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Tag: Book Bans

How the Indian River County School District in Florida Handled Book Complaints From Evangelical Prude, Jennifer Pippin

jennifer pippin

Mother Jones reports:

At least two copies of In the Night Kitchen are available in elementary school libraries in Indian River County, Florida. This concerned Jennifer Pippin, the chair of the local Moms for Liberty chapter, because the main character, Mickey, is sometimes depicted without clothes. In an interview, Pippin told Popular Information that she believes the book may be “harmful to minors.” She was worried that if a “5-year-old picks up this book and has never seen a picture of a penis… [t]he parent wouldn’t be able to discuss this with the child.”

….

Pippin challenged other books with drawings of figures without clothes, including Unicorns Are the Worst, a book about a goblin complaining about how much people like unicorns. The concern about Unicorns Are The Worst is this picture of a goblin’s butt:

Here are the books in question:

into the light of the night question
unicorns are the worst

OMG, right? Why, just seeing this book cover and page will cause untold harm, especially to boys who have never seen a picture of a penis or bare butt. 🙂

How did the school district handle this serious problem?

censored books

That’s right, librarians drew clothing on the offending parties.

I am left shaking my head in disbelief. How about you?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Saving Little Free Libraries From “Bad” Books and Praise Jesus

little free libraries

Post by Abby Zimet, Common Dreams

Give it up for Zealot of the Week Jennifer ‘Karen’ Meeks, who took it upon her pious self to scurry around her Arkansas neighborhood’s Little Free Libraries, remove “bad” books that “don’t align with Christian values” – mostly, eww, “Pride stuff” – and put in “good” books, aka Bibles. Her GOP lawmaker husband says “leftists” are lying and his wife is just nobly replacing worn-out books with newer ones, which means he’s already breaking 2 Commandments – stealing and lying – so God help him.

“I have been swapping out books in little free libraries for awhile,” the enterprising Ms. Meeks – sorry, she probably prefers Mrs. – announced on Facebook, possibly ill-advisedly, earlier this month. “A lot of these books and other things don’t align with Christian values,” she wrote. “Today, I saw a bunch of Pride stuff in one. There’s a group of leftists, especially in Conway, who are very active in keeping little libraries well stocked. I have seen good books, terrible books, toiletries, and needles (yes, needles)…Recently I have been picking up free Bibles at flea markets and thrift stores. Sometimes I find good devotion books or kids’ Bible stories at a good price to add. Or just great books, and a gospel tract is a nice idea too.” She went on, “This is a (sic) opportunity for the silent majority to be salt and light in our communities.” She’s presumably referencing Matt. 5:13, in which, “Our Savior calls His disciples the ‘salt of the earth’ and the ‘light of the world,'” two substances that transform food or darkness much as the church can transform society – especially if there are creepy sexy-time books lurking around in your blasphemous neighborhood.

Little Free Libraries is a non-profit promoting neighborhood book exchanges and literacy under a “take a book, share a book” honor system where people can freely borrow and donate books. They encourage “stewards” to curate boxes “in a way that best serves their community” with books that “enlighten readers, nurture empathy, and open (up) diverse perspectives.” Under that rubric, censorship is taboo: “When an individual removes books (that) don’t match up with their personal beliefs, they silence critical voices that deserve to be heard” – often LGBTQ and people of color. Ditto, said Meeks’ “group of leftists” keeping libraries stocked – the Faulkner County Coalition for Social Justice – who happily chimed in, “Thank you Mrs. Meeks, that would be us!” They said they continue to offer “life-saving” books, food, toiletries, reproductive health care and naloxone for queer kids not out to their parents, teens who need Plan B for an unwanted pregnancy, the “good neighbor preventing an overdose.” “Keep removing them, Jennifer,” they wrote. “But we will never stop coming right back (to show) love and decency will always win.” They also added that the Meeks’ “voting records and actions speak for themselves.”

That would be Stephen voting for a bill criminalizing librarians for distributing material deemed “obscene”; trying (unsuccessfully) to remove “explicit materials” from libraries and cut their funds; voting for an anti-trans “bathroom bill,” an abortion ban, a heartbeat bill, to allow guns at universities and churches, to have Bible instruction in public schools etc. After local outrage, his wife’s proud post about deciding what books other people should/shouldn’t read was deleted – hubris remorse? – but anyway Meeks said it was “a complete lie” by a “leftist” group she was “removing books that she disagrees with..My wife would not do that,” even though she herself wrote she’d “taken out a bad one and left a good one in its place.” Also, the post went public because someone “betrayed her” hoping to get “political dirt” on him; his wife is “adding Christian-related books as well as history, science and other books,” sometimes removing “a worn-out history book” to replace it with a nicer one; as Christians “we too should be stocking Bibles, devotionals, things like that” to “give people more choice,” and “I think everybody would agree having more choice is a good thing,” except when it comes to, you know, your own body or health care or voting or beliefs or… Also, his wife “did not want to discuss the matter.” Cowards, liars, bigots all.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.” – Matthew 7:1

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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The Evangelical War on Books, Movies, and American Culture

banned books
Cartoon by Joe O’Mahoney

Who would have thought that banning books, defunding libraries, and closing them would be front-page news in 2023? Yet, here we are. Library books are under assault, primarily by Evangelical Christians. Once again, the media refuses to “see” that religion is what is motivating the war on books, particularly Evangelical Christianity; the same religion behind Trumpism, the January 6 insurrection, the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and the frontal assault on LGBTQ people. I am not suggesting that Evangelicals are the ONLY religious people behind the present culture war — conservative Catholics. Mormons, and a smattering of people from other groups play a part too — but without the support of Evangelicals, the culture wars die overnight.

I am sixty-six years old. I was part of the Evangelical church for fifty years, both as a member and a pastor. In 2008, I left Christianity, but I have continued to follow closely the machinations of Evangelicalism. For all of my adult life, Evangelicals have been waging a war against secularism, people who are different from them, and violators of their peculiar interpretations of the Bible’s moral code.

Evangelicalism is a fear-based religion. Taught to fear God, Evangelicals also fear anyone who is different from them socially or politically. Not known for their support of tolerance and diversity, Evangelicals want to live in a monoculture; one where everyone is a Christian who thinks and believes as they do. In recent years, some Evangelicals have been very clear about their objective: the establishment of a Christian theocracy; one where Jesus and the Bible (as interpreted by them) rule supreme.

Here in the United States, there was a time when Evangelicalism was a dominant force, both politically and socially. Those days are gone. Evangelical church attendance is in decline, and younger adults are exiting stage left in droves. Paranoia and fear are in the air, and instead of taking a hard look at themselves, Evangelicals blame American culture; especially mass media, public schools, secularism, atheism, humanism, liberals, progressives, Democrats, LGBTQ people, and anyone and anything else that doesn’t comport with their worldview. Of course, this behavior is not unusual for Evangelicals. Known for blaming the Devil for all sorts of things, Evangelicals are experts at pointing fingers and judging people they disagree with. That’s why many of the readers of this blog who have Evangelical backgrounds are estranged from their Evangelical parents and families. Their loved ones refuse to accept them as they are; refuse to play nice with anyone who doesn’t believe exactly as they do.

book banning 2
Cartoon by Grant Snider

American culture is changing. Secularism, humanism, atheism, and indifference toward organized religion are on the rise. Evangelicals feel threatened by the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. In their minds, the Huns are at the gate. Never mind the fact that the Philistines and Huns just want to be left alone. They want the freedom to fuck whomever they want as long as it is a consenting adult relationship. They want the freedom to read what they want, watch what they want, and buy what they want. They want the freedom to marry whomever they want and seek out reproductive care. Simply put, they want Evangelicals to fuck off and leave them alone.

Of course, Evangelicals cannot and will not do that, and that is why they are trying to ban library books they consider “inappropriate” — mainly books which are LGBTQ-friendly, critical of Christianity, or which portray Whites in a less than flattering light. Evangelicals don’t want people to have the freedom to read ANY book that offends their sensibilities. We see similar behavior from Evangelicals when it comes to television programming. Evangelicals are determined to become the arbiters of what all of us can read and see. Instead of not checking out certain books or changing the channel, Evangelicals expect all of us to obey their interpretations of the Bible — even though they don’t do so themselves.

I am sure some of my critics will say, “Bruce, you were an IFB preacher. You homeschooled your six children. I bet you controlled what books they could read!” Welp, I hate to disappoint you, but Polly and I allowed our children to read whatever they wanted. Five of our children learned to read at an early age, and by the time they were in sixth grade, they were getting books from the adult part of the library. I remember one librarian quizzing me about our children perusing the adult sections of the library. She thought they should be reading “age-appropriate” books. I explained to her that our children were advanced readers, and they had our permission to check out whatever they wanted. It was not uncommon to see our children coming home with 12-15 library books at a time. Remember, we didn’t have a TV for twenty years. Did we look at the books they brought home? Sure. Were there a couple of occasions when we said one of them couldn’t read a certain book? Sure. Outside of that, our children were free to read to their heart’s content. (I am delighted to see these same reading habits in most of my grandchildren today.)

banned books 3
Cartoon by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum

Books are not the problem; fear and closedmindedness are. Religious Fundamentalists fear the “world.” They are afraid if their children are exposed to the real world, that they might start to have questions and doubts about Mom and Dad’s Christian worldview. That’s why so many Evangelical parents either homeschool their children or send them to private Christian schools. Most Evangelicals aren’t countercultural, as Jesus was, they are anti-culture. That’s why they are waging war against American culture, one book and one movie at a time. Their goal is to return the United States to the “good” old days of the 1950s; a time when heterosexual married women were barefoot and pregnant, keepers of the home, and on-demand sex machines; a time when LGBTQ people were closeted; a time when Blacks knew their place; a time when most families went to church on Sundays and showed, at least, outward respect for the Christian God and the Bible; a time when abortion and birth control were illegal; a time when stores were closed on Sundays and Wednesday nights; a time when public school teachers read the Bible to students and led them in prayer; a time when churches, preachers, and the Bible were respected by even unbelievers.

Evangelicals are free to party as if it’s 1953. Have at it. People are free to live any way they want, as long as doing so is legal and doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. Most Americans want to party as if it is 2023. Evangelicals are free to retreat to their houses of faith and the privacy of their homes; free to live their lives according to the dictates of the Bible. However, the rest of us demand the same freedoms to do otherwise. And when you try to turn the United States into a theocratic state, we will push back. When you try to institutionalize hate, bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia, we will use the ballot box to fight back.

I don’t know how many years I have left; probably not many. My body tells me every day that time is running out. While some of the present Evangelical assaults on freedom and democracy seem overwhelming — looking at you Ohio, Texas, and Florida — we must not give in or give up. Evangelicalism has a demographic problem. Their core is aging, and as they die off, these Evangelical culture warriors are not being replaced. We must continue to fight and push back, even when it seems there is no hope. We must have the future of our children and grandchildren in front of us. They deserve a better tomorrow, one not dominated and controlled by religious Fundamentalism.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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They Know It When They See It

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Some Catholic school alumni are traumatized by the experience. I don’t think I was, if only because what I experienced in the church itself—specifically, from a particular priest—was far worse than any misfortune I incurred in the classroom.

Moreover, I did nothing to deserve sexual exploitation at the hands of that prelate. But some might argue that I had the impact of Sister Elizabeth’s hand against my face coming to me as a consequence of my insolence. 

So what was my offense? Another kid mentioned something about a movie popular at the time—Midnight Cowboy, if I remember correctly.  “Nobody should see it,” she pronounced.  “It’s dirty.”

To which I retorted, “How do you know?”

The funny thing, in recalling the episode more than half a century later, is that I wasn’t trying to be a smart-ass, though I had the capacity for it. My question, really, was almost innocent; it just kind of popped out of me.

And I think, perhaps, she reacted more out of shock that even though I could be snarky—I’ve concluded that it’s part of my DNA—I actually was a rather well-behaved kid and a good student.  Plus, being an altar boy gave me some cachet in that milieu at a time when I didn’t know, and people I knew didn’t use, words like “cachet” and “milieu.” If anything, I suspect that until that moment, she rather liked me—or, at least hated me less than she and other nuns seemed to hate other kids.

So what got me to thinking about that episode? A recent news story. To wit: a parent in a Utah school district filed a petition to have a book banned from a local school.

All right . . .You probably think that there’s nothing unusual about that. After all, the Beehive State is one of the most conservative states in the nation. It may well have been the closest thing the United States had to a theocracy until Ron De Santis, Kay Ivey, and Greg Abbott started to make the fantasies of the Christian Right come true. 

Ah, but there’s a twist to this story. Actually, two twists. One is the book in question. The other: The parent in question has actually read the book.

That I had to write the previous sentence speaks volumes (yes, I know) about the current state of affairs. The folks who are emptying bookshelves in your kid’s school or your library don’t make sheepish admissions, as I might about having lived in New York City for much of my life, but never having visited the Statue of Liberty, about not having ventured between the covers of what they would keep from the rest of us. They boast about it and double down on their ignorance by saying they didn’t need to thumb through the pages; they just had to scan the reviews or ads for it.

That is why, if your kid is going to learn the truth about intergenerational trauma or brutality that underlies relationships that are supposed to nurture and protect the people in them, it won’t come from Maus or The Bluest Eyeat least, until Junior and Missy are old enough to procure or borrow them on their own, just as they won’t be able to look at Michelangelo’s David until they take a trip to Italy.

And, in the school district in which the parent I mentioned filed the petition, the yung’uns won’t learn about adultery, incest, and drunkenness from the book that the parent wants to ban. Just think of the irreparable harm that wonderfully responsible adult is sparing young, innocent people by shielding them from this:

See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them to you, and you may do with them as you wish.

Oh, but it gets worse:

Then they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father.

Neither of those passages depicts any suitable role models. Nor does this:

[W]henever he went to his brother’s wife, he would waste his semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 

In addition to drunkenness, pimping children, incest, adultery (with an in-law, no less!), and masturbation, the book in question also mentions homosexuality, bestiality, fratricide, homicide, and hit-and-run fatherhood. Not the sort of stuff you want your precious child to dive into, is it?

The ostensible purpose of bringing up all of those topics is to warn people away from them—well, except for the homicide and hit-and-run fatherhood: Depending on who does those things—specifically, one who does them—they can be justified. But, still, you don’t want your kids to do such things, do you?

And if you don’t want your little ones to end up in Chelsea or the Castro district, you don’t want to learn about “alternative lifestyles” at such a young age. Perhaps that’s how the parent in question felt in filing the petition to ban the book I’m about to mention.

Since I know my audience, I am sure that, by now, most of you realize that book is The Book—a.k.a., the Bible.

Now, the parent—whose name and other identifying information were not made public—probably doesn’t want to make the Bible disappear from school bookshelves. A state legislator named Ken Ivory called the petition a “political stunt” (as if members of his own party haven’t pulled them!) and points out that the state law the parent cited as the basis for the ban is intended to keep “pornographic material” from soiling the hands and minds of babes. That same law, which purports to define what is “obscene”: It doesn’t have to be the work as a whole; it merely needs to contain mentions of sexual arousal, stimulation, or any number of other human activities.

Sir Kenneth Clark admitted that he could not define “civilization.” But, turning his gaze to the Notre Dame cathedral, he said, “I know I’m looking at it.” When, in giving his opinion in Jacobellus vs. Ohio (1964), US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart conceded that he couldn’t define “obscenity,” but insisted, “I know it when I see it.” Most people, if they’re being honest, would admit they can’t articulate a cogent, succinct definition of what they want to encourage or keep from their kid any more than a kid can learn what is right or wrong—or simply what a parent or other authority figure doesn’t approve of—unless they see examples of it. If you don’t want your children to masturbate or pleasure themselves with your family’s dog (something that was legal, under most circumstances, in Sweden until 2014 ), how do they know to avoid it (which, of course, they won’t, at least in the case of solo sex) if they don’t know what it is or why it’s so wrong?

I think that’s the point of the petition. If anything containing nudity or depicting sex acts is banned, not only will Fifty Shades of Gray white out or fade to black (If I were going to ban it for anything, it would be its awful writing. How do I know about it?;-)), the Bible and any number of textbooks would be consigned to the ash heap. Hmm . . . Maybe that’s the point: After all, the book banners’ (and garden-variety bigots’) champions know they need “low information voters” to get elected!

Oh, and Sister Elizabeth, wherever you are: If you actually saw Midnight Cowboy, all is forgiven. Entre nous, it’s really good. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone if you agree!

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser