Guest Post: Daily News Reveals Continuing Christian Corruption of U.S. Views on Sexuality

This guest post was written by Rick Snedeker. Snedeker is a retired newspaper and magazine editor in South Dakota. He writes at the Apostate Apostle blog.

You need only track the daily news to see the continuing damaging effects of Christian dogma and tradition on how Americans view gender and sexuality.

Indeed, the latest scandal to rock the chaotic Trump administration—the hasty exit Feb. 8 of one of the president’s top aides, White House staff secretary Rob Porter—had Christian misogyny written all over it. He was sent packing Wednesday after newspaper accounts were published corroborating accusations by his two ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, of Porter’s years of physical and psychological abuse of them. A former girlfriend then publicly acknowledged similar treatment.

Still, days later, the president was praising Porter and repeatedly stressing that he had “strongly denied” all accusations, a dubious tactic that also coincidentally assumed the victims were probably liars. The president also pointedly implied how damaging the allegations could be to Porter’s career, a bias repeated to the victims when they had reached out to clergy for advice about their troubled, abuse-hammered marriages.

Mormon sexism embedded in doctrine

Of spiritual note here, Porter is Mormon, as are his two accusing exes (whose allegations he still rejects, despite police evidence). Mormonism, a Christian sect founded in the 1820s in America, has very conservative gender notions. They’re similar to the evident sexism in mainstream fundamental Christianity, but often more so, Mormon doctrine holds that women are innately secondary in importance to men, should be controlled by them and are designed by providence only to assist men as helpmates, especially their spouses. Church doctrine also embraces the idea that spirits as well as bodies have male or female genders bestowed by the heavenly father and mother. Thus, the purportedly divinely assigned role of women is sharply limited in the Mormon Church (aka Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, or LDS), and female assertiveness is viewed with alarm.

Case in point: In June 2014, the LDS Church excommunicated—banished—church member Kate Kelly for launching a movement to allow female Mormon clergy. Ryab Cragun, a University of Tampa (Florida) religion sociologist who has conducted a study of Mormon gender mores, said this response by the church hierarchy was inevitable.

Gender is such an essential part of the religion that, when a woman in this particular case says, “Hey, we should actually change this and make it more egalitarian,” the leadership of the religion takes that so seriously that they kick her out of the religion.

Church leaders told abused women to protect abusers’ careers

The Friendly Atheist blog reported Feb. 8 that when Porter’s ex-wives reached out to Mormon faith leaders they were counseled that divorce was not an option (although both women eventually did divorce Porter) and that their primary concern should be how sundering the marital bond might harm their husband’s career. Blog author Hemant Mehta said he reached out to the press office at Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City but received no reply. Ultimately, Holderness went to a secular counselor, who told her that Porter’s abuse was a crime.

Porter’s second wife, Jennie Willoughby, in an op-ed last weekend for Time magazine’s online e-zine, pointed to religious tradition as seminal to the abuse she and Holderness endured.

“The tendency to avoid, deny, or cover up abuse is never really about power, or money, or an old boys’ club. It is deeper than that. Rather than embarrass an abuser, society is subconsciously trained to question a victim of abuse,” Willoughby wrote. “I would call it an ignorant denial based on the residual, puritan, collective agreement that abuse is uncomfortable to talk about.” (italics mine)

Male chauvinism viewed as divinely endowed

Christian men enculturated to buy into doctrines about the subservient role of women will instinctively reject female assertiveness and—far too often in American (mostly Christian) society—try to physically and mentally force or confuse their female partners to comply with their demands. Of course, not only Christian men can be aggressive and demeaning toward women, but committed Christian men can and often do view their behavior as having divine assent.

According to news accounts, Porter blackened first wife Holderness’ eye with a punch (a photo of which went viral on cable-TV news shows and the internet), and also choked her, and he later punched out a glass window in his second wife’s locked house, after which she obtained a protection order against him.

Lawmakers mull banning gender-identity education

And speaking of heterosexual male supremacy, U.S. News & World Report reported Feb. 9 that the South Dakota Legislature is considering banning teaching of any gender identity concepts in the state’s elementary and middle schools. Opponents of this initiative say it targets transgender students the same way seven other states now restrict classroom portrayals of homosexuality in a positive light. The anti-gay statutes are sometimes quaintly called “no promo homo” laws. One root of these bigotries is undeniably Christian scripture, especially the Old Testament, where same-sex couplings are portrayed as mortally anathema to God. Such biases are part of America’s inheritance from the first chaste and stiff-necked Puritans (the same group invoked in Willoughby’s op-ed), herding compliant women when they began colonizing the New World in the 1620s.

Why South Dakota lawmakers are mulling this odd initiative is an open question. Indeed, Education Department spokeswoman Mary Stadick told The Associated Press she was unaware gender identity was currently being taught anywhere in the state at present. Nonetheless, Republican state Sen. Phil Jensen, the proposed anti-LGBTQ bill sponsor, told AP that some of his constituents feared alternative gender ideas might be taught in schools. Heaven forbid.

Anti-gay judge censured by colleagues for discrimination

However, there is some encouraging news on the intolerance front. The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission last December unanimously (5-0) found family court Judge W. Mitchell Nance guilty of judicial misconduct for refusing to hear same-sex adoption cases because of religious objections. The case became something of a cause célèbre among conservative evangelicals last year, when it became known that Nance told attorneys to notify him of any pending same-sex adoption cases so he could recuse himself and assign the cases to other judges. Recusal had the ostensible appearance of probity, but also disingenuously allowed Nance to discriminate under a dubious cover of fairness. Judge Nance retired soon after the commission censure.

But meanwhile, in the Rob Porter debacle, Male Chauvinist in Chief Donald Trump continues to publicly stand by his disgraced man (and belittle his accusers’ credible claims), demonstrating that traditional conservative male views on women are robustly perpetuating.

The effects of such chauvinism can be lethal as well as socially unjust. Underscoring this point, three transgender Americans have been murdered thus far in 2018, the last on Feb. 6, in what authorities have termed “hate crimes.” Twenty-eight “trans” were killed last year.

The point here is that ancient Christian scripture, as reflected in American gender and sexuality stereotypes today, still remains very much alive. As American novelist William Faulkner once presciently warned, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Rick Snedeker is a retired newspaper and magazine editor in South Dakota who writes for his own Apostate Apostle blog and guest-posts on Patheos Nonreligious Channel’s Secular Spectrum and Friendly Atheist blogs, plus writes for various print and online newspapers and magazines. He is seeking a publisher for two manuscripts, one entitled Holy Smoke: How Jesus Conquered America. How It Might Be Liberated, and the other a memoir of growing up in Saudi Arabia in the 1950s, 3,001 Arabian Days.

 

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  • Ficino

    As I clicked on Cross Examined to read this article, at the top of the screen was an ad for travel to Israel. It features a young woman wearing a REALLY low-cut top exposing a lot of cleavage. I gather the ad is supposed to appeal to American Christians who want to travel to Israel.

    ETA: and on another Patheos blog, an ad for the same thing with a different photo, this one of a young woman in a bikini, the top of which conceals almost nothing but her nipples.

    I celebrate the human body. There seems to be something weird, though, about these photos for that destination in an ad directed at many religious people.

    • Kevin K

      Gee, I guess I’m going to have to disable Ad Block. (Actually, no.)

      • Richard Snedeker

        Hey, Kevin, I keep seeing your comments all over the place. Busy guy!

        • Kevin K

          Waiting for clients to get back to me with the one thing I need to finish the project but am otherwise unoccupied but keep regular business hours Godot.

        • Richard Snedeker

          Ha.

      • Cozmo the Magician

        This crazy atheist went to church and what happened next will amaze you The internet is going crazy over these baby BBQ recipesCan Satanism save your marriage?…. I think I’m getting the hang of this.. maybe a little more practice and I can get a cool job O_o

    • Richard Snedeker

      Sorry, Ficino, I have nothing to do with ads. I’m just a lowly guest blogger. The top ad showing for me promotes the government HARP home-mortgage program. Not nearly as titillating as what you’re seeing. 😉 However, if you were able to look askance at all that, I hope you enjoyed my post or at least weren’t weirded out by it. Thanks a lot for visiting Cross Examined blog.

      • Ficino

        Good post, though much of it is discouraging. We’re now hearing how Mitt Romney is going to run for Senate in order to bring “Utah values” to Washington. I.e. so that government will become even more Mormonized?

        • eric

          AFAIK, most website ads have little or nothing to do with the page’s content. They may, however, have something to do with the reader’s past browsing history, which may correlate to the content in some really weird way. So you may be seeing an ad for holy land travel not because Mr. Snedeker wrote about Christian morals, but because you visit pages related to theism, Christianity, atheism, and so on.

        • Greg G.
        • Richard Snedeker

          Hilarious, Greg! Thanks for the laugh.

        • Richard Snedeker

          That sounds right to me. Thanks for the explanation. I know that social media wizards can now track us terrifyingly well.

        • I remember a story about some Christian troll who stumbles onto an atheist site and says, “So I just thought I’d drop by to see what kind of nonsense the atheists are up to these days, and I notice that the banner ad was about all sorts of gay stuff. Ha ha–I shoulda known cuz all atheists are fags…” and so on.

          One of the other commenters had to break it to him that ads appear in your browser based on your own browsing history.

          I suspect they didn’t see much of him anymore.

        • Michael Neville

          So that’s why I keep getting ads for the Mormons and Biblical study seminars.

        • Richard Snedeker

          Tee hee.

        • Ficino

          So this is why I get all these banner ads for the Unmoved Mover in a bikini?

    • Otto

      I have heard Israel openly tries to get young men to go there because there aren’t enough men for the women, especially Jewish men. I heard this on a satellite radio show based in New York. That might have something to do with it maybe.

      • Richard Snedeker

        It used to be like that in Montana and Alaska.

        • Otto

          The person describing this said it was advertised like spring break for Jewish men.

    • Anat

      There are plenty of bikini-wearers on Israel’s beaches. However, women who want to sunbathe in the nude sometimes go to the beach that is reserved for the religious community because that beach is gender-segregated.

    • Jim Jones

      I don’t get those. What sites have you been browsing? ;P

  • Otto

    Why South Dakota lawmakers are mulling this odd initiative is an open question.

    As a South Dakotan I cringe every time the legislature opens, stupid bills seem to be the norm…ugh.

    I will check out your blog Richard, I just recently noticed some of your guest posts around Patheos.

    • Richard Snedeker

      Thanks for checking out my stuff, Otto. We (somewhat) rational South Dakotans need to stick together. I’ve written several SD-related pieces on Patheos’ Secular Spectrum group blog, if you interested. Here’s some links: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularspectrum/2018/02/3747/
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularspectrum/2018/01/christians-muslims-war3636/

      • Otto

        Yep, I saw some of those. I figured you must have some connection to SD.

        And yes we do, there are not many of us, though I think there are more than we realize.

        • Richard Snedeker

          I think you’re right. I know some pretty darn reasonable farmers. Unfortunately, it’s still not cool to be a skeptic, so people largely keep their spiritual opinions to themselves (while continuing to go to church).

      • RichardSRussell

        Isn’t South Dakota the only state in the nation with a state-operated bank that doesn’t have to turn a profit and lends almost exclusively to state residents? Man, what a great idea THAT was!

        • TheNuszAbides

          North.

  • eric

    While I’m willing to accept that Porter’s religious beliefs influenced his attitude towards women, I’m not sure that’s the most damaging part of the Porter story. The fact that someone who failed his security clearance check was knowingly given access to nationally important secrets seems to have been lost in the shuffle. I’m of the opinion that Kelly should be fired. Not for being lenient on an accused wife-beater, but for trusting someone with state secrets that the government had determined was not trustworthy. This should not even be a close call: unless you’re an elected official, or there’s some national emergency going on, nobody gets to see this material unless they can first pass the requisite background checks. “Kelly likes you” is not a security clearance.

    • Richard Snedeker

      I totally agree. Porter’s brutality toward women is a symptom of Christian influence on American social mores but is not an immediate threat to the nation as a whole. However, the security-clearance imbroglio IS an existential threat.

      • Jim Jones

        > Porter’s brutality toward women is a symptom of Christian influence on American social mores

        I see him as a pathetic weakling. That is a threat to his employer anywhere.

    • Michael Neville

      I’d missed the part where Porter failed his security background check and Kelly let him slide with an interim clearance. It’s been over 25 years since I dealt with security matters but I seem to remember that an interim clearance is good only for 90 days and cannot be renewed, at least in the DOD. The White House may have different rules.

      • Richard Snedeker

        Yeah, these guys are ethical thugs.

      • eric

        He didn’t slide with an interim. Being told stuff while you have an interim and the investigation is ongoing would have been fine. Porter failed. Was deemed unsuitable. Investigation over, final determination delivered to his boss. And Kelly kept him on after that, and gave him access to President-level documents and briefings.

        Kushner is currently in the position of ‘sliding with an interim.” But they carved out an amazing exception even to get him that. Basically, he lied or omitted lots of foreign contacts on his SF-86. Instead of just failing him, knowing his political connection, investigators gave it back to him and asked him to redo it, adding in the things they found. This cycle has happened several times, with investigators always finding more than what Kushner admitted to. You or I would have been out on our ass with no ‘do-overs’ allowed. But son-in-law of the President, so he gets do-overs every time he fails.

        That should scare you frankly even more than Porter’s case.

        • Michael Neville

          I was involved in a Code Word project requiring an SBI (Special Background Investigation). The assistant project manager, a Lieutenant, failed his SBI. As soon as we got word of that, three of us, including the project manager, escorted him out of the project offices to another office where he was debriefed, i.e. threatened with years of substandard housing if he even thought about the project. It was also recommended to him that when his six years of obligated service were up that he resign his commission. I think his next duty assignment involved the coastal defense of Wyoming.

        • Otto

          I know you can’t say what came up in that guy’s background check that led to his dismissal, but can you give an example or two of something that could be found that would lead to that? How ‘minor’ of an offense could someone have, etc.?

        • Maybe a sudden interest in studying Russian or in the Karl Marx Meetup?

        • eric

          Fun aside: one question they used to ask was “is the person under investigation part of any group that seeks to overthrow the rightful US government?” But most interviewees would snarkily answer “yes, he’s a Republican” or “yes, he’s a Democrat.” So they had to change the question to be more specific. 🙂

        • In the beginning of my last semester in college, I applied to the NSA. To work at the NSA, you need a security clearance, so I got the whole polygraph thing. One creepy aspect was that the candidate is facing one-way glass with who-knows-what on the other side.

          I wonder if polygraphs are so out of favor that they don’t do that anymore.

        • Michael Neville

          I never had a polygraph, even though I had clearances more restrictive than Top Secret.

          At one time in the Navy I worked for a Chief Warrant Officer named Brown. He was conservative, I was liberal and we had discussions about certain political ideas and events. Once we talked about capital punishment, which I argued against because of all of the DNA findings coming out then which showed convicts to be innocent. Later when I had my SBI done I had to be interviewed by the command security manager, CWO Brown. We discussed various security topics and then he asked, “What do you think of John Walker [LINK]?” (Walker had just been convicted.)

          I replied, “As you know, I have my doubts about the death penalty, but in Walker’s case I think they should bring back public hanging.”

          Brown smiled at me and signed off on the interview.

        • I was recently reading about the Cambridge Five (Kim Philby et al), the elite English men who spied for the Soviets. To escape punishment, many or all fled to Russia, where I understand life in the socialist utopia wasn’t quite as perfect as they’d hoped.

        • eric

          They’re still used, but not for your normal types of clearance.

          And the creepiness is intentional. AIUI, being somewhat uncomfortable or upset helps the investigator. Not sure why. Could be they want to knock deceivers ‘out of their zone’ so to speak, or it could be that provoking people creates a larger dynamic range in their physiological responses. Or maybe polygraph investigation jobs just attract authoritarian jerks. 🙂

        • Jim Jones

          > AIUI, being somewhat uncomfortable or upset helps the investigator.

          Look at the rooms cops use to question people. Reid Technique.

        • Michael Neville

          The background check involves filling out a long questionnaire about one’s past life. If the investigation turns up something derogatory, like an arrest, drug use, or involvement in a long list of organizations (including such groups as the KKK, Christian Identity and Aryan Nations as well as radical left wing organizations), which aren’t mentioned in the questionnaire, then one can fail the investigation. Essentially lying about one’s past life is more disqualifying than admitting to having a girlfriend who belonged to the Revolutionary People’s Front.

        • eric

          Some ‘red lines’ are hard drug use, being employed/supporting foreign governments that are acting against the US, and many types of felony convictions.

          Everything else is, AFAIK, a judgement call. Straws that, depending on how many you have, might or might not break the camel’s back. However, lying about what you’ve done in the past on your form is also usually enough to get you booted. So let’s say you’re in AA and have had a DUI conviction in your past. Telling them that probably wouldn’t cause you to fail…but not telling them that, and then having them find out about it, might.

          I have no specific information about Porter’s case, but if I had to guess, I’d bet that he got rejected because he didn’t tell investigators that he was the subject of restraining orders by one or more ex-wives. Again, telling them would not necessarily have meant a fail, but not telling them probably would have.

          Security clearance investigators aren’t there to make moral judgements about your lifestyle. They’re worried about potential blackmail or compromised judgement. Lying about your past bad behavior leaves you open to blackmail by a foreign government. Because now that foreign government can threaten to reveal something you clearly want to keep secret…and what’s more, they can threaten you with loss of clearance and job, by revealing to your employer that you lied on your security form.

        • Richard Snedeker

          If only that integrity was in place in the Trump administration. Thanks for this background.

    • Jim Jones

      Kelly is also racist like Trump.

  • There are, unfortunately, many Christian sects that indoctrinate their youth into “biblically-based” gender stereotypes. When I was a teenager in the 1980s in a Southern Baptist Church, the church was holding classes for its members so that we could all be taught the “proper” way that men and women are supposed to live in the bonds of heterosexual marriage. The course I took was called “Challenge of Christian Womanhood” and it taught us all aspects that women are “created by god” to be emotions-instinct driven, required to submit to their fathers and then to their husbands, that they were to look to their husbands for leadership in all things, and that they were to feed their husbands’ egos. We women were taught that if we had doubts about this or rebelled about it, then it was due to our sinful nature or temptation by Satan, and that the only way to be truly happy in a marriage was to be an obedient, submissive wife. (I felt sick to my stomach throughout this whole course of study). Men were “created by god” to be leaders, to be logic-based thinkers, and their only requirement was to submit to god and the church. They were “encouraged” to love their wives but it wasn’t a requirement. They were encouraged to ask their wife’s opinion now and then, but again, not a requirement as the husband was responsible for all final decisions in the home. Children were submissive to EVERYONE and had virtually no rights. I was 18 years old when taught this – and it was at this point that I knew I had to get out of evangelical Christianity.

    So yes, Rick, this type of thinking is deeply ingrained in some religious people. Men and women are both taught that they must accept this type of thinking. Women are taught to think that if their husbands abuse them or mistreat them it’s because the wife isn’t being submissive enough. It’s her fault, and she should pray to god to ask how she can be a better wife. So is it any wonder when so many women are abused and the religion does nothing to protect them? It’s their fault for not being obedient enough, for provoking their husbands to have to punish them. Sick sick sick.

    • Richard Snedeker

      OMG, OC, what a nightmare! I’m totally glad I wasn’t raised as a Southern Baptist girl. Yikes. I keep hearing these stories and can’t believe them every time. Why do people believe nonsense millennia old and then inflict their kids with it? Oughta be a crime. But I’m really glad you found your way free, and hope it didn’t alienate you from friends or family. Thanks for sharing. With your permission, I’d like to use your thoughts in a post on my blog, “Apostate Apostle” (this one here was a guest post on “Cross Examined”). FYI, my email is snedbedu@gmail.com. Thanks for reading my stuff. And sharing your own. Cheers.

      • Please feel free to post my thoughts. I will contact you tomorrow as well. Lots to share.

        • Richard Snedeker

          Great, OC. Look forward to it.

      • Chuck Johnson

        “Why do people believe nonsense millennia old and then inflict their kids with it?”

        It’s a part of traditional social order which is thousands of years old.
        People are afraid what might happen if we ignore the old teachings.

        • Richard Snedeker

          I hate that. Causes a lot of pointless misery I’m the world.

      • Jim Jones

        Religion offers social inclusion – like a gang.

        It offers the opportunity to bully others – like a gang.

        It offers a veneer of superiority to others – like a gang.

        • Richard Snedeker

          But it’s a gang that views its bullying as godly.

        • Michael Neville

          And it’s a gang that whines when people, such as judges, tell them to stop bullying.

    • I think about stories like this when Christians shake their head in wonder at how dismal the atheist story is (as if the pleasantness of a worldview is a factor in its accuracy). Y’know–when you die, you just die; there’s no big brother looking after you from heaven; and so on. But then you have stories like this, where the one life we can all agree that we have is screwed up by Puritanical nonsense.

      • My life as an atheist is joyful and free. I know this is my life – instead of waiting for reward in heaven, I seize the moment now even if it scares me. And it’s beautiful. I fail sometimes, but other times I soar. And I live life not as a born sinner but as someone who wishes to do no harm.

        • Richard Snedeker

          The concept of sin itself is an invention.

        • Michael Neville

          I like the Esmeralda Weatherwax definition of sin:

          And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. –Terry Pratchett Carpe Jugulum

        • Indeed. When you consider human history, evolution (gasp), survival…..fitting into the human tribe generally includes the concept of doing no harm to others

        • Chuck Johnson

          The concepts of good behavior and bad behavior have always been around.
          Leave it to the Catholic church to repackage those concepts as “sin” to turn them into a cash cow.

        • Richard Snedeker

          Yeah, Chuck, nobody does sin like the Catholics. I STILL keep any dirty thoughts under 40 seconds so they don’t go mortal. 😉

        • The Christian story is pretty weak by comparison.

      • Richard Snedeker

        Here here, Bob.

      • Otto

        I remember in 6th grade in Catholic school I had wished I hadn’t been born rather than even having a chance at the hell I was being taught. Oh but nihilism!!! Oh noes!

        • Chuck Johnson

          They didn’t really care whether you felt good or bad about the heaven and hell stories.
          They just required that you listen and obey.
          The Catholic Church has for a long time worked to create armies of robots.

      • Jim Jones

        > Christians shake their head in wonder at how dismal the atheist story is

        Atheists look at the universe via the Hubble Space Telescope. Those views are so opposite to dismal that they are two infinities apart.

        • And Christians look at Hubble images and say, “Isn’t God marvelous?” instead of “What a hostile wasteland the universe is for life! So much for the ‘the universe was created for God’s favorite creation–Man.’ “

    • Glad2BGodless

      I was raised Southern Baptist as well. I knew it was messed up, but I was way into adulthood before I realized exactly how messed up. It’s hard for a fish to see the water it swims in.

      • It’s difficult to stray from teachings imparted from trusted adults. I had a very difficult time. It was hard to separate “something is wrong with me” from “something is wrong with this teaching “

  • RichardSRussell

    Rick, you might consider self-publishing your manuscripts. My friend Jim Cox, editor emeritus of the Midwest Book Review, has posted a lengthy set of tips on how to go about it.

    • Richard Snedeker

      Appreciated, Richard. I’ll check it out

  • Chuck Johnson

    “The president also pointedly implied how
    damaging the allegations could be to Porter’s career, . . . ”

    Which career, the career in politics, or the career as a psychological and physical abuser of women ?

  • Chuck Johnson

    The Mormon church doctrine previously included bigotry against black people until God told them to give up that idea.