Things worth reading (2017-01-30)

From The Atlantic:

But after sifting through databases, media reports, court documents, and other sources, Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, has arrived at a striking finding: Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015.


Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or executing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during that time period, according to Nowrasteh’s research. (Nowrasteh focused on plots against the U.S. homeland, which presumably Trump cares most about, rather than other terrorism-related offenses, like supporting a foreign terrorist group or trying to join a jihadist organization overseas.) Zero Libyans and zero Syrians have been convicted of doing the same. “Foreign-born terrorism is a hazard,” Nowrasteh argues, “but it is manageable given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the small costs of terrorism.”

As for refugees, Nowrasteh writes, Trump’s action “is a response to a phantom menace.” Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s.

Zero Americans have been killed by Syrian refugees in a terrorist attack in the United States.

Between 1975 and 2015, the “annual chance of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist was 252.9 times greater than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist,” according to Nowrasteh.

Of course, vetting refugees isn’t perfect. No such perfect system will ever exist. But, existing vetting is already very comprehensive.

From Politifact:

Comey, while talking specifically about Syrian refugees and not all of the Middle East, has repeatedly said that admitting refugees has its challenges and that information gaps do exist. But he also has expressed confidence in the admission procedure and says it continues to improve. That makes it hard to argue Comey feels like the government’s process “cannot properly vet people.”

From Gongwer (which is locked behind a paywall)

“This round of tests, like the last one, clearly indicates no evidence for systematic fraud, tampering, or hacking of voting machines,” AEG CEO Patrick Anderson said. “Furthermore, it demonstrates that both high and low immigrant-population counties did not vote in the manner suggested by the allegation of ‘3-5 million illegals’ voting for the Democratic Party candidate in 2016.”

From The Intercept, The FBI has Quietly Investigated White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement. This is a long article but worth the read. It should make us all question why we’ve singled out brown people while white people appear to be the tangible threat to our safety.

Also, there’s this:

“This election, for white supremacists, was a signal that ‘We’re on the right track,’” said Simi. “I have never seen anything like it among white supremacists, where they express this feeling of triumph and jubilee. They are just elated about the idea that they feel like they have somebody in the White House who gets it.”

From the New York Times, an appeal to President Trump to reconsider “President Bannon:”

In that new order, issued on Saturday, Mr. Trump took the unprecedented step of naming Mr. Bannon to the National Security Council, along with the secretaries of state and defense and certain other top officials. President George W. Bush’s last chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, was so concerned about separating politics from national security that he barred Mr. Rove, Mr. Bush’s political adviser, from N.S.C. meetings. To the annoyance of experienced foreign policy aides, David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s political adviser, sat in on some N.S.C. meetings, but he was not a permanent member of the council.

I’m from Holland, Michigan, and for all these reasons, Betsy DeVos scares the hell out of me:

Michigan now serves as one of the most prominent examples of what aggressive, DeVos-style school choice policies look like on the ground, especially when it comes to expanding charters. About 80 percent of the state’s charter schools are run by for-profit companies—a much higher share than anywhere else in the country—with little oversight from the state. In 2011, DeVos foughtagainst legislation to stop low-performing charter schools from expanding, and later she and her husband funded legislators who opposed a proposal to add new oversight for Detroit’s charters.

Detroit, in particular, provides a cautionary tale of what happens when the ideology of market-driven “school choice” trumps the focus on student outcomes. The city’s schools—where 83 percent of students are black and 74 percent are poor—have been in steady decline since charter schools started proliferating: Public school test scores in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have remained the worst among large cities since 2009. In June, the New York Times published a scathing investigation of the city’s school district, which has the second-biggest share of students in charters in America. (New Orleans is No. 1.) Reporter Kate Zernike concluded that lax oversight by the state and insufficiently regulated growth—including too many agencies that are allowed to open new charter schools—contributed to a chaotic system marked by “lots of choice, with no good choice.”

A 2015 study from Michigan State University’s Education Policy Center found that a high percentage of charter schools also had a devastating impact on the finances of poor Michigan school districts like Detroit. Researchers reported that, under the state’s school choice and finance laws, it was hard for districts to keep traditional public schools afloat when charters reached 20 percent or more of enrollment. While per-student public funding follows kids to charters or other districts, traditional public schools still have fixed costs to cover, like building expenses and faculty salaries. Charter growth also increased the share of special-needs students left behind in traditional public schools, and the extra costs for educating such students weren’t adequately reimbursed by the state.

Boote’s truck takes a sharp turn into the predominantly Latino section of town, with large Victorian cottages, fenceless yards, and mature trees. Most kids in this neighborhood go to public schools. In the two decades since school choice was implemented in Michigan, white student enrollment in Holland’s public schools has plummeted 60 percent, with a nearby charter school becoming their top destination, according to an investigation by the Ann Arbor-based Bridge Magazine. Latino students are now the face of the system, and 70 percent of all its students are poor, more than double the district’s poverty rate when school choice began. Bridge Magazine found a similar pattern across Michigan: White parents tended to use the choice system to move their kids into even whiter districts, while black parents gravitated to charter schools made up mostly of students of color. Meanwhile, the Holland Christian Schools are predominantly white.

Via Vox, let’s kick out legal immigrants who use public services, because we’re heartless bastards:

People who use any of those benefits and are in the US on visas would be subject to deportation. And the order would even require the person who sponsored an immigrant into the US to reimburse the federal government for any benefits the immigrant used.

This is draconian. It seeks to punish not only legal immigrants in the US and their families, but their US-citizen relatives. It’s a reflection of a worldview in which any benefit that an immigrant gets from the government is, in some way, a theft of American tax money — and punishes immigrants as thieves accordingly.

This is me today

And basically every day for the past several months.

I’m not ready to say the final goodbye yet, but, maybe I just lack the honesty and courage to do so.

I’m pretty sure I am going to hell, at least that’s what “they” say.  So, I guess that’s just how it’s going to have to be, because I simply can’t fake-it-to-make-it anymore. You folks have it, I don’t.

I know breaking up is hard to do, but I’m done. I’m walking away.

Church, ministry, so much of this “Christian” stuff.

I’m done playing the game, running the rat race, never measuring up or doing enough. I’m done competing, sacrificing my sanity, and being spiritually cross-checked every time I have an open shot on goal.

I’ve simply resigned myself to a life of trying to fully be myself—relying on Grace and loving some people along the way as best I can, believing that in so doing and in so being, Jesus is somehow pleased.

I’m a firm believer that you don’t lose friends, you lose people who you thought were friends.

And better than that—you don’t stop loving, you just learn to love more honestly.

I sense I’ll be doing the former, and I know, I’ll be doing the latter.

For honesty is the first thing that grows from a life planted in Grace.

via I’m Done: Why I’m Completely Walking Away From Church, Ministry, And Most Everything “Christian” – Chris Kratzer

Intersex complicates the gender binary

“One man, one woman” is the mantra of those who want to prevent same-sex couples from marrying. This mantra is rooted in, among other things, Genesis 1:27.

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

My intent here isn’t to tackle the political debate over marriage. Instead, I want to challenge the interpretation of Genesis 1:27 as a prescription for how we should view the sexes.

There are lots of great resources available about Genesis as a piece of literature and how reading Genesis as ancient literature should inform our interpretation of it (see here, for example). Scholars exponentially more qualified than me are worth reading if you’re interested.

As I said in my previous post, I want to offer up examples from the real world, the kinds of examples that challenged me with new information I couldn’t fit into my existing worldview, and thus forced me to make changes.

Meet Sara Kelly Kennan, who was just issued the United States’ first known intersex birth certificate.

Keenan was born intersex, with male genes, female genitalia and mixed internal reproductive organs.

If we read Genesis 1:27 as a prescription about sex, gender, and thus, marriage, how can we make sense of such a human person?

Back then, intersex people were called “hermaphrodites,” and doctors typically recommended surgery to make them conform to one of two genders.

This is one way, but this hardly seems fair. Obviously, the infant has no say in the matter and is not able to consent. And what if the doctors guess “wrong,” and the child eventually identifies with the “other” sex?

And what about sexuality? In traditional understandings of Christian sexuality, is there any option for a person like Sara? Couldn’t one argue that all sexual activity for a person like Sara is both simultaneously heterosexual and homosexual? And wouldn’t the absurdity of such an argument illustrate that a binary understanding of sex and gender simply isn’t sufficient to explain human experience?

What do you think? Have you considered if and how intersex persons fit (or don’t fit) with you understanding of the sexes and gender?

Thinking about science

The United States of America prepares to inaugurate an anti-science president who has filled his administration with like-minded individuals.

Devestation is not too strong a word to describe my own reaction to this.

A decade ago, I may not have cared at all.

Accepting science as a reliable way of knowing things about the world was a deeply personal, and at times, deeply painful process for me. I grew up believing that science was more a threat than anything else.

Like so many Pentecostal children, I was skeptical of doctors, because Jesus should be relied upon to heal our sickness. Like so many homeschooled children, I rejected evolution as an atheistic explanation for how life could come to be without God. Homosexuality was a choice and only a choice, and any genetic research that linked it to biologicial factors was just wrong at worst and incomplete at best. And climate change? I don’t think I even knew what the term meant until sometime in my twenties.

Fast forward ten years, and my views have changed dramatically. Just as happens to so many people, I was introduced to new information in college (and then in seminary) that forced me to reevaluate my views.

Evolution is, in fact, very well understood and very well attested – more so than even the theory of gravity, which is an undeniable fact of daily life. It is an overstatement to claim that sexual orientation is caused by biology exclusively, but biological factors are as undeniable as the theories of gravity and evolution, and my former position that it was purely choice was totally wrong. The Earth isn’t 10,000 years young; the question of when a fertilized egg becomes a human being is complicated not obviously simple; and etc., and etc.

We human beings are stubborn creatures. We don’t want to change our minds about much of anything, even when confronted with information that shows us we’re wrong.

There are lots of reasons why this is the case, but for me, the most powerful – and thus why I called the process painful – is that changing one’s mind often involves risking relationships.

Abandoning an idea – or even more dramatically, abandoning a way of approaching the process of forming ideas – often results in being on the opposite side of a debate than people you love dearly. Especially when it involves religious claims and belief, it’s hard for that to not get very personal.

All of that to say this: we are currently living in a time of great risk for humanity and the planet on which we live. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it isn’t. My generation risks damaging the planet and its environment in ways that can’t be undone (with current technology, at least) for generations.

And as the most powerful country in the world, we are divided on whether that threat is real or not largely on partisan lines. And as has become clear in the most recent Presidential election, those partisan lines are increasingly religious lines as well.

The question of whether or not to accept scientific consensus when forming public policy will not be easy to answer, because for so many of us, it isn’t just about public policy. It’s also about family, community, and deeply-held convictions and beliefs that are part and parcel of our religious faith.

But we will answer that question. Not answering the question is itself an answer. Either we will make proactive changes, or we will be passive, and each choice will have significant consequences.

So, especially to any religious person who may read this (now very much too long blog post), I want to do two things.

First, I want to acknowledge that these conversations are hard, and they are often divisive. I know that from experience, and I want to invite you to engage with me on these ideas – especially if you disagree.

Second, I want to attempt to take some of the emotional and personal charge out of some of these issues with by offering examples that aren’t emotionally charged, in an attempt to get at what I view to be some of the faulty reasoning that is driving the conversation.

So, more to come.


Jesus never read ‘The Bible’ – slacktivist

“So let’s start with that very basic reminder: Jesus did not have a single book collecting a canon of 66 scriptures. He did not live in a world of books or in a world that treated or thought of or related to books the way we have learned to do.

Invoking Jesus, then, as the authoritative source for the idea of the Bible as an authoritative reference handbook is wrong in a way that is several large steps removed from the possibility of being right.

Thus in the very moment Keller is instructing other Christians to “accept and adopt Jesus’ view of the Bible,” he is doing nothing of the sort himself. He is asking us to view the Bible in a way that neither Jesus nor any of his original disciples could have ever understood or imagined.”

The same people who wear shirts that read “fuck your feelings” and rail against “political correctness” seem to believe that there should be no social consequences for their vote. I keep hearing calls for empathy and healing, civility and polite discourse. As if supporting a man who would fill his administration with white nationalists and misogynists is something to simply agree to disagree on.
Absolutely not. You don’t get to vote for a person who brags about sexual assault and expect that the women in your life will just shrug their shoulders. You don’t get to play the victim when people unfriend you on Facebook, as if being disliked for supporting a bigot is somehow worse than the suffering that marginalized people will endure under Trump. And you certainly do not get to enjoy a performance by people of color and those in the LGBT community without remark or protest when you enact policies and stoke hatred that put those very people’s lives in danger.
Being socially ostracized for supporting Trump is not an infringement of your rights, it’s a reasonable response by those of us who are disgusted, anxious, and afraid. I was recently accused by a writer of “vote shaming” – but there’s nothing wrong with being made to feel ashamed for doing something shameful.


“We don’t win if they lose”

Before changing the station in disgust, I meditated on what he had said. It dawned on me that it was this very type of attitude that ruined my faith some years back when I was a part of the Evangelical church. We are the winners and that means that everyone else loses. And by loses, I mean they lose everything. They go away into the outer darkness, to cry out for their mommies and daddies, wives and husbands, and sons and daughters, only to have them never come. And we, the ones who never go to their aid—either because we don’t want to or can’t—are supposed to think of our salvation as a victory.

And this gives us hope? Hope for what? Hope that when our loved ones are lost from us for all eternity that the best heaven God could come up with would require either a hardening of our hearts or a full frontal lobotomy?


Fellow white evangelicals: your votes for Trump shook my faith | Sam Thielman | Opinion | The Guardian

Mine, too. And it’s still shaking in search of some kind of foundation.

As we enter the era of Donald Trump, I have to confess that I only now understand how purely cruel my fellow Christians are. I find it hard to pray as a result.

White American evangelicals, who produced me, and among whom I must count myself, have thoroughly demonstrated how little we care about our representation of Christ to the world, how gleefully willing we are to put our own interests and grievances above the teachings of Jesus. And we have done that where we always do it: in the voting booth.

via Fellow white evangelicals: your votes for Trump shook my faith | Sam Thielman | Opinion | The Guardian

Why Trump’s Election Made Me Want To Stop Calling Myself A Christian | Christian News on Christian Today

I can understand some of the reasons evangelical leaders voted for Trump, and I know many have their own moral framework that would make it difficult to vote Democrat, but what stunned me to silence was the unashamed belief and assertion that Trump’s victory in the US elections was undoubtedly all in God’s plan. No ‘flawed candidate’ rhetoric, no language of tough choices and imperfections on both sides, but unapologetic endorsement backed up with pick-and-mix theology.

I fail to understand how leaders who so often call for a return to morality, truth, purity, and faithful marriages can so publicly endorse a man who boasts of sexually harassing women, displays racist attitudes in front of crowds of thousands and so blatantly lies. At best it comes across as unbearably naive. At worst, arrogant and hypocritical.

via Why Trump’s Election Made Me Want To Stop Calling Myself A Christian | Christian News on Christian Today