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Reacting Against the Inevitable

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

This year’s Easter/Passover/Ramadan season has been interesting. For one thing it’s the second such holiday cycle during the COVID-19 pandemic. For another, it witnessed two developments that, at first glance seem contradictory.

The first: A Gallup poll revealed that fewer than 50 percent of Americans identify themselves as members of a church, synagogue, mosque or other religious institution. That is the smallest proportion since 1937, when Gallup first asked the question and 73 percent claimed to be so affiliated.

The second: Arkansas’ state legislature overrode Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto of a bill that would bar transgender girls from participating in school sports program and would keep health-service professionals from providing transgender-related health care to minors. Similar legislation is on the table in other states, and in others even more draconian measures are under review: Health care professionals who help young trans people get the care they need could face long prison sentences and the revocation of their licenses and certificates.

Although those two developments seem at odds with each other, it actually makes perfect sense that some states are trying to keep young transgender people from affirming themselves at the same time more Americans are dissociating themselves from churches.

Why is that?

Any time a major cultural or societal change is underway reaction to it can be fierce and even violent. Think of the Counter-Reformation, or the way cops and everyday citizens—let alone Klan members—tried, brutally, to resist the Civil Rights movement.

The bad news is, of course, that reactionary people and movements foment fear and hatred, and inspire or even embolden haters to all manner of violence, including murder. The silver lining, if you will, is that the virulence of their reaction is a sure sign that they are ultimately on the wrong, and losing, side of history.

At the dawn of the Civil Rights movement, for every white American who participated in a lynching or cross-burning, there were many more who accepted or rationalized Jim Crow laws as well as other, subtler kinds of discrimination. They might not have chased a black kid off their block, but they didn’t want the same black kid to date, let alone marry, their kid. They knew, deep down, that change was needed but “the time wasn’t right.”

Slowly, such people became aware of their own deeply-held, and often unconscious, assumptions and realized there was no rational basis for them. Moreover, they came to realize that the American system of apartheid was not only unjust and irrational; it benefited no one. The Loving decision not only righted a wrong; it aligned with the Constitution and simply made logical sense. The social order would not be broken by people marrying people of “different” races any more than it would be when members of those “different” races—or faiths or gender identities– entered schools, professions and neighborhoods that, previously, had been off-limits to them.

So, racist beliefs could no more be defended than rigid ideas about gender roles, identities and hierarchies with science, logic or law. The Loving decision deemed that “miscegenation” laws violated the Constitution; four and a half decades later, Robert Shelby, a conservative Republican judge in Utah, would declare that state’s laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman as unconstitutional (a pivotal moment, I believe, in the fight for marriage equality). In a similar vein, Asa Hutchinson—a Republican– vetoed an anti-transgender youth bill because, he said, its restrictions were “government overreach.” By the time those actions were taken, people had come to realize that gender identity and sexual orientation cannot be legislated or medicated away, and that racial purity is a myth at best and a lie at worst. (The human race began in Africa. That’s Anthropology 101.)

Those events, of course, have everything to do with Americans’ loosening relationship to churches and such: Nearly all of organized religion—especially Evangelical Christianity—is predicated on racial/ethnic hierarchies and rigid gender identities and roles. It’s pretty difficult to tell a woman to submit herself to a man, in her home or in a church, when she’s running a business or graduating at the top of her law school class. Even if it were possible or even feasible, there just isn’t any rational reason why a woman should stand back if she knows better about something than her male spouse or colleague—or why she should align herself with an institution where she is, at best, a second-class citizen and, at worst, a mere incubator.

Those who benefit from such systems of oppression are, of course, not happy to see the edifices that hold them up being dismantled, brick by brick, or eroded. They also worry that people, especially the young, are not interested in upholding those structures or institutions. The young make up a large portion of the religiously unaffiliated (“nones”), Gallup found.

It means that, deep down, religiously affiliated and reactionary folks know they aren’t going to find replacements for themselves among their children. So, they know that whatever they feel the need to do, they’ll have to do more of, with more intensity, for as long as they can. Their behavior will become more extreme, and they will do whatever they can to hold to their notions of gender, marriage, family and society. That means forcing those notions on everyone else through irrational prohibitions. The only way to get people to support such bans is to stoke their fears by invoking stereotypes, junk science and outright lies. And the only way to enforce those bans is through force. What I have just described culminated in Donald Trump’s judicial appointments: He chose jurists who oppose what most Americans want, including safe and legal access to abortion, the right to marry whomever they wish and to live in accordance with whatever they know to be true about themselves.

Those judicial appointments, the law Asa Hutchinson tried to stop and other retrograde actions and policies are thus part of a reaction against the inevitable: the secularization of the United States of America. Somehow it’s fitting that they came together during the Easter/Passover/Ramadan season.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    Thanks, MJ. I’m horrified that Christian Dominionists have targeted trans people. Bills against a trans girl doing a high school sport is ridiculous, as the number is tiny. Focusing their ire and wrath on the least of these (trans people) shows what these Christians are made of: pure hate.

  2. Avatar
    William

    I’m not so sure about this. I think American culture is reactionary which is why American fundamentalism is reactionary, but from a non American, everyone in America seems to want to get their own way and be as loud as possible.

    I think a problem for evangelical churches (and churches in general) is that science is moving at such a pace that believing in the Bible becomes more and more of a challenge. I also notice that churches are trying to overcome this problem by focusing on youth. There will always be adults who in the despair of a difficult life find themself attracted to the Gospel message of there being a point to their life and being able to start again.

    I give an example from AA which is one of the more successful recovery programs: At the top of the steps is a belief in a higher power.

    I think a lot of the reaction is driven by Pastors who don’t want to lose their jobs. It seems like Christian worship will change as people don’t want a Pastor telling them what to do.

  3. Avatar
    Obstaclechick

    Well said, MJ. I can’t believe I actually agreed with something Asa Hutchinson said. Far right conservatives see the handwriting on the wall as their youth are no longer replacing them as previous generations did (that is, going back to church when they start a family). And far right Christians are pretty bad at recruiting and keeping new members. So they’re freaking out and trying to legislate their precious culture wars to keep cis-gendered heterosexual white males at the top of the patriarchal authoritarian food chain. It’s a big part of the reason why evangelicals followed Trump so reliably.

    My father-in-law tried to goad me into joining the anti-trans woman team. I am an athlete, so he wanted an ally. I asked him to name all the cases where transwomen are dominating sports. He could only refer to one case in Connecticut where a female high school runner was suing because she thought she lost college scholarship offers because a trans woman beat her. One case of someone allegedly losing a scholarship. I won’t get into how subjective a claim that is. And he didn’t like that I said that it wasn’t that big a deal then – and by the way, I have beaten transwomen in my sport.

  4. Avatar
    Sage

    MJ, that was very well written and I agree completely. I think those who have always been in charge are fighting as hard as they can to keep power. They will say they just want to get along, so can’t we all just work this out, when really they want people to just accept things as they were. They give lip service to equality, but in their view means the retain all they have, and it’s up to others to gain their own rights, as long as the others live like they expect them to live.

    The whole trans athlete argument is so full of stereotypes, assumptions, and lies. These stereotypes are fed to the ignorant masses so the fragile cis world can keep their place. The same applies to bathroom laws. It is all fear-mongering and horrible bigotry.

    It’s hard to believe that now we have laws that tell kids what they can do with their body, and parents how they can raise their children. In North Carolina the proposed law is no trans affirming medical help until someone is 21. How insane is that? And all of these laws have requirements that parents be notified when the child is not behaving by proper male of female gender norms. Who is going to define what is the proper way to be a male or a female? And what happens when the school reports a child, who then returns home to christian parents who will not spare the rod?

    I keep hearing this same bullshit… “well, how can we let kids decide to have trans affirming medical care. They are too young to decide. Your brain doesn’t mature until 25. Their parents are trying to be trendy by teaching their kid to be non-binary or trans. That is child abuse and we have to protect the children. There are so many examples of kids who have de-transitioned when they are older, so we have to stop that.”

    My response: “You know, we do need to protect kids – all kids, from horrible parenting. I know of kids, kind of like you mentioned, that were manipulated by their parents as children. They made them join friends groups that agreed with them. They sent them to schools that agreed with their lifestyle. They told them stories, gave them toys, and pushed them to get deeper and deeper into the lifestyle. They even sent them to special training sessions, and insisted everyone accept their lifestyle or be cancelled. In fact, they really do have an agenda and actively go out to recruit other families and kids. And the kids have no choice, they are warped from birth by this lifestyle and make all kinds of changes to try to live that they were taught by those parents. Then, when they are adults, the realize they really are not ‘that way’ and have a long road back. Some of them will never recover because what was done to them was horrible. So yeah.. I agree.. kids should not be given any type or religious training or teaching until they are 18. Any preacher who tries to help kids should be jailed. And if kids show any religious tendencies, it needs to be immediately reported. After all, there are people that turn back from religion, and we need to protect them from suffering that harm.”

  5. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    Much appreciated MJ. Luckily I was in a family where by somewhere between 10 and my early teens my parents had agreed that “there is some truth in all religions”. I did not get the religious bias training. However, I am a straight female who does not fit the “standard model”. I did not want children. Luckily my husband also did not want children. In my teens wore jeans and cowboy boots, almost never skirts. However, I like to knit my own sweaters. I went into computer programming because it was possible to get a good salary with a night-school degree. I talked a lot more than most of the other programmers male and female did. We should be allowed to be ourselves.

    “Race” is a very small part of the human genome. People can use it as a reason to discriminate simply because it is visible. If your grandparents were Italian, German, etc. you can change your last name and fit in as “White”. Most European people have at least a tiny amount of Neanderthal DNA. Should we use this as our “race” identity?

    I do not think religious people have a right to force their views on others any more than Stalin had a right to force his views on the Soviet Union. These are both simply authoritarianism in different clothes.

    Thank you

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Bruce Gerencser