The New Conservative Push to Remove Transgender People From Society

The push to kill transgender people has definitely intensified over the past few years – and those of us that were told a few years ago that we were “over-reacting” to even speculate that this is where society is heading have tragically been vindicated (even though we had really hoped to have been proven wrong). See, for just one example, how Michael Knowles called for the “eradication of transgenderism” in a recent CPAC speech – and the applause that statement got.

But wait, you might say – he is being misunderstood! He meant that you just can’t be transgender in public, not that he wanted to kill or jail transgender people!

Maybe, maybe not. Why use the word “eradicate” instead of just saying “make it illegal”? Did everyone else clapping at that statement understand it that way as well? Doubtful.

I think he meant it just as it sounded to most of us.

But – I do realize that there are those on the Conservative side of things that really don’t want to kill or jail people – they think that transgender people will just magically vanish if states make it illegal. To them, being transgender is all about playing a political game, something people just decide to wake up one day and say “I’m going to come out as transgender to own my ultra-conservative Uncle!” They really think that lawmakers are going to pass laws to make it illegal, and the whole transgender community is going to shrug and say “well, it was fun while it lasted! Back to my sex assigned at birth.”

This, of course, proves that they really don’t have “lots of transgender friends” and that they haven’t “really studied this issue from all sides.” And it is also very dangerous in that, if this fantasy scenario does play out, people won’t just shrug at being told that it is illegal to be transgender, and society will still have to go to the next step of imprisoning and/or executing transgender people. Being transgender is not a choice, and it won’t go away just because a law makes it illegal.

So while Knowles and his allies are claiming they are not being authoritarian and Barbaric, their version of their beliefs (if they really, really believe that – and that is doubtful) still leads to the same place: criminalizing people for being transgender. They either don’t believe it is a real thing (and are clueless to Science and reality), or they don’t care that it is and just want to force their religious believes on everybody in a fascist manner. It was never about “protecting children.” Either way, this is a dark and dangerous time for a lot of people. Too many political leaders out to create a nationwide safe-space for their fragile political/religious beliefs.

Is the United States Becoming More Hostile to Christians?

One of the constant points I hear a lot from Christians is that the United States is becoming more anti/post/etc Christian. This is usually backed up by anecdotal stories of people becoming more aggressive and combative with Christians/Christ-followers/etc. Of course, you can go back for decades and find Christians saying the same thing for as long as any of us have been alive. I like to listen to historic Christian music a lot, and “the U.S. is more and more against us” is a common lyrical theme all the way back to the beginnings of Christian Rock in 1960s.

Of course, if “anti-Christian” sentiment has been increasing all this time… how is it even legal to be a Christian still? I myself have heard since the 80s that “Christianity will be outlawed within a few years.” Yet, you don’t see attacks on Christians increasing (quite the opposite), nor do you see the influence of Christianity decreasing in politics, tech, or entertainment.

Of course, it is hard to quantify an entire nation “becoming more hostile to” something. Its even harder to prove that is happening online with so many private Facebook groups, Twitter accounts, discussion forums, the Dark Web, alternate social media services, etc, etc. What you see happening in your own world is really just your anecdotal view. In my anecdotal view, all kinds of people that weren’t Christian 10 years ago are suddenly “praying for the Church to win the culture war.” Anti-LQBTQA / BLM / Liberal / Female / etc sentiments have been increasing year after year. But again, that is just my view. I live in a conservative suburb in a Red state.

One way we can quantify hate is by the officially tracked FBI hate crimes statistics. I will highlight some statistics from the past five years that are reported to see if there are trends:

  • In 2015, religious-based attacks were 19.8-21.4% of reported attacks. 56.9-58.9% were race/ethnicity/ancestry based. 19.5-20.1% were sexual-orientation/gender-identity based.
  • In 2016, religious-based attacks were 21.0-21.3% of reported attacks. 57.5-58.5% were race/ethnicity/ancestry based. 18.7-19.7% were sexual-orientation/gender-identity based.
  • In 2017, religious-based attacks were 20.7-22.0% of reported attacks. 58.1-59.5% were race/ethnicity/ancestry based. 17.6% were sexual-orientation/gender-identity based.
  • In 2018, religious-based attacks were 18.6-20.2% of reported attacks. 57.5-59.5% were race/ethnicity/ancestry based. 19.1-19.4% were sexual-orientation/gender-identity based.
  • In 2019, religious-based attacks were 19.6-21.4% of reported attacks. 58.1-59.5% were race/ethnicity/ancestry based. 19.5-19.6% were sexual-orientation/gender-identity based. (this is the last year reported)

It seems that most forms of hate crimes are staying at about the same level, with religious attacks on about the same level as sexual-orientation/gender-identity attacks – but all falling far behind race/ethnicity/ancestry based attacks.

However, I should point out that the category of “religious attacks” account for ALL religions, and the exact divisions within that percentage tells a different story for Protestant/Evangelical Christians:

  • In 2015, 51.% of all religious attacks were anti-Jewish, 22.2% were anti-Islamic (Muslim), and 3.5% were anti-Protestant.
  • In 2016, 54.2% of all religious attacks were anti-Jewish, 24.8% were anti-Islamic (Muslim), and 1.3% were anti-Protestant.
  • In 2017, 58.1% of all religious attacks were anti-Jewish, 18.7% were anti-Islamic (Muslim), and 2.4% were anti-Protestant.
  • In 2018, 57.8% of all religious attacks were anti-Jewish, 14.5% were anti-Islamic (Muslim), and 2.5% were anti-Protestant.
  • In 2019, 60.3% of all religious attacks were anti-Jewish, 13.3% were anti-Islamic (Muslim), and 1.5% were anti-Protestant.

Attacks against Protestants seem to be on a downward trend since 2015. But to put this into perspective – in 2019, there were 24 attacks in entire country that were found to be against Protestants (i.e. attacks perpetrated because the person attacked was Protestant), but 1,393 attacks against someone for being LQBTQA. There were 1,930 anti-Black attacks.

Who is suffering more hate in this country?

To be honest, I don’t see the country becoming more against Jesus or people that follow him. But… yes, I have noticed some changes in the national conversations over the past few decades. So I recognized that there are changes happening… many of which DO affect certain versions of Christianity.

In general, the national conversation is becoming less anti-LGBTQA. Yes, there is still a lot of work to do, but if you want to treat someone that is LGBTQA as less than human (by denying them cakes, weddings, bathroom access, etc), you are experiencing more push back against that. However, nothing in the Bible tells you to fight against LGBTQA rights. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

In general, the national conversation is becoming more pro-choice. This is different that pro-abortion, and those that want to treat it that way are experiencing push back. In fact, those that want to tell a woman what choice she has to make with pregnancy are receiving more push back as well. However, nothing in the Bible tells you to fight against the Pro-Choice cause. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

In general, the national conversation is becoming more anti-racist. Again, there is still a lot of work to do here as well. But if you want to respond with “All Lives Matter” to someone that points out ongoing systemic racism, you are experiencing push back against that. If you want to have racist responses to immigrants or immigration, you are experience more push back against that as well. However, nothing in the Bible tells you to see BLM as a terrorist organization, or immigrants as less than human, or to participate in racism against any group. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

In general, the national conversation is becoming more anti-corporation and anti-capitalism. There has always been a strong anti-big business trend in the U.S., but it is gaining momentum as the corporations take more and give back less… or more people realize that nothing trickles down. If you are supporting corporations that overwork and underpay it’s employees, you are experiencing more push back against that. However, nothing in the Bible tells you to see Big Business as the answer for everything in our economy. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

In general, the national conversation is becoming more anti-rich. This is connected to the anti-corporation and anti-capitalism statements, but if you continue to support the people making huge profits by not treating their employees well, then you are facing more push back against that. Nothing in the Bible ever supports the rich person over the poor person. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

In general, the national conversation is becoming more anti-conservative. As more People of Color, LGBTQA advocates, disabled people, and other historically marginalized groups are gaining more of the conversation space, they are speaking out more about the oppression they have faced. And they actually speak out against all political parties, but Conservatives seem to have the most party positions that are against them, so yes if you are of that political party, you are experiencing more push back against discriminatory political stances of your party. Nothing in the Bible favors one party over the other. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

There is a lot more that I could go into there, like how Conservatives claim they are being censored more and more on social media, despite studies that show they are not (and in fact, they are usually more prominent at those companies than people realize). But let’s be honest: through the decades, every complaint that the U.S. was becoming more hostile to Christianity was actually a compliant that conservatism was losing ground. And yes, I am aware that Church attendance is declining… but it just now dipped below the majority of Americans this last year. The U.S. is still somewhere between 60-ish to 70-ish% Christian depending on how you define Christian. It is clear that it is the not the Church that is suffering more hostility, but the Conservative re-imaging of Christianity that is facing the most push back.

Abortion, Murder, and the Creation of a Political Movement

Is there a term out there that means “re-ignited something that was already raging”? Due to the recent passage of HB8 in Texas, the Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice debate has taken off… again. To be honest, neither side is making any new points – the bill just became yet another reason to fight… or fight… more? I’m just not sure how to describe something that was already an intense battle feeling like it has exploded again. But that is where we are now.

At the core of the fight is the statement or belief that “abortion is murder.” Those on the Pro-Life side believe this as an Unchallenge-able Truth that has stood for all eternity as part of their Evangelical/Protestant faith.

Except that, to be historically accurate… the Protestant arm of the “Pro-Life movement” is technically a recent creation of several politically-motivated leaders within the past few decades.

In a 2014 Politico article “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” Randall Balmer looks at the true roots of the modern Pro-Life movement. Balmer examines historical documents that show how everyone from the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest Church denomination in America) to W. A. Criswell, (“one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century” Balmer claims) took an indifferent approach to abortion. They made statements that sound pretty much Pro-Choice in relation to what they saw as a “Catholic issue” at the time:

“I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” – W. A. Criswell

Except for a little bit of “mild criticism” from Christianity Today, most Evangelicals were silent or even approving of Roe v. Wade. According to Balmer (and many historical documents he quotes), the real creation of the Religious Right (and the modern day Pro-Life and Evangelical movements along with it) was really in 1979 – as an effort to deny Jimmy Carter a second term so they could protect segregated schools. Abortion is just an easier sell to Churches than racism.

However, I know that people will read Balmer’s Politico article and still stick with the belief that Abortion is murder. And I get that – no matter how politicians have tried to use Religion to cover racism and other evils, if the Religious Book you follow says something is murder, you should still believe it is.

However, another problematic reality is that abortion is a bit more complicated in the Bible.

The Bible contains no direct statement that a fetus is considered a murder-able human in the womb. I know that there are two scriptures that come to mind immediately when I say this, but let’s look at what they really say without any preconceived notions about them:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

This, of course, is one of the most famous scriptures often connected to abortion… and one of the most misunderstood. You see, it is really a quote of God speaking to Jeremiah about how God set Jeremiah apart as a prophet. There is little proof that this applies to anyone outside of Jeremiah, especially since the Old Testament views of “prophet” were different that New Testament ones.

But, let’s say that you overcome the contextual evidence that this is only for Jeremiah. That would create a belief that the general idea here is that an omnipotent and omnipresent God knew someone before they were formed. This is because this view of God sees God as both inside and outside of time – meaning that God knew all of us before there were any people. “Before I knew you in the womb” just personalizes this fact. So technically, any form of contraception is bad if you view this verse that way.

Therefore, the bigger picture would be (assuming you take this belief) that you can’t just focus on the time in the womb, but also the time before… and after. If abortion is murder in the womb no matter what the reason, then killing someone after they are born for any reason stands as well. This means capital punishment, self-defense, and any other reasons Pro-Life Evangelicals have for justifying certain killings after birth (including denying access to healthcare and safe living conditions) are all on the same level as abortion.

If Jeremiah 1:5 applies to all humans as a declaration that abortion is murder in the womb, then the fact that it refers to “before” the womb would create a standard of outside the womb which also applies to after the womb due to the nature of God. Therefore, you can’t apply Jeremiah 1:5 to be about abortion unless you also are anti-gun, anti-self defense, and anti police action (and military as well).

Of course, the response usually is: “but I would only kill someone in self-defense if my life or property” was in danger. But again, if Jeremiah 1:5 applies to all humans, then it still applies to that person breaking into your home. If a woman can’t have an abortion to save her life or because she doesn’t have the ability to support a child (which would be connected to… you guessed it.. her property), then you can’t kill another human to save your life or property. Unless you want to argue that God’s ability to “know you” ends at birth?

Moving on – this verse in Jeremiah is related to Psalm 139:13, which also runs into similar problems:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13

This verse is David writing about himself… so again if we want to take this to apply to all humans and not just David, we have to apply it after birth as well as in and before the womb.

However, if you also honestly look at both verses – neither one directly says that you are alive in the womb and that it counts as murder to terminate the pregnancy there. They just say God creates you in the womb. Any artist or builder will tell you that the thing they are creating does not really become that thing – a song, a painting, a building, a car, you name it – until it is finished. An unfinished thing is called “unfinished” because it is still not that thing.

There fore, lacking any direct statement in the Bible that you are committing murder by ending a pregnancy, we have to look at other verses to see what they say on the topic.

There are really two main scriptures left to look at now. The first is in Numbers 5:

“The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her…. If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry.” Numbers 5:23-24, 27

Now, there are multiple problems with this verse and how it advocates for abuse against women. But for the purpose of this post, the point in quoting it is to show that there is no mention of the miscarriage caused by the bitter waters being a murder. A child that was conceived by adultery would be aborted just because it was an embarrassment to the community – and the Bible says nothing about it being a murder?

In fact, you generally don’t see the Bible treating the baby in the womb as a full person. Exodus 21:22-25 is the starkest example of this:

“If people are fighting with each other and happen to hurt a pregnant woman so badly that her unborn child dies, then, even if no other harm follows, he must be fined. He must pay the amount set by the woman’s husband and confirmed by judges. But if any harm follows, then you are to give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound and bruise for bruise.” Exodus 21:22-25

The basic point of this verse is that if someone hurts a pregnant woman and she miscarries the baby, then there will just be a fine. If there is any damage to the woman, then you will return what ever damage was caused to the woman – up to taking a life.

But – you might not have heard that verse that way, due to the NIV and other versions translating it incorrectly. These versions refer to miscarriage as “premature birth” in an obvious political move. But the general consensus is that the underlying word means “miscarriage.”

At this point, a Pro-Life person will usually bring up what they believe to be their “gottcha” scripture:

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Luke 1:41

This verse, and other verses that describe babies doing things in the womb (like Jacob and Esau struggling with each other), are said to be proof that the Bible views the baby in the womb as a fully alive human. Now, sometimes people take this verse too far to say that the baby was able to hear and recognize Mary. This is not really that clear – the verse seems to indicate that it was Elizabeth that conveyed emotions and recognition to the baby. But the part about verses like these where babies “leap” and “struggle” in the womb is proof to some that the Bible says that a fetus is a fully alive human before birth.

Of course, deeper Bible knowledge would inform one that the Bible ascribes many human attributes to things that are not alive – rivers clapping hands (Psalm 98:8), mountains singing (Psalm 98:8) and skipping (Psalm 114:6), blood crying out (Genesis 4:10), moon and sun being ashamed (Isaiah 24:23), etc. So ascribing human traits to something does not guarantee that the Bible sees it as “alive.” Not to mention that we see animals leaping, striving, crying out, etc and we will still kill them for food.

Of course, the problem with what I just wrote is the context of the scripture. We know by the context that the authors are using literary devices and not saying that rivers, mountains, the sun, and the moon are alive. Context is important!

Exactly. And context is important for Jeremiah 1:5 and all of the other scriptures examined here. There are no scriptures in the Bible that have a context of abortion. No where does the Bible ask or answer the question of abortion, and therefore there is no scripture in context that is meant to address the belief that abortion is murder – directly or indirectly. In fact, there are hardly any scriptures that have the context of addressing when life begins, either – except for one. Kind of. That is Genesis 2:7:

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Some will claim this shows that life begins at first breath, others will claim it is metaphor that shows God forms human beings from conception. Its technically a verse about the unique way that God formed the first human – so applying it to our lives now is probably not a good comparison at all. Unless you know that God formed you from a literal ball of dust outside a womb of any kind. If that is the case – I would love to hear your story.

But again, even if this is proof that abortion is murder because “God forms us from the beginning,” then it still runs into the logical problems that Jeremiah 1:5 does.

In the end, you have to decide for yourself when life begins. The Bible is pretty obscure on the topic if you are looking at any given verse for what it is actually saying, and the historical stance of the Protestant Church is not as Pro-Life as you would think. I have my beliefs, and I am sure you will keep yours. But if you are Pro-Life, I hope you would at least take seriously the way your stance has been manipulated through the years. I would also hope that you would understand the lack of Biblical backing you have as well. Really, neither the Pro-Life nor the Pro-Choice side has any Biblical backing. Neither does typing up this blog post for that matter – the Bible can guide principals that we use to inform modern issues, but it doesn’t speak directly to some of the ones that we face in this world. In such an undefined space, I think it is important that Evangelicals should consider allowing people to come to different conclusions about the things that don’t really impact them personally.

How are Some Evangelical Churches Connected to White Supremacist Violence?

When I heard about the recent mass shooting in Atlanta, Georgia, my first guess was that it was a white Christian male that was the murderer. When I read about Georgia passing Jim Crow-level anti-voting laws designed to suppress Black voters, I had no idea who the Governor was that signed the law at the time… but my initial guess of him being an older white male involved in his Church was quickly proven true (it is tragically symbolic that he signed the bill surrounded by other white males under a painting of a plantation).

Neither of these predictions were born out of any hatred of the Church or Christians at all. They are based on a sad acknowledgement of History. When we see violence or oppression against BIPoC in the United States, it a good guess to think that it is tied to a specific brand of white supremacy that is bred in certain Evangelical Church circles. This is all because more often than not… it is.

Of course, the first response to anyone saying something like this is usually some form of a “not all Churches” mantra that takes on the argument of “well, how come we only see a very small number of people resorting to extreme violence if white supremacy is such a big problem in some Churches?” Or maybe even pointing at some conservative white leader or politician that works against some form of oppression (usually in a very small way). Well, part of it has to do with the isolationist nature of these kinds of Churches. Most of us (even if you go to a moderate or progressive Church) are part of their “evangelism field” that they rarely interact with except to “preach the Gospel.” We just simply don’t see as much violence sparking as we possibly could because the people that would cause it spend a lot of time away from the people they desire to attack.

On the other hand, the oppression aspect happens all the time in society, so if you don’t see it by now (especially all the ways it is tied to the Evangelical Church) – that is on you. But the existence of this denialist mindset is a hard truth that we have to face up to: too many people think of societal violence only in terms of mass shootings. When you take a more honest look at the daily micro-aggressions, verbal assaults, discrimination, and systemic abuse that happens to BIPoC all the time… you realize that white supremacist violence is everywhere. And the Church needs to recognize their role in spreading this violence for centuries, right up to the present day. We never stopped.

But what am I talking about when I ask “How are Some Evangelical Churches Connected to White Supremacist Violence?” Do some Evangelical Churches serve as a kind of breeding ground for oppression and White Supremacy? How does a Christian at one of these Churches go from “Prince of Peace” to violence, murders, and oppression? Usually there are several possible signs – you might find one, some, or all at certain churches:

  1. It almost always starts off with a problematic literal reading of Matthew 5:27-30 which starts at a young age by teaching that Jesus meant for people to literally maim themselves in order to avoid sin. This usually accompanies an admonishment to do “what ever it takes” to get rid of sin. I have witnessed all kinds of unusual theatrics related to this – including a guy that carried a real coffin on his back all the way down an auditorium aisle (nearly dropping it on bystanders several times) so that he could place it at the front for us to write the things we wanted to cut from our life on piece of paper and throw into “the grave.” The stereotypical theatrics are bonfires (yes, these really do still happen) to burn books / CDs / clothes / etc that “cause one to stumble.” It is interesting to note that boys will often bring a effigial Barbie doll or picture of a girl to burn for their side of a relationship they want to purge, whereas girls are usually encouraged to bring symbolic or sentimental mementos, notes, gifts, etc. Boys and men are encouraged to take a more violent approach in most all interpretations of scripture – including here.
  2. Add in a very colonialist view of missions that sees the (white) Church’s duty to go and save the “heathen nations” from themselves, while also bringing (white) civilization and (U.S.-centric) democracy along for the ride. This is usually accompanied by lavish tales of the evils that happen in other lands (well, some of them, mainly in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America, etc): demonic possessions, moving inanimate objects, supernatural occurrences, etc. (crime is usually linked to these events as well). Interestingly, Europe is referred to as “post-Christian,” even though that term could also apply to places in Central or South America as well. White non-Christian equals “post-Christian” while Black and Brown non-Christian equals “Demonic.” A foundation of white supremacy and American exceptionalism are usually well entrenched in missionary efforts. They serve as a constant example that racist dog whistles are “okay” as long as you are doing “God’s work.”
  3. More and more passive aggressive racist and sexist comments usually start popping up around election years, when the “godless evil Liberals” are chided for destroying the world. People are asked “Who will stand up and fight? Who will do whatever it takes to stop the Liberals from taking over this country?” Liberals, of course, are always imagined as BIPoC (especially Black) and feminist. Homophobia, transpobia, and any other phobia you can imagine against the LGBTQA community are prominent as well.
  4. Don’t forget to bring the police in as protectors of the Church… or maybe armed members themselves… or both even. This turns the actions of the Police into a “Holy War” alongside the Church, with incidences of Police shootings given as examples of “spiritual warfare” against the evils of crime in the streets (with the criminals almost always being Black in these examples). BLM is then cast as an enemy idea in these contexts – even if there are no armed guards. Sometimes the police presence doesn’t happen, even though the Church embraces a police state ideology.
  5. Then you add in support for local, state, and national political leaders that constantly utter the same racist/sexist/transphobic/etc dog whistles (or just even come out and directly speak hateful beliefs). The vitriol from these leaders is often covered up by excuses, twisting of scripture, and treats of expulsion if you disagree. Everything from “Passion for the Gospel” to being an “Angry Young Prophet” are used to dismiss any concerns over rough language or terms (or even the n-word) that “slip” into these leader’s rants.
  6. Finally, some actual type of violence is upheld as “the ultimate sacrifice” for the “American Way of Life.” Often times it is a person that was killed on the mission field decades or centuries ago. But modern day examples of soldiers fighting in “heathen” lands is often a huge source as well. Now you even have the January 6, 2021 Capital Insurrection attempt, or any number of killings of people by the police to show the potential Christian martyr that they can be the aggressor instead of the victim. Its a weird mixture, but yes they do use martyrs that intentionally let themselves be murdered… and connect them to physically fighting “in the Name of the Lord.” Its… a weird stretch. Many Churches are currently teetering between 5 and 6 right now as I type this. But even when Churches pull away from violence, just image the atmosphere and mindset that all this creates to drive oppression in society.

You can also see in those points where excuses like being a “victim to sexual addiction” and various other justifications come into play. Obviously these are used all the time to blame the people in the church for not “overcoming” their temptations, but they are also very easy to pivot into being ways to excuse the Church from any culpability for the ways that people start acting when they are influenced by the areas listed above.

Ranting about these things on Twitter or Facebook by chiding your connections to “say something” will probably not really get through to those that promote and/or commit to this level of hatred and oppression. They have pulled away from interacting with anyone doesn’t share their beliefs. When they do interact, they see us as a “mission field.” Even former Evangelicals like myself are quickly switched from “insider” to “outsider” the first time we mention any kind of support for BLM, LGBTQA rights, “free” healthcare, or any other “evil Liberal” issues. I have tried to get through to people myself – I know full well that I have some friends that the last words they will ever hear from me were me telling them to stop being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. Not much I can do about that.

I wish I had some magical insight into how to get through to these people. I have gotten through from time to time, but I will be the first to tell you that there is no one single method for getting through. No matter what article or blog post you can share that shows the “secret” to changing minds, I can promise you there are many, many people that those methods don’t work on as well. Everyone is different, and we may never know who needs the in your face yelling and who needs the loving example to change minds. Maybe we should flip the tables (in a way) and start looking at the Evangelical Church as the mission field. There are all kinds of community outreach programs that look to educate people about hatred. But most of these programs give the Evangelical Church a pass on dealing with the problems in it’s midst. That needs to change if we are ever going to really deal with white supremacist violence and oppression in this country.

What Does It Mean to “Denounce White Supremacy”

One of the more contentious points from last week’s presidential debate between Trump and Biden was the point where Trump passed up an opportunity to denounce white supremacy when directly asked to do so. That has been overshadowed by Trump (and many others) testing positive for COVID-19. Now that Trump is back (after either doing really well or on his death bed depending on which misinformation source you believe), I wanted to circle back to this idea of “denouncing white supremacy.”

This whole issue really tracks back to the decades before Trump became president, when many different accusations of racism and/or biased practices were leveled against him and/or his companies. When he became president and started railing against “Antifa” and the “radical left,” many people connected past to present and wanted to know more specifically where he stands on racial issues as president. So various reporters and interviewers began asking if he would respond to and act on the fact that at least 90% of political violence in this country comes from radical right wing groups that are often racist or outright white supremacist. Typically, his response to these questions was to dodge or use tricky language. One of these responses was his now infamous response of “very fine people, on both sides” after a question about Neo-Nazis (even though Trump later claimed he was referring to supporters of Robert E. Lee – a guy that fought to keep slavery around). This led to more specific questions of whether he would even speak out about the actual sources of violence, much less do something about them.

Because of Trump’s history of saying something in support certain white supremacist groups (the Confederacy was white supremacist, after all), many wanted to see him change his tune. The calls for action and response were quickly shortened to “denounce white supremacy.” Of course, this shortened question is not the clearest call to action, since “denouncing” something really doesn’t have much teeth. But because of Trump’s evasive manner, that specific question became a shorthand for seeing if he would at least say something about right wing violence, and then actually do something about it as as well once they had his words to hold against him (as if that ever worked).

This is where the whole issue gets a bit sneaky. When certain people (usually of the liberal persuasion) say Trump will not even denounce white supremacy, they are met with quick responses (usually from the conservative persuasion) of videos proving Trump has denounced white supremacy.

Sometimes these are videos of someone asking Trump if he would ever denounce white supremacy, with Trump responding something like “sure, I will denounce white supremacy.” This is a sneaky use of words here. If you have children or have taken care of / taught / etc children, you recognize this ploy. You ask your kids to clean their room, and they say “sure, I will clean my room.” But then if they never actually clean their room, then their statement saying they “will” or “would” was meaningless.

Trump saying that he “will” or “would” denounce white supremacy is not the same as actually denouncing it. But even if he did say it, the original intent was that people wanted him to start denouncing it by saying so directly. Of course, now it finally seems that he did directly do the first step of denouncing white supremacy in an interview released last week.

But his statement should be the start of action, not a final answer of some sort.

It should also be noted that telling people to “stand down” is not a denouncement either – even though it is an important step. Yes, Trump did come back later and take away the problematic “stand by” statement to the Proud Boys by just telling them to “stand down and let the police handle it,” but this is also not a true denouncement. If a friend of mine gets so mad at someone that it looks like they are going to attack that person, but I tell my friend to “stand down” and not attack – have I denounced my friend and/or any of their beliefs? No, I have just told them to not attack. Which, of course, is also something we want our presidents to say – as a start, not a final answer.

This is why the issue is complicated. When you are dealing with the fact that 90% of the political violence comes from certain groups, we don’t want a president that just says “stand down” and “yes, I denounce white supremacy” to certain parts of the overall group. We want one that will denounce all of the violence in action as well as in words. So instead of railing against antifa (which is more of an idea and not an organized group) most of the time, start focusing on where 90% of the violence comes from and do something about it. The rally cry of “denouncing” just became short hand for dealing with the larger problem. Trump was complimentary to right-wing groups (which includes many white supremacist factions), and now he needs to work to curb those same groups.

This brings us to the problem of naming only the Proud Boys, especially in light of focusing too much on white supremacy and not the overall problem of extreme right wing violence. I think it was a big mistake on Biden’s part to say “Proud Boys” when Trump demanded a specific name of a group to denounce. Of course, we all know that Trump was just using a diversionary tactic to get away with being pressured into denouncing white supremacy. He generally doesn’t react to well to pressure, as he has a deep driving need to be the one in control at all times. So he wanted a name of a group to denounce rather than cave directly to the people he saw as fighting for dominance in the conversation. Biden should have stuck with the main idea and just said “all of them,” but he said “Proud Boys” instead. He probably wanted to just stop the fighting and move on, and I can’t say I blame him. But it was still a big mistake.

The Proud Boys are a violent right-wing hate group, no doubt about it. They are male-only, and have made it clear they are against immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQIA, Jewish People, etc, etc, etc. They also claim to be anti-racist, even coming out to say they denounce white supremacy as well. They even point to their small number of Black and Latinx members as proof they aren’t racist.

Of course, they also believe that racism doesn’t exist, which is clearly a white supremacist ideal. In fact, you can find all kinds of racist things all over their words and actions. But because they actually say they aren’t racist, and they have Black and Latinx members – many people will take them at their word and proclaim that they are “not white supremacists.” Never mind that the Nazis, the KKK, and many other well-known racist groups have made the same claims through the years.

People that do racist things always have a long list of reasons why they really aren’t a racist despite those racist actions.

But still, I wish that Biden hadn’t brought the Proud Boys into the conversation, because it takes a lot of unpacking to understand why they are part of the bigger problem of Right-wing political violence… as well as how they can still be viewed as white supremacists even though they say they aren’t. This is also why I wish there was a greater understanding of metamodernism in society in general, because the question of defining for all time whether or not Proud Boys really are or aren’t “white supremacist” misses what is needed here. People can say they are not racist or white supremacist and still bring about racism and white supremacy in many ways. Participating in Right-wing violence against BLM and Antifa still sends a message of racism and white superiority to many BIPoC – no matter what stances you claim to believe in or your skin color.

Now, to go back to the analogy about telling your kids to clean their room. If you tell your child to clean their room, and they say they will, and they go in to clean the room… but they only pick up a few things and hide the main mess in the closet and under the bed… did they really clean their room? No, of course not. You really want them to vacuum, scrub, dust, organize, etc. Just saying things like “I denounce white supremacy” or “Proud Boys stand down and that’s it” or “we are not white supremacists” is the equivalent of the kids that stuff the mess in their closet and then don’t do any true cleaning.

We need a president that will stand up and do something about racism and white supremacy. BLM and those labeled as “Antifa” are showing up and doing something. You know who you usually see at protests asking rioters to stop? Usually it is the BLM protesters themselves. The Proud Boys and other right wing groupers are the ones that show up and agitate the situation even more. They are not even cleaning their room so to say – they are taking more mess and dumping it on the pile.

So that is where the issue stands: it’s complicated. It’s not just denouncing white supremacy (even though that has become the short hand), it is about ending political violence that is 90% Right-wing (and often white supremacist as well but not always). It’s not about proving certain groups are or are not white supremacist, but how they support white supremacist aims by promoting the general Right-wing violence that serves as a catalyst for white supremacy. It’s not about ignoring the political violence from non-Right-wing groups, but starting with the main overwhelming group causing 90% or more of the violence rather than spending 99% of the time focusing on the less than 10% that cause violence.

Gen X: The Forgotten Generation That is Replenishing the Church?

If you are a part of Gen X like me, you have probably started to notice that you are now the forgotten middle-child generation. Everyone wants to talk about the Boomers and Millennials… but not you Jan. Which is good when they are talking about how either generation is destroying everything… (even if you know it was Gen X that really did it). Related to that, this one tweet caught my eye today:

I would almost say this could be a compelling argument… if there wasn’t a significant generation between the two that, you know, had jobs and are at the general age when large portions of people tend to get involved with church. There are some anecdotal things I have observed about various generations that may come into play here:

  • Boomers were not as into church when they were teens and twentys as many assume. They might have been forced to go at some point, but so many of them seem to talk like they really stopped going at some point by their 20s.
  • These same Boomers seem to have come back to church in their 30s and 40s., when mortality and the brevity of life sinks in and they figure they need religion before they die.
  • Most people that have been in church know that “losing the youth of today” has been a common sermon trope for over 30 years now… but somehow attendance numbers seem to change little. If you have ever been behind the scenes at a church, you know that “reaching the youth of today” is more about getting money and commitment out of the 30-40 somethings than actually converting teens (which rarely works).
  • If you are Gen X, you know that most of the people you went to school with didn’t really like church. Most didn’t go, and many that did were forced to go by parents. A few believed at most, but kept it to themselves (until some big “reach the youth” event at their church guilt-ed them into doing some evangelism for a brief week at school).
  • Now that we have Facebook, we see that just like the Boomers before them, all of our Gen-X high school friends and family that were not Christian at all in their teens and twentys are suddenly all in church, posting scriptures all over Facebook and acting like they have been their all a long. Its really, really weird most of the time.
  • The current age of Gen-X is gnereally set at 40-54. However, older Millenials age 33-39 often talk about how they feel more in common with Gen X than Millenials. Generational differences don’t break down as easily as statistics would like them to, so you have to wonder what numbers get diluted when arbitrary divisions are used as standardized divisions across different research studies.

I may be reading too much into all of this. But I do know that there is a significant number of people that go back to church as they age. I do know that churches generally have large numbers of Gen-Xers in their midst, that those Gen-Xers generally have decent or good jobs. Therefore, I don’t think it is time to consider how Millenial trends will affect Boomer churches just yet. You can’t forget Gen-X.

Look – Gen-X was the original generation that was Emptying the Pews. We were the ones destroying all of the cool things that Boomers liked, while bringing in weird trends and food combinations. Gen-Xers were the ones that were struggling to get jobs and pay off student loan debt. But then we did start paying off loans and getting decent jobs (not all of us, but a lot of us). Our weird trends became retro-cool. And so on.

But wait! Will Millenials follow our same path? That I am not so sure of. Average college loan amounts are absurdly higher now than they were for us. Jobs are paying less, and are much harder to find for younger applicants. The economy really is in bad shape, but with less hope of anyone being able to fix it short or long term because of noticeably increased partisan divisions. It also seems like we have run out of time to save the environment. And so on. It could be possible that Millenials will follow the footsteps of Gen-X (how we somewhat saved ourselves from the mess that the Boomers left us… yeah, we were the first ones to notice that as well). But it may be too late for that to be possible. It might have gotten so bad that its not conceivable to change now. But I do think Gen-X is going to prop up what the Boomers have built for a lot longer than people seem to realize. Which is kind of ironic if you think about it.

The Problem of False Binaries

In many ways, metamodernism is all about binaries, conundrums, paradoxes, etc. However, the distinction that metamodernism makes about things like binary concepts is how two different ideas can often co-exist in the same space. Sometimes this coexistence is easier to define, and other times it is not.

However, I’m not sure if you can just throw any two random ideas or concepts together and just assume there is some way they will coexist, or even that there is a way to swing between the two in metaxy. For example, while modernism and post-modernism make interesting ideas to either fit together paradoxically or to swing back and forth between, not all ideas form a solid binary pairing to build a paradox out of – at least, within the current limitations of our understandings of logic.

In politics, it would seem that this problem can also be further extended when false binaries are introduced to the conversation in a way to equally erase both sides. You see this a lot in “both political sides are equally bad” arguments. For example, someone on one political side will say something that is historically or legally racist (“go back where you came from”), and people on that side will ignore historical and legal precedent to try and prove that this statement is not racist. People in the middle of both sides will pull out some kind of “both sides are equally bad” argument to just end the fighting rather than deal with the blatant racism. This will usually be supported by some problematic false binary meme:

The image above is a popular meme shared most often by moderates and independents. However, if you examine it for a minute, you begin to see that the two different sides on this graphic are not comparing two, well, “comparable” sides together, creating a false binary.

The first evidence of this is the fact that there are self-labeled White Supremacists and Nazis in our country, and they have generally attached themselves to the extreme conservative side of our current political spectrum. Also, there are those on the right that claim they are not racist, but they support the actions of the self-proclaimed White Nationalists and Nazis on their side. And while there are many on the Left that will hurl “Nazi!” and “Racist!” statements as insults (even occasionally at those that may not deserve that title), that does not change the fact that there are people that claim titles like “white nationalist” that are, in fact, racist.

However, the bigger problem comes with the insults being hurled at the Left in this diagram. had they chosen “Socialist!” or “Communist!” – that would have been a more accurate binary. There are those on the Left that are proudly Socialist or Communist. However, the insults depicted here are not equivalent to “Racist!” or “Nazi!” They are far worse.

“Libtard” is combination of “Liberal” and “Retard.” “Retard” is a hateful slur against people with disabilities. They are real people that should not be turned into insults in a partisan war. “Racist” or “Nazi” are labels that people can and do choose for themselves, but no one should be called a “Retard” or any form or mixture of the word, because disability is not an insult.

“Pussies” is using a part of the female anatomy as an insult, and there is also no place for this kind of sexist/misogynistic behavior. It comes from a view point that hates women and their bodies, and therefore sees them as a source for insulting terms. You should not use parts of the female anatomy as an insult, period.

There you have the false binary: taking words that can actually describe people (“Racist!” “Nazi!”) and comparing them with words that should never, ever be used to describe others (“Libtard!” “Pussy!”) in fake sense of both-sides-ism. Yes, I realize that all of those terms and others are thrown out in political arguments as insults. But to be clear: if someone is a racist or Nazi, that should be called out and confronted. However, there is never a reason to use disability or women’s anatomy as insults.

Why is Trump’s Border Wall Seen as Immoral When Existing Border Walls are Not?

One of the more debated positions of the liberal side of the “Battle for Trump’s Wall” is that the Trump Wall is immoral. To be honest, I can’t claim that all or even most of the left believes, but there are some that are very vocal about that aspect. Of course, anyone that hears this statement on the right will latch on to it and use it as an attack point against any criticism of Trump’s Wall (even if that criticism said nothing about morality of Trump’s Wall). “If the Trump Wall is immoral, should we also tear down what is already in place along the border? Or is only the NEW wall immoral? Or is it that the new ‘fence’ that Trump wants to build is immoral because Trump called it a ‘wall’?”

The problem here is that one side of the debate is unnecessarily over simplifying the belief of the other side. Which we all know happens on both sides. But for now I want to focus on this specific misunderstanding, and expand on the differences between the existing system of walls/fences and the proposed new additions from Trump.

The existing system of walls and fences and technology has been effective for a long time – bringing illegal border crossings down to the lowest levels in decades, while making many border cities some of the safest in the nation. However, the side effect of that has been that migrant workers have changed tactics: they now come in legally to visit and overstay. That is where more than half of illegal immigration comes from currently: overstaying.

Now typically, officials just turn a blind eye to people that overstay as long as they don’t break any laws, which most undocumented immigrants are glad to comply with. Less law enforcement entanglement, less chance of getting deported. I live in Texas, and we see this all the time. But no one will write on it, no one will expose it, no one wants to bring a light to it. It just stays under the surface. Why is that? Because the flip side is that this situation creates a work force of millions of undocumented workers that business owners (especially in the South) take advantage of. These business owners pay these workers less than the law requires for minimum wage, and typically abuse and exploit them (because they will avoid going to the police at all costs).

So while conservatives are all trying to get in “sick burns” on the Libs for looking at new and existing walls differently… the existing wall is causing a scenario that leads to the abuse and exploitation of human beings that are made in God’s image. It would be nice if conservative beliefs led them to look beyond politics to the people behind the rhetoric, but oh well….

So now about the proposed wall. We now know that power tools can easily cut through the current wall/barrier/whatever design quickly, so this wall will not keep drug dealers out. They already keep power tools accessible for the current fences. We also know the Trump Wall design only extends 6 feet underground, and does not have the $10+billion extra dollars needed for anti-tunnel technology or designs deeper than that, so it won’t stop people from tunneling under it (in fact, the actual cost for what Trump wants to do may be $38 billion or more). It will only stop people that walk across the border.

That scenario does not describe how most criminals cross our borders. And we also looked at how undocumented immigrants (most of them migrant workers) have gone to other methods to get to the U.S. rather than illegal border crossing. There is only one group of people that try to walk up to our borders: people seeking asylum. They don’t carry power tools or tunneling equipment with them. Even if they had these tools, they wouldn’t bring them because they are literally just trying to present anywhere at the border.

So the new border additions are only effective against stopping asylum seekers. Any criminal elements trying to hide in these groups (which there really aren’t that many that we can verify, but people always ask) would be equipped to get through the current wall design, but would do so only after separating from the caravans in order to avoid attention.

This is why Liberals see the Trump Wall additions as immoral, especially those that are Christian. The Bible is very specific about welcoming foreigners (which includes those seeking refuge). The new wall additions are designed to stop refuge seekers from doing so (because once these groups gain asylum, they take tax money away from corporate bail-outs and war machines – and the upper 1% can’t have that). Again, this all goes under the heading of why the new Trump Wall is seen as immoral.

At this point, people on the conservative side of this debate will bring up the Gang of 8 and how it was a proposal to build more walls that Democrats supported not too long ago. So why won’t they support more walls now? You really need to look more into what the Gang of 8 deal was. If you really know what it was, you would know how highly inappropriate it is to bring it up in relation to Trump’s Wall plan. The specifics and details between the two are so vastly different from each other that there really is no comparison. Its like people that say the Bible and the Qu’ran are the same book because they both talk religion. The Gang of 8 had a lot of people on the liberal and conservative sides against it, but it was more of a comprehensive immigration reform package that looked at laws, border technology, and fencing – the exact stance that Democrats today are taking (and that Trump and the Republicans are opposing).

Look, I am from Texas – I have know of many people that live along the border. Don’t start with the “so many gangs crossing the border and causing crime!” lines. That is all made up stories from certain media outlets. People who live along the border itself often don’t really see that much of a “crisis” happening there. Then there are the times that people living near the border just lie about who they got in shoot-outs with.

To me, this whole debate is a just a way to avoid dealing with the immorality of our entire immigration system – one that is designed to create a slave labor force for the elite to abuse and exploit. But hey conservatives – you keep trying to pwn people for deciding to have different stances on different types of walls/fences, while continually ignoring God’s commands about how we treat foreigners in our midst.

And this is what floors me the most: you can point out how millions of human beings are being abused and exploited by the current system… and the most common response from many people is “there is nothing immoral about expecting people to follow legal immigration!” No one ever says anything about that aspect – but the people that use this re-direction response just want to completely ignore what was pointed out as the real source of immorality. Amazing.

And even if you want to look past the moral aspects of the wall, there are the specifics of how the Trump Wall will not work, and how many, many experts are speaking out against it. First of all, you have experts on international border walls using existing walls from three different places around the globe to examine how Trump’s Wall plan will not work:

Then you have a U.S. Conservative think tank calling Trump’s Wall plan impractical, ineffective, and expensive:

Of course, geologists have weighed in as well on the problems with everything from the planning to the timeline to the construction of Trump’s Wall:

Then you have historical experts looking at how medieval walls and other historical defense barriers did not work that well (despite what Trump claims about them):

And finally when it comes down to asking actual border agents what they need (apart from mentioning political stances), less that half a percent mention additional walls/fences:

(Interesting how in that last article, higher level Customs and Border Protection officials tried to invalidate the results of the survey by saying that Border Patrol agents were not asked to propose solutions – when the results from the survey clearly showed they were asked for solutions. Whoops.)

But the reality is that many of us feel that Trump’s Wall plan as an addition to our current system is an immoral expansion of a system that already supports immorality. But this is not an absolute either/or stance, where we believe that the only other option is to get rid of border security and all fences or walls. This is a complex situation that needs reform and solutions that are more nuanced than “build a wall!” And yes, it may seem contradictory to some to say that current walls are working AND we don’t need Trump’s Wall plan… but it’s not really contradictory at all. It’s really not even that “metamodern” per se (but might seem that way to those from an extreme modernist mindset). Trump’s Wall plan is not just a generic “build a wall” plan, but a specific plan to build a specific wall to keep specific people out while not addressing most of our current immigration issues.

(Featured image photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash)

Civility Never Was That Great of a Thing. Time to Let it Go.

With all of the the talk about “civility” recently, I have been trying to figure out exactly when American became a civilized nation. Was it after we invaded this continent in the first place, pushing aside the original inhabitants (often in violent manners)? Was it after we started a war to gain independence? Or maybe it was after we stopped justifying slavery as a civilized norm? Was it after World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the whatever-you-call our current wars? Or maybe it was after we finally gave all people the right to vote and participate in society equally? What exactly does “civility” mean in a country with a history of violence and mistreatment (both here and abroad) like ours?

Of course, maybe all of the calls for civility would not sound so hollow if so many had not just now started saying anything at all. I mean – black churches were burned… no calls for civility. Immigrant children were separated from their parents… and no calls for civility. The LGBTQA community faces constant attacks, death threats, and harassment daily… and no calls for civility.  But a handful of rich white people lose a dinner while some others call for more to be harassed…. and stop the presses! We need civility NOW!

And the weird way people cherry-pick religion to support their new-found desire for civility? Especially when they didn’t say a word when white supremacists marched; or when our leaders said horrible things about people with disabilities, about women, about Muslims, about all kinds of people? Take, for instance, how Bob Vander Plaats focused on how Jesus told people that have disagreements to go and meet with those they have the disagreement with. Of course, the scripture there does not say “first” like Plaats misquotes it as, and secondly, he conveniently leaves out how Jesus again and again spoke out harshly against those he disagreed with publicly – many that He had never met. Plaats makes it seems like the only Biblical way to respond to disagreements is to privately meet with those that you disagree with, or else keep it to yourself. The Bible is not that black and white on this issue by a long shot, and it is unfortunate that Plaats would misrepresent scripture like this.

To a certain degree, I do agree with Plaats that we should get to know people before demonizing them – but I wouldn’t make that an absolute rule to live by. In many cases, it wouldn’t be safe to meet those one disagrees with (I wouldn’t recommend a woman go meet with someone from GamerGate, for instance). But we also have to realize that there is a lot more to be done after we get to know people. Plaats’ scenario is not the solution, it is a place for some to start. Plaats described where he got to know a leader in the LGBTQA community, and they stopped demonizing each other. But the problem is, both sides often can’t have both of their stances in society. We can’t can both “marriage quality for all” AND “traditional definition of marriage” as the law at the same time. It is good that they learned how to get a long. But someday, one of them will be deemed “wrong” by society. One, day, one of them will have to stick with their side and be on the wrong side of society, or change sides.

Sitting down for coffee with those we disagree with will help us get along better with certain people, but will not solve the problems in society if that is all it does. “Civility” is a call by the privileged to stay at the coffee table when they suddenly see society getting up from coffee talk and taking away their privileged spots.

But I still have a problem with people thinking that our society was all that “civilized” in the first place, or that we really need to hang on to it (if it was). Maybe it is because I live in the South and we see through civility so easily down here. People will say “bless your heart!” as way to tell you how ignorant they think you are. So many people live out civility in cities where racism is still rampant. So many people claim to be “civilized” while still being racist themselves. Civility is just too low of a target.

Mike Caulfield made an excellent point that we need decency rather than civility:

Civility is often a push-back to conflict, as a call to ignore disagreements and just get along (even though that is not really what it should be – but that is another issue for another time). Decency is how we treat people even when we disagree – or even how we call out people that aren’t decent to others (sometimes decency requires you to stand against those who aren’t decent). There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. But if your response to finally receiving some push back for the way you treat others is to scream “we need civility!!!!” when you have never done so when others are mistreated, that is not decent. Civility – for too long of a time – has kept different standards for different people. You can’t have one response to one type of harassment (telling men to grab women by their….) and another response to another lesser type of harassment (getting booted out of a restaurant) and still be “decent.” But you can have different responses and still be “civilized.” Civility never was that great of a thing.

About That Civil War Statue You Claim is History and Culture….

Not everyone knows this about me, but I am certified to teach art at the Jr. High/High school level in Texas. We studied a lot about art history and the symbolism behind art, especially public displays like monuments. The thing to remember is that there is no way to memorialize everything “historical” that needs to be memorialized. We would have statues every two feet to even begin that. Society has to pick and choose what to memorialize. Just putting up a statue in the first place is revisionist in several ways, because you choose to symbolize one thing over another. But because of this, statues are not just about history or art. They also have to symbolize who we are now and what we want to become in the future. That is how you move a memorial out of being a mere “historical artifact” (or worse “historical revisionism”) and into being an actual monument. That is also why, for instance, 9/11 monuments don’t show a building blowing up, but usually symbols to memorialize those that died while at the same time pointing to a better future that we want to see happen.

Also, we have to realize that there is a difference – from an artistic and symbolic perspective – between memorializing events and memorializing people. This is why we see memorials to the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. A memorial to the civil rights movement is not really appropriate for memorializing King, and a memorial to King is not really appropriate for memorializing the whole civil rights movement. Statues of people symbolize what that person did and who they were, not just the movement they led or were connected to – or the culture they were a part of.

This leads to the problem of Civil War statues of General Lee and other Confederate leaders being confused for memorials of the history and culture of the South. The United States Civil War was a specific type of war that was ideological in focus while being contained within our borders. Not all wars are like that, so we have to be careful when comparing it to other wars our country has been in, like the Korean War or World War II (or really any of the others). The ideas we divided over would shape the future of our country. Therefore, how we choose to memorialize and symbolize our Civil War is important. Do we symbolize the Civil War itself, or the leaders of the war? The difference is important.

This important difference means that the symbolism of the statues becomes ingrained with the history they represent – otherwise, they just simply aren’t “art.” If you look at the statues of General Lee (or other confederate leaders), they always have the pose of a leader. Sometimes taking a step forward, or on a horse – leading. This is to symbolize not only the historical record of where they led us in the past (dividing a nation to protect a state’s right to treat certain humans as less than human), but also to memorialize where the people were at during the time it was built and where they wanted to go in the future. Therefore, these statues symbolize not only art and history, but a future where people want to follow in General Lee’s footsteps again. That is why they created a statue of him as a leader (or actively leading on a horse), when he is no longer a leader. If the builders of the statues had wanted to symbolize a memorial to remind us not divide over hate again, they would not have made a statute that literally memorializes a leader leading his people into dividing over hate. No, a statue immortalizing General Lee as still leading is symbolic of a hope to go down that past road again.

Civil War monuments are also unique in that they are some of the only statues built by the losing side to memorialize their failed leaders. This has rarely happened in the history of war and conquest. Imagine the Romans (or any other large force) allowing the areas they conquered to build statues to their losing military leaders. No, usually the conquering force came in and tore down any statues of the people they conquered, and replaced them with statues of those people being conquered. To send a message. Because statues and memorials almost always send a message about the future at the same time they teach about the past.

Also, in the cases where conquered people’s statues weren’t destroyed, they were taken down and moved to a museum or trophy case of the winning side. We still see that in modern day America – symbols of the “losing” side are, at best, displayed in a museum. Most are filed away and forgotten in warehouses.

But let’s take the idea of Civil War statues into a modern context to really drive home this point. And no, not Korean War. For many reasons, the Korean War is a horrible comparison for the Civil War. No war in America can really be used as a good comparison. The closest parallel I can think of for this point (even though it is still problematic) is 9/11. Think of it this way: what if America had annexed Afghanistan as a new state (sorry Guam and Puerto Rico) and somehow the Taliban had settled down and became citizens. Then a large chunk of them moved to the U.S. and wanted to build statues to Osama Bin Laden and the people believed to have caused 9/11. And then we actually let them. And then a few decades later we wised up to how insensitive and inappropriate it was to build those statues in the first place. And then their descendants claimed we couldn’t take those statues down because it represented history and culture.

Would we buy into that? Doubtful. The people protesting the removal of Civil War statues would be the main ones crying out for the removal of these hypothetical statues. Let that sink in.