Behold the Southern Baptists! Meeting recently for their annual conference, they decided to extend the warm hand of evangelical brotherhood to Blacks and Native Americans. As one headline put it: “American Indians seen in need of evangelism.” Because, you know, those folks are struggling. Who better to help than the Baptists?
Surely this benevolence isn’t due to the continuing drop in the denomination’s membership. No, surely not. And with that drop, we might point out, tithes flowing to the denomination’s treasury also dropped.
Oh my God!
Okay, there are undoubtedly those within these ranks who honestly and sincerely want to help the downtrodden. But the group’s recent convention exposed a painful truth: on a personal level, racism is alive and well among the Southern Baptists.
There’s nothing new about the Southern Baptist’s narrow-minded view. While they’re courting membership from Blacks and Natives, they’re at the same time refusing to have anything to do with the LBGTQ community. Guess they don’t need membership that bad. Yet.
It’s only been 170 years since the Southern Baptist denomination sprang into existence to embrace racism. In a 2015 article in The Atlantic by Emma Green, she reviewed that year’s Southern Baptist convention, citing the founding rationale:
In 1860, a Southern Baptist pastor from Virginia, Thornton Stringfellow, defended the institution of forced enslavement of millions of African men and women in Cotton Is King, and Pro-Slavery Arguments, with the full force of scripture: “Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command. … Under the gospel, [slavery] has brought within the range of gospel influence, millions of Ham’s descendant’s among ourselves, who but for this institution, would have sunk down to eternal ruin.”
To the Southern Baptists (and many others), God’s chosen people are white, descended from God’s favored sons of Noah. That was not Ham. As the story goes, Noah got pretty deep into the wine and passed out naked. Ham saw this and told his two brothers Shem and Japheth. These two backed up to their father with a blanket between them so as to cover Noah without looking on his nakedness. So when ole Noah sobered up and learned what had happened, he cursed Ham as the progenitor of Canaan:
And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. 26 And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
Multiple interpretations of this scripture lead pretty much anywhere you’d want to go. Noah was supposedly over 500 years old when this happened and pretty tight with God. Why God let him get away with cursing one of his sons for something he himself did remains an unanswered question. Some interpretations claim the event actually involved Ham giving his dad oral sex. Another says he castrated Noah. These quirky ideas are based on scholars’ erudite studies of Biblical text.
This is why there are over 33,000 Protestant denominations, a number argued when the concerned parties take a breath from discussing what happened with Noah and Ham as well as countless other minutia preserved in religious writings. According to one Catholic observer, 33,000 is an inflated number. Be that as it may, the point is that when modern-day beliefs, laws, and actions are based on materials passed down orally for centuries before ever gaining the permanence of writing, and then those written records are subjected to successive centuries of translation, revision, and interpretation, these beliefs might as well have been snatched out of midair.
Which is exactly what happens when people formalize their spiritual beliefs in a way that excludes, discriminates, and otherwise separates them from other groups of people. These aren’t spiritual teachings. They are an outward expression of the smallest darkest part of primitive humans, fearful and ready to do violence. The only legitimacy such beliefs can claim is that our animal instinct assesses threat from another human first by how they look. If they look like us and talk like us, then there’s less chance they’re going to harm us.
In the times of slavery, any spiritual belief system other than the Baptist belief was counter to God’s will. Any effort to see minorities as ‘equal’ came hard up against the reality of life circumstances of minorities, a self-fulfilling prophecy of a sort, that there they are, those ignorant Africans, not well educated, not able to even clearly speak English, living in poverty—how can you say we are equal?
Or the Natives, living like savages in shelters made of skins, painting their faces, hunting with spears. They’re not like us.
A rational analysis points out that as slaves, Blacks were purposefully kept from learning to read or write, denied the right of marriage, and not taught skills of any trade other than the manual labor for which they were kept. In their homelands of Africa, from which they were torn against their will, they enjoyed well-established social order. They had family structures, spoke their language fluently, and otherwise had achieved a culture that succeeded for millennia.
As whites, we’ve got a few more millennia to go before we can say the same.
The same level of prejudice supported violent racism against Native Americans. Aside from genocidal acts such as outright slaughter or distributing blankets contaminated with smallpox, white invaders of the North American continent mitigated their murderous inclinations with attempts to bestow a “relationship with Christ” upon the Natives.
Take, for example, the ripping away of Native American children from their parents and forcing them into residency at schools where they were forbidden use of their native language. The schools intended to teach them to live like white men. In all ways—clothing, language, and worship—Native children were cut off from their ancient heritage and forced into a social construct for which they had no foundation or kinship.
Like taking Africans from their successful societies and forcing them to labor at white’s man pursuit of wealth, ripping Natives from their ancient traditions and cramming them into reservations under the supervision of white law destroyed their foundations of belief and self-worth. They held value only by the metric of white civilization. In that, they hardly reached the scales.
Which makes it all the more outrageous that now, in 2017, as Southern Baptist membership continues to plummet, the conference decides to target reservations because “American Indians are 510% more likely to die of alcoholism and 62% more likely to commit suicide in comparison with the rest of the U. S. population.”
Gee, can they possible be more ridiculous?
It’s not that the Southern Baptists don’t understand that their predecessors were wrong in declaring slavery the will of God or in trampling the ancient traditions of the Natives. They do. Some even claim to pray for forgiveness for their previous ignorance and the misdeeds committed against these minorities.
It’s that no matter what they do, these and other religionists seem to always conclude that their current decision is righteous and unerring and God’s will. They embrace their decision with fervor, rushing out to force the rest of the world to follow.
This is the hubris that created the Southern Baptists in the first place, and all the other evangelical denominations, and arguably every single religion that has plagued the world since such organized activities began. With the force of God’s blessing behind them, they have mounted wars and inquisitions and executions, overthrown governments and imprisoned the wayward, and marched across the globe leaving devastation in their path.
Recently with the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, Arkansas’ own Southern Baptist Pastor Ronnie Floyd opined that this level of violence against the Trump Administration is a new and abominable level of hatred.
In my life, I have never seen a more volatile political environment. Hyperbolized speech, wild accusations and blatant character assassinations have taken stage front and center … as a society we must be able to recognize that celebrating an ideology that says violence, especially against our elected officials, affects the way we think. Words have power. As the ancient biblical proverb says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”
Floyd never once blinked in the face of the hypocrisy of his remarks despite living through eight years of outrages perpetrated against former-President Barack Obama that included effigies of Obama being lynched and burned, his daughters and wife smeared in every possible way, and the conservative Christian stance embodied in a Republican Party that obstructed every effort of Obama’s rightful governance.
This year’s Southern Baptist conference heard a resolution put forth by Dwight McKissic, a black pastor from Texas, that would have affirmed the denomination’s opposition to white supremacy and the so-called ‘alt-right.’ At first, the committee in charge of resolutions refused to advance McKissic’s contribution to the full assembly. After all, they had resolutions about Planned Parenthood and gambling that needed consideration.
The next day, McKissic attempted to present it on the floor. According to one observer, “Chaos reigned.”
Once more attendees realized what had happened (and the glaring hypocrisy of their actions), “a number of leaders started lobbying to get the motion reconsidered.” After emotional debate on both sides of the issue and another twenty-four hours to confront the situation, leaders brought an amended version of the resolution to a vote. Newly-elected leader Steve Gaines announced the results: “The affirmative has it. Praise the living God.”
 Quoting the National Congress of American Indians, from an article by Francisca Jones, “American Indians seen in need of evangelism,” Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Pages 1 and 4.
There’s an ignored bigger picture behind the by-now worn out topic of the Duggar family’s hidden sex abuse scandal. In case you missed it, the vaunted head of that household stated last week that when he found out about his son’s incestuous molestation of several sisters, he spoke about it with his peers at church. “Most of them told me their sons had done the same thing to their daughters so we didn’t think it unusual or cause for great concern.”
That’s right. He said that.
For someone not of similar mindset, it’s difficult if not impossible to understand how anyone could be that stupid. In what world, religious cult or not, is it acceptable for a teenage brother to molest his younger sisters? Duggar clarified by adding “This wasn’t rape or anything like that.”
Pardon me while I quietly lose my breakfast. Yes, Jim Bob, it was precisely ‘anything’ like that.
[This space left blank for lengthy rant.]
[One of several excellent commentaries about the victimization and objectification of women within extreme-right religions can be found here.]
Moving on to the less obvious point: Is this radical subculture of the religious community simply less intelligent than the rest of us?
Actually, yes, Virginia, there is a correlation between low intelligence, prejudice, and conservative beliefs. Lower capacity for analytical thinking increases the perceived risk of complicated situations. More than one study has found that “strict right-wing ideology might appeal to those who have trouble grasping the complexity of the world.” This is especially true for those raised with the sets of rules inherent in legalistic or evangelic fundamentalist faiths.
In these circles, the only ‘information’ that matters is the Bible. “The Bible says” typically precedes angry proclamations about the sin of homosexuality, abortion, or same-sex marriage. The Bible says God created the world in six days, so evolution can’t be true. The Bible says women are made to serve men, so that means women belong to men. With the Book of Revelations detailing how God will end the world, why should anyone listen to that gobbledygook about global warming?
There is no argument that can penetrate beyond that stubborn wall of self-ordained righteousness. It doesn’t matter if the stated belief is not exactly what the Bible says, or if the Bible also says other things that mitigate or even conflict. It doesn’t matter if the Bible could, shockingly, not be the actual Word of God but instead a collection of folk tales borrowed from older cultures and passed down through narration before finally being written down by men who had their own ideas about what it all meant and didn’t hesitate to edit in order to ‘clarify’ or emphasize a specific meaning. All well intentioned of course, as were the nuances inserted in later translations and transcriptions over the intervening two thousand years.
That the Bible is not the literal Word of God simply does not compute. La la la, I can’t hear you. That God might not be a male patriarch with a flowing white beard or in fact an actual physical presence at all is similarly incomprehensible. These beliefs are seared into the hearts and souls of religious extremists. Losing those beliefs would be a form of death more threatening than physical death because the beliefs promise the eternal existence of ‘self’ if only the Word is obeyed.
Along with facing the challenges of rational analysis and increasingly complicated social constructs, people raised in conservative religions are taught that learning isn’t necessarily a Godly pursuit. After all, wasn’t Original Sin about knowing too much? God guides each person’s life to the challenges that will increase his or her faith, and there’s a risk that too much learning would cause one not to listen to God’s will. This has been the reasoning behind Michelle Duggar’s production of nineteen children following a miscarriage which signaled, in her mind, God’s anger for her use of birth control.
This is not to say that spiritual beliefs and intelligence are mutually exclusive. Many learned men and women past and present embrace and benefit from faith traditions. Yet history shows us that in societies ruled by religious extremists, people were tortured to death for speaking openly in contradiction to the then-known ‘facts’—for example, that the world was flat, or that the heavenly bodies revolved around the earth.
Climate change, men on the moon, a woman’s right to decide what happens inside her own body? These are complicated topics which require a grasp of basic scientific and/or legal principles. Not only are extremist children underserved by (preferred) home schooling, they are (apparently) products of a gene pool less likely to possess the intellectual capacity for learning and utilizing advanced reasoning skills. They are actively trained not to develop such skills in the risk of angering God.
Observers might surmise that behind such intellectual laziness is not only a blind trust in God’s ability to steer seven billion lives through minute-by-minute monitoring down to whether Michelle used birth control but also—more importantly—the urgent and secret desire not to be responsible. Inborn or learned, inadequate reasoning ability fosters an insecurity that predisposes its victims toward herd behavior. The world is simply too much to understand. Who can know enough to decide what to do?
The solution is to put all faith in God and don’t worry about it. Read the Bible again. Come the Rapture, they’ll get their reward and rest of us heathens will burn in hell.
If it stopped there, if these folks simply led quiet lives holy by their own definition, there would be little cause for alarm. But that’s not the case.
They want to take over the country.
They won’t be happy until homosexuals are ‘cured’ and women submit to male authority. We’re left to wonder, if they did manage to achieve their heartfelt goal, which of the disciplines would be banned first: Geology with its flagrant rejection of Biblical chronology claiming the earth is only 6000 years old? Physics with its insistence on the Big Bang theory? Psychology with its exploration of human motivations and denials?
Can we muster any sympathy for the intentionally benighted who don’t understand how climate change can be real when it snowed six inches just last night?
The Duggar sex scandal made big news because for nearly a decade, the family has presented itself to the American public as the model of Christian piety. For those who reacted to the show with disbelief and disgust, it’s been a moment of breathless irony. For their sympathetic fans, the reaction to their fall from grace has been an angry spate of straw-man arguments—the publicity re-victimizes the sisters, the release of information was illegal (not), the poor young man already said he was sorry. A clear-eyed view of the hypocrisy, criminality, and deception involved is simply not possible for those wallowing in their own ignorance.
For the rest of us, the Duggar debacle shines a light on the cesspit of rightwing politics. The family’s celebrity rewarded them with money they’ve used to support extremist political candidates. With his GED in hand, Josh achieved placement among the ranks of the nation’s top extremist political lobbying organization, the Family Research Council. All of them—the Duggars, the rightwing legislators, the Family Research Council—seem oblivious to the elephant in their highly moral living room—that is, the incessant proof of their own immorality.
Leaders in the movement have made their objective clear. Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, cited the movement’s strategy that “…if just eight million American Christians began supplying more ‘arrows for the war’ by having six children or more, they propose that the Christian Right ranks could rise to 550 million within a century.” A stated objective of such an effort is to increase the number of conservatives in Washington.
Extreme religionists cannot fathom the connection between their political choices and the troubled state of their own communities. The largely white, low income, less educated ranks of the religious right are the same populations that rank highest in need of government handouts: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia. They have the highest rates of divorce, child hunger, child abuse, and alcoholism/drug addiction. They have the highest use of Internet pornography. They have more reproductive services restrictions and more teen pregnancy, more high school dropouts and lower levels of education which go hand in hand with lower average incomes. More of these populations are in poor health, obese, and—inanely—resent the Affordable Care Act for providing health insurance.
These facts simply do not compute for the willfully ignorant. Any suffering by the extremists and their neighbors surely means that God is testing them. It might even anger God if they did anything to remove this suffering. That’s why government programs meant to provide assistance to those in need are high on the fundamentalist hate list.
The extremists do not understand that their myth of a Christian nation is contrary to the Founding Fathers’ intent. The concept of separation of church and state eludes them. Don’t bother them with facts or quotes from the U. S. Constitution. They lack the capacity to imagine how they would feel if a religion other than Christianity took control of the nation.
The urgent desire to “get back America” among religious extremists may stem from the creeping realization (despite heroic efforts at denial) that their beliefs somehow fail to inoculate them from sinning. They still molest boys in their care (Hastert). They still commit adultery (Gingrich and too many to name). They still participate in homosexual behavior (CA State Sen. Roy Ashburn, among the many).
In a perfect world by their definition, government would help Christians adhere to the straight and narrow by enforcing God’s law through the power of the state. Efforts to warn of the tragedy inherent in theocracies fall on deaf ears. Don’t they see what’s going on in the Middle East?
Perhaps a form of transference drives the fundamentalists’ need to force everyone else to the extremist way of life in the largely unconscious assumption that it’s the homosexuals and transgenders who somehow infect the good people with sin. Such a concept is discernible in the upwelling of “religious freedom” laws, as if baking a cake for a same-sex wedding somehow rubs the sin of gayness off on the baker.
Did Jesus refuse to touch the leper or prostitute? Evidently these folks don’t read their own literature.
But then, what can be expected of those who are uncomfortable with or incapable of approaching any topic on a logical basis? Sin is a result of demons who come to sit on our shoulders, and we must pray to cast them out. There is no personal responsibility. God wills it or Satan is in control.
Legislators placed in office by zealots do not understand, refuse to acknowledge, and/or refuse to participate in the basic principles of informed debate or negotiated compromise, foundations of a democratic representative government. This enormous beam in the rightwing’s eye results in treasonous acts such as newly-elected zealot Senator Tom Cotton’s direct communication with Iran intended to disrupt the multi-nation negotiation on nuclear energy.
The rest of us have failed to fully recognize or effectively counter the threat. There’s been an underlying hesitancy to criticize those who proclaim themselves avid Christians, especially among more moderate Christians. “19 Kids and Counting” has been one of several exposures of this lifestyle to the public view which has brought little to no public censure. Rather, the program resulted in a bemused sense of wonder that anyone could have that many kids. Why worry? These are the good people, aren’t they?
Do we really think these extremists will stop at some point, fold up their tents, and let the rest of us live our lives as we see fit? Come to their senses? Actually comprehend Christ’s teachings about loving their neighbors and not judging?
Can we accept the Christian nation these fearful, ignorant extremists envision? What’s the distance between the current effort to “take back America” and armed conflict? The instinctive reaction of people who see themselves as cornered and fighting for a ‘holy’ cause is to stockpile weapons. It’s no coincidence that those most vehement about guns and open carry are also eager to rant about secession or claim there are “10,000 pastors” ready to die for the cause.
We may think the Duggars benign, an isolated amusement that crops up on our television screen. Peculiar, out of sync, quaint—doing their best to be good in a difficult world. It’s past time to sit up and realize they and their kind are about as benign as misdiagnosed cancer.
Based on recent news emerging from Arkansas, a casual observer might assume that a child molester lurks around every corner right along with married cousins and toothless hillbillies. I’m sorry that my beloved native state suffers such disrepute, but the fact is, there’s truth in it. In March, a story came to light about Arkansas State Representative Justin Harris and his wife and how they had ‘rehomed’ two little girls they had adopted, one of whom was raped by the new ‘father.’ Most recently, last week a Duggar family skeleton involving incest and pedophilia emerged from the closet, resulting in the prompt suspension of their popular television show “19 Kids and Counting” which aired for years on TLC network.
Is there any connection between these horrific incidents? I think there is.
The Harrises and the Duggars are evangelical Christians. They have, each in their own way, placed themselves in the public eye to advocate on behalf of their faith. There’s risk in holding up oneself as an example, as they are finding out.
Justin Harris is serving his third term in the Arkansas Legislature where he has introduced conservative measures ranging from abortion restriction to denying funding to the state’s department of human services under the campaign promise to reduce government spending. He and his wife own and operate a preschool in his legislative district town of West Fork, a largely rural constituency with a high percentage of fundamentalist church followers. Alongside the alphabet and fingerpainting, Mr. Harris’ school teaches religion.
In 2012, Harris found himself on the hot seat after a formal complaint was filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Seems Mr. No Government Funding had his hand in the public till by obtaining grant funding for his preschool. Over a million dollars had flowed into his coffers, courtesy of a state agency charged with providing tax monies in support of preschools that addressed the needs of ‘underserved’ youth. Originating through the Arkansas Department of Education, federal and state taxes are channeled to the Department of Human Services (DHS) and its ABC program (Arkansas Better Chance), which awards grants based on a lengthy list of criteria including family income.
Mr. Harris mounted a vigorous and outraged defense of his right to all that money. He brought in a team of attorneys from Arizona who specialized in defending schools who want to teach Jesus on the public dime. Subsequently, the ABC program promulgated a set of rules specifically addressing the issue of religious instruction. It is unknown whether the ‘solution’ was put forth by the Arizona attorneys, modeled on rules operating in other states, or sprang from a singular Arkansas process, but the novel approach defines an ‘ABC day’ as a set number of hours of purely secular instruction. Whether religious instruction occurs before the ABC day commences or after it ends would not be the state’s concern.
Since then, Mr. Harris has expanded his operation and state funding approaches a million dollars annually. His students arrive as early as 7:30 a.m. and leave as late as 6 p.m. The ABC day begins at 9 and lasts until 3. Before and after, it’s all about Jesus.
Soon after the flap over school funding, the Harrises—who already had three sons—decided to adopt little three girls whose dysfunctional family had lost custody. The girls were fairly well adjusted in a foster home, but the natural mother allegedly made a personal plea to Justin Harris. This arguably admirable effort left many to question Harris’ quick use of the girls in a family portrait promoting his re-election campaign (a violation of adoption policy), the nearly $30,000 tax break that came with the adoption, and the monthly stipend allotted to Harris in the form of state support. Clearly, the adoption wasn’t all about benevolence.
Firmly fixated on the adoption idea, the Harrises refused to listen to DHS field agents who reported that the girls would not be suitable in the Harris household. With all the arrogance befitting a person who believed God directed his acts, Harris apparently used his elected office to pressure DHS to approve the adoption. Local caseworkers opposed to the adoption mysteriously changed their recommendation after their boss advocated on the Harris’ behalf. That Justin Harris held a powerful position in the legislative committee which controlled DHS funding seems never to have been examined as a possible contributor to this department head’s advocacy, which resulted in a local juvenile court judge granting the adoption. Unfortunately, because the case involves adoption, DHS has not released any information.
Within a year, the Harrises decided to ‘rehome’ the girls to another family. By early 2014, one of the girls had been raped by her new ‘father,’ Eric Cameron Francis. Later that year, Francis would be convicted of multiple counts of child abuse and is currently serving time. As it turns out, Francis had been an employee at the Harris preschool and his wife was good friends with Mrs. Harris. Not surprisingly, Harris chose to stay quiet about his role in placing the victim in the Francis home until a reporter from the Arkansas Times connected the dots. The story went public in March 2015.
When the adoption/rehoming scandal broke, Harris held a press conference as reported by the Arkansas Times. He presented himself and his family as the damaged party.
“The older girl, who would have been about 6 years old at the time she entered the Harris household, presented an imminent danger to his older three sons, Harris said. DHS ultimately placed the child into a hospital after just a few months of living with the family, and the Harrises did not proceed with the planned adoption [of that child]. He also said the younger sisters, ages 4 and 2 when they entered the Harris home, were violent. He said one of the girls — the implication was the middle sister — had to be medicated to stop hurting her sister, and that he was advised by therapists to treat her RAD [Reactive Attachment Disorder] by removing toys and other belongings from her room.
“After one of the two younger girls crushed a family pet to death, Harris said, he and his wife were advised by “a therapist, a psychiatrist and a pediatrician” to remove the children from the Harris home. He said he sought DHS assistance at that time but was given none. He said he thought he’d found the “perfect solution” in handing the girls over to Stacey Francis, a longtime friend of his wife’s, and her husband, Eric Cameron Francis. Eric Francis is serving 40 years in prison on charges of raping the child.”
[Francis had also been a children’s church group leader in Northwest Arkansas and abused other children besides the Harris adoptee.]
The foster family who had custody of the girls prior to the Harris involvement repudiated Harris’ allegations about the girls. They said the girls had been kind and loving, happy to be in a solid home situation and eager for affection. Other witnesses came forth to give similar statements. Unfortunately, no one other than the Arkansas Times has investigated the facts of this case, and since the Arkansas Legislature is the only agency with authority to remove Harris, he remains in public office despite a petition demanding his resignation signed by over 5000 people.
Within a month of the revelation that Arkansas DHS had no rule or restriction on the rehoming of adopted children, the state legislature passed a law making rehoming a felony. Harris voted for the bill, in essence making himself a retroactive felon. He resigned from the chairmanship of the public health committee, but failed to yield his legislative seat. He has also refused to accept any responsibility for the little girl’s sexual abuse. At the peak of this fiasco, his school billboard proclaimed that “God Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”
Throughout the intense scrutiny on Harris and his failure as an adoptive parent, a considerable body of information has come to light about ongoing religious activities at his preschool. Although random spot inspections by the state theoretically rule out the chance of illegal religious activity during the ‘ABC day,’ reports from former teachers and others allege that children who misbehave are routinely taken to the office where they are prayed over to ‘cast out demons.’ Harris has made efforts to gain official approval for singing religious songs during the lunch hour, since this was not an education period. It’s unclear at present exactly what level of religious activity occurs during the tax-funded ‘ABC day.’ Apparently the state isn’t all that eager to find out.
With the name of “Growing God’s Kingdom,” the school certainly should have received intense scrutiny from agencies charged with the responsibility of appropriately dispensing tax dollars. Instead, as previously stated, the state had blissfully doled out funds not only to the Harris school but also to several other religion-teaching preschools across the state, some of which were owned and operated by others elected to public office. And they continue to do so.
Currently, the new Republican governor Asa Hutchinson and the first-time-since-Reconstruction majority Republican legislature have passed a special dispensation to allow one of those religious pre-school owners/elected officials, Johnny Key, to serve as head of the state education department. The governor, himself a conservative religionist, formerly served as a member of Congress during which time he led the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton for his indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky. At the same time, Asa’s brother Tim Hutchinson held elected office as a U.S. Senator. It came to light after the impeachment that Christian family man Tim had been carrying on an affair with his legislative director, Randi Fredholm, whom he married as soon as he divorced his wife. Lucky for him, no one initiated impeachment proceedings.
After the Harris rehoming debacle erupted, a bevy of complaints about DHS surfaced, especially about adoption practices. Governor Hutchinson appointed a special investigator to examine the department’s policies and procedures. While it is too early to say as the investigation results are due any day now, a cynical bystander might assume that the governor’s investigation will not examine whether Harris abused his office to obtain the adoption.
Also unclear is the legality of Arkansas preschool operations which comingle the Bible and education. Queries to the compliance office at DHS receive less than informative replies. For example, a recent question asked whether there is a viability test (for preschools which include religious instruction) to determine whether religious instruction could exist without tax funding of the ‘ABC day.’ Local contributions, the only funding that can be legally used for religious teaching, comprise only ten percent of the school’s funding. Would that ten percent be enough to provide the facilities and support needed to provide religious education?
No one knows. DHS confirmed that there is no viability test.
Like Justin Harris, the Duggar father Jim Bob served a stint in the state legislature, elected from a conservative district near Springdale. (The geographical distance between West Fork and Springdale is about twenty miles.) Duggar gained media recognition after his wife Michelle produced their twelfth child (or at some count along in there). Their home-schooled family has promoted themselves as the model for clean Christian living as Michelle continued to squeeze out another Duggar clone every other year. While Duggar originally supported his tribe through used car sales, the income from their television appearances superseded used cars sometime around 2010. It helped the bottom line that the family became a hot ticket item for talk shows and other celebrity circuit events.
Well, probably not so much since last week, when it became known that the Duggar’s oldest son Josh had been sexually molesting his younger sisters and other young females unfortunate enough to spend the night at the Duggar family home. The story first came to the parents’ attention in March 2002 when one of Josh’s victims came crying to her parents about his nighttime visits to her bedroom. He admitted his bad behavior and was disciplined. Four months later, he admitted to more of the same. More discipline.
The family had adopted ‘basic life principle’ instruction from Bill Gothard’s “Advanced Training Institute for Homeschooling.” As advised by Gothard, persons involved in a sexual abuse situation shouldn’t ask why God let it happen but instead consider what the abused person did wrong, such as dress immodestly, indecently expose the body, or hang out with evil friends. Further, “if the abused is not at fault,’ he/she should welcome the gift of gaining spiritual strength from the experience.
[Mr. Gothard resigned in March 2014 after female employees alleged over thirty incidents of sexual abuse. Evidently, they didn’t find their ‘gift’ of spiritual strength sufficiently rewarding to offset the experience of Mr. Gothard’s harassment.]
In March 2003 the now fifteen-year-old Josh Duggar was again outed by his siblings that he was still slipping into his sisters’ bedrooms at night to fondle their breasts and genitals. His touching also occurred on the living room couch, in the laundry room, and on at least one occasion, outside the home. At this point, the father arranged for Josh to spend three months with a family friend in Little Rock who put Josh to work helping remodel a house.
Upon his return home, his father took him to speak with an officer of the Arkansas State Police. It seems Corporal Hutchens was selected for good reasons. He did not file an official report despite a mandatory reporting requirement for law enforcement officers in such cases. Rather, the young man was subjected to a “very stern talk.”
[Subsequently, unrelated to his dereliction of duty in the Duggar case, the now 69-year-old Hutchins is serving a 56-year sentence for repeated child pornography.]
No doubt everyone prayed over everyone’s demons.
The cover-up of Josh Duggar’s pedophilia continued over the years until the statute of limitations had run for any sexual abuse charge. Then, triggered by a note that came to light in 2006 describing these activities, the local police department interviewed all family members and established a record. That too would remain a secret during the coming years including during a 2014 campaign funded and led by the Duggars in an effort to overturn a city ordinance passed in the neighboring city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, which established anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender people seeking housing, employment, etc. Michelle Duggar personally narrated a robo-call that urged the ordinance’s overthrow because under the law, she alleged, a transgender male could get into the women’s bathroom and sexually molest little girls.
Oh, the irony.
Die-hard supporters of Justin Harris and Josh Duggar lament that everyone is casting aspersions on them when they’ve asked Jesus for forgiveness and promised never to rehome or molest again. Duggar fans vow to boycott TLC programs until the “19 Kids and Counting” show returns to the air. They’ll probably be waiting a long time. Reportedly General Mills, one of the show’s top sponsors, made it abundantly clear to TLC that they would not be in that parade. Pundits remark that the Duggar explosion “taints the whole brand.”
One can only hope. Never mind that for years the Duggars have made a sickening spectacle of indiscriminate and unconscionable reproductive excess. Never mind that a more caring and responsible approach to a large family, assuming one absolutely must have a house full of children, would be to produce one or two of your own gene pool and then, for God’s sake, adopt some of the many children languishing in adoption facilities and foster homes here and around the world.
Above all else, the hypocrisy involved in the Harris and Duggar stories staggers the imagination. While firmly denying funding to DHS based on his campaign promise to reduce government spending, Mr. Harris fought for government handouts to fund his religious school in spite of the fact that he knew he was breaking the law by teaching religion in a tax-supported program. As an elected person who held himself up as an example of Christian righteousness, he should have been the first person to recognize he was crossing the line between church and state as delineated in the U. S. Constitution. Instead, assuming he understood the thrust of the Founding Fathers’ intent, he no doubt privately justified his behavior with his belief that God willed it.
We’re left to wonder if rehoming was God’s will. Or if God wanted that already traumatized six-year-old little girl to suffer rape at the hands Eric Francis.
Similarly, the Duggars must have decided that hiding Josh’s sexual perversion was God’s wish. After all, they undoubtedly prayed on it and God didn’t say to tell. The family had a mission to spread the Good Word to the world via their television show. Even a moron could figure out that TLC probably wouldn’t like to hear about Josh’s nighttime recreation. The Duggars called in favors from local friends and church members to sidestep the law. They failed to put Josh in the hands of a professional therapist who might have helped the young man overcome his predilection for sexually assaulting young children.
As it is, Josh now has a captive audience within his own family and only God knows whether he manages to resist the temptation to fondle them. We can only guess whether his sisters and other victims of his teenage abuse have received any professional help. Chances are, they prayed on it.
Underlying this sickening avalanche of news about Harris and the Duggars is a growing national problem. The evangelical right believes in demons, and they believe that praying can send the demons packing. The implicit teaching from infancy onward is that we as individuals are not responsible for our acts, but rather it’s those damn demons who creep in when we’re not looking. If we can just send those demons away, we’ll be smiled upon by Jesus and everything will be fine.
This kind of simplistic medieval thinking lies behind the ability of political handlers to capture votes from the evangelical demographic. The compelling argument is that demons rule the ‘other’ party, that gay marriage, abortion, and other private activities are the proper province of political action, and only by voting for Mr. Righteous can we satisfy the will of God. So far self-sustaining through multiple election cycles, this obsessed minority turn out to vote in numbers unlike other less fanatical segments of the population. In the most recent Arkansas election, the prevailing vote represented about 30% of the eligible voter base.
By voting sympathetic legislators into office, adherents are able to skirt the intent of the law that requires no tax dollars be spent in promoting religion and to place compatriots in positions of authority such as, in Arkansas, to head the state’s entire educational system. Johnny Key does not hold the master’s degree or ten years experience as a teacher which, until the 2015 actions of the Arkansas governor and legislature, would have barred him from serving the state’s top education post. Now, as long as the number two man meets those requirements, the state can put a favored religious legislator in the top slot.
Further, evangelical right wingers are able to spawn a network of pseudo-professional responses to serious matters of sexual abuse and direct the blame for such abuse toward the abused.
Fundamentally, the movement toward dozens of children, homeschooling, and the non-response to incestuous sexual molestation has to do with—at least in part—the liberation of women from their long history as male property. I’ve recently learned that my own great-grandfather molested one of my aunts, and probably many more, but none of this was discussed openly, nor was any action taken. It was his ‘right’ as the patriarch to thump his Bible and fiddle one of his pretty little ‘properties’ on the side. The aunt herself did not speak of it until old age, at which time she shared it with her sisters. Some of those sisters chose not to believe it really happened and continue to attend fundamentalist churches where women are not allowed to speak.
There are many features of modern life that scare the hell out of those who simply cannot understand science or other changes increasingly widespread in the world. Our technology and culture have evolved faster than our mental or physical state. Everything is too fast and too complicated. It’s only been a hundred years since picking peas and saddling a horse served as the requisite skill set to get through life.
Obviously not all evangelical Christians sexually abuse children or try to use tax dollars in support of religious education. However, a study examining the correlation between fundamentalism and such abuses would be interesting. A January 2014 article in Psychology Today summarized several studies which found positive correlation between low I.Q. and religious belief. One result of the studies was the conclusion “that conservative and fundamentalist religious beliefs can discourage learning.”
From ignorance comes fear, and for many fundamentalists, fear rules the day. Fomenting that fear serves a calculated political purpose that ultimately assures that power rests in the hands of the super-rich. The success of their calculation is demonstrated in increasingly skewed wealth distribution and an exponential increase in fear mongering.
For many, especially in southern states where low income and poor education help spawn the idea that cultivated ignorance is a form of virtue, the solution is to crawl back into the Middle Ages and believe that the problem is abortion, minorities, immigration, or homosexuality. We’re in real danger of allowing this misbegotten movement to gain power over our schools, political structures, and way of life. As long as the system loops back on itself with brainwashing in the early years and rejection of any understanding beyond their closed belief system, the Taliban is looking more and more like a local organization.