Blind or Complicit?
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Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 09:25:12 AM EST
I gave a speech about the threat of Dominionism and theocracy to a group of prominent business and civic leaders in Oklahoma City last week. The reaction I received from some of them convinced me that there is little concern for democracy among some of the elites in our society. It appears that their disdain for liberalism is greater than any conceivable threat that could be posed to democracy from the theocratic right.

When my speech ended a retired CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation, a Baptist, came up to me and adamantly denied that Southern Baptists were opposed to public schools.

At the time, I assumed that he was simply operating from the standard ignorance of Baptist pew-sitters.  Very few Baptist lay people realize that a public school "Exodus Movement" has been active for nearly two decades within the SBC.  Only a few understand the implications of the June 2005 Convention resolution encouraging Baptists to investigate the public schools.  Fewer still know that Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary and one of Time Magazine's 25 most influential evangelicals, openly advocates that Christians devise an exit strategy from public education.  

I've been following these developments for more than twenty years.  The evidence that key leaders within the SBC are hostile toward this country's system of public education is overwhelming.  Evidence that they would like to undermine it and destroy it is not hard to find.

The retired executive challenged me with the tenacity of a pit bull.  I assumed that the thought that his own faith group would oppose public education was so abhorrent to him that it was inconceivable.  Instead of correcting him for his woeful ignorance, I just changed the subject.

Now, having reflected on the exchange for a week and factoring in the knowledge that this same retired executive is deeply connected to right-wing politics, I'm beginning to wonder if he wasn't really trying to cover an exposed flank.

Of this I am fairly certain, under a thin patina of civility, resentment over the forced integration of public schools still runs deep among both Southern Baptists and Oklahomans.

I suspect the denial you encountered is intended to delay the awakening and full political mobilization of government funded educators. Here in Massachusetts, teachers' unions and associations are slowly awakening - but too slowly. They are unwilling to accept the fact that their very jobs are under an ongoing, concerted attack from the right and the Christian supremacist movement.

The argumentative style of people such as the businessman you mention is common, also, to the attempt to deny the accelerating human impact on the environment - in this tactical approach which is rooted in Greek Skepticism, facts, even overwhelming evidence, don't matter as long as it can be established that there is less than 100% certainty about the disputed case. It's a specious argumentative approach - we never have 100% certainty of anything and make decisions everyday based on probabilistic calculations. Hence, insurance policies.

I'd say there is about a 99.999% probability that the SBC is working to destroy public education. That's a strong enough case for me.

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 10:47:46 AM EST

The denial of the retired CEO regarding SBC attacks on public education, is analagous to the denial that there was a fundamentalist takeover afoot in the convention, and indeed, denial of many of the things that have happened since.  

The same thing is true in other protestant churches that have been under attack for two decades, while in denial that conservative factions were working with outside agencies seeking to undermine their denominations.

Far too often, people are complacent and too comfortable in their lives. The denial often comes from people who might otherwise be concerned. They have to find a way to screen out disturbing information, because if they took it seriously, they would, in conscience, have to change. And well, they would rather not have to do that. That would mean less time for golf. Or TV. Or Sports. Or shopping. It might even disturb personal relationships among the similarly complacent.  They like their life as it is, thank you very much.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 11:02:08 AM EST

That is one of our main tasks- to drill through the shell of denial and dismissal that many mainstreamers have surrounded themselves with. Create a means to demonstrate to them that this isn't some fringe-element hysteria- the problem is real, and the perpetrators are counting on their denial in order to advance their agenda.

That is the key, I believe. Get our potential allies to understand that they are actually assisting these organizations in advancing their causes by denying that the causes exist at all.

It's going to be a tough sell, but we have to sell it. We have too much to lose if we do not.

by Lorie Johnson on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 11:08:48 AM EST

This resistance is rooted, for some individuals I think, in a subconscious or liminal awareness of the emotional pain that follows the acceptance that one's assumptions about contemporary American political realities have been dangerously wrong.

To face up to the facts - to truly and deeply accept them - necesitates a grieving of grieving process. The immediate pain and disorientation can be daunting, but there also can be - on the positive side of the equation - the lifting of a background depression that has been rooted in the repressed awareness of the growing political power of the Christian right movement.

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 11:55:22 AM EST

Many people would rather live with the dissonance than admit being dead wrong about some dearly held tenet.

That's what makes "drilling down" through the denial such a daunting task and often needs done repeatedly before it holds.
Gotta get them out of the rut and then keep a sharp eye to make sure they don't fall back in the security of that same rut.
This is also the very reason why Rush "ditto" fans require daily reinforcement and the reason why Fox News even exists.
And this is not really about public schools but integration and truly did start as a reaction to the civil rights act.
You can put lipstick on the racism pig all you want Southern Baptists but it's still a pig.

by nofundy on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 02:02:37 PM EST

I delivered this speech at a country club.

Some folks invest a lot of money and effort to make sure that their complacency remains undisturbed by the real world.

by Mainstream Baptist on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 11:14:36 AM EST

Does not always insulate. History is replete with examples of that.

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 11:56:47 AM EST
"Wealth does not always insulate forever."

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 04:59:39 PM EST

as you note, in creating a world for themselves that they want to remain undisturbed. They wish to show themselves to be well-informed; on top of the issues of the day. That is part of the self-assurance of the comfortable suburban elites. In my experience, it is information that threatens the complacency that causes the unusual behaviors associated with cognitive dissonance.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 12:34:48 PM EST

I admire your willingness to put yourself out there in such a venue. What was it like for you? especially their denial?

I've felt terrible after such events and wish we could support one another to keep on going. I guess that's what this blog is about.

by Joan Bokaer on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 04:05:54 PM EST

I got out of bed with the worst case of bronchitus that I've had in a decade to deliver the speech.

I was just glad to get through it.

Other than that, I was just irritated by the CEO's response and he could tell it.

There were a couple who may have risked their standing within the group for inviting me, some who listened sympathetically, some who listened stoically, and one or two who, for whatever reason, were trying to challenge the credibility of what I was saying.

If I ever get another opportunity to speak to this group, I'll take all my documentation with me and hand out copies of the documentation for whatever gets questioned.

by Mainstream Baptist on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 04:54:26 PM EST

...even if you don't have all the right responses then, on reflection you're always prepared for it the next time. Your post reminded me of the time I set up the painting at a University of Wisconsin student lounge, only to find out it was where the "religious studies" students (re: Christian studies) hung out. It made for interesting conversation/debate throughout the afternoon; none of them showed up for the panel discussion that evening. Thanks, Joel Pelletier

by joelp on Fri Jan 20, 2006 at 02:48:03 PM EST

Are there not flaws in the very religion SBC and others seems to want to protect from the march of culture?  The public education system undermines the beliefs of many Christians; this reactionary response, I feel, is not only fueled by a misinterpretation of the Bible but is also fueled by the many confusing and contradictory bits of information the Bible presents, regardless of interpretation.  If the Bible (primarily the New Testament) is a compilation of many generation's worth of writing, why isn't it fair game now to be added to?  Can't God stand outside the Bible?  It's a nutty document, soon to cause a huge collision of wills.

by sd on Fri Jan 20, 2006 at 09:14:21 PM EST

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