LEAPFROG and The Immoral Majority

Two books I read in March worked hand-in-hand. I hadn’t anticipated that, so it was a pleasant surprise. I mentioned them in passing in last week’s blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/04/06/eight-books-i-read-in-march-2020/.

The two books are The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe and LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

I read Ben Howe’s book first. It addressed something that has dumbfounded me:  How can Christians come down on opposite ends of the spectrum about Donald Trump? How do many evangelicals continue to support him when his speech, Tweets, and actions are in total contrast to the teachings of Jesus Christ?

I took copious notes while reading The Immoral Majority and thought I’d write a blog post about it. Then, I read LEAPFROG, by Janet Givens. I was immediately struck by how the two books could work together. This is probably the longest blog post I’ve written. If the topic interests you, I hope you’ll have time to read it.


The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe

How can Christians see Donald Trump so differently?
The Immoral Moral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe

In the introduction to this nonfiction book author Ben Howe relates a story from 2012 when the Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain came under attack for its charitable foundation’s support of several organizations the Huffington Post labeled as anti-gay. Mr. Howe and a gay friend set out to make a video to show that Chick-Fil-A was a good company that did not discriminate against anyone due to their sexual orientation.

About the same time, a man in another state went to a Chick-Fil-A restaurant with video camera in hand to prove that Chick-Fil-A was a horrible company. A video he made of an exchange with the employee at the drive-through window went viral. Ben Howe more or less led a campaign to give that man “what he deserved.” The result of the campaign resulted in the man losing his job and having trouble finding employment for years to come.

In telling that story, Mr. Howe concludes: “It’s not really whether the punishment fits the crime; it’s more about the decisions of those who react to the crime and whether they are carrying out justice or simply joining the wrongdoer in being wrong.”

He asks the reader to imagine what happens when you put millions of self-righteous people together. An echo chamber develops.

“This is a book about what happens when the people who believe they have the moral high ground find themselves on the low road.” ~ Ben Howe

Feeling under attack, evangelical Christians in the United States had to decide whether to cling unflinchingly to Biblical principles or to act “according to Christ’s example.” As a group, they clung to principles and turned their backs on Christ’s example. The result was the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

Mr. Howe theorizes that the shift started with Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s January 2016 endorsement of Trump for US president. Although a few evangelical leaders spoke out against Trump, Falwell held sway over the majority. Just as Jerry Falwell, Sr. had helped launch the “Moral Majority” movement in 1980, his son was instrumental in urging evangelical Christians to support Trump in 2016.

The difference was, in 1980 Christians were encouraged to influence politics, but in 2016 Christians were, in Mr. Howe’s words, “being forcefully changed by politics.” In his campaign, Trump played on people’s fears. He told Christians they were being persecuted by the government and the Internal Revenue Service, and he promised to put an end to it.

People like Dr. Ben Carson maintained that Trump was a chess pawn in God’s hands and we needed faith that God knew what He was doing. Franklin Graham also took the pragmatic approach, saying God had always used imperfect people to work out His plans.

Trump campaigned as the one and only person who could save America. He mocked (and continues to mock) people who follow Christ’s admonition that we should pray for our enemies. By offering such counter-Christian ideas, Trump was able to win the U.S. presidency via the Electoral College, even though he did not win the popular vote.

In his book, Mr. Howe presents a chronology of how the old “Moral Majority” lost their way and set their sights on the political power Trump promised them instead of the power, grace, and eternal life Jesus Christ promised them. They somehow – which still puzzles me – fell for Trump’s showmanship and voted for him by the millions. He was that new shiny object that sounded so appealing to so many.

Mr. Howe says the real shift happened on June 20, 2016 when Trump “held a meeting with a thousand value-centric conservative leaders.” Endorsed at the meeting by such respected Christian leaders as Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, and Dr. James Dobson, Trump was able to silence his evangelical naysayers and capture the hearts and minds of enough Christians to put himself in the White House.

The irony is that Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential race, was and is a practicing Methodist. Trump supporters somehow believed that Trump was elected because God is in power; however, the same people believed the world would end if Clinton were elected. I can’t get my head around their belief that the all-powerful God would delight in Trump’s election but that same God would be held powerless if Hillary Clinton were elected.

All this and I’ve only touched on the introduction and first chapter of Mr. Howe’s book. I admit that I just skimmed through the rest of the book.

In subsequent chapters Mr. Howe writes about such topics as how Trump has been compared to King Cyrus of Persia in the 6th century B.C; people who criticized President Trump’s character; the influence of social media in the vitriol in today’s politics; the belief of many Trump supporters that you’re either pro-choice or you’re pro-Trump – there’s no middle ground; political correctness; desire for revenge; racism and the perception of racism; us against them; abortion; gun policy; defense of the indefensible; excusing the inexcusable; separation of church and state; and choosing between immoralities/the lesser of two evils.

On page 161, Mr. Howe states:  “By directly defying their stated desire, ignoring the character of Donald Trump, and creating a ‘Christian’ culture that has become divisively self-interested and bitterly self-righteous, these leaders have taught their flocks to value the things of the world, rather than the things of Christ.”

And on page 205:  “There simply is no pulling of a lever in a voting booth that will deny God His purpose when He pursues it, nor is there any pulling of the lever that will earn His allegiance to your ‘side.’”

Mr. Howe concludes that God will accomplish His plan regardless of who the U.S. president is. I agree.

“If you wish to be all that Donald Trump and his ilk are not, then the greatest service you could do for the world is to love them despite themselves. Love doesn’t require agreement. It doesn’t require compromise. It doesn’t require surrender or shedding of values. It only and ever required the simple truth that we are stuck together. And if things are going to get better, you cannot wait for others to do it first.” ~ Ben Howe

In the current political climate in the United States, the loudest voices to the “far right” seem to think, “If you don’t agree with me politically, you have no right to live.” This must stop!


LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

How we can learn to agreeably disagree.
LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

 “If it is our desire to live in a civil society, we must be willing to engage in a dialogue with those with whom we disagree.” ~ Janet Givens, M.A.

Ms. Givens titled her book LEAPFROG — an acronym of four verbs, Listen, Empathize, Assess, and Paraphrase that help us listen, while the nouns Facts, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude “guide us as we present our ideas in a way that will increase the likelihood that we will also be heard.”

Ms. Givens dedicated a chapter to each of the four verbs and four nouns. In a nutshell, here are snippets from the chapters about Assess, Facts, and Respect:

Assess – Ms. Given wrote, “Assess, as I’m using it here, simply means ‘pause and think’ while you ask yourself, “Is this a conversation I am able to have at this time?’ This is more important than you realize.” Are you and the other party coming to the conversation with curiosity and compassion?

Facts – Ms. Givens wrote, “… since understanding is our goal, we must ignore facts. For now. They have their place in any conversation, of course, but first, receptivity, a willingness to hear them, must exist. On both sides.” She gives “a question to ponder before moving on” at the end of each chapter. At the end of the chapter about facts she wrote: “Think back to your last political conversation. Or, your last Town Hall meeting. Or, your last family feast that ended badly. What went wrong?”

Respect – I love Ms. Givens’ chapter about respect. She wrote, “When we forget our common humanity, we create a chasm between us that is hard to bridge. Respect serves as a bridge to cross that chasm,” while “blame lets us abdicate responsibility for our discomfort by putting it on the other.” We’re all biased, whether we realize it or not.

In conclusion, Ms. Givens wrote about human beings’ need for social interaction. She calls difference “the source of all creativity. Indeed, think of difference as the beginning of all learning, Then, consider a disagreement as a difference of opinion that creates an enlightening and stimulating mystery, one which can be solved, together.”

She then lists her concerns about where our society is heading if we continue to be at such odds politically like we have not been since the American Civil War.

Ms. Givens asks many questions for our consideration throughout the book and at the end of her book. I think most people would benefit from reading LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era. I’ve just hit a few high points in my blog post. For more information about Ms. Givens’ work or to contact her, go to https://janetgivens.com/.


How the two books helped me

I approached The Immoral Moral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe with the following mindset: I’m a Christian, a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and I have been guilty of being critical of Christians who continue to support Donald Trump. I wanted the book to explain their rationale to me. I’m still trying to understand it.

While I was still contemplating the theories, Mr. Howe gave in his book, I read LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A., and it really opened my eyes and made me evaluate my opinions.

It helped me see that I tend to listen to the cable news channels I agree with. When I read or listen to “the other side” I approach them with a biased ear and eye. Ms. Givens’ book helped me acknowledge my biases. Overcoming those biases is a work in progress.

If you disagree with my politics, that is your right. I respect your right to disagree; I just don’t understand it. As an American and a Presbyterian I will defend your right to believe what you believe and vote as you feel led to vote. That doesn’t mean I understand how you got there. When the Trump presidency is over, I hope we, as Americans, will once again be able to agreeably disagree.

In the current political climate in the United States, the loudest voices to the “far right” seem to think, “If you don’t agree with me politically, you have no right to live.” This must stop!

I still haven’t had that difficult conversation with anyone whose political views are far from mine, but I will read and re-read Ms. Givens’ book so I’ll be better-equipped to Listen, Empathize, Assess, and Paraphrase when that opportunity presents itself. I’ll have that conversation someday, when the other person and I are ready to approach it with Facts, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude.


Since my last blog post

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my next appointment with my orthopedic doctor has been rescheduled for a week later, which means I’ll have 13 weeks without putting any weight on my right leg instead of 12. I’m disappointed but that’s a small price for me to pay.

Until my next blog post

Please rest your eyes. If you read this lengthy blog post of mine today, you need to rest your eyes.

I hope you have a good book to read.

I hope you have some creative time.

I hope you stay safe and well. It has been a year like most of us have never seen before and it will, no doubt, continue to be so. I hope you will find something positive to do as we all journey through this pandemic.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read either of these two books? How did they affect you? Have you acknowledged your biases? Have you had that difficult conversation with someone? How did it go? Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your thinking about politics and your fellow citizens whose views are very different from yours?

Janet

Words We Carry and White Privilege

I happened upon a book of essays by D.G. Kaye. I wasn’t familiar with her body of work, but I found her honesty and writing style to be appealing.

Words We Carry
Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem, by D.G. Kaye

The full title of the book is Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem. The subtitle alone wouldn’t have prompted me to give the book a chance, but the main title intrigued me.

I was reminded of the Tim O’Brien book, The Things They Carried about the things the US soldiers carried with them in the Vietnam War. Although vastly different in setting, Mr. O’Brien’s collection of short stories and Ms. Kaye’s collection of essays lead you into an examination of the experiences you carry throughout your life.

Reading this book triggered some long-buried memories and brought me to some unexpected realizations.

In the “Vanity:  Where Does it Begin?” section of Words We Carry, Ms. Kaye’s following words resonated with me and made me stop and contemplate how some events and physical conditions in my formative years affected my very personality.

“Name calling, teasing, feelings of inadequacy compared to others, or growing up in an environment filled with discord can all mark the beginnings of our insecurities. Whatever our reasons, they tend to follow us through life, sometimes unknowingly, and these feelings grow into negative character traits.” ~ D.G. Kaye in Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem

Let that sink in for a minute.

I did not grow up in “an environment of discord,” and for that I am grateful. I grew up in a happy, loving home. I was completely secure within my family.

Another quote

“Our minds are delicate gateways to our egos. Just as a certain song or a waft of a familiar scent may trigger a happy memory, our minds also retain painful memories of ridicule or embarrassment. Those unhappy remembered memories are sometimes difficult to let go.” ~ D.G. Kaye in Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem

A speech impediment & crooked teeth

When I was a toddler, my temporary teeth emerged in all the wrong places in my mouth. Hence, I could not speak to be understood by anyone other than my parents and siblings.

I recall the frustration of not being understood. I knew what I was saying and to my ears my pronunciation and enunciation sounded perfect. Being asked to repeat myself over and over again was confusing and maddening when I was too young to know that I had a speech impediment, and it was embarrassing after I started to school and came to know that I was different from the other children.

I was rescued, though, by two advantages that the time, place, social class, loving parents, and white privilege afforded me.

Something that surprises me now is that even in 1959 the local school system employed a speech therapist. Mrs. Mitchell was wonderful! She visited the various schools in the system on what I suppose was a weekly basis.

There were several of us who were allowed to leave our regular classrooms for 30 minutes or so to work with Mrs. Mitchell. She sent instructions home with us so our parents could help us practice changing the way we used our tongues to form certain sounds.

Speech therapy & white privilege

As I wrote the previous paragraphs, I was struck by the realization that I probably had access to free in-school speech therapy because of my race. Today it’s called white privilege. Until I was in the seventh grade, white students and black students in our county had to attend different schools.

This fell under the US Supreme Court ruling in 1896 in the case, Plessy v. Ferguson. It mandated “equal but separate” schools for the two races, although the “equal” part was never enforced. The landmark US Supreme Court case in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka declared separate schools for the races to be unconstitutional; however, it was 1965 before the schools in our county started the desegregation process.

The ways in which I was rescued from my speech impediment and the frustration, embarrassment, and teasing it produced were both a by-product of white privilege.

Orthodontia

The other tangible thing that rescued me from what would otherwise have been a life doomed to not being able to speak to be understood was orthodontia.

Considering that orthodontics was established as a dental specialty in 1899, the fact that I was fitted with braces on my teeth in 1957 amazes me.

Dr. P.C. Hull, Jr. was my orthodontist, and I adored him. His waiting room in The Doctors Building on Kings Drive in Charlotte was a bit small but nevertheless included an aquarium — or a fish tank — in the vernacular of the times. I’d never seen tropical fish before, and I was fascinated. But I digress.

Dr. Hull proposed to experiment on me. He theorized that if he could straighten my temporary teeth, my permanent teeth would maybe absorb the roots of my temporary teeth and follow them into proper alignment. It was worth a try, so I wore braces from the age of four until it was time for me to start losing my baby teeth.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t losing my baby teeth. They weren’t even getting loose. Although nicely aligned by the age of six or seven, most of my temporary teeth had to be pulled by the dentist because they retained their long roots, and my permanent teeth came in all over the place.

Cutting to the chase

To make a ten-year-story of orthodontics short, I wore braces off and on until my teenage years, my only breaks coming when my temporary teeth had to be pulled.

I’m sure my parents sacrificed financially in order for me to wear braces, but that sacrifice made all the difference in my life. Being able to have straight teeth along with speech therapy ultimately made it possible for me to attend college and graduate school and pursue a career.

In conclusion

White privilege — which I was blissfully unaware of until middle age — made it possible for me to have free in-school speech therapy and, doubtless, made it possible for me to have access to orthodontic care in North Carolina in the 1950s-1960s.

Perhaps there were speech therapists in the racially-segregated “equal but separate” public schools for people of color at that time, but I doubt it. Perhaps there were black orthodontists or white orthodontists in Charlotte who would take black children as patients, but I doubt it.

I realize now just how fortunate I was to grow up in America’s middle class which meant although it was a financial struggle for my parents to pay for my braces, not being poor made it possible for them to even consider making that sacrifice.

The braces and speech therapy made it possible for me to escape the teasing, frustration, and embarrassment of those childhood years of not being able to speak clearly, but Ms. Kaye’s book, Words We Carry made me realize how the name calling and teasing, etc. probably resulted in some negative character traits in me.

Perhaps I would have been shy even if I’d had perfect teeth and impeccable pronunciation, but Words We Carry prompted me to reflect on the ramifications of some early childhood experiences. I still carry feelings of inadequacy even as a 65-year-old. I suppose we all do.

Let’s all be mindful of the things we say and do that are hurtful to others — especially to children. Even if they rise above and appear to cope well with the teasing and name calling, they will carry those words with them for the rest of their lives.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time. I didn’t work on my novel last week, but I enjoyed writing today’s blog post.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it!

I look forward to your comments about today’s post and some of the words you carry.

Janet