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Trusting God
February 18, 2014 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Patrick Henry College has been called "God's Harvard." The tiny, elite school is considered a safe haven for fundamentalist evangelical Christians. It teaches a dominionist "Biblical Worldview" and has a uniquely religious campus culture (pdf) that emphasizes evangelical moral values. Which leaves female students in a particular bind: How do you report sexual assault at a place where authorities seem skeptical that such a thing even exists?
posted by zarq (154 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I just finished reading the New Republic piece, and it might be a good idea to add that there could be some triggers in that for some people.

Also, be prepared to be very, very angry.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:20 PM on February 18 [9 favorites]


BigHeartedGuy: "...there could be some triggers in that for some people."

Sorry. I normally put in a disclaimer when a post's content may be disturbing but just completely forgot.
posted by zarq at 3:21 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


How do you report sexual assault at a place where authorities seem skeptical that such a thing even exists?

Is that "place" somehow outside the jurisdiction of an actual police force and justice system? Because I'm pretty sure that's who you should be going to to report sexual assault, not a higher education institution.

“The administration encouraged me to not go to the police and said that, because alcohol was involved and I was violating the rules there, they hinted that I could be expelled if I brought light to the incident,”

So there was discouragement from "the administration" - but I'm still not quite understanding - why would the administration of a college be the first port of call in regards to this?

Sarah still believed what her Christian homeschooling upbringing had instilled in her: that you shouldn’t question adults in positions of authority, because they’re looking out for you and probably know best.

Aaaah... and here we have it. A childhood of indoctrination against personal autonomy and secular social justice, and look where you get left hung out to dry.
posted by Jimbob at 3:29 PM on February 18 [36 favorites]


Man, that brought back a lot of horrible things, having grown up in this culture. "Free Spirit" was a particularly derogatory term I had all but forgotten about, a 'polite' way of calling someone a slut. You never heard men called 'free spirits.' I dated a lot of 'free spirits' in high school and college, according to my childhood community.

Hard to know where to even start with all the sort of fucked up things going on at PHC and with that culture at-large, but this bit is particularly fucked up to me:

Patrick Henry College is not alone in internally adjudicating sexual assault. Every college and university maintains its own shadow legal system—and many secular colleges have a terrible track record of investigating and punishing sexual assault. But Patrick Henry College is one of only four private colleges in the United States that eschews federal funds in order to avoid complying with government regulations. This poses financial hardships for students and their families—PHC students are prohibited from accessing FAFSA loans, Pell Grants, state funds, scholarships, or the G.I. Bill—and it makes the institution particularly dependent on its conservative evangelical donor base. Homeschoolers see this as a worthwhile price to pay for freedom from government intrusion. The financial-aid page on PHC’s website notes, “In order to safeguard our distinctly Christian worldview, we do not accept or participate in government funding.”

This also means PHC isn’t subject to the Clery Act, Title IX, or the more recent Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act.


The culture of gender and sex dynamics in the evangelical community is not going to change anytime soon, but getting around being subject to the Clery Act by not taking federal funds seems like something pretty fucking fixable.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:30 PM on February 18 [25 favorites]


This also means PHC isn’t subject to the Clery Act, Title IX, or the more recent Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act.

I'm still struggling to understand how an act that is illegal under common law is somehow treated differently because it's on a college campus. There should be no "shadow legal system". There should be no private campus security who have jobs beyond calling the actual police whenever anything interesting happens. A total failure all round.
posted by Jimbob at 3:33 PM on February 18 [21 favorites]


I'm not a Christian by any stretch, but it is clear to me that the attitudes in play here are not Judeo-Christian but simply patriarchal and misgynistic -- and they remind me most of the non-Christian cultures in the world who call for stoning or gang rape of victims.
posted by bearwife at 3:36 PM on February 18 [8 favorites]


So there was discouragement from "the administration" - but I'm still not quite understanding - why would the administration of a college be the first port of call in regards to this?

Actually, that's pretty common for all schools, not just this one. (See, for example, this discussion of it.) Not to say PHC isn't terrible about this, just that it isn't -- sadly -- particularly more terrible than any other school which tries to sweep assaults under the rug.
posted by jeather at 3:37 PM on February 18 [6 favorites]


This also means PHC isn’t subject to the Clery Act, Title IX, or the more recent Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act.

I had to look up the Clery Act.

What possible reason could an education institution have (especially one that touts its moral superiority over other schools) for not logging and reporting crime statistics?
posted by zarq at 3:38 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Is that "place" somehow outside the jurisdiction of an actual police force and justice system?

In quite a few places the city/town police will go "HURR DURR TALK TO THE CAMPUS COPS NOT OUR THING LOL". This is true, often, even at very small schools. And even if the school does not have a licensed police force, they're often super buddy buddy with the cops who will, after hanging up with you, call the school and go "Hey, such and such just called us about this what should we do?"

You can get in to total kangaroo court situations either of these ways. With option A, the campus cops will just do whatever the school says. With option b... same thing.

It is absolutely possible to get in to a situation where reporting it to the police not only results in an official on the record "this isn't an issue case closed no evidence" or whatever, but also punishment from the school.

I've heard stories like this directly from friends.
posted by emptythought at 3:38 PM on February 18 [27 favorites]


Sarah still believed what her Christian homeschooling upbringing had instilled in her: that you shouldn’t question adults in positions of authority, because they’re looking out for you and probably know best.

Aaaah... and here we have it. A childhood of indoctrination against personal autonomy and secular social justice, and look where you get left hung out to dry.


And you know why I feel sort of extra bad for Sarah and others like her? Because almost everyone I know who escaped the evangelical community did so during college - that's when you discover other philosophies and new ideas and find new support networks to help you change and embrace different worldviews. It's when you get to not go to church on Sunday for a change and no one yells at you or drags you by your foot out of bed to make you go. No one yells at you that you must have been out having sex since you're home after 11. No one tells you you are going to hell because you are wondering whether it's really that bad to be gay or Jewish or envious of your neighbor's whatever.

No one at 18 really understands what it means to forgo that opportunity, to sign up for another 4 years of sort of indoctrination and arrested development. When I am king of the world, these types of morally-binding institutions will be outlawed.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:39 PM on February 18 [41 favorites]


The other schools, as this article points out, are under the purview of some laws that this one isn't -- but they ignore those laws.
posted by jeather at 3:41 PM on February 18


This Dean Corbitt reminds me intensely of Dolores Umbridge.
posted by bearwife at 3:41 PM on February 18 [22 favorites]


You can get in to total kangaroo court situations either of these ways. With option A, the campus cops will just do whatever the school says. With option b... same thing.

Going to have to step out because the very idea of there being "campus cops" does not exist where I'm from, and seems so weird, broken and unnecessary that I don't know what further to say on the issue. Except whoever came up with the idea of there being separate "campus cops" deserves to rot.
posted by Jimbob at 3:42 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Not only was I very, very angry after reading this piece, this part both terrified and enraged me:

The Bush-era White House had about as many interns from PHC as Georgetown, the journalist Hanna Rosin wrote in her 2007 book, God’s Harvard. Students in the school’s Strategic Intelligence Program can graduate with security clearances from their summer internships, making PHC a feeder school for the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, various branches of the military, and intelligence contractors.

That people indoctrinated with some of the ideas about women outlined in this piece should have a pipeline to any position of power, particularly these government agencies, is horrifying.
posted by barchan at 3:42 PM on February 18 [66 favorites]




Ah, Patrick Henry... the school that was too nutty even for my conservative family.

To provide you all with some context, this is a place that legalistic, hyper-conservative Evangelical Christian homeschoolers will even balk at. The kids I knew who went there were from the most conservative families in our homeschooling group- the kind who wouldn't let their kids watch evil Disney movies.

Up there with Bob Jones and Pensacola Christian, to be sure.

Every day I regret going to a heathen school instead (not really). And when I read this, my heart aches for the young women described here.
posted by Old Man McKay at 3:48 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


Wait, does this mean I should stop using 'free spirit' in the 'happy go lucky' sense? (this is a term I have used in the past with both positive and negative connotations, but I never knew there was a religious right sexual context.)
posted by poe at 3:48 PM on February 18


Responsibility falls disproportionately to women, who are taught to protect their “purity” and to never “tempt” their brothers in Christ to “stumble” with immodest behavior.

Sweet baby Moses, why would anyone send their child to this place?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:48 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


I'm not a Christian by any stretch, but it is clear to me that the attitudes in play here are not Judeo-Christian but simply patriarchal and misgynistic

Speaking as a Christian, that's a no true Scotsman. What we see in this article is an extreme but not atypical expression of the evangelical Christian subculture, and it is something non-evil evangelicals have a duty to oppose.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:52 PM on February 18 [33 favorites]


Sweet baby Moses, why would anyone send their child to this place?

Oh man, the stories I could tell you.

Wait, does this mean I should stop using 'free spirit' in the 'happy go lucky' sense


It's one of those highly context-dependent terms. I'm pretty sure you'd know if you were using it in a derogatory way (in other words, you're cool. I didn't intend to imply that this term was like a universally bad thing but that it does serve as a sort of code in certain circles).
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:53 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


If I ever have a daughter, I'm going to ask her to wear a promise ring signifying her promise to tell me immediately if any dude makes unwanted sexual advances or worse, so I can make him disappear in a cement block.
posted by fraxil at 4:02 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


If I ever have a daughter, I'm going to ask her to wear a promise ring signifying her promise to tell me immediately if any dude makes unwanted sexual advances or worse, so I can make him disappear in a cement block.

Better yet, get her the training necessary so she can do that herself.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:03 PM on February 18 [59 favorites]


Going to have to step out because the very idea of there being "campus cops" does not exist where I'm from, and seems so weird, broken and unnecessary that I don't know what further to say on the issue. Except whoever came up with the idea of there being separate "campus cops" deserves to rot.

Yep. I agree, but yep. The wackiest thing is that a lot of times colleges in major cities(I.E. UW, in seattle) still have their own campus PD. And campus PDs are state and federally licensed police departments.

Another shitty thing i didn't really cover is that a lot of times well known schools in the US are in very small rural towns, an hours drive or more from a major city. And rural police departments in the US can be even worse at abusing their power and selectively applying the law than shitty campus police departments. people i know who have gone to school in towns like this often discuss various shitty officers that they and their friends all know by name as "oh yea, that guys a completely satanic asshole". By which i don't mean "oh, yea he busted us drinking".

Basically, as a tl;dr of both this and what i said in my previous post "call the cops" is often completely not an option in this situation.

You will often be directed to school by the school itself and the police, and if the school wants to sweep it under the rug you are fucked and have no one to turn to. People drop out over this sort of thing way more often than any statistic could show. And many of the stories i've heard end with the perpetrator of the shittiness and the school counselor or whoever the fuck who helped bury it both getting slapped on the back and going on to graduate or get promoted or whatever.

That people indoctrinated with some of the ideas about women outlined in this piece should have a pipeline to any position of power, particularly these government agencies, is horrifying.

You have no idea. I went to a private catholic elementary school for a couple years, but i've also been friends with and dated people who went to other similar schools in my city. Some of the schools were overtly religious, some weren't... but all of them exhibited this kind of behavior. And all of them had people dropping out/"being asked not to return next year" because they made noise about any kind of abuses/didn't fit the mold/etc. There is a network of k-8 religious and private schools, that feeds into the highschools/prep schools or 8-12 schools(i have no idea why this grade range is a thing in private schools, but it is), that feeds directly into schools like this and ivy league schools.

The entire thing is a gigantic circlejack that funnels you straight into media, powerhouse silicon valley/other startup or corporate stuff like that, and government. Bill gates went to one of these private schools that i'm talking about, and so did both of my parents.(albeit, in the 70s). And if it even needs to be said, tons of money is flying around in this world. Children of rockstars, tech magnates, etc are sent to these schools. 30-40 years ago this wasn't as strange, but the fact that this stronghold of either advert religiousness or undercover religiousness in "christian values" upheld by vaguely written conduct guidelines that are implicitly enforced as that shit is still alive today kinda blows my mind.

But then again, to sound almost like a 9/11 truther or something... what does the president put his hand on when he takes the oath of office?
posted by emptythought at 4:03 PM on February 18 [12 favorites]


Aaaah... and here we have it. A childhood of indoctrination against personal autonomy and secular social justice,

Rape being handled in the college disciplinary system without involving police has been in the news lately, and these have been secular and/or public schools (UNC, IIRC).
posted by jpe at 4:04 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Sweet baby Moses, why would anyone send their child to this place?

Well, if you already believe all of that -- but somehow like the idea of higher education -- I guess it makes sense to send your child to a school where those beliefs are given priority. (Though the idea that your children are too weak to stave off temptation and keep to the truth is an odd one, and one I don't totally understand.)

Both Claire and Sarah seem to be doing okay now, though, at least.
posted by jeather at 4:06 PM on February 18


The proper thing, in my mind, is that people responsible for actively covering up rape and trying to prevent it from being reported to the authorities should be...

Arrested and tried as conspirators after the fact. They should see jail time (more than a few months, perhaps less than a few years). Simple as that.

Obviously I think Church officials responsible for covering up sexual abuse in churches should also see jail time.

Another thought is that the institution should be sued into oblivion if anything remotely similar happens again (I mean they are creating a safe-harbor for rapists, any potential rapist at the school has the solace that they won't receive criminal repercussions for committing rape).
posted by el io at 4:10 PM on February 18 [14 favorites]


If I ever have a daughter, I'm going to ask her to wear a promise ring signifying her promise to tell me immediately if any dude makes unwanted sexual advances or worse, so I can make him disappear in a cement block.

Not to take it too seriously, but just to note that for some victims, this attitude can be nearly as silencing as victim-blaming. When the perpetrator is your boyfriend, your friend, your teacher, your grandfather, it isn't as easy as wanting them to die - and when you love your father, you may not think your own assault is worth losing him to prison.
posted by northernish at 4:11 PM on February 18 [31 favorites]


making PHC a feeder school for the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, various branches of the military, and intelligence contractors.

This explains so much about incompetence and magical thinking at those agencies.
posted by benzenedream at 4:11 PM on February 18 [16 favorites]


jeather: living with the Rainbow Family may be better than she was doing, but I'd be concerned if a friend or family member embarked on this as a life path.
posted by el io at 4:12 PM on February 18


I thought John Harvard thought Harvard College was "God's Harvard."

Patrick Henry was Church of England, virtually a Papist, by way of contrast. He would have had no sympathy for the antinomian institution that bears his name.
posted by rdone at 4:12 PM on February 18 [20 favorites]


Wait, does this mean I should stop using 'free spirit' in the 'happy go lucky' sense?

What? Just hand the term over to them to become nothing other than twisted and evil, words used only to hurt? No, please continue keeping alive the traditions of using our language for good things.
posted by anonymisc at 4:12 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


"God's Harvard"

So hugely corrupt and corrupting, a place that has been wrong about a huge variety of policies and yet somehow still commands tremendous power and influence? I assume this is what that phrase means.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:13 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


"If you were telling the truth about this,” Sarah remembers Corbitt saying, “God would have kept you conscious to bear witness to the abuse against you.”

That's single sentence is enough to make me absolutely hate Cirbitt. Truly a horrible, horrid person to say such a thing to someone.
posted by MoxieProxy at 4:14 PM on February 18 [22 favorites]


I don't get how Evangelical men guilty of sexual assault can summon up the cognitive dissonance to commit these crimes and still feel like they're good Christians. At best, they're guilty of extra-marital sex, at worst God isn't punishing them for something they've been told is a serious sin all their lives. Do they live out their lives thinking they're going to burn in Hell for all eternity? Do they think when they die they're going to meet God and he's going to be a paleo-Christian dude bro whose going to high five them? What do they do they say to their own daughters and wives when they get assaulted? Do they make the same sort of excuses for the men who assaulted their loved ones as were made for them?

How does this help make a better Christian world? By excusing this, Patrick Henry College is raising generation after generation of men who are deeply, deeply flawed, violate God's laws, and still have the audacity to claim some allegiance to Christianity. Its self defeating for the Evangelic movement. It undermines their religious beliefs. It makes them monsters.

Bah. I hope that what they believe is true only so that they can suffer the full force of God's wrath when they die.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:16 PM on February 18 [6 favorites]


In what POSSIBLE sense is this joke of an institution "elite"?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:17 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


At best, they're guilty of extra-marital sex, at worst God isn't punishing them for something they've been told is a serious sin all their lives. Do they live out their lives thinking they're going to burn in Hell for all eternity?

Unconditional forgiveness is a powerful philosophy.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:20 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Unconditional forgiveness is a powerful philosophy.

I get your point, and yet, the women go unforgiven, expelled and often shunned. If Jesus comes back I hope the only thing he says to this group of Evangelicals is "Nope."
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:22 PM on February 18 [15 favorites]


"Going to have to step out because the very idea of there being 'campus cops' does not exist where I'm from, and seems so weird, broken and unnecessary that I don't know what further to say on the issue. Except whoever came up with the idea of there being separate 'campus cops' deserves to rot."

I don't think there's any question that separate campus police departments ultimately do more harm than good.

However, the rationale is not insane. The underlying problem is that police departments are funded by local property taxes. In the small town I grew up in, the total population was about 12,000 people, but the university students accounted for more than a third of that total. And the university is a state institution which pays no property taxes and, of course, neither do (almost all) those students.

So in that example, there's a relatively large community with it's own particular and peculiar set of problems that represents for the town a huge enforcement burden with no revenue to pay for that enforcement.

With smaller schools, public and private, like PHC, the financial problem is not as stark, but there are other issues to be considered, too. There's quite a few communities where the last thing anyone needs is the local police showing up and enforcing things like laws against underage drinking or disorderly conduct that occurs on campus. Ideally, the goal of campus police is that they are oriented toward and sensitive to the particular and peculiar enforcement needs of what is an unusually distinct community relative to that of the larger population within which it exists.

Even so, as I wrote, my own opinion is that the net result of this specialized enforcement is negative rather than the intended positive. But the intention is not invalid and insane.

The deeper problems for larger schools in smaller communities is the budget problems. But there we get into another cultural difference between the US and much of the rest of the world, and that's the bias toward local governance (and funding).

My aim isn't so much to defend the reality of the existence of campus police departments, as defend the mere idea from the claim that it's entirely unjustifiable.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:23 PM on February 18 [7 favorites]


barchan: I've always had the impression that the Dominionists take their theological commitments very seriously, especially the Seven Mountains Dominionists who seeks to place Christians in control over the seven forces that shape and control our culture: (1) Business; (2) Government; (3) Media; (4) Arts and Entertainment; (5) Education; (6) Family; and (7) Religion.

The Wikipedia article is wishy-washy, which may give a sense of why message control is becoming a sensitive issue for some of these folks. It's still got lots of good references though.
posted by sneebler at 4:23 PM on February 18 [6 favorites]


Do they live out their lives thinking they're going to burn in Hell for all eternity?

Of course not. They cry and beg forgiveness for giving into the sin of temptation, and then they report that Jesus told them they're forgiven, and then they carry on.
posted by rtha at 4:24 PM on February 18 [20 favorites]


seeks to place Christians in control over the seven forces that shape and control our culture: (1) Business; (2) Government; (3) Media; (4) Arts and Entertainment; (5) Education; (6) Family; and (7) Religion

Give unto Caesar...?
posted by Jimbob at 4:26 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


As a property crime against one's male guardians, surely?
posted by acb at 4:27 PM on February 18


Give unto Caesar...?

yeah, I know. It seems hard to reconcile.
posted by thelonius at 4:27 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


"Give unto Caesar...?"

Their rationale is to be in position for the End Times such that the Church is ready to take its proper worldly role in that context.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:28 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


I don't get how Evangelical men guilty of sexual assault can summon up the cognitive dissonance to commit these crimes and still feel like they're good Christians...At best, they're guilty of extra-marital sex

At least they're not women who are guilty of extramarital sex, let alone women who culpably wear revealing clothing. Sure, they think, they stepped out of line, but they were overpowered by understandable urges. They're not the guilty party here, they think.

The terrifying thing about people like Cirbitt is that they are saying exactly what they sincerely believe. Student rapists share those beliefs in part because that's what Patrick Henry College endorses, teaches and enforces. You're expecting to see cognitive dissonance because you've underestimated how deep the rot goes.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:29 PM on February 18 [8 favorites]


The underlying problem is that police departments are funded by local property taxes.

Yeah, that's basically why I'm trying to give up pressing the point, because before long you descend into a spiral of arguing about the obsession in the US with local funding of institutions (police, education, you name it) that are funded at state or national level in other countries to much better effect, and then you start heading down the road of the relative value of local autonomy versus national consistency and it detracts from the overall issue that the people who let this happen are bastards.
posted by Jimbob at 4:31 PM on February 18 [7 favorites]


Of course not. They cry and beg forgiveness for giving into the sin of temptation, and then they report that Jesus told them they're forgiven, and then they carry on.

I still don't understand how Jesus can forgive you for things you did to me.
posted by jeather at 4:31 PM on February 18 [11 favorites]


Re the campus cops: they aren't uniformly bad. At the all-women's college I attended, student groups had worked with campus security around issues of sexual violence, with strong support from the administration. It was generally understood that campus security would handle sexual violence reports with a lot more tact and basic humanity than the local PD would have, at least at that time.

Now, this was easy for the administration to support, because it understood that in the vast majority of cases, the perp would not be an enrolled student, so the administration could support this wholeheartedly. (In a stark difference to issues surrounding sexual harassment, which were likely to involve faculty, and thus the administration did not cover itself with glory on that issue.)

tl;dr: would that attending an all-women's liberal arts college could ever be an option for these women.
posted by ambrosia at 4:32 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I couldn't finish the New Republic article. Oh, it wasn't the sexual assault part that triggered me. It was the fact that this "Patrick Henry College" is allowed to exist at all, and that despite having only existed since 2000 and only graduated some 500 people, it seems to be allowed to have a direct career line into the government. Makes me sick.
posted by dnash at 4:34 PM on February 18 [9 favorites]


I had to stop reading, so angry.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:34 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


I don't get how Evangelical men guilty of sexual assault can summon up the cognitive dissonance to commit these crimes and still feel like they're good Christians...At best, they're guilty of extra-marital sex

They were tempted. As men, they have no control over their baser urges, which is why women need to cover up at all times. If they were tempted into sin, it is because of the temptation of a woman, not an inherent mistake in their actions or a flaw in their being. They can beg forgiveness and repent of their sins to Jesus and be cleansed in his blood and love. After that, what need do they have of guilt?
posted by Hactar at 4:42 PM on February 18 [12 favorites]


It is interesting thinking about PHC's instinct to contain, "counsel," reframe language, and cover up as reflective of the political strategies their students go on to use, and that their faculty learned in the trenches. There's something about the right, privacy, secrecy, dealing with things "in the family," and the fear of openness to the rule of law, to truly participating in public life. It's not formed in my head enough to articulate, but this long, long established habit of suppressing issues and crimes within the "family" - whether the home family, the church family, the work family, the school family - and putting on a composed and placid face to the rest of the world is linked to the big social issues in some way.
posted by Miko at 4:44 PM on February 18 [7 favorites]


In the comments on the story are some interesting notes from PHC alums.
posted by Miko at 4:47 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


If you surrender the authority of the tribal leader in one area (dealing with rapes) to the outside world, then you risk the outside world make further in-roads to the tribal leader in other place. And you must protect the tribe.

(I know, it's not subtle, and it's the obvious go-to answer around MetaFilter. While there may be other confounding issues, it sure seems to apply here.)
posted by benito.strauss at 4:50 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


That particular corner of Christianity is having some issues lately. There are at least two public figures (public to that corner of homeschooling/fundamentalism at least) who have had very serious accusations thrown at them. One of them has had to step down from his ministry and his connected business has gone out of business (Google Vision Forum if you are interested.) The other one is one of the big kahunas of that particular subset-Bill Gothard. The accusations being thrown at him, if true, are gonna rock the world of a lot of people who are deep into the ultraconservative Dominionist subset.

I have no idea if the accusations are true or false, but I was never a Gothardite to start with, as I did not agree with what he taught or how he conducted his organization. It seems the chickens are starting to come home to roost now, though. That is a good thing, for women in particular and for sincere Christians in general, I think. A lot of sincere folk, particularly homeschoolers, have gotten drawn in to what I consider rank, rank legalism, and dominionism-with which I have issues.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:51 PM on February 18 [17 favorites]


Going to have to step out because the very idea of there being "campus cops" does not exist where I'm from, and seems so weird, broken and unnecessary that I don't know what further to say on the issue. Except whoever came up with the idea of there being separate "campus cops" deserves to rot.

Well, there's a long history as to why the system tends to work this way in the US, shaped in large part by the campus-based protests of the 60s and 70s. The funny thing is that the intent, in part anyway, has always been to use the campus police to sweep things under the rug. The campus police, at many institutions, can handle things like underage drinking (sigh, Amethyst Initiative...) or streaking by either ignoring it or through the on-campus judicial system, which saves everyone from trouble and embarrassment. Many college towns have no interest in inuring the costs of college students' misbehavior and would far prefer not to have to deal with it, especially when the issue is pretty much limited to the campus community anyway. The system basically lets the college play prosecutor, deciding the disposition of cases before they enter any kind of justice system.

And this can be a good thing in many situations. It means colleges can have medical amnesty policies where students calling for medical aid for a drunk friend are shielded from judicial consequences, preventing potentially fatal situations where students have to choose between calling for help and staying out of trouble. It means that a streaking incident can be ignored or dealt with on campus, instead of as criminal charges for a sexual offense in some jurisdictions. If the campus police are caring and competent (by no means guaranteed), it means that complaints that would typically be ignored by a busy municipal police department (e.g. minor harassment, bike theft, petty vandalism) can be addressed on campus. And it means that the campus police can work more collaboratively with campus health and mental health services when they deal with issues related to substance abuse and mental illness.

To look at it another way, go watch the Paper Bag Speech from The Wire, one of the best scenes of television ever produced. Campus cops are the town's paper bag, shifting the work away from local officials and, in theory, letting everyone focus on more important stuff.

The system worked entirely too well, as universities could now sweep not just the small stuff, but robberies, assaults, sexual assaults, etc... under the rug. Hence the Clery Act, discussed above, which Patrick Henry apparently isn't subject to, which requires basic disclosure of college crime statistics, no matter who investigates them, and prompt warnings about serious incidents. Students getting raped on campus makes for terrible PR, so why not use the same system to deal with it all in house?
posted by zachlipton at 4:52 PM on February 18 [13 favorites]


I don't get how Evangelical men guilty of sexual assault can summon up the cognitive dissonance to commit these crimes and still feel like they're good Christians...At best, they're guilty of extra-marital sex

They process it to think their sin lies in giving in to the temptations forced upon them by these unclean women who go into their rooms, sit on their beds, or dare to have female bodies which they might be forced to notice. Hence the main focus is on stopping women from further "provocative" behaviour, rather than punishing the men.
posted by andraste at 4:55 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Zarq: What possible reason could an education institution have (especially one that touts its moral superiority over other schools) for not logging and reporting crime statistics?

Because it frightens off the customers?
posted by mudpuppie at 4:59 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


"I get your point, and yet, the women go unforgiven, expelled and often shunned. If Jesus comes back I hope the only thing he says to this group of Evangelicals is "Nope.""

To be fair, the women are Jezebels and Delilahs, to the men's Elijahs and Samsons.
posted by klangklangston at 5:00 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


(Though the idea that your children are too weak to stave off temptation and keep to the truth is an odd one, and one I don't totally understand.)

It makes sense if you understand that people who fear this for their children also consider themselves too weak to stave off temptation and keep to the truth. Even in circles of supposedly mature adults, there is a lot of anguished discussion about how to choose one's company, ward off temptors, keep busy and focused on work at hand (often religious obligations). In this view, the only way to avoid the world's endless opportunities to grievously sin is to live cordoned off, to ride herd all the time on oneself and on others.
posted by Miko at 5:00 PM on February 18 [7 favorites]


I still don't understand how Jesus can forgive you for things you did to me.

The Patrick Henry College Statement of Faith (what they believe): "Christ's death provides substitutionary atonement for our sins." Their theory is that all wrongdoing is primarily an offence against God, in the sense that it makes God think you deserve to die. God is bloodthirsty, literally bloodthirsty. To prevent God from killing you, you could try literally killing some animals and literally throwing blood around as a way of appeasing him. However, God prefers human sacrifice, preferably one where the victim is entirely innocent. That's why it's better to wave your belief in Jesus around like a blood red matador's cape in the hope that God, pleased by the smell of innocent blood, will calm down and let you live.

Being forgiven by you for crimes done to you is comparatively unimportant because you are comparatively unthreatening. Unlike God, you are not a torturer, let alone the sort of torturer who would keep his victims alive to suffer longer, let alone the sort of torturer who would make his victims suffer literally forever.

Thankfully this is not the only theory about what God is like, but it is theirs.

What's terrifying is that they also believe that their God is good and seek to follow what they believe are his teachings, rather than seeing him as a Lovecraftian monster to be opposed using the methods of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:02 PM on February 18 [46 favorites]


Aha. PHC'ers are going into the NSA. Which explains the comprehensive surveillance. God is omniscient, you know.
posted by telstar at 5:03 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Ivan F., I'll just quote the rest of the paragraph I linked to above:

The reason for this, as Lance Wallnau, the leading advocate for Seven Mountains theology, explained is that Jesus "doesn't come back until He's accomplished the dominion of nations." And the way "dominion of nations" is accomplished is by having Christians gain control of these "seven mountains" in order to install a "virtual theocracy" overseen by "true apostles" who will fight Satan and his Antichrist agenda.

So I think it's more pro-active than waiting around for Obama The Antichrist to show up and then getting out the vote.
posted by sneebler at 5:05 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Well, yes, I know. My sister and brother-in-law are prominent within this culture, professionally. I know more than I want to about it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:09 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


So, none of these classes are considered legit enough to transfer to other schools, according to the New Republic, and yet these students are on a pipeline into law schools and "the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, various branches of the military, and intelligence contractors"?

Oh joy.

I looked over their course catalog - under the category of Historical Studies, Non-Western they have "Modern Germany" and "Modern Russia." Okay, yeah?

No math at all taught at the school but students do take one semester of biology and physics, and there are a couple earth science courses.
posted by Squeak Attack at 5:10 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


It makes sense if you understand that people who fear this for their children also consider themselves too weak to stave off temptation and keep to the truth. Even in circles of supposedly mature adults, there is a lot of anguished discussion about how to choose one's company, ward off temptors, keep busy and focused on work at hand (often religious obligations). In this view, the only way to avoid the world's endless opportunities to grievously sin is to live cordoned off, to ride herd all the time on oneself and on others.


This.

It's ridiculous.

I have seen it in practice, and it backfires. And sometimes, backfires grieviously. It's a weak faith that has to cordon itself off like that.

I mean it's one thing, if you are prone to alcoholism, to stay out of a bar. That is common sense. But to my way of thinking, if your children are not strong enough in their faith to go out into the world as young adults and keep their belief system, I question whether or not they truly had faith to begin with. Lots of these folks think that their kids are "good" just because they have been trained to be that way. That isn't the Gospel. The Gospel is that we are all sinners, and that it is His Grace that saves us AND that sanctifies us (sanctification being a ten dollar word meaning we grow in grace and in our ability to be like the Lord.) I see it as a perversion of Christianity, myself.

I can see the point of being protective of young children. But by the time one is college aged, it is past time to be able to function in the real world.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:12 PM on February 18 [25 favorites]


Evangelical Christianity seeks to deny women choices in all arenas of public and private life; not condoning rape (the denial of choice of who and who not to have sex with) would be the inconsistency here.
posted by jamjam at 5:13 PM on February 18


Bill Gothard never married. This tells the ugly reason why.
posted by RuvaBlue at 5:14 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Is that "place" somehow outside the jurisdiction of an actual police force and justice system?

Basically, yeah. If it happens on campus, local police often don't bother to get involved. I wonder if it's a vestige of in loco parentis which hasn't been a thing since the '60s: on campus (at home), it's the school's (the parents') rules.

On the 'plus' side, a lot of underage kids get to smoke and drink at college (... well, not at this particular school, probably) without huge fear of repercussions beyond a stern talking-to from an administrator.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:19 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


. It's a weak faith that has to cordon itself off like that.

And I sometimes think that weak people are drawn to that sort of faith; lacking an inner sense of control and personal agency and ability to self-regulate, they seek to impose it from outside.
posted by Miko at 5:19 PM on February 18 [9 favorites]


I don't think there's anything shameful about recognizing something you don't like about yourself, acknowledging you can't effectively change it yourself, and looking for a structure to help you do it. What's offensive to a lot of people who look down on the "weak" is the concept of sin itself.
posted by fraxil at 5:21 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Jesus "doesn't come back until He's accomplished the dominion of nations."

My Buffy reference was intended to be taken straight. We are dealing with a religious cult that in all but name wants to open the Hellmouth and bring about the End of the World.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:24 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


My Buffy reference was intended to be taken straight. We are dealing with a religious cult that in all but name wants to open the Hellmouth and bring about the End of the World.

Oh my gosh! I missed your Buffy reference and was about to post that all this makes me want to go back and watch Buffy -- especially the bits about how/why the Slayer was made.

As a child of the 70's, having lived my teen years in the 80's, I can't believe how much ground men-who-seek-to-own-women have gained in the past thirty years.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:38 PM on February 18


If you believe, you are already forgiven for your sins, past, present and future. Any sin. So, if you believed fervently and deep in your heart when you were 12, and state it out loud that you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal savior, anything you subsequently do will be forgiven. Even if you go on a mass murder rampage ... heaven awaits.

Its quite clear in the New Testament, that you do not go to heaven by works or deeds. You go to heaven by belief and that is all.
posted by Admira at 5:40 PM on February 18


I'm fond of a more charitable & damning view. I think conservatives often create harsh conditions in order to maintain the need for conservative choices and aesthetics.

In other words, by making the world a nasty brutish place, you create a space in which biblical (and/or libertarian) guidance is once again relevant. That results in a ratchet where even as conservatives consciously reject abuse, the situations that create it are rewarded due to the appeal of the methods used to fight the resulting abuse. Thus the logic goes:

"This place is better than that place, because in this place there's so much unwanted pregnancy we only teach abstinence in schools."
posted by tychotesla at 5:41 PM on February 18 [10 favorites]


What you say is "quite clear in the New Testament" has actually received a great deal more thought and attention than you give credit for. Faith is not equivalent to belief, for one thing. And then there is the epistle of James, which it's true Martin Luther did not approve of much, but why promote the shallowest, most historically ignorant Protestantism as representative of the entire Christian tradition?
posted by fraxil at 5:46 PM on February 18 [10 favorites]


Its quite clear in the New Testament, that you do not go to heaven by works or deeds. You go to heaven by belief and that is all.

So basically, to their way of thinking, bro-God will be there to welcome them to heaven and high five them saying "Welcome to heaven, Evangelical bro, man you sure raped a lot of women and got away with it when you were alive but, of well, you believed in me so come on it." Unless I'm misreading what you're saying, God sounds like a complete douche in this scenario.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:53 PM on February 18


Joey Michaels: God sounds like a complete douche in this scenario.

God has a record of his own. I don't recall His asking Marys permission in the New Testament...
posted by dr_dank at 6:02 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


I should have prefaced my comment above that that is what I have been taught in Bible study groups, one on one teachings and from attending various churches ranging from quite evangelical to moderately conservative. Obviously all aspects of the Bible, faith, and interpretation has been debated and my comment makes a blanket statement based on my experience and past education in the matter, that I probably need more education and insight into. Not wanting to derail the thread with New Testament interpretation, if that is what happens then happy for my comments to be removed.
posted by Admira at 6:10 PM on February 18


... but why promote the shallowest, most historically ignorant Protestantism as representative of the entire Christian tradition?

It is not the view that is most representative, it is the view that most requires attention.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:13 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


If you believe, you are already forgiven for your sins, past, present and future. Any sin. So, if you believed fervently and deep in your heart when you were 12, and state it out loud that you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal savior, anything you subsequently do will be forgiven. Even if you go on a mass murder rampage ... heaven awaits.

Its quite clear in the New Testament, that you do not go to heaven by works or deeds. You go to heaven by belief and that is all.


Some extreme strains of Calvinism and Free Will theology may teach that, and it may sound like that when put into oversimplified popular language. Other historical Christian theologies (the majority, actually, since most Christians in the world are Catholic or Orthodox) don't teach that.

The undisputed Pauline letters in the New Testament are guidance to churches (and in one case, an individual) directing them to specific ethical actions. The actions aren't salvific in and of themselves (per Paul's understanding)--but they are necessary for the righteous community.

And, see also the teachings of Jesus throughout the New Testament, starting with Matthew 5 - 7, the Sermon on the Mount: it's not enough simply to refrain from murder, one is not even to get angry. Not enough to refrain from adultery, one is not even to look upon a woman with lust. Actions matter.

And there's precious little about "getting to heaven" in the New Testament at all. . .
posted by apartment dweller at 6:15 PM on February 18 [7 favorites]


In this context, I think you are right. I admit I also find that brand of Protestantism particularly irritating because I was brought up in it.
posted by fraxil at 6:15 PM on February 18


Going to have to step out because the very idea of there being "campus cops" does not exist where I'm from, and seems so weird, broken and unnecessary that I don't know what further to say on the issue. Except whoever came up with the idea of there being separate "campus cops" deserves to rot.

Can't pin that one on the benighted Muricans. You want the Act for the better Preservation of the Peace and good Order in the Universities of England, which set up separate police forces for Oxford and Cambridge Universities in 1825, when the Metropolitan Police itself was still in planning stages. Both police forces survived into the 21st century, and Cambridge's still exists.

Although... not saying anyone was, but if anyone was going to say anything under my breath about Commonwealth types not knowing their own history, it's worth noting that Oxford abolished their 178-year-old campus police in 2003, partially because of complaints about lack of accountability.
posted by ormondsacker at 6:15 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


Admira, I don't think that's a derail. Questions of Biblical interpretation are relevant here because the way Patrick Henry College treats its female students follows directly from their interpretation of the Bible.

If I can make a book recommendation, Rob Bell's Love Wins. It's a rather moving book about the love of God, and among other things, it includes an interpretation of the New Testament that leads to the universal reconciliation theory of what Jesus' death means. You might or might not find the argument convincing. In either case, it might be worth reading as a way of finding out about what some other Christians believe.

I don't recall His asking Marys permission in the New Testament...

Well, consent: "be it done to me according to thy word," followed by a prayer of thanks that Christians treat as one of the most important texts in the Bible.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:21 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


In other words, by making the world a nasty brutish place, you create a space in which biblical (and/or libertarian) guidance is once again relevant

In the end, it's just a continued justification for the same self-appointed group of people to maintain authority. The important thing is the authority; the means of achieving the authority can certainly include lying, suppression, criminal coverups, and the creation of harsh conditions, but the means matter far less than the ends, which are that the right people are in control of social institutions. The ultimate goal is that "our kind" remain in power, above all else.
posted by Miko at 6:26 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Christians, even the kind that are your favorite buzzword, hate rape and think it's a terrible sin. When they hear about it, they call the police. They get really angry. Then, when the rapist is in jail, they go visit him and forgive him and so forth. They're very normal that way. Unfortunately, they also do their jobs like normal people, and the job of key employees at colleges with valuable reputations is to maintain the reputation. The better way to maintain it is preventing. The worse way is denial. In this case, the latter was chosen. Corbitt, from the article, would probably want to put her daughter's hypothetical rapist away for life, but in an official capacity, she tried to not acknowledge the rape of someone else's daughter. That is sad and unfair.
posted by michaelh at 6:30 PM on February 18 [7 favorites]


I've always wondered why these ultra-conservative Christian groups don't set up women's colleges if it's a fait accompli that women are constantly tempting men. A while back, I was talking to a colleague whose daughter is graduating high school this year. He was worried about her going to the big state school in our area, as she's kind of shy. I suggested a women's college not too far away that's pretty well regarded, and he said she liked the idea of a women's college, but he thought they were all "too liberal" for their family. And, well, he's not wrong. Most of the well-known women's colleges are pretty liberal (usually a selling point). I looked around because I figured there must be a women's counterpart to Bob Jones - a place where the majors are limited to early childhood development and communications - but I came up empty in my cursory search. Are there any conservative Christian women's colleges?
posted by bluefly at 7:03 PM on February 18


"God's Harvard."

It's pretty funny how many small private colleges try to brand themselves as "the Harvard of X".
posted by straight at 7:34 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


OMG OMG I have a story and it is not even that bad a story but I could only read halfway through the thread before I had to tell this story.

So Kathleen Parker, when I was in college, wrote this column that was all, "haha, if one in four college women were sexually assaulted, parents would totally not send their daughters to college, this number must be completely fake because parents are not this terrible!" (This was like 15 years ago so I'm not turning out to be able to google up the specific column because she has written a lot on this theme apparently.)

I was infuriated and wrote to the big-deal chairman of the editorial board of the major metro daily near me that carried her column and I was like "Dude, I am a lady-person actually in college and it is TOTALLY EVEN WORSE THAN THAT just talking to women I know casually in my dorm not to mention the extensive stories circulating on campus." So this big-deal media gentleman actually wrote me back and was like, "As it turns out, I am on the Board of Trustees of your top-25 college and HAVE NEVER HEARD that sexual assault is a problem and if it is please write me back because we definitely need to stamp that out because" and this part I am directly quoting, "it would be really troubling if young women were being sexually assaulted at that rate on a Catholic college campus."

So I wrote him back with fairly exhaustive details from campus crime reports and the campus newspaper's extensive reporting on sexual violence.

He never got back to me.

The Board of Trustees took no action and made no statements.

I assume he decided it was a totally acceptable level of sexual violence.

It's been 15 years and I'm still frankly pissed off.

The reported rate of sexual assault has not fallen on campus in 15 years, but there was a high-profile suicide by a raped student so at least we've progressed to the point where women are actually killing themselves over sexual violence on campus.

I wonder what Kathleen Parker and this other jerk would have to say if I contacted them today.

And, no, I make no donations. Because it's been 15 years and I am still pissed off.

Ugh I am like seriously seeing literal red with rage just thinking about this.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:34 PM on February 18 [42 favorites]


Well, the thing about salvation being by faith, is that faith is not some passive thing-it's a catalyst that creates something in the individual that has it. Faith that doesn't have a real and lasting effect on your life is dead faith.

In the example someone upthread mentioned, that of someone mouthing a prayer and then going off and murdering and getting a get-out-of-hell-free card-well, that's kinda not how it works. Someone who has true faith-who has had that bornagain experience (and in a sense, that is not metaphor, that speaks of a spiritual reality) -well, they may not be sinless afterward (none of us are) but the bent to sin is broken, and the individual who is saved by faith in the name of Jesus basically exchanges his sinfulness for the life of Christ within him. It is as you live by faith in the Son of God and His saving power that you are transformed. Doesn't mean there aren't hiccups in the way, it does mean when you mess up you go to God with the mess and let HIm fix it. Some messes have consequences you have to live with, of course.

But if someone claims to be born again and they go out and murder a bunch of people? Well, how can they say they love God if they aren't obeying Him and walking in love?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:35 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


(Thanks to the jrun issue I lost about half that comment, in which I mention the fact that God does get angry at the things it is right to get angry about. )

One of which is, when a woman or girl gets raped and no one defends her.

Eyebrows McGee, your story makes me so very sad and angry. I wish I could say I was surprised.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:37 PM on February 18


I've always wondered why these ultra-conservative Christian groups don't set up women's colleges if it's a fait accompli that women are constantly tempting men


Ooh, ooh, I know the answer to that one.


Where else are they meeting eligible young men to marry? Otherwise, why send em to school in the first place?

Oh I wish I were kidding.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:39 PM on February 18 [31 favorites]


whut
posted by Smedleyman at 7:49 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


The comment way upthread about Pensacola Christian seriously hit a nerve (and made me laugh, honestly). Pensacola is my hometown, and I swear to you that if you can be so wacked out that people in Northwestern Florida think you're a nutcase? You are bonkers. It is FoxNews central and full of ex-military.

That school has a fully integrated system that starts in preschool and goes through graduate school (which I would assume is Pastor's school or something?). We recognize the girls who go to the school by their attire much like you would Amish. The girls aren't allowed to drive (or weren't when I was growing up), so you see them walking in their ankle-length denim dresses next to busy four lane roads near the school all the time. Florida doesn't have sidewalks, so they're walking just wily-nily wherever.

I have known SO MANY people who went to school there, whether it be pre-college education or college. I don't know a single person who got out of there who believes the crap they teach. I wonder what the attrition rate is for Christianity when you're mentally and physically abused in the name of religion until you see the light of day (they spank, even college-aged students! can you imagine this?).

When I left I thought Pensacola was a lot like a third world country, it's gotten worse in the time between.
posted by syncope at 7:59 PM on February 18 [6 favorites]


St. Alia is totally not kidding.

Heck, I was raised fairly standard boring ol' mainstream Presbyterian, and there were people at our church who clearly believed a milder version of that.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:02 PM on February 18


Syncope, I used to live in Pensacola several decades ago, and I can back you up even going back that far.

My husband managed a Waffle House (since torn down) near that school. One of his cooks went to school there. He quit after working just a little while, as "being exposed to the juke box was against his faith." Another story we heard was of someone who almost got kicked out of school for having an Amy Grant tape in his possession. And that was back when she sang only Christian music!

By the way, as a Charismatic I would not have been welcome at that school. (The catalog came right out and said if you spoke in tongues you need not apply. )

Oh, and if you know anyone who uses A Beka books in their home school? Guess where they came from?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:34 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


bearwife: “I'm not a Christian by any stretch, but it is clear to me that the attitudes in play here are not Judeo-Christian but simply patriarchal and misgynistic -- and they remind me most of the non-Christian cultures in the world who call for stoning or gang rape of victims.”

justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: “Speaking as a Christian, that's a no true Scotsman. What we see in this article is an extreme but not atypical expression of the evangelical Christian subculture, and it is something non-evil evangelicals have a duty to oppose.”

There is such a thing as a Scotsman. It is logically and ontologically sound to say "no true Scotsman would X" if you know and can define what a Scotsman is. The modern horror of so-called "no true Scotsman fallacies" is irrational and silly, and seems to stem mostly from the exasperation of uninformed atheists arguing with silly superstitious people who claim to be Christians.
posted by koeselitz at 9:01 PM on February 18


In what POSSIBLE sense is this joke of an institution "elite"?

I was curious and it appears to be moderately selective. More God's University of Wisconsin than God's Harvard.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:17 PM on February 18 [11 favorites]


Anyone willing to give consideration to idea that there are a lot of sociopaths in these relgious groups? One of the keys to being a successful sociopath is to fake goodness well enough to go unnoticed. The religious environment is perfect for that: clearly defined behavioural goals, continuous feedback, and the gargantuan hole of "forgiveness" and "omertá" if you slip up and accidentally let your sociopathic self run free for an evening. It's flippin' designed for sociopaths!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:35 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Students in the school’s Strategic Intelligence Program can graduate with security clearances from their summer internships, making PHC a feeder school for the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, various branches of the military, and intelligence contractors.

Oh my God! is this a thing? Are there religious nuts in these organizations making sure that they hire from wacko colleges like this? Is Patrick Henry a Christian Madras, training America's future Mutaween police force? Because if this is true, this is much scarier than even the handling of rape by the college. Their goal is to make the whole country like this!

I often wondered if this is how Edward Snowden got hired (maybe by Patrick Henry graduates?) and why he was so trusted. From records of his IRC chats, he came across as an ultra-conservative libertarian jerk. Yet what he saw shocked him so much that he grew up and grew a conscience.

Sorry for the diversion, but this post and the one about Roger Ailes really shook me up. God help us all! Their goal is to make us just like Iran!
posted by eye of newt at 11:52 PM on February 18 [6 favorites]


> "[They believe i]ts quite clear in the New Testament, that you do not go to heaven by works or deeds. You go to heaven by belief and that is all."

Speaking as a nonchristian, this belief has always kind of baffled me. I mean, not that it exists, it's obviously very convenient to use belief as a get-out-of-hell-free card, but that it's possible to reconcile it with *any* interpretation of the christian sacred texts, be it literal, metaphorical, historical, or what have you. It's kind of all over the place in the New Testament that works and deeds totally do matter. E.g.:

"What good is it ... if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."

"He will render to each one according to his works ..."

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory ... the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'"
posted by kyrademon at 4:31 AM on February 19 [11 favorites]


koeselitz: "The modern horror of so-called "no true Scotsman fallacies" is irrational and silly, and seems to stem mostly from the exasperation of uninformed atheists arguing with silly superstitious people who claim to be Christians."

It's neither particularly modern nor atheist. CS Lewis makes essentially the same argument against restricting the use of the word "Christian" in Mere Christianity.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 5:04 AM on February 19


There is such a thing as a Scotsman. It is logically and ontologically sound to say "no true Scotsman would X" if you know and can define what a Scotsman is.
koeselitz

But you don't and you can't. That's the point.

There simply is no "true Christian" and there never has been from literally the very beginning. There have always been divisions over what Christians believe. So who are the "true Christians" that we can measure all others against to say they are false?

Mormons identify themselves as Christians, but many other Christian sects reject that identification. There are Protestants who don't consider Catholics Christian. There are Catholics who believe other Catholics are doing it wrong.

These people described in this post, a small but not insignificant number, identify as Christians, and they do these things and hold these beliefs. And in the past views similar to theirs regarding the status and roles of women were much more widespread among people who called themselves Christians. Like all other Christians, they're Christian because they identify as such, and there's no "true" measure you can hold them against, however repulsive their beliefs might be to you, because to them we're the deviants and they're the true believers.
posted by Sangermaine at 5:14 AM on February 19 [9 favorites]


Are there religious nuts in these organizations making sure that they hire from wacko colleges like this? Is Patrick Henry a Christian Madras, training America's future Mutaween police force?

The security clearance process wants to make sure that you do not have connections to a foreign government, no ongoing addictions, and are not trying to hide any crimes in your past. The process is greatly simplified if you haven't done much foreign travel and haven't lived in a bunch of different places that the background checkers need to confirm and investigate. So to a large degree, a PHC student makes a very good candidate for security clearance: easy to check up on, easy to confirm his background, no foreign family or social connections. Once their security clearance gets processed quickly on the basis of their summer internships, that makes them very attractive candidates to other government employers and contractors which require clearance because those agencies and companies don't have to go through the expense of paying for the employee to get clearance.

There is an innate tension between trying to put together a high-quality academic institution and enforcing strict adherence to a legalistic evangelical worldview. PHC initially made the "mistake" of hiring high-quality faculty, and this ran into immediate tensions by the mid-2000s at which point a bunch of faculty quit or were fired. Originally PHC was meant for very smart home school evangelicals, eventually it looks like it is going to go to Pensacola Christian College route where it becomes a "safe space" for evangelical families who don't want their children to hear or see anything they wouldn't have been taught while being homeschooled.
posted by deanc at 5:45 AM on February 19 [5 favorites]


Sangermaine: “These people described in this post, a small but not insignificant number, identify as Christians, and they do these things and hold these beliefs. And in the past views similar to theirs regarding the status and roles of women were much more widespread among people who called themselves Christians. Like all other Christians, they're Christian because they identify as such, and there's no ‘true’ measure you can hold them against, however repulsive their beliefs might be to you, because to them we're the deviants and they're the true believers.”

Holding a belief means at least believing in the coherency of that belief; so if one claims to be a Christian, one is at least claiming that "Christian" is a coherent thing which can be defined. You say it isn't. That's fine; it just means you don't believe that Christianity is a thing. You are free to believe that. But those of us who do believe in the truth of Christianity will naturally believe in its coherency. And it isn't some horrible intolerant nonsense for me to say that these people are following a heretical and incorrect interpretation of Christianity; it's just rational.

They are not true Christians.
posted by koeselitz at 6:22 AM on February 19


those of us who do believe in the truth of Christianity will naturally believe in its coherency.

I'm not sure I do; I identify as a Christian but find that when I compare what I think that means with others' definitions, I often find they are not especially coherent.
posted by Miko at 6:41 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


It is logically and ontologically sound to say "no true Scotsman would X" if you know and can define what a Scotsman is. The modern horror of so-called "no true Scotsman fallacies" is irrational and silly

But the set X of "things no true Scotsman would do" consists of nothing more than acts that are physically impossible for humans.*

Likewise, the only beliefs that no true Christian would hold would be that small set of beliefs, possibly an empty set, of beliefs that are somehow neurologically impossible to hold in the human brain. If nothing else, there are true Christians who are also clinically insane.

But those of us who do believe in the truth of Christianity will naturally believe in its coherency.

But not about what the substantive content of that coherency. The Orthodox coherency is not the same as the Roman Catholic one is not the same as the Southern Baptist one(s). If Christians differ about the substantive content of what Christianity coherently is, then there's no collective coherence after all. Just claims to be correct where all** others are wrong. I mean, at some level if there's a true Christ there has to be a true, coherent Christianity, but we don't know precisely what that consists of (or whether any Christian faith actually espouses it, much less lives it), and we have to hope that mercy extends to the various misbeliefs that Christians hold.

It's fine to point out how un-Christlike these institutions are, or how far from the gospel they've strayed. But saying, when people complain about Christians, that they're just not really Christian is a cheap, deceptive tactic. They're not not-Christians in any real sense, and certainly not in the sense meant by the complainer. They're just bad ones.

*Though even this might fail in the future if we discover or create nonhuman or posthuman Scots.
**Discounting those faiths that have agreed that their "coherencies" are mutually compatible, like ELCA and ECUSA.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:53 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


at some level if there's a true Christ there has to be a true, coherent Christianity

I'm not even sure about that, as the existence of a Christ is a separate thing from the "-ianity," the set of beliefs and practices surrounding that existence. Christ might even be able to say "hello, this the set of true facts about me which define the belief set of Christianity," and yet there would likely still be people who say "I agree with you on 80% of that only, but I still identify with your project."
posted by Miko at 7:02 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: "But those of us who do believe in the truth of Christianity will naturally believe in its coherency. And it isn't some horrible intolerant nonsense for me to say that these people are following a heretical and incorrect interpretation of Christianity; it's just rational."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but to Catholics, so are Protestants. No? As an outsider, it seems to me that the two major Christian sects, Protestantism and Catholicism, contain core beliefs that disagree with each other. Differing views on the Pope and his ability to speak ex cathedra. Sola Fida. Sola Scriptura. And the various differences with regards to salvation, atonement, personal responsibility for sin, etc., etc.

800 million Protestants in the world. Should they not be allowed to call themselves Christians?
posted by zarq at 7:11 AM on February 19


...and people who say "I agree with 100% of that and also here is my own set of extrapolations that my particular neighborhood of the follower community wants to add to that." I mean, even if Christ were empirically standing here saying "I did say this, I didn't say that," it wouldn't be that different theologically from the situation we're in, where there are things we understand him to say and not have ever said, and yet the extrapolations of recorded statements attributed to him ( or the absence of same) form the basis of entire branches and denominations.
posted by Miko at 7:11 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm asking... how do you define 'a bridge too far' past which someone is no longer Christian?
posted by zarq at 7:12 AM on February 19


Big picture, you have the historical development of Christianity, what ended up being defined as creedal vs heretical (sometimes more a matter of who stood to gain politically), various sects defining each other as non-Christian or satanic (the Great Schism, the Reformation). Then in modernity things kind of settle down and liberal democracy becomes the dominant order of the world and the larger, mainstream denominations are less interested in demonizing each other, but there are still plenty of smaller sects claiming everyone who doesn't subscribe to their version of premillennialist whatever is going to hell. So what to do in this situation? I think "believing" Christians will generally admit that it's not our job to define who is and isn't a Christian; that's God's job. But at the same time it's hard to say that calling one's self Christian doesn't at least entail at least acknowledging the historical truth of the resurrection and the metaphysical reality of our status as created creatures, universal sin, and a God who loves us and wants to restore a relationship with us. I don't think Rob Bell vs the fire and brimstone crowd is really central to who is and isn't a Christian.
posted by fraxil at 7:29 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]






it's hard to say that calling one's self Christian doesn't at least entail at least acknowledging the historical truth of the resurrection and the metaphysical reality of our status as created creatures, universal sin, and a God who loves us and wants to restore a relationship with us.

It's not hard to say at all, really. I identify as a Christian and I am not down with some of that stuff. Unitarian Universalist Christians, for one group, don't recognize the historical truth of the Resurrection. I think a lot about the question of universal sin, and am not sure that I accept it, at least common constructions of it. Yet, I am a Christian.

I was with you when you said it's not our job to figure out who does and doesn't meet the standard. I think there is far too much heterogeneity in Christian theology - even going back a fair ways into the traditions - to set forth even simple standards like this one as a common denominator.
posted by Miko at 7:59 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


The modern horror of so-called "no true Scotsman fallacies" is irrational and silly, and seems to stem mostly from the exasperation of uninformed atheists arguing with silly superstitious people who claim to be Christians.

You know, at least one dictionary has a definition of Christian as (emphasis mine) "one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ." Their success at following that doesn't seem to be really relevant. The reason for this is, as Zarq points out, there are so many competing claims as to what being a Christian looks like, and there's no objective boundary (like being born within a certain geographic region), to test those claims.I'm not saying your definition is wrong, different groups use words differently, it's just not a use that's shared by everyone.

So, to someone who holds the more common definition of Christian, what you're doing matches almost exactly with the story I've always heard to illustrate the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy. Someone who meets the definition of Scotsman does something horrible, and someone else replies that "no true Scotsman would do that." The horrible thing has nothing to do with being a Scotsman. In this case, people meeting the common definition of Christian (that is claiming to follow Christ's teachings, it's a low bar) does something horrible, and you're saying they can't be Christian, even though horrible thing has nothing to do with the common definition of Christian..

On a more personal level I react negatively to "they can't be a true Christian" because I've seen it used over and over to justify really bad behavior and discrimination, a pattern which maps pretty well to the way that phrase has been used historically.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:00 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


"But the set X of "things no true Scotsman would do" consists of nothing more than acts that are physically impossible for humans.*"

Broader than that, I'd think. No true Scotsman would never have been in Scotland. No true Scotsman would identify as e.g. Gambian first (or American first). No true Scotsman would be a woman. Those are all acts that are physically possible for humans.
posted by klangklangston at 8:25 AM on February 19


I'd disagree. You can have true Scotsmen who have never been to Scotland -- for example, infants born to truly Scottish who were out of Scotland at the time. I expect we can find Scotsmen who have identified as something other than Scottish first (for example, I'm not sure how Craig Ferguson would self-identify nowadays, and he seems a definite Scot). And while I understood "no true Scotsman" as being an archaic and sexist form for the gender-neutral no true Scot, there are surely Scots with XX chromosomes who identify as men and XY chromosomes who identify as women.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:46 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


I agree with ROU Xenophobe here. There is always room to wiggle around the definitions of "Scotsman," which is why it's the shorthand for a fallacy. One of my friends, for instance, identifies strongly as a Scot because both her parents immigrated here from Scotland in the 60s. She never visited until she was in her late 20s, but considered herself a Scot even in college, before that, when I knew her well. She's certainly American first, a very political person in fact, but also a Scot, pretty well steeped in the language, culture, food, history, etc.

It's the addition of the "true" part of "no true Scotsman," though, that allows people wanting to draw hard boundaries all that wiggle room. You can call yourself a Christian, but you can't be a true Christian unless you're one by my definition. So even if we had a litmus test to determine if someone did or did not meet some objective criteria for "Christian," I could still argue that even though Joe Schmo passed that test, he is still not a true Christian in my view because of his failure to meet this or that part of my own idiosyncratic definition.
posted by Miko at 8:58 AM on February 19


"I'd disagree. You can have true Scotsmen who have never been to Scotland -- for example, infants born to truly Scottish who were out of Scotland at the time."

That's neither a man nor an affirmed Scot.

"I expect we can find Scotsmen who have identified as something other than Scottish first (for example, I'm not sure how Craig Ferguson would self-identify nowadays, and he seems a definite Scot)."

Craig Ferguson is an American citizen, though I don't know how he identifies. But it would pretty obviously seem to contradict the "true" qualifier to renounce Scottish citizenship for that of a foreign country.

"And while I understood "no true Scotsman" as being an archaic and sexist form for the gender-neutral no true Scot, there are surely Scots with XX chromosomes who identify as men and XY chromosomes who identify as women."

If they identify as women, they're women, regardless of chromosome.
posted by klangklangston at 8:59 AM on February 19


"I agree with ROU Xenophobe here. There is always room to wiggle around the definitions of "Scotsman," which is why it's the shorthand for a fallacy. One of my friends, for instance, identifies strongly as a Scot because both her parents immigrated here from Scotland in the 60s. She never visited until she was in her late 20s, but considered herself a Scot even in college, before that, when I knew her well. She's certainly American first, a very political person in fact, but also a Scot, pretty well steeped in the language, culture, food, history, etc."

Couple of points: First off, identifying as Scottish would be necessary but not sufficient for being a true Scotsman; secondly, as a woman, she couldn't be a true Scotsman.

I understand why it's a fallacy, but one would have to be a Scotsman before the "true" part applied.
posted by klangklangston at 9:02 AM on February 19


But we can disagree about what it is to be a "Scotsman" in a way that is different than about what it is to be "a citizen of Scotland."

And then we can disagree about how a true citizen of Scotland would behave.
posted by Miko at 9:03 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


(I also read "Scots man" or "Scots woman" as being different from and more specific than "Scotsman," the archaic gender-neutral).
posted by Miko at 9:06 AM on February 19


me: “But those of us who do believe in the truth of Christianity will naturally believe in its coherency.”

ROU_Xenophobe: “But not about what the substantive content of that coherency. The Orthodox coherency is not the same as the Roman Catholic one is not the same as the Southern Baptist one(s). If Christians differ about the substantive content of what Christianity coherently is, then there's no collective coherence after all.”

As far as I can tell, the Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and the Southern Baptists do not differ in opinion about the substantive content of what Christianity coherently is. They differ as to the expression and practical application of that substantive content, and they differ in some details of the ramifications of that content. I say this as someone who is in the process of (hopefully) becoming a Catholic, although I was baptized Presbyterian; that baptism, for instance, is recognized as valid by the Catholic Church, because the Catholic Church has actual stated opinions about which sects do and do not agree substantively with the content of what Christianity means.

“It's fine to point out how un-Christlike these institutions are, or how far from the gospel they've strayed. But saying, when people complain about Christians, that they're just not really Christian is a cheap, deceptive tactic. They're not not-Christians in any real sense, and certainly not in the sense meant by the complainer. They're just bad ones.”

It doesn't seem cheap or deceptive to me. The political survival of the Church as a worthwhile and beneficent institution is dependent upon the continued insistence that certain practices be called out and pointed up as specifically un-Christian. Saying that an act or belief is un-Christian isn't a cop-out, and it isn't washing one's hands of one's colleagues or co-believers. It's just what precision and attention to the political relevance and coherence of the institution demands.

In more practical terms: Christians now need to have an argument about what it means that they are Christians. "Quiverfullism" and "Dominionism" are not theologically defensible as Christian ideologies. It's worth having that conversation, I think. And, as a political liberal myself, I have to say that the liberal predilection against ever objecting to a wrong opinion someone else offers in the guise of religion is getting in the way of having that argument and shutting this stuff down.

me: “... those of us who do believe in the truth of Christianity will naturally believe in its coherency.”

Miko: “I'm not sure I do; I identify as a Christian but find that when I compare what I think that means with others' definitions, I often find they are not especially coherent.”

So you identify as Christian, but believe you are doing so incoherently. That seems like an odd trick. It also seems odd to insist that I cannot call myself a Christian coherently.
posted by koeselitz at 9:12 AM on February 19


Saying that an act or belief is un-Christian isn't a cop-out, and it isn't washing one's hands of one's colleagues or co-believers.

That is different from saying someone is not a Christian. Or at least, to me there is a difference.

It makes no sense, for instance, to say that the imam down the street is un-Christian in his beliefs or words because that's not the reference point for his theological behavior/words.

Calling into question someone's (or some sect's) Christianity when they profess to be Christian is a different kettle of fish.
posted by rtha at 9:27 AM on February 19


Christians now need to have an argument about what it means that they are Christians.

I don't really think we do need to do that. I think we do need to deal with political and social problems, but that we don't get much of anywhere attacking them from a religious angle. Religious motivation can be a great thing, but it's not necessary to make decisions about social outcomes. I think I can call behavior pernicious in its effects on society without needing to come up with a theological basis for that. In fact, I want to endorse and participate in a civil sphere which does not demand a theological basis.

So you identify as Christian, but believe you are doing so incoherently. That seems like an odd trick. It also seems odd to insist that I cannot call myself a Christian coherently.

I don't think I said that I felt incoherent. I find often that my beliefs about being a Christian, and others' beliefs about being a Christian, do not cohere. I am also pretty sure I didn't call you incoherent.
posted by Miko at 9:54 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: ""Quiverfullism" and "Dominionism" are not theologically defensible as Christian ideologies."

At the risk of derailing my own thread, may I ask why not?
posted by zarq at 9:58 AM on February 19


> In what POSSIBLE sense is this joke of an institution "elite"?

Well, I certainly couldn't get in. Could you?
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:31 AM on February 19


There is always room to wiggle around the definitions of "Scotsman," which is why it's the shorthand for a fallacy.

The reason people usually commit the No True Scotsman fallacy is because someone says, "Look at what that guy did! Those Scotsmen are rascals!" And instead of just pointing out the unfairness of the generalization, some Scotsman commits the opposite error of saying, "Scotsmen aren't rascals! He's no true Scotsman!"

If you're going to point at Patrick Henry and say, "Christians are rascals," it's kind of hypocritical to complain when someone responds with "Christians aren't rascals. Those Patrick Henry folks aren't real Christians."

And really, is it that hard to understand that when someone says, "The rascals at Patrick Henry aren't true Christians" what they mean is, "I'm a Christian, many of us don't recognize those people as faithful to Christianity as we understand and practice it, and I'd thank you not to lump us in with them"?
posted by straight at 10:35 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


As far as I can tell, the Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and the Southern Baptists do not differ in opinion about the substantive content of what Christianity coherently is.

Filioque. Status of Mary. Number of sacraments. Etc. I suppose you could say that these are just details, but if this is inconsistent with the behavior of the churches.

The political survival of the Church as a worthwhile and beneficent institution is dependent upon the continued insistence that certain practices be called out and pointed up as specifically un-Christian. Saying that an act or belief is un-Christian isn't a cop-out

It's not. Saying that Christians who harbor some un-Christian beliefs aren't and shouldn't be counted as Christians is a cop-out though (in addition to being perilously close to saying that anyone holding an incorrect belief is unsaved). Those millions of people calling themselves Christians and doing the bad things? Saying that those aren't really Christians so the "real" Church is a-okay and blameless is a cop-out. Pointing out how they are bad Christians isn't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:42 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Every time I drive past this place to get to the Harris-Teeter, I have fantasies of burning the place to the ground (without loss of life, that is).

Anyone got some matches and gasoline?
posted by kcds at 11:31 AM on February 19


From what I understand, the original use of the word "Christian" was to mean "little Christs."

As in, we are to become like Him, the firstborn of many bretheren, so to speak.

I know around here (and out in the world) there are a lot of discussions about what/who is and is not a Christian. I'm thinking that word has a couple of definitions depending on how it is used in context.

But I am also thinking that if a "true Christian" is one who follows Christ, if you define following Christ, there's your answer. There is a reason a lot of folks are not identifying as Christian but instead are identifying as Christ followers.

For me, I have a technical definition that involves being born again, etc. The Presbyterians would call them the Elect-basically, only God knows who are His.

That having been said, I (a Charismatic) recognise, for example, my son (Eastern Orthodox) as Christian even though we have differing views on some topics. Through discussion and study I think that we are just looking at the same thing at different ends, so to speak. Human language can be limited at times.

Are the Patrick Henry folks Christians? Well, some are, some think they are and are not, but it sounds like a lot of them don't understand their Bibles all that well. What they are NOT in any case is a full representation of the family of God. Many if not most of us don't believe exactly the way they do. Unfortunately the homeschooling world was kinda hijacked by them for a time-but I think those days are in the rear view mirror.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:41 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


> The reason people usually commit the No True Scotsman fallacy is because someone says, "Look at what that guy did! Those Scotsmen are rascals!" ...

What if that guy was yelling "Scotland! Scotland! Scotland! Scotland!" while doing his dirty deed, and spent the last hour arguing that he was the perfect embodiment of a Scot? Because that's what's happening here.

I get that one misbehaving Christian does not besmirch all of Christianity, but I don't think it's honest to ignore two facts:

1) These people are specifically claiming that they are behaving as Christians, that Christianity is the deepest motivator of their actions. It is fair to associate their actions with their version of Christianity. (To many of us, there isn't one true and many false versions of Christianity, there are just a lot of different versions. We find the debates over these issues interesting, but relatively unimportant compared to how rapes are handled.)

2) Religion is given special deference in the United States. It's in the Constitution, and I'm strongly in favor of the First Amendment. However, when a safe harbor is created (am I using that legal term correctly?), bad actors will take advantage of it. Look at all the fake 501(c)3's as an example. So when it comes to religion, we have stuff like this: "GOP Lawmakers Want To Define Anti-Gay Discrimination As 'Religious Freedom'". That's an important effect that religion is having in people's day-to-day lives.

People are not seeing bad things happen and ascribing them to Christians just because they happen to not like Christianity. Okay, some are, but many aren't. There's something basic about the role religion/Christianity plays in American society.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:23 PM on February 19 [9 favorites]


Yeah! All the good stuff and the stuff in the constitution, that's Christianity. All that bad stuff, well, that's just some other stuff.
posted by telstar at 1:46 PM on February 19


Yeah, I agree that ROU's attitude is more honest and mature. Those are my fellow Christians, even if I think they're completely wrong about a bunch of stuff and doing some things that are outright sinful and wicked, and I wish there were some way to get them to see what they're doing wrong and genuinely repent.

But I sympathize with Christians who just want to say, "I don't recognize what those people are doing as even the same religion I'm trying to follow" and I don't think they're entirely wrong or disingenuous.
posted by straight at 4:21 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Regarding what/who is a Christian, scholars of religion and theologians actually do have definitions for these things. The thing is that humans are messy and any attempt at line-drawing and definition-making for human institutions is going to be very imperfect. But, for the curious, the most reductive definition of "Christian" generally used by scholars who study Christianity is to be "Christian" a group must meet three criteria:

1) A Trinitarian God
2) Jesus the son of God and as some sort of Messiah/Savior
3) A two-testament Bible (in one of several common variations)

This leaves out several groups often included as Christian -- Mormons have a three-testament Bible, Unitarians and Jehovah's Witnesses do not have a Trinitarian God -- and scholars often call them "Christian-derived" or "Christian-related." The important thing to keep in mind is that it is not a value judgment, it is just a definition for the purposes of conversation.

In practice, virtually all Trinitiarian denominations (Orthodox, Catholic, mainline Protestants) recognize one anothers' baptisms, and in many cases may partake of each others' sacraments in the absence of one's own denomination's churches being available. Part of the reason ecumenism is a thing is that these Christians recognize each other as Christians and consider the one-ness of the Church to be important and therefore it's considered desirable to find ways to reunify despite doctrinal disputes.

A slightly more elaborate definition scholars somethings use is basically a checklist of the Nicene Creed, with various definitions of different listed doctrinal points accepted but all the points considered necessary.

People often get wrapped up in whether someone is "technically" a Christian or not, which I think is sort-of beside the point. I have friends who are atheist who I think are very "Christian" in their actions, while some technical Christians (like these yahoos) may be Christians in the technical sense but are REALLY TERRIBLE PEOPLE. I think some of that comes from the tension between "Christian" as a technical descriptive term for various religious groups and "Christian" as a term used to compliment morality ("That's very Christian of you!" when someone does something kind). And of course also the desire to say that TERRIBLE PEOPLE are being Christian WRONG.

I'm comfortable recognizing these people as "Christians" in the technical sense, but I do also think they're REALLY BAD PEOPLE and that they are DOING CHRISTIANITY WRONG.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:40 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


But I sympathize with Christians who just want to say, "I don't recognize what those people are doing as even the same religion I'm trying to follow" and I don't think they're entirely wrong or disingenuous.

Well, sure! Me too. When I'm feeling bitchy* I think that some stripes of conservative evangelicals aren't really worshiping that Jewish guy from Nazareth, but rather some weird avatar of traditional America.

Obviously this is not really a big deal and we're all overthinking this plate of beans. I guess for me, it's just that "Those people aren't even really Christians" isn't a great response to a nonchristian venting about the latest dipshittery from the PHC crowd or similar clans of slack-jawed troglodytes.

*[ruffalo]That's my secret. I'm always bitchy.[/ruffalo]
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:11 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


But, for the curious, the most reductive definition of "Christian" generally used by scholars who study Christianity is to be "Christian" a group must meet three criteria

I am just aching for more specificity here about the "scholars who study Christianity." Because this is not a neutral, objective position - it's a stand-taking on defining Christian. For instance, Unitarianism (before it became liturgically post-Christian in the 20th century), was not "Christian-derived." It was Christian. Do you have something to cite referencing these three criteria, and who is establishing them?

I think some of that comes from the tension between "Christian" as a technical descriptive term for various religious groups and "Christian" as a term used to compliment morality ("That's very Christian of you!" when someone does something kind). And of course also the desire to say that TERRIBLE PEOPLE are being Christian WRONG.

I suppose that does muddy the waters, although I think "Christian" as a synonym for "ethical" is lazy and culturally insensitive. Respectfully, "Christian" has to mean something more specific than "kind," as Christianity has no monopoly on kindness and not even a particularly good record on that point, broadly speaking.

I really don't think, though, that that quibble is the major factor in confusing this issue. It's possible for two sects or two individuals, both identifying themselves as Christian, to be diametrically opposed on how to interpret the statements and recommendations and teachings of Christ and his apostles. I don't like a single thing about what these folks are doing, and I think it contravenes most of our civil understandings of how to manage a diverse society with individual freedoms. They also don't adhere to the same principles of Christianity I espouse, and their priority order for the principles on which we do agree is obviously differnet. At the same time, their Christian principles are at least internally consistent, for them, and any appeal to authority we can try to make in arguing them against each other is going to end when dashed into thirty thousand pieces on the hard cement of historical textual criticism and the inability of any of us to demonstrate divine authority on command.

They think I am doing Christianity wrong. I think I'm doing it right, or at least to the best of my limited understanding within the parameters of my human failings. In the end, they might think of themselves the same way. We can call each other wrong all the day long. I do call them wrong, constantly. I just know as well that it's a losing enterprise to assert that they're wrong on some provable, theological grounds; there's no arbiter of that that we can all agree on. What's more worthwhile to me is not to get all that distracted by who calls who what and who calls themselves what, and look at the visible outcomes of actions. Inconsistencies between theology and behavior are just the stuff of humanity. Christian principles as motivations are just that - motivations.

I really don't want these people to define Christianity in the popular mind, because I know Christianity to be far more complex, but at the same time I don't think it's defensible to deny them their self-identified status as Christians, any more than I will allow them to deny me mine.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


One of the independent Fundamental Baptist churches that I grew up in was a feeder for PCC and Liberty University. The girls were always told to wear things that were "loose, long and lady-like." Boys were expected to wear ties on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings, but their clothing styles were never quite as heavily monitored as the girls. As the desire of the head pastor for the church to be more conservative over time grew and grew, new rules regarding clothing or behavior were implemented with the caveat that they were "giving God the benefit of the doubt" that if the Bible were written in modern times, it would probably have included rules similar to the ones they created.

We were told to avoid music where "the beat hits you before the message does" as pop music was nothing more than a licentious invitation towards the temptation to dance. The Bill Gaither Band's music was considered "too secular" for use in service, and all music had to be played live in church; there was no room for pre-recorded vocal tracks.

One of the assistant pastors had twin daughters, and he presided over both of their ceremonies. During the ceremonies, he proudly proclaimed to the audiences that his daughters were both virgins, and that this was the highest honor or gift they could give their husbands on their wedding days. Their proclaimed sexual purity was more important than almost any other element of their commitment to another person.

The semi-joke told about people who went off the school was that boys were going off to be preachers, and girls were looking to get their M.R.S. degrees (In other words, women went to college to find husbands).

Classes were given teaching every member of the church how all the other religions of the world were wrong, and why they were wrong, and how to counter their arguments for their religion's existence using the Bible.

Every now and then, people would stop coming to the church without explanation, other than assuming demonic influence of some sort had interfered with their faithful attendance and had steered them into a life of sin...regardless of what actually happened.

As weird and as dysfunctional that church may seem to you, they see themselves as real and true Christians. And everyone not attending their church services is in need of the cleansing power of Jesus' blood, regardless of your faith tradition. They will be the ones caught up in the rapture while the rest of us lament in agony during the tribulation...or something along those lines.

The youth pastor there explained to me that he gleefully embraced online banking because it just meant that Jesus was returning that much sooner, because it meant that we would be embracing a cashless society, which is a sign of the End Times.

Eschatology aside, seeing the "positive peer pressure" that is applied to shame people into acting certain ways or avoiding other behaviors in these churches is impressive in its scope, and absolutely diabolical when the indoctrination takes root early on. It is saddening to see people become true believers in a kind of faith that purposefully removes a sense of agency, or a desire to be independent outside of an interpretation of the Bible that stifles any respect for humans as individuals. But the strictness of the rules and the personal sacrifices people are willing to go through in order to belong are as limitless as people's desire to know that their actions are inspired by the God they believe in so very passionately.
posted by hgswell at 9:18 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


I can't wait to see their faces when they find out that God dances.

(It's in the Bible. Jesus dances with joy over us. You might have to look up the words in the original language, but it's there.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:28 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


They would say that that was Jesus as only a perfect fully man/fully God could be, but we as sinners had best avoid the temptation and not dance at all. Ever.
posted by hgswell at 9:36 PM on February 19


...and something about how just about every time dancing is mentioned in the Bible, something bad happens right afterwards. The lesson being, dancing leads to bad things happening.
posted by hgswell at 9:41 PM on February 19


Miko: “I really don't want these people to define Christianity in the popular mind, because I know Christianity to be far more complex, but at the same time I don't think it's defensible to deny them their self-identified status as Christians, any more than I will allow them to deny me mine.”

It is right to deny people the identity they present when the identity they present is not correct. If I continue to live my life as a white man but tell people I'm black purely in order to get college scholarships, it is absolutely right to call me out on it and tell me that that's racist, hegemonic bullshit.

me: “... those of us who do believe in the truth of Christianity will naturally believe in its coherency.”

Miko: “I'm not sure I do; I identify as a Christian but find that when I compare what I think that means with others' definitions, I often find they are not especially coherent.”

me: “So you identify as Christian, but believe you are doing so incoherently. That seems like an odd trick. It also seems odd to insist that I cannot call myself a Christian coherently.”

Miko: “I don't think I said that I felt incoherent. I find often that my beliefs about being a Christian, and others' beliefs about being a Christian, do not cohere. I am also pretty sure I didn't call you incoherent.”

You said that what you believe doesn't seem coherent with what other people believe, and concluded that therefore it is untrue that "people who believe in the truth of Christianity will believe in its coherency." Then you protested that you apparently do feel coherent in your belief. I'm not sure what to do with that.

I think my mistake was missing the way that you are attempting to divorce belief from identity. Apparently you don't actually have coherent affirmative beliefs as a Christian, and don't think that's necessary to the identity at all; identity is for you a matter of what you choose to call yourself, nothing more. Which is fine, I guess, even if I believe it robs the word "Christian" of meaning entirely.

I will say this, though: looking down upon evangelicals and catholics and whatever other Christians exist in the world and patting them on the head and saying you won't bother to disagree with them because they can call themselves whatever they want is demeaning. They have at least the courage of their convictions to say that they believe a particular thing. What they are saying is that they disagree with people who might say the opposite, and that they don't mind disagreeing, don't mind having that debate. You're robbing them of that human dignity, the ability to talk and converse about whether certain things are true. And that may be how you wish to proceed, but note that you are almost alone in the Christian tradition when you attempt to utterly divorce belief from identity.

I know that you're afraid of a world where people aren't allowed to "identify" as Christian. Apparently you believe that linking belief with identity and then debating belief means going down a road that leads to burning people at stakes and excommunicating them from society entirely. That might be a thing worth avoiding, but not at the cost of reasoned debate. It makes no sense to annihilate all conversation about truth just to make people feel safer. To do so actually makes the world a more dangerous place.
posted by koeselitz at 6:35 AM on February 20


It is right to deny people the identity they present when the identity they present is not correct.

I don't recognize your authority to tell me my Christianity is not correct, and you have no externally visible criteria on which to deny me a self-identification as Christian.

You said that what you believe doesn't seem coherent with what other people believe, and concluded that therefore it is untrue that "people who believe in the truth of Christianity will believe in its coherency." Then you protested that you apparently do feel coherent in your belief. I'm not sure what to do with that.

You seem to be making an argument that there is a universal coherency to Christianity. I don't agree that there is a universal coherency. There are many internally, idiosyncratically coherent ways of being a Christian. We call them things like "denominations." I do feel coherent in my own beliefs. Those don't cohere with certain other Christian beliefs. I don't see a coherence across the spectrum of Christian practice. Does that make it clearer to you?

You're robbing them of that human dignity

Oh, that's nonsense. I have in no way curtailed anyone's ability to talk about what they believe is true. They're doing it, you're doing it, I'm doing it all day long. It's impossible for me to "annihilate a conversation about truth." If you feel something is true, go for it.

Apparently you don't actually have coherent affirmative beliefs as a Christian

I'm not sure what basis you think you have for making this claim. I've said almost nothing on the matter here. I experience my beliefs and practices as coherent and some of them as affirmative. I almost never discuss them, though, because I intellectually reject most of that exercise as a dogmatic one, though I recognize that many religious people find that kind of exercise defines their experience of religion. This is a different way of being religious than the way I practice. The quest for ultimate truth does not define my experience of religion. That disconnect with others makes for a lousy basis for conversation; you can keep making criteria to exclude me, and I can keep saying I do not accept your criteria.

I know that you're afraid of a world where people aren't allowed to "identify" as Christian.

I'm not sure where you get this idea about fear; that's a little insulting and extreme. In reality, my Christianity has absolutely zero bearing on what's going on in the world. I do think it's reprehensible for so-called Christians to police other people's religiosity (or anyone to police anyone else's religiosity without having been invited to), and I think it's bad when people can't profess their religious affiliations publicly. But my contempt for those conditions doesn't equate to fear. I would be a stupid and ahistorical Christian if I thought my Christianity depended upon its recognition by any external body.
posted by Miko at 7:07 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


something about how just about every time dancing is mentioned in the Bible, something bad happens right afterwards.

Dancing es una vértica expresión, un deseo horizontal.
posted by straight at 9:49 AM on February 20


me: “You said that what you believe doesn't seem coherent with what other people believe, and concluded that therefore it is untrue that ‘people who believe in the truth of Christianity will believe in its coherency.’ Then you protested that you apparently do feel coherent in your belief. I'm not sure what to do with that.”

Miko: “You seem to be making an argument that there is a universal coherency to Christianity.”

In the bit you quoted, I only said that people who have a belief regard that belief as coherent. As you do. You don't seem to have contradicted that at all.

“I don't agree that there is a universal coherency. There are many internally, idiosyncratically coherent ways of being a Christian. We call them things like ‘denominations.’ I do feel coherent in my own beliefs. Those don't cohere with certain other Christian beliefs. I don't see a coherence across the spectrum of Christian practice. Does that make it clearer to you?”

This still doesn't make sense. You disagree with others about what being a Christian means; but you say it's wrong for me to suggest that anyone might be incorrect.
posted by koeselitz at 11:11 AM on February 20


koeselitz, I don't think that's what Miko is saying, precisely.

I think there are three inter-related questions. 1) Who is a Christian; 2) What does it mean to be a 'true' Christian, and 3) Who gets to decide the answers to 1) and 2)?

What I think Miko is pointing out is that there are not any agreed-upon answers to any of those questions. There are maybe some general guidelines for 1) -- for instance, I think it could generally be agreed that the Dalai Lama is not a Christian and that Mother Teresa is. But, even there -- I'm sure there are conservative Protestants who would be skeptical of identifying any Roman Catholic as a Christian.

In fact, it is even more difficult than determining a core set of Christian beliefs, because different Christian traditions place differing degrees of weight on belief in doctrine as opposed to religious practice, or having participated in an initiation rite.

Is a Christian primarily someone who agrees with justification by faith / the Nicene Creed / the Resurrection? Is a Christian primarily someone who regularly attends church / prays / has an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ? Is a Christian primarily someone who has been baptized / prayed a particular prayer of surrender to God? Well, different traditions say different things. So who holds the trump card?

At this point, I think the only secular way to make a judgement call is to say that if someone identifies themself as a Christian, then they are. Of course, from within a particular church or tradition, other rules might apply. The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, can and does decide who is in communion ("good standing") with them, as does any other church or tradition. But even the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges that persons outside the formal membership of the Church may be good Christians. So, there's not a good way to establish answers to any of these questions in a way that everyone will agree on.

I think that is okay.
posted by tivalasvegas at 1:04 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


You disagree with others about what being a Christian means; but you say it's wrong for me to suggest that anyone might be incorrect.

Those are two different things. I am entitled to disagree, and to assert my own viewpoint and pursue my faith and practice, and to unequivocally call it Christian. As I do so, no one else (unless by my own agreement) is entitled to determine whether or not I am a Christian. No one else even has that power, according to the basis of my theology. But if you suggest that someone might be "incorrect," in some factual, provable way, you are suggesting that you have the power to determine who is or is not a Christian. You actually do not have that power. The assertion of the power to disagree with others to determine for oneself, and the assertion of the power to determine for others, are two different things.

I disagree with PHC on many issues. I don't contest that they experience themselves as Christian. In a deeper conversation, I might ask how they reconcile certain concepts I see as central to Christianity with their actions; but I might not bother, having had enough of those conversations to understand the general outlines, having to do with interpretation, priority, weighting, and various forces of history and authority. I don't need to assert that they are "not Christian" to critique their bad behavior, though. Of course they are Christian. Are they bad Christians? Maybe, but so am I, and so are many of us, if we are being honest.

I think the only secular way to make a judgement call is to say that if someone identifies themself as a Christian, then they are. Of course, from within a particular church or tradition, other rules might apply

This is my point of view exactly; very clearly said, tivalasvegas. If you're, say, adopting a Catholic point of view, you can say, from within Catholicism, "your beliefs are totally heretical [to Catholicism]." Which in fact they are. They are incorrect beliefs according to Catholic dogma. But outside the dogmatic realm of Catholicism - a realm which I'm not in - your determination of incorrectness holds no water. It just has no bearing on me. But stepping back into the secular or universal frame, there is little basis for a Christianity litmus test. There are items of broad consensus about what Christianity is, items of narrower consensus, items of requirement for denomination-specific or individual practice, but in trying to gather each and every one of these into a bucket, we are forced to retreat to the most basic of levels: perhaps the only unifying thing all Christians and non-Christians can accept is that someone can be considered a Christian if they profess Christianity.
posted by Miko at 1:19 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


It's a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation actually, one that I think demonstrates one of the benefits of organized religion.

One may or may not (hopefully the latter) approve of fundamentalist religion of the sort demonstrated at PHC, but they are certainly engaged in questions about what it means to be "good" or "human", and have an entire edifice of institutions designed to help adherents to live in a way consistent with the group's values.

If I had the board of trustees of this despicable college in front of me, I would of course like to ask them some hard questions about WHO gets to decide on these values and WHY is this violence condoned and WHAT exactly would the Christ who repeatedly and consistently broke gender and class taboos say about this bullshit. But it's not fair for me to resist the implication that I am not also responsible or implicated by playing games with the label "Christian".

Quite to the contrary, I might even be inclined to say that a basic aspect of the way-of-being-Christian is precisely to identify oneself as one who is both inescapably a participant in the shitty goings-on of this world and who is consequently striving to participate in the world's redemption.
posted by tivalasvegas at 2:29 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


How Universities Fail Their Students in Crisis links to an article in the Yale Daily News: We Just Can't Have You Here:
I tell him when I come back to Yale, I will get a therapist on campus and keep working with the one I have at home. I will stop cutting.
“Well the question may not be what will you do at Yale, but if you are returning to Yale. It may well be safer for you to go home. We’re not so concerned about your studies as we are your safety,” he says.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “What makes you think I will be safer away from school, away from my support system?” School was my stimulation, my passion and my reason for getting up in the morning.
“Well the truth is,” he says, “we don’t necessarily think you’ll be safer at home. But we just can’t have you here.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:59 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


I was thinking about this conversation as I was driving home yesterday, and a story came on the radio about a bill in Arizona that would permit people to deny services to gay couples on religious grounds. A state legislator said in a sound bite something about protecting Christian principles, and I thought, whose principles? Which Christian's? Why should your Christian principles be enshrined in law, but not (for instance) Miko's? Or Desmond Tutu's?
posted by rtha at 10:00 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I dunno. I don't see why we (the Episcopalians) haven't gotten together with the ELCA and the UCC and such to sue for our religious freedom to marry whatever consenting adults we want. I mean, yeah, public policy issues in a secular nation should be settled on secular grounds. But if the bigots are going to play the religious freedom card, we should too.

Additionally if magnets are attached to the bodies of certain religious leaders and Fox News anchors just prior to the filing of State v. Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, the energy generated by their frantic repositioning will noticeably drive down fuel prices. Win-win.
posted by tivalasvegas at 10:46 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


Well, y'all have filed at least one amicus brief.
posted by asperity at 12:15 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


I don't think there's anyone preventing initiatives toward developing a multi-denomonational consortium on those issues - we have them on others. I do think that the more theologically liberal among us should not cede the field of "Christianity" to more conservative thinkers, which is the only reason I usually speak up.
posted by Miko at 11:00 AM on February 22


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