Adoring the Adorers of the Blood of Christ


I’m kind of in love with the Adorers of the Blood of Christ right now. A group of these sisters in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (my hometown) have built an outdoor chapel in a rural area of West Hempfield township, right in the middle of some of the richest agricultural soil in the world. The chapel is a space where people can contemplate nature and our relationship to it. It aligns with the sisters’ religious commitment to stewarding the earth.*

And it’s right in the path of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.

Above, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ dedicate their chapel. 

Last week, a federal judge said that the pipeline company, Williams Natural Gas, has every right to use eminent domain law to seize the land. (Hello? Where are the “Fifth Amendment people”?)

The pipeline is not a public good. It is a private business–one that paid $2.4 million in fines in the last decade for environmental problems that resulted from their poor practices and TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY MILLION DOLLARS in fines for misleading investors about the sorry state of its finances.

Judge Jeffrey Schmehl thinks that Pennsylvanians should be forced to give up privately owned land to a private, for-profit, publicly traded company that can’t even do its job (carrying gas safely) or manage its own finances. Stockholders get the profit, and Pennsylvanians take the important risk: their land and health.

No matter your religion, no matter your feelings about pipelines, you gotta know that something is wrong here. And you should probably also know that Donald Trump is a big supporter of using eminent domain to seize land for use by private companies. 

Claims to sacred space have not protected Native Americans from the seizure of their land, of course, and they may not protect the Adorers. But these women are doing what all people with privilege should do: insert it in the way of injustice.


*I know that agriculture isn’t exactly stewardship. But we’re not choosing between agriculture and wilderness here but between agriculture and gas. And leaks anywhere on the path (see below) endanger nature.

Image result for path of the atlantic sunrise pipeline

Kyle Smith and “Women’s Movies”

Hi Joel,

You are optimistic to engage uninformed, untalented men who have undeserved access to public audiences, as they explain women’s problems to you. Multiply that feeling by slightly more than half the US population and extrapolate over a life span of, on average, 81 years, and you get the sense of why so many women are so deeply frustrated.

You are right, of course, in your critique of National Review Online‘s Smith’s assessment of why the Bechdel test, which is a very basic measure of whether a film gives any consideration to women apart from their use by men characters, is silly. Smith’s argument (I’m being generous with that term) is so bad that you wonder if he was actually trying or if he, like so many other mediocre men, is coasting on snideness alone. As a “critic-at-large”(Rich Lowry, if you are reading this, please, please find someone with an ounce of sensitivity as a viewer or talent as a writer to replace Smith. He’s so remarkably unskilled that it’s not even fun to argue against him.), Smith teaches his readers nothing about film or music (Illustrative quotation: “There isn’t a lot to argue about when it comes to music: Either you like it or you don’t.”); as a politics writer posing as a critic, he’s as uninformed as he is unbearable.

A brief summary of his recent writing about gender and film:

There is plenty of overwrought (sometimes nearly hysterical) writing about Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Kathy Griffin, Katy Perry, Lena Dunham, and Elizabeth Banks, but they all amount to the same thing: Smith knows nothing about women, fictive or real.

But back to the matter at hand: Smith’s dunderheaded attempt to take-down the Bechdel test. I’ll add to your fine argument these four points:

  1. Smith assumes that in order for a movie to include an on-screen moment between women characters who are doing something other than talking about men, that movie must be written by a woman. This also assumes that men cannot write women. While this is too often true and is entirely true of Smith, it’s not required. We might ask more of our screenwriters who are men.
  2. It assumes that stories centered on men are more worthy of telling than stories centered on women. (Films need heroes! seems to be Smith’s line of thinking.) Of course, women are heroes–but, more than that, stories with nuance, driven by character, are also worth telling. They often require more talent to tell, but that just means we need to (See point 1.) demand more of our movie makers.
  3. Smith’s argument is factually incorrect. Not only do audiences love stories about women (from Gone with the Wind to Dirty Dancing to The Little Mermaid to Kill Bill to Bridesmaids to Hidden Figures), these films are, across genres, profitable. They make money, earn Oscars, and inspire Happy Meals toys.
  4. And to Smith’s argument that women should write fantasy novels that will brought to the screen if they want to watch them: has he not heard of JK Rowling, the first writer to become a billionaire based on her books? Not only is Rowling a woman, the real hero of the Harry Potter books is Hermione Granger.


Above, the real hero: Hermione Granger.

Which reminds me: next time we are tempted to read Smith’s commentary, let’s read Teen Vogue instead. 


The ‘Bechdel test’ doesn’t limit movies. It asks them to stop being so limited.

Dear Rebecca:

I’m shocked, shocked that a National Review writer has decided to take issue with the “Bechdel test.” The test, as I’m sure you know, is a very simple way to check if your movies have even a moment in them that isn’t dude oriented.

Here’s Wikipedia:

The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.

And here’s NRO’s Kyle Smith:

In the past few years, the Bechdel Test has begun popping up casually in reviews like a feminist Good Housekeeping Seal of approval. Take this appreciation last month of the 1992 film A League of Their Own, published by Katie Baker on the site The Ringer: “It is, in my possibly blinded by love but also correct opinion, one of the best sports movies there is. And it is an honest ode to women and sisters and friendships, with a story that breezes through the Bechdel test by the end of the opening scene.”

Hey, and you know what? Tom Selleck’s Matthew Quigley appears almost immediately in Quigley Down Under. Hurrah, this film breezes through the Cowboy Test by the end of the opening scene!

Neither of these two tests gives you any hint as to the worth of a film, and furthermore neither of them tells you anything about a film’s general feminist wokeness. It doesn’t even tell you whether the film is entirely about a woman.

A couple of observations:

•You know why the “Cowboy Test” is ridiculous? Because there have been a million fricking movies about cowboys. We actually have no need of further cowboy movies — though, admittedly, I’d watch one if a good one came along — because just about every permutation of the genre has been exhausted. The Bechdel test was invented, meanwhile, because such female-centric moments were relatively rare.

•Smith is right that the Bechdel test doesn’t tell you about the worth of a film or its feminist bona fides. Nobody makes those claims for it! (Check the video above for confirmation of this.) Instead, the underlying question is this: Does this movie contain a single moment that’s not all about the guys in it? It is the very minimum a movie can do, in other words, to put a female perspective onscreen.

• Which means that the Bechdel test doesn’t do much to constrain movie art: The art itself is pretty constrained — the movie business has increasingly been designed to appeal to and arouse the passions of teenage boys. To the degree female characters are designed to appeal to this demographic, it’s not often with their agency apart from men in mind. The Bechdel test was created because movies are so dude-oriented that getting such a moment was unexpected, to be noted.

Smith says the Bechdel test is irrelevant because women don’t make the kinds of movies that reap big box office. “Have a wander through the sci-fi and fantasy section of your local bookstore: How many of these books’ authors are female? Yet these are where the big movie ideas come from. If a woman wants the next Lord of the Rings–style franchise to pass the Bechdel Test, then a woman should come up with a story with as much earning potential as J. R. R. Tolkien’s.”

Which is … stupid. Tell the makers and viewers of Wonder Woman that they don’t like sci-fi adventure. For the love of god, tell my nerdy-ass wife — but give me a head start out of the room.

Hollywood discovers that there’s an audience for women-centric movies every couple of years, then promptly forgets it. Using that amnesia to justify the ongoing omission of women and women’s perspectives from our films isn’t just dumb — it’s clearly leaving a lot of money on the table. Conservatives, you’d think, might embrace the Bechdel test for this reason if for nothing else: It just might help them make a ton of cash from an underserved audience.

Sincerely, Joel

A Cowboy Walks into a Church…

Dear Joel,

We were visiting the local United Church of Christ congregation for the second time. This congregation, like the other UCCs we’d spend time in, was small, slightly brainy, and very progressive. The pastor is a gay married man, and the congregation is LGBTQ welcoming, as the sign on the marquee says. The first sermon (delivered by a guest speaker, also a gay married reverend) had been exactly the kind of piece you would expect to hear on the Sunday of Pride Week if you have ever visited such churches: a call to remember those queer people, Christians and not, who have been hurt by a violent society and a call to repentance for Christianity and Christians’ role in that hurt–a needed message and one too seldom preached.

The surprising part of the visit was the young man in the pew behind us. Wearing dress jeans, cowboys boots, a button down shirt, and a tie, I recognized him as any of the young men I grew up with who weren’t going to buy dress slacks but wanted to look nice for church. (This is also the appropriate dress for a funeral in the rural community where I grew up.)  At the end of the service, the 50 or so people in attendance form a circle around the sanctuary and sing a song about friendship, and we stood next to each other. When we were done, I asked him if he were visiting.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said with a twang that told me he wasn’t from around these parts.

“And have you visited a UCC congregation before?”

“What’s that”? he asked.

“United Church of Christ. That’s the denomination this congregation is affiliated with.”

“Oh,” he replied. “At home we just call it ‘Church of Christ.'”

Well, now this made much more sense–but it also presented me with a quandary. There is (I later found) a Church of Christ (not to be confused with the Temple Lot or “Hedrickites,” and LDS denomination from Independence, Missouri) in the city where we live, a tiny congregation of just 15 people. And while I haven’t visited it, I have visited enough Churches of Christ to be able to tell you that they are about as different from United Church of Christ as can be. While there is variation in how they live out their faith, Churches of Christ see themselves not as starting in the 19th century (with the Stone-Campell movement that also led to the development of the Disciples of Christ church) but as coming directly out of first century Christianity. They view any practice that is not specifically outlined in the Christian New Testament as improper for church service–which is why they sing a cappella. Because of this, the most conservative Churches of Christ don’t support missionary or educational organizations and don’t collaborate with other organizations for social justice work.

Which is just about as far from the UCC as you can get. While the Church of Christ says that anything not mandated in the Bible or inferred by a very close reading is forbidden, the UCC’s current slogan is “God is Still Speaking.” In addition to the “LGBTQ friendly” sign on the church was a sign signaling that this congregation supports Family Promise, a nationwide effort to support families facing homelessness by keeping them intact (which most shelters won’t accommodate)–exactly the kind of work that many (though not all) Churches of Christ would object to.


Above, the UCC logo: a black comma against a red background, with the words “God is still speaking,” 

So, should I have told this young man that he wasn’t in the “right” place?

I wrestled with it for a bit. I’m a religion scholar with an interest in congregational life, and I also respect religious conscience, so I wanted him to be where he wanted to be.

But he clearly wanted to be in a LGBTQ friendly service–or, at least, he was willing to be, thinking that this was a Church of Christ.

So, it could be that he was looking for a Church of Christ and found what he thought was one that said it was LGBTQ friendly and his commitment to his denomination overrode his hesitation about coming to a queer friendly place. I appreciate that kind of dedication. And if a commitment to his conservative church brought him to a welcoming and affirming one, even better!

Or it could be that he was looking for a Church of Christ and found what he thought was a queer friendly one and that was exactly what he was looking for. It could be that he’s been waiting his whole life for this.

I hope to see him again.



Opportunities lost in anti-LGBT faith


Thank you for sharing your memories of your first MCUSA convention, back in Nashville, at the very start of the denomination. That experience, you said, both drew you to Mennonites and pushed you from the church. Sixteen years later, I feel the same forces still: a deep attraction to the love of this community and a sadness about the struggle it has had to embrace queer believers. In the end, you say, “I wasn’t going to participate in a faith community where I had to argue for the simple, lovely humanity of people who loved each other.” There is a tremendous cost to rejecting people because of their sexuality.

This week, a post on the blog Righting America prompted me to take up the question in a new way. There, Susan L. Trollinger and William Vance Trollinger, Jr., the authors of Righting America at the Creation Museum (John Hopkins Press 2016) and former faculty at Bluffton College, now at the University of Dayton, shared a list of just 20 of the times that Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, wrote anti-LGBT messages in his own blog posts since last year. They write

All this on the necessity of Christians to resist LGBTQ rights, to reject the legitimacy of LGBTQ identities, and to understand the effort of LGBTQ individuals to assert their civil rights as an assault on the rights of Christians. All this, and yet nothing or virtually nothing from Ham and AiG on issues pertaining to poverty, refugees, income/wealth inequality, structural racism, and misogyny.

Which makes me re-visit a question I thought a lot about as I observed the incredible energy and dedication of Westboro Baptists as I researched God Hates: Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right: What good could these folks do if they pointed their energy toward alleviating suffering?

Even for those people who believe that same-sex sexuality is a sin, what do they lose when they focus their energy here? Jesus tells us that when we visit the imprisoned, comfort the grieving, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, then we are serving him–which means that every moment spent condemning gay people is a moment even otherwise sweet, kind, hardworking Mennonites are taking from more important work.


Above, dinosaurs boarded the ark, according to the Creation Museum’s account of Noah and the flood. As the church camp song says, “The animals, they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies/Elephants and kangaroosies roosies.” Later, if the song leader was feeling naughty, you might sing, “The animals, they came off by threesies threesies/Grizzly bears and chimpanzeesies zeesies.” The song is silly, but anti-LGBT Christians point to the story of Noah’s ark as evidence of God’s plan for people to be only in heterosexual pairs. 

To business owners who don’t want to pay living wages: Get a job!

Kellyanne Conway and I agreed on something this past week: able-bodied adults who currently used Medicaid services should have jobs that include health insurance benefits.

Conway made her remarks on ABC’s This Week and also on Fox and Friends. In a real “let them eat cake” moment, Conway suggested that able-bodied people who use Medicaid should look “other places” for employment that includes benefits. The problem? Most adults who use Medicaid (59%) do in fact have jobs–the same percent of Americans who work overall —and a large majority (80%) live in families where at least one adult is working; these jobs are just part of the huge number of jobs in US’s private sector (46%) that don’t pay very much and don’t include benefits. A person could work a low wage job 24 hours a day (and some people come close) but never get health benefits because more than half of non-government jobs don’t come with health insurance. 

Conway knows this. She’s perfectly okay with low wage employers not providing healthcare benefits. She means that, somehow, these workers should be able to locate non-existent jobs that provide benefits. It’s amusing to her, I suspect, to watch poor people compete against each other for scraps.

I mean that jobs should pay enough, including benefits to insure workers have healthcare. (Actually, I don’t. I think health care and employment should be unrelated because what you do for a paid employment has nothing to do with your need to go to the doctor. I think that businesses should be released from the obligation to provide health insurance so they can focus on other things, like producing whatever it is they are supposed to be producing. Like a growing number of Americans, I’m pro-single payer healthcare and think it will be good for business.)

But that’s not reality. Reality is that even people with health insurance can’t afford their medical bills. (If you click on just one link in this post, let it be Helaine Olen’s recent article from The Atlantic. Olen is the rare finance writer who puts economic and financial issues into their larger social contexts.)

The word for this is welfare—not the Medicaid benefits received by low-wage  childcare teachers, home health aids, nail technicians, and restaurant staff who earn so little but welfare for companies that refuse to pay wages that keep workers out of poverty.

If you own a business and don’t pay people a living wage, you don’t own a business—you are running a charity, and that charity is “I want to own a business but make someone else pay for the costs.” And somehow, in the US, where we venerate businesses and despise the poor who work for them, we think that’s “entrepreneurial” rather than “entitled.”

If you run a business and expect that you should earn a profit while your employees can’t afford the rent on a basic apartment, you are not running a business but a scam; you are ripping workers off for your own benefit.

If you run a business and refuse to charge prices to cover your actual costs because customers won’t pay that much, then you have a product or service that isn’t worth its true cost to consumers. If the world doesn’t pay you enough to cover your actual costs, that’s a signal that what you are offering isn’t valued by consumers. Don’t let it hurt your feelings; instead, let it inspire you to bring something to the marketplace that folks will value.

Paying workers more might mean that you earn less or that your customers pay more. This may indeed be the consequences of accurately calculating the cost of having employees. As a consumer, I am willing to pay them. With relatively few exceptions—child care workers being the one that most quickly comes to mind*—we can afford to pay more for products and services provided by underpaid people. If you can afford a $30 manicure, you can probably afford a $40 one. If you want to eat dinner out, you can afford to pay a $15 wage (as diners in Minnesota will soon do)—or you can eat at home or skip the manicure.


Always wanted to run a business based on your passion, but don’t want to pay employees enough to live? Perhaps you should try the Lego Friends Heartland Cupcake Cafe. 

In all the worry that increased wages will result in increased costs for everyday consumers, folks like Conway ignore the fact that it is the cost of hugely expensive and largely unavoidable items—healthcare, childcare, housing—that are most people’s major financial stressors. If working people weren’t paying 8% of their yearly income to healthcare costs, they could afford more expensive consumer items.  If the costs of manicures goes up, the tens of millions of Americans in poverty will be okay. They’re not getting them anyway.

And to the concern that businesses will lay off law-wage workers if forced to pay them what they need to live: I doubt it. If it was possible to get this job done any cheaper, then businesses would already be doing it. And if a business closes because it really can’t pay its workers a living wage, then it was never a business anyway. It was a hobby that the business owner asked workers to pay for.


*Updated to add: I don’t mean that childcare workers don’t deserve more pay. They do! They absolutely deserve it and need it. I just mean that childcare costs are already huge in the US–it costs more than college in most states, and college is way too expensive for families. The solution is subsidized child care (including paying stay-at-home caregivers for providing care for children and adults who need assistance) to insure that such workers receive a wage that will allow them to support themselves while also keeping care affordable.



War is not inevitable

Dear Rebecca:

Speaking of the way Americans are sold wars of choice as no choice at all:

While the Kim regime is technically a Communist government, the ideology that governs North Korea is known as “Juche” (or, more technically, “neojuche revivalism”). The official state ideology is a mixture of Marxism and ultra-nationalism. Juche is dangerous because it is infused with the historical Korean concept of “songun,” or “military-first,” and it channels all state resources into the North Korean military—specifically its nuclear program.

Juche is not a self-defensive ideology. Rather, it is a militaristic and offensive belief system. If the North gets a fully functional nuclear arsenal, they will use those weapons to strike at their American, South Korean, and Japanese enemies.

Get that: If North Korea gets the right combination of nukes and missiles, it will definitely attack the United States. Which leads to the inevitable conclusion: “Given these facts, why should we waste precious time on negotiations that will only empower the North and weaken the rest of us? We should be preparing for conflict on the peninsula, not begging the North to take more handouts from us as they build better nuclear weapons.”

But there’s plenty of reason not to believe that North Korea will automatically strike the United States if it’s capable.

Here’s why. If North Korea launched nukes at America, America would launch its nukes at North Korea. Everybody knows this. The North Koreans know this. This is not in doubt. It is difficult to establish one’s dominance over a continental peninsula if you, along with the peninsula, are smoking, radioactive ash.

As NBC News reports: “The country says it wants a nuclear bomb because it saw what happened when Iraq and Libya surrendered their weapons of mass destruction: their regimes were toppled by Western-backed interventions. It wants to stop others, namely the administration of President Donald Trump, from toppling its totalitarian regime.”

The North Korean regime is awful. But that penchant for self-preservation means it’s unlikely to start a war that will end with its destruction.

Understand, there’s a long history of this. America’s hawks warned that Iran’s mullahs had a messianic ideology that would cause them to lash out with nuclear weapons once they were capable; we invaded Iraq because we didn’t want Saddam Hussein to prove he had weapons “in the form of a mushroom cloud.

The essential idea is always that nations unfriendly to the United States are so irrational, care so little for their own survival, that they’re willing to commit civilizational suicide via a nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies. But it hasn’t happened yet.

So when hawks make that case, make them prove it. Point out that history hasn’t worked out that way so far. Point out that we’ve invaded a country to no good end because of similar thought processes. But never merely accept that we have to choose war. It’s not inevitable, no matter how much hawks sell it as such.

Sincerely, Joel