Tag Archives: Christian fundamentalism

Another Push For Vouchers

Despite the massive amount of data showing that voucher programs have failed to improve learning outcomes, voucher proponents are gearing up for another effort. The Indiana Capital Chronicle recently published a commentary from Andrea Neal, promoting the notion of “universal” vouchers–“choice” for everyone!

I sent the following rebuttal to the Chronicle, but Steve Hinnefeld got there first.


During my academic career, I did extensive research on school vouchers. (I authored the entry on the subject for the Encyclopedia of Public Administration.)

“Choice” sounds great. Providing citizens with a wide freedom of choice–of religion, politics, lifestyle– is a quintessentially American goal. The problems occur when institutionalized choices promote division, undermine civic cohesion, and fail to provide the promised benefits. In the case of vouchers, numerous studies have confirmed that the theorized educational outcomes have failed to materialize, and that children using vouchers to attend private schools have—at best—done no better than their peers who remained in public school, and more often, did considerably worse.

Furthermore, in far too many communities, the “educational choice” being offered is the opportunity to shield one’s children from intellectual and cultural diversity. Vouchers provide parents with tax dollars that allow them to insulate their children from one of the very few remaining “street corners” left in contemporary American society. Whatever their original intent, as vouchers work today, they are mechanisms allowing parents to remove their children from public school classrooms and classmates that may be conveying information incompatible with those parents’ beliefs and prejudices.

In virtually all states with active voucher programs, including Indiana, well over 90% of participating schools are religious. There is considerable evidence that fundamentalist religious schools are teaching creationism rather than science–but it isn’t simply the science curriculum that is being corrupted by dogma. As a 2021 article from The Guardian reported, those schools are equally likely to distort accurate history.

One history textbook exclusively refers to immigrants as “aliens”. Another blames the Black Lives Matter movement for strife between communities and police officers. A third discusses the prevalence of “black supremacist” organizations during the civil rights movement, calling Malcolm X the most prominent “black supremacist” of the era.

The textbooks reviewed by the Guardian are used in thousands of private religious schools–schools that receive tens of thousands of dollars in public funding every year. They downplay descriptions of slavery and ignore its structural consequences.  The report notes that the books “frame Native Americans as lesser and blame the Black Lives Matter movement for sowing racial discord.”

As Americans fight over wildly distorted descriptions of Critical Race Theory–a manufactured culture war “wedge issue” employed by parents fighting against more inclusive and accurate history instruction- -the article correctly points out that there has been virtually no attention paid to the curricula of private schools accepting vouchers.

The Guardian reviewed dozens textbooks produced by the Christian textbook publishers Abeka, Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education, three of the most popular textbook sources used in private schools throughout the US. These textbooks describe slavery as “black immigration”, and say Nelson Mandela helped move South Africa to a system of “radical affirmative action”.

The Abeka website boasts that in 2017, its textbooks reached more than 1 million Christian school students. The Accelerated Christian Education website claims its materials are used in “tens of thousands of schools.” One of its textbooks still refers to the civil war as the “war between the states,” and has a section titled “Black immigration”–characterizing the slave trade as “sometimes unwilling immigration.”

With respect to Reconstruction, the Accelerated Christian Education textbook contained the following characterization:

Under radical reconstruction, the south suffered. Great southern leaders and much of the old aristocracy were unable to vote or hold office. The result was that state legislatures were filled with illiterate or incompetent men. Northerners who were eager to make money or gain power during the crisis rushed to the south … For all these reasons, reconstruction led to graft and corruption and reckless spending. In retaliation, many southerners formed secret organizations to protect themselves and their society from anarchy. Among these groups was the Ku Klux Klan, a clandestine group of white men who went forth at night dressed in white sheets and pointed white hoods.”

Unsurprisingly, the books were equally biased against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Science denial, bogus history and homophobia are unlikely to prepare students for life in contemporary American society.

The U.S. Constitution gives parents the right to choose a religious education for their children. It does not impose an obligation on taxpayers to fund that choice, and we continue to do so at our peril.



Giving Religion A Bad Name

I came across a couple of recent “news items” that may help explain the increasing exodus from organized religion.

First, Raw Story tells us that “Mother,” aka Karen Pence,

the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, is planning to rally support for a controversial Republican candidate who has said that women who work are violating “God’s design.”

Local news station WFAE reports that Pence on Friday will join a campaign rally for Mark Harris, a former pastor who has been sharply critical of women who decide to take jobs instead of staying home and supporting their husbands.

Pastor Harris has publicly bemoaned the fact that modern women no longer have “basic” skills–“womanly” skills  such as “how to prepare a meal, how to sew on a button, how to keep a home, how to respond to a husband.”

Pardon me while I throw up.

Then there’s the new motion picture release, The Trump Prophecy. As a reporter for Vox has explained,

I sat in an unmarked cinema hall in New York’s Union Square, listening to a group of people praying. We’d just finished watching a screening of The Trump Prophecy, the controversial hybrid docu-drama made in part by students and faculty at the conservative evangelical Liberty University. Images of American greatness — an American flag, an eagle — flickered across the screen. A white man in his 60s sang out verses from 2 Chronicles 7:14:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

They bowed their heads and thanked God that his anointed one, Donald Trump, was president. Just as the prophecy had foretold.

Scenes like this took place in 1,200 cinemas across the country during a limited release of the film this month. The Trump Prophecy, which played on Tuesday and Thursday nights, has been advertised as an opportunity for prayer groups to come together in an expression of patriotism.

Nauseating as this sounds, and as far from genuine patriotism as it clearly is, the film’s message is far worse.

But The Trump Prophecy is more than a feel-good, low-budget movie. It’s the purest distillation of pro-Trump Christian nationalism: the insidious doctrine that implicitly links American patriotism and American exceptionalism with (white) evangelical Christianity.

Everything about The Trump Prophecy — from its subject matter, to the way it’s shot, to the little details scattered through the movie’s (often interminable) scenes of domestic life — is designed not just to legitimize Donald Trump as a evangelical-approved president but to promulgate an even more wide-ranging — and dangerous — idea.

The Trump Prophecy doesn’t just want you to believe that God approves of Donald Trump. It wants you to believe that submission to (conservative) political authority and submission to God are one and the same. In the film’s theology, resisting the authority of a sitting president — or, at least, this sitting president — is conflated with resisting God himself.

The fundamentalists who have allied themselves with this President preach that God chooses America’s leaders. (Presumably only the Republican ones.) This is eerily reminiscent of belief in the divine right of kings–a belief that early Americans pretty strongly rejected during the American revolution.

When a leader’s authority comes from God, and not from voters at the ballot box, people obviously have no right to resist. It’s an ideology that–as the article notes– utterly rejects the idea of democracy.

It’s telling that The Trump Prophecy doesn’t even try to pretend Trump is a good, or even acceptable, leader. In fact, it treats that very question as irrelevant. What matters, simply, is that good Christians respect those in power over them (whether good Christians should also have respected, say, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton is never explored).

The Vox article explores the theology underpinning this worldview, and it’s worth reading, since these beliefs are foreign to most readers who visit this blog–and for that matter, to most Americans.

As Karen Pence’s support for a reactionary pastor demonstrates, however, this is the theology that motivates Trump supporters, and a belief structure that is well-represented throughout Trump’s Administration. (Think Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos.)

If their worldview doesn’t terrify you, nothing will.

The Ultimate Entanglement

Over at Political Animal, in an explanation of his prediction that a Republican defeat in the upcoming election will not trigger a reconsideration of the rightward march of the party, Ed Kilgore makes an important and often overlooked point.

“In case folks haven’t noticed, the import of the advent of “constitutional conservatism” and its continued ascendency is that the Right and the GOP are in the process of chaining themselves to a permanentimmutable vision of governance that for many adherents is quite literally a divine gift to the Founders and the entire purpose of America. You don’t “rethink” this birthright, or debate it. And the usual search of political parties for “new ideas” is a bit irrelevant.”

This is a reference to a transfiguration that has been lost on most of us unreconstructed rationalists, but is evident to anyone who follows the fevered pronouncements of the Michelle Bachmann wing of the party, or the wildly ahistorical inventions of David Barton and his ilk.

We react with shock and bemusement when Republican members of Congress–including several members of the Science and Technology Committee–emphatically reject science, evolution, global warming and pretty much the entire intellectual structure of modern life, but we think of these as isolated instances. We don’t see those regressive opinions for what they are: part and parcel of a coherent, if frightening, worldview that has gradually become the worldview of the base of the Republican Party.

The “true believers” have always lurked on the fringes of the party, but gradually they have prevailed; they have entwined “biblical” Christianity and radically reactionary political positions in a new version of Constitutional Christianity. In this reading, the Constitution (as they read and interpret it) was a gift from God. it isn’t the product of a group of gifted men, a brilliant document that nevertheless requires inclusion of new populations and application to new realities; it is inspired by the God of fundamentalist Christianity, and must be approached with that understanding. Deviate from their literal beliefs–about the bible OR the Constitution–and it’s not a different point of view, it’s blasphemy.

The sane and moderate folks who used to make up the vast majority of the GOP have either left the party or failed to recognize how completely the crazies have assumed control. With the exception of a few people–David Frum, Bruce Bartlett and Norman Ornstein come to mind–they’ve kept quiet.

It has become a truism that demographics bode ill for the GOP’s future. It is increasingly, as many have noted, a party of old white men; furthermore, the party’s increasingly wild-eyed conspiracy theories and religious extremism are wearing very thin with the general public. Those trends bode well for Democrats, but not for the country, which needs two sane, responsible political parties.