BOOK REVIEW: "Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics"

(Alisa Harris, Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics, 2011, 230 pages.)

In the 2007 teen film Juno, the title character, after finding out she is pregnant, nonchalantly phones Planned Parenthood and announces, “Hi, I’m calling to procure a hasty abortion.” When she arrives for her appointment, she unexpectedly encounters Su-Chin, one of her classmates, protesting in front of the clinic: “All babies want to get borned! All babies want to get borned!” Her classmate is, in turn, surprised when Juno rushes past her after deciding to allow her child to be adopted. Su-Chin briefly interrupts her chant of ”All babies want to get borned” to shout, “God appreciates your miracle!”

In Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics, Alisa Harris describes participating in similar scenes of ernest, well-intentioned protests as part of being raised in an activist, right-wing Christian home. As Alisa grew older, however, the world began to seem more complicated. She started to meet people who defied her preconceived categories such as a young woman who was a “fiscal Republican, a social Democrat, a pro-lifer, who didn’t believe in banning abortion, and a Christian who didn’t think Jesus cared so much whether people were gay” (143).

She was also shocked, one day, to hear her own grandmother casually proclaim, “No one can take away a woman’s right to choose…. I’m glad I had an abortion” (164). Harris later learned that her mother, at age nineteen, had also had an abortion (165).

These encounters left Harris with an important dose of humility that is often lacking on the Christian Right (14). As the old joke goes, the Christian Right is neither “Christian” nor “Right.” This bumper sticker humor is not to say that the Christian Right is completely wrong. Rather, as Harris’ memoir testifies, life is more complicated than one, simplistic worldview can contain.

Early in the book Harris names that she remains grateful for the ways that her parents taught her to speak out against injustice. But now she sees injustice not only in matters of so-called discrimination against Christians or in matters of sexuality, but also in economic and environmental injustice, inhumane immigration policies, and chauvinistic warmongering (6).

Near the end of the book Harris writes a similarly moving reflection on the lessons she has learned from being “Raised Right”:

Looking back on the years that changed me from someone carrying a George W. Bush tote bag to someone protesting corporate greed, from someone who wept with joy at the national anthem to someone who could no longer sing it without a pang of loss — I’ve wondered what part of me remains. What did my parents teach me that I will pass on to my children? (217-218)

She answers her own question in a number of ways, but I will name the two that were most striking to me. Harris may now disagree in some fundamental ways with her parents’ religion and politics, but her parents importantly taught her not to be apathetic about the state of the world, but, instead, “To Care.” They also taught her, “To Love. Not just with words but with actions” (218). At the center of this memoir is the inner conflict and discernment around where to take action and — as with Su-Chin’s protesting of the abortion clinic in Juno – whether one’s actions are as loving and compassionate as you think or intend.

For those concerned about the teeming masses “taking action” and conflating church and state at Rick Perry’s “Prayer Rally” or for those concerned about the “true believers,” who seem to have drunk the Kool-Aid and flock to leaders like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, Alisa Harris’ new memoir may be of interest. Her life story is a testament that people can change, grow, and mature.

The Rev. Carl Gregg is the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. This book review is a part of the Roundtable at the Patheos Book Club. Visit the Book Club for more free resources related to Harris’ book.

About Carl Gregg
  • Tim Zebo

    Nice post – thanks! It would be even better if you explained in detail what you meant by, “This bumper sticker humor is not to say that the Christian Right is completely wrong.”

    Just as we want moderate and progressive Muslims to criticize their extremist Muslim cousins, I dream that someday “moderate and progressive” Christian religions will begin to publically protest against the suffering caused by their Christian Right cousins. For example, today:

    Millions of women suffer by being forced to have 10 or 12 children by being denied access to birth control by the Christian Right. (see youtube watch?v=LuntDNsQGcc )[sorry your spam detector prevents me from giving the full link]

    Millions of sick and disabled people suffer by the Christian Right’s blocking embryonic stem cell research that could cure them. (see youtube watch?v=IhzSrRR0QSU ; and watch?v=UgQgy0MVq9Q )

    Millions of men and women born gay or lesbian suffer by being demonized and denied equal rights by the Christian Right. (see youtube watch?v=FDNWPm7lc78 )

    It’s not enough that moderate and progressive Christian religions don’t do these things. Until they begin to publically criticize these practices, they too are part of the problem.

    Do you agree? If so, do you have any suggestions on how to get moderate and progressive Christian religions to publically criticize the Christian Right on these issues?

    • Carl Gregg

      Basically I meant that the Christian Right can sometimes be correct about, for example, the importance of retaining some rituals and traditions, as opposed to always looking to a new or different trend.

      As for moderate and progressive Christians criticizing the Christian Right, it’s happening all the time and has been happening. Some prominent examples off the top of my head: Sojourners (http://www.sojo.net/), The Christian Left (http://www.thechristianleft.org/), The Center for Progressive Christianity (http://www.tcpc.org/).

      Or you could look at the denominational statements and press releases from almost any of the moderate or progressive Christian organizations such as the Statements from the Alliance of Baptists (http://www.allianceofbaptists.org/learn/about/statements).

  • Tim Zebo

    Thanks. I checked every link. Sojourners only enables a search of their magazine archive. A search on “birth control” revealed no statements critical of (e.g.), the Pope’s pronouncements that condoms spread HIV in Africa.

    The alliance of baptists do have searching enabled, but I was unable to find any statements critical of (e.g.), the Pope’s position on birth control. The alliance does have a statement on same-sex marriage (from the 2004 election cycle): “As Christians and as Baptists, we particularly lament the denigration of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers in this debate by those who claim to speak for God.” With all due respect, since they name no names and just “feel sad” about this, I’d hardly say it’s calling other religions to task.

    The other sites don’t have a search field, and browsing their site did not reveal any relevant position statements. That said, I know from that Bishop Spong wrote, “At the end of a long essay on the environment, he said, “The failure of any Christian body to endorse birth control must be viewed today as an act of immorality.” (from 1991! see: http://www.nytimes.com/1991/06/10/nyregion/episcopal-catholic-feud-in-newark-round-2.html ).

    Bottom Line
    My point is that for the most part moderate and progressive religions either make no public comments critical of their right wing colleagues, or if they do it’s in very wimpy language (and that’s more than lamentable:-). Maybe this is a cause that’s still looking for a champion?

  • Carl Gregg

    Perhaps former New York Times columnist Chris Hedges is the champion you are looking for: “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (http://amzn.to/qQA8Zp). He’s also got a degree from Harvard Div.

  • Tim Zebo

    Looks like a good read – thanks!

  • Tim Zebo

    I’d add, besides individuals like Chris Hedges, I’m still puzzled about why the moderate & progressive religions don’t make criticism of the Christian Right one of their causes?

  • Carl Gregg

    Speaking only for myself, I could spend all my energy criticizing those with whom I disagree, all the while they would, for the most part in my experience, turn a deaf ear. Instead, I — and I’ve heard other progressive Christians say the same — would rather focus on what we should do: social justice, etc. The challenge isn’t just deconstructing the right, but constructing a positive, inspirational alternative position.

  • Tim Zebo

    If you’re saying that criticism is necessary but not sufficient, of course I agree. But to say that we shouldn’t criticize because they won’t listen seems like a cop out. In the meantime, here’s some good news…give power to the people and they’ll use it to ignore the dogma and improve their lives on their own (imagine how grateful they’d be to hear progressive religions support what they already know), see: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/09/girl-power/gorney-text


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