Getting To Know Your Worst Nightmare

I was recently invited to share my thoughts at a Unitarian-Universalist (UU) church service in California, via Zoom. According to my host, it is a very liberal congregation in a liberal geographical bubble. Apparently members of the congregation run the spectrum of social liberalism including LGBTQ folks, and some who were formerly evangelicals. Bruce, my host, considers himself to be an atheist.

Bruce and I connected through a Braver Angels event and have since talked weekly over Zoom for some six months. It has been quite an adventure for both of us, and not always a comfortable one. I would say our aim has been to understand each other, with permission to each respectfully challenge the other’s opinions.

At some point Bruce got the idea to share what he was doing with his UU church. Then it occurred to him to have me share as well, I guess just to keep it real. His minister was open to having me as a guest, and so we planned a service, which occurred in April, 2021. Below I’ve linked an edited video of the pertinent parts in case you would like to hear what was said.

To their credit, Bruce and his pastor took a risk in inviting me in. They told me about how they’d wrestled with why it was so difficult to invite me in. They knew they could invite a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or a Rabbi, or an atheist to speak, and everyone would pretty much be fine with it. But for some reason it was daunting to consider inviting a conservative evangelical Christian who voted for Trump twice.

I’m happy to report that the church was very welcoming toward me, and there was a lot of positive feedback afterwards. I did not go into many specifics on triggering issues, even in the Q and A time that followed. My intent was not to trigger people. The point was to inspire people to seek understanding with neighbors or family members who think differently than they do.

I’ll let the video speak for itself. It’s a half hour long but I think you’ll find it interesting. Plus the pastor has a cool Scottish accent. I’d love to hear your feedback.

The Cause of the Divide
If you’ve followed this blog for long you know that I consider American society to be toxically divided. I’m concerned about this and I’m not alone. It is now common to hear people bemoan the loss of civility and respectful disagreement in human discourse, especially in political discourse.

How did we get here? Is there something different going on now than in previous generations?

I think there is. At the risk of sounding partisan, I believe that the divide has been created and nurtured by the far Left, and foisted onto the mainstream. It’s a simple worldview issue. Allow me to make my case.

To be specific, in referring to the Left I am not referring to some fuzzy notion of liberal-ish stuff that I happen to dislike. I’m referring specifically to a neo-Marxist worldview – a view that sees the cause of the world’s inequities and injustices through a lens of oppressor vs oppressed. Whether between economic classes, races, genders, or ideological parties, the Left by definition promotes division and, ultimately, a re-structuring of a supposedly oppressive system via revolution.

So for example, if there is a minority group that is suffering oppression, such as a higher rate of poverty, abuse, COVID deaths, unemployment, addiction, imprisonment, or anything else negative, then there must be an oppressor according to a neo-Marxist worldview.

It would be worth discussing with a neo-Marxist whether or not life is quite this simple.

But Marxism is not what’s new. The America Left and Right have always fought and disagreed. There is something new (and worse) going on here. In previous decades I watched the two sides battle it out in the field of ideas. At their best, opponents would cite facts, history, research, and employ rational discourse. But in the past decade the extreme Left has decided to go around the field of intellectual arguments and go straight to the field of subjective feelings. By assigning conservatives the worst of motives and then leveraging peer/mob pressure and emotional manipulation, the Left has enshrined itself as morally superior.

What’s new is that the Left finally has the power to do so.

Having gained control of mainstream media, the entertainment industry, academia, big tech, and mainline church denominations, the Left now has the means to dominate the societal narrative, propagating the message that to dissent from the “progressive” narrative is to take the hurtful, hateful, oppressor position. We are all now familiar with the charge that to dissent from the “progressive” narrative is to be anti-woman, anti-gay, transphobic, racist, white supremacist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, bigoted, hateful, and so on.

Here’s the thing. All of those things truly are immoral and indefensible. If that list of adjectives accurately defined conservatives, then the Left should be exposing and shaming conservatives for the evil oppressors that they are. The problem (for the Left) is that the only way to get those labels to stick to mainstream conservatives is to torture the English language, re-write history, redefine objective reality, and shut down dissent. In my opinion that is what is happening. Plenteous examples provided upon request.

Republicans, for their part have generally not responded to this like adults. Brasher elements have gone into fight mode, which doesn’t win the middle, and allows the “hater” label to stick. They’ve tried to trump the Left with Trump, placing their faith in a man who couldn’t compete in the field of factual ideas. Instead, he responded in kind, specializing in division and bombastic rhetoric, making an already terrible situation worse. I think the saber-rattling, conspiracy crap, and patriot pumping on the part of Republicans is a reaction to the Left’s strategy of unjustly framing them as the great white cause of all the world’s suffering.

Is anyone ready for something better and more honest? Is anyone tired of watching the pendulum-wrecking ball swing back and forth?

The Solution
We have to talk to each other. Neither side is going to go away. Neither side is going to allow the other to force its will onto the other. Ask yourself what the outcome will be if both sides continue the strategy of “hitting back harder.”

So what is the answer? Whoever you are, right or left, if you believe you have the facts, evidence, and the truth on your side, then you have nothing to lose by seeking mutual understanding with “the other side.” In all likelihood, you will find facts, evidence, and truth on both sides. If that weren’t the case America wouldn’t be split down the middle. There are legitimate concerns on both sides of every issue.

People of radically differing worldviews will not agree on specific solutions. So then what is the point of talking? The answer is that we can at least get back to respectful disagreement as fellow human beings. Liberals need to get to know conservatives. If that sounds one-sided, that’s because it is. In my experience, conservatives generally understand liberals; we just disagree with them. We recognize that liberals believe they are acting out of a sense of compassion and social justice. But the reverse is not true. A great many liberals really do believe that conservatives are racist, anti-gay, anti-woman, xenophobic, etc.

It may be up to conservatives to take initiative in seeking mutual understanding. The end result will probably not be a changed worldview for anyone. But it is a very realistic goal that we can return to a place of respectful disagreement in political discourse if liberals can recognize that mainstream conservatives are not motivated by hate. That would be a win for everyone. We can communicate without the divisive labeling. The video will give you some ideas on how to get there.



Looking for a gift? My new kids’ storybook, The Friendly City, helps kids navigate a culture that is in decline. Visit my BOOKSTORE for more info.

Building Community During a Pandemic

Loveland, Colorado’s newest community mural, located on 4th Street at Lincoln. Made up of 336 individual tiles.
One of my favorite hand-print tiles.

When Donald Trump was elected to the presidency in 2016 I heard numerous accounts of people weeping, going into depression, and cutting ties with friends and family who had voted for Trump. It was during this climate that I conceived of the idea of putting on a giant community art event that would involve hundreds of people coming together to create a unified statement.

Five monumental murals later we have a new president and the nation appears to me to be more divided than ever. Furthermore, any attempts at building community are made more challenging as we can’t see each other’s faces or be in close physical proximity to one another. Both people and events are now frequently cancelled.

In past years all the mural painting has been done over a 3 day period in the midst of Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day street festival. It’s been fun, but often chaotic and cold!

This depiction of hops was painted by the Brew master at Grimm Brothers Brewhouse.

This year, though the street festival was cancelled, the city still wanted to celebrate the Valentine season by going forward with a new community mural. For subject matter in past years I had parodied a famous painting. This year the city requested that I base the mural on the US Postal Service’s new Forever Stamp.

This year the painting took place over a 3 week period inside the warmer and quieter Beet Center, the Loveland Museum-Gallery’s expanded space. In order to comply with state restrictions around COVID, we had people sign up for 20-minute increments and limit the number of people per room. While I missed the energy of the street festival, I have to admit I enjoyed the slower pace and I was actually able to enjoy extended conversations with several people.

But about this business of unifying the nation…

I’m happy to announce that everyone who participated in painting this year’s mural is now at peace with their neighbor, and has become committed to treating their political opponents with love and respect.

One of my favorites by a local artist friend…

Just kidding!

If only it were that easy. During an interview this year I was asked, “How have you seen art bring people together since the start of the pandemic? I replied:

Honestly, it’s been difficult bringing people together for any reason since the pandemic season started. I initially wondered if the pandemic might unite the country, but unfortunately it became politicized and has divided our nation even further. I think it’s important for human beings to continue to create, but the arts can only do so much. I think the only thing that will truly bring people together is if we as individuals do the hard work of getting to know our neighbor again, and seeking to understand those who view things differently than we do. I regularly engage in respectful dialogue with people “on the other side,” and it has been very healing. Politicians can’t fix this.

If that sounds like a buzzkill of an answer to you, I would plead to differ. I think it empowers the individual to care constructively, as opposed to hoping and waiting for politicians to get it right. We may not be like-minded in our opinions, but we can choose to be like-minded in approaching each other with understanding and respect as fellow human beings who bear the image of God.

In future posts I’ll share some of my adventures in reaching out to “the other side.” Until then, I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts as to what you believe has caused the polarization in our culture. Please share in the comments below.

I made this one!



Do you need a gift idea for a child in your life? My newest book, The Friendly City, is designed to be a fun tool to help kids navigate a culture that has slipped its moorings. Order your copy HERE.

New Book Release: The Friendly City

Illustration spread from pp24-25 of The Friendly City
“In time, the factory stopped making the funny, creative New Burbian cars because they were too easy to break and too expensive to fix…”

If you’re wondering if anything good came out of the year 2020, here’s something, (though admittedly it’s not a global event) :

I FINALLY finished my next kids’ book!

Back when I was parenting, my favorite storybooks were engaging for my kids, but also enjoyable for me to read as well (because I had to read them repeatedly!) Hopefully, The Friendly City will be that kind of storybook book for you and your little people. It’s a fun story and also visually captivating.

Steampunk, dinosaur, and Mona Lisa cars from The Friendly City

The Friendly City tells the story of New Burbia, a town that is home to the best and most polite drivers in the world. The New Burbians drive imaginative and fanciful cars that make everyone smile. One day a new mayor who has some well-meaning ideas is elected. Chaos ensues when he implements his new plan to remove all the road signs and traffic lights. (He reasons that the restrictive road signs are unnecessary since New Burbia is home to the best drivers in the world.) Subsequently the city becomes not-so-friendly as the formerly agreed upon rules of the road are disregarded.

Mayor Piffle is elected to New Burbia in The Friendly City

In time a small community forms whose members commit to remembering and observing the old rules of the road, and to bringing kindness back to the city. Together they find joy in welcoming others, and helping to make the city a friendlier place again.

The Caring Drivers Group is representative of the Church in the Friendly City

I think this is a great story for our current troubled and divided cultural climate.

The story stands alone as an engaging story for kids, even with no explanation. But since you’re all adults, I thought it might be fun to share from the Note to Parents from the Author, at the back of the book:

…The Friendly City illustrates the workings of two spheres of life: that of civics and the Church.

CIVICS
America’s founders envisioned a “self-governing” society. In order for such a society to work, we citizens must be people of character and, at least to some extent, be united by a common morality that transcends our subjective feelings. John Adams, America’s second president, famously stated,


The Friendly City, p 21 - the removal of the road signs

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Benjamin Franklin described the path that government will inevitably take when social and sexual mores break down,

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

The removal of the street signs is a metaphor for the rejection of previously agreed upon societal mores. Adams and Franklin make a brief appearance in The Friendly City as this is happening.

THE CHURCH
The Caring Drivers Group represents the Church in this story. As such, it does not seek to create a utopia in a broken society, as so many secular “isms” attempt to do. Rather, it seeks to create a life-enhancing, restorative sub-culture that is focused on loving relationship. The focus on love over rule-keeping is meant to be reminiscent of Paul’s pronouncement, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).

The Friendly City - cover

So there you have a preview of The Friendly City. You can order your copy, along with my other books, from my online bookstore HERE at BigPicturePublishing.

I frantically tried to get this all put together in time for folks to receive orders by Christmas, and I’m pretty sure I succeeded. I’ve got a crate of hardcover copies due to arrive in a few days. If you place your order now, there’s a high likelihood you’ll have it before Christmas. (Until I run out!)

One more thing: I started an Instagram account so that you can preview all my storybooks, page by page.
So far I’ve got my Christmas book, The True Story of Christmas, ready to view. Others will follow in the new year. You can follow me on Instagram and preview The True Story of Christmas HERE.

THANK YOU for your support, and may you have a joyous Christmas season!

Thoughts On Racism. (For White People Only). Part 2

Serving up racist stereotypes

Why for white people only? Because we’re told it’s time for white people to listen to black voices.

Plus I don’t want to be guilty of “white-splaining,” or “man-splaining,” or worst of all, “white-man-splaining.”

So maybe if I talk to white people, I’m not splaining. I’m just sharing my thoughts and concerns about things that matter to me. Racial justice and reconciliation happen to matter to me very much.

In my opinion, in the torrent of words on the topic of racism since George Floyd’s death, a lot of ideas are being wrongly strung together on the same string.

Let’s see if we can get some clarity on the issue in one brief blog post. Once again I assert that liberals and conservatives have legitimate points and concerns. Again, I challenge you to see if you can agree with both sides as I present them below. If you can’t agree, I’d love to hear why in the combox.

What Is Racism?
As a white person, you may be questioning your own standing as a non-racist or anti-racist. You’ve been told you may not be able to see your own racist attitudes. I have white friends who are now calling themselves racists because they have uncovered “racist” attitudes within themselves. Could you be unconsciously participating in, and even benefiting from, white supremacy?

In processing the allegedly mysterious issue of racism, I think a look at the dictionary definition of racism is as helpful as anything I’ve heard. Imagine that. Take a look and see if you can agree:


RACISM: 1) a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others. (Dictionary. com)

Think about that definition. Notice it has 3 components. It’s pretty specific, and ultimately has to do with a belief in racial superiority.

Take My Racism Test. It’s 2 Questions Long:

TEST QUESTION 1: Do you believe that your race is inherently superior to other races? Yes  –  No

If you answered “yes,” then you are a racist. If you answered “yes” and you’re white, you’re a white supremacist, because that’s what white supremacists believe. Holding a positive belief about racial superiority is a conscious decision. If you think one can unconsciously believe that whites are inherently superior to blacks, I would be interested in hearing your explanation as to how that is possible.

But wait…if you answered “no,” you’re not off the hook. There are two more dictionary definitions for racism:

RACISM: 3) hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

It’s possible to hate “people of color” (POC) without holding to a belief in racial superiority. Maybe you hate black people for some other reason. So…

TEST QUESTION 2: Do you hate black people, or others of differing races?” Yes  –  No

If you answered “yes”,  then you are a racist.

To summarize these two definitions: White supremacy is a belief. Racial hatred is an attitude.

To clarify, if you don’t hold a positive belief in white superiority, or harbor racially hateful attitudes, then, strictly speaking, you are not a racist. It doesn’t help POC to call yourself one.

To clarify further: Can one commit acts of racial bias, prejudice, “microaggression”, or even hold beliefs harmful to other races and not be a racist? Yes, it’s possible (but not ideal, of course). You could be insensitive. You could be ignorant. You could be apathetic. You could be a generally reckless, uncaring asshole. You could be well meaning but mistaken. You could be misunderstood. These things should not be strung on the same string as racism, as defined above.

How is this helpful? Am I simply trying to help white people feel better about themselves?
Not exclusively. I’m trying to help people of all skin tones see their way out of a false narrative. I would hope it would be encouraging, for black people especially, to know that the vast majority of whites are not white supremacists after all. My lifelong experience as a white guy has been that most white people want to see black people succeed. Even if they don’t personally know any black people, I think most whites at least like the idea of liking black people.

The notion that white America somehow wants and needs a black underclass in order to advance is a Marxist idea. It’s not true. White people do not benefit from “keeping black people down.” If you disagree, then please explain how a black underclass benefits whites in today’s supposedly white supremacist economy. It’s obvious how white supremacist slaveholders benefited from a black underclass 170 years ago. But I need someone to explain how this is true today.

But…Systemic Racism
Okay, so if overt racism isn’t nearly as common as liberals want us to believe, then why do such huge racial disparities still exist today?

I believe the answer is frustratingly complex. For starters, there is yet a third dictionary definition of racism; that of systemic, or structural, racism. It has to do with neither beliefs nor attitudes, but with entrenched practices, and participation can indeed be unconscious. Systemic racism does belong on the racist string:

RACISM: 2) a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine [referring the first definition of racism above]; discrimination.

Despite what I hear many conservative commentators saying, I don’t think there is any denying the reality of systemic racism. I don’t think there’s any denying that it stems (or stemmed) from white supremacy in America in that systemic racist practices were originally established with the specific aim of disadvantaging black people.

It’s true that most, if not all, systemic racism has been corrected on paper, and I believe that is the point that conservatives are making. The US has enacted many legal policy changes to correct systemic racism, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act (1968), and the Equal Opportunity Act (1972). Yet huge racial disparities continue to exist, and that is what the current upheaval is about.

I’m contending here that the troubling disparities we see today are the result of past systemic policies and practices, more so than current racial hatred. Institutional racism has done its nasty work, and despite policy corrections having been made at the governmental level, America is living with the aftermath.

It is worth watching this brief summary by Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales. Among other points, he argues that home ownership is a critical measurement of individual wealth where an enormous racial disparity remains.

So-called “systemic racism” is a tangled hairball. Establishing racial parity and justice cannot be a simple matter of passing laws. Because no matter how good the system, we will continue to contend with fallen human nature.

Let us consider 3 significant examples that illustrate what we’re up against.

Example #1 – Paved with Good Intentions
Since the civil rights era, in many cases, policies were established with the intent of helping the black community, and these policies ended up hurting the black community. The now infamous Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is one such example. For sentencing purposes this law made 1 gram of crack cocaine equivalent to100 grams of powder cocaine, which ended up disproportionately punishing blacks. At the time of its passage, black leaders and most of the Congressional Black Caucus supported the act, as a crack epidemic was ravaging black America.

Were these black leaders white supremacists? Of course not. But unfortunately this policy contributed to a dramatic increase in the US incarceration rate, from 319,598 in 1980 to 1,505,400 in 2016. The “tough on crime” United States now has the largest incarceration rate in the world. Today, “woke” people cite the 1986 drug law as a horrific example of systemic racism. But the law was intended to protect black communities.

Example #2 – If You Don’t Have Your Health…
Perhaps more maddening than good intentions gone wrong, the word “systemic” does not refer only to government. It may even be inaccurate to think in terms of “racism.” It could be that any systemic practice that disadvantages the poor will disproportionately affect POC, due to racial disparities in income and wealth accumulation. It’s more complicated than “white supremacy,” despite continual assertions from the Left that racism is the problem.

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic the nation was dismayed to learn that infected blacks were dying at a rate 2 or 3 times that of infected whites. Every news report I read blamed this on lack of access to insurance and quality health care, and perhaps the types of occupations in which POC tend to work. Most also mentioned the higher incidence of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and lung disease among blacks, putting them at greater risk.

As tragic as that is, if you’re a conservative, you may be thinking: What about personal responsibility? What about lifestyle choices? To a large extent, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes are preventable through a healthy diet, exercise, keeping weight under control, and not smoking.

But again, it’s just not that simple.

While it may be true that whites are not holding down black people and making them drink Sprite, it is also true that soft drink, sugary drink, and snack and candy companies market disproportionately to POC. Do a Google search. In the soft drink industry alone, Blacks and Hispanics together make up about 21% of the US population, but account for 50% of the fruit flavored soft drink market. White greed may or may not be behind that, but POC are also making consumer choices based on what they like. Is this systemic racism?

Good food benefits black and brown bodies as much as it benefits white bodies, but how do you turn that ship around? Due to residential segregation, many black communities exist in “food deserts,” where, in the absence of good grocery stores, people resort to buying junk food at convenience stores or gas stations. Low incomes and unsafe neighborhoods figure in as well. But even if given the option of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, most Americans will bypass those and go for soda and processed food.

So both systemic and personal responsibility issues are at play.

Example #3 – The Humongous, Defecating Elephant in the Room, That Nobody Wants to Talk About
Finally, in my experience the most counterproductive dynamic in any discussion on racism is an unwillingness to face the most crucial factor affecting racial inequality: family breakdown.

I assume the topic is off the table for “woke” people for political reasons, since the abundant research on outcomes for kids living with their married parents is now generally accepted. But it doesn’t fit the left wing narrative very well. It feels like victim blaming. It feels anti-feminist, anti-gay, and it flagrantly contradicts the tenets of their ongoing sexual revolution. Therefore it is more intuitive for the Left to focus on fixing the system.

Put simply, the conservative argument is that the breakdown of the family is at the root of virtually every racial disparity in America; in regard to crime, poverty, low education, illegal drug use, incarceration, and out of wedlock pregnancy. Kids who grow up with their married, biological parents are at significantly lower risk of experiencing these outcomes. The data is in, and it holds true across racial lines.

The out of wedlock birthrate for black American babies is now around 70%, even with a black abortion rate 5 times that of white women. No subculture of any race can successfully withstand that kind of marriage and family breakdown. But how do you turn that ship around?

Is the breakdown of the Black family due to systemic racism? This also, is not an either/or question. The factors are many. Conservatives are correct to emphasize character and personal responsibility, and liberals are correct in blaming the effects of systemic racism. Some research (Belinda Tucker) indicates that the problem is not an aversion to marriage on the part of women of color, but a lack of marriageable Black men. If that shortage is due to higher mortality rates, incarceration rates, and unemployment rates for Black men, then yes, it is in part a systemic problem.

Love Your Neighbor
White people do need to listen to the Black experience. There are now many Black voices insisting that it is not primarily racism that is holding Black America down, but that it is 1) family breakdown, and 2) blacks believing the left wing victim narrative. I agree with them. Let us not forget to listen to those black voices as well. But please, let no one conclude that if contemporary racism is not the real problem, then disadvantaged blacks are to blame for their own plight. Black America is still suffering the consequences of systemic racism, particularly in the criminal justice system.

Surely the will now exists on all sides to root out systemic racism wherever it remains. Doing so can only help Black Americans. And yet, if all systemic racism were to disappear overnight, kids growing up without both married biological parents will remain statistically disadvantaged.

Clearly, change will have to come from within the black community as well, but now would be a good time for white conservatives to commit to living less segregated lives for the sake of building community. Ask yourself if you’ve ever been inside of a black person’s home. Has a “person of color” ever shared a meal around your table? Maybe being a friend and ally to our black and brown neighbors and co-workers would be a good place to begin the healing process in your corner of America.

Thoughts on Black America. (For White People Only). Part 1

Family values

I created this cover for an alternative newspaper, KC Jones, in Kansas City in 1998. It was during the Clinton presidency and I was raising my family in the inner city at the time. Kinda creeps me out now.

Why for white people only? Because it’s time for me to listen. Because black commentators are saying things like:

You’ve had the microphone for 300 years. It’s time for you to stop talking and listen.

We are tired of explaining it to you.

You can’t understand what it’s like to be black in America, or how much you benefit from white privilege.

So I’m listening. I believe I’ve been listening for about 4 decades.

I’m grieved over the brutal and senseless killing of George Floyd. Over the past several days I’ve been wrestling with the question of how to be an ally with the black community. But I get the sense that this is not the right time to reach out and have a dialogue about race relations with people of color.

So I figured I could write a post to white people.

In the wake of the George Floyd incident I think I see white America dividing even further along ideological lines. This comes on the heels of America dividing bitterly and politically over the Covid-19 pandemic – something which I had thought might bring people together. This is tragic to me because I think both sides have important points to make.

It’s almost always the case. There is almost always something true, good, and important about both perspectives of any passionate political divide.

A refusal to accept this is why so many people suck at conflict resolution in relationships.

I think it is worth allowing ourselves to understand – truly understand – an opposing point of view. Doing so doesn’t mean you have to agree.

Test yourself.
In my next 3 posts I’m going to present 3 different emotional and divisive questions around the issue of racism in America. I’ll attempt to fairly present two opposing sides in answer to each question. See if you are able to listen, understand, and agree with them both. If you can’t, I’d like to hear why in the comment section.

Question #1: Who was George Floyd?
Before going any further I hope we can all agree that this question does not matter in the face of what happened to Mr. Floyd. The point of the peaceful protests after Mr. Floyd’s murder is that Americans must not allow law enforcement to be handled in the way Derek Chauvin handled it in the case of Mr. Floyd.

Having said that, a divide has been widening due in part to a video message by Candace Owens, a black conservative commentator, activist, and founder of the Blexit movement. The video came out while the protests and rioting following Floyd’s death were in full swing. It is entitled, I Do Not Support George Floyd. Owens is on fire in the 18 minute video, powerfully articulating a message to black America.

She makes several points, but the thrust of her message is to assert that the black community is the only one that “caters to the bottom denominator of our society…it has become fashionable for us to turn criminals into heroes overnight”. She goes on to point out Mr. Floyd’s criminal record and history of incarceration, facts which I hadn’t heard in any media accounts that I saw, whether liberal or conservative. She declares that George Floyd was not an amazing person…not a hero…not a martyr, but a criminal.

She goes on to discuss numbers, noting that a total of 9 unarmed blacks men were killed by police last year, and states that it is not the police who are killing off black men – it is other black men. She makes an appeal for personal responsibility, saying of the black community, “Our biggest problem is us…we don’t DO personal responsibility in our community – we blame white people.” She ends with examples of remarkable black people like Condoleeza Rice, Larry Elder, and Ben Carson, noting that they are generally not held in high esteem by blacks.

Underneath this and other of Owens’s videos lies her belief that the Democratic “plantation” uses black people and takes their vote for granted, keeping them dependent on the party. At the same time, the Democratic party worsens the plight of black America by encouraging and reinforcing a “victimhood” narrative that keeps black America looking to the government for solutions. She asserts that the BLM movement is a shining example of this by promoting the idea that racism in America is what’s keeping black people down.

A lot of this resonates with white conservatives as conservatism tends to emphasize personal responsibility and content of character.

On the other hand…
But there is more to George Floyd than this. I believe it is wrong to call Mr. Floyd a criminal and leave it at that. I read an article from Christianity Today (CT) titled, George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston. It tells a different story, describing Floyd as a “person of peace”.

Pastors and black ministry partners who knew Mr. Floyd say he “spoke of breaking the cycle of violence he saw among young people and used his influence to bring outside ministries to the area to do discipleship and outreach, particularly in the Cuney Homes housing project,..”

Christian hip-hop artist, Corey Paul Davis, quotes Floyd as saying, “I love what you’re doing. The neighborhood need it, the community need it, and if y’all about God’s business, then that’s my business…” After getting out of prison in 2014, Floyd moved from Houston to Minneapolis for a fresh start under a Christian work program, according to the CT story.

But autopsies report that George Floyd had fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cannabinoids in his system, when he died. He appears to have been high upon his arrest. So what’s the truth? What about the “fresh start”?

I don’t see a contradiction between the 2 stories because this looks sadly familiar to me. I have several friends who are believers in Jesus, but who also struggle with addictions. Several of Mr. Floyd’s earlier arrests and prison stints were drug related. If he was a recovering addict, then the CT story makes perfect sense to me. I have no inside knowledge of George Floyd, but it looks to me like he was a guy trying to get his life together and do the right thing, but who was relapsing at the time of his arrest. This makes his death all the more tragic.

It also strikes me as relevant that Mr. Floyd’s family was pleading for people to stop the rioting during the worst of the unrest.

I believe that what black America needs to see from white America in this moment is compassion, empathy, and prayer. Black America does not need a bunch of white Christians posting the Candace Owens video all over social media right now. It looks pretty cold to make that your statement as a white person right now, even if it is true. Owens’s video was a message to the black community, not to you. She has a platform from which to speak hard truth because she is part of that community.

Within the space of just a few weeks the black community has suffered the violent and unjust killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. So, if you’re a white conservative, you know that “content of character” thing that conservatives believe in? Now would be a good time to put that into practice toward your fellow human beings who are hurting and angry.

— Scott Freeman, 6/2020

Big Floyd

“Big Floyd” – Instagram photo by Nijalon Du’Boi.

Building Community Through Art

Klimt, The Kiss, Loveland Colorado

“THE KISS” – Loveland Version, 15 x 15 feet.

2020 is our fourth year to create a giant community art piece in downtown Loveland, Colorado. For the design each year I’ve spoofed a famous fine art painting, giving each one a Valentine’s Day twist and a nod to Loveland.

This year I chose Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt, and his iconic 1908 painting, The Kiss.

If you look closely you can see Dan Cupid aiming his arrow at the couple. Dan Cupid is the character who shows up in the special postmark each year for Loveland’s famous valentine re-mailing program. He’s kind of a Loveland mascot, at least around Valentine’s Day, so he made his way into the design this year.

Dan Cupid, Loveland Community Mural

Detail showing Dan Cupid

The painting of the mural takes place during Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day Street festival. This year there were 400 tiles, each painted by festival-goers; young and old, skilled and unskilled, first-timers and returnees. I received many enthusiastic comments from folks who are thankful for this community project, letting me know that people value the experience. That’s worth a lot to me!

Four years ago, my motive for creating the mural event sprung from a perceived need and a desire to build community. After the 2016 election, so much of the country seemed so divided and angry, even in my hometown of Loveland.

Today, four years later, the climate doesn’t seem much better to me, except that I now hear more voices calling for listening to, and understanding, one another in respectful dialogue. (Click here to see a favorite example of mine). I believe those voices are correct. The unhealthy alternative of perpetual division is too disheartening to live with. What a dysfunctional mess to leave to our children.

I don’t see much hope that presidents and elected politicians are capable of bringing healing to our divided nation. It’s up to us to do that at a grass roots level. It’s up to us to restore the vanishing art of respectful disagreement. Let us connect with our neighbors and get to know them, especially those who may see things differently than we do.

Even though a community mural is not going to transform the social climate, I think it’s one small step in the right direction. Combined with many other small steps, perhaps we can eventually find that we have arrived at a more caring and unified place as a society.

Big thanks again to all of my amazing volunteers at Beggars’ Gate Church!
Thanks also to Loveland Downtown Partnership and the Loveland Chamber of Commerce for their support!

Scott Freeman public art

My valentine to my wife. (I’m too skinny to get a real tattoo).

 

My Top 10 Christmas Movies

American Girl Doll Samantha

I admit…one of my favorite Christmas movies is an American Girl Doll movie. Don’t judge me.

At our house we love a good story. One of our Christmas traditions is watching Christmas movies together, beginning right after Thanksgiving. I’ve noticed that if I do this with too many lame Christmas movies it makes me sad and tempts me to hate Christmas. So here are 10 that I can look forward to seeing during the season.

Here’s my criterion for the Top 10:
My personality requires that a Christmas movie be meaningful to me in some way. If it’s only about Santa Claus, or people singing and dancing, or Christmas for the sake of Christmas, that doesn’t quite do it for me. (Even though I like to watch Elf every year because the idea of a human raised in elf culture is pretty hilarious, Elf didn’t quite make the cut).

Also, since we like to watch movies as a family I wanted to make the list kid friendly. I believe these ten movies are. I hope I’m not forgetting anything. I’ve made note of possible exceptions at the end of some descriptions. (I like the idea of making Green Book a Christmas movie, for example, but it has some thematic elements that don’t fit well with small kids, so it didn’t make the cut ).

10 – Little House on the Prairie – The Christmas They Never Forgot
I haven’t actually seen this movie for a couple of decades because we only have it on VHS, but I think I really like it. The entire Ingalls family and a friend get snowed in by a Christmas Eve blizzard. They decide to pass the time by sitting around the fire and sharing stories of their favorite past Christmases. Almanzo’s story is the only one I remember, but it’s pretty great. Also, Hester Sue tells her story of what Christmas was like for her as a slave child.

9 – Prancer
A beautifully filmed movie about very average people in a small town. Sam Elliott plays a prickly widower struggling to raise his 2 kids. His spunky and mildly annoying daughter has a Christmassy secret that becomes public in hilarious fashion. This leads to the father having an emotional epiphany of his own, leading him to reexamine his priorities and rejoin the land of the living. The characters are wonderfully cast in this film.

8 – Miracle On 34th Street
In contrast to Prancer, this is a beautifully filmed movie about a beautiful couple in NYC. While the movie revolves around a charming Kris Kringle character (Richard Attenborough), the movie is really about the struggle between good and evil, belief and distrust, within each of us. While I might disagree philosophically with a few ideas, the bottom line is that it’s a visually lovely Christmas movie that is enjoyable to watch.

7 – The Bishop’s Wife
I haven’t seen the 1996 remake, so I can’t make a comparison, but I can’t imagine why this movie needed to be remade. In this 1947 Black and white film, Cary Grant plays an angel sent to help a Bishop get his priorities straight, (though that’s not why the Bishop thinks he’s been sent a helper). The emotional affair between the angel and the Bishop’s wife has always made me a little uncomfortable, but the writers manage to erase the discomfort by the end of this amusing story.

6 – Christmas Eve
The newest movie on my list (2015), we watched this for the first time a couple of years ago, mostly because of the cast: Patrick Stewart, Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), James Roday (Shawn from Psych), to name a few. It’s a psychologically fascinating idea. Basically, an entire section of NYC loses power on Christmas Eve, trapping various groups of people in 6 different elevators throughout the city. It’s kind of an exercise in imagining what would happen if you were forced to move beyond the surface with people you would ordinarily pass by. (For instance, a guy who just got fired on Christmas Eve gets stuck on an elevator with the manager who fired him). The entire movie consists of following these wildly diverse groups as they interact throughout the evening, resulting in some alternately amusing and profound moments.

5 – The Nativity Story
After all, the birth of Jesus is the reason we have a holiday called Christmas, so every season I want to see a movie telling that story. This is the best one I’ve seen. I love that the characters look middle-eastern (because they are). And yet, despite their quest for authenticity, the producers fail to comply with the biblical narrative at a couple of points. Nonetheless there are many powerful and beautiful moments. For me it is most moving to watch the awkwardness of Mary and Joseph’s divinely-created predicament being played out in a palpably human manner. Visually this film is exceptional.

Note: there are a couple of violent (but not terribly graphic) scenes having to do with Roman soldiers, which some kids might find disturbing.

4 – A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott version – 2009?)
These last 4 are difficult to rate. Perhaps I only rank this at number 4 because of its familiarity, and I want end with a couple of movies you probably haven’t seen. For me A Christmas Carol may be the quintessential Christmas story. I LOVE the story of Mr. Scrooge’s repentance and joyful embrace of becoming a man who “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” I like this particular version because of its beautiful filming and clarity. (Apparently there are over 8 movie versions of this story). I also have the1951 classic version starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. It has its superior aspects, but overall I find it sometimes difficult to watch and understand.

Note: some children might find Marley and some of the Christmas spirits frightening.

3 – It’s A Wonderful Life
These last 3 are probably a 3 way tie. Love this story. Love the characters. Love the self-sacrifice of George Bailey, reluctant though it may be at times. (Love that too). Love the corniness. Love the dialogue and the quotable lines. Love Clarence, the angel with “the IQ of a rabbit.” Love the valuing of family and community over personal achievement. I suppose this film is similar to A Christmas Carol in that a man is made to assess his life with the help of a supernatural being, and has a change of heart. I guess something about that resonates with our common human experience.

2 – Samantha – An American Girl Holiday
Okay…my guy friends will probably revoke my man-card for listing these last 2 as my favorites, but I don’t care – I love this movie!

Yes, I know this film was probably made as a marketing stratagem to sell more Samantha Parkington dolls and accessories, (hence the stupid title), but it resulted in a great Christmas movie! It actually makes me CRY…there, I said it! But not due to mere sentimentality. The movie is about love, family, friendship, loss, social justice (yes), and how privilege and power could, or should, be used.

I only know about this movie because my wife and I bought it years ago for our daughter who owned a Samantha doll. We have since stolen the DVD back from her. I still can’t believe somebody made a full length movie this good to sell a toy. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve seen it. Don’t even try to tell me you sat through this and didn’t tear up.

I don’t even know how to summarize without spoiling the movie. I’ll just say the movie is set at the end of the Victorian era, in New York, 1904. Samantha befriends a neighboring immigrant servant girl, and…you should just watch this movie.

1 – A Season For Miracles
Number one of the 3-way tie – a movie nobody has heard of. That’s probably because it’s a Hallmark movie. Elitist types have taught us to smirk at and disdain Hallmark movies. Not unlike the Samantha movie, this one is also a marketing tool. In this case, the movie was made in order to create a positive emotional connection in the viewer’s mind toward Hallmark Cards, Inc. (I know this because I worked at Hallmark as an artist and I once heard the guy in charge of Hallmark movies speak). But I don’t care! I LOVE this movie!! Hooray for ethical capitalism!!!

But about the movie. All I’ll say is this. A devoted aunt rescues her sister’s kids from being put into the foster care system, but she does this pretty much illegally. Things get complicated as she tries to make this work by blending into a small town. She meets a guy, whose attraction to her further complicates things. So it’s a love story, but also a story about trust, poverty and privilege, exclusion and community, and love. All kinds of love. Did I say love? Love is awesome. Always. Good movies about love are the awesomest.

Our family lived in the inner city for a long time. The biological mother (Laura Dern) in this film is scarily spot on. Same with her street smart and not-cute daughter. Pretty gritty stuff for a Hallmark movie. My only complaint is that, as in several of my picks, there is an angel in this movie, which I think the movie could have done better without. But in keeping with Hallmark’s tendency to gild the lily, there she is. I still love this movie. I think you will too.

Share you thoughts
If you check out a movie from this list that is new to you, I’d love for you to come back and share your thoughts in the comment section below. What did you think?

Also, if you would like to recommend your favorite Christmas movie below, I’d love to hear it. I’m always on the watch for good ones.

Merry Christmas!
Scott

Watch This Graceful Interpretation by an Inspiring Young Girl

Down syndrome girl signing ASL

At our little church, members take turns leading the congregation in breaking bread every week. A few weeks ago during communion, one of the dads said a few words and then turned the platform over to his daughter, Autumn.

Autumn is 12 years old and was born with Down syndrome. The youngest child of a big, loving, musical family, she loves to dance and worship. She has also been learning American Sign Language (ASL) and wanted to sign a worship song she had been learning. The video below is her mom’s iphone recording of what Autumn shared with us that Sunday morning.

When I first met Autumn, I was struck by her name – a child with Down syndrome named Autumn, the youngest of 9 children. I assumed she was unplanned, and that her name reflected her parents’ later season of life into which she was born. Not that it was any of my business.

But I eventually asked Autumn’s mom, and she informed me that my assumption was incorrect. At age 45 she realized she wanted to have one more child. The parents understood the increased risk of having a child with Down syndrome due to their age, but they consciously chose to accept whatever blessing God might give them. God gave them Autumn.

This is beautiful to me. It also stands in remarkable contrast to the direction the world is heading. In recent months there have been news stories reporting that Iceland has essentially eradicated Down syndrome. But not through prevention or through finding a cure. Iceland has reduced its Down syndrome population through prenatal genetic testing and abortion.

This is a troubling accomplishment, but apparently Europe and the United States are not far behind in following Iceland’s chilling example. I love that Autumn’s mom and dad predetermined to love her, with or without a disability.

I don’t know how much Autumn understands of the song she is signing. But the truth of God’s promises remain regardless of how well they are understood. There is something moving about her simple belief in a Savior who loves her and welcomes her into His presence. I have a feeling that we are all in a similar position to Autumn with regard to our imperfect understanding of things to come.

Enjoy and give thanks! :

https://youtu.be/VG8fwIMUqXk

Video used with permission from Lori Mihaly.
I do not own the rights to the music. “I Can Only Imagine” was written by Bart Millard and released by the band Mercy Me in 2001.

The Myth of White Evangelical Racism

Jesus was Jewish

There can be no such thing as an evangelical Christian who is intentionally racist. This is true in the same way that there are no Muslim pig farmers, or Mormon brewpubs. Or vegan cannibals. Or feminist sex traffickers. You get the idea.

These things are not merely unlikely – they negate the very definition of the concept.

I recently read an opinion piece by a professor, Anthea Butler, suggesting that liberals should stop puzzling over why evangelical voters are (supposedly) so pro-Trump despite Trump’s flagrantly unchristian behavior. Her answer to this puzzle is simple:

We’re racists.

Professor Butler has a history of making ridiculous and extreme claims, but nonetheless, NBC news saw fit to give her false assertion a hearing. It’s a serious accusation, so just in case anyone is inclined to believe her, I’d like to explain why her assertion can’t be true.

It must be the case that Butler, and others riding the racist-labeling bandwagon, simply don’t know what an evangelical follower of Jesus is. Hopefully the following will be helpful.

Well Understood, Not Secret, Not Mysterious
By definition, evangelicals, white or otherwise, are followers of Jesus who consider the Bible to be authoritative. Look up “evangelical” in a dictionary if you doubt this. At the risk of sounding snarky, this means that they seek to follow what Jesus and His apostles taught in the Bible. If they don’t, then they are not evangelicals. They are something else.

But does the Jesus of the Bible have anything to say about race and racial superiority?

Yes. Tons, actually.

It so happens that Jesus’s greatest commandment and His “great commission” utterly rule out intentional racism. In fact, the defining statements of Jesus and His apostles, and their descriptions of where human history is heading, simply do not allow followers of Jesus to be racists. A racist may attend church, but to the extent that he or she harbors beliefs of racial superiority, he or she is not following Jesus. He or she is following someone else.

The clearly stated aims of Jesus presuppose racial inclusivity and equality. Here are a few indisputable examples:

The Greatest Commandment:
 “…Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:36-40).

The Great Commission:
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20).

Jesus’s Final Prayer for His Followers, Past and Present:
“I do not ask for these [1st c. disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me… I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20-23).

Paul Affirming that Social & Biological Distinctions are Obliterated in Jesus:
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28).

 Paul’s Statement of God’s Ultimate Plan for Human History:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:7-10).

John’s Revelation of the Future Age to Come:
“…After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’… For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:9-17).

For the evangelical follower of Jesus, unequivocal biblical statements like these must settle the issue.

Angel, Evangel, Evangelical, Evangelism
Notice the Great Commission verse about making disciples of all the nations. This undertaking of making voluntary disciples is called “evangelism.” The word “evangelist” literally means “bringer of good news,” (from eu- “good” + angelos “messenger”).

Notice how the word “evangelism” is part of the word “Evangelical”? That’s because Evangelicals are supposed to be evangelizing – spreading the good news of how Jesus has invited all of humankind to be restored to relational unity with God.

Furthermore, biblical evangelism is not about making brown people Western and white. Jesus specifically commanded that His followers spread His invitation to people of different ethnicities. Here’s a statement the resurrected Jesus made before His ascension:

“…and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Notice the progression: his disciples congregated in Jerusalem. The news then spread to the whole region of Jewish Judea. Then to the Samaritans, who were historically looked down upon as “half-Jewish.” Then to all the nations of the earth, including every “race.” There is simply no getting around the fact that God wants to include all people groups in His kingdom.

How Jesus Abolished the Notion of Racial/Ethnic Superiority
Perhaps the most stunning development among the first (Jewish) followers of Jesus is the fact that the (Jewish) apostles officially, as a matter of conscious policy, extended the invitation to salvation to non-Jews. This was a completely unexpected development coming from a group of Jewish followers of the Jewish Messiah, and it was not without some controversy. You can read the whole debate in the book of Acts, chapter 15.

Clearly, everyone assumed that non-Jews who wished to become followers of the Jewish Messiah would have to first become Jewish, and follow the Torah of Moses. However, through a series of signs from God, and as a result of seeing the ancient Hebrew scriptures in light of the actions and words of Jesus, the apostles reached their revolutionary agreement: the gentile nations could enter into Jesus’s new covenant and kingdom, as uncircumcised gentiles!

This development was so unexpected that the apostles thereafter referred to it as a “mystery,” meaning that it was unforeseen, and not clearly explained previously in their Jewish Torah and prophetic writings. Here is one example of (Jewish) Paul speaking of this “mystery”:

“When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:4-6).

Pretty clear.

The racially and ethnically inclusive nature of the message of Jesus is not optional. It is not a modern, liberal reading of the scriptures. It was there from the beginning. Any racism in the church of Jesus is a corruption of what Jesus taught. Even the Torah teaches that “all the families of the earth” descended from the same two parents (Gen 3:20; 9:18,19; 10:32). The gospel writer, Luke, affirms this in Acts 17:26.

Of course, one is free not to believe the Bible. My point here is not to prove that the Bible is true. My point is to prove that one cannot truthfully say that the Bible promotes racial superiority of any sort. In fact, the very concept of “race” is man-made, not biblical. There is no white supremacist version of evangelicalism.

History Cuts Both Ways
Historically, there certainly have been white church goers who have misused the Bible to justify slavery and racism. Those people have gone the way of the buffalo. Anthea Butler even acknowledges that the Southern Baptist denomination has repeatedly apologized for and repented of past evils. “But” she says, “statements are not enough.” Her proof that Baptists are insincere in their denunciations of past racial sins? They opened their 2019 Annual Convention with a gavel that was owned by the founder of their seminary, and who was also a slaveholder.

I would expect her to be more concerned with groups that were formerly openly racist, but that continue to exploit and decimate the black American population in the present. An example comes to mind:

For some reason white Darwinian “progressives” get a pass for misusing science to justify racism in much the same way that religious people misused the Bible to justify racism. During the early 1900s, there emerged a popular eugenics movement in America and Europe that was concerned with preserving (white) racial purity. It was a terrible and oppressive Orwellian episode of our history. Some 75,000 “unfit” Americans were forcibly sterilized in the name of racial hygiene and human betterment.

Margaret Sanger, founder of what is now Planned Parenthood, was on board with the eugenics movement. It’s difficult to prove whether or not Sanger was an overt racist, but in her autobiography she reports making a favorable impression at a speaking appearance to the wives of the KKK. She also welcomed Klansman and popular white supremacist author, Lothrop Stoddard, as a co-founder and board member of her American Birth Control League, (renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) in 1942).

Lothrop Stoddard, Margaret Sanger's colleague

Stoddard’s most popular book. He also published eugenic articles in Sanger’s magazine, Birth Control Review. A content analysis reveals that the magazine’s overriding concern was not women’s autonomy, but societal improvement.

Today, PPFA enjoys a solid “progressive” reputation because it renounces Sanger’s racist/eugenicist statements, just as evangelical denominations have renounced past racial sins. The difference is that PPFA continues to disproportionately terminate black lives, today.

Black women buy abortions at a rate 5 times that of white women, according the Guttmacher Institute. The reasons are unclear. Regardless, the American black population is significantly smaller than it would otherwise be if not for Sanger and PPFA, America’s largest abortion seller. Bishop Larry Jackson claims, “If we [blacks] had not aborted our children, we would be 30%, not 13%, of the population”.

I can’t prove that widespread black abortion also disintegrates belief in the sanctity of black human life in the black psyche, but I can’t imagine how it would help.

Having said this, I don’t believe that pro-legal-abortion ”progressives” are intentionally racist. But I would arguably be far more justified in leveling that accusation against them than those claiming that evangelicals are racist. Maybe both “progressives” and conservatives should focus on cleaning up their own houses when looking for racists to call out.

None of us lives out our compassion perfectly. All of us – white, black, or brown – harbor prejudice that we must work to overcome. We’ll all be more successful if we work together to overcome it.

“Purity Culture” Hoopla: Comparing Notes

evangelical purity culture

I don’t know who came up with the phrase “purity culture,” but apparently I, my evangelical church friends, and our children were all part of it.

I guess.

It’s not like I was asked to sign a “purity culture” membership card to keep in my wallet as a parent. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a “culture.” I’ve never heard of purity culture cuisine. I’m not aware of any purity culture holidays, art, or burial practices.

Why does everything have to be a culture now, even when it isn’t?

I’ve been reading critics of “purity culture” ever since Joshua Harris came out with his latest in a string of announcements. At age 21 Harris had published I Kissed Dating Goodbye (IKDG), a book advocating an alternative to casual, serial dating. The book became a best seller and was enormously influential in shaping the evangelical and Christian home-school subcultures during the late 90s.

Twenty some years have passed and Harris has now very publicly renounced the central message of his book, announced that he is divorcing his wife of 19 years, and most recently, announced that he is no longer a Christian.

But more troubling, quite a few women who came of age in church youth group “purity culture” are now well into adulthood, and are claiming that “purity culture” damaged them, leaving them to wrestle with shame, fear, anxiety, eating disorders, nasty rashes, sexual dysfunction, inability to recognize sexual abuse, and more.

I’m sincerely puzzled. I was there. What these testimonies typically describe sounds nothing like what I saw. My five kids also grew up in church youth group “purity culture,” and I was a parent leader in our parent-led youth group in a theologically conservative, evangelical church. One of my sons read Harris’s book. One of my daughters went to a True Love Waits conference with a friend. More than one church youth conference or retreat was themed around guy/girl relationships and why casual dating and sex is not a good idea.

Regardless, here are all these testimonies claiming injury from Harris’s book. At first I concluded that, if his critics’ claims are true, Harris is doing evangelicalism a favor by repudiating his book and stopping further publication.

But then I actually read his book.

After hearing the backlash I was surprised that IKDG seemed sensible and sensitively written. I didn’t see any of the legalism or rigidity that I expected to find. Didn’t see any shaming or intimidation.

Then I tried to verify the specific accusations I’d been hearing. For example, here’s a quote from an opinion piece in Huffpost, specifically referring to Harris’s book, (emphasis added):

…Other messages from the book: Girls should be modest and meek. Boys are sexual creatures and if they have impure thoughts about you it is your fault. The body and its desires are to be suppressed at all costs. Harris’ ideas were par for the course in the purity culture that dominated evangelical circles like mine.
– Hannah Brashers, Huffpost Personal

I’ll assume we can all agree that such a message deserves to go down in flames. However, I could not find such a message in IKDG. Following is the closest I could find, from the chapter entitled, Purity. Harris encourages “brothers and sisters in the Lord” to protect each other. He has just addressed the guys, and here he addresses the girls, (emphasis added):

…You may not realize this, but we guys most commonly struggle with our eyes. I think many girls are innocently unaware of the difficulty a guy has in remaining pure when looking at a girl who is dressed immodestly. Now I don’t want to dictate your wardrobe, but honestly speaking, I would be blessed if girls considered more than fashion when shopping for clothes. Yes, guys are responsible for maintaining self control, but you can help by refusing to wear clothing designed to attract attention to your body…I know many girls who would look great in shorter skirts or tighter blouses, and they know it. But they choose to dress modestly. They take the responsibility of guarding their brothers’ eyes. To those women and others like them, I’m grateful…
– Joshua Harris, IKDG, p 99

Is he not humbly asking for help here? Is he not calling for mutual caring?

Why does his critic get it exactly backwards?

Let’s compare more notes
What follows is a rant by a blogger who has left Fundamentalism and wants to help victims of abuse. I’m not including her last name because my point is not to embarrass her. My point in responding here is that “purity culture” was more nuanced than critics want us to believe, and it’s wrong for them to preach that their terrible experiences are representative of all of evangelical subculture:

Katie P: “…Lack of sex education and/or relationship development are unfortunately hallmarks of purity/modesty culture. Purity culture teaches that any type of sexual education or experience outside of heterosexual marriage is wrong and deserving of severe punishment…”

“Severe punishment”? This is news to me. My wife and I taught our kids about sex and reproduction (age appropriately) while they were still elementary school age. We formally went into greater detail before they entered middle school, because we wanted them to hear about sex from us first. From then on we discussed sex, dating, human sexuality, and boy/girl relationships as questions were raised, which they were, often around the dinner table. We still do this as adults.

Katie: “…purity/modesty culture is also called rape culture. Another reason is the severe victim blaming that occurs within this toxic culture…[girls] are taught that their bodies are inherently sinful and tempting and must be covered (modesty) in order not to seduce men…”

Nope. In my lifetime I’ve never heard ANY living, literate, Bible believing person say that girls’ bodies are “inherently sinful.” In fact the Torah states that God personally created the female body and then pronounced it “good!” In evangelicalism, the Bible trumps human opinion – so why did she, or anyone else, say or believe this?

However, I do agree with her that the female form can be “tempting”; not because it’s sinful but because it’s awesome. That’s kind of the point. My wife and I did indeed have modesty talks with our girls. We were intentional about communicating that there is nothing shameful, sinful, or bad about their bodies or about being female. As Harris stated, it is solely on the dudes to control their thoughts and actions. In part, a girl’s choice to dress modestly is to help those of us guys who are actually trying not to objectify women. Many guys aren’t even trying.

Katie: “…Men are taught that they are “visual creatures” who are unable to control their sexual impulses at the sight of a women’s body…”

A revealing criticism. First, dudes do not need to be “taught” this – that we are “visual creatures.” We are this. That’s why there is a multi-billion dollar porn industry – because most guys are enthusiastically able and willing to be sexually aroused by solely visual means. It is girls who, imho, should be taught this about guys, because girls generally do not experience sexual arousal in the same way. My wife and I felt that we would leave our daughters in a naïve and vulnerable position if we didn’t educate them on this biological fact.

Second, regarding male sexual impulses: I’ve read testimonies from women who, due to shame and indoctrination, became unable to think of themselves as sexual beings, causing problems in their marriages as adults. This is sad. This also underscores how boys and girls are different. For most guys, once their pubescent hormones kick in and they find themselves in a world half full of girls, you could no more convince them that they’re not sexual beings than you could convince them that they are the Pope. There are scientifically verifiable reasons for this. “Purity culture” acknowledged them.

Katie: “…Oftentimes in purity culture, women are also given purity rings by their fathers symbolizing their commitment to remain “pure” for their husbands and to obey their father until he gives them to their future husbands.”

Yes, this was a thing. I never did it because I felt it was redundant. Also maybe a little weird. For me. I wouldn’t necessarily fault dads who did it, unless they forced their daughter to sit under a bare light bulb in a concrete cell with no food or water until she signed the pledge. (Which I’m sure evangelicals are being accused of doing, somewhere).

Katie: “…It’s easy to see why purity culture creates such a toxic, unhealthy, dangerous environment sexually, emotionally, and relationally. But for those who are living in this culture, it’s almost impossible to escape. God is used as the ultimate weapon to keep people in line…”

She’s describing cult behavior. Healthy evangelical subculture is not like this.

The youth group my kids came up in did have an informal no-dating policy. It was mostly unspoken, but was certainly articulated at conferences and retreats. During this time my son served as the youth worship leader. Beginning in his sophomore year he also had a steady girlfriend all through high school. No one said anything to him or me about it. No “weaponizing” God to keep him in line. Nothing “toxic” or “dangerous.” He and his girlfriend married after graduating college and have a great relationship today.

I could go on with more examples but I think you get the idea. Many people’s experience with “purity culture” was positive and healthy.

What Made the Difference?
Why did “purity culture” catch on? “Purity culture” gained popularity because Bible-believing parents thought it could be a positive way for the larger subculture to reinforce their values around sex and dating. Joshua Harris’s book became a best seller because he was a young, single guy, articulating what a lot of evangelical parents already believed about love, sex, and dating. They felt a young person saying it would help give the message credibility in the eyes of teens.

There is nothing sinister here. A lot of evangelical parents came to Jesus from out of secular culture and hoped to spare their kids some of the mistakes they had made. Obviously, in the arena of sex and dating, some mistakes come with a big price tag.

Furthermore, there was nothing new about the idea of saving oneself sexually for marriage, or “dating with a purpose,” or generally treating the opposite sex with care and respect. It’s just that this message contradicted the voices of secular education, media, and entertainment. In this sense “purity culture” was a radical alternative message.

Meanwhile, in the minds of many parents, the secular culture’s view of dating and sex is a train wreck. Many parents had been there and found it unenlightening. Secularism promoted a message opposite that of evangelicalism: Sex is no big deal. Sex is merely recreation. Sex is entertainment. Porn can spice up your marriage. There is a world full of people settling for less than God’s design for love, sex, and marriage. Evangelical parents wanted something better for their kids.

So what went wrong?
I suppose the short answer is: sometimes people get stuff wrong. Given a topic as personal, sensitive, and deep as human sexuality, this is not surprising.

Apparently many young people felt motivated by feelings of shame and fear – those are bad motivators. Apparently false or insufficient information was sometimes given. One woman wrote that, for many girls, once they put on the purity ring, that was the end of the discussion. That’s bad parental communication.

I don’t doubt the testimonies of the critics, but I don’t know the solution to the problem. There is a balance to strike when opposing concerns are both based on truth:

  • How do you promote modesty, while also avoiding victim-blaming?
  • How do you promote a positive, feminine body image, while avoiding crass sexualization of the female form?
  • How do you present accurate, comprehensive information about sex and marriage, while avoiding the secularist anything-goes approach?
  • How do you promote saving sex for lifelong, monogamous marriage, without shaming, or promoting legalism?
  • How do you hold up an ideal standard for courtship and marriage, without being formulaic, or marginalizing those who do not conform to that standard?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about “purity culture,” and how the church could do better.