I. Un-Holy Motivation
America is deeply divided within and facing a changing world order abroad. We would expect the GOP to concentrate onthe foremost threats to our safety and stability, especially this close to the 2024 elections.
What threats has the GOP chosen to attack? Black identities and trans kids.
Conservative leaders launched a series of legislative actions ranging from banning books and curriculum on Black identities and LGBTQ lives, to criminalizing gender-affirming health care. Record numbers of anti-LGBTQ and anti-CRT bills, including hundreds specifically targeting trans youth and young adults are making their way through state legislatures.
In the run-up to declaring his candidacy for President, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has been setting the stage, starting with a ban on Critical Race Theory (CRT). It didn’t take long before other red states followed suit with their own anti-CRT bills.
DeSantis then broadly extended the CRT ban by signing the Stop-Woke (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) Act. The Stop-Woke Act bans all educational institutions and businesses from teaching content that makes students or employees “feel guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress.”
But as Charles Blow observes, “the point isn’t the protection of children but the deceiving of them. It’s to fight so-called woke indoctrination with a historical whitewash.”
Unsurprisingly, after the success in banning CRT, DeSantis quickly followed up with anti-LGBTQ legislation. His Don’t Say Gay law bans books, teaching materials, and discussions that acknowledge LGBTQ identities in public schools, and is soon to be extended to all K-12 grades. With these legislative assaults, DeSantis has won over evangelical Christians and far right Catholics alike.
II. The GOP Has a Plan, But It’s Not God’s
In full disclosure, I must tell you that I’m the dad of a trans kid. The other relevant thing to know is that I’m an engineer – and I embrace the scientific method.
There is nothing less scientific in American politics than the GOP’s legislative assault on Black, LGBTQ, and women’s reproductive rights – and these attacks are not the disjointed actions of a few conservative extremists. They are the result of a highly-organized movement known as Christian nationalism.
Amanda Tylor, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), describes it this way,
“Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to merge American and Christian identities.”
“The ‘Christian’ in Christian nationalism is more about identity than religion and carries with it assumptions about nativism, white supremacy, authoritarianism, patriarchy, and militarism.”
Since the source of Christian nationalist power comes from evangelical, Catholic, and like-minded churches, those churches are as culpable as the conservative leaders who exploit them.
History is replete with examples of the Catholic Church sanctioning imperialism, slavery, and forced conversion of Black, indigenous, and non-Christian peoples. Patriarchy, white supremacy, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic ideology remain deeply embedded in much of Catholic and protestant doctrine even today.
To spread its message, Christian nationalism embraces the big lie in both its pseudo-scientific and religious propaganda. Its primary purpose is to incite fear and rage in the GOP’s voting base. Their focus as of late has been on Black and trans identities, but no group is safe.
The long arm of the Catholic Church influences decisions made at every branch and level of American government, including the Supreme Court. In overturning Roe v. Wade, Justice Alito confidently made a show of referencing Catholic doctrine dating back centuries. It won’t end there.
More than half of Republicans now identify as Christian nationalists and make it clear they are waging a Holy War. On the House floor in 2021, Rep. Marjory Taylor-Greene stated that her opposition to the LGBTQ Equality Act is not just to protect America, but to protect all of God’s creation,
“God created us male and female. In his image, he created us. The Equality Act that we are to vote on this week destroys God’s creation. It also completely annihilates women’s rights and religious freedom.”
It’s interesting to hear a trans kid’s perspective. My son described his experiences in elementary school for a story in the Detroit News in this way,
“It was pretty normal. I was treated like every other kid. My parents talked to the principal and he talked to my teacher. There were no problems. Curious kids, they asked questions.”
The normalcy of my son’s early school experience and the cautious optimism we once felt would end as he started high school this past year. In Michigan, conservatives recently sponsored House Bill 6454, similar to bills in Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, and other red states across the country.
HB-6454 seeks to prevent gender-affirming health care for trans and gender non-conforming youth. It also seeks to criminalize supportive parents and health providers as child abusers – a federal offense with a potential sentence of life in prison.
What exactly is my crime? I follow the medical recommendations of pediatric endocrinologists at the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS). Their recommendations align with evidence-based practices endorsed by every major medical and mental health organization.
III. We’ve Been Here Before
So are conservatives really trying to protect trans kids?
Oh hell no.
The anti-trans movement is not motivated out of care for trans kids. No more than segregation was motivated out of care for Black Americans.
I can still vividly recall a state school board meeting several years back. I talked openly about our family’s story, in the hope that the state would approve guidance to create safe and inclusive learning environments for LGBTQ students.
I had come to expect the occasional religious parent who voiced their concerns at these types of meetings. But I didn’t expect the busloads of church congregations filling the building, nor the viciousness in which they would condemn trans students as abominations to God and a threat to other children.
It is the faces of the protestors that I remember most.
They are the faces captured in the iconic photo of Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine, walking determinedly through a crowd of angry white protesters. They are the faces that seem to reappear whenever systemic racism and injustice are challenged.
Columbia law professor Kimberle Crenshaw developed the methodology behind Critical Race Theory and describes it as, “…a prism for understanding why decades after the end of segregation, over a century and a half after the end of slavery, after genocide has occurred, why racial inequalities are so enduring.” She explains that “For the longest part, we were a White nation, and our laws said so and our Constitution was interpreted to reinforce that. That doesn’t go away just because we stopped saying it.”
Conservatives have targeted CRT precisely because it exposes the on-going, systemic, and institutionalized nature ofracism in our country. “Modest reform creates tremendous backlash,” Crenshaw notes, “and sometimes the backlash is more enduring than the reform.
The same fear and rage that so effectively drive the GOP’s voting base to the polls are equally effective at inciting violence and bloodshed against Black and trans communities. Trans people, especially Black and Native American trans women, experience around four times the violence as the cisgender population. The relentless dehumanization and demonization of trans youth has also caused an already devastating suicide rate to rise even further.
We can expect the lethality of the violence to escalate. Violence like the lynching of Rasheem Carter in Mississippi, the mass murders of Black shoppers in Buffalo, NY, and of course the violent rioting and murder by white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups in Charlottesville, VA.
In the enraged faces of the Christian protestors at the school board meeting, I finally understood why we are still fighting battles against systemic racism, some 160 years after emancipation. I do not believe we can achieve any semblance of lasting equality and justice for ‘others,’ unless we take the bold step that every generation seems to stop short of taking.
I believe we must confront the mother of all inconvenient truths: faith is not fact.
It may be only four words, but faith is not fact represents four hundred years or so of scientific discoveries that culminated in one of humanity’s crowning achievements: the scientific method. It is a testament to human curiosity – and our insatiable search for truth.
IV. With Science and a Little Faith
Acknowledging faith is not fact recognizes that the core tenets of any religious doctrine are unproven and unprovable. It does not claim that any religion is false, for we can no more prove that God does not exist than we can that God does exist.
No one can say with any certainty, for instance, what happens after death or answer other great mysteries of our existence. The fear of uncertainty is so unsettling to some that they choose to believe religion holds the answers to all of life’s mysteries. People may hold beliefs they consider their own truth, which is of course a subjective truth.
Objective truths, however, require facts, which in turn rely on evidence. To gather evidence, we must be able to test our claims through measurements and observations that are repeatable and can be verified independently. We call this the scientific method.
Since we can’t conceive of any way to repeatably test and independently verify the existence of a supernatural deity, much less the nuanced likes and dislikes of that deity, it is irresponsible and dangerous to assert that any supernatural doctrine is objectively true.
In every other aspect of our lives, we insist that decisions affecting our rights and freedom will be based on facts and evidence. It’s the foundation of our rule of law. Yet, we continue to allow the most egregious injustices to be carried out in the name of religious freedom.
Acknowledging that faith is not fact does not impinge on a person’s right to believe, any more than separating church and state does. It does not diminish an individual’s religious freedom, rather it preserves it by ensuring that no religion or supernatural claim can be used to dehumanize and oppress others, including other religions.
In fact, the stories of our faith and wisdom contained within them can inspire us. I have found no better inspiration than King’s vision of the Beloved Community. The Community King envisioned would exist in a World House, where “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation.” It is a vision his wife, Coretta Scott King, put into service through the King Center she founded in 1968.
King wanted to hold America accountable for its hypocrisy, not only in its institutionalized racism, but in its weaponization of Christianity. In a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1965, King calls out the treachery of Christian Americans who denounce the Black race, along with other faiths, humanists, and agnostics.
I can think of no one who embodies our constitutional ideals more than Dr. King. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he made it clear that the greatest threat to Black freedom was not white supremacist ideology, but the “white moderate.” King was particularly disillusioned with the silence and inaction of white Christian churches and ministers who say,
“Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.”
The GOP’s embrace of Christian nationalism weaponizes a militant and merciless brand of Christian ideology – an ideology that divides us and is diametrically opposed to King’s Beloved Community. To heal and unite America, we must take away that weapon.
V. We Can Still Heal America
It may seem impossible, but there is a path.
It is a path well worn by those who marched and sacrificed for the Black Freedom Movement. It is a path that wound its way through black churches and resolute white churches in the march for civil rights and voting rights. It is a path that continued on despite the deadly bombings and assassination of its leaders.
Those churches and their congregations are just as essential today.
Nonetheless, we still feel the sting of abandonment, much as King felt in the silence and inaction of white moderates and white Christian churches. The sting is worse when moderates continue to support the very churches that are dedicated to our demise.
It doesn’t have to be this way, of course.
Imagine the impact if even a small percentage of moderates chose to attend an inclusive church instead of a non-inclusive one. Imagine the progress that could be realized if those inclusive churches grew and had greater resources to confront social injustices, poverty, and inequality.
Imagine the hope that could be rekindled in disillusioned and disenfranchised communities if they could see a future where they can live authentically and freely. Imagine the possibilities in a world where reason prevails over supernatural beliefs and our young people finally have a fighting chance to reach their potential.
It’s difficult to hold onto a dream. As Dr. King shared in a 1967 interview, in some ways his “dream had turned into a nightmare,” and “some of the old optimism was a little superficial, and now it must be tempered with a solid realism.”
Realism is exactly what we need. Dreams and nightmares only matter when you’re asleep.
About the author: Peter Tchoryk is an engineer and a dad who discovered he had a lot to learn from his kids. He is committed to making this world safer for all those who are persecuted for trying to live authentically. To learn more, check in with us at ScientificRebels.com, listen to our Podcast, or contact the author directly.