Tag Archives: homosexuality

Safe Ways to be Gay in School

I’m in the midst of doing a bit of research on school discipline, particularly the role that non-behavior factors (e.g. race, ethnicity, gender) in triggering disciplinary action by teachers and administrators. It’s a concept that educational researchers call disproportionality, and it’s a massive and enduring problem in American education.

In the course of this research, I came upon an interesting article published earlier this year by Joel Mittleman titled “Sexual Orientation and School Discipline.” As the title suggests, Mittleman is addressing the question that sexual orientation plays in the application of discipline, specifically using newly available data sets to expand the existing research. That body of research has consistently found that LGBT students face higher levels of exclusionary discipline (suspension and expulsion) than straight students, but it has also found an interesting quirk in that tendency. LGBT girls face these harsher discipline measures than LGBT boys. Given the broader culture’s visceral revulsion when confronted with specifically male homosexuality, this fact surprised me. Yet, Mittleman’s research confirms it.

Mittleman offers the following possible (and to me intriguing) explanation:

Gender nonconformity—in terms of speech, interests, dress, peer groups, and other gendered aspects of identity—is significantly (though imperfectly) associated with sexual orientation (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2012).

For boys, more “feminine” gender expression has been shown to yield social sanctions from peers. Pascoe (2007) demonstrates, for example, how the specter of being a “fag” is used to police the boundaries of masculinity among teenage boys. Similarly, in their recent meta-analysis of bullying studies, Toomey and Russell (2016) find that sexual minority boys appear to face higher rates of victimization than sexual minority girls. However, even if gender nonconformity may provoke severe peer sanctions, for those growing up in contexts where boys are treated as potentially criminal from young ages (e.g., Ferguson, 2000), less masculine gender expression could potentially be protective against the more formal behavioral sanctions imposed by schools or the police.

By contrast, for sexual minority girls, more masculine, “unladylike” gender expression may be interpreted by adults as threatening in a way that requires more formal control. Several of Snapp et al.’s (2015) respondents, for example, argued that gender-nonconforming girls are treated with suspicion and assumed to be aggressors in conflict situations.

Mittleman stresses that this explanation of the findings is speculative and that the study more broadly has limited scientific value (at least in isolation from the broader existing research). Even so, the conclusion is potentially quite significant; “If this is true, then attributing sexual minorities’ discipline rates to a common experience of gender-neutral homophobic treatment may be imprecise.” In other words, homophobia is not the generalized phenomenon in practice that it often appears to be in casual accusations and popular discourse. Instead it manifests in very specific ways that have very specific social utility depending on the context.

What is true in schools is likely equally true in our culture more generally, which among other things may explain why so many conservative Christians cannot make sense of the relationship between their obligation to biblical ethics and their token commitment to a culture of civil liberty.

Tagged , , ,

The Necessity of Redefining Marriage

Ben Witherington has recently commented on a CNN article which lays out, in my opinion, perhaps the strongest case against gay marriage from a strictly secular standpoint. I mention Witherington rather than going directly to the article because he includes many theological considerations which readers here are likely to find interesting. My main concern, however, is the argument of Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis.

Marriage is far more than your emotional bond with “your Number One person,” to quote same-sex marriage proponent John Corvino. Just as the act that makes marital love also makes new life, so marriage itself is a multilevel — bodily as well as emotional — union that would be fulfilled by procreation and family life. That is what justifies its distinctive norms — monogamy, exclusivity, permanence — and the concept of marital consummation by conjugal intercourse.

…All human beings are equal in dignity and should be equal before the law. But equality only forbids arbitrary distinctions. And there is nothing arbitrary about maximizing the chances that children will know the love of their biological parents in a committed and exclusive bond. A strong marriage culture serves children, families and society by encouraging the ideal of giving kids both a mom and a dad.

Seated Girl in Icelandic Bridal GownThe authors make a compelling observation that, legally, marriage does much more than standardize a primary relationship (e.g. defaulting who ought to be your medical proxy or to whom your possession belong in the event of your death). If this was its sole function, there would be no need for the legal structure which has been built up around marriage, one which institutionalizes matters of monogamy, sexual exclusivity, and permanence. If it were about formalizing a person’s primary affective attachment, it should be as easy to change as a will and open to the possibility of multiple equal levels of attachment. Which it isn’t; at least not legally.

In fact, American culture has largely done away with these pillars of marital theory, particularly permanence. It is not quite as easy to change a spouse as it is to change a beneficiary in your will, but it is done with strikingly more regularity nonetheless. Sexual exclusivity is eroding with a startlingly rapidity, so that primary relationships which have not yet been formalized are rarely assumed to be sexually exclusive and even married persons have a wealth of ways to violate the bounds of sexual exclusivity with impunity. (Someone care to look up statistics about the use of pornography by married men?) Only monogamy remains largely uncontested both legally and culturally, although the authors do point out the swelling phenomenon of polyamory.

The solution seems to me to require a redefinition of marriage rather than a feigned conservative defense of the grand old institution. The heterosexual marriage characterized by monogamy, fidelity, and permanence exists more as a convenient fiction than a staid bulwark against social decay. If we care about a definition of marriage that includes these principles than a cultural redefinition of marriage is in order, one that would accord with and allow for the revitalization of marriage laws. If, however, we recognize the cultural shift behind which the law has lagged, then the legal redefinition of marriage seems to be in order, not only to exclude the heterosexual requirement, but also all laws which are artifacts of a time when marriage was permanent, monogamous, and exclusive.

My preference has, traditionally, been for the latter, but only because it divorces what is legal from what is ethical in a way that neatly accords with my view of the world. More to the point, short of a spontaneous, universal, and enduring cultural revolution that recaptures the historic conception of marriage, changing the law to reflect culture seems to be the prudent course.

(None of which, of course, comments at all on the permissibility of homosexuality in Christian ethics.)

Tagged , , , , , ,

Clean Monday: Straightening Out Alaska

Normally my Clean Monday thoughts tend more toward the devotional side. (I’ve already had some lagana this morning, have you?) But as I was perusing news from the Orthodox world, this little tidbit struck me as too delicious not to share.

US President Barack Obama must have known that his support of gay marriage would bring him trouble. But of all possible repercussions, a demand to roll back Alaska’s 1867 sale to the United States was one he was unlikely to have seen coming.

And yet that was the very claim that an ultraconservative religious group made in a Moscow arbitrage court, citing the need to protect fellow Christians from sin.

Obama’s alleged plans to legalize the “so-called same-sex marriage” threaten the freedom of religion of Alaska’s Orthodox Christians, who “would never accept sin for normal behavior,” the nongovernmental group Pchyolki (“Bees”) said.

“We see it as our duty to protect their right to freely practice their religion, which allows no tolerance to sin,” the group said in a statement on their website.

The groups charges that the contract for the sale of Alaska is null and void because of a technicality about the method of payment. Ironically, this lawsuit is only coming to light now because of the group’s own inability to abide by the legal technicalities of their own system.

Something tells me this isn’t the kind of cleanliness Clean Monday is supposed to be about. It’s a shame that Lent starts so much later for the Orthodox this year than for Catholics and Protestants–my preference would always be to observe them simultaneously–but, if nothing else, let those observing the Western fast season allow today serve as a reminder of the purity you committed yourself to back in February. Your Orthodox brothers and sisters around the world join you today in offering themselves as living sacrifices. If only for two weeks, Christians everywhere will be united in a period of self-reflection, purification, and anticipation of the resurrection.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here’s an Idea, Don’t Vote: Violence and Representative Democracy

There’s an election today. Have you heard? This will come as a shock to no one who has ever visited this site, but I will not be voting this year. I also didn’t vote four years ago. Or four years before that. Or…you get the drift. As a committed old, tried and true Christian anarchist, I have watched the campaign season very closely, the way I might watch a really interesting football game, or a Spike “world’s most unbelievable car crashes” marathon. Politics–infinitely more than contact sports and traffic accidents–has proves itself again and again to be irredeemably violent. Beyond that basically standard pacifist complaint, however, I would like to offer three reasons why I, as a Christian, am not voting and, wait for it, why I encourage other Christians not to vote either. If you’re not a Christian, you should vote; it’d be a shame if you didn’t. (Not nearly as big a shame as it is that you’re not a Christian, of course.) In any case…

With this final argument, I will most nearly approach the essential quarrel that Christian anarchism has with government generally and representative democracy specifically. To do this, however, requires an examination both of the nature of the state and the moral implications in our republican form of government. Though less concrete and more nuanced than other pleas to avoid participation in the democratic process, it still serves as the most compelling reason to see voting as immoral rather than merely unnecessary, ineffective, or unimportant.

David Lipscomb states succinctly what later theologians have agonized over with regard to man’s original sin: “God would govern and guide man; man would govern the under-creation, and so the whole world would be held under the government of God, man immediately and the under-creation through man. But, man refused to be governed by God…The institution of human government was an act of rebellion and began among those in rebellion against God, with the purpose of superseding the Divine rule with the rule of man.” The term en vogue now to discuss man’s fall is “autonomy,” but the notions are the same. The account of the first sin in Genesis boils down to the belief that humanity knew better than God how to manage its own affairs.

It is not a coincidence that the second sin is murder. Violence follows logically on the heels of rebellion. Eve having usurped the divine prerogative to rule, Cain usurps the divine prerogative to judge. Ignoring the divine approbation showered on Abel, Cain renders his own terminal judgment about his brother and summarily executes him.

It is equally understandable then that civil government should arise both as an attempt to curb the influences of these sins and as their supreme manifestation. On the one hand, civil government exists to give wrest the rights of authority and judgement from the hands of the individual, a transfer of power which is necessary in order for society to function. At the same time, however, civil government exists as the collaborative human expression of that primary impulse toward autonomy. God is no more lawgiver and judge now than in the days after the fall. Instead, humanity set up an alternative lawgiver and judge to stand in the place of God. The state is essentially and inescapably an idol to our own sense of superior self-determination.

It’s a truth so inescapable, God Himself might as well have uttered it:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

Samuel obeys, and in his subsequent warning to the people he points out that the king will be the source of constant oppression for the people. “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” Samuel, to say nothing of the LORD, recognizes that human governments will always be tied inexorably to violence. Civil government, simply defined, is the ability–granted or assumed–to coerce others to behave in ways they would not otherwise. People pay their taxes because they fear the IRS, not because they have any confidence in the federal government to invest their money wisely. People drive the speed limit to avoid getting a ticket, not because they are opposed in principle to driving more than 25-mph in a school zone. A government which does not have coercive authority–which is a poor euphemism for violence–to enforce its laws instantly collapses.

But, as we’ve already seen, Christians have no investment in coercing non-Christians to mimic a Christian society. All our efforts to do so have in fact been counterproductive. It shouldn’t surprise anyone. There is no government which can function on the principles of the Sermon on the Mount because civil government unavoidably implies violence. A foreign policy which extols “turn the other cheek” and “resist not evil” invites invasion. Imagine, moreover, a candidate running on the economic platform, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” (Never mind that the recent rescue of Wall Street, the banks, and big business has proved the biblical adage “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”) Our judicial system would grind to an immediate halt if it were to embrace “Judge not, that you be not judged”–without moving over to talk about “he who is without sin.” There’s no reason to even discuss the golden rule. The fundamental incompatibility of Christianity and civil government should be obvious merely from a liberal exercise of human reason, but Paul does Christians the service of highlighting the dichotomy in Romans when he tells Christians that they must express love and peace and allow the government to be God’s unwitting agent for vengeance.

Therein lies the special problem for representative democracy. For Paul, it was simple: Christians and governments were discrete ethical units. The same is not true in a representative democracy. It has been a while since most of us took a high school civics course, and, if yours was anything like mine, it was worthless to begin with. Here is the way our government works. Our nation is too large and unwieldy to have a direct democracy, wherein everyone actually exercises a specific voice in the construction of policy. Instead, through voting and other means of political activism, Americans elect a small representative group of people to construct policy on their behalf. For the non-Christian, the process is simple enough: choose whichever candidate is most likely to achieve the political ends most important to you.

Here is the problem for Christians. By choosing to elect a representative, we make ourselves complicit in everything that is done on our behalf. That’s unpleasant to think about and easy to dismiss uncritically, but that is the nature of the American system of government. President Obama has your proxy to act in the executive branch. Maybe you didn’t vote for him, and maybe that means you can sleep better at night know that your spotless Christian hands aren’t stained with the blood of the people he assassinated by remote control. But unless you make a habit of losing, there is someone who is representing you in the American government, and it is necessary then to come to terms with the fact that government by its very nature behaves in ways forbidden to Christians.

War serves a legitimate function in statecraft, as does, arguably, capital punishment. But the Christ who told Peter to sheath his sword and stepped in front of the Jewish firing squad to save an adulteress models a different behavior, an ethical lifestyle that Christians are obligated to follow. Whoever you vote for, whoever is elected is employed only and entirely in the business of violence, that is in the business of coercing people to do what they would not do if given the choice. Whether it is taxes, speed limits, capital punishment, marriage rights, restrictions on abortion, or a war in Iran (because dying in the Middle East is the new American pastime) is irrelevant. Government is in the business of violence, and our government is in the business of doing violence with the consent of and on behalf of the voting public.

There is a solution, of course, for Christians. If to vote means to insinuate yourself ethically if not personally into the vile business of politics, then don’t vote. It’s not a matter of apathy or a recognition of futility. Instead, it is an affirmation that you belong to a different kingdom with a different King. Moreover–unlike America which continues to prove both its ambition and ineptitude on this front–our King will one day have everything put into subjection under his feet, without need of my vote or my campaign contributions. This is not a disengagement with the world. It is a proud boast that, in Christ, we have be granted a different mode of engagement with the world. One in which “when reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.” Christians reject, loudly and audaciously, the governing assumption the state that order is born out of violence and community out of coercion. By not voting, we concede the work of evil to the working of evildoers and reserve for ourselves the practice of untainted righteousness.

Perhaps more importantly, when Christians refuse to vote, we protect ourselves from the errors of the Israelites. We forget neither that God is our King nor the deeds He has worked on our behalf. We heed the advice of Solomon to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” and sing with the psalmist, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” There is a stand to take this election more important than opposition to abortion. There is a gospel to preach truer than economic equality of opportunity. That message begins when Christians extricate themselves from the polls and resume their stance as critics from without, voices in the wilderness crying “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

If the kingdom of heaven really is at hand, why are we so invested in the politics of the kingdoms of this world?

[Reason 1; Reason 2]
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here’s an Idea, Don’t Vote: Christianity and the Moral Society

There’s an election in a few days. Have you heard? This will come as a shock to no one who has ever visited this site, but I will not be voting this year. I also didn’t vote four years ago. Or four years before that. Or…you get the drift. As a committed old, tried and true Christian anarchist, I have watched the campaign season very closely, the way I might watch a really interesting football game, or a Spike “world’s most unbelievable car crashes” marathon. Politics–infinitely more than contact sports and traffic accidents–has proves itself again and again to be irredeemably violent. Beyond that basically standard pacifist complaint, however, I would like to offer three reasons why I, as a Christian, am not voting and, wait for it, why I encourage other Christians not to vote either. If you’re not a Christian, you should vote; it’d be a shame if you didn’t. (Not nearly as big a shame as it is that you’re not a Christian, of course.) In any case…

One of the most common arguments I hear in favor of the notion that Christians have a duty to vote is that by not voting we are allowing society to slip deeper and deeper into the quagmire of sin. By not casting my vote–typically in this scenario for the Republican candidate, but it can go either way–I become culpable for constructing a society in which school children can see a man kissing another man on a taxpayer funded field trip to an abortion clinic. (Or, if you prefer, I become culpable for constructing a society in which a misogynistic plutocrat can oppress the poor, shackle his wife to the kitchen–metaphorically or literally–and deny life-saving medical treatment to his cancer-ridden, home-schooled daughter because God told him to.) Setting aside entirely the philosophical issue of moral culpability in the absence of intention or action, there is a more obvious problem here with the way Christians have come to understand their role in constructing a moral society.

It is simple enough to begin this argument with the rather inoffensive statement that God is omnipotent. As a subset of this omnipotence, it also seems fairly obvious to indicate that it is within God’s capability to prevent people from doing evil. For those of us committed to the notion of free will (and I’m sure I’ll lose some of you here), that God choose is not to prevent people from doing evil is an expression of a moral truth no less crucial than God’s omnipotence: compulsory goodness is no goodness at all. God, in structuring the world, has made it evident to humanity that agency is a prerequisite for morality. That is why Jesus went to such great length to convince people of the value of the ethical teachings he proclaimed. Had he wanted to, ♫ he could have called ten thousand angels ♫ and told the world, “Love one another, or else.” But he didn’t. Christ, the great king, unlike every government devised by man put morality in the hands of human agents and tried to persuade them to make the right decisions.

You can see where I’m going with this, and it sounds nice in theory. But you’re a good, Bible-believing Christian. If only there were a verse that clearly stated that it wasn’t Christians’ job to police the morality of the world. Enter Paul:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

I give you the context there so you can understand where Paul is coming from. There is rampant immorality in the church in Corinth–quite unlike the pure, wholesome churches of America–but it would seem that the Corinthians still seem more interested in condemning those nasty pagans with their nasty habits. Paul will have none of it. The purity of the world is none of his concern. He understood then what so few seem to understand now: it is foolish to expect non-Christians to act like Christians. You might as well beat your head against a wall. It would certainly elicit more sympathy than trying to beat the gay out of people.

The responsibility for Christians to construct a moral society is simple. The church is holy, and it is our job as Christians to keep it holy. The world is not holy. It has been given over to the lusts of impure hearts, to dishonor, to self-destruction, and to folly. Christians can purify the church; God will purify the world–with fire, no less, but don’t tell limp-wristed, left-wing, bleeding hearts like me that…we can’t handle the imagery. God is not interested in forcing people to behave. You can choose to live as a Christian or you can choose to live as a pagan. According to Paul, the only thing the church needs to worry about is making sure that it is composed only of those who are choosing to behave like Christians.

As for the residents of the rest of society, they are going to keep having abortions. They are going to keep going keep stealing, embezzling, defrauding, and withholding while people literally die in the streets. They are going to keep debauching themselves in inventive ways, videotaping it, and distributing it for a small monthly fee on the Internet. They are going to keep getting drunk, stoned, and…well, I lack the appropriate drug vernacular to put together a good list, but you see where I’m going.

Society will continue to be the Roman society that existed in the days of the apostles. The only difference between Paul and Christians now is that democracy has led us into the delusion that, having failed to do the difficult work of convincing the world that God is good and sin is bad, we can just pass a law and make everyone righteous. It won’t work. We shouldn’t try. It’s wrong.

[Reason 2; Reason 3]
Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Wisdom of Mark Noll

I had some familiarity with the first edition of Religion and American Politics, a volume of essays edited and introduced by Mark Noll. I enjoyed the apology for the continued scholarly interest in the interplay between American religious and political life. Yet, as Noll points out in his introduction to the second edition, such an apology has become unnecessary in the years since the book’s initial publication. Americans are not thoroughly aware of the substantial, if not dominant, role of religion in American politics. In an effort to reorient the book, Noll suggests that a new argument must be made to the American people:

[Contemporary Americans need] to incorporate a little bit of historical distance when tempted to extremes of approbation, condemnation, or bewilderment in the face of current events. The religious-political agitations of the recent past are, in fact, far from novel. Beginning with the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and going on to the rise of politically conservative evangelical Protestantism, American politics has returned to the normative situation that prevailed for most of American history…

Against the fuller sweep of American history, the political-religious interactions of the last few decades represent no new thing. From arguments over religious freedom during the Constitutional Convention and antebellum sectional division accompanied by learned public debates from Scripture about the morality of slavery, through religion-infused experiences on the home front and with armies during the Civil War, and imposition of racial segregation after the end of Reconstruction, the rise of populism, the national campaign for prohibition, and the arguments used for entrance into World War I (and against entering that war), to the presidential election of 1928, when the Catholic faith of Democratic candidate Al Smith loomed large, religion was an ever-present if also constantly evolving fixture in American politics.

Attention to this wider history shows, for instance, that religious vitriol was spread around more widely during the Thomas Jefferson-John Adams presidential race of 1800 than with Bush versus Kerry in 2004; that public debate over the morality of slavery reached a depth of intensity beyond what has been experienced in debates over, first, African-American civil rights and then abortion and gay marriage; and that Jews and Catholics experienced levels of discrimination into the twentieth century that far exceed discrimination against Muslims that has been documented for the early twenty-first century.

Noll’s purpose is obviously not to trivialize the seriousness of modern religiously infused debates, particularly not, for example, civil rights or religious discrimination. His is simply a plea to contextualize these discussions historically and to resist the urge to particularize the modern mindset. Americans are, unfortunately and by no means uniquely, a people who delight in bringing their religion to bear on statecraft.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Inter-Generational Gay Kissing Causes Distraction

Now there’s a headline for you. A former junior college freshman has taken to the media to protest his dismissal from the football team at North Dakota State College of Science. The dismissal centers around this curious incident:

Kuntz, 18, had been injured much of fall camp and had only practiced a couple days prior to the trip. So, the coaching staff asked him to film the game from the press box. While in the press box, Kuntz invited his 65-year-old boyfriend, who lives in Colorado, to join him to watch the game. During the second half of the 63-17 blowout, Kuntz took a minute away from the camera to kiss his boyfriend. The kiss was caught by some of Kuntz’s teammates and word started to spread.

Kuntz believes homophobia is at the root of his dismissal. He had kept his sexual orientation secret prior to the incident and, consequently, lied to his coach about the relationship with the man he was seen kissing. Admitting that he had shared a passionate kiss with his grandfather was apparently less embarrassing than admitting he was homosexual.

In any case, if you read far enough down in the article–farther than the average reader will go–you will find this tidbit floating between the long examinations of theoretical homophobia and Kuntz’s speculation: “The football team rules state that lying to coaches is a dismissible offense.” Which invites us all to ask, why is this newsworthy? A member of a team with full knowledge of the team rules commits a dismissible offense and is dismissed. Maybe the coach is homophobic, maybe not, but Kuntz ought to have a tough time garnering sympathy when he gave the coach an ironclad reason for dismissing him. Sure, raising the specter of institutional discrimination is easier than admitting any kind of personal failure. We all understand that impulse. Next time, though, if you want the world to be righteously indignant on your behalf, you can start by not making out with your significant other in full view of your superiors and peers while you are supposed to be engaged in official team activities.

Tagged , , , , ,

Sexy Amendments to the Constitution

We have all heard the ultimately impotent advocacy for an amendment to the Constitution that would restrict marriage to heterosexual monogamy. We have also all heard the formulaic justification: protect the family, protect marriage. The main problem here is that if I am really interested in protecting the family and traditional marriage, if I toast my Pop Tart every morning in the warm glow of my righteous cause, then a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is not where I’m going to start.

You won’t hear Mitt Romney or Sean Hannity say it (though you might keep an eye on Newt Gingrich), but what this country really needs to protect families is an Amendment that criminalizes premarital sex. Out of wedlock births are the problem. That is what’s destroying the family. The Brookings Institution reports:

In 1965, 24 percent of black infants and 3.1 percent of white infants were born to single mothers. By 1990 the rates had risen to 64 percent for black infants, 18 percent for whites. Every year about one million more children are born into fatherless families.

As of 1990, more than one in four children are born out of wedlock. Meanwhile, The National Gay and Lesbian Task force estimates that only 3-8% of the population are homosexuals, a number significantly higher than equally partisan Christian groups’ estimates and higher even than Kinsey’s statistic of 4% exclusively homosexual males. Even if we accept that high number thought, children born out of wedlock are a significantly higher percentage of children than homosexuals are of the general population. Even if suddenly same sex marriage were legal and immediately the entire homosexual population of America were to marry at the same rate the heterosexual population does, roughly half, the 12.5 million newly married homosexuals would still not match the roughly 20 million children under eighteen who were born out of wedlock. If we want to promote healthy families centered on heterosexual parents, the first step is to criminalize sex outside of marriage with an amendment to the Constitution.

Even if, oh were that it so, we could get that magical clause tacked on to the Constitution, gay marriage wouldn’t be my next stop. After criminalizing pre-marital sex, the next greatest threat to traditional marriage is divorce. The oft quoted statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce, probably more scientifically stated as 40-50% of marriage will be disrupted by permanent separation or divorce, ought to be enough to prove that conclusively. In addition to destroying half of all traditional, heterosexual marriages, divorce leaves an estimated 1.1 million new children in broken homes every year. That is only slightly lower than the 1.2 million children born out of wedlock every year. The family is suffering.

If we follow our statistical path from the tentatively titled “No Milk Until You Buy the Cow Amendment,” allowing same sex marriage would only see about a 2-4% increase in marriages, or roughly 100,000. Meanwhile, the legality of divorce allows for the destruction every year of well over one million marriages. The disparity is clear. Divorce poses roughly ten times the danger to marriage and the family that same sex marriage does. It must be criminalized, and it must be done at the Constitutional level.

It is a tragedy, really, that the “consistent conservatives” in this country have had so much trouble appropriately identifying and combating the real threats to traditional marriage. Perhaps if we made it an issues of America’s standing in the world. Maybe if we point out that socialist Sweden has managed a significantly lower divorce rate than America. Or that in the sensuous Mediterranean climes of Spain, the out of wedlock birthrate is about 75% of what it is in the States. Canada is beating us in every category, which ought to be enough to infuriate every conservative. For single-parent households as a percentage of total households with children, America ranks below Canada, Japan, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK. We’re dead last.

So let’s get with it, defenders of traditional marriage. If you genuinely care about the state of marriage in this country, then it is time to stand up and make the hard decisions necessary to protect it. That, or maybe it is time to be honest with yourself and the public about what motivates your politics. Honesty in politics: God help us if we ever get it.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Pay Teachers Less

The American education system is broken. There are few if any who would argue otherwise. The problems are by no means simple, and the possible solutions are numerous. The administrative overhead of schools is one of the most obvious and easily resolved issues. Superintendents, principals, assistant principals, computer technicians, evaluators, social workers, security guards, secretaries, and countless other occupations which are not directly involved in the education of children, as well as the facilities needed to house this massive bureaucracy, eat up a disproportionate amount of taxpayer dollars. Consolidate the administrations, cut those positions, and slash those salaries. Bureaucrats should not be making four and five times the teachers in the trenches.

Numerous other problems do not lend themselves so easily to correction. The massive effort to centralize and standardize education has removed control from the people who should be served by, and therefore should control, the education process. Curriculum has become a political battleground, with the Right wanting schools to teach intelligent design and nationalistic propaganda and the Left wanting them to teach homosexual history and sexual liberation. The focus on variety—in learning styles, teaching methods, and more—has made education more about entertainment than learning. Teachers unions protect inept teachers, and the tenure system makes it impossible for new, highly qualified teachers to find good jobs.

Even more basic still, and therefore more difficult to change, is a set of cultural assumptions at all levels of society that hamstrings the education process. Parents aren’t interested in engaging with their children’s education. Students have no motivation to apply themselves. Decades of universal, compulsory education through secondary school has made graduation more a right than an accomplishment. The confusion of equal opportunity with equal ability creates an educational environment where teachers must teach to the least capable student, leaving those best able and most interested in learning to fend for themselves. Everyone thinks the system has malfunctioned, and everyone knows whose fault it is: not mine.

My vision for a functional education system would scrap the present manifestation of public education entirely, but if we’re discussing what to do with what we have, I have an unusual suggestion: pay teachers less. That, of course, flies in the face of conventional wisdom (which is a sanitized way of saying “campaign rhetoric”) and some unconventional experiments. There is a mindset which says that the problem with American schools is that education does not pay enough to attract the best and brightest that universities have to offer. If teachers were paid in a way comparable to other certified professionals, then maybe the kind of people we attract to be nurses, doctors, engineers, and lawyers would want to be teachers instead. My wife is a teacher, and so I understand acutely the attractiveness of raising teacher salaries and even the unfairness of their salaries relative to their workloads.

Baiting university students with the promise of more money, however, misunderstands the basic problem. American colleges are not under-producing qualified teachers. In fact, there are so many new teachers being sent out into the workforce, they can’t all find jobs. The ones that can find jobs, often find them as substitutes, teaching assistants, interim teachers, or as unprepared, ill-equipped new teachers in dangerous inner city schools. It is hard to imagine many people who actually spend time around teachers and hear about their problems directly (and constantly) honestly believe that the problem is that they simply lack the skill or financial motivation to do their jobs right.

Here’s the real problem. If my wife is a third grade teacher—and she isn’t, but bear with me—everyday she is faced with the same enigma. In her class she has little Bobby who is reading at a sixth grade level but still hasn’t mastered his multiplication tables. She also has little Sarah who is functionally illiterate but already has a rudimentary grasp of fourth grade math concepts. Little Mitchell is right on track with his learning if only my wife can convince him to sit in his seat and do his work. Little Rene is always too sleepy to pay attention, while little Marcus still doesn’t have a working grasp of conversational English. In addition to these five, she has twenty to twenty-five more students, equally diverse. Now, it doesn’t matter if you are Stephen Hawking and Steve Jobs and Mister Rogers all rolled up into one. There is no way anyone, no matter how qualified and no matter how well-paid, is going to come up with a multi-subject day of learning that is going to meet most or all of the needs of that class. Teaching devolves into learning-themed crowd management. In seven years, my wife is teaching tenth grade: Bobby is in remedial math, Sarah is cheating her way through high school English, Mitchell is on ADHD medication that has retarded his learning, Rene is pregnant, and Marcus is the father. The problem is compounded.

At $35,000 a year, my wife certainly isn’t getting paid enough to deal with that, even if it is only for nine months out of the year. It is hard to imagine, however, that one teacher making $60,000 is going to be able to solve the problem any better. On the other hand, two teachers making $30,000 each and managing two separate classes of only ten students each might just make a dent. Sure, there is still going to be diversity that needs to be overcome. Students will still present unique problems that will distract from an ideal educational environment. Some potential teachers might even be diverted from entering the field because of the reduced pay (though other ways to incentivize, such as broader loan forgiveness, could easily compensate for that). In the end, however, the net result will be a shift from the current reality of crowd management closer to an ideal experience of educational mentorship.

Of course, you could never actually pay teachers less. The unions wouldn’t allow it (and frankly, with the cost of getting a degree reaching meteoric heights, teachers couldn’t afford it). But it was never realistic to raise teacher salaries either, as that would inevitably cut into the lucrative business of multiplying administrative positions and bloating educational bureaucracies. Still, isn’t it nice to imagine a world where teachers could afford to train themselves to become educators and then actually be allowed to educate children? It distracts from the unsettling reality of one twenty-four year old woman in inner-city Atlanta trying desperately to get thirty nine-year-olds to meet state and national proficiency benchmarks on standardized tests so that she can continue to make payments on her six figure student loan debt. It’s almost as if prayer in schools isn’t really the issue after all.

Tagged , , , ,

The Politics of Gun Control

I read Blake Zeff’s recent article on gun control and found myself unexpectedly impressed. The piece begins with this simple premise:

There’s a reason that nothing’s happening to improve gun safety in America despite the mass shootings that now occur so regularly: No one in power is scared of the gun control movement.

And he proceeds from there to discuss not so much the “why” of gun control, which becomes so immediately repetitive in the wake of so many recent shootings, but the “how.” Taking his cues from the movement to legalize same-sex marriage, he explores how gun control advocates need to be willing to invest financially in the cause and to take control of how the debate is framed. Both are pragmatic suggestions and both have worked very well for the same-sex marriage movement. It is an interesting exploration of the technology of politics.

Zeff also attempts to locate the major obstacle that gun control will face that same-sex marriage will not. For him, this is the established opposition represented symbolically (and fiscally) by the NRA. Now, I am skeptical that opposition movements to same-sex marriage can really be described as “relatively weak and poorly organized,” except in places where it likely would have made no difference to begin with, but the political might of the NRA does make for a substantial hurdle to overcome.

Zeff does not, however, note a more crucial difference between the two movements. The press for same-sex marriage was, fundamentally, an attempt to expand a set of rights (as we conceive of them). Gun control, for whatever its merits may be, is an attempt to narrow a set of rights. It is critical to note that I am not saying that owning an assault weapon ought to be a right. For that matter, I am not saying getting married should be either. In simple pragmatic terms, however, where same-sex marriage has been permitted, people have been allowed to do something legally that they could not previously. Were gun control enacted, something that people could once do legally would no longer be licit.

You can frame the position as a libertarian one, as Zeff does. You can cite statistics about gun violence. You can appeal to examples of European nations with little to no gun crimes. You can reframe the parameters of the debate, restructure the narrative as much as you want. At the end of the day, Americans have a deeply ingrained cultural aversion to abridging rights. One need only look at Prohibition, that most dramatic of all prohibitive laws, and note that it took nearly one hundred years of temperance movements to see Prohibition amended to the Constitution and only thirteen years of spotty or non-existent enforcement to see it repealed. Once Americans have a taste of something or even the knowledge of the potential to taste of something, telling them they can’t have it violates a spirit that permeates our society.

Zeff notes that the statistical data which shows a small majority of Americans in favor of at least some form of gun control is rendered pragmatically meaningless when the question of who will be motivated to translate those positions into votes. it is my suspicion that many people who will never own an assault rifle, even people who will never own a gun, when the time comes to decide whether or not to restrict a activity they have no intention of participating in, they will react viscerally and decisively. The Enlightenment sense of entitlement, of rights, is more essential to American culture even than Christian morality. To overturn it will require a more herculean effort even than the marginal gains that have been made toward legalizing same-sex marriage.

That is not to say it can’t be done. It obviously can be. Americans have, from time to time and with varying degrees of permanence, broached new frontiers of government restriction of behavior. It is not typical, but it is possible. What’s more, it is not even my intention to argue against trying to achieve gun control. While I recognize that pressing gun restrictions, even to the point that we already have, is antithetical to the spirit of those founders who drafted and supported the Bill of Rights, I also don’t owe them any particular loyalty. I’d be happier in an America with fewer guns. Or no guns, since in my experience they exist primarily for sport hunting and violence directed at people–aggressive and defensive, licit and illicit.

All of that is beside the point. The point is that Zeff, while making an interesting and likely constructive argument for the mechanics of achieving gun control, fails to accurately grasp the problem of his parallel to same-sex marriage. This is not like knowing how to grow cucumbers and using that to learn how to grow squash. This is like knowing how to grow cucumbers and trying to use that to learn how to ungrow them. It’s a whole different ball game.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,