Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com Because Sometimes We Stay Lost if We Stay Quiet Sun, 08 Sep 2019 06:30:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.3 http://assertivespirituality.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/cropped-AS-Aonly-512x512-32x32.jpg Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com 32 32 Unwrapping a Healthy Spirituality of Competition; Or, Why I’m Not Working to Persuade Conservatives http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/09/08/why-not-persuade-conservatives-these-days/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/09/08/why-not-persuade-conservatives-these-days/#comments Sun, 08 Sep 2019 06:22:32 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=930 I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, these cautions from the “reasonable people.” “Well, if you want the conservatives to actually hear you, you should tone down the language there.” “Well, that comparison doesn’t apply to ALL the conservatives. Shouldn’t you be more inclusive?” In this article, I plan to follow up on my previous article about “Jesus and the Limits of Listening” as well as other blog posts I’ll link throughout by discussing why I don’t think It’s always...

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I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, these cautions from the “reasonable people.” “Well, if you want the conservatives to actually hear you, you should tone down the language there.” “Well, that comparison doesn’t apply to ALL the conservatives. Shouldn’t you be more inclusive?” In this article, I plan to follow up on my previous article about “Jesus and the Limits of Listening” as well as other blog posts I’ll link throughout by discussing why I don’t think It’s always necessary to tone down our language in the interests of “reaching” conservatives in the current religio-political landscape in the US (or other groups—such as abusers). In short, my plan here is to lay out one reasoning for a healthy spirituality of competition that embraces and channels the kind of empathetic anger I discussed last week.

Notes before I dive in:

If you’ve been hanging around this site at all, you know I take inclusion seriously. I also basically teach a whole university course in how to set rapport with other people toward healthier relationships. My objection to these comments comes not from a lack of ability to do these techniques to build connection with others, but from a disagreement in principle and strategy as to when it’s valuable to use said techniques.

Because yeah, I grew up in Christian Nice. Even if I didn’t actually have a PhD and teach people how to create connections with other people (which I happen to!), that whole smoothing things over thing is totally what I was strongly socialized into. In fact, I was so well-trained in it that choosing something different, even under duress, is still, after all these years, often difficult and requires intentionality. You can be assured that if I’m choosing to do something different than be “nice,” I worked hard to get to this place and am thinking carefully about my choices.

In addition, as a communication scholar I know how crucial a situational approach to both connection-building and persuasion is, as well as to conflict management. I tend to be wary of one-size-fits-all approaches to anything, including and *especially* with loving our neighbors who are propping up unhealthy rhetoric and policies.

A Situational Approach to Assertiveness

I’ve used this analogy before, but it’s important enough to repeat: assertiveness looks different when you’re in a risk-free situation versus when the building is burning down. If you’re trying to get out of a burning building, it’s situationally appropriate to pick someone up and throw them over your shoulder in a way it would never be appropriate to do in a calmer situation (unless there were mutual consent ;)).

And so when it comes to speaking up about injustices and oppression or unhealthy rhetoric, I don’t think that a calm quiet tone and making sure I “make sure conservatives will be able to hear the critique well” is really the best way to go if we’re trying to rescue those at risk.

Not Ordinary Partisanship

See, as I’ve explained before, I don’t see these as ordinary partisan times here in the US. Not at all. As someone who’s studied the rhetoric of conspiracy and of authoritarianism and fascism, I see ALL of that rhetoric strongly at work in these times—coming from the folks in the White House as well as just about everywhere else on the right. I talked about how it’s filtered into the world of white Evangelicals here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Because of this situation, which I’ve explained before, those who still consider themselves on the conservative side of the fence have been conditioned to reject anything coming from anyone they see to be on the left. That unfortunately includes anyone who disagrees with right-wing talking points, no matter how reasonable or evidence-based their ideas are or how calmly they’re addressed.  

It’s All Quite Disturbing

Even as someone who knows how this stuff works with fascistic rhetoric, it’s really rather disturbing to see in seemingly everyday political conversations how uniform the rhetoric is, and how thoroughly people have bought into it.

It’s also quite disturbing how offended many conservative people get these days when you draw attention to the fact that what they’re saying isn’t a unique perspective, but a really standard argument.

Individuality as a “God Term” Playing into the Divisions

A big part of the problem, of course, is that for years and years conservative ideology has also been valorizing individuality to the point where anyone who discusses any form of systemic issues (outside of some sort of vague “they’re all corrupt”—or at least all those other than our guys are corrupt—idea) is automatically demonized as well.

As a result, drawing attention to the systemic groupthink aspects of the current situation on the right is something that automatically is seen to be suspect by most conservatives that I’ve run into.

They so want to believe in this idea that they are free individuals who think for themselves that trying to tell them in any way that they might be contributing to a whole raft of systemic problems by believing things they’re being told brings out all sorts of defensive reactions.

But that’s unfortunately the situation. And for many hard-core conservatives, this fight–in my view–is simply not winnable these days–at least not through persuasive means.

So Yes, I’m Not Trying to Persuade Conservatives These Days

It’s really impossible for me to persuade people who have been told that I am the enemy—that my expertise is “leftist” and to be fought at all costs, that the evidence of my eyes and ears as well as the sources I rely on.

I don’t even bother.

But That Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Speak Up—I Just Do It for Different Reasons

 So yes, I honestly am not interested in taking the time to persuade people who are committed to swallowing poison and spitting it back out at others to do something different.

I am, however, committed to speaking up loudly, especially when such conservatives are in the audience. I do so, as I described before, to break through the loudest voices and show those who MIGHT be persuaded that there are important counternarratives.

I do so to encourage those who may be feeling weary who are on the side of reason and compassion.

I do so to make sure that I don’t get changed myself. I do so to remind myself that the issues are important and people are getting hurt and it’s okay for me to rest but not to quit. I must still keep doing what I can.

But Since I’m Speaking Up for Different Reasons, I’m Using a Different Style

So this is the thing: I’m not speaking to persuade those who have already been inoculated against me—that means that even when I am speaking to conservatives, I am really speaking for the audience more than for them.

That means I speak differently. More strongly. When my purpose is to provide a counternarrative rather than to persuade, I’m not as concerned about building rapport. I’m just not.

It doesn’t mean that I use insults. But I also don’t avoid using words that have been demonized through the current unhealthy conservative groupthink process. Even when I’m talking to conservative friends, I’m not going to adapt in this way just to make them feel more comfortable, as though there’s some sort of bond between their position and mine.

Why I Am Less Worried about “Making Nice” than I Used to Be

Because honestly, the current version of conservative religio-political views are really unhealthy. And these views are hurting a lot of people. And all of that fills me with empathetic anger of the sort I discussed last week. And that empathetic anger directs me to try to fix the problems through speaking up for more reason.

But that doesn’t mean that the most reasonable approach is to try to make nice with authoritarian rhetoric and policies. It’s just not.

Feeling Okay with the Consequences

I know I may alienate conservatives I know through this approach I’m using at present. I honestly am less concerned with that than I used to be.

I trust that those conservative family and friends who want to maintain relationship with me will do that through negotiating boundaries on this stuff. They can do so by respecting my views and values and the ways they differ from theirs. I’ve done that with a few.

But yes, I’ve needed strong boundaries to stay sane through this era. I need strong boundaries to keep doing the important work. And to me, when it comes to dealing with those who are hewing to the current conservative party line, especially in a way that demonizes progressives and/or marginalized peoples, that means not softening my views to try to make the unpersuadable hear me.

Standing Firm

It means speaking up firmly and honestly about what is and is not okay. It means setting boundaries around what ought to be okay and not around human rights violations. It means, yes, inviting people to join the rest of us in speaking up about such things. But doing so in a way that recognizes that compromise and accommodation alike—giving up some of my principles—is simply not a healthy option in this situation.

The Benefits of Standing Firm

The more I practice this philosophy, the more I speak up without insults, but with less goal to try to reach *everyone,* the healthier I feel, honestly. The more I feel I’m living according to my values.  

This, by the way, is why I believe Jesus always said, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”

So may those who have ears to hear, let them hear. And if that’s not everyone, I shall grieve that outcome, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Sigh. Doing what we can means giving up the false beliefs that we can “reach” everyone, however much I hate that.

It means we can reach some, of course. And so those who choose different strategies are okay by me.

I just know *I* am consciously choosing the more vocal, outspoken path these days due to what I know about fascistic rhetoric and the rhetoric of conspiracy. And I’m glad a lot of you are joining me. I hope more will continue to do so.

Some Further Resources

Looking to be more assertive in speaking up against the toxic crap and dealing with the conflict that results? Well, our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” is designed to help with just that. To get it, sign up for the email newsletter, either in the top bar of the site or through commenting on this post. Once you confirm your email address we’ll send you the link through the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around both here through the email newsletter and at our Facebook page. I’ve been creating some exciting plans to support you more!

A Final Word

So, to sum up: the current form of conservatism has, as I’ve discussed, taken on an unholy alliance with unhealthy nationalisms and authoritarianism. I really don’t think that’s a position that ought to be compromised with. In fact, I think it’s definitely worth competing with. To do that, I think we need to learn to be okay with a spirituality of competition that embraces empathetic anger in order to combat the kind of unhealthy rhetoric and policies that hurt people. I don’t think there’s any other healthy way to solve the problems we’re facing.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to stand up against the toxic crap and make a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

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In Praise of Empathetic Anger; Or, Toward Healthy Anger Understandings http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/31/in-praise-empathetic-anger-enacting-healthy-anger/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/31/in-praise-empathetic-anger-enacting-healthy-anger/#comments Sun, 01 Sep 2019 04:09:21 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=920 Like many of you, I was raised to be terrified of conflict and the anger that came with it. As I’ve described before, I was taught the devil term to-be-fought-at-all-costs definition of anger, one that lumped the emotion in with the most extreme forms of those emotions and also with the negative outcomes of people acting out on their anger in what I’ve been previously calling a horns effect. In the present article, I plan to praise a very different...

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Like many of you, I was raised to be terrified of conflict and the anger that came with it. As I’ve described before, I was taught the devil term to-be-fought-at-all-costs definition of anger, one that lumped the emotion in with the most extreme forms of those emotions and also with the negative outcomes of people acting out on their anger in what I’ve been previously calling a horns effect. In the present article, I plan to praise a very different kind of anger that doesn’t fit in at all with this unhealthy formula—a profoundly warranted and healthy anger I’m calling empathetic anger.

A Little Background

As I’ve described before, the toxic forms of “Christian nice” often tell people to suppress their “negative emotions” by promoting a form of “toxic positivity.” The same forms of Christian Nice often end up unwittingly supporting oppressors and abusers at the expense of victims by too-quickly calling for the kind of “cheap forgiveness” from abuse survivors and oppressed peoples.

As I discussed last time, it’s really common for those socialized into Christian Nice to actually see assertively speaking truth to power as a faintly immoral practice that itself needs to be seemingly repented of. Those who have been following along should know by now that I’m highly disturbed about this practice, both from my vantage point as someone who studies this conflict stuff and as a pastor’s kid who identifies as a progressive Christian.

Not to Put Too Fine a Point on It

So yes, it’s high time that we stop buying these unhealthy conflations between anger and immorality. Especially for those that claim Scriptures that are filled with prophets and messiahs and apostles alike speaking truth to power and getting all sorts of crap thrown at them for this, and fiery Psalms expressing every emotion under the sun as part of the song book (because music is like that), I’ve come to find such emotion- and conflict-suppressing views frankly wrong and unhealthy and heretical.

These conflations are also incredibly inconsistent with stress and conflict research and best practices associated with that. (And let’s be clear–these issues aren’t just in the Christian world–our whole society tends to conflate anger with aggression and vindictiveness, etc.–especially when it’s the less-powerful people who have grounds for their anger.)

It’s Not that I Don’t Understand Christian Nice (Which, Incidentally, Is the Point of Empathetic Anger)

None of this is to say that I don’t understand where the fear of anger comes from. As I’ve discussed before, anger is not only an emotion, but one that’s aligned with the fight stress response, which is a very visceral way for our bodies to respond to felt threat. It’s only natural that those who are sensitized to danger would come to fear the fight response and the potential aggression that emerges from it.

Why Anger and Fight Responses Aren’t Necessarily Dangerous

And yet, the fight response itself is not on its own automatically a danger. It’s a charge of reactive energy, sure, that gets someone to respond to a threat, but there are a thousand factors in whether that response is actually a danger to others or not.

I don’t have time to go over all of them in this article (check out our free Guide to Trolls for some more pointers for argumentation situations!—I’ll include instructions to get the guide in the end of the article), but my basic point here is that some anger is extremely reactive and ends up at these extremes, but much does not.  

Empathetic Anger Is NOT the Same as the Horns Effect View of Anger

And for the types that are not reactive, that are grounded in love and empathy and clearly grounded in clear evidence, that empathetic anger is the polar opposite of unhealthy aggression and needs to be treated very differently.

Some Biblical Examples of Empathetic Anger

Empathetic anger is the type I see Jesus practicing when he overturns the tables in the temple because the money-changing was exploiting the poor.

Empathetic anger is the type I see Jesus practicing when woeing the unjust religious leaders for unhealthy spiritualities that were causing injustice and spiritual trauma alike.

Empathetic anger is the type I see the prophets practicing when they call kings and judges alike to repent and start treating people better.

Defining Empathetic Anger

But we haven’t really defined this term fully yet, so let me quickly do so:

As I’m using the term, I think empathetic anger is a kind that considers the situation and the evidence carefully, albeit sometimes quickly, before taking action. Empathetic anger looks for ways in which needs are not being met by existing situations, and seeks to fix them. This type of fight response stops and considers why things are the way they are, and empathizes, but does not find that an excuse for poor accountability.

In short, empathetic anger seeks the good of all parties through seeking to make things right.

Empathetic Anger Afflicts the Comfortable and Comforts the Afflicted

That doesn’t mean that those who practice this seek the comfort of all involved, mind you. It’s often uncomfortable, the processes that are involved in imperfect and often-highly unpleasant situations. This assertiveness practice pulls no punches about those discomforts, and understands them, but refuses to accept them as excuses.

Empathetic Anger and True Civility

In fact, as I discussed back when I was talking about True Civility, empathetic anger recognizes that there are often needs to be prioritized in urgent situations and moderates its level of intensity depending on those factors. People who practice this are ideally self-aware and also have a good trustworthy support system to check in with about whether their practice is going over the line from assertiveness to aggression.

Why Empathetic Anger is Seen as a Threat by Christian Nice

But yeah, from the no-conflict-is-good-conflict vantage point of Christian Nice, the kind of urgency practiced by practitioners of this kind of healthy fight response may well look aggressive and over-the-top, in much the same way that someone who isn’t aware of a fire in a building may start to complain if they see someone scoop someone up and carry them to safety.

Context is everything, and from the viewpoint of Christian Nice, empathetic anger often gets confused with the devil term version.

Why People Try to Suppress Those Enacting Empathetic Anger

In short, too many carry a kind of prejudice against anger because they fear the challenges to the status quo that arise with those who are seeking to practice the kind of assertive empathetic anger that I am talking about here. Because empathetic anger often is the type that advocates for the needs of those who are being ignored, and that’s uncomfortable for many.

Let’s Not Let that Stop Us!

But I say, let’s bring on the empathetic anger, friends! The current religio-political landscape is burning, and it’s high time we stop spending so much time self-censoring and apologizing to the Christian Nice folk about raising our voices.

I’m giving it to you now: permission to be empathetically angry. Empathetic anger IS healthy anger, friends! I’m telling you that it is actually the most moral and biblical response to the garbage that’s now going on.

Be angry, friends—and use that healthy anger from stress energy for the good of all. Find your support system, and take your moments to check yourselves, sure. But don’t let anyone gaslight you into thinking there aren’t problems worthy of us raising our voices to address. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong to put that stress energy into trying to fix them. (And that means not putting yourself down in the process.)

Need More Resources Toward Speaking Truth to Power and Dealing with the Conflict?

If you need a little more help toward dealing with conflict online or off, sign up for our email newsletter—either in the top bar or by commenting on this article and checking the box. Once you’ve confirmed your email address, you’ll get the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. After that you’ll get weekly notices with news and updates on this Assertive Spirituality project. You can unsubscribe at any time, but I hope you stick around. I’m always working toward helping equip you with the tools you need to be assertive in the face of some really difficult stuff.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s use those fight responses for the good of all. We can do this thing.  

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When “Christian Nice” Gets Mean about Forgiveness http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/11/christian-nice-mean-about-forgiveness/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/11/christian-nice-mean-about-forgiveness/#comments Sun, 11 Aug 2019 08:52:47 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=909 A couple of weeks ago I talked about how “Christian Nice” can get (unintentionally) mean about negative emotions. Last week I talked about “Nice” culture tends to enable covert abuse and authoritarian politics. This week I plan to continue those themes by talking about why the use of the word “forgiveness” within “Christian Nice” contexts can be potentially damaging when directed at those who are abused and/or oppressed. Some Important Definitions In doing so, I hope to continue our discussion...

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A couple of weeks ago I talked about how “Christian Nice” can get (unintentionally) mean about negative emotions. Last week I talked about “Nice” culture tends to enable covert abuse and authoritarian politics. This week I plan to continue those themes by talking about why the use of the word “forgiveness” within “Christian Nice” contexts can be potentially damaging when directed at those who are abused and/or oppressed.

Some Important Definitions

In doing so, I hope to continue our discussion of “god terms” (things to be defended at all costs) and “devil terms” (things to be fought at all costs). I also plan to continue our discussion of halo effects and horns effects—the ideas that when you know one good thing or one bad thing about someone, you presume that a whole web of things about him are good or bad.

Sigh—People Exploit These Things

See, as we’ve discussed, abusers and authoritarian leaders alike often exploit god term/devil term and halo/horns effects to make themselves look good and their enemies and victims to look bad.

And because “Christian Nice” tends to see a (faux) peace as a god term to be defended against those devil-term folks who try to confront these types of manipulators, the gatekeepers of this culture often tend to associate victims and marginalized peoples and their allies as at least faintly immoral if they speak up against abuse and authoritarianism.

“Christian Nice” and Moral Disgust Toward Speaking Up

Let me say that again: the culture of “Nice” trains people to see victims and their allies as faintly immoral and distasteful when they speak truth to power about how they’ve been treated. And that often seeps, through a horns effect, to victims and their allies seeming faintly disgusting overall, whether or not they speak up.

The Call to (Quickly and Universally) Forgive

No wonder there’s often such a quick leap to ask victims and the oppressed to forgive their abusers and/or oppressors. Because the strong emphasis on defending “peace” keeps those with power and voice in their places, the next natural (if unhealthy) step is too often to stay silent—after all, it is, according to “Christian Nice,” the “moral” thing to do.

Other “Christian Nice” folk might even go so far as to “keep the peace”—i.e., defend those hurting and oppressing others. This may come in the form of ignoring the charges to avoid the situation. It may also take the form of bothsidesism, often combined with sin leveling, both of which are really connected and relevant terms related to calls for the oppressed to quickly move to “forgiveness” of abusers.

So let’s quickly define both.

Defining Bothsidesism

Bothsidesism has been coming up a lot in politics lately—it has to do with essentially removing the question of blame by saying that each of two parties or groups have both good and bad people (in seemingly equal proportions)—which usually goes to put more blame than is appropriate on one party and less than appropriate on the other.

The basic issue with bothsidesism, of course, is that power dynamics make it extremely unlikely in most situations that both sides are equally to blame. Bothsidesism specifically moves toward a rhetoric of equality rather than equity and justice.

Bothsidesism and “Reactive Abuse”

In situations of domestic abuse, experts point out that abusers often provoke their victims to the point where they will fight back from survival instinct—and then blame their victims. This happens as much in authoritarian politics as it does in domestic violence and other abuse situations.

Perhaps in light of these types of dynamics you can see why bothsidesism is an issue. (And since the dynamics of domestic abuse and authoritarian demagogues are so similar, this kind of thing applies in all sorts of situations!)

Bothsidesism, Cheap Grace, and Sin-Levelling

The culture of what theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” fits in perfectly with this idea of bothsidesism–which feels like in these calls for forgiveness turns into an issue of “cheap forgiveness.”

We are all sinners, so this logic goes. The problem of course is that whether or not that basic statement is true, that doesn’t mean all situations involve equal weighting of blame, and that we should not carefully consider who is more to blame.

The result of this unhealthy logic is being called, in the emerging research surrounding spiritual abuse, the idea of sin-levelling. Sin-levelling is the idea that because we are all sinners, and all sin, that all sins are equally bad.

Yeah, So I Grew Up with This

I grew up with a LOT of applications of these ideas as applied to the religio-political landscape by the people around me. I had no idea they weren’t healthy. Even with all my communication training, it’s still taken me years to unwrap all of this. (Still working at it!)

Where the Problems Lie From Many Christian Perspectives

The problem, of course, within a Christian context, is that these ideas often contribute overly nicely to the culture of “Nice” I’ve just described, but only by ignoring major themes in the Bible about God always taking the side of the oppressed and looking out for the marginalized and vulnerable.

Let’s Talk about the Horns Effect and How It Affects All This

That said, I’d like to move specifically into the horns effect problem of calls for the abused and oppressed to quickly and universally forgive their abusers.

See, as I pointed out above, the collective devil term/horns effect conflations of very disparate concepts getting lumped together is what makes these statements such a problem, on top of the bothsidesism and sin-levelling issues.

Bothsidesism and sin-levelling are bad on their own. But when these things combine with the Christian Nice idea that confrontation=a devil term, it gets really complicated. In this paradigm, confrontation and anger are both evil and in it together, and also lumped in with aggression and hatred and vindictiveness and rage and all sorts of other unpleasantnesses.

The Effects of the Horns Effect: Victim as “Threat”

No wonder victims and the oppressed would automatically be called to “forgive” if they were seen to be carrying all that kind of threat. (After all, the fear goes, victims are ALWAYS in danger of shifting way beyond coming up on equality—the fear from those used to the status quo is that they will in turn oppress others.)

The tragedy, of course, is that often, if not actually usually, victims are just seeking a little equality and accountability.

Things do sometimes get overblown, and victims CAN sometimes become abusers.

Powerful Abusers Trying to Claim Victim

But as abuse counseling expert Lundy Bancroft has found in his work with abusers (see his book Why Does He Do That!), when someone who was traumatized abuses someone else, their abusiveness is usually a problem distinct from the trauma problem itself, and the trauma may at least partly explain, but certainly doesn’t excuse, the unhealthy behavior.

All that said, it’s important to note that powerful abusers often use–or even inflate, or manufacture–any trauma in their background to excuse their abusive behavior. This is part of a pattern by which those with power too often try to exploit empathy from others–often also called the unhealthy “Viking vs. Victim” phenomenon.

A Cluster of Potential Issues with Calls to “Cheap Forgiveness”

So there’s actually a whole cluster of problems with calls to forgiveness offered indiscriminately. Here are just a few of these issues:

  1. Because of bothsidesism and sin-levelling as well as the assumption that confrontation is a devil term, these calls too often impute too much “immorality” to victims while defending abusers/bullies/oppressors.
  2. Because of the “Nice” devil-term horns effect around confrontation/hatefulness/aggression/anger, too often the assumption is that all victims are not just hurt but vindictive and likely to be aggressive (which isn’t always true, by a long shot).
  3. Because of the power dynamics in bullying, abuse, and oppression, it is very often the fact that one party or group is working to provoke the other party or group—which means that any actual aggression/vindictiveness, etc. coming from the victim/oppressed side is likely to be reactive in nature rather than an ongoing pattern of some sort of ongoing problem or character flaw in the victim. Often this kind of issue shifts when the person is removed from their abuser, any systemic factors relieved (sigh! that one’s hard!) and especially is given trauma therapy to heal.
  4. Surface level views of forgiveness often partake in the “stuff it down” schools of emotion for devil term/horns effect “negative emotions,” which can further harm the victim. I talked about this more in-depth previously.  
  5. Considering that anger is one of the recognized stages of grief as well as a healthy emotion that can easily exist side by side with “god term” emotions like compassion and empathy, these god term/halo effect and devil term/horns effect conflations can be extremely harmful to allowing for the procedures that facilitate actual healing.

IMPORTANT NOTES:

I know that some victims find forgiveness an important part of their healing process, and I’m certainly not saying we don’t need it in the world for all sorts of ordinary situations, especially.

While this particular complex of issues happens in Christianity in this particular way, a lot of the components of it happen in all cultures of “Niceness” and “rationality.”

But yeah, for the type of victim/oppressed person who already feels too much empathy for their abuser, forgiveness may not be necessary for either their emotional or spiritual healing and well being. In psychology, healing procedures are often referred to as integration or, in grief studies, acceptance. These procedures don’t always have to include forgiveness in either the theological or the general sense.

And for a victim/survivor that’s never been allowed to feel anger for fear of that devil term/horns effect cluster? Well, they probably need to be allowed to access that anger of theirs in order to safely heal.

Moving Forward

Well, I could go on, but hopefully this has been a helpful unpacking of why we ought not be too-easily asking victims/survivors/those healing from abuse and oppression, up to and including the recent victims of mass shootings, to jump immediately to “forgiving” those who have hurt them.

Instead, I would argue, we need to work harder to break up these complex networks of unhealthy concepts before we do. And instead, break through the bonds of “Christian Nice” to speak up against the toxic crap.

Need more resources to do that?

Sign up for our email newsletter and confirm your email address and you’ll receive the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Trolls,” which will help you understand more of how the visceral responses behind conflict work, both online and off. You can unsubscribe at any time, but I hope you’ll stick around.

A Final Encouragement

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep doing what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap and move toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

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Why “Christian Nice” Enables Covert Abuse and Authoritarian Politics http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/04/nice-covert-abuse-authoritarian-politics/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/04/nice-covert-abuse-authoritarian-politics/#comments Sun, 04 Aug 2019 05:36:36 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=902 So if you follow this space, you know that I grew up in a “moderate” religio-political space that followed the rules of “Christian Nice.” Under the surface, that often meant that the kind of “peace” that was spiritually elevated as a “god term”—that is, as I’ve said before, something to be defended at all costs, and, in this context, actually also seen as more godly—was too often associated with the suppression of confrontation. This meant “conflict” and “confrontation” were treated...

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So if you follow this space, you know that I grew up in a “moderate” religio-political space that followed the rules of “Christian Nice.” Under the surface, that often meant that the kind of “peace” that was spiritually elevated as a “god term”—that is, as I’ve said before, something to be defended at all costs, and, in this context, actually also seen as more godly—was too often associated with the suppression of confrontation. This meant “conflict” and “confrontation” were treated as devil terms, to be fought at all costs.

Interestingly, it also meant that being “political” (usually meaning only progressively political, really, as I came to realize) was also seen as a devil term. I’ve talked about that before several times on this blog, but perhaps most clearly here.

In this current post I plan to unwrap, more clearly than I have before, why those who protest evil are much too often seen to be more “immoral” than those who perpetrate it within this toxic kind of “Nice” environment. At the end I will offer more resources to better understand and speak up against the toxic crap.

Building Resentment Under the Surface

Unfortunately, this kind of environment, as I’ve discussed before, tends to breed what in civility studies is called “cordial hypocrisy.” (I’ve talked about this before, especially here.) In other words, a situation in which people accommodate and pretend to agree on the surface, but under the surface are building resentment all along.

This kind of resentment unfortunately eventually often outs itself, revealing a truly unhealthy dynamic bubbling just under the surface.

The problem with this kind of situation, of course, is that it doesn’t communicate either true peace nor a healthy set of dynamics. It just doesn’t. In fact, it creates a kind of situation that is ripe for both passive aggression and what a lot of great experts have begun calling covert abuse.

How Cordial Hypocrisy Lays the Groundwork for Enabling Authoritarian Politics

Cordial hypocrisy also unfortunately tends to lend itself to alignment with the kind of politics that pretends everything is rosy while stirring up that pent-up anger and stifling dissent. The practitioners of “Nice,” of course, shake their heads at any overt insults of the “other side.”

But at the same time, when you think about defending (faux) peace as a god term against confrontation as a devil term, it starts to make sense why practitioners of “Nice” might find themselves appalled at the rhetoric of strongmen demagogues even while they defend those same strongmen from “transgressive” folk who speak up against them.

This situation still occasionally shocks me. It also saddens me deeply.

So Let’s Talk Covert Abuse

But yes, you may not have heard much about the term covert abuse, so let’s talk about that. In covert abuse scenarios, people seem to be “nice”—they are just more adept at hiding their desire to control people and situations. Unfortunately, they often blame the people around them for things they themselves are doing (which is a mark of many overt abusers, corrupt politicians, etc. as well).

Covert abusers do it subtly, but they manipulate and control people in completely inappropriate ways.

What happens in covert abuse can be more damaging and difficult to recover from than overt abuse, ironically (and sadly), because it is so subtle and difficult to combat.

When Covert Abuse Is Seen as More “Godly” than Those Calling It Out

And it is even more difficult to combat covert abuse (or, for that matter, enablement of authoritarian politics!) in “nice” environments BECAUSE of the ethic of treating (faux) peace as a god term to be defended at all costs. In these kinds of environments, unfortunately, covert abuse, because it hides its aims, is often cast as more “godly” than overtly drawing attention to the misdoing of a covert abuser.

Let me say that again: In “Nice” environments, because an absence of conflict is seen to be the highest ideal, causing extreme damage as an abuser is seen to be more “godly” than the person who has been wounded calling this out—or even someone speaking up on the behalf of the wounded.

As a result, the covert abuser is supported in their “godliness” while the “divisive” person ends up being lumped in with the “confrontational” devil term.

Not Just in “Christian Nice,” Either—All Types of “Nice”

Please note that environments need not be religious to foster this type of environment—in fact, I have seen people supporting this kind of dynamic in every kind of environment, including those purporting to engage in Western rationalistic dialogues.

The kind of political “moderates” last week’s article was calling to healthier behaviors absolutely fit into this camp.

All of THIS is why religio-political moderates often see “progressives” who protest as “transgressive.”

THIS is why they tend to become as deeply uncomfortable with movements like #metoo and #churchtoo and #ChristiansAgainstHate and tend to silently buy the right-wing propaganda from dissembling politicians associating those groups with devil terms.

Why I Am Sooo Aware of These Dynamics

Since the environment I grew up in considered itself both religiously AND politically moderate, I can see from the inside out how this works. I can also see that from a Christian framework this kind of religio-political culture creates an idol out of “peace” in a detrimental way.

Which in turn helps me understand why the Bible always describes the (dissenting) prophet’s task as one that often leads to the religio-political establishment scapegoating and even killing the prophet who speaks out against abuse.

It helps me understand how Jesus’ words of dissent calling out the religio-political overt and covert abusers of his day got him killed.

Getting Past Christian Nice: A Long Road at Times, But Totally Possible

 See, as a recovering avoider of and accommodator to conflict, it’s taken me a long time and effort to train my visceral reactions to believe it’s okay to stand up. Starting this project and writing the series of blog posts I have up till now has helped me have insight into why and how I was trained to feel such things.

Here’s what I know: when we are viscerally trained to see certain groups as “transgressive” but our values lead us to join that group in speaking up against the toxic crap, we need to choose our values over our viscera every time.

Working Toward Healthier Responses

In fact, I believe we need to work to carefully retrain our visceral responses toward love for those “progressive” neighbors as well as those marginalized populations they represent.

I truly believe this—this retraining of our “natural” responses toward the Good Samaritans of our day, as well as those wounded in the ditch—is what Jesus was commanding his followers to do. And of course when I say “Good Samaritans,” I mean the way the term was used in its day: those people of “imperfect doctrine” speaking up for care and inclusion of the “least of these.” (I talked more about this here.)

Need Help Figuring More of This Out?

  1. Want more help figuring out how to recognize and healthily respond to these internal barriers in yourself and others? Sign up for our email newsletter, either in the top bar or by checking the box when you comment on this blog post, and we’ll send you our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email once you’ve confirmed your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around!
  2. Want to learn more about covert abuse and how to speak up against it, especially in domestic violence and other #churchtoo situations? Check out the Confusion to Clarity, Flying Free, and Making a Statement: The Church Free From Abuse projects and pages. And remember, as you do your research, that authoritarian politicians are often using the same techniques. I talked about this here.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep working to recognize those patterns that hinder us from looking out for the common good and truly sticking up for the marginalized and oppressed as we do so. We can do this thing!   

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How to Be a Moderate Ally in the US Today http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/27/how-to-be-actual-moderate-us/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/27/how-to-be-actual-moderate-us/#comments Sat, 27 Jul 2019 20:52:19 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=891 As I’ve explained before, I grew up in a denomination which many describe as falling *just* on the Evangelical side of what’s known as the Evangelical-Mainline divide among more conservative and more progressive churches in the US. That means I know many people in the US today who claim to be religio-politically moderate. Most of these are polling in the “independent” category on political surveys–but some are more independent than others. I’ll be frank—I believe the country has swung so...

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As I’ve explained before, I grew up in a denomination which many describe as falling *just* on the Evangelical side of what’s known as the Evangelical-Mainline divide among more conservative and more progressive churches in the US. That means I know many people in the US today who claim to be religio-politically moderate. Most of these are polling in the “independent” category on political surveys–but some are more independent than others. I’ll be frank—I believe the country has swung so far to one side that I don’t believe many of them are *actually* moderate.

My goal in this article is a practical advice-giving one: I know there are a lot of people who feel politically homeless right now–they don’t trust the current administration, but have also been trained not to trust others either.

In this article, I hope to offer advice to help these folks to actually communicate that they are moderate, reasonable people who might be at least seen as compassionate allies for those speaking up against the toxic crap out there in the religio-political landscape today–and hopefully joining the cause where and as they can.

Hopefully this will also help progressives who are seeking allies and looking for signs about how to discern who is “safe” and who isn’t.

How Do I Have the Cred to Talk about This?

Since I study and teach communication, and have held positions on both sides of both the political and religious sides of the divide, and have listened extensively to “both sides,” and have been sorting through signs of who is and is really not a moderate and watching that definition shift for the recent decades, I hope y’all might give what I say a wee bit of credence.

(If you think that any of that I just mentioned makes my advice less eligible to be listened to, well, that’s my first pro tip that you might fall more to the right rather than being actually moderate. Which just means that you might need to start the hard introspection needed about what you’ve been believing.)

Disclaimer: I am writing this piece as an ally myself, as well as someone with expertise in stress, trauma, and confict communication. As you’ll hopefully see below in my advice, I’m not trying to shout down POC voices or others of marginalized populations offering advice on this type of topic. Just offering what I can with what I’ve got to collaborate with the efforts of helping those religio-politically homeless to do what they can toward speaking up for what is right in today’s challenging climate.

How to *actually* communicate you’re a “safe” moderate in today’s climate:

  1. Recognize the way you’ve been raised and socialized affects your views, and that in turn may affect how much you’re willing to participate in the religio-political world. For instance, if you consider yourself moderate, there’s a good chance you don’t like conflict much. Recognize that might be an issue at times, especially in today’s climate. Know that on the topics where you know you differ a lot from progressives, it might be wise to listen more than to talk when you enter more progressive spaces on those issues. But feel free to agree with what you can, loudly!

    (Note that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King particularly had an issue with “white moderates” for their desire to tamp down “good trouble”—I talked about that here. I hope the present article is a helpful extension of his advice, telling you good folk how to be a moderate that is perceived to help with problems of human and civil rights rather than being a hindrance! Or, as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel put it, complicit with evil.
  2. Believe independent fact-checking organizations and organizations that have been helping the marginalized for decades (e.g., Amnesty International and other boots-on-the-ground organizations). Distrust organizations, both faith-based and otherwise, that have quickly changed their tunes on major issues over the last 3 years.
  3. You likely have heard messaging (and maybe participated in some) saying that “both sides are just as bad.” Don’t presume that “both sides” are equally untrustworthy or equally partisan in how they cast things. (They’re not.)
  4. Decry all human rights violations. Full stop.
  5. Look at a wide range of news sources if you choose, but don’t trust all equally. Check media bias sites regularly before believing things. (Don’t think you have to equally listen to “all kinds of sources,” though–that’s not always a merit in today’s climate. Propaganda can subtly change your perspective in unforeseen ways, and there’s no need to maintain a steady diet just to maintain a sense of self as “fair.”)
  6. Act like a detective—rely on the evidence of your eyes and ears, and also listen more carefully to experts than non-experts on various matters, while recognizing that all expertise has its limits. Remember you don’t have to give equal weight to the evidence of proven liars–and in fact, you definitely ought not to.
  7. Know that experience of marginalized groups is incredibly valuable evidence—these groups are often excellent at seeing power dynamics that those “on the inside” don’t regularly see. Definitely include stories from marginalized people and how everything is affecting them in your steady diet of information. Cultivate compassion for the marginalized and vulnerable, and look out for them.
  8. Know that no one is infallible or completely moral. That doesn’t mean that some people aren’t more right than others.
  9. Learn how to ask for both more rationality and more empathy in both theological and policy-based discussions.  
  10. Be aware that alertness to power dynamics affects how those on the left see the world. Cultivate the ability to understand such viewpoints. Ask good questions and ask for book recommendations if you’re not there yet.
  11. If someone in a place of powerful leadership is claiming to be the victim, look for actual evidence as to who is to blame—and realize that the “viking or victim” phenomenon isn’t a great thing, whether you find it in yourself or others.  
  12. Recognize that all communication is a negotiated act between parties, and that sometimes everyone is right and wrong, but some people and some ideas will always be more right and wrong than others.
  13. Vote on more than one issue, and look for candidates who actually match up with your values on multiple issues.
  14. Seek and accept nuance, but don’t waffle on human rights issues or other important matters that marginalize and oppress groups of people. Once the evidence is in, defend proven and ethical positions and act/speak up.
  15. Learn about fascistic rhetoric, systemic conditions and values systems that marginalize people (racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc), and conspiracy rhetoric. Try not to get offended by people calling these things out, if you can.
  16. Be aware that actually being a moderate is going to get you labeled as a flaming liberal, a socialist, a snowflake, and/or a false prophet of Satan in today’s climate. Learn to be at peace with that–there are much worse things than being associated with compassion.
  17. Realize that those on the left may not fully agree with you on all matters, but need you as allies right now. Know that you may have to communicate yourself as “safe” and build credibility as part of that process.
  18. Learn about the ways we all respond viscerally in debates and discussions. (Read the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” to help with this. There will be instructions at the end of the article.)

But How Do I Know If I or Someone Else Is Really to the Right?

In case you’re actually on the right and don’t realize it, I offer this list about how to communicate that you only *think* you’re a moderate, but are really far-right in this communication climate:

  1. If your primary news source is legally considered an “entertainment news network” and begins with an F, then you might be missing out on some actual facts, and may be further to the right than you think.
  2. Pay attention to whether your primary news sources regularly offer corrections if they get information wrong. If you do, you might possibly be moderate. If not, you’re probably getting some propaganda and/or conspiracy rhetoric in there somewhere—and that’s not a great thing.
  3. Do you regularly defend bothsidesism and false equivalencies—in other words, do you agree that both sides *equally* insult the other side, even when one side is using accurately descriptive terms more and the other is using devil terms? If so, you’re not really moderate.
  4. If someone brings up questions surrounding higher education, do you occasionally break out into rants about how “our students are being brainwashed by liberals”? If so, you’re regrettably not moderate, but quite a bit further right than you think.
  5. If someone brings up the question of the human rights violations at the border, do you find yourself defending any part of the administration’s current policies, shifting blame to previous administrations of other parties, or doing anything other than decrying the human rights violations and wishing to decry them and help with that? If so, you’re not a moderate.
  6. If someone brings up a Democratic tax policy, do you find yourself tempted to break out in a rant against how you don’t want this country to be “socialist”? If so, you’re not a moderate.
  7. Do you decry the current head of the administration’s Twitter presence, but say he’s got good policies (especially on things like abortion and anti-socialist policies)? If so, you aren’t a moderate, but pretty far to the right. (NOTE: You may certainly be broadly pro-life and be a moderate. But if you’re stuck on the Supreme Court solution, you’re probably not a moderate.)
  8. Do you regularly defend “law and order” without actually knowing the laws? For instance, when someone says something about the human rights crisis at the border, do you find yourself complaining that “these people” have been doing things illegally? If so, you’re actually really far to the right.

There are, of course, more signs and seals of whether you’re communicating being a genuine moderate or not these days. But these are hopefully a good start to figuring out how what you may need to do to be perceived as a moderate–or, if you’re already further left, some signs to look for and distinguish among.

Most important of all:

If you’re a moderate and want to communicate that, it’s really key to be speaking up against the toxic crap that’s going on, at least among people you know if not further afield. I really hope that’s more important to you than any feelings of discomfort about being perceived as “too liberal” in the current environment.

Know that if you aren’t willing to do this, others may have a hard time trusting you to be safe. These are difficult days, after all, and the toxic crap that’s going on out there isn’t great. Nor is it victimless. Remember that there are lots of us out there speaking up in hopes of making change, and that cynicism and burnout help us not at all.

Some Resources for You

Speaking of cynicism and burnout, try not to troll those trying to help, please! If you’re interested in figuring out whether you or someone else is a troll, I recommend signing up for our email newsletter, either in the top bar here or while commenting on this or other articles. Once you’ve confirmed your email address we’ll send you our “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

Quick Note to Friends on the Left:

Y’all, I know everyone feels suspicious right now, and so it’s okay to ask people to build cred in these times, but let’s do our best to welcome those who genuinely are showing signs of being true moderates as described above, can we please? We’re going to need all the help we can get. I know this is a hard ask…

One Final Note to All:

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! It’s (past) time that all of the reasonable, compassionate people raise their voices and help each other out so that the bullies don’t have the loudest, most effective voices. Let’s keep speaking up, even when it’s uncomfortable. We can do this thing!  

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“Go Back Where You Came From,” White Evangelicals, and Territoriality: An Analysis http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/20/white-evangelicals-territoriality-an-analysis/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/20/white-evangelicals-territoriality-an-analysis/#comments Sun, 21 Jul 2019 03:57:27 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=881 This week the current head of the US administration told four congresswomen who were women of color, three of which were born in the US, to “go back where they came from” (if you want to find out more about that, Google will get you to lots of articles–or hold on, and I’ll be linking a few throughout this article). This article is an analysis of this statement using tools from the communication field, including the way the phrase is...

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This week the current head of the US administration told four congresswomen who were women of color, three of which were born in the US, to “go back where they came from” (if you want to find out more about that, Google will get you to lots of articles–or hold on, and I’ll be linking a few throughout this article). This article is an analysis of this statement using tools from the communication field, including the way the phrase is a verbal expression of the nonverbal communication category territoriality.

I will also look at how this statement invokes for the conservative Christians defending it all of the god terms and devil terms and halo and horns effects I’ve been discussing in past articles, including this most relevant latest one. I will also provide practical resources for how to respond healthily to people’s attempts to evade this statement’s poisonous nature.

This analysis is a little long, but as I said, there are resources at the end, and nuance is key to fight these battles well and to fully understand how this all works; thanks for your patience! 🙂

Context Is King

So yes, context is everything when interpreting “go back where you came from” statements. When delivered to women of color who are progressive and speaking up to try to fix things in the country that 3 of 4 were born in, the intimation is deeply obvious—that these female progressive representatives are not *really* American. That they don’t belong in the US.

All week I’ve been reading things that talk about this verbal act as deeply racist. As sexist. As xenophobic. As nativist. I believe it is all of those things. It is also deeply, embeddedly partisan. And I believe it is that intersectional combination of things that makes the statement so effective—and so incredibly obvious that it is at its base incredibly territorial.

And sadly, I believe white Evangelicalism has a base territorialism of its own that has made it all too easy to absorb a partisan political identity on top of its theological identity. This makes it too easy for white Evangelicals to defend these statements.

(Again, as before, I don’t by and large see most POC Evangelicals defending these statements, so I refer to white Evangelicals as a cultural group. As I explained in the last article, I see some white Evangelicals speaking out against these types of remarks and very much hope more will join those of us decrying them.)

On Those Who Are Defending the Statement

The thing is that a lot of the white Evangelicals—and other conservative Christians—I know and grew up with are out there are out there trying to excuse these “go back to your own country” statements from the current head of the administration as specifically *not* being racist—or, if it is, to still defend or excuse the man who said it.

(I mean, sure, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you if you believe that it’s not racist. It’s so discriminatory that the New York Times quickly collected 16,000 stories of people of color being told to “go back where they came from.” And even though the phrase has a long rhetorical history in the US, it is actually illegal to use in workplaces according to current government law.)

But here’s the beauty of the rhetorical targeting of this statement toward partisanship in all its also-bare, also-extremely discriminatory glory: all of those people can convince themselves that, well, it was wrong to say, but that it wasn’t actually discriminatory.

Because, see, as I discussed last week, to self-identifying Republicans these days, these women are already the enemy. But to many, in their minds, it’s not because of their skin color. No, it’s because they are Democrats–and that means they are socialists. (I talked about socialist and liberal as a devil term here and here.)

Why It Matters that It Was Territorial

To those people defending the statement, I say now: whether or not you believe it was a deeply racist statement (and it was!!!! It really was!!!), you do need to understand that it was deeply territorial. The goal was to suggest that citizens who were hired to represent the people of these United States ought not to do their Constitutionally mandated jobs—and, in fact, not exercise their rights to disagree with the current head of the administration.

In other words, even though these types of words go back almost to the founding of this country, these words were also an attempt at the kind of tyranny the founders of this country set up checks and balances to prevent (even while they themselves had blind spots several thousand miles wide in the areas of discrimination).  

It’s Also Super Racist, Sexist, Etc.

The idea that women of color, most of whom were actually born here, ought to go back to some other place and fix those countries, is also incredibly racist—especially emerging, as it has been, from the mouths of many who have been telling migrants with darker skin tones that they ought to be going back and fixing their own “fixer-upper” countries.

As I described before, the outsourcing of problems to other places would very much fit into the god terms/devil terms rhetoric I’ll be unwrapping in a bit.

The combination of these two kinds of rhetoric–one about disagreement not belonging here and another about certain kinds and skin tones of migrants not belonging here–makes it extremely clear that the viewpoint being espoused is ultimately an unhealthy nationalist one.

In other words, that all marginalized people and those who are those allies, who actually want our government to represent their views toward fixing the problems in this country, ought to just go somewhere else, essentially leaving powerful white men alone with those who enable them.

Fascist Too!

Again, this makes for a deeply territorial statement—and one, despite its long history, that stands against the “checks and balances” ideals this country was founded on. And that makes this rhetoric line up with other fascistic rhetorics and rhetorics of petty dictators the world over.

That’s not a good thing. If you defend it, you sound an awful lot like you’re mirroring Nazi rhetorical techniques, and for good reason.

The Importance of the Word “Back”

And the framing of it IS racist. See, as a progressive who is advocating for the rights of marginalized and vulnerable populations, I’ve been told to move away, too—so the attempts at ostracism apply to me as well.

But as a white person the key word “back” is never included when the phrase is directed at me. I’m told to go away, sure—“why don’t you just *go* to Canada (or the UK or Europe) then?” But I’m never told to go back.

(Which in a way is funny, because I have lived in two of those three places, have visited all of them, and my ancestors came from two of those three places. If they wanted to tell me to go back, it would *almost* be dimly appropriate. Still deeply overlooking all immigration difficulties I may face, mind you. After all, I don’t actually have any type of job or passport in any of those places. But still, much more reasonable of a suggestion than telling these female US representatives to go back to another country they may have never been to.)

The Disturbing Ironies Run Deep

The point of all of this, of course, is that it’s racist to paint these women as enemies and interlopers to this territory that my ancestors—well, I believe the appropriate word is “stole” or “colonized”—by committing genocide, and then built up as a country based on the forced labor of enslaved people of color.

The Incredibly Strong and Harmful Irresponsibility of Doubling Down on the Initial Statement

Furthermore, the suggestion is deeply irresponsible, and the fact that the opportunity to apologize was followed up by the fact that it couldn’t be wrong because others agreed with it, and then the same rhetoric was used to stoke mob-like chanting at a rally? Yup, that’s exactly the kind of behavior fascists literally enact in order to demonize their opposition.

It is in no way a shock to me that it’s been followed up by death threats to those people. And the rhetoric seems strongly responsible for those death threats. It also seems deeply responsible for all of the ways such a powerful voice offering and doubling down and encouraging such racist rhetoric hurts all the people who will take the cue toward other racist words and behavior.

Not at All Unexpected

Again, it is a question of territoriality. The current head of the administration does not see himself, this statement confirmed once and for all (as though it was at all in doubt) as president of *all* of the people here, even though that was what he was hired to be.

This is not new. He has felt this way—and expressed it very openly, both verbally and nonverbally, since the beginning of his campaign and long before (this is just an extension of the birtherism controversy—but there are many others, as this article shows).

How Conservative Christians Have Been Drawn In to Defending

My argument here is that conservative white Evangelicals and others who refuse to denounce this rhetoric, even if they see themselves as against racism, have bought into this rhetoric specifically because they have bought into the partisan demonization of liberals and “socialists” I’ve been talking about on this site.

These conservative Christians may not believe themselves to be innately racist. But they ARE unapologetically partisan—and they have no problem with people demonizing their political opponents, to the point where they expect the same in return.

The kind of poisonous rhetoric they’ve been listening to for decades from peops on conservative talk radio and entertainment news networks for decades has laid the groundwork for this.

How I Know

I know—I grew up with this, and as I’ve discussed before on this blog, it took me a lot of development to get to the point where I was comfortable claiming the term “progressive” or “liberal” as a result.

White Evangelical-Centrism Has Made It Seem More Normal To Espouse This Toxic Crap

And as I’ve pointed out before and am building on now, I believe that a kind of long-term theological white Evangelical-centrism in which progressive Christian perspectives is seen as a threat only adds to these conflations between political and theological progressivism being somehow threats who need to be silenced at the very least.

This position has led to deep political disgusts with these “opponents” that makes it feel natural to try to get them “off the American lawn” and into “taking their negativity somewhere else.”

How “Christian Nice” Has Played a Role

The kind of unhealthy views of “negativity” and emotion I talked about last week make this kind of thing even more likely. See, if you’re so uncomfortable with people raising uncomfortable issues that you think people should just ignore them? That’s a situation absolutely ripe for both authoritarian dismissal of people trying to raise issues in order to fix them AND for fascistic rhetoric to take hold.

How “God Terms” and “Devil Terms,” “Halo and Horns Effects” Played a Part

So yes, because they have come to believe that the “Republican side” is a god term—in other words, something to be defended at all costs—and that the “Democratic side” is a devil term to be fought at all costs, they find it incredibly easy to excuse this statement as not racist.

I mean, the more reasonable folks in this defender group would say, it’s pretty nasty and distasteful partisanship.

But, they may argue, these women are not only women or people with darker skin tones—they are Democrats. There’s a longstanding history of partisanship in the US, reaching out from the beginning, is there not?

And, you know, some “good policies” (mostly around abortion, but also to head off the country’s feared decline into “socialism”) and conservative judges (to help with abortion, mostly).

The Fusing of White Evangelicalism and Political Partisanship

Deep sigh. There *is* a longstanding history of partisanship. And with that partisanship some folks have grown to see their side as associated with halo effects—that is, because someone is a Republican they are seen to do very little wrong, which is the base of defending that person as a god term.

And the other side is seen to be through the vision of the horns effect—in other words, because they are Democrats (and/or progressive theologically), they are to be fought at all costs.

And as I described before, in a single-issue world, anyone, however harmful in other areas (such as inciting death threats against female representatives), who is seen to be narrowly pro-life (and, as a bonus, is fighting that dim specter of socialism) is automatically excused from any major charge against them.

How All of This Comes Back to Territoriality

Let’s face it: war—which is what happens when you see your side as good and to be defended at all costs and the other side as bad and to be fought at all costs—is all about territoriality.

I mean, the basic premise of war is that it’s high time to push the “enemy” off this land. Right??? (I know this: I grew up playing Risk ad nauseum with someone who thought this way.)

NOT OKAY THINKING!

Sigh. Lord, no. This thinking is remarkably not okay. It’s definitely part of a strain of American thinking from the beginning of the country. It’s a zero-sum impulse that’s really common to us as humans and animals. But that doesn’t automatically make it okay–nor does it make it appropriate.

Goes Against Basic Christian Theological Premises

Nor does it make it at all in consonance with basic Christian principles. See, I grew up being asked to follow a man who told me to “love my neighbor as myself” which explicitly included my enemy.

I grew up being taught Scriptures that taught me to take care of the “least of these” and “welcome the stranger” and bring down the powerful to raise up the oppressed by doing justice and loving mercy. I grew up learning, albeit in a vague way, that human social identities weren’t supposed to be used to hurt others. And that we needed to call that out when we saw it happening.

Putting It Out There Why I Have Issues with This Statement

If you haven’t already figured it out, I believe this “go back to their countries” statement is wholeheartedly, blatantly wrong. I wholeheartedly believe my white Evangelical peops are being led astray from their stated core Christian beliefs in trying to defend it.

My training in communication and rhetorical analysis leads me to believe it *is* discriminatory—sexist and racist and xenophobic and partisan and nativist and, yes, descriptively fascist because it is all of those things at once.

And from a Christian perspective, I believe those things are not loving of either neighbor nor enemy. Nor are they just or merciful or kind to the least of these and those who defend them.

Why I See This Phrase as Deeply Wrong as an American

This statement unjustly takes a group of people who were actually hired to represent Americans, by Americans, and scapegoats them as the “enemies of America” who belong somewhere else rather than trying to draw attention to the problems in this country they want to help solve.

It strategically does so in a slippery way where many supportive audiences of the current administration could read it in a lot of different ways that would encourage them to defend against alternative explanations of the statement. But that just makes it more poisonous.

Being Practical about What We Can Do

So yes, enough analysis. To action!

It is so key that all of we who seek to fight such statements recognize that those who defend them won’t be easily persuaded of these things.

That doesn’t mean we ought not counter them, of course. On the contrary, as I’ve explained before, we need to raise our voices loudly to break through the spiral of silence about these things. It’s key that alternative views be raised, and raised loudly in these days.

It’s key that the racist context of these statements be raised and explained openly. That the death threats and rally cries and other appalling statements that emerge from them be thoroughly decried and drawn attention to and fought. This is key.

Recognizing Feasibilities of Persuasion

But it’s incredibly key to note that because, as I’ve explained before, the press and expertise have also been demonized for conservatives, the point is rarely to try to persuade those of opposing camps.

The point instead of persuasion is to draw attention to the incommensurability of these approaches (in other words, the ways in which the values are so differing that agreement is unlikely to happen), to draw attention to our alternative views as extremely valid in at least as equal a way as those of those defending the statements, and to not let this sh*t go unchallenged, as a recent meme we sent out on our FB page said.

Resources to Help in Speaking Up about This and Other Topics and Dealing with the Conflict

So…you’re probably looking for some resources to help you do that. Here goes:

  1. This week’s memes and links over at our Assertive Spirituality Facebook page will be addressing this issue. Hang out over there if you want some conversation starters and ammunition.
  2. Wanting some further knowledge about how to deal with conflict when you speak up? Sign up for our email newsletter in the top bar of this site or when you comment on this or other articles, and confirm your email address, and we’ll send you our “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the resulting final welcome email. It’s designed to help with conflict both online and off. (You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.)
  3. Follow the links in the above article to learn more both from this blog and other sources about the context of everything I just talked about. The more you know, the easier it is to have the agency to understand and speak up about what’s going on–not just with talking points, but with a fuller understanding of the issues at hand

One Final Word

The idea is to avoid being silently complicit in letting this stuff go on. It is absolutely time to stand up, as we can where we are with what we’ve got to make a healthier world for us all, friends. Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! We can do this thing.

The post “Go Back Where You Came From,” White Evangelicals, and Territoriality: An Analysis appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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When “Christian Nice” Gets Mean about Emotions http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/14/when-christian-nice-gets-mean-about-emotions/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/14/when-christian-nice-gets-mean-about-emotions/#comments Sun, 14 Jul 2019 06:00:45 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=875 If you haven’t been keeping up with my schedule, by the time you read this, I’ll be largely done with speaking about “Stress, Trauma, and Conflict Communication” at the Wild Goose Festival, which is a progressive Christian social justice-themed festival in the Bible Belt in the Southern US. As I’ve described before, I grew up in my own mini-Bible belts in the Midwest. But the Southern US Bible Belt is its own special cultural flavor of Bible Belt. This piece...

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If you haven’t been keeping up with my schedule, by the time you read this, I’ll be largely done with speaking about “Stress, Trauma, and Conflict Communication” at the Wild Goose Festival, which is a progressive Christian social justice-themed festival in the Bible Belt in the Southern US. As I’ve described before, I grew up in my own mini-Bible belts in the Midwest. But the Southern US Bible Belt is its own special cultural flavor of Bible Belt. This piece extends what I’ve been saying before about the toxic sides of Christian Nice by looking at one example of one feature of Nice and what it gets right as well as the damaging effects the form and impact of the statement may have.  

The Inciting Incident that Birthed Forth this Article

I’m excusing the typo here in favor of analyzing more important things about this message. (But it does bother me. :))

So yes, I made it to the South. I had almost arrived at my AirBnb for the Wild Goose Festival when I saw a church sign that made me absolutely cringe-laugh: “Too blessed to be stressed or depressed.”

Well, technically there was a typo in there, but that can happen to anyone, so I’m not focusing on that at the moment. Instead, I want to focus on the intense cringe that came to me from the message itself.

What the Sign Came Close to Getting Right

See, as I’ve explained, I actually, teach and write about stress and trauma (and conflict communication–and when I saw this sign, ironically was on my way to speak about it).

And I hate to admit it, but I feel in the interests of honesty that it’s important to note before I dive into the down sides that the church actually got a few things right here:

  1. Gratitude-type exercises do actually help the brain. Specifically, they help it rewire itself to open up healthier pathways. This is especially key when we’ve been through experiences like burnout or trauma, both of which tend to train us to look for the negative more than the positive (which we tend toward anyway).

    That is to say that the church actually had a point, however crappily expressed, in gesturing toward the importance of being thankful for what we have. Not as a way to avoid bad emotions, but as a way to keep it possible for us to see the good possibilities in life without breaking down those neural pathways toward hope.
  2. Stress and depression are actually linked, and even beyond the near-rhyming effect found here.  That is to say, that scientific research shows that people and animals who experience too much toxic stress tend to feel less pleasure in the pleasure centers of their brains—which is why both gratitude-type exercises and conscious efforts to remind oneself and each other of the meaningfulness of what we do, regardless of perceived results, is so important.

    And as I said, gratitude can be a helpful scientifically proven antidote to unhealthy stress and depression at times.

Sadly, That’s Not Actually What Was Being Said

That said, those points weren’t really what the sign was saying, in my view. Which is to say, the WAY this message was presented was horrible, which is what made me cringe-laugh. Way beyond the typo, as I said, the message is CLASSIC toxic Christian nice.

When I read this sign, I didn’t hear “Wow, did you know research says you should try to maintain your mental and physical health through recognizing that not everything sucks all the time, and try to remember why you do it.”

Sigh—I wish that’s what had come across. Or even “I realize you have a lot of negative emotions right now, and I have a lot too under the surface, so let’s try not to take them out on each other.”

What the Sign Actually Seemed to Be Saying to Those Asking for Empathy

No, this is what I imagined coming across to a random reader of it who had just been through a stressful time. Imagine the following in a drill sergeant’s voice, if you will:

“YOU!!! THAT’S RIGHT! YOU! THE ONE DRIVING BY! THAT’S RIGHT: YOU!!!”

“LISTEN! I MEAN, I KNOW YOU HAVE STRESS RESPONSES. WE ALL DO. I KNOW YOU HAVE BEEN THROUGH A LOT LATELY, AND ARE HAVING TROUBLE FINDING THE JOY. MIND YOU, I’M WELL AWARE THAT THESE FEELINGS COME FROM A NATURAL NEUROBIOLOGICAL TENDENCY BASED ON HOW YOUR BODY AND BRAIN PROCESS FELT THREATS.

BUT I DON’T CARE ABOUT THAT, HEAR ME? I COULD NOT (STRING OF UNPRINTABLE EXPLETIVES) CARE ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL, OR WHAT HAPPENED THAT MADE YOU FEEL SO DOWN AND WEARY. SCREW THAT SO HARD.

I HAVE NO EMPATHY OR SUPPORT TO OFFER YOU, FRIEND, BECAUSE I FEEL THREATENED BY YOUR NEGATIVE EMOTIONS. I BELIEVE YOU SHOULD STUFF THEM DOWN AND KEEP UP A SMILE, BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T, THERE WILL BE RELATIONAL AND POSSIBLY ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES FOR YOU.

YOU KNOW THAT VERSE ABOUT JESUS CRYING? WELL, THERE’S A REASON THAT IT’S THE SHORTEST VERSE IN THE BIBLE.

OH, LAMENTATIONS? WELL, THAT NEVER POPPED UP IN MY VERSE-A-DAY CALENDAR.

OH, THOSE PSALMS OF LAMENT? WELL (MORE EXPLETIVES). The person trying to read the sign unwittingly ducks at this point.

ANYWAY, HERE’S THE POINT. YOU HAVE WAYYYYY TOO MUCH BLESSING TO ACTUALLY EVER FEEL THAT WAY, YOU JERK. HOW DARE YOU HAVE STRESS OR TRAUMA OR DEPRESSION?

OH! YOU WANT TO BRING UP THAT VERSE ABOUT GOD TAKING CARE OF THE BROKENHEARTED? WELL (THE SIGN ACTUALLY PICKS ITSELF UP AND THROWS ITSELF AT THE PERSON AT THIS STAGE. THE WHOLE THING DEVOLVES INTO A BRAWL.)

Not the Best Messaging, You Could Say, if You Want People to Feel Cared For

So…yeah. As you might have guessed, I think that the root parts of some of the scientific theory and the rudimentary ideas behind the sign here were honestly on track. It’s just that the actual execution of the message?

Ugh. Just ugh.

And Here’s the Thing–the Most Important Point

Remember what I said at the beginning about stress wearing down the hopeful and happy pathways in our brain?

That means that pretty much every single person reading it who is going through genuine stress-induced burnout or depression is wayyyy more likely to read it the negative way than the positive.

Which means that if you want to reach THAT audience as intended, and you’re making a church sign (or just trying to support someone in general going through a bad time), you likely need to work on more empathetic ways of packaging the message.

When Christian Nice Devolves into and Merges with “Christian Mean”

This, if you were wondering, is what happens when “Christian Nice” can come off as so passive aggressively downright mean that some concepts are actively holding whole swaths of all sorts of things down as though they were a bully stuffing them into a locker.

Telling Us Not to Have Stress Responses Is Counter-Productive

Oh, and if you’re wondering, telling someone not to actually have stress responses is not remotely possible and is really unwise. As you should know by now if you’ve read our Guide to Trolls or a lot of other material on this blog, stress is the body’s physiological response to felt threat. (If not, stick around–I’ll offer instructions for that at the end of this.)

The Sign Actually Made Me Feel Threatened by It in a Low-Key Way

You know, like the very same kind of response my body emerged with in a cringe-laugh just before I pulled over to snap a picture. See, the mode and delivery of the message on that sign were enough for me to see this message like an ALL CAPS-y drill sergeant, as I outlined above.

The irony is thick that the very sign who is telling me that I’m “TOO BLESSED TO BE STRESSED OR DEPRESSED” was making me feel in a stress response by the way the phrase was structured.

Sure, it wasn’t nearly as much stress as is implied by the above long explanation—after all, I grew up among Christian Nice not that different from this.

There *Is* a Stress Response for What the Sign Suggests

I should note quickly that there IS a stress response that correlates to what the sign seems to be asking you to do, and it’s a very natural one, and can be helpful in the short term. It’s often called dissociation or numbing. It’s a process that numbs the bad stuff so the body can process extremely difficult situations.

It’s natural, and it can be helpful short term, but when it tends to last too long the body often responds in unhealthy ways, with other symptoms. If you curious how this works, I strongly recommend watching the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix.

In Which I Acknowledge the Way the Sign Was *Meant* to Come Across

Because I grew up in Christian Nice, albeit a different flavor, I know perfectly well what they at the best were very imperfectly trying to say was “buck up, friend! It won’t always be this way. Surely you have a lot of good work you are doing that the world will find valuable, and even if not, perhaps there is something you can focus on and pay attention to that can help you think through the meaning of your life and reground it.”

And I also knew that here, in the Bible belt, there would be many people who would read it as seemingly intended, and feel better.

Still an Unhealthy Message for Too Many

But that doesn’t mean it’s everyone who reads it in the ALL CAPS form is in any way off base. Because this message in form and function is honestly pretty crappy.

The way it’s said implies that emotions=bad. That dissent=bad. That mental health issues=completely your fault. That stress response you’re feeling right now? Well, if you just focused on that blessing, well, that would totally not be there. Trapped in the depths of depression like that guy who wrote Ecclesiastes? Well, you must not belong here.

Sigh. That’s great if you want people to feel hurt and excluded and uncared for. But if you’re genuinely trying to love your neighbor who reads it in the ALL CAPS version? It would be better to shift the language.

A Healthier Way

In reality, research has shown that if we try to numb negative emotions, eventually our feelings of happiness and joy numb too. If we followed this sign’s advice, that would mean that we would get to a place where we might BE blessed, but likely wouldn’t be able to *feel* blessed. And I know, I know, feeling isn’t everything. But in reality, research has shown that numbed people are way more likely to dehumanize and attack others or themselves. It’s overall not a great situation.

In short, it’s not a great message. We avoid emotion management at our peril. It’s also intensely ironic how aggressive this kind of messaging feels to one attuned to the nuances of these kinds of Nice cultures. That’s because it itself seems to be coming out of a very strong denial/dissociative stress impulse. Sigh.

Anyway, that was the church sign I saw near my AirBnB on Wednesday. I hope it’s clear to you by now why it bothered me, and why many readings of the sign are really inaccurate and literally unhealthy for people, even while there are some good points behind the terrible wording.

I hope after reading this those who have been hurt by such messaging can recognize better after reading this WHY this kind of messaging gets offered, and still fight the negative parts while claiming the healthier versions of this sentiment.

And if you’ve said this before? Try to offer the healthier version, friend! If you’re at your emotional limit yourself, it’s okay to ask others to not put their emotions on you—that doesn’t mean you should be asking them to push them down long term, though. That’s simply not healthy for any of us.

Want to Learn More about Stress Responses and Conflict?

But if you’d like to know more about stress responses and how they are absolutely unavoidable in conflict (no matter how BLESSED you are ;)), I strongly recommend signing up for our email newsletter, either in the top bar or when you comment on this piece, because I get more into how stress works and how it affects conflict in the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” you get once you’ve confirmed your email address. (You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.  

A Final Encouragement

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! May we all realize that stuffing down emotions—and telling others to do the same—doesn’t actually, on its own or especially in this form, make things better in the world. Instead, may we make space in our spirituality, whether in or out of the church, for there to be space for people to manage their real emotions. We can do this thing!

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White Evangelicalism Eloped with Unhealthy Nationalism: An Analysis and Call to Action http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/07/white-evangelicalism-eloped-unhealthy-nationalism/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/07/white-evangelicalism-eloped-unhealthy-nationalism/#comments Sun, 07 Jul 2019 06:41:09 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=865 QUICK NOTE BEFORE I EVEN START: In this article, as with this previous one and this previous one, I refer to “White Evangelicals” as a cultural and religio-political group. I refer to their presumed race mostly to separate this group from POC Evangelicals, most of which hold VERY different beliefs on the ways religion ties to questions of social justice and what we should be doing in the political realm. When you read the rest of this post and respond...

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QUICK NOTE BEFORE I EVEN START: In this article, as with this previous one and this previous one, I refer to “White Evangelicals” as a cultural and religio-political group. I refer to their presumed race mostly to separate this group from POC Evangelicals, most of which hold VERY different beliefs on the ways religion ties to questions of social justice and what we should be doing in the political realm. When you read the rest of this post and respond to it, do keep that in mind.

That said, as you will see, I believe out of my experiences and expertise that this same group has increasingly been mirroring and wittingly or unwittingly endorsing and defending the language and policies associated with (white) authoritarian nationalism, and that is highly disturbing to me. I think it should also be deeply disturbing to you. May those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

A Quick Further Summary of How I’m Using the Term “White”

In this latter way, the term “white” in this piece should absolutely be taken to be associated with disturbing and yet disturbingly still common and systemic ideas and ideologies such as “white supremacy.” After all, the rhetoric I’m about to describe that has been used by white Evangelical leaders doesn’t exactly promote equal treatment of all equally.

As was stated thoroughly by a Christian immigration lawyer in the US recently, this recent rhetoric from white Evangelical leaders such as James Dobson doesn’t even promote following existing laws about immigration much less following basic biblical principles as long commonly held by the church. (For the record, it doesn’t promote the standard American values of freedoms to protest and dissent either.)

NOTE: I’m not talking here about those who identify as white Evangelicals and yet are standing up against this rhetoric. Sojourners Magazine is a great example of some often-self identified white Evangelicals who are fighting this. Here is an important piece they just published about why James Dobson’s piece was so dangerously white supremacist.

TL;dr: This (white) nationalist rhetoric is highly unhealthy, and the way white Evangelicals have, in the words of many white Evangelicals, “jumped into bed” with it deeply disturbs me. I find it deeply wrong and harmful to so many. I’m going to keep speaking up against it!

Please Hang in There for the Longer Analysis, Though!

I actually hope you won’t TL;dr this article, though, but will stick around for a round of unwrapping unhealthy rhetoric. If you identify as a conservative Christian, please note that I’m not really trying to mince my words here. I find your use and defense of this rhetoric and its associated policies poisonous.

Why I Am Speaking So Passionately Here.

See, people sometimes laugh when I use the term doctor for myself, because I’m *only* a doctor of communication. But as someone who has studied poisonous rhetorics, I’m absolutely telling you and anyone else who will listen that this rhetoric you’ve ingested and are currently spitting out at everyone you perceive to be your enemy is deathly poisonous.

I’m deeply—and because I study stress and trauma, also literally—concerned about both your health and the health of those you’re spitting this rhetoric back out at if this continues. So please please, hold your nose and read and take this seriously, please. This is seriously life and death stuff.

Okay, Back to the Title—Let’s Talk about that Yoking Clobber Verse!

So anyway, let’s start with that, shall we? That verse that always gets invoked when anyone in white Evangelicalism may suggest dating someone from another religion or creed. It pops to all their lips super-quickly. “Do not be yoked to unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

If we are at all familiar with the American White Evangelical interpretation of this popular “clobber verse,” we don’t even have to look at the context to understand further. It’s all about “family values,” right? About not getting married to someone outside the church? Not so much, in my read.

Really About Unsavory Partnerships with Corrupt People

However, if you look more closely at the context of this verse in the original text and look at some commentaries, you’ll see this verse likely has nothing to do with romantic relationships or partnerships at all. Instead it seems to deal much more with unsavory religious and business partnerships that link people in the church to corruption and oppression.

In other words, when I read this verse more closely, I’m seeing the broader theme joining up with many others in the Bible that call out corruption and oppression and asking readers to speak up for justice and mercy over and above unjust laws.

As I’ve described before, I see this huge theme in the Bible as wayyy more prominent than concerns about heterosexual procreation. So I interpret this verse as concerned about unhealthy religio-political allegiances, especially by those with power and influence, than it would be concerned about ordinary people dating someone who has a different creed.

In Which I Remind You I’m a Communication Scholar Rather than a Theologian

I’m not a theologian, nor pretending to be, so this article isn’t about unwrapping this verse—you can look all that up and/or do your own study if you really want. Instead, I’m a communication scholar continuing a series about what we can do in the case of the unhealthy immigration practices in the US, and so this article will continue that work.

What I’ll Be Doing Today to Extend Previous Work

Last week I unwrapped some of the unhealthy immigration rhetoric in Dr. James Dobson’s July Newsletter. Since then this piece came out helpfully supplementing that work to show from the perspective of a Christian immigration lawyer just how unhealthy that rhetoric is.

This week I plan to as briefly as possible overview the way conservative Christians have been drawn into supporting unhealthy nationalisms, especially focusing on the way unhealthy nationalistic rhetoric tries to discredit alternative views.

As I’ve discussed in a long series starting here and culminating here, I see this as having taken place through long exposure to politically motivated weavings of god terms and devil terms and halo effects and horns effects (all of which I’ll redefine very shortly).

I believe the use of this rhetoric has led Christian conservatives to see even their religio-political progressive Christian brethren as enemies whose points of views are to be dismissed and/or beaten down or ranted against rather than heard and assimilated and collaborated with toward the common good.

If you haven’t already figured that out, I don’t exactly think that’s great (deep sarcasm alert!!!!).

The Work I’ll Be Doing in This Article

As you’ll see, I’ll be arguing that these conservatives have so come to see their religious and political positions as so fused that their conservative tribe of religious interpretations has become subservient to their conservative beliefs.

As I’ve explained before, I was raised among the more politically conservative side of a moderate denomination, and I believe that gives me a helpful vantage point together with my PhD in Communication.

Unhealthy Conservative Demonization of Expertise

The very fact that those last three words—PhD in Communication—would already put me among the category to be mistrusted for many if not most of my conservative Christian kin is one of the first points I need to raise here. See, the fact that only “theological knowledge”—and, in fact, often only a specific interpretation of Scripture—is seen as “GOD’S TRUTH” among many conservative Christians makes them VERY vulnerable to unhealthy rhetoric coming from or endorsed by seemingly reliable faith leaders they trust.

Why It’s Biblically Weird for Conservative Christians to Demonize My Communication Expertise

As a scholar of communication, this idea that conservative people reject my expertise about words both makes sense to me and is rather bizarre. On one hand, the Bible is made up of words communicated to and by people. Furthermore, Jesus was famously “the Word” from God made flesh.

Most people coming from an outside perspective, and even many from my educated moderate denomination, would, you would think (and many I know do!) happily marry these two things together and veritably welcome me as a communication scholar to try to explain what might be going on both in Scripture and in the conflicts between communication communities.

And yet, at least in part because of the unhealthy propaganda they’ve been consuming, even some of those from my moderate denomination have been showing strong distrust of my expertise. They have been trained anew not to trust it. As I discussed here and here, watching this has been deeply disturbing.

How My Expertise Helps Me Understand, But in No Way Endorse, This Demonization Phenomena

But I understand why this demonization of my PhD in Communication occurs. See, as a scholar of communication, I know there are a ton of reasons for those who are exhausted, burned out, or just have been told they aren’t very smart may feel “less than,” and reach out toward rhetoric that knocks down other forms of expertise as a sort of comfort food.

So I get it. I have huge problems with it, as any reasonable person might expect. But I get it.

So yeah, I understand. I understand why it is that people in this conservative Christian camp read the messages that tell them that all universities are brainwashing all students, and find it easy to buy in. Sure, it seems counterproductive to me to distrust those who train the doctors who heal us and the engineers who develop the computer software we type on. I also think it’s generally a bad thing to encourage sexual assault, so I’m all for hiring a few Title IX administrators here and there.

I Get Why It’s Hard for Conservatives to Trust Me

But I understand. After all, I have that PhD in Communication (and the vocabulary that comes with it can be a little intimidating at times, I’ll admit. I’m often in a hurry, and I understand that makes my stuff a little more challenging to interpret, as well).

But I’m really just here–and in my classroom–to communicate the few things I know, and the limits of that, to others. I don’t pretend to know everything–in fact, higher education is designed to show us we don’t.

But we do insist on a few things we’ve learned. And we often do so in ways that ask people to constantly think in nuance and consider differing points of view. And THAT is something my study of authoritarian rhetoric shows me is something that consistently been demonized by those seeking to take full control of societal narratives for their own unhealthy purposes.

Understanding Why Unscrupulous White Evangelical Leaders Would Encourage This Sh*t

Given my understanding of unhealthy authoritarian nationalism from my research, I can also see how those unscrupulous religious leaders who encourage such unholy unions as that between white Evangelicalism and unhealthy conservatism would encourage this kind of thing.

After all, if audiences are told that thinking critically about both religious and political information is unwise, then those leaders can completely change their messaging and thereby drag their trusted followers down really really unhealthy paths if that is somehow expedient for them.

This kind of unhealthy complicity, or yoking, as it were, with unhealthy messaging encourages people to see the religio-political leaders on the conservative side through the lens of “halo effects.” At the same time, everyone on the opposing side is easily painted through the lens of a “horns effect.”

Going Back to Some Definitions of Halo/Horns Effects and God and Devil Terms

As I’ve described before, halo effects are those phenomena in which people or groups are seen to be all good–or at least to have a lot of good things about them–because of seeing something good about them. Horns effects are the opposite.

In this case, those who have been trained to defend those on “their side” as “god terms” (the term is used non-religiously to describe things to be defended at all costs) and the little initials PhD with “devil terms” (things to be fought at all costs) are trained to see me, someone who works hard to work at this puzzle of understanding and teaching communication–and communicating my conclusions, even if that goes against other understandings people may well hold dear–as part of the enemy to be fought.

Demonizing Other Sources of Critical Thinking and Fact-Checking/Alternative Thought as Well!

It’s not just academics who get lumped into this category—as can be easily figured out from a glance at Dr. Dobson’s newsletter, similar dynamics surround “the (liberal/mainstream) media” and “Democrat politicians” and even those citizens who protest human rights violations in the current immigration situations. As the Christian immigration lawyer has pointed out, most of these assertions are both untrue and unkind, both.

Long-term Demonization of Disagreement and Alternative Views

I could go on for awhile, but whatever the reason for this union, what has happened in the few years (centuries, many would rightfully argue!) is that conservative Christians have increasingly yoked themselves with this kind of dehumanizing demonizing propaganda that encourages them to dismiss any message from most of those in opposing groups, especially when it comes to challenging the status quo regarding white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, and so on.

However much I laugh at the person who told me last year—I’m roughly paraphrasing here—that I’m a “false prophet of Satan,” that’s exactly what many are told to feel. And it’s not really a joking matter.

In fact, this kind of loaded devil term language and its related horns effect encourages conservative Christians to presuppose that anyone who disagrees with what they’ve been told by their “trusted sources” will automatically be attacking them.

The Creation of Conservative Confirmation Bias

At the same time, this knee-jerk fear-based messaging is convenient, because it itself uses so many devil terms combined with horns effects to convince its readers and listeners to create a confirmation bias in favor of the “conservative side” over and against the “liberal side.”

And by pre-loading the presumption that the other side is simultaneously made up of people who use exactly the same methods and rhetoric, these audiences are drawn into thinking that the other side’s expertise is automatically to be dismissed. And in fact is seen to be more devil than human.

Before You Know It, Theology and Biblical Interpretation Shifts Dramatically!

And before you know it, the words of the Word made flesh (that’s Jesus, if you forgot!) like “love your enemies” are seen to have wayyy less “Scriptural authority” than obscure verses pulled from the Bible that weren’t seen to be central years ago—verses especially about how important it is to kowtow to authority and to build walls, etc. etc. etc.

And even the kindest of souls who feels all sorts of compassion for those children at the border may become convinced through rhetoric like Dobson’s newsletter that it’s somehow important to only choose a charity that will help those children “if they also turn in illegals” (shudder–hate that inaccurate demonizing devil term!). And those with the kindest hearts who do a ton of volunteer work suddenly, with the seeming flip of a switch, can snap into arguing that closed borders are a veritable gift from God.

The Examples I’ve Seen Confirm the Poison Has Been Getting Through

Both those conservative Christians I know in person and those who have popped up on the AS site have increasingly been yoking themselves to such unhealthy propaganda.

Having studied white nationalist rhetoric from the past and present, including Nazi propaganda, it frankly disturbs me intensely deeply to see how such Christians have been drawn into professing and actually supporting and defending such racist, xenophobic, and frankly hateful language and policies.

I’ve seen it everywhere in white Evangelical circles in the last few weeks particularly, but the seeds of it were planted many years ago.

Acknowledging that Writing This Isn’t Fun

As I’ve said before, even knowing the ways all of this works doesn’t actually make it better for me to hear my fellow Christians, many of which I grew up with, increasingly talking like, yes, Nazis.

To say so doesn’t make me feel like I’ve “owned the Repubs.”

On the contrary, it makes me want to lay down and weep, as the Psalmists did. I do, at times.

The Urgency of Continuing to Raise Our Voices to Warn of the Poison

But I also make sure to stand up to use my gifts to keep speaking up. After all, I know the truth is this: these words and ideas that are being peddled to my conservative Christian brethren are poison. They are not just ingesting this poison, but are in turn spitting it out toward the marginalized and vulnerable.

And not trusting those religio-political leaders on the conservative side, I haven’t forgotten the many many Bible passages about that.

So my Christian study of Scriptures, together with my scholarship and my study of founding documents of my country such as the Declaration of Independence lead me to conclude that my responsibility as a Christian, as a communication scholar, and as an American—all three—leads me to stand up against this unhealthy union between conservative Christians and unhealthy nationalism.

Time to Sum Up Using that Elopement Metaphor from that Verse about Yoking

I fully realize I may have already missed that part in the wedding ceremony between white Evangelicalism and unhealthy nationalism.

You know, that part when they say “speak now or forever hold your peace.”

I realize that ceremony happened when I was definitely not present. (In fact, history seems to show us it first happened here–though there would have had to be many further moments of decision since then to continue the path.)

Why I Refuse to “Hold My Peace”

But for God’s sake, that whole “speak now or forever hold your peace” part of even marriage ceremonies is a matter of cultural tradition. It is not in Scripture.

No communication theory tells me that there’s a time past which one shouldn’t speak up for better solutions.

And my reading of American history, including the Revolutionary War that we just celebrated two days ago on the 4th of July, tells me that rebellion against unhealthy authoritarian unions between the church and authoritarian states was what this country was literally founded on.

So yes, in case it isn’t clear: I believe I have every warrant and right to speak now and forever against this union between white Evangelicalism and unhealthy authoritarian nationalism.

Please Join Me in Speaking Up Against This Unholy Union, Friends!

I hope you will join me in speaking up. Please don’t hold such an unhealthy, poisonous peace, friends. For God’s sake. For the sake of the vulnerable. For the sake of human decency. For your own sake, as needed. For the sake of expertise, or science, or true freedom of religion. Or any other number of grounds.

I frankly don’t care which ground you choose to join me from. You do you, as long as you are willing to join with me to speak up for a healthier environment for us all, especially for the marginalized and vulnerable.

More Resources We’re Offering!

Need more resources to understand how to speak up with fierce kindness and deal with the conflict that inevitably comes? Whether you’re uncomfortable speaking up and need help with dealing with conflict you’re not used to standing up against, or perhaps a little too virulent and need help pulling back toward solving the problem rather than attacking the people, the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” ought to help you understand and deal with your own and other’s conflict styles better.

To get the Guide to Trolls, sign up for our email newsletter, either in the top bar of this site or by commenting on this article. Once you’ve confirmed your email address, the link to the guide will be sent to you in the final welcome email. It will help you with conflict both online and off. You can unsubscribe at any time, but I hope you’ll stick around and continue to learn.

A Final Encouragement

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s #resist and persist at it. #DontLookAway, friends! Instead let’s continue to work against unhealthy nationalisms and and unscrupulous leaders and insist on healthier ways for the dignity and human rights of all to be upheld. Let’s keep standing up for what’s right and for the common good. We can do this thing!

The post White Evangelicalism Eloped with Unhealthy Nationalism: An Analysis and Call to Action appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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Unwrapping the Unhealthy Immigration Rhetoric in Dobson’s July Newsletter http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/06/30/immigration-rhetoric-dobsons-july-newsletter/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/06/30/immigration-rhetoric-dobsons-july-newsletter/#respond Sun, 30 Jun 2019 10:24:51 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=861 Last week I helped you compassionate folks who want to help with the concentration camps at the border to think through how to help out without freezing up or looking away. One of those options I suggested was to speak up against authoritarian religio-political rhetoric. This week, I will provide a brief analysis of unhealthy immigration rhetoric in Dr. James Dobson’s July Newsletter piece (here’s a link that hopefully won’t give his site credit!) about his visit to one such...

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Last week I helped you compassionate folks who want to help with the concentration camps at the border to think through how to help out without freezing up or looking away. One of those options I suggested was to speak up against authoritarian religio-political rhetoric. This week, I will provide a brief analysis of unhealthy immigration rhetoric in Dr. James Dobson’s July Newsletter piece (here’s a link that hopefully won’t give his site credit!) about his visit to one such camp in order to help you identify and call out this kind of thing for those who might have ears to hear.

In addition to this primary goal I also have a secondary aim here: I hope that both Christians and others who aren’t on board with this kind of dehumanizing rhetoric will be persuaded that the compassionate voices and actions need to speak up more loudly than voices like Dr. Dobson are. It’s definitely not the time for the spirituality as accommodation problems I outlined in the “Toxic Sides of Christian Nice” series here, which started with this piece.

Note: Dr. Dobson’s piece had an incredible amount of factually inaccurate information that could be fact-checked easily through a Google search. In the interests of brevity, I’m choosing not to address those aspects here.

Instead, I will focus on the biggest shift that takes place within the document itself as it progresses—the shift from Dr. Dobson calling the situation at the camps a pitiable “humanitarian crisis” to demonizing “illegals” who are portrayed as untrustworthy, disease-ridden criminals who can’t even speak our language and are invading us and fraudulently outright gaming our system.

This whole movement seems to me highly designed to not only look away from the migrant crisis, but to leave its audience justified in atrocities against migrants because of how much it accuses them of. That’s the kind of rhetoric–and the policies that accompany it–that it’s ridiculously important to keep fighting right now. I’m hoping that this analysis will leave you feeling more agency over understanding the tricks of dehumanization so you can combat them and speak up more loudly for policies that humanize.

Okay, so in order to understand the following analysis, it would be helpful to know some terms I’ll be using.

Defining God Terms and Devil Terms

Let’s start with “god terms” and “devil terms.” We’ve had a whole series on the blog starting with this piece here if you want to read more in depth, but in short, a “god term” is used by rhetoricians to mean something to be defended at all costs, while a “devil term” is something that needs to be fought at all costs.

In this piece Dr. Dobson portrays himself and his side as fully righteous and trustworthy with a variety of other parties as increasingly not to be trusted. As I gestured at above, the most dramatic transformation in the piece is how he gradually portrays the migrants as shifting from seemingly good or at least as suffering objects to be pitied to seeing them as completely untrustworthy criminals.

In this shift, the rhetorical attempt at propaganda seems to be to get a compassionate audience to gradually see the migrants as inhuman non-Americans that are inherently flawed and less-than and actually deceitful and monstrous invaders that need to be expelled.

If you carefully follow how positive or negative the ways all of the characters are being presented throughout—especially who is presented as telling the truth or “good people” vs. those who are untrustworthy and the terms that are used to attack their character—you too can watch this shift from migrants as god terms to migrants as devil terms to occur in real time!

Deep sigh.

Defining the Halo and Horns Effects

In the piece I did on abortion rhetoric I added the communication studies terms “halo effect” and “horns effect,” and those apply here as well, so let me quickly define them again before I show you how they work in the Dobson newsletter piece and its shifting rhetoric about both migrants and other parties.

In short, the “halo effect” is the process by which when we know one good thing about a person or group, we automatically presume a lot of other good things about that person or group. The horns effect is the opposite—once you know one bad thing about a person or group, you start associating all sorts of bad things with that person or group.

Applying the Halo and Horns Effects

In the Dobson piece, you can very clearly see halo and horns effects starkly being applied in concert with god terms and devil terms being applied and enacted. In the piece Dobson uses existing long-standing god and devil terms to invoke existing halo and horns effects in his audience’s mind.

Specifically with the migrants, though, his shift from halo effect to the later really striking horns effect gains a lot of momentum as he goes.

Since terms criminalizing and othering groups are often associated with genocide and, well, Nazism, it’s not surprising to me that he builds gradually to using terms like illegals much later in the piece.

The Seemingly Most Bizarre Horns Leap

It’s also not at all surprising to me that he waits until his audience’s suspicions of the migrants are already engaged and their critical thinking probably not working quite as well before he makes the most illogically striking suggestion that those coming across the border in waves—even the adults!—are disappearing into the country to themselves morph into somehow-legal “anchor babies” (a disparaging term often used by white nationalists) who then are going to go on and magically be citizens who can invite all of their family to come very quickly to invade us all.

You may not be very up on all the immigration laws—they’re really hard to follow, so I get it—but it should not be hard to figure out that the man is making an impossible leap in his logic at this point.

What I see him doing here in his logic is leaping so quickly from associative horn to horn of the horns effect in his audience’s minds that he hopes they won’t pause and notice that it is impossible for migrant adults to actually become legal babies. Even outside of how badly he’s mangling the facts about the immigration system here, it’s key to take a pause and recognize that associational logic—suggesting that if migrants aren’t trustworthy that they’re also doing things that humans can’t literally do.

Making Immigrants into Monsters

At first I thought as though this might be an error, but there’s also another possibility. This argument truly makes migrants not only criminal but truly monstrous—which is a great way to demonize using a mélange of devil terms and horns effects. The rhetoric of conspiracy I studied during my PhD was FULL of such associational leaps.

Also, it’s helpful to note while looking through the piece’s language the way the migrants move from being faceless parts of a “human tragedy” to that the opposition is “lying about” to being traumatized prop-children who need toys being denied by the opposition to being dehumanized people at the whims of the political opposition’s cruelty (and the helplessness of the good border agents, who simply are only doing what they can with these border facilities!).

The “I Love You” Hinge

I don’t think it’s an accident that Dobson has his odd line about him telling them through the translator that God loves him and he does too, and expresses that his heart aches for him, directly before he starts on his rhetoric about the need for a wall.

To me it feels like at least some readers would feel led to led Dobson’s voice be their full feeling that they didn’t look away from concentration camps–but instead let Dobson’s voice and action be their own proxy action, leaving them free to move on to the dehumanization and suspicion portion of the article.

From there Dobson moved into them being deceptive people being told to lie by lawyers in their untrustworthy countries (the suggestion that people at the US southern border might be from Pakistan and Bangladesh is truly striking in this regard!) to being a mix of criminal and monstrous invaders coming to displace existing Americans.

The speed of this danger is emphasized throughout, and the terms illegals and anchor babies don’t come until toward the end, when the audience might have already anticipated them because other halo effects have been gradually replaced by horns effects throughout.

Building From Trusting Compassion to Distrust

As I said, I could go on and on with this, but I’ll stop after just one more set of terms I’m going to layer onto this—and that’s how the question of suspicion frames and  the whole movement from god term and halo term to devil terms and horns effects.

It’s really key to look at the fact that Dobson’s shifting narrative about the migrants hinges in pretty much the middle from seeing the migrants as a faceless but needy cause for sympathy to being a pretty shockingly monstrous force by the end of the piece.

Not Just about Distrusting Migrants–Other People Too

It’s important—and helpful—to track this next to how he tells you how other parties are also to be mistrusted, which unwraps other dimensions to how the rhetoric is working in the piece. But most importantly, I think it’s key that this shift is at the center of the piece.

After all, Dobson starts with common ground with the person who sees themselves as the type of person who loves their neighbor as themselves and has the fruits of the Spirit. It’s key to note that he has no compunction also tying into a sort of “Christian Mean” (as opposed to “Christian Nice”) in which he directs ad hominems at all sorts of people.

Early Trust for the Migrant

But he doesn’t start out with this with the migrants, and if he wants to persuade compassionate people to buy into the stuff he is into by the end of the piece, it’s honestly smart to build through all the stages to try to take his more compassionate and reluctant audience members with him–again, right up to the part where he tells the migrants that God loves them and he does too.

Dobson’s Abuse of Little Folksy Asides

He even offers little folksy asides to manage his audience’s potential concerns as he goes (as all writers tend to—but most aren’t trying to demonize vulnerable people, hopefully!!!).

For instance, when he is talking about the family separation process, he very flatly says in language that is eerily evocative of every concentration camp narrative I’ve ever heard that “they are segregated by sex and age and placed in the fenced-in areas to be held for the next 20 days until they are processed.” Just after that, he adds “If that seems inhumane, what would you or I do? There is simply no other place to ‘house’ them.”

Introducing Suspicion and Criminality into the Picture

The scare quotes around housing are key at this point, because Dobson’s rhetoric has already made the turn toward suspecting “these people’s” motives for coming here. He has already moved from suggesting the traumatized children were victims to suggesting that “some of the vulnerable children are ‘recycled’ repeatedly to help men gain entry to this country.”

He went on to say from there that “An unknown number of these men are hardened criminals and drug runners.” These unknown numbers are really powerful, it seems, because they both escape detection and make their way across the border.

In light of all this unhealthy criminalizing rhetoric that paints the children as stooges of adult hardened criminals, it’s perhaps not shocking that Dobson thinks his audience might be ready for these “fake families” to be dehumanizingly separated a few paragraphs later. Especially since the seeming reward for *only* 20 days of age and gender-separated detention is to get to be reborn as citizen anchor babies who can magically invite their real families here right away.

Deep Sigh of Lament.

There is much more to say about this piece, but I hope what I *have* unwrapped using these three sets of terms will be enough to help you understand some of the unhealthy rhetoric about immigration and how it builds gradually throughout Dobson’s piece.

It’s key to be able to trace such movements, and to be able to explain them to others. But most of all, it’s important to look out for the signs of the language that implies devil terms and horns effects that imply  untrustworthiness and criminality in vulnerable populations. If you want more details on this, I strongly encourage you to read through the blog series here on devil terms (again, it starts with this piece).

After all, for those of us standing up for the common good and against human rights violations need to be able to identify these kinds of effects as well as how these shifts occur in propaganda pieces if we want to speak up against them. And we really must speak up against them, friends! It is so important that these rhetorical moves not be the only narrative out there! Let’s keep looking back at that article from last week and figuring out however we each individually can not look away wherever we are as we can with what we’ve got!

One Final Note

Feeling like you’re on top of these rhetorical moves but want to figure out how to ethically and courageously speak up when you’re engaging with people who are out to push your buttons? Sign up for our email newsletter in the top bar of this site or by commenting on this article and checking the box, and once you’ve confirmed your email address we’ll send you a link to the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep speaking up as we can, where we are with what we’ve got. Let’s keep working toward a healthier world for us all, especially for immigrants and other vulnerable populations. We can do this thing!

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How Not to Look Away from Concentration Camps http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/06/22/how-not-to-look-away-concentration-camps/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/06/22/how-not-to-look-away-concentration-camps/#comments Sun, 23 Jun 2019 04:18:01 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=854 As I’ve described before, I grew up wondering, and thinking through in Sunday school and ethics classes, how people looked away as the Holocaust was developing. And whether I would have the guts to do the same in a similar situation. Well, now that I’m all grown up and have the PhD in Communication and teach about this stuff, I’ve studied enough and observed enough to realize the apocalypse has been on for a few years now. (Certainly, as I’ve...

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As I’ve described before, I grew up wondering, and thinking through in Sunday school and ethics classes, how people looked away as the Holocaust was developing. And whether I would have the guts to do the same in a similar situation.

Well, now that I’m all grown up and have the PhD in Communication and teach about this stuff, I’ve studied enough and observed enough to realize the apocalypse has been on for a few years now. (Certainly, as I’ve said many times before, much has been made clear during this period, which is what the Greek word behind the word apocalypse means–“to make clear.”)

Because of my expertise, I can certainly see a lot of the picture, and I’m hoping to draw on that knowledge to support those of you who want to help out with immigration advocacy. I hope this article helps. It may take a few minutes to read, but I hope you’ll find it valuable.

More than Enough Evidence that We Need to (Continue to) Act

Last year around this time the news about the zero tolerance policies toward migrants in the US broke (I wrote about that then on this blog). Families Belong Together rallies erupted around the world, and since then, existing and new helpers have been working at the problem even as new dehumanizing policies and treatment has continued to roll out. Now, a year further along, new information about continuing and increasingly horrific treatment of migrants is breaking every day.

That means we all have our chances to see what we would do if such a situation presented itself—because, let’s face it, we aren’t at the 6 million or more dead Holocaust endgame, but we ARE quite a few highly disturbing steps along in a stage where we all have choices to make to try to prevent the worst. In this article I’ll discuss the moral anxieties many of us have about whether we’re doing enough about the current treatment of migrants in the US and how we can all work together to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to address the situation as best we can.

Along the way I’ll sort through some practicalities about some things that help us and others that hinder.

Disclaimers

Note: I’m not here to argue about whether the detention camps are technically concentration camps or not. I think making such arguments is valuable, and one of the things many of us can do. In fact, I think speaking up against arguments that encourage denial of the depth of the problems is key, as though those of you that follow closely should know by know (I talked more about the need for that kind of thing here).

But there are several other articles I’ve posted lately over at the Assertive Spirituality Facebook page that address the specific questions about whether the current detention camps warrant the concentration camp label, so that’s not my focus today for this article.

If you feel like commenting about that issue and disagreeing with my choice of the term, I encourage you to go hunt them down and actually read and consider them carefully before dragging us down that rabbit hole in the comments, either here or on reposts of this article.

Goals for This Article

My goal here is supplement these articles by helping us who DO want to help as best we can to address our moral anxieties about what we can do in the situation. With the #dontlookaway hashtag trending, I know there are a lot of you lovely compassionate people out there that may be looking for advice, and I’m more concerned about supporting your needs at the moment than about arguing with detractors.

(Note that the memes and links I offer for easy sharing over on the Assertive Spirituality Facebook page are designed to be part of that support, always.)

See, here’s the thing: Having done a lot of research on the ‘30s, ‘40s, the rhetoric of conspiracy, and stress, trauma and conflict communication, I’m very aware of the roots of why we look away from concentration camps. Concerns about this kind of thing happening has been part of what has driven my own desire to help as I can by starting this project.

I don’t have time to go in-depth into that here—I would love to do a whole course on stress and trauma responses at some point to help people who want to know what’s under the covers with why people look away. But in the meantime, I know a lot of you have such strong compassionate fight responses to fix the problem. I know how strong these responses are, and I don’t want to deter that. I want to honor that and move to helping you help others.

A Few Types of Responses that Convince People to Look Away

So I’ll keep my description of the types of people who look way necessarily short and relatively unnuanced (for me 😉 ):

  1. Defense mechanisms: Some people are trying to shield themselves from dealing with more pain than they feel they can handle. (In some cases this is correct—other times it is an overcorrection.)
  2. Authoritarian systems: Some people have been socialized into beliefs that only some authorities are correct, and that it is dangerous to trust others outside those sources of truth. Those sources are telling them the people at the border are dangerous criminals and “deserve what they get.”
  3. Outrage/Compassion Fatigue: The crazy stress from dealing with the adherents of both groups #1 and #2 has made a third group, who is innately filled with empathy and compassion, exhausted and burned out. Too much stress often makes us only look at the negative and overwhelming sides of situations, to dissociate from the emotions in situations, and to think nothing we do would matter. This is called the fallacy of helplessness.

In fact, groups #1 and #3 often share the fallacy of helplessness. Group #2 does too, but in a different form. In fact, group #2 is really in many ways a subset of #1, since authoritarian strongmen often exploit their followers’ defense mechanisms to get them to the same result as group #3 reaches.

Sorting Through How to Deal with These Groups

When it comes to what we who care about making progress toward change can do, all of this is crucial to take into account for the following reasons:

  1. These groups may be difficult to distinguish from one another at first glance, but it’s important to distinguish them from one another. I talk more in the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Trolls” (free if you sign up for our email newsletter in the top bar of this page!) how to distinguish people who are out to provoke from those who are just having a bad day—take a half hour to read that if you want to learn more about that. I get more into stress responses and how they enter into conflict there.
  2. Note that people who are seemingly trolling on- or offline may be in any of these groups. The ones in group 3 and possibly group 1 are most likely to be open-minded and have enough empathy to be willing to accept correction.
  3. But often it’s the messaging from group 2 that needs the most and the firmest countering in these times. When doing so, it’s important to phrase things to attack the ideas rather than the people when you can.

That said, let’s talk about those of the rest of us who ARE feeling the feels and the moral anxiety many of us are facing about whether we’re doing enough and what else we can do. As I said, my biggest goal here on this project is to help you feel more equipped and able to take these things on as well as to connect with others who are doing the same.

What We CAN Do

Here are a few tips to consider if you’re in that group that is wanting to help, and not to look away from the problem:

  1. If you find that learning about everything and educating others about the details is your gig, that’s great. We need your voice! Just know that for some people, knowing every detail may traumatize even the most compassionate souls, including you, into group #3. You don’t need to read everything or make everyone else read everything either.
  2. So yeah, remember the goal isn’t to traumatize the whole population into action (that’s actually counterproductive, and secondary trauma, which is the kind of trauma often experienced by “helpers,” can often happen). It’s also key to remember that people with existing trauma triggers can be easily triggered by some of these horrific details. So it’s key to keep in mind that the goal is to try to persuade people toward action. To remember that everyone has different limits on what they can take. And to remember that what they (and we) need is reminders of their agency paired with recognition of natural human limitations.
  3. Give yourself and others at least a bit of time as needed to process your own grief about the situation, and figure out what individual responses should be as needed. We need space for individual and collective lament.  
  4. Reach out for support and support others through this process. Remember that offering support to those who are putting themselves out there IS valid and valuable action. That may involve all sorts of support, from emotional support to more “tangible” forms of support. Ask what people need for support as appropriate.
  5. Remember that it’s unhelpful to expect anyone to either do everything to fix the problem or to all do the same thing. Don’t devalue your own or others’ efforts. And while of course we’ll have disagreements, try not to unnecessarily step on each others’ toes!
  6. So yes, try to influence and work together with others to find collective solutions, but try not to spend too much time berating one another about what we individually feel drawn to.
  7. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Seek out resources from those who have already been fighting this fight. There are large swaths of on-the-ground organizations that have guides to offer advice, and that can advise you on what they need from you. Seek them out!
  8. Not everyone is up for debate, but speaking up is a key part of the gig. If speaking up, either online or off, is not your thing, just don’t denigrate it when other people do it, if you can, and if you can, drop some supportive likes, etc. or “I agree with you” comments on someone else’s reasonable points against the unhealthy rhetoric and policies that enable this crap. (Remember, if rhetoric on social media and off didn’t matter, people advocating in group 2 wouldn’t be working so hard to control the messaging, and going so far as to employ troll farms to get the word out! We need people speaking up with countermessaging as well as those doing boots on the ground action.)
  9. If you feel able, try to go out of your way to take some “more tangible,” boots on the ground actions. Whether that means a donation, volunteering with a local-to-you organization or one on the border, advocating for policies, making your church or city a sanctuary church or city, looking for and/or supporting rallies, etc. etc. etc.  
  10. Focus on influencing where you can best influence. Remember that will look a little different for everyone. And that’s okay. It’s also okay to ask one another about their reasoning and influence (but not control) where you can.
  11. Finally, it’s unproductive to discount or overly self-censor your efforts. But do be reflective enough to be willing to learn from what doesn’t go well. Be willing to adjust as needed.

Remember that this effort is a relay marathon and we all need to help one another keep up our efforts as best we can, whatever we can do. At the least, let’s remember these are stressful times. Let’s support one another as much as possible, lest it all affect us so much we get stuck in the outrage fatigue/compassion fatigue group, shall we? If you or others do get there, I wrote an article to help you with that.

And remember that if you’re busy tackling another issue that’s part of the current apocalypse, just do what you can about the border. Maybe that’s supporting others, maybe it’s connecting people, maybe it’s about finding out ways to collaborate among parts of the effort, or maybe it’s about cheerleading. We’re all likely to have rightful disagreements on strategies and such, and hopefully we’ll listen to those with various key types of expertise as we go, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide what part of the apocalypse you are best equipped and positioned to help with.

 Just keep doing what you can as you can, and grieve out what you can’t.

Moving Forward

In short, if taking in all the details and worrying about how history might perceive you is helping you work through your emotions and help with the overall effort, that’s great. If either of those things is hindering you from doing what you can, let’s let some of that go, shall we?

And let’s remember that it’s key to give ourselves time to have supportive conversations and share resources in the midst of this. I would love to see the comments full of these things.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep doing what we can where we are with what we’ve got to attack the toxicity surrounding the current treatment of migrants and demand a healthier and more reasonable way of doing things. Let’s work to make a healthier more compassionate world that truly welcomes the traumatized stranger. We can do this thing.

Like what we have to offer and want more help speaking up and dealing with the conflict that inevitably results? Sign up for our email newsletter either in the top bar or while commenting on this blog post and we’ll send you our “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” after you’ve confirmed your email address. As I said above, it will help you with conflict both online and off. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

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The Risks and Rewards of Assertive Spirituality (A Year of #AssertiveSpirituality Part 2) http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/06/09/assertive-spirituality-risks-rewards-courage/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/06/09/assertive-spirituality-risks-rewards-courage/#comments Sun, 09 Jun 2019 05:25:15 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=836 Just over a year ago, I started this Assertive Spirituality project—and with it, to my knowledge, coined the term “Assertive Spirituality.” My first post on this blog started out with a friend’s question about whether Assertive Spirituality was “a good thwack over the head.” I responded by including a definition of assertiveness from the textbook I teach out of in my Small Group Communication university classes. I might possibly have failed to adequately point out the connection between assertiveness and...

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Just over a year ago, I started this Assertive Spirituality project—and with it, to my knowledge, coined the term “Assertive Spirituality.” My first post on this blog started out with a friend’s question about whether Assertive Spirituality was “a good thwack over the head.” I responded by including a definition of assertiveness from the textbook I teach out of in my Small Group Communication university classes. I might possibly have failed to adequately point out the connection between assertiveness and courage in that early definition. This article is designed to fix that by drawing attention to the risks and rewards that come with the practice of Assertive Spirituality.

Over the last year, many visitors stopping by, many of which didn’t stop to figure out where they were and what the project was all about before commenting, have brought their own views of what “Assertive Spirituality” would be defined as.

It seems that while many found a welcoming place, to others, yes, Assertive Spirituality seemed to feel like “a thwack on the head,” whether I wanted them to or not. And of course the problem is that those who experienced it as a thwack on the head–well, some of them loudly, some quietly, thwacked back. It took a lot of courage to stay steadfastly assertive in the face of some of that occasional aggression.

I’ll be talking about the courage of responding assertively in those scenarios in this article–because that side of the social media presence of this project has certainly brought home to me that link between assertiveness and courage over the last year in new ways.

So Many Assumptions about Assertive Spirituality!

So yes, since that initial definition, all sorts of people have come onto this site and/or interacted with our posts. Some have joined us and some not. They’ve all come with their own assumptions and presumptions about what Assertive Spirituality would be or would look like—and sometimes REALLY strong (sometimes negative, sometimes positive) reactions to the things I’ve posted here.

The strongest negative comments popped up over on Facebook when I started putting words and terms around topics that aroused conservative Christians’ strong “moral disgusts” (I talked about this in a series starting here) and especially poked at those things that I saw as wrapped up in “god terms” and “devil terms” pairings (I talked about this in a series starting here) as well as “halo effects” and “horns effects” (I talked about these terms here).

That these negative responses would come up around these topics did not shock me at all, which doesn’t mean I didn’t find them hurtful at times. I worked hard to apply ALL my strategies to deal with these situations when they came up. (I was just thankful not all the posts were controversial ones–and that many more people seemed to appreciate the posts than those that took them as thwacks and thwacked back!)

So Many Visceral Responses

Here’s an important thing to remember when you’re enacting Assertive Spirituality—many definitions about assertiveness and spirituality, much less reactions to attempts to live them out, are not fully rational in nature. (For the record, none of us is rational all the time.) All of our views of and reactions to spirituality and conflict are grounded in deeply visceral, strongly socialized reactions to the world.

(I talk about this more in the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Trolls” you get if you sign up for the email newsletter–I’ll remind you how to get that at the end of this article, so stick around! Thanks for your patience as I unwrap the complexities of assertiveness and courage.)

Indeed, it’s important to remember all our initial responses to such things, at least, are also similarly visceral at times. That fact is not always an issue or something to be suppressed. But it is something to be dealt with honestly and channeled in the right direction as well as possible—hard though that may be.

It Takes a Village

All of which is to say that managing this site for the last year has made me super thankful for my resources and support system to help me manage the nastier types of comments.

Even with all my nifty terminology and tricks and tips to apply, and my years of university teaching them under my belt to make them easily accessible, it’s taken a village to support me in staying sane while moderating some of the more controversial posts on this site.

Life in the Arena

I really want to point that out–the fact that it’s taken a village, this project. That’s primarily for two reasons:

  1. To thank all of those people (you know who you are) that helped me stay sane while dealing with the worst of the poison. Bless you.
  2. To point out that when you are assertive, however much you protect yourself (and it is wise to do so as you can), it is a risky endeavor. It’s one worth doing, absolutely. But as Brene Brown puts it, it’s definitely life “in the arena.”

That last one is particularly important to note when going back to the definition of Assertive Spirituality.

(Re)Defining Assertive Spirituality

See, assertiveness, as I defined last year, is all about trying to apply core principles of spirituality—especially those surrounding reaching for the common good and loving others as self—toward assertively trying to solve problems in society in ways that don’t hurt the marginalized and oppressed.

As I defined last year, being assertive means avoiding both passivity and aggressiveness, and showing concern for both self and other and especially for solutions that meet as many needs as possible.

Assertive Spirituality as Putting You in the Arena

The thing is that being assertive, in practice, often means wading into the arena where our passive sides would normally be hanging back–often, let’s be honest, for valid reasons–but often also with overblown caution. On the other hand, it also means directing our natural fight impulses toward the problems rather than the people (which sometimes means we need to find other outlets to burn off the excess stress response before or after lest we get resentful or burned out!).

Assertive Spirituality also means channeling our fight responses into asking for true civility and respect for self and others. And refusing to hang back in the false civility of “Nice” when that hasn’t been achieved.

The trickiest thing is that when you’re engaging in the kind of assertive spiritualities we’ve been talking about here, that means that you’re sticking up for both more reasonable AND more empathetic and humane discussions. And often doing so when your own socialized responses are trying to either drag you away from the discussion kicking and screaming or trying to get you to tear the “opposing party” limb from limb.

Now that I Threw Down Some Sunshine On that One…

No one said it was easy. And for goodness’ sakes, none of us can be perfect at it. Or keep going at it unendingly without rests and important self-care.

A Shift Toward Integrity

What engaging in this practice of Assertive Spirituality does, though, is allow those of us who have strong principles about loving our neighbors as ourselves and working toward the common good to live our lives with integrity.

Brene Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, calls this thing I’m calling integrity “wholehearted living.” I like that, but I like the old-fashioned term integrity even better. I like that word because it reminds me of the state of integration of self most trauma therapists and psychologists help people strive for.

In other words, the more you live with integrity–truly standing up for the principles you say you live by, as well as you can, and asking others to also live toward the common good–the more it helps you feel at peace with yourself. And it turns out that that sweet spot of doing what you can but not expecting to do everything? That’s a pretty peaceful place to be.

Let me say that again: One huge thing I learned in this past year and all the years building up to this past year is that the closer I get to speaking up with assertiveness about the things that matter to me as I can, the more at peace I feel.

Doesn’t Mean It’s Been Easy

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. That doesn’t mean I’ve been immune to stress or shame or any of the visceral responses.

It doesn’t mean any of that. (Those in my support system could happily testify to that.) It hasn’t even made me immune to trauma in my lifetime–though practicing assertiveness has played a huge role in helping me recover from some of that trauma.

I’ll be honest: starting this project has brought me stress and at times extreme discomfort. (Let’s just say that being called a “false prophet of Satan” or being consigned to hell weren’t exactly on my bucket list.)

Again, It’s a Risky Endeavor

The tricky thing is that lots of people get frustrated with seeing people trying to live with integrity and the mix of channeled impulse and impulse control that makes the dance of assertive spirituality. Especially when they might be better at “Spiritual Nice” or “Spiritual Mean” than actual assertiveness.

That means that Assertive Spirituality often brings up aggressive responses on one side and passive ones on the other. And ironically, both sides tend to look down their noses with disapproval at you if you’re in the arena but not “playing by the rules” of unhealthy aggressivenesses or unhealthy passivities.

And especially when you’re speaking into the topics that most need assertive intervention? Well, those are often the situations where you’re bound to provoke some unpleasant responses.

Can’t Win Them All

The thing is that no matter how hard you work to communicate your assertive intentions, and no matter how well you may be doing it from the perspective from neutral observers, you’re simply not going to persuade every person who reacts poorly that you’re being either assertive or spiritual enough for their tastes.

It’s simply not possible, nor necessary to win all battles. Nor is it necessary or wise to take on all battles. BUT it’s always worth doing what you can. And the things I’ve learned from communication studies and related fields are profoundly useful in that process, so I’m going to continue to work toward offering them to you in this space and others.

We Need Each Other—Both In and Out of the Arena

The thing is, we need each other for this Assertive Spirituality endeavor to go well. If you have people who can help remind you that you’re not responsible for everything, but you ARE responsible for doing what you can, and others who are willing to jump into the arena when you need a break, it’s possible to enter this arena without leaving fully depleted.

Indeed, none of us can do everything. But we all can do what we can, where we are, with what we’ve got. And the most beautiful thing that I’ve discovered as this project has gathered such largely delightful people around it is how encouraging and supportive it is to do this work with others.

THAT—the idea of doing this assertive spirituality thing together, and supporting one another as we do it—is stress-reducing. (Plenty of stress research confirms that’s not an accident.) And as I said, it’s amazing how stress-reducing living with integrity is as well (much research stands behind that finding as well).

In Which I Express Gratitude

And so, despite the slings and arrows of the first year, I’m diving into the second profoundly pleased to have put this project together. It’s helped me, and others have told me it has helped them. I’m so glad for that.

I certainly have done what I can, but since I study and teach communication, I’m always extremely aware that communication has little to no meaning without audience response. And Lord knows I haven’t been able to control that. Most of the time I haven’t even wanted to. 😉

I’m humbled by those who have found what I’m trying to do here valuable. And I’m profoundly honored by those who have joined us.

One Final Note

Just a quick note before I move on. As you might have guessed from the above and from other things you may have read from me, I don’t think conflict management or assertiveness are matters of simple tips and tricks.

But as I’ve said, I DO very much find the concepts and terms grounded in research really helpful for figuring out how to navigate this challenging ground surrounding stress, trauma, conflict communication and assertive spirituality together. I know I’ll do my best to be there for you as we all seek to practice the courage that comes with Assertive Spirituality.

Assertive Spirituality Resources for Everyone!!!

There are already lots of articles on this site that can help you with some of unwrapping how some of that works, and lots of shareables over on the FB page to get assertive conversations started on challenging topics. But memes can only go so far. And blog posts, however long, can only scratch the surface of some of this stuff. If you’d like more in-depth trainings or courses or longer writings or talks, I’m working on that—and do get in touch if you’re interested in offering opportunities.

In the meantime, though, the most specific tips and tricks I’ve offered to date are in the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” PDF. To get it for free, sign up for our weekly email newsletter in the top bar of this page—or subscribe while making a comment—and confirm your email address, we’ll send you the link in the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep doing what we can where we are with what we’ve got to make a better world for us all. We can do this thing!

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Abortion Rhetoric, “Baby Killers,” and the Horns Effect (A Year of #AssertiveSpirituality Part 1) http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/05/25/baby-killers-horns-effect/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/05/25/baby-killers-horns-effect/#comments Sun, 26 May 2019 00:38:59 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=810 In this article I plan to start my “Year of #AssertiveSpirituality” series by discussing a few of the reasons it’s so hard to have a reasonable problem-solving discussion about how to reduce and care for women with unwanted pregnancies in this country. Often, this issue gets classed as a battle between those who insist on making abortion illegal and those who advocate for other solutions. In this article I plan to unpack how that works from a communication perspective, as...

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In this article I plan to start my “Year of #AssertiveSpirituality” series by discussing a few of the reasons it’s so hard to have a reasonable problem-solving discussion about how to reduce and care for women with unwanted pregnancies in this country. Often, this issue gets classed as a battle between those who insist on making abortion illegal and those who advocate for other solutions. In this article I plan to unpack how that works from a communication perspective, as well as how that has created the current religio-political schisms in the US and why I believe we need to knock these “halo effects” and “horns effects” webs down.

I know this is a long read. Thanks for sticking with me to unpack the nuance.

To be honest: it’s felt terribly inconvenient to have these national debates about abortion legislation come into the end of my teaching semester. See, I’m actually human like everyone else. That means when I get tired and stressed out, I have a harder time wading into and managing fierce debates. And this topic is one of the fiercest, if not the actually fiercest, fight we have going on in the religio-political landscape in today’s US.

Interestingly, those trying to engage in the kind of unhealthy rhetoric I’m outlining below often, quite predictably, too often seem to think I have unlimited time and energy for these debates. I’ve seen this repeatedly over the past year–how these effects too often lead to the dehumanization of the person seen as the opposition. As you’ll see, that’s just one of the negative effects of the rhetoric I’m about to discuss. But it is a key one.

Reflecting Over a Year of #AssertiveSpirituality

Despite my complaints about timing, though, I actually see this issue as a way to sum up so much I’ve been musing over on the blog over the last year. So I do find it appropriate that this issue should meld with and begin my year in review thoughts.

My Experience with Abortion Rhetoric

See, as I’ve said before, while I grew up in a moderate denomination in the Midwest US, I also grew up with white Evangelical pop culture artifacts and communications. These things—the books and radio stations—acculturated me into the dominant subculture in which abortion was *the* key single issue you absolutely voted about, no matter what.

That means I am thoroughly aware of the level of emotion that has been built up in this subculture about this particular issue over decades and decades. If you are not from that subculture, you may need to know that. If you did, well, you know what I’m talking about.

So Many Emotions and Identity Issues Here

It’s a super important point: for decades and decades in the US, all of the questions around moral purity have been built up in white Evangelicalism most strongly around the abortion issue specifically (also LGBTQ+ issues and other “family values” rhetoric, as I discussed here, here and here—but I’m setting those other questions temporarily aside in this article).

In other words, for many (not all) white Evangelicals, the biggest “god term” that this group generally feels the need to defend at all costs is “the life of the unborn.”

(Note: When I use the term “White Evangelicals (as I did here and here), I use this term to define a cultural group that is distinct from the religio-political approach taken by POC Evangelicals.)

Defining “God Terms” and “Devil Terms”

Here, as I have elsewhere (there’s a whole series! Look back starting here!), I use the term “god term” in the rhetorical sense to mean something to be defended at all costs. I’ve been using “devil term” as its opposite, which means something to be fought at all costs.

A Caveat

I am aware that quite a few people ARE what I call broadly pro-life while also believing life begins at conception, and others have a wide variety of complex views surrounding this issue. Those positions are not the ones that I’m describing below.

Narrowing In to Discuss Narrowly “Pro-life” Positions

Instead, what I’m looking at is the pattern of those advocating for “the life of the unborn” as righteous–and not just any solution, but specifically overturning Roe v. Wade to make abortion illegal. By the views of this group, everyone else is seen as “anti-life”–in fact, “baby killers.”

To be honest, I’ve even seen some of this attitude in those that actually are broadly “pro-life”–or at least the attendant assumption that they might not belong with the “opposing tribe” since they believe that life begins at conception. (Which is to say that these narrow views have done bizarrely disturbing things to our religio-political senses of belonging.)

But yes, this extreme vein of rhetoric I’m talking about is the one that has become mainstream enough that it has birthed the most recent “heartbeat” laws in Georgia, Alabama, and other states. The kinds of laws that do actually criminalize the pregnant women who seek abortions as, indeed, “baby killers.”

In the rest of this article I’ll unpack some of the thinking from which these extreme views occur and unpack why I think these unhealthy policies and the rhetoric they stem from are exceedingly harmful.

Defining “Halo Effect” and “Horns Effect”

Let’s get into a couple more useful terms to get there. In addition to “god terms” and “devil terms,” communication scholars have these concepts called the “halo effect” and the “horns effect.”

Both the halo effect and the horns effect are quite simple and complex at the same time. The idea boils down to this: when we see one thing that we like or dislike about someone or something, we all tend to tap into webs of association with either largely positive or largely negative things about “such people.”

And it’s really hard to shake those webs.

The challenge with what I call “narrowly pro-life” positions, then, isn’t JUST that those holding such positions are protecting the life of the unborn against those they see as the hordes fighting them. (Though that can obviously get in the way of reasonable problem-solving dialogue.)

No, the problem is bigger than that. From my viewpoint of having been most places along the continuum of this issue over the years, the problem is that the (narrowly) pro-life issue puts a really strong halo effect on all those who claim to want to make abortion illegal by overturning Roe v. Wade.

It also puts a horns effect around those who advocate for different solutions surrounding the problem of unwanted pregnancies.

It’s Not Just Rhetoric Anymore: It’s Getting Encoded in Our Laws

And policies that emerge from these extreme views actually encode these things as matters of legality or the lack thereof. And although pregnancies take two to create, they only criminalize the woman in the equation.

These laws also elevate these “baby killers'” acts with those of “other murderers” we as a society choose to punish. Even while we as a society not only excuse but choose to elevate and praise the kills of those who we send to war.

(Note: on this Memorial Day, I’m not putting down veterans at all–the way we treat traumatized veterans is horrific. But the comparison is so important.)

The Explanatory of This Halo/Horns Effect

Both this particular halo effect and its attendant horns effect have caused huge amounts of damage to this country and its people. This, as I see it, is the source of the seeming switch of the Religious Right from claiming that morality is paramount in its leaders (not that long ago) to the current stance of the same population saying it’s not that big of a deal.

These Halo and Horns Effects Are So Strong that They Have Come to Represent Tribes Perceived as “Righteous” and “Unrighteous” by Those Who See Themselves on the Religious Right.

From my viewpoint, this set of webs around this issue is what is causing the biggest forms of entrenched polarization in the religio-political world right now.

And this viewpoint—that everyone who isn’t narrowly pro-life is a “baby killer” and everyone who advocates for conservative Supreme Court justices wears a white hat—is what all of those who disagree need to raise our voice against whenever we can, wherever we find it.

The Root of Our Current Religio-Political Schisms

THIS is the problem that, as I see it, has led to 81% of White Evangelicals voting for the current administration.

THIS is the problem that leads to people calling abortion a “holocaust” and “genocide” as they have been on my site for the last week or so, while failing to critique the current administration or state legislatures alike for their other anti-life policies. (Is making women who have miscarriages potentially be charged with a crime if they can’t “prove” the miscarriage is natural really “pro-life”?)

THIS is the problem that has led a whole group of largely goodhearted people to keep voting for, and defending their choices to vote for, a party that from my perspective is increasingly through both rhetoric and policies demonizing the opposition and attacking the checks and balances that make the US’s representative democracy work.

New Vulnerabilities to Propaganda and Conspiracy Theories

I believe this is the problem that has led a whole group of people to swallow propaganda and lies and conspiracy theories about their political opposition as “unchristian” and “murderers” and “brainwashers of children” and so on.

(I was told this week, for instance, by a gentleman commenter that I was part of the “one world order.” I can assure you that I do not have that kind of power. Nor do I want it, as my family and friends would quickly confirm. I was always the person who has often evaded playing the board game Risk precisely because I have no desire to take over the world, even symbolically.)

The Unhealthy Consequences of Embracing the These Webs

When anyone tries to knock down part of this broader web when discussing this issue, narrowly pro-life folks too often claim that you are trying to bring in distractor issues.  

It has also led those holding on to these webs to ignore a thousand broadly anti-life and anti-democracy and frankly unchristian things going on on “their side of the aisle.”

It often leads to some pretty unpleasant conversations when you try to point these things out.

The Strength and Ugliness of These Webs

It’s pretty ugly, this particular halo effects/horns effects phenomenon. I certainly wish it didn’t exist. But not only my previous experience and scholarship, but also the comments on my articles over the past year as well as the experiences of others have confirmed that this is exactly a big chunk of what’s been going on.

These webs are unfortunately not fragile ones. People would prefer I didn’t draw attention to their existence, much less their strength. But pointing to them does not create them.

In fact, it’s important to note that most of those reinforcing them in everyday interactions with their neighbors and family and friends and on their social media feeds did not create them.

I know—I used to buy into these webs myself. And I certainly did not come up with these ideas on my own. Nor did I hold them before I started consuming conservative Christian media.

And I gradually grew out of them once I became exposed to broader ecumenical and political views.

Some unscrupulous leaders and politicians created them.

Documentary evidence shows where these ideas came from–and that they didn’t pop up until a few years AFTER Roe v. Wade.

Why I’m Trying to Knock Down the Webs

Now—feeling like I was complicit in making these unhealthy webs that divide the religio-political world stronger for much too long, I really have felt the need to use the tools and scholarship at my disposal to point them out and advocate for them to be taken down.

This whole problem–and the need for people to speak up for more reasonable dialogue about this and other issues in the religio-political sphere–is one of the biggest reasons I started this site.

Thanks for following along as I’ve been unwrapping my way to this very point. As I said, it was annoying, the timing of these legislative debates about abortion. But it was also oddly fitting that the central voting issue I was educated in from my youth came up again just now, around the site anniversary.

The Costs of #AssertiveSpirituality in This Area

One thing is sure: diving into this fraught territory is not easy, no matter how gently and rationally you do it. These webs have become so fused with so many people’s identities that there is a really strong kickback if you try to point them out or knock them down.

And that doesn’t always lead the most immediately good or positive results–which doesn’t mean we don’t need people to speak up. It’s just not an easy thing to do.

Free Resources to Help Out Assertive Voices

If you need help with further understanding the stress basis underneath this and so many other kinds of conflict, we have a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” that can help you better understand and deal with conflict both online and off. Just sign up for our weekly email newsletter and confirm your email address, and it will be sent to you in the final welcome email. The list is through Mailchimp, so if you ever need to unsubscribe, it’s easy. But I hope you’ll stick around.

One Final Note to My “Pro-Life” Peops

If you are in this camp I once lived in—and now I’m also talking to anyone who identifies as conservative and pro-life who hasn’t been speaking up against these recent laws—please know the following. If I disagree with you about all of this, or advocate for something different, it doesn’t mean I’m attacking you as I attack these webs. Nor do I try to take it personally if you put me in the “horns” category.

But you should know this extreme rhetoric can and has caused me personal damage when it’s popped up on this site. I can guarantee you it’s doing the same for others around the country and the globe.

See, these extreme views, as they have become mainstream, have been unnecessarily hurting and stigmatizing a lot of people. And that is also anti-life. The fear of this extreme rhetoric is real, and the ways it is getting codified into actual laws justifies that.

If you disagree with the extreme rhetoric, we need your help in pushing back the rhetoric from further damaging effects.

Note that buying into the halo effect doesn’t actually make you more righteous, and it doesn’t make your “opponents” any less human or righteous.

I hope so much that you realize that and find another, healthier way.

In fact, I hope you recognize the limits of these unhealthy narrow views and reclaim a healthier way in the world. It’s not good for you as well as the rest of us, what you’re doing.

I know you’re used to being the ones calling others to repent, so you may not hear that well. You may presume that I am somehow consigning you to hell or something if you don’t do what I say, but that’s not my goal.

But I’m not in charge of your eternal salvation, and I’m happy not to be.

I’m just telling you it’s not good for so many people, these webs. I’m asking you to join us in breaking down these unhealthy stereotypes for the good of us all. Thanks so much for listening if you made it this far. I know you might not believe this, but I love all of you so much.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep working to advocate for healthier solutions for us all, even when it’s hard. Let’s advocate for less hurt for those thrown under the bus by this false dichotomy. By all means, let’s each rest when we need to. And yet let’s also get back up and back to it when we’re able. Let’s keep doing what we can, where we are, with what we’ve got.

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Rachel Held Evans, In Memoriam: A Voice of #AssertiveSpirituality http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/05/04/rachel-held-evans-in-memoriam/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/05/04/rachel-held-evans-in-memoriam/#comments Sun, 05 May 2019 04:22:17 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=790 This article was going to be an anniversary post, summing up my thoughts on how the definition of Assertive Spirituality has evolved in the year since I started this site, to my knowledge coining the term. But as soon as I heard the news this morning that progressive Christian author Rachel Held Evans had died at age 37 of complications from an allergic reaction to antibiotics, I knew the post I wrote today would have to shift. I’ll write the...

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This article was going to be an anniversary post, summing up my thoughts on how the definition of Assertive Spirituality has evolved in the year since I started this site, to my knowledge coining the term. But as soon as I heard the news this morning that progressive Christian author Rachel Held Evans had died at age 37 of complications from an allergic reaction to antibiotics, I knew the post I wrote today would have to shift.

I’ll write the anniversary post, soon with my more general thoughts on the State of Assertive Spirituality as I’ve been seeing it grow and change in light of everything that’s happened over the last year.

But today, I want to honor the assertiveness of Rachel Held Evans, an author who meant so much to so many. In, fact, in so many ways her life work defined one way of living Assertive Spirituality. (So my plans really haven’t shifted THAT much, really.)

Honoring the #AssertiveSpirituality in Her

I grieve and celebrate Rachel Held Evans because her life in so many ways exemplified what I think of as Assertive Spirituality. She was not a perfect example (who is?), but she was what shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown aptly quoted Teddy Roosevelt as saying “in the arena.” RHE showed grace and courage in spades in the large majority of cases.

RHE and Speaking Truth to Power

Even the mean things being said about her as a “heretic” on the day of her death in some more conservative online venues indirectly testify to how far she was out there in the arena, speaking truth to the powers-that-be.

They also illustrate an important point about being assertive in this world–that not everyone will respond positively. Assertiveness isn’t just about “making nice”–as I’ve discussed before, that’s cordial hypocrisy rather than assertiveness.

Assertiveness, you see, is often met with aggressiveness by those who see it as a challenge to their power structures or beliefs. It often evokes strong fight responses from people. But that doesn’t mean it actually is aggressiveness itself.

So yes, as I’ll explain, she was very frequently quick to assertively call out the kind of religio-political ethnocentrisms my last article here drew attention to, and she is still catching a lot of flack for it. I honor her so much for that.

Inspiring a Community

On the other hand, the fact that her death has inspired such an #AssertiveSpirituality wave of support and storytelling and holding space for others across the social media spaces I am a part of witnesses to her positive impact on many many lives.

(Just check out #BecauseOfRHE, especially on Twitter, which is a thousand times more communal and lovely place just now because of the community forming around this grief.)

Joining the Collective Grief

Please consider this reflection a small part of that conversation. And please excuse any messiness of thought here. Grief is not easy or linear, and I’ve had a thousand other thoughts and emotions since I heard the news. I’ll try to keep this a reasonable length, and as smooth as possible.

Part 1: RHE as #AssertiveSpirituality Inspiration

Rachel Held Evans was a few years younger than I am. And yet she entered the blogging and writing world earlier, with a bold stubborn insistence that there ought to be room for opposing opinions in and out of the Evangelical world, and in and out of Christianity. She stood up persistently for radical inclusion.

Finding Her Blog and Facebook Page

I honestly can’t remember exactly when I first came across her work—I think maybe it was her blog and Facebook page. My political ideas had started to shift several years away from those more conservative beliefs I’ve described earlier.

And while I hadn’t left membership in the church of my youth at this point, I had already begun the ecumenical journeys that began broadening my outlook long before I “skipped the fence” to progressive Christianity.

As I said, she was a few years younger than me, but long before I was doing it here, Rachel Held Evans was working to push back against toxic, hurtful ideas she had begun to disagree with in order to make more space for multiple perspectives.  

She did so—again, not perfectly, as she has acknowledged many times—but often with grace, excellence, and spirit. She was engaging with trolls on her site long before I had the courage to attract trolls by being willing to get into controversial subjects publicly.

I honor that today, and I hold with me her example of grit and persistence in the face of plain old spiritual aggression and authoritarianism.  She assertively spoke truth to power, and dealt gracefully with the blow back.

Hearing Her Words Read by Monks

I still haven’t read RHE’s first book, Evolving in Monkeytown/Faith Unravelled all the way through, but one of my all-time favorite quirky memories was getting to this Episcopalian Benedictine monastery I’ve been visiting on and off for most of my adult life and hearing that book being read aloud at mealtimes, and hearing the monks quietly crack up at the funny parts.

I honor that, and treasure that memory.

Helping Christians Honor Jewish Interpretations

In her book The Year of Biblical Womanhood (which I have since loaned to a friend and still need to replace), she exhibited so much honest questioning, so much snarkiness mixed with sincerity and wisdom and openness to new views.

I honor that today. And I especially take with me her liturgizing of grief for the domestic violence in the Bible and her introductions to liberating Jewish views of Proverbs 31.

Making Room for Struggle and Questioning

Books including Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans.
Pictured: Rachel Held Evans’ book Searching for Sunday, which wormed its way to my favorites bookshelf between other others I had met through the Festival of Faith and Writing, which you should attend if you haven’t already. RHE keynoted there in 2014.

In her book Searching for Sunday, RHE expanded my views of the seven traditional sacraments by reflecting on how her own story of struggle with the church exemplified them, which was an incredibly beautiful, quietly radical act.

I honor that today, and have been listening to her sister-in-law Amanda Opelt’s music as part of my grieving process (I was introduced to Amanda’s music through her Seven Songs, album, which was a companion piece to this book).

And while I wasn’t in a space of discomfort with church when I read Searching for Sunday, it helped expand my empathy for those who were. And much later, when I did finally enter that space, found she had made space for me, too. I’m so thankful.

Bringing Together a Community of Evolving Faith

Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey co-hosted the Evolving Faith conference that debuted this past fall, in October 2018. (I took a leap of faith to sponsor that conference with this little bootstrap project of mine.) They were nothing but gracious to me during that time.

And they provided a gathering that offered a community to so many who had felt isolated through struggling with things that both RHE and Sarah Bessey had struggled with.

I honor all of that today. And I am thankful to have had a part in that event, and to have finally had a chance to meet Rachel in person last fall.

Part 2: RHE as Wisdom Teacher, Not Guru

As I’ve said, RHE was not perfect, but she was overall an excellent example of what Teresa B. Pasquale distinguishes as a healthy “wisdom teacher” over and against a “false guru.” In her book Sacred Wounds: A Path to Healing from Spiritual Trauma, Pasquale defines the wisdom teacher as having the following characteristics (p. 98-101):

  1. Humility over Ego: making sure there are checks and balances on them
  2. Community over Themselves: bringing together a community around them rather than insisting on keeping the power for themselves
  3. Embracing the Tension: between their existing knowledge and its limits
  4. Comfortable with the Unknown
  5. They Are Lifelong Students
  6. Promote Questions and Don’t Have All the Answers
  7. Low- to No-Cost Teachings
  8. Accepting of Many Ways to Transformation and Spirituality
  9. Promote Radical Inclusion
  10. Model Unconditional Love and Forgiveness
  11. Acknowledge Their Own Flawed Humanity
  12. Value Independence and Uniqueness Along with Healthy Interdependence
  13. Authenticity

So yes, you should be able to deduce from what I’ve already said about her that I believe she’s exemplified many of these characteristics for me. RHE may not have been everyone’s wisdom teacher, but I think she thought that was okay. I would argue that is more proof that while she wasn’t a perfect wisdom teacher, she absolutely was one.

Holding the Tensions

One more note before I close: I honor and hold space for those progressive folks who find it difficult to honor her because of what happened in the case in which she was seen to enable the abuse of Tony Jones (look it up if you’d like—everyone needs to make their own decisions about such things).

I honestly don’t know what to do with that case—I hold it in tension, and I hope those of you who feel more strongly than I do about that won’t find it too rude for me to hold it off to one side for the remainder of this article.

I find that case troubling, but for me it does not eclipse the rest of her life and legacy.

Let’s Grieve Together

I could go on and on, but I think that’s enough to show a glimpse of why I’m grieving and feeling all the feels today. If you’re grieving as well, I would love to hear your stories in the comments and over at the FB page. Please know that you’re not alone. And if you happened not to appreciate Rachel’s life and work, please mourn with those who mourn and be sensitive in your commenting!

A Charge

Many cheers to Rachel Held Evans, an Eschat Chayil (woman of valor). May you rest in peace. And even while some of us may need to pause to grieve before doing so, may we all take up the challenge she laid down to continue to open up spaces for #AssertiveSpirituality through speaking truth to those who seek to close them.

No matter how you felt about RHE, let’s do what we can to make space for mourning her death these days.

Let’s Scream Together, Shall We?

As part of my contribution to making space for assertive grief around this and other subjects, I’ve decided to set up another “Collective Scream about All the Toxic Crap” FB event for this week (Wednesday, May 8 at 8 p.m. Central time). Please find out more and RSVP here, remembering that you can participate from wherever you are. Feel free to cluster others around you to join in the scream!

As with previous such events we’ve hosted, you need not only scream about RHE’s death. You may scream about anything toxic, really. But I’m sure many will be screaming in her honor.

Again, check out the link for full instructions and timing–but if you missed it, feel free to time-shift the scream and add in your comments after the fact.

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Uncovering White Evangelical-Centrism: Feeling Betrayed Part 2 http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/04/27/uncovering-white-evangelical-centrism/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/04/27/uncovering-white-evangelical-centrism/#comments Sun, 28 Apr 2019 04:51:27 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=766 In the last article I posted here, I talked about the way the 2016 US election left me feeling betrayed by many of those in my moderate Christian denomination in the Midwest. Getting a divorce at the same time as that election (which I talked about in one of the first articles I posted in this space) just made the event more apocalyptic for me—in the sense where experiencing both events at once made clear a whole bunch of religio-political...

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In the last article I posted here, I talked about the way the 2016 US election left me feeling betrayed by many of those in my moderate Christian denomination in the Midwest. Getting a divorce at the same time as that election (which I talked about in one of the first articles I posted in this space) just made the event more apocalyptic for me—in the sense where experiencing both events at once made clear a whole bunch of religio-political ethnocentrisms, involving power dynamics, I had not seen before in White Evangelicalism. The rest of this article’s about the nature of a few of those ethnocentrisms and how the situation has led me to advocate for a louder voice for those “outside the pale” of the current realms of White Evangelicalism.

(This is another long article–thanks for your patience as I unpack the nuance that comes with this territory!)

Defining Co-Cultures and Intercultural Communication

First, let me say I’m talking from the perspective of intercultural communication scholarship, which defines a co-culture as a group within the broader group. Intercultural communication is defined most often as any time you’re engaging with someone who’s perceived to lie outside of a culture or co-culture.

According to this area of study, all of us are what’s called intersectionally part of a bunch of different co-cultural groups. This is important, especially when we’re talking about the intersections of the religio-political landscape. So we weren’t just born with one co-cultural identity, but many.

Who’s In and Who’s Out

Often, though, certain parts of these identities are told, in a thousand subtle ways, that their belonging is better or worse, either as individuals or small groups within the group, or that the group itself is better than or worse than those outside the group.

These thousands of ways in which we get socialized into believing in these kinds of subtle hierarchies give us particular kinds of ethnocentrism–in other words, ways in which some co-cultural identities are seen to be better than others.

As a pastor’s kid who grew up in the more conservative sides of a moderate denomination, I’m blessed and cursed with being more aware than most of how religious ethnocentrisms work and intersect with political ethnocentrisms.

Ethnocentrisms and Power Dynamics

The worst kinds of cultural and co-cultural ethnocentrisms presume that competition, voice, and power are only allowed to those in power positions—and they are to be seen as “transgressions” in those of other, lower status positions.

In fact, the more outsiders are seen as those who are jockeying for power, or seen as people to be fought at all costs–what I’ve been talking about on this site as “devil terms”–the more insider status is seen as being associated with virtue, and outsider status is associated with transgression.

How I Found Myself Understanding Better

This is all to say that both getting divorced and claiming a more progressive position in the religio-political world during and after the election has showed me how many casual yet incredibly unhealthy religio-poltical ethnocentrisms there are in White Evangelicalism, especially these days.

These ethnocentrisms had in many cases been there for years. But it wasn’t until I found myself uncomfortably on the outside of what I would have previously found “acceptable positions,” and hearing the stories of others in the same boat, that I really began to fully see them.

And over the last few years I’ve grown to realize how much the power structures I’d been socialized into made it take so long.

Discovering the Dark Side of “Family Values”

The divorce itself honestly didn’t require me being outwardly rejected by my white Evangelical peops. But it made me realize how, as I described previously, I discovered I had been casually internalizing a kind of White Evangelical ethnocentrism toward divorced people—and others in “unconventional” relationships—for years.

As I said, the people I knew and who knew about my specific situation—even those who never usually advocated divorce—were extremely understanding in my case. They were and continue to be supportive of me. It didn’t take outside people “shaming” me for getting divorced at the time of the divorce for me to feel shamed and “outside the pale” for it.

On the contrary, it was the combination of the casual comments I’d heard and internalized over the years, including my participation in them, that made me feel like entering the land of the co-culture of divorced person automatically made me feel like I’d taken on a big banner that seemed to bear the words “less than” on it.

The Rural (Conservative)-Urban (Liberal) Split

This wasn’t the first White Evangelical ethnocentrism I’d discovered, mind you. But it, especially happening at the same time as the 2016 US election, opened my eyes to others.  

Let me explain. As I said, I grew up as a pastor’s kid, moving around a lot from place to place where our denomination had a presence every few years.

In my denomination, much as there has been more broadly in the US, there was a strong split between the parts of the denomination that were in small towns and more rural areas, which saw themselves as more politically and religiously conservative, and those in the more urban areas, who skewed more religiously and politically liberal.

On the Conservative Side

We mostly lived in the more conservative rural areas, where the people tended to complain about those “more progressive” sides of the denomination, which clustered mostly in small cities. It also meant that my pretty educated family often tended to take on a more folksy down-home persona to get along.

One of these towns I lived in in some of my early years had a lot of good things about it. But it also had a lot of what I know now are White Evangelical ethnocentrisms, based largely in fear of, or feeling threatened by, others who were different. I can now see that these fears often came out in a sort of shame that came out as an odd kind of humble snobbishness.

Fear + Shame=Ethnocentrism

As I described in another recent article, too often these concerns set up boundaries for who we felt we were “better than,” and controlled whose voices we felt comfortable listening to, as well as who could feel fully included in our midst.

And unfortunately, it often also created “devil term” thinking as applied to those who weren’t seen to be as “churchy,” “faithful,” or “biblical” as we were.

“Those ‘Unchurched’ People”

By the time I was 4 or 5, I remember being aware that there was a hierarchy of who was safe to be around, and beyond the pale (a term which originally meant outside the protection of the village or castle!), were those “secular folks” who did not go to church. At that tender age, that type of person was beyond my socialized understanding.

Looking back, I can see how we “good church people” felt abandoned by those who didn’t come to church. And I totally can understand how easy it was to feel like these people might be unsafe in some way.

I see now how we often buffered ourselves from understanding the pain and also simply the differing beliefs of those who felt uncomfortable in the church through this kind of understanding. It was easier to reject others than to feel rejected by them.

“Those ‘Non-Bible-Believing’ Liberal Churches”

I also remember thinking that those churches that were more progressive or liberal than us—in the words of my upbringing, less “Bible-believing”—were seen as pretty sketchy and dangerous.

My Family’s Insider-Outsider Position

As a pastoral family new to town, we were often seen as our own brand of outsiders. In retrospect this position gave me space down the road to empathize with other outsiders.

My dad sometimes challenged some of the more obvious ethnocentrisms we encountered. That wasn’t always well-received.

But I’m now aware that my family shared some of the other ethnocentrisms. And as I’ve said, for a long time, so did I. As I said, I’m still uncovering them in myself.

As with the divorce ethnocentrism, some of them are still hurting me now that I’ve jumped “beyond the pale” according to some of the measures I grew up with.

I can still see my peops dealing with the cognitive dissonance of seeing me part of some of those groups we’ve seen as unsafe. I’m still working on dealing with that shift myself.

Sex, Marriage, and Gender as “Biblical” Battlegrounds

As I’ve noticed over time, even though we were a church that preached a lot about grace and faith and unconditional love and all sins being the same, it was often the fights over gender—e.g., women as clergy—and sex and sexual orientation that became the biggest battlegrounds as regarded whether a church or individual was seen as “Bible-believing” or not.

For a long time I agreed with these positions, even as I grew more progressive and ecumenical and met a lot of other kinds of people with different beliefs.

As I said, it was the divorce combined with the election that really showed me how unhealthy so many of these ethnocentrisms were, and to take the leap to seemingly jump the fence. But it also showed me how many of the identities I had developed had already put me on that side whether I liked it or not.

Joining the Other Side

See, as someone who had finally moved over into a more progressive denomination the same day as my divorce came through (and a month after the 2016 election), I began to see how some of the heightened religio-political divides that came with the election showed that I was already on the side that didn’t quite fit in with the more religio-politically conservative sides of my denomination.

Yes, as a newly divorced person. But also politically, theologically, and even as someone with a PhD in Communication teaching at a “secular” university.

Developing Ears to Hear

With a new awareness of my position “outside the pale,” in the last few years I have sought out and listened with new ears to the stories of those who have felt ostracized by churches for all sorts of reasons.

I know it’s uncomfortable for many I grew up with that I’ve jumped the fence, that I “consort” in this territory beyond the pale. I know they worry about me. I know this not only because they tell me, but also because I would have once worried about me.

Hanging Out with Jesus?

But I feel it’s necessary to stay out here on the fringes of what I once thought was safe territory. In fact, as I think about the fact that Jesus usually hung out with those on the fringes—those “outside the pale”—it’s the only place it now feels paradoxically safe to be.

Trying to Sidestep the Old Hierarchies Where I Can

I know that those who are still in closer to the center of where I used to be likely think that I’m setting myself up as “better than” those I used to hang out with. I don’t think in those terms, though.

I’m sure some of the old hierarchies are still in me, but I’m trying not to think in those terms. I do know I’m still figuring it out.

When I DO Compete

What I know is this: The things I find it necessary to compete over—to stand up for—those are the areas where I’m not just standing up for myself, but am seeking better treatment for many others who are being hurt by the religio-political ethnocentrisms I’m starting to identify. I’m also standing up against the religio-political beliefs and policies that hurt these same groups.

I know I’m not some sort of perfect person as I do this, and goodness knows I’m not here to save anyone from anything. These people I hang out with now, out here in the area I previously would have thought of as wilderness, are those whose stories I would have once dismissed, when I was closer to the center of the denomination of my youth as well as White Evangelicalism as a whole.

Seeing the Unhealthy Parts More Clearly

I can see now how conservative Christianity’s voices have increasingly conflated itself with conservative political messages. Those conservative political messages seem to be gaining co-cultural power lately, and in the process drawing conservative Christianity further away from the themes I find in the Bible.

I find myself increasingly disturbed by those messages. I find it increasingly necessary to draw attention to the fault lines I’m discovering–fault lines that I can now see made us vulnerable to what I see now as really unchristian messaging.

Why I Feel the Need to Speak Up–Join Me!

This is a big reason why I started this project. This is why I speak up. This is why I feel compelled to help others who don’t find themselves okay with the unhealthy religio-political patterns that we all are seeing in such high relief these days.

I can tell you this: It’s not because it’s such an easy elevated position I find myself in these days. None of this is comfortable or easy. Nor is any of it done out of personal animus. I speak up because I believe I must do so to create a healthier world for all of us.

I know I’m not alone, and am thankful for all of your support. If you’re not currently speaking up, please join us!

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep working to speak up against the toxic religio-political ethnocentrisms, whether we find them in ourselves or others. Let’s keep working to make a healthier world for us all.

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Feeling Betrayed by My White Evangelical Peops http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/04/13/feeling-betrayed-white-evangelical-peops/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/04/13/feeling-betrayed-white-evangelical-peops/#comments Sat, 13 Apr 2019 20:11:56 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=749 I finally realized Passion week is forcing me to come to confront the idea of Judas as betrayer. See, I realized that I understand the challenges between Jesus and Judas much better since November 8, 2016. I don’t pretend to be Jesus. But it certainly feels like way too many of my peops became Judas on November 8, 2016, when they voted for the current head of the US executive branch. I know I’m not alone in still struggling with...

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I finally realized Passion week is forcing me to come to confront the idea of Judas as betrayer. See, I realized that I understand the challenges between Jesus and Judas much better since November 8, 2016. I don’t pretend to be Jesus. But it certainly feels like way too many of my peops became Judas on November 8, 2016, when they voted for the current head of the US executive branch. I know I’m not alone in still struggling with the results of that felt moral betrayal and its results for my relationships.

This article (which follows up from two other Lent-inspired ones, here and here) will delve into the reasons I’ve loved and trusted my people (who are from a moderate denomination on the “liberal” edge of White Evangelicalism); how some of my people have made decisions in that election and since that have damaged my relationships with them; and the strengths and limits to having these communication scholarship resources of my PhD in Communication in such situations.

Okay, so Let’s Dive In.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’ve been speaking to a lot of the negative parts of where I’ve come from lately.

So let me help you understand that I come from an amazing people.

A delightfully stubborn people.

They Taught Me about Ethics, and Standing Up!

My people taught me the stories of people who like Corrie Ten Boom—who was a little over-the-top on some of her religious views, if I remember correctly from visiting her abode when I was once in Amsterdam—but took the extreme risk of hiding Jews in her house.

My people taught me the stories of the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman.

My people led me into nuanced discussions of ethics that made me wonder whether I would have the courage to do the same. They called me to do so, but gave me space to decide on my own.

(Have I mentioned I love my people?)

They Taught Me about Social Justice Concerns

They are a people who taught me that we ought to consider ourselves pilgrims on this land. To consider ourselves Christians first—and to live that out really seriously—and Americans second.

A people who were thoughtful enough to set up a whole denominational office to reconsider that kind of “pilgrims on that land” statement and the negative valences of it in light of questions of social justice, which they very much see as a Christian concept.

These are people who, when they do humanitarian work, are very careful to be transparent about it, show respect, and look toward sustainability as they do.

I appreciate all of this so much. They have their flaws, but all of what I’ve just said and more has deeply endeared me to my people. And has created my sense of self and of faith and of living in the world in so many ways.

Why Being from a “Moderate Denomination” Is Tough These Days

Since this past election, though, I’ll be honest: since I come from a moderate denomination, I’ve seen families—including my own—split in two. And all of it hurts like hell.

My half-joke during the last election was that I would vote for anyone else other than the current head of the US administration because I was a single-issue voter, and that issue was not opening the seventh seal of the apocalypse.

I wasn’t really joking.

I very much voted my conscience when I filled in the bubbles down the blue column.

Perceiving Moral Betrayal

But I have people I previously respected, many of whom told me the above stories and helped socialize me into the above values, who voted for someone every fiber of my stubborn being, my being steeped in the above stories, believes is anathema to every one of the values I was raised with.

After everything I’ve told you so far, surely you can figure out how that feels like a moral betrayal.

People who raised me, who trained me in looking oh so carefully at the persuasion techniques of used car salesmen—they “held their noses” and voted for one. (Which would be a tiny bit less hurtful if they didn’t continue to defend their choice. But they do.)

Enter Defensiveness

People I deeply love and have always respected who seem to now espouse talking points that betray everything they taught me to love. Everything they continue to espouse.

People who educated me in words and words and studies of words and taught me to understand words and love words and play with words and encouraged me up to and including my PhD in Communication—these people keep telling me to discount the meanings of words.

“Well, the Tweeting’s not great,” they’ll say, lamely. “But…we don’t want socialism!”

The Relational Damage

People I know, who talk an awful lot about “unconditional love,” have been known to toss “devil term” talking points my way, sometimes barely realizing that they are talking about me, but casting people like me as the enemy to be fought at all costs. I draw attention to this when it happens, naturally, and draw a boundary. Usually they back off. Some of them apologize. But it doesn’t hurt the less.

(May I say, it’s way less painful when it comes from the trolls that pop by the Assertive Spirituality FB page and don’t actually know me? Sigh.)

Sometimes they don’t say it to me directly—they say it on their social media feeds. Or they stay silent enough that I just know. Some have melted out of contact. (I’ll admit—I’ve been keeping more distance too.)

The Human Cost of Our Current Leadership

So the point is that all of this hurts–and I’m not even in the groups that are affected by the policies and rhetoric of the current administration as directly. I know I have a lot of privilege.

Even with the privilege, though, this hurts me and my relationships with the community I grew up with. Often it also hurts them deeply.

None of it is okay or normal. Nor should it be. We are, after all, living in deeply unusually unhealthy times, and there’s only so much healthy people can safely ignore that.

What I’ve Been Able to Do

As those of you who follow here likely know, I teach interpersonal communication at the university level, with an emphasis on stress, trauma and conflict communication, and so I have a ton of tips and tricks I’ve been lobbing at the situation.

This knowledge helps me understand what’s going on, as I’ve been outlining during on this blog over the last year.

It helps me cope personally.

It gives me useful strategies to apply.

It means I understand what’s going on, at least in my intellect.

And don’t get me wrong: that helps tremendously.

I wouldn’t be trying to help others learn these things if it didn’t.

The Limits of These Skills

BUT—and this is so important—all of that knowledge and practice, while it helps, still doesn’t, and hasn’t, fully healed the relationships.

It helps me make stronger arguments countering the problem issues. And it has helped make a few of the relationships viable if we put up and maintain boundaries around certain subjects.

But it doesn’t actually heal the relational damage.

Where It’s Been the Hardest

It’s been hardest with those who insist that there is no conflict, or no good reason for conflict. That my concerns, and those of others being hurt by the rhetoric and policies of the current administration, are not valid enough to consider.

(Surely, the implication is, the problem must be me and “my people”–meaning the party whose policies line up the best with my view of Christian values? Surely WE’RE the ones who have drifted?)

These same people often insist that we should just “agree to disagree” on the things that matter to me while they continue to push their viewpoints on me, whether on these or other matters. (The topics of “theological accuracy” and personal morality are especially galling in this regard.)

The Need for Reciprocal Empathy

As I said, since I study stress, trauma, and conflict communication, I can see and understand the root issues in many cases.

I empathize fully—I’ve always empathized too much, in fact, and sometimes that’s been wittingly or unwittingly used against me (in seeming hopes that I would just be quieter about all of this stuff).

But that doesn’t erase the ongoing hurt or loss either.  Nor does it mean I have to say what they’re doing is okay (which is of course what is implied).

See, empathy only really works if it’s reciprocal. And the relationships that are pulling through better than others are the ones where empathy was practiced on both sides.

 Politics (and Theology) Were Always Personal

I know I’m not alone in any of this. And it’s important to note that was true before these extraordinary times. The stakes of policy, of politics, and of theology were ALWAYS personal, I can see now.

As I’ve discussed before, a big part of the systemic issues that have made all this possible was the lie that we can somehow disconnect ideas from bodies, words from their impacts on lives. And one of the strange blessings of this apocalyptic time is that that is made clear to so many. (As a reminder, the root meaning of the word apocalypse is “to make clear.”)

The Barriers of Denial

But yes, as T. S. Eliot said in the years leading up to WWII, “human kind / cannot bear very much reality.”

I know many of my people have turned away from the insights that have come with this apocalyptic time. Many of them, I think, simply cannot or will not face reality. It makes me incredibly sad some moments.

This Project Is Personal

So, yeah. This project I started (nearly a year ago!!! Look for an anniversary post soon!) is both public and intensely personal.

It’s not wholly or only personal, as I know lots of other people have different stories and experiences, and different problems, than I do. And the tools I have will hopefully serve them too. As they have for many of my students over the years with different situations.

But all the same, it’s key to note that this is one of many ways this project is deeply personal to me.

So yes, while this isn’t the only conflict I’ve been through, by any means, it’s not just a line on my about page and the pinned post over on the Facebook page: I’ve been through conflict. Some of it has been productive.

But this particular type of moral betrayal-based conflict? It sucks. I’m dealing with it as healthily as I can. There’s been some progress, in some areas. But this one is recalcitrant, it’s ongoing, and it just sucks.

Doing What I Can, Not Doing What I Can’t

In the midst of these circumstances, when I say on the posts on this site, and over on the FB page, that we can only do what we can, where we are, with what we’ve got, this is not a philosophy adopted or lived easily.

Here’s what I’ve learned, out of this situation—there’s only so much I can do to persuade my people. In most cases, I’ve done what I can. I peg away at that as I’m able. I grieve my oft-times inability to get through.

Putting My Efforts Toward the Persuadable

The bulk of my efforts, though? I started this project to put those into talking to those who are more likely to have ears to ear. And that’s one of the big reasons why I started this project.

Thanks so much for following along. I hope it helps. I know it helps me to have the rest of you.

How Can You Relate? What Are Your Stories?

I imagine many of you are in similar boats with difficult relationships from moral betrayal these days, and I hope you’ll stick around for more info on how to keep living our consciences the best we can in the midst of such difficult situations. I would love to hear what you might be willing to tell of your stories. Thanks so much for hanging around.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep doing what we can, and grieving what we cannot!

____

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The post Feeling Betrayed by My White Evangelical Peops appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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