explicitly rejects belief in the supernatural. The sum of the group’s theology is that whites are superior to nonwhites in all ways and that society should be organized for the good of whites. As point 3 in their statement of faith says, “WE BELIEVE that our Race is our Religion.”

Image result for against a rising tide ben klassen

Above, Klassen stands before a banner with the emblem of the Church of the Creator. Accoring to the Creativity Movement, which continues to use this flag, “The ‘W’ of our Emblem stands, of course, for the WHITE RACE, which we regard as the most precious treasure on the face of the earth. The Crown signifies our Aristocratic position in Nature’s scheme of things, indicating that we are the ELITE. The Halo indicates that we regard our race as being UNIQUE and SACRED above all other values.”

Klassen developed this line of white supremacy in books with titles like The White Man’s BibleNature’s Eternal Religion, This Planet is All Ours, and Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs: A History of the Church of the Creator During Its 10 Year Domicile in the State of North Carolina, Coordinated with Biographical Details During the Same Period, which, uh, sounds a lot like the full title of Martyrs Mirror. Klassen gave white supremacists the rallying crying Rahowa! (“racial holy war”), which was the title of another of his books. He was a prolific writer of white supremacy, though his ideas didn’t catch on immediately. It was in the 1980s and 1990s that his movement gained traction. During that time, COTC was linked to murders and attempted terrorist activity. This included the 1991 murder of Harold Mansfield Jr., an African American killed by a COTC leader in Florida.

Facing the reality of a lawsuit from the Southern Poverty Law Center over Mansfield’s murder, Klassen sold his rural compound to the William Pierce, the leader of National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group, and author of The Turner Diaries, a fictionalized account of a race war–and the kind of thing that Timothy McVeigh liked to sell at gun shows.  Klassen then committed suicide. Like many white supremacists movements, COTC went several different directions after the founding leader’s death. (In general, white supremacists are pretty good at spinning paranoid fantasies and pretty terrible at leadership.) The most important descendent was the World Church of the Creator. That group fell apart after it was sued by a peace-loving TE-TA-MA Truth Foundation (“TE-TA-MA Represents The Family Unification of Mankind In All Aspects Of The Whole. We of Like Mind Join Harmoniously In Oneness, Knowing That There Is Only One Creator-Source….”) over a copyright dispute regarding the terms “Church of the Creator.” Soon, WCOTC’s leader was arrested for trying to arrange the assassination of a federal judge, and members, without changing their minds about the superiority of white people, pulled out of the endeavor. The sale of Klassen’s books was the main stream of revenue for the group, but a member in Montana who had access to $41,000 worth of books and other materials, turned them over to the Montana Human Rights Network, an anti-hate group, for a nominal fee, to negate them as a revenue source for white supremacist movements.

Still, the Creativity Movement, another variation on Klassen’s legacy, continues, and Klassen’s writing remains in circulation online.

So, how does Preheim conclude that Klassen’s Mennonite heritage matters, given that the movement he founded explicitly rejects Christianity? Preheim doesn’t answer the question directly, but I think we can make some guesses.

Klassen’s Mennonite connections enabled his survival during a period of starvation in Soviet Ukraine. It allowed him to escape to Mexico and then to Saskatchewan. If he hadn’t been Mennonite, he might not have survived starvation at all–and certainly not found his way to the Canadian prairie. It launched him to a small Mennonite college there, an experience that was important in his journey to rejecting religion. He understood the suffering of his Mennonite childhood as a result of white Mennonite’s failure to use force to defend their own interests against what Klassen imagined were powerful Jews with international influence. His experience with the Mennonite peace witness, in particular, disgusted him; his writing frequently uses violent language to call for whites to fight for their survival, to fight, fight, fight, because, otherwise, they face extinction. It’s not hard to imagine that Klassen’s family’s own fight for survival in the face of the Polvolzhye famine shaped a life-long obsession with survival. He was an avid anti-communist (oh, and a member of the Florida legislature for a bit, elected on an anti-busing/pro-Wallace platform), undoubtedly because of his family’s experience in the Soviet Union. These factors together don’t excuse his violent racism and anti-Semitism, but they might help us understand how what Mennonites so often see as the best parts of our faith–our peace witness, our willingness to suffer, our history of martyrdom–can also inspire violence.

Rebecca

PS. Have you read Ben Goosen’s bookChosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era?

PPS. Readers might notice that I include hardly any links in this piece. Though I read a lot of hate literature for my scholarly work, I prefer not to circulate it unless someone is really interested. If you’d like to see how white supremacists handle Klassen’s history–and specifically his Mennonite ancestry–please let me know.