Stories from the Culture War Trenches
The Indiana fallout has made my e-mail inbox fill up faster than I can read and respond to everyone (I’m sorry if I haven’t written back to you, but I honestly can’t keep up). I want to share a couple of e-mails from you that came in tonight that bear consideration.
This one is from a professor at a major state university, responding to the “Prof. Kingsfield” entry about the future of Christians in the US post-Indiana:
I’m a full professor (tenured) at the [redacted], and a Christian.
I think what you describe in your piece has been going on for quite a while now. These developments that are driving Christians and non-Christians further apart are not new. I guess you’ve just taken notice because of Indiana.
I’ve been on the same faculty for 23 years, and just about every Christian faculty member on campus has remained closeted during the entire time, and none are hired in the social sciences and humanities if they are at all open about their profession of faith. In the hard sciences and engineering it depends upon the field. Generally speaking, though, the rule the entire time I’ve been here has been to keep it closeted.
Hello! Nothing new here.
I looked the correspondent up online, and see that he teaches in the social sciences.
Here is another, much longer letter in response to the Kingsfield piece. I publish it with permission of its author, but I’ve had to take out some identifying details:
This was a fascinating and important article about the long-term consequences of the Indiana Furor. It isn’t about the bakers or florists, nor about those who identify as gay, but instead about the ability of those who hold “unpopular” views to be public in their beliefs. You discuss raising your children within a like-minded peer group. It has been a huge financial and personal sacrifice, but I have done so by choosing to teach and have my kids attend a small Christian school. I have three daughters, ages 15, 13, and 7. My wife and I are both graduates of public schools and public universities [names of schools redacted]. We met and married while serving in the Navy and had our first daughter in 1999.
After my enlistment ended in 2002, I went back to teaching as I always intended to do, teaching in Sacramento, California. The school was huge, student body of over 3,000, class sizes over 50 in biology and physical science, chaotic, with seven different languages besides English as first languages of more than half of my students, and even dangerous with gang activity, lockdowns, and fights a regular occurrence on campus. But what convinced me to look into private schools after my year there was the open and blatant hostility of many of my teaching colleagues to Christianity.
Another teacher, also a Christian, said to one of her Biology classes, that evolution by natural selection was not “settled science”. She was not even referring to creationism; she gave punctuated equilibrium as an example of a hypothesis that opposed it. And with this one statement, she was denied tenure, laid off at the end of the year because she was “proselytizing” the students with her dogma. The other seven teachers (she and I were first year teachers there) in the science department were unanimous in recommending that she not be retained, and in all seven cases it was this issue — not poor quality teaching, not classroom management problems, not any reasonable problems as a teacher. It was her willingness to profess Christianity, and even more so, to question scientific orthodoxy that did her in.
I lacked then the courage to do the same, but knew that I was not going to last in an environment as hostile to my faith as this school. Since the fall of 2003, I have taught in Christian schools. As a consequence, I have made less than half the income of my public school counterparts, and my wife has been the family’s main breadwinner. But my girls have strong beliefs, strong Christian friendships, and a strong foundation from which to build their lives. We have not as a family ever flown in an airplane, been to Disneyland, gone overseas, or done any of the things that we probably could have afforded to do if, as a teacher with 14 years experience in the public system, I were making nearly $60,000 with full benefits as the public pay scales show instead of less than $30,000 with minimal benefits, to combine with my spouse’s income in the 40s. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
As I look toward their futures though, I wonder how they will live. The University of California system has been trying for years to say that Christian school classes are not rigorous enough if they use unapproved curriculum, and deny these students admittance into the UC system. Your Prof. Kingsfield documented the questions of tenure at elite schools who deny positions to “fundamentalists,” as a graduate of a Christian school and Christian university is sure to be labeled. With policies from taxation to regulation to the permit process for nearly every profession under the sun, how long until those identified as “Christian” will be unable to get employment at any professional, well-paying job? And as you mention, how long before Christian schools are forced to choose between the Hillsdale route of no money from government sources, and thus pay their professors less and provide fewer benefits just as Christian secondary and elementary schools already do, or cave in on issues of conscience and become “tolerant” to the point of abandoning their faith?
I struggle with the conclusions of your paper, though. I believe strongly that we are called to be open and transparent in our faith. From that young, scared public school teacher who caved in on discussions of faith, I have come to see that a Christian cannot protect himself by silence. As Jesus says to His disciples in John:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15: 18-20)
And as Paul repeats in Romans:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)
We are called to proclaim our faith, and this might mean our end, our poverty, our ostracizing, or just some harsh words. But we cannot, as followers of Jesus, deny Him and hide in a closet within the Ivory Tower to keep our job, any more than the Disciples could deny Him and avoid death in the first century. I understand what Professor Kingsfield is saying; I might have said it myself a decade ago, but I do not see that as an option any more.
If the culture closes my school, then I will try to create co-ops and homeschool. If this is outlawed as it was in Germany and much of Europe and Latin America, I will figure out another way to educate my children rather than place them in a blatantly hostile school system. Once my own kids are grown, I intend to help teach my grandkids and others in my community from a Christian perspective. I may never be able to retire, but I will know I am doing God’s work.
An Orthodox priest, Father John Whiteford, messaged me on Facebook today to ask a couple of questions, but the messages showed up on my screen as having been removed for either being spam or “abusive.” When I tried to contact him via Facebook, I saw that he no longer had an account. I found his e-mail address and wrote to him to ask what he wanted, and what on earth he could have said to have been kicked off of Facebook.
He wrote back (and gives me permission to post here):
My account was disabled because Facebook is harassing priests and monastics who use “Father” or “Mother” in their name. First, I was forced to delete “Fr.” from my name, and then “Archpriest”, and this time, because I switched to “FrJohn”, they have sent me a message that I have provide them with photo ID to prove that I am using the name that I actually go by in real life.
After submitting the required ID along with a letter asking them what the hell was wrong with them, I was told that I would be notified by e-mail of their decision.
This is the cyber equivalent of the communists forbidding clergy from wearing clerical attire in public.
The message I sent you was my thought that we should begin to speak of those on the otherside of the gay marriage war as “Progressive Totalitarians” or “Progressive Fascists”, because the play on the word “progressive” is very descriptive of the unfolding reality.
He forwarded the letter he sent to Facebook:
I have generally had a good experience using Facebook, and have encouraged many other people to use it as well, but your fixation on stripping priests of the title “Father” is alienating many Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Oriental Orthodox Christians. You say that you want us to use the name that we go by. “Father John” is the name that I go by. Stripping priests and monastics of the names that they actually go by is offensive. It is the virtual equivalent to the communists forbidding clergy to dress like clergy in public.
Don’t you have better things to do? You allow something like 56 different “genders” but you wont allow Christian clergy to be called by the names that they have gone by for centuries? What is wrong with you people?
Just remember: there was a time when “Myspace” was big, and look at it now. Instead of alienating your users, you should be focused on building loyalty so that when the next big social media fad comes along, people still feel some attachment to Facebook.
Fr. John Whiteford
This has been going on for a while on Facebook, and has to do with an across-the-board policy against using professional titles. But Kathy Schiffer notes something interesting:
I might disagree with the policy implementation, but I would grudgingly accept it–were it not for one thing. At the same time that Facebook was clamping down on the use of religious titles, they issued an apology to members of the cross-dressing community and reversed their position regarding queer stage names. That means that the man who calls himself by the stage name “Lil Miss Hot Stuff” or “Sister Roma” will be permitted to use that name without Facebook’s insisting that he conform to the community standard.
In a clean-up like the one currently affecting priests, Facebook had deleted several hundred accounts belonging to self-described drag queens and members of the LGBT community. But the indignant response from cross-dressers forced Facebook to revisit the policy. According to the Daily Mail, a group of transvestites in San Francisco claimed it was “their human right to identify as their alter-egos.”
This is the actual post from Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, from October of last year. Excerpt:
I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks.
… Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess. Part of what’s been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook.
So Sister Roma can be Sister Roma, but Father John cannot be Father John. Got that?