Part One: Preface to Scientific Rebellion


Part One of Thirteen

Do you feel powerless, and have you given up hope in a political process that continually seems to fail you?

Are you exasperated that so many people seem to be sleepwalking, as our country is being dragged back into the Dark Ages?

Are you facing persecution because of the color of your skin? Desire for bodily autonomy, gender identity, or sexual orientation? Or perhaps for a general nonconformance to a white patriarchal Christian ethos?

Do you consider yourself religious, but are ashamed to be associated with the unhinged actions of others making that claim?

If so, the “Four Words to Start a Rebellion” podcast series is definitely for you.

Every generation has its challenges. But the youngest generations inheriting the world today, face trials across the spectrum of existential threats, including some that could make the planet itself uninhabitable. From social injustices to genocide. From environmental disasters to climate crisis. From terrorism to nuclear war.

It is no wonder why so many young people today disengage from the political process altogether. We seem to be trying the same things over and over, hoping for a different outcome that never seems to arrive.

But there is one path that has not been pursued in earnest by any previous generation. It is the boldest and likely the most dangerous, yet represents the single greatest opportunity we have to create a world where reason triumphs over racism; where the value of human beings is not measured by caste or coin; and where rules of law are not divined by men masquerading as messiahs.

Scientific Rebellion is about taking direct, non-violent, and immediate action to prevent The Handmaid’s Tale from becoming prophecy. Half measures won’t cut it. There is no time to waste, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Frankly, the odds are not in our favor.

But here’s the kicker. There is a path. And it is ridiculously straightforward. Notice I didn’t say easy. But even acknowledging that this path exists and taking those all-important first few steps, will bring hope. Whether we achieve victory in our lifetimes I couldn’t say, but I am completely confident that we can plant those seeds of rebellion and give future generations the best chance at a better life.

The path we must follow leads us to confront the greatest weapon ever unleashed on the world. It has been used to justify some of the worst crimes against humanity and is unmatched in its power, persuasiveness, and brutality.

That weapon is Religion.

All things being equal, I believe each generation is more inclined to challenge and reject the biases, and irrational assumptions of previous generations. Unfortunately, all things are not equal.

We see how the long-lasting effects of slavery and segregation have become so ingrained in our institutions, that even today we still struggle to excise it from our systems and culture. We see it in the generational indoctrination that persists like an undetected virus, replacing learning and reason with a preconceived, insidious narrative. We see how easily wealth and power can influence legislation and policy at every level of government, from school boards to the halls of congress, all the way to the Supreme Court. We see how that same wealth and power can be used to convince electorates of even the most logic-defying conspiracy theories, and big lies.

As it stands, it seems half the world has evolved to value cooperation and the other half has evolved to value confrontation. We collectively seem to be held prisoner in a competition between those who see the world as a non-zero-sum game and those who see it as a winner take all.

Yes, all things being equal, I believe cooperation would ultimately prove more effective than conflict in producing societies that are more sustainable, just, and equitable. But all things are far from being equal.

Our Supreme Court has a conservative majority that bases its rulings on a Christian interpretation of the Constitution and will influence the judiciary for a generation. The presumptive Republican nominee for president considers himself above the rule of law, and apparently the Supreme Court agrees with him.

If this stirs your soul, the “Four Words to Start a Rebellion” podcast series, is made for you.

Rebellion is more than a catchphrase. It’s a state of mind. A state of being that allows us to recognize the harsh reality of our situation, yet remain focused on what we need to do in this moment.

I cannot offer assurances of a victory, but I can assure you that your efforts will not be in vain. We will be on this journey together and there is joy in that. There is joy in the fight.

Let’s give them something they’ve never seen before.

Peter Tchoryk

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Part Two: Introduction

Part Three: Driven by Fear

Driven by Fear

Part Three of Thirteen

I was raised Catholic. I’ve probably said that line hundreds if not thousands of times throughout my life. It had a lot of different meanings, depending on what question was asked and my mood at the time.

For example, if I was invited to a wedding where the couple was on the far right of the protestant spectrum, someone would invariably ask if I went to church. I would simply reply, “I was raised Catholic.” The response was always the same: a knowing look of sympathy, a slight bobbing of the head, a pained smile, and a merciful end to the conversation. I was immediately back to foraging for cookies.

It’s almost like a get-out-of-jail-free card if you want to end a conversation with someone who wants to save you. It speaks volumes, all on its own. It says, “I’m extremely jaded about religion, and with good cause, so don’t waste your breath.” Depending on how long I pause, it can also say, “I was abused and don’t want to reopen those wounds.” If I’m not in a good mood, it can also say, “I was abandoned by my family and raised at a Catholic Orphanage Slash Workhouse and shouldn’t be trusted around the good silver.”

I suppose that’s why I’m fascinated when someone appears to genuinely believe that the bible is the literal Word of God. Did I ever really believe that?

Nah. I was raised Catholic.

But it made me curious. What in the human psyche leads many of us to accept supernatural explanations for life’s greatest mysteries? And not just to accept these explanations, but to embrace them publicly as indisputable and absolute truths.

Looking back on my Roman-Catholic-Ukrainian-Byzantine-Rite upbringing, I think I know the answer.


Our priest was a friendly enough fellow. I had friends who were altar boys and I know he would take them out for a game of golf and a few beers on occasion. But he also gave off this vibe that said, “Don’t even test me son. I’ve buried more people than I’ve Baptized.” I guess you could say he put the fear of God in me. Admittedly, growing up in Youngstown, pretty much everyone gave off that vibe.

Yeah, I get it. Fear of uncertainty can be so overpowering that it forces us to bypass the critical thinking part of our brain, even if we use critical thinking to manage every other decision and emotion we may feel.

No one can say with any certainty, for example, what happens after death. But the fear of not knowing can be so unnerving to some of us that we choose to put our faith in an ideology that would normally be skewered by the skeptical, suspicious, critical thinking part of our brain.

Fear of social recrimination and embarrassment can also cause people to respond in ways that tarnish their self-worth and self-respect. Some will go to almost any length to avoid being labeled ungodly, perhaps because of perceived political or business retribution, or just the thought of future holidays spent evading the sole-withering glances and comments from the true believer side of the family. Others may be living where the rule of law is determined by a theocratic government and desperately trying to avoid persecution for themselves and their families. Like America if Republicans manage to pull off their Project 2025 plan.

Those fears of recrimination are not unfounded. Historically, anyone who made an announcement or proclamation that challenged the prevailing religious beliefs of the region could face unwelcome scrutiny and persecution from the church. Perhaps the most well-known examples of this type of unwelcome scrutiny can be found in the Catholic Church’s response to the great scientific discoveries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Early scientists of the period, like Nicolaus Copernicus, were well aware that they would face severe consequences for contradicting Church doctrine, choosing to publish only after their death. Others like Galileo Galilei tried to finesse their publications to avoid the Church’s scrutiny, but in the end, could not avoid the Roman Catholic Inquisition. Galileo acquiesced to the Church’s demands to avoid the worst of the punishment, though still ended up in house arrest for the remainder of his life.

Whether through fear of uncertainty and social ostracization, or the practical desire to avoid torture and execution, there have been relatively few large-scale attempts to resist the Church’s power, and none that have had a long-lasting effect. It has resulted in some of the most horrific crimes against humanity, from genocide and conquest to slavery and segregation.

For example, in 1452 the Catholic Church issued its Doctrine of Discovery in a series of papal “bulls” or decrees. The Doctrine of Discovery led to one of the darkest periods in human history, as it gave European monarchies the God-ordained right to conquer and enslave indigenous peoples all over the world. According to Reverend David McCallum, Director of the Program for Discerning Leadership in Rome, in a 2023 interview with NPR, European expansion was fueled by a “sort of missionary sense that the Western monarchies had a right to go to these new lands and to take from them their resources and if necessary to put down people, including enslaving them.”

For the next 500 years, untold numbers of indigenous peoples were slaughtered or converted and enslaved in the name of Christianity. In the United States and Canada, Native American and First Nation children were kidnapped and forced to live in Christian “schools” that were equal parts work camp and indoctrination centers, in what amounts to publicly sponsored cultural genocide. Native children were often beaten, starved, and killed if they did not convert to Christianity or if they attempted to go back to their families.

The Doctrine of Discovery has been cited as precedent for centuries, including by the U.S. Supreme Court as early as 1823 and as recently as 2005. Despite the magnitude of these crimes against humanity, the Catholic Church did not revoke the Doctrine of Discovery until 2023. Yeah, 2023.

Sadly, the concept of faith, which can be such a powerful force for good, is by its very nature susceptible to the most egregious abuse and manipulation. Through the centuries, religious exploitation proved such an effective way to control a populace that it became the favorite weapon of oppressive regimes around the world.

There is no debating that conservative leaders today have mastered that weaponization. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the Republicans’ legislative assaults on women’s bodily autonomy, voting rights, black identities, LGBTQ rights, and gender-affirming health care.

At times I’ve wondered if Trump stumbled upon The Handmaid’s Tale streaming on Hulu, while taking a break from his late night, obsessive tweeting. In Margaret Atwood’s eerily prophetic novel of the same name, disease and pollution has left most women infertile, leading to a second Civil War. Far right Christians stage a violent coup, taking over the government and suspending the U.S. Constitution.

In its place, the crusaders create their version of a utopian, totalitarian theocracy, called Gilead, which seems to govern by a mashup of Puritanical and modern-day Evangelical ideology. Sound familiar? Keep in mind Atwood wrote this in 1985. In any event, the few remaining fertile women are rounded up and given the honor of serving as breeder slaves to the hierarchy.

By Trump’s own admission, he hadn’t given much thought to what he would do, or should do, if he were to actually win the election. In my mind’s eye, I picture Trump racing through the episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, writing sticky notes as quickly as he could stick them. It was like God speaking directly to him through Hulu. A weekly stream of step-by-step instructions on how to run the country – all from the comfy confines of his bedroom. A Christmas miracle if there ever was one.

I see Trump nodding approvingly with furrowed brow, once again demonstrably right in ignoring the incessant pleas of his advisors to draft a transition plan. His historically low handicap further evidence that he spent his time wisely. The last sticky note: a reminder to tell those advisors, “You’re fired.”

Trump can legitimately claim to have done more than all the previous presidents combined in moving our country toward a fascist theocracy. What would he say was his greatest accomplishment, I wonder. Perhaps sneaking out all those boxes of classified documents right under the noses of the secret service, while the country was distracted by insurrection? Hard to say. But I’m quite confident his advisors will tell you that it’s the three Supreme Court justices and hundreds of higher-court judges he nominated during his term.

All of the conservative Supreme Court justices were painstakingly vetted and hand-selected because of their commitment to interpret the Constitution through an Evangelical or Catholic lens. This paid obvious benefits most recently with Justice Alito proudly defending his opinion to overturn Roe versus Wade using seventeenth and thirteenth century Catholic Canon Law.

With Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, two-thirds of the Supreme Court identify as Catholic and promote a theocratic interpretation of the Constitution. They join the 234 conservative judges appointed by Trump to federal benches around the country. If anything in government resembles a deep state, it is Trump’s cult-like army of conservative judges and political appointees who are committed to a Christian nationalist-like rule of law.

In case you need a refresher, the Catholic Church’s track record on women’s rights is just as egregious as their track record with Black, indigenous, and people of color. It is not surprising that the Roman Catholic Church was the religious group that most consistently opposed women’s suffrage and just as aggressively opposes women’s reproductive rights today.

The Church’s influence has far-reaching and dire consequences that many fail to see until it affects them directly, and by then it is often too late. Consider this. Four of the 10 largest U.S. hospital chains, as ranked by number of beds, are now Catholic, and as reported in Health News Florida, Catholic-based health systems require their affiliated institutions to follow the church’s directives.

These directives are determined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All men obviously.

What many people fail to recognize is that when a hospital merges or falls under the control of a Catholic-based institution, critical services related to reproductive health and end-of-life care will no longer be available. In the 2018 revision of the church’s directives, several were added to specifically address Catholic health institution mergers and acquisitions with non-Catholic institutions, dictating that “whatever comes under control of the Catholic institution — whether by acquisition, governance, or management — must be operated in full accord with the moral teaching of the Catholic Church.”

The 2018 Church directives also continue to ban contraceptive interventions. It goes on to address procedures like in-vitro fertilization, saying, “Reproductive technologies that substitute for the marriage act are not consistent with human dignity.”

The American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs raised serious concerns, noting that the number of religiously affiliated hospitals and facilities increased 22 percent between 2001 and 2016 alone, benefiting greatly from tax exemptions and other tax subsidies. The ramifications on patient health care are deeply disturbing. In its report, the Council warns that, “Certain treatment choices for care at the end of life, reproductive health care services,” and unsurprisingly, “certain services for transgender individuals,” are all at risk.

And we all know that the people who are hit hardest are the ones with the fewest resources and options, as the Council notes, “Restricted access to services can have a disproportionate impact on poor women, and women in rural areas where religiously affiliated institutions are the only providers of care.”

This is what every rational, democracy-loving American should fear. Not trans kids and not some mythical ‘wokeness.’ 

Peter Tchoryk

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Part Four: From Fear to Science

From Fear to Science

Part Four of Thirteen

One of the most dangerous consequences of leading a fear-based existence is that it often takes our attention away from the far greater threats, the ones that should absolutely keep us up at night. In this case, we should be wholly alarmed by the almost casual violation of church and state by the highest courts in the land. We should be terrified by Trump’s promise to convert the Department of Justice into his personal secret police.
We know the solution. We’ve known for centuries: Faith is not fact. It’s time to act on that knowledge.

I describe myself as agnostic, which in simple terms means I recognize what I know. And what I don’t. I cannot say with any certainty if there is a higher purpose in our individual lives or our collective existence. I cannot say with any certainty how our known universe was created, much less why, or if those are even the right questions to ask. And to whom am I even addressing these questions.

We cannot adequately define supernatural deities, much less validate their existence, what they value, and what they expect of us. How do we measure and observe what we have defined as being unmeasurable and unobservable, beyond nature.

Agnosticism requires getting comfortable with uncertainty, because we live in a world that does not give up its secrets easily. It’s fortunate then, that agnosticism also goes hand-in-hand with curiosity. It does not stop us from speculating, it encourages it, as long as that speculation is not presented as fact and weaponized to oppress others.

One thing I can say with absolute certainty, is that there is absolutely no certainty to support supernatural claims, religious or otherwise. I can say with complete confidence, that faith is not fact.

Contained within those four words are some four hundred years of scientific discoveries, each of which contributed to that confidence. Those discoveries led to one of humanity’s crowning achievements.

Through the rigor of the scientific method and the critical thinking skills it demands, we can objectively assess the validity of our claims. We can design and run tests on those claims, recording our measurements and observations, and then validating our results to ensure they are repeatable by independently run experiments.

In this way we can separate fact from fiction, distinguish between subjective and objective truths, and attempt to quantify uncertainty. Applying this to religious doctrine is a straightforward process and leads us to some definitive answers.

Since we can’t conceive of any way to repeatably test and independently verify the existence of supernatural entities, much less their characteristics and nuanced expectations, we quite quickly arrive at this conclusion: Hypotheses about supernatural entities are unprovable. Any religion that promotes its supernatural doctrine as objective truth or factual is making fraudulent claims.

Any chance we have in halting the damage caused by these fraudulent claims hinges on our ability to hold religions accountable, and the scientific method gives us the framework to do just that. Science doesn’t have the answers to the great mysteries surrounding the origins and meaning of our existence either. But the difference between science and religion is that science doesn’t claim to have those answers. Rather it gives us the confidence to acknowledge and embrace uncertainty, rather than fear it and flee from it.

As evolutionary biologist Dr Jerry Coyne explains in his book Faith versus Fact, many people continue to rationalize that their faith has some scientific basis and conflate the two. Coyne meticulously shows how faith and science are inherently incompatible, conflicting in methodology, outcomes, and philosophy. What is certain is that no one can claim to be objectively certain on matters of faith.

In his book, Jesus and the Hidden Contradictions of the Gospels, biblical scholar, Dr Bart Ehrman, describes not only the contradictions of the gospels but the fact that they were authored anonymously. The utter lack of evidence for the very underpinnings of Catholic Canon Law and all the doctrine that followed, led to Dr Ehrman becoming an agnostic.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Many churches and well-meaning parents are brainwashing kids from the moment they’re born. Isolation from those with secular opinions, like insisting on religious schooling, and controlling access to information, for example, by banning books. Exploiting fear and uncertainty by explaining the mysteries of life and death through the lens of their religious ideology and using repetition and daily recitations to reinforce those notions.

And finally, intertwining faith in God with love and loyalty to their family and country, emotionally equating obedience to God with everything good that gives meaning and joy to their lives. Is it any wonder these kids grow up to have an almost visceral reaction to anything that challenges their world view? Is it any wonder that they become susceptible to those who weaponize religion and exploit their deepest fears?

To end the cycle of generational indoctrination and the subsequent weaponization of religious doctrine that inevitably occurs, we must teach our young people that faith is not fact. Not only do we need to require all organized religions to display that message, but we also need every public school to reinforce that message with age-appropriate curriculum, starting in kindergarten and continuing through their secondary education.

It may seem a tall order, however we should never underestimate the power of inspiration. Like many others in my generation, I was inspired by the Cosmos series and accompanying book by Dr Carl Sagan and his wife, Ann Druyan. Cosmos shared the wonderment of the universe in a way that anyone could appreciate. It put into perspective how little we actually know about the universe and our place in it, and how that uncertainty can be a source of inspiration rather than fear.

Sagan defined superstition as belief without evidence. If we’ve learned anything from the church’s history, superstition can become so deeply entrenched in culture that it is not easily overcome. His words ring truer than ever,
“You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep-seated need to believe.”

We find evidence of that in how conservatives frame every critical issue in religious terms to motivate their voting base: climate crisis, reproductive justice, voter suppression, anti-trans legislation, LGBTQ rights, stolen elections and insurrection, vaccines and masks, and even gun control. Now, more than ever, we must provide future generations with the critical thinking skills they need to make the most informed decisions about the many crises we face on our planet.

The scientific method gives us the tools we need to make evidence-based decisions. It allows us to unequivocally state that religious beliefs, like any supernatural conjecture, cannot be proven or disproven.

Acknowledging that faith is not fact does not stop us from believing or appreciating the wisdom contained within the stories of our faith. They often carry with them the traditions and convictions of our ancestors, passed on through generations of storytelling. Some themes even seem to be common among all religions in some form or another. Like those encouraging us to love and care for one another, regardless of our differences.

Growing up Catholic, I did not think Christianity was meant to be interpreted as an absolute truth and I did not feel compelled to analyze it deeply. I also never thought of church doctrine as a legitimate answer to the mysteries of the universe and our role in it. I assumed no one else did either, based on the actions of my other Catholic friends.

I believed church was simply a place where you could find some sense of shared community. Where I grew up, you sort of inherited the church of your family, whether you wanted to or not. It’s understandable how people would attend a certain church and not really give it much thought.
Church seemed to fill a void for those who wanted to feel connected, either to family or their community. It was a place they would be welcomed regardless of their background, assuming you tithed on time. It also seemed the only place in town to get married and buried, so there was that.

For most people, church was inextricably integrated into their family traditions and often represented a link to their cultural identities. This was especially true in a city like Youngstown, where waves of immigrants were brought in from Europe to work the coal mines and steel mills that were the lifeblood of the region.

In Youngstown, the city was neatly divided into regions where immigrants from a certain country tended to congregate. For example, you knew exactly where the Ukrainian, Polish, Italian, and Irish parts of the city were. Think of it like an early version of EPCOT, but instead of beautiful gardens and fountains there were blast furnaces and huge smokestacks billowing glowing embers of soot that would burn into the paint of all the houses downwind.

I was baptized in the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Ukrainian Church with the Byzantine Rite. I went through the equivalent of Navy SEAL Bud-S training and graduated from Catechism. And I learned to feel guilty for everything that went wrong and beg for forgiveness. We abided by the tithing regulations and attended religiously on Christmas and Easter, come hell or high water.

That’s the way it was for me and my sisters, and it seemed to align well enough with my family’s values. Take my dad, for example. He embodied the angry-God from scripture, and much like our priest, we knew instinctually never to cross him. My mom, thankfully, embodied everything good in scripture, which is largely what kept us kids alive when we invariably ran afoul of our dad’s many rules.

I’ll spare you the details, but for most of my adult life I did not attend church with any regularity, and mostly not at all. I just didn’t find any that matched with my sense of community. I won’t lie, it was also very difficult for me to be in places where even the tiniest bit of swearing would tend to make people uncomfortable.

Fast forward several decades to the birth of my last two kids, and wham. I suddenly felt compelled to go back to church. Yes, you heard me right. This agnostic decided to find a church. And it was pretty much my urging that led our family to start attending regularly and ultimately become members.

The church we started attending was the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor. I will say that I knowingly violated my dad’s rule against changing churches, but by then he had mellowed quite a bit, and it helped that he never attended church again after us kids left the house.
One of the things that attracted us most to the Congregational Church was its reputation as one of the first and fiercest critics of slavery in America and their on-going commitment to social justice. For one thing, they affirm the LGBTQ community and don’t describe trans kids as abominations. But more on that later.

All this to say that I had a pretty typical Catholic up-bringing by all accounts, and I don’t have some preternatural vendetta against churches per say. But it is infinitely clear that while religious doctrine may inform our character, traditions, and culture, we cannot allow it to be used as the basis for the Rule of Law or any rules of law. We cannot allow it to manipulate or dictate legislation, justice, education, or any other public institution.
And while each religion speaks to morality through the lens of their supernatural beliefs, morality did not arise from religious epiphany and is certainly not essential for moral conduct.

To the contrary, religions are responsible for or complicit in some of the worst examples of man’s inhumanity to man. And more specifically, man’s inhumanity to woman. And white man’s inhumanity to, well, everyone. The essential elements of morality result from societal evolution and natural selection. Morality today often exists in spite of religion rather than because of it. I bear witness.

Peter Tchoryk

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Part Five: Morality from Religion? Nah

Morality from Religion? Nah

Part Five of Thirteen

The longevity of religious texts through the centuries is due in no small part to their poignant and often poetic lessons on morality. Unfortunately, many people assume morality comes from religion, or at the very least, that religion played a central role in its advancement. The uncomfortable truth is that morality exists largely in spite of religion, not because of it.

The world’s most popular religions, namely those derived from Abrahamic belief systems, have long claimed that morality originates from Holy Scripture. The evolution of social structures and civilizations tell a different story. Morality was essential to that social evolution. Without the social order conferred by morality, complex societies could not have developed beyond basic familial and tribal unions.

In his book, A Natural History of Human Morality, Michael Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig Germany, presents some 30 years of research on the evolution of human moral psychology. This research helps explain how modern humans evolved far beyond other species in our cognitive ability to collaborate, thus improving our collective chances of survival.

Tomasello’s experiments led to conclusions about how the human struggle for survival compelled the development of ultra-collaborative skills rooted in a collective understanding of trust, respect, and responsibility. These skill sets, in turn, resulted in objective norms of right and wrong.

The development of more advanced skills like shared intentionality began governing individual human interactions as well as interactions with the community as a whole – what we call morality. The essential elements of morality can be traced to even the earliest civilizations and clearly played a pivotal role in societal evolution.

Our future as a species has always depended on ultra-cooperation, and when that cooperation begins to falter, the collapse of social order is not far behind. This effect is exacerbated as humanity develops more powerful weapons of mass destruction that become available to an ever-growing number of countries and competing groups within those countries.

This is the situation we find ourselves in today, and not just with the risk of escalating global confrontation. Ultra-cooperation is also essential to the success of any global initiative intended to address the climate crisis and slow the rate of rising temperatures and its devastating impact on the habitability of our planet.

The fact is that morality has always been defined by those in power. In the west, white Christian men predictably held the power and were either directly or indirectly supported by the Church. When conquest, genocide, slavery, and segregation were deemed necessary to acquire new lands and resources and to establish new trade routes, those actions were sanctioned by the Church. It was much easier to carry out these tasks knowing that God had ordained them.

Well before the Reformation and the establishment of protestant churches, the Catholic church set the stage for dehumanizing people of color to justify conquest and colonization. Its subjugation of women, of course, dated back to the Old Testament and to this day women are denied any positions of authority in the church.

By the 1400s, the Catholic church became the first global organization to justify the trans-Atlantic slave trade and authorize the permanent enslavement of Africans and indigenous peoples. As Europe competed for natural resources and slave labor, it fueled the race for global colonization and mass exploitation of indigenous lands.

Through the 1800s, the church continued to give clear conscience to those who practiced slavery and committed genocide against indigenous peoples, including in North America. Most of the world divested themselves from the slave trade well before America, which was one of the last – and then only after a Civil War.

While some churches rebelled against traditional doctrine and joined the abolitionist movement, the majority of Southern white churches in America fought to maintain slavery as one of the pillars of the Confederacy. Theological arguments were used to actively endorse slavery, segregation, and voting restrictions that Black Americans are still fighting against today.

After the Civil War, those southern churches vigorously opposed reconstruction. They continued to assure white Southerners of their God-given superiority over Black Americans, free or not. From the Ku Klux Klan to the enshrinement of Jim Crow laws to their opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, white churches continued to provide the biblical justification for segregation and dehumanization of Black communities.

We still see it today. When conservatives needed to spur their Christian base to the polls, they declared war on ‘woke mobs’ and all those trying to give equitable representation to African American lives in history and social contexts. History is being systematically whitewashed to court white Christian voters whose faith is still deeply rooted in white supremacy.

Conservatives of course didn’t stop there. They declared trans kids an abomination and L.G.B.T.Q. identities a threat to God’s creation. Red states criminalized gender-affirming health care, casting parents and doctors as child abusers, groomers, and pedophiles.

It’s safe to say that up to this point in human history, organized religion has contributed more to sowing division than it has in fostering cooperation. Thankfully, not all churches operate this way.

Some churches practice their faith in a way that lifts everyone up, and not through a million-dollar sound system that would put Vegas to shame. I’m talking about congregations who will literally and figuratively pick you up if you falter. I’m talking about churches that put themselves on the line for social justice, and have been blown up, shot at, and burned down, but never stay down.

These churches personify a God that you’d actually want to hang out with, not out of fear or obligatory worship, but because they lift you up when you need it. This isn’t some God that keeps score and more closely resembles a petty, vain, insecure frat boy. There’s no talk of a rich man’s version of heaven or a poor man’s version of hell.

This God doesn’t condemn someone because they were born a certain color, or for who they love, or for being trapped in the wrong gender. This God is nothing like the Gods whose sole purpose seems to be maximizing baby production, like some night shift manager in an illegal industrialized breeding facility. No, this God joins in the singing and clapping because singing and clapping is good for the soul – and not even a million-dollar sound system can hold a candle to the music reverberating off the walls in these churches.

The Black Freedom Movement would not have been successful without Black churches leading the way for social justice. Where would we be if Black Americans had not organized, marched, and protested in spite of deadly bombings, the assassination of their leaders, and daily violence against their families.

The path to ending the weaponization of religion and dismantling systems of injustice cannot be accomplished without those same Black churches. It was their steadfast commitment to social justice that set them apart back then and it sets them apart today.

Dr King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, were both social justice warriors, and their vision of the Beloved Community is the epitome of a world where ultra-cooperation and inclusivity are the cornerstones of society. These communities would exist in a World House where, as Dr King envisioned, “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation.” After Martin’s assassination, Coretta founded the King Institute for Nonviolent Social Change to be a global resource for those pursuing this vision.

The re-branded Republican Party however, with its Christian nationalist ideology, is entirely antithetical to King’s vision. Through its Project 2025, conservatives plan to criminalize social justice and punish any organization that pursues it.

In this respect, not much has changed since F.B.I. Director J Edgar Hoover set out to neutralize Dr King. Hoover held a personal vendetta against King for his pursuit of social justice and his leading role in the Civil Rights movement. He put a target on King’s back by labeling him a communist and subversive, even naming King as the number one threat to the American way of life.

King wanted to hold America accountable for its hypocrisy, not only in its institutionalized racism but in its abuse and weaponization of religion. In a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta around the Fourth of July 1965, King spoke again of his dream. He harkens back to the Declaration of Independence, and the dream that the world will one day embrace the true meaning of those transformative words, all men are created equal.

“The first saying we notice in this dream,” King says, “is an amazing universalism.” He goes on to point out that the word all, includes Black men, Gentiles, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, humanists and agnostics.

Morality is not a religious construct, nor does it require religious doctrine or faith to endure. It is time to stop attributing moral superiority to organized religion, in particular the Catholic and white Evangelical churches that still sanction oppression. In addition, we must ensure that organized religion is held to the same standards of logic and reason, the same rules of law, as every other institution in this country.

It may seem impossible, but as we learned from Rosa Parks, it starts by saying, ‘Nah.’

Peter Tchoryk

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Part Six: Trans Kids in the Crosshairs

Trans Kids in the Crosshairs

Part Six of Thirteen

My family’s journey, which led to me writing this book, began on Easter Sunday more than a decade ago. As I mentioned previously, we had decided to join the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor shortly after our last two kids were born and our family was doing its usual fire drill in a desperate and mostly futile attempt to get there on time.

It was during this Easter fire drill to get the kids dressed and out the door that my young trans son gave me the chance to see the world through his eyes. Though assigned female at birth, my son was experiencing what we now know as gender dysphoria.

That moment was a foreshadowing of the consistent, insistent, and persistent distress over the mismatch between his body and his identity. A dysphoria that turned his world upside down over the next two years.

On that Sunday, however, all we knew was that our two-and-a-half-year-old was channeling Jackie Chan to avoid putting on that Easter dress, complete with squirrel-like hops and acrobatics, and kicks that often landed cleanly.

At that point my wife and I went to Plan B and dug up the only clothes our son had that were completely gender-neutral: sweatpants and a t-shirt. I can still remember walking down the center aisle in the middle of the service, our four-year-old daughter skipping her way toward the front, wearing the matching version of what is simply known in our house as, “The Dress.” And sauntering behind her, a toddler who may have just escaped from an orphanage, Oliver Twist, but with swagger.

I think of this story and smile whenever some anti-trans legislator or church leader passionately calls for trans-affirming parents to be prosecuted for felony child abuse. We are accused of turning our kids trans, because we apparently want a kid with a different gender so badly, we’re willing to force it on them.

I thought this amusing for two reasons.

First, I should probably make you aware that there is only about a year and a half age gap between our son and his next older sister. As a result, I think you can understand the feeling of awe and unbridled joy that I felt when the doctor exclaimed, “It’s a girl!” In that moment time stopped, and I knew that we would never, ever have to buy this kid new clothes and toys.

Hand-me-downs are pure gold. It’s like winning the lotto for parents.

My second reason is this. Do not underestimate the determination of a kid who is out to set the record straight on their gender, and I don’t care how old they are. That Jackie Chan reference was no joke. It was at once disconcerting and impressive.

The reality is that gender dysphoria is a desperate, despondent, and fierce rejection of gender. Clothes, hairstyle, and pronouns are just the outward manifestations of a much greater battle going on inside. One of the most brutal battles is the unbearable and unrelenting dissonance between their gender identity and how their body looks, especially with respect to their gender-related body parts.

For example, when my son was around three years old, he started asking me when he was going to get his peanut, which was his word for penis. We knew from his Day Care provider that our son would consistently stand up when the teachers called for boys to line up for the bathroom. He was already trying to make sense of why he didn’t have a peanut like the other boys.

I remember struggling to find the right words to clearly articulate the concept of identity and how it relates to his physical appearance and anatomy – essentially, why he didn’t have a peanut when he knew he was a boy. At one point I said, “Think of it this way, on the inside you’re a boy, but on the outside you’re a girl.”

That seemed to placate him for the moment, but in a few days, he again asked me why he doesn’t have a peanut. When I started reminding him of the explanation I had given last time, he interrupted me and said, “No, that’s not right. I’m a boy on the inside and outside.” I was clearly going to have to work harder. Because he was right.

He is a boy, inside and out. Just because he doesn’t have the parts that other boys typically have, it doesn’t mean he is not a boy through and through. True, he has a variation of a boy’s body which is not as common – that’s why it is described as dysphoria. My son’s body is a boy’s body, but with female genitalia instead of male.

In any event, I told my son that if he still wanted boy parts when he got older, we would make that happen. And we will.

Around the same time, his Day Care teacher noted our son’s extreme dislike of his hair length, which he often complained was too long, making him look like a girl. A quick aside. His Day Care teachers became some of his strongest advocates for that haircut, outside of his sister, and even arranged for one of their co-workers to cut his hair after we gave the green light.

Immediately after getting his haircut, they noticed our son didn’t seem as happy as they anticipated, and asked if he liked it. He shook his head no, and said it was still too long. So back they went. That buzzcut seemed to do the trick, with his teacher saying, and I quote, “It was the happiest I had ever seen him.”

Gender dysphoria involves a comprehensive diagnosis. Our family was fortunate to finally find medical and mental health experts who could help. Gender dysphoria is an intense and typically consistent, insistent, and persistent discord between a child’s assigned gender and their internal identity.

This is probably where I should emphasize that gender dysphoria is not the same as your child wanting to be a dog, lion, or pirate. We hear that a lot from kind, concerned anti-trans strangers. In fact, based on my experiences, trans kids seem to have a better handle on their identities than, say, your average adult male football fan. Don’t believe me? Just watch how heavily invested the fans are in their college and pro teams. Or if you have the stomach for it, watch any English Premier League match.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to put into words how despondent our son was from the dysphoria. All I can tell you it was a matter of life and death. Maybe not right then, maybe not in a year, but at some point in his young life.

Suffice to say, after The Dress incident we went on Google and researched the heck out of the symptoms we had witnessed. We had to look outside the state to find the relatively few families who were going public at that time. And it was challenging to find local doctors and therapists who had experience with gender dysphoria in such a young kid.

We learned that gender, like many other things in life, is on a spectrum. We learned that gender dysphoria often reveals itself at the age when all children first begin associating with a gender, typically at two to three years old. These things are almost obvious, in hindsight.

We were very fortunate to have the wherewithal to attend conferences and seek out the help we needed. Ultimately, we found medical professionals who were able to diagnose our son’s gender dysphoria and provide gender-affirming care.

Gender dysphoria is real and much more common than people think. And it is entirely manageable.

Our decision to affirm our son’s identity was made to keep him alive. We’d rather have a child who is alive and happy, than a child who takes their own life because we refused to learn and grow ourselves.

After we affirmed his identity, it was like a light switch. He went from despair to a happy kid who couldn’t wait to go to school.

We enrolled our son in kindergarten as a boy, but before school started, I spoke with his principal. I explained what we learned about gender identity and what our family experienced over the last two years.

We were also fortunate because although our son’s principal didn’t have any prior experience with trans kids, he was eager to learn. He assured us not to worry, that his job was to provide a safe and supportive environment for every one of his students. Because “all means all.” It didn’t make a bit of difference whether we were talking about learning challenges, physical disabilities, mental health challenges, or gender dysphoria.

As our son thrived in his elementary school years following the decision to affirm his identity, I began to wonder if the key to changing hearts and minds would be as simple as people getting to know him. I decided to ask him if he would be ok with me loaning him out to families around the globe, say for a week at a time, just so they could see how cool he is. Kind of like a time-share sort of thing.

Unfortunately, by the time I finished explaining time-shares and how lucrative they could be for the sellers, my son was tired and cranky. I began realizing his behavior at times might test our return policies, and decided instead to wait a few more years. Another good idea before its time.

In any event, from second through sixth grade, our educators led discussions in my son’s classes explaining what it means to be transgender, allowing him to share his personal experiences. These discussions were always done in the context of gender identity being just one of countless differences. He wanted his classmates to understand what it means to be transgender and that he is telling the truth.

My son’s classmates seemed genuinely curious, and the discussions would inevitably lead to other students sharing their differences and how they would like to be treated. Kids get it. From our experiences and those of educators around the country kids can certainly be taught about gender identity in an age-appropriate way, even in elementary school.

Young people with gender dysphoria suffer extremely high rates of depression and anxiety, with an attempted suicide rate approaching 50%. In contrast, youth who are affirmed in their gender identity experience mental health similar to the rest of the population.

The evidence we have today confirms that gender-affirming care yields the best possible outcomes compared to wait-and-see approaches and the Christian-backed conversion therapies that have been debunked time and again. There is always more to discover, of course. Yet ironically, it is conservatives who are banning and even criminalizing efforts by universities to perform research on gender identity.

With respect to education, we have evidence and experience from welcoming schools around the country demonstrating that affirming trans identities in no way diminishes the school experiences of other students. In fact, when schools provide safer, more inclusive environments for L.G.B.T.Q. students, the safety and academic achievements of all students improves.

My son has been interviewed by several media outlets over the years, most recently by the Detroit News. He had an opportunity to share his story as the first openly trans student in the Dexter school district. Asked to sum up his early elementary school experiences, he said, “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 school experience and our cautious optimism would end as he started high school. In Michigan, copycat legislation similar to that passed in Texas and Alabama was introduced. The proposed legislation would prevent gender-affirming health care for trans and gender-diverse youth. It would also criminalize affirming parents and healthcare professionals as child abusers. A federal offense with a potential sentence of life in prison.

Just so we’re completely clear on this, what exactly is my crime? Well, I’m the dad of a 15-year-old trans son, and I make it possible for him to follow the medical recommendations of pediatric endocrinologists at the University of Michigan Health System, one of the top-ranked medical institutions in the world.

The University of Michigan Health System provides gender dysphoria diagnoses and gender-affirming care that aligns with the evidence-based practices called for by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychology Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Pediatric Endocrine Society, among others.

A 2022 article in Scientific American reported that, “All of those medical societies find such care to be evidence-based and medically necessary.” It went on to say, “data from more than a dozen studies of more than 30,000 transgender and gender-diverse young people consistently show that access to gender-affirming care is associated with better mental health outcomes. And that lack of access to such care is associated with higher rates of suicidality, depression, and self-harming behavior.”

“Data suggests that the effects of denying that care are worse than whatever side effects result from delaying puberty. And medical society guidelines conclude that the benefits of gender-affirming care outweigh the risks.”

Our family has taken part in one of the longest-running longitudinal studies that tracks the efficacy of gender-affirming care. It is one of many studies corroborating that gender-affirming health care improves mental health outcomes for trans patients.

Unlike the anti-trans critiques, this and similar research results are published in peer-reviewed journals by leading researchers in the field. There is always more to learn, just like with any medical treatment, but there is no doubt that today’s gender-affirming care is the best evidence-based option available.

The prospect of going to prison isn’t something I’ve had to consider before. And life imprisonment for following recommended healthcare practices seems a bit harsh, in light of the sentences given to the people who stormed the Capitol. Not to mention the potential life-time immunity being considered for its ringleader.

Be that as it may, it is still nothing compared to what will happen to trans kids under this law. My son and others like him will be denied gender-affirming health care and taken away from their families.

For a population that already has to overcome lies that accuse them of being sexual deviants, denying this care will have deadly consequences. Our kids see no future for themselves in a world dominated by conservative ideology and supernatural doctrine that denies their right to exist.

Why are trans kids suddenly the highest priority of conservative state legislators and wealthy donors? Are conservatives genuinely trying to protect trans kids?

Do these legislators have evidence that every major medical and mental health organization in the U.S., including our pediatric endocrinologists at the University of Michigan, have somehow neglected to consider? Were the countless testimonies of parents and trans kids themselves even considered?

Nah. 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 and the kidnapping and indoctrination of Native American children was motivated out of care for indigenous families.

As with most efforts to eliminate diverse populations, it begins with talk of cleansing blood lines, maintaining cultural purity, and the need for people to assimilate and convert or face punishment. It cloaks itself in false piety and disingenuous concern for others, while simultaneously fanning the flames of racism and bigotry and normalizing violence against all who fall outside a narrow, white Christian nationalist ideal.

This type of insidious genetic cleansing is not easily overcome once it takes root, as we’ve seen in the rise of countless fascist regimes in the past century. We are at a tipping point, and the actions or inactions of companies and educational institutions that value diversity will determine the outcome.

Any company that relies on innovation understands the value of diversity. Diversity powers invention, enlightenment, and groundbreaking discoveries. Diversity in race, nationality, culture, and different lived experiences. It is those very differences that inspire transformative thinking.

And when we consider the goals of our educational system to prepare kids for life and for meaningful, productive careers, think about this: the majority of companies in our country also recognize the rights of transgender people to use the bathrooms and facilities that match their identity. Many of those companies also signed on to a Friend of the Court brief in support of transgender student Gavin Grimm to use the bathroom of his identity, in G.G. versus the Gloucester County School Board.

Trans kids are joining a long list of groups that have faced persecution, enslavement, segregation, even genocide, throughout America’s history. It’s impossible to compare the freedom struggles that different groups of people go through because their experiences are unique; their sacrifices, pain, and suffering are singular.

We do have an obligation, however, to understand the common threads between these struggles. For example, the malice I saw on the faces of anti-trans protestors immediately brought to mind that iconic photo of Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine, walking bravely through a crowd of raging white protesters.

The 15-year-old Ms Eckford was one of nine black students who eventually ushered in the era of desegregation in Arkansas, finally holding the state accountable for defying the 1954 Brown versus Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. But on that day, she was chased from the school with taunts and threats against her life.

In that single photo, the unfiltered truth of where Arkansas and much of our society stood on racial equality was exposed for all to see. Black communities were not just segregated; they were dehumanized.

Through Jim Crow laws, lynching, and violent suppression of the black vote, southern states still governed as if the confederacy won the Civil War. For the Little Rock Nine, the victory was short-lived. The following school year, Governor Faubus closed all the high schools in Little Rock rather than continue with integration.

The ideology that produced hundreds of years of slavery is tightly woven into the fabric of Southern life. It took a civil war to prevent the South from seceding and establishing a nation that would enshrine slavery and racism as a cornerstone of its Confederate Constitution.

The white Christian churches of the South assured their congregations that God made white men superior to the not-quite-human black and indigenous peoples. Those fire-and-brimstone churches preached that Southerners had a God-mandated obligation to preserve slavery and the Southern way of life, at any cost.

That cost was bloodshed on a scale this continent had not seen since the genocide of indigenous peoples. Even after emancipation, the zeal to preserve slavery and the Southern way of life was never defeated in the soul of the South. It merely evolves to survive.

The Confederate ideology lived on through Jim Crow laws and was empowered by white Christian churches. With that backing, southerners produced another hundred years of segregated, institutionalized racism and dehumanization of black America.

Nearly 70 years after the Elizabeth Eckford photo was taken, that moment is recreated whenever systemic racism is challenged, whenever trans-affirming measures are taken, and whenever women seek autonomy over their bodies. That moment is recreated in the enraged faces of the Christian protestors at school board meetings, outside reproductive health clinics, and public libraries. It is clear why we are still fighting battles against systemic racism, some 160 years after emancipation.

Cloaked in themes of family and the welfare of children, the powerful combination of religion, nationalism, and fear has been exploited by conservatives to perfection. “In Florida,” as Charles Blow writes, “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.”

Such is the power that Governor DeSantis has bestowed on Florida conservative parents. He’s not alone of course, as Katelyn Burns reports, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has essentially deputized conservative citizens in Texas in his war against L.G.B.T.Q. identities and their allies.

What many of us failed to recognize is that Christianity, as with all religions, is just as easily exploited today as it has in centuries past. Christian nationalists and the conservatives who prey on peoples’ fears are fully complicit. But as Dr King admonished, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

That time is now.

Peter Tchoryk

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Part Seven: Weaponized Religion

Weaponized Religion

Part Seven of Thirteen

In Medieval Europe, the Catholic Church declared itself good, and anyone who challenged the power of the church was, naturally, declared evil. Not much has changed. Listen to any MAGA conservative leader and you’ll hear the same message being broadcast today.

In this chapter, we examine how conservatives have taken every single good thing from the Bible, melted them down in the flames of hell, added in the seven deadly sins, and forged it into a weapon. A ring. One ring to rule them all. You think I’m exaggerating? Read on.

Make no mistake, the same fear and rage that so effectively drive the G.O.P.’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 of trans youth has also caused an already devastating suicide rate to rise even further and has fueled more violence against young trans students in our K-12 schools.

Those who practice fear mongering are not constrained by facts and evidence. This is especially true for the Christian-centered group of medical and mental health practitioners who reject evidence-based practices in favor of their personal interpretation of biblical principles.

The phrase sexual mutilation, for example, has been popularized by anti-trans doctors and legislators as they continue to wage disinformation campaigns in an attempt to discredit the medical and mental health community’s Standards of Care. Anti-trans health care professionals who disseminate false information must be held accountable. Their recommendations are so blatantly contrary to medical consensus that it warrants investigation for negligence, and given the harm it causes, even medical malpractice.

In addition to violence against the trans community itself, trans-affirming educators and allies are often targeted by radio hosts, influencers, and podcasters who make false accusations about them on social media and expose them to abuse and violence. It has led to death threats against doctors and even bomb threats like the ones made against Boston’s Children’s Hospital.

We can expect the lethality of the violence to escalate as the conservatives continue their fear-mongering campaigns. Violence like that ignited by torch-wielding white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups in Charlottesville, VA – widely seen as the coming-out party for the emboldened alt-Right. Violence like the lynching of Rasheem Carter in Mississippi and the mass murders of Black shoppers in Buffalo, NY.  Violence against Black trans women that has become so commonplace as to be relegated to back-page news, if it makes the news at all.

All of these events should have been a wake-up call for our country. Instead, we stayed asleep.

When will we learn?

Black Americans were shackled by dehumanization and legalized segregation for nearly 100 years after emancipation and to this day continue to face systemic racism and the litany of injustices it breeds. A continuous indoctrination and reinforcement of lies became ingrained in American culture and institutions, lies that were endorsed by most white Christian churches.

Segregation was not just physical or social alienation. Entire ethnic groups were denied equal and equitable access to voting, education, employment, justice, housing, health care, businesses, transportation, public facilities, hotels, and recreation. This exhaustive segregation was meant to dehumanize and isolate, to destroy the spirit as well as the body and mind. Equality and justice were as far away in the 1950’s as the 1850’s. And both times, it required bloodshed to make any progress.

Some people may be surprised to learn that the same forces fighting to suppress trans identities are also fighting to suppress Black identities. The same forces that deny the rights of trans people also deny the rights of Black people. The same forces that demonize and incite violence against trans communities also demonize and incite violence against Black communities.

Christian nationalism is the political-religious machine behind those forces. It is a rebirth of the Religious Right. The same Religious Right that defied the Civil Rights Act and fought to keep their Christian universities as segregated, racist institutions well into the 1970s. The same Religious Right that supports conservative leaders who openly court white supremacists and endorse restrictive voting laws. The same Religious Right that strives to eliminate Black lives from American history in our public schools.

As Steve Phillips adeptly points out in his recently published book, How We Win the Civil War, the allure of the confederacy and the glory days of white supremacy are like a drug. Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement is today’s drug of choice, the magic elixir for conservatives who seek to satiate their cravings for those glory days.

Phillips writes, “It’s the logic-defying elixir that prompted God-fearing, church-going Christians to put on their Sunday best and take their children to witness Black men being hung from trees. And it’s the fuel that drove historic Republican voter turnout in 2020.”

Phillips speaks of creating a new social contract, one that at last honors the intentions of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution that all people deserve to be treated equally and have the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This new social contract is necessary because America has for far too long been in breach of its original social contract.

The eradication of white supremacy from American institutions will be front and foremost in our new social contract, but it is not the only violation that must be rectified. The same states that fought against Black freedom and civil rights now lead the fight against women’s reproductive rights, trans existence, and L.G.B.T.Q. rights: states like Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, and, of course, Mississippi, a state known as the most inhumane in the nation by Black leaders in the 1950s and 60’s.

As reported recently in the NY Times, a barrage of anti-trans bills in Mississippi is making it impossible for trans kids to exist, criminalizing affirming health care and erasing them from public schools. Mississippi denies the existence of trans identities, declaring, “Separate is not inherently unequal,” a reference to Plessy versus Ferguson, the 1896 ruling in which the Supreme Court upheld segregation. Trans and Black lives are not safe in Mississippi.

There are currently hundreds of anti-trans bills making their way through state houses. In the states enacting these laws, state officials are proud to share why they are making it a top priority to deny the rights of trans kids and prosecute the parents, doctors, and educators who support them.

For example, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey didn’t need many words to explain why she was signing anti-trans legislation into law,

“If the Good Lord made you a boy, you’re a boy, and if he made you a girl, you’re a girl.”

A firmly held religious belief is enough justification for those legislators to create laws that jeopardize my son’s life and would put me in prison – possibly for life. We’re not far removed from when a similar rationale was used to justify genocide, slavery, and segregation of Black and indigenous peoples. In this, we are no different than the tyrannical theocracies that are governed by Sharia law.

Statements like this one from Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene demonstrate how normalized it has become to use supernatural claims to dehumanize and condemn others. On the House floor in 2021, Greene declared that her opposition to L.G.B.T.Q. equality is based on her belief that it will destroy 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.”

I once again couldn’t wait to tell my son that he has the power to destroy God’s creation. Like any powerful superhero, he was nonplussed by that disclosure and simply shrugged his shoulders. I, on the other hand, was beaming and proudly telling everyone I knew that my son is a destroyer of worlds – even though he likely got that power from his mom.

But it turns out the conservatives who are protecting God’s creation from my son were just getting started.

In his majority opinion overturning Roe versus Wade, Justice Alito proudly interprets the Constitution through the lens of Catholic Canon Law and doctrine going as far back as 800 years, referencing the views and morals from 17th and 13th-century Christian doctrine. It won’t end there, as Justice Thomas declared that all past rulings will be viewed from this lens.

The danger of allowing religious beliefs to be accepted as objective truth is painfully illustrated in recent anti-trans legislation. For years, experts and professionals have debunked every argument made by anti-trans conservatives. We have provided overwhelming evidence via peer-reviewed studies, documented assessments and testimony from every credible medical and mental health organization. These arguments have thus far proven ineffective against a conservative ideology that can simply ignore facts and evidence in favor of religious doctrine.

The recent 2024 budget negotiations provide another shocking example of how far conservatives are willing to go to erase trans identities and appease their religious base. With a government shut-down only hours away, Republicans recklessly added dozens of anti-trans riders to the proposed stop-gap $1.2 trillion budget deal, risking a government shutdown in the process.

As reported by Katelyn Burns, the conservative budget proposals “included everything from barring federal funds from going to hospital systems that give puberty blockers to minors, to blocking federal funding for any form of gender-affirming care, at any age,” and, “would have rolled trans health care back several decades.” All but one of the riders were finally removed, but only at the eleventh hour.

Let that one sink in. An economy still emerging from a Covid-induced nightmare, stagflation, major crises in hot spots all over the globe – and conservatives are laser-focused on trans kids? For the love of God. Still think I’m exaggerating?

Peter Tchoryk

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Part Eight: A Very Slippery Slope

A Very Slippery Slope

Part Eight of Thirteen

I can still vividly recall the 2016 Michigan State Board of Education meeting when I had the sinking feeling that my trans son and kids like him will never be safe in this world.

Along with other supportive parents and allies, I took advantage of public comment to talk openly about our family’s story and the ways in which our school district successfully supported our transgender son since he socially transitioned before kindergarten. I shared the overwhelming evidence debunking false allegations perpetuated about the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

We were hoping the state would approve guidance to help all public schools create safe and inclusive learning environments for L.G.B.T.Q. students. Guidance that has been shown to make schools safer and more inclusive for all students. Guidance that educators across the state had requested.

Prior to that meeting, I was much more optimistic that reason would prevail over the fear mongering and disinformation that maligns transgender and non-binary students and their allies. Every major organization in our country representing the medical and mental health fields, education, child safety, social workers, even law enforcement, has validated trans-affirming policies in health care, education, and public spaces.

While there are always a few parents and ministers who speak on behalf of God, this meeting was different. I didn’t anticipate the busloads of worshippers, entire church congregations filling the meeting hall and lobby and spilling out onto the plaza. I didn’t anticipate the number of anti-trans protestors who would frame their arguments in religious terms. I certainly didn’t anticipate the viciousness in which they would condemn trans and non-binary students as abominations in the sight of God and a threat to other children.

In what would become a regular occurrence, conservative community leaders organized church congregations and bussed them to school board meetings by the hundreds. Trans students had to walk through a sea of vitriol, sometimes punctuated with Oath Keepers in full tactical gear.

I also didn’t anticipate how many protestors would brazenly accuse affirming parents, doctors, and educators of being satanic child abusers, molesters, and groomers. The board ultimately adopted the guidance, outvoting the conservative members, but these types of chaotic scenes began to occur more and more frequently across the nation as conservatives launched a full out initiative to discriminate against trans people and deny their identities.

One of the outcomes from testifying at that board meeting was that our family became an instant target of conservative rage. It turns out a parent in our school district was intending to run for a seat on the board and happened to be in attendance for our presentation.

Shortly after seeing it, the parent posted a message on the Friends of Dexter Schools Facebook page warning of a conspiracy and spreading disinformation. We were effectively outed. But rather than hide, we decided to share our experiences as a family and provide accurate information to set the record straight.

That’s not an easy decision to make, and every parent has to weigh a lot of factors before considering it. The dangers are real, for everyone in the family. In our estimation, however, the greater danger was the effect on our son if he were forced to go stealth after living authentically for so many years.

By summer of 2016, we were spending every spare moment advocating for the transgender and L.G.B.T.Q. community. Little did we know, things were about to get much, much worse for our community after the presidential election in the fall.

In neighboring Grass Lake Michigan, another family with a transgender son was outed. The harassment began with opponents tagging the family in social media. Then community members organized the Concerned Parents and Taxpayers of Grass Lake and launched a petition to prevent the child from using the boys’ bathroom. In partnership with the conservative law nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, they threatened to sue the school if they didn’t reverse the policy allowing the child to use the bathroom that matched their gender identity.

Conservative media framed the sudden uprisings of enraged conservative families against school boards as a spontaneous movement. It was anything but spontaneous. It turns out the Alliance Defending Freedom’s threats to sue Grass Lake Schools was not only part of a statewide strategy, but also part of a national strategy that also included groups like Moms for Liberty. Denying trans students the right to use bathrooms matching their gender identity and banning L.G.B.T.Q.-inclusive books and curriculum are two fronts in this staged battle.

My hometown of Dexter Michigan had a series of school board meetings about showing a video reading of the book I Am Jazz to elementary schools.  The book explains in simple terms the journey of a young transgender girl and her quest to become her authentic self.

Jazz Jennings is a young woman who has become an activist for the L.G.B.T.Q. community. Her story has empowered millions of children and adults. She is also a frequent target of the right. The American Library Association listed I Am Jazz as the thirteenth most banned and challenged book of the last ten years.

The video included various local officials, students and community members reading I am Jazz. It included two of our own kids, our then twelve-year-old daughter and ten-year-old trans son. The year was 2018, and I had come to one of many heated school board meetings to speak in defense of transgender children finally getting an opportunity to have their stories shared with peers and to see themselves portrayed, not as satanic abominations, but regular kids who are just trying to find their place and survive in this world like everyone else.

A local church organized protests outside the school board meetings and spoke during the board meetings to let the board know the extent of their outrage. Ultimately, the school offered an opt-out option to appease parents who opposed the reading.

Similar scenes played out in Saline Michigan. Under the auspices of parental rights, the anti-trans Saline Parents group urged its members to file official complaints about I Am Jazz with the state. Churches have by far been the loudest and most misinformed sources of disinformation of all the groups I’ve seen protesting L.G.B.T.Q. inclusive education.

Our public schools and educators are always on the front lines of battles to make our schools more inclusive. They’ve seen it all, from tearing down the systems of racial segregation, to providing equitable opportunities for female students and students with physical challenges, to creating safe learning environments for L.G.B.T.Q. students.

Books, curriculum, and open discussions about race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, autism, disabilities, and all other differences is key to creating those safe spaces. It replaces fear with understanding and fosters trust where there was once only suspicion or uncertainty. It builds connections and heals divides. This is the power of storytelling.

Ruby Bridges-Hall said, “As a child, I never quite understood the power of a story until I found myself at the center of one that catalyzed and emboldened a movement.  Today it is so important that our children learn to believe in the power of their stories and know what a force for change they can be.”

There is still much confusion about what it means to be transgender. The purpose of Jazz’s children’s book and the readings is to share one transgender child’s experience and hopefully open some hearts and minds.

Any time we do these readings, we expect questions. And some tension. Tension ensues whenever we challenge the status quo and it’s a reflection of the level of understanding we have as a society. But if we don’t share our stories, our children’s experiences and struggles are subject to misinterpretation. Misinterpretation can lead to fear and anger and, increasingly, violence.

In September 2023, PEN America issued a report called Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor. Their research found that 3,362 books were banned in public schools during the 2022-23 school year marking a 33% increase over last year. The report states that, “Hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric about ‘porn in schools,’ ‘sexually explicit,’ ‘harmful,’ and ‘age inappropriate’ materials” has led to the removal of “thousands of books covering a range of topics and themes.” The report adds that bans overwhelmingly target books on race or racism or by and about characters of color, as well as books with L.G.B.T.Q. identities.

A vocal minority is pushing censorship despite widespread opposition to these efforts.  The Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings Institution found that 88% of Americans, an overwhelming majority of the country, are against the book bans.

Despite those numbers, so-called parents’ rights groups have proliferated. Their efforts to restrict access to books and take over school boards works in tandem with an ever-growing legislative infrastructure that favors far right bills.

PEN America reported a 250% increase in “educational gag orders” introduced into state legislatures. A “gag order” is defined as “efforts to restrict teaching about topics such as race, gender, American history, and L.G.B.T.Q. identities in K–12 and higher education.” We have arrived at a moment in which librarians are being threatened with prison time and fines for distributing banned books under new obscenity laws.

Under the aegis of parental rights, conservative groups like Moms for Liberty are descending on schools located near their chapters. Founded in Florida in 2020 to fight COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates, they shifted their mission to focus heavily on getting books removed from public libraries and schools.

Although they don’t self-identify as a religious nonprofit, Moms for Liberty spokeswomen are explicit about their faith.  They espouse a white Christian nationalist world view and believe that society’s institutions should reflect and reinforce those beliefs. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated Moms for Liberty as an extremist group. Several group members have appeared at protests alongside the Proud Boys.

Moms for Liberty boasts 285 chapters in 45 states. Their exponential growth is not an organic grassroots evolution, as the group would like people to believe. They are supported by well-funded conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation and closely tied to Republican politicians, most notably Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Their emphasis on the idea of traditional American values is a dog whistle for Christian nationalist ideology and also stems entirely from unproven and unprovable supernatural beliefs.

At a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing, which was held in response to the crisis, Ruby Bridges herself testified that the children’s book “Ruby Bridges Goes to School,” was one of the books challenged the most. The book tells the story of her experiences as the first Black child to integrate a New Orleans elementary school.

It’s worth noting that not all challenges are reported to the American Library Association, meaning the number of targeted books is likely higher. The assault is even leading some schools and libraries to remove books proactively to avoid conflict with parents. In conservative states like Texas, Florida, and Missouri, some libraries are leaving the American Library Association because of the organization’s anti-censorship stance.

Ultimately, this is a quest for control. The attacks on our educational systems and libraries in the name of religious freedom and parental rights is but a thinly veiled attempt to control access to knowledge. An informed citizenry, after all, is our greatest defense against tyranny.

As historians have noted, Florida’s legislative actions mirror those of a burgeoning fascist state. If conservatives can shape the way that children in America learn, they can whitewash the history of slavery and racism in this country and erase the presence of L.G.B.T.Q. people.

This disturbing trend continues. Stemming from one parent’s complaint, a St. Petersburg Florida elementary school banned a Disney movie of Ruby Bridges’ story last month. A G-rated movie about a 6-year-old Black child was deemed too offensive for white students even older than her.

Christians have long promoted the teaching of Christian doctrine in K-12 schools, either by allowing educators to practice their beliefs in school or by using public funds to subsidize private Christian schools. Christian nationalists, however, have their sights set higher. They advocate for the extinction of public education altogether.

Following the lead of Governor DeSantis in Florida, public education is under fire in red states around the country. Legislation is being passed that bans books, teaching materials, and even discussions about L.G.B.T.Q. identities, as well as any hint of social and emotional learning, social justice, culturally responsive teaching, and content that gives a more accurate depiction of African American and Native American life, past or present.

The legislation signed by DeSantis has been introduced at the federal level by Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene. Conservative justices of the Supreme Court have also been active, ruling that public funds can be used to support religious-based education and permitting prayer in school and at school functions.

The attack on public education by evangelical Christians is not a new strategy. It began with the landmark Brown versus Board of Education 1954 Supreme Court decision. Some people may be surprised to hear that Christian nationalism as we know it today is deeply rooted in white supremacist ideology. That landmark decision legally ended racial segregation in public schools and prompted enraged evangelical leaders like Bob Jones and Jerry Falwell to establish their Christian schools.

In the 1960s, a wave of private Christian schools was launched with the express purpose of banning the admission of black students and preserving racial segregation. Their curriculum continued the indoctrination of white supremacist and Christian values in K-12 and post-secondary colleges and universities.

Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, their schools unapologetically violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bob Jones University and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University were two of the largest white-only schools in the country, and the key to their success was their tax-exempt status as church-related organizations.

When the I.R.S. began investigating Bob Jones University, the university was defiant. At least, that is, until the I.R.S. moved to terminate the university’s tax exemption and access to public funds.

Evangelical Christian leaders were incensed at being forced to end racial segregation, but they now had a bigger problem. They needed to ensure that their tax status would be protected at the highest levels of government. They needed a new way to rally evangelical voters.

Paul Weyrich, a conservative political activist and devout Catholic, worked closely with Jerry Falwell to rebrand the evangelical movement, coining the term Moral Majority. As Dr Carol Anderson points out in her book, “One Person, No Vote,” Paul Weyrich founded the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization responsible for architecting voter suppression legislation. Legislation, which Dr Anderson notes, “spread like a cancer throughout the United States” and continues to resurface, as witnessed by today’s Jim Crow 2.0 legislation.

Although the Moral Majority and later the Religious Right brands faded over time, the movement did not. It only moved underground as it prepared for its next rebranding as Christian nationalism.

Christian nationalism was funded and organized by wealthy families like the DeVos’ and Hobby Lobby co-founder David Green, among others. They are major players in conservative politics and well rewarded for their loyalty, as witnessed by Betsy DeVos’ term as Education Secretary under Trump.

DeVos’ tenure was characterized by her relentless assault on public education. In her term as Education Secretary, her efforts were focused on rescinding protections for trans kids and advocating for public funding of private Christian schools.

Through powerful organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom, book bans are being forced upon public schools and libraries across the country. Legislation is being passed in red states that criminalize gender-affirming healthcare, whitewash history of Black identities, erase L.G.B.T.Q. identities from schools and public spaces, and deny Civil Rights protections for L.G.B.T.Q. Americans in education, employment, and housing.

In 2023, Marjory Taylor-Greene introduced a bill in Congress that would make it a felony nationwide to provide gender-affirming care on a minor and considers it one of her top priorities. It would also prohibit the use of federal funds for gender affirming care, prohibit qualified health plans from including coverage for gender affirming care, and prohibit institutions of higher education from offering instruction in gender affirming care.

As reported by N.B.C. News, if elected Trump pledged to prioritize that bill and even expand the scope to prevent federal agencies from promoting sex and gender transition at any age. He made it clear his policies would be extended to education and threatened “severe consequences” for any educators who “suggest to a child that they could be trapped in the wrong body.”

Trump also vowed to create a “new credentialing body for teachers” to regulate what is taught about race history, and to “promote positive education about the nuclear family, the roles of mothers and fathers and celebrating, rather than erasing, the things that make men and women different.”

It should be obvious by now that we are in a fight for our lives and those of future generations. Conservative Christian leaders have mastered the weaponization of religion – and that is precisely why we must take that weapon away.

While I believe young people are in general more likely to challenge the conservative Christian ethos, we cannot underestimate the ability of conservatives to sway young voters through Christian messaging. Founded in 2012 by Charlie Kirk, Turning Point USA targets young conservatives on college campuses. The organization became a feeding tube of sorts to supply young, mostly white male conservative voters to Trump’s 2016 campaign. In recent years, however, Turning Point has devolved into a white Christian nationalist youth party that radicalizes young people with anti-Black, anti-L.G.B.T.Q., and antisemitic messaging.

After George Floyd’s murder, for example, Kirk gave a speech condemning Floyd and calling him a “scumbag” who wasn’t worth all the attention. This year, Kirk has openly attacked Dr King, falsely accusing the civil rights leader of promoting violence. Kirk also endorses a conspiracy theory about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, claiming it was an attempt by Black Americans to subvert the Constitution and install “permanent D.E.I. type bureaucracy.”

Another Turning Point conspiracy theorist, Jack Posobiec, had this to say at the 2024 Conservative Political Action Conference:

“Welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely. We didn’t get all the way there on Jan. 6, but we will endeavor to get rid of it.”

Organizations like Turning Point are indoctrinating young people with radical anti-democratic teaching aligned with conservative talking points. Like other Christian nationalist messaging, it is dressed up in Biblical language and music intended to stir up feelings of God, family, and country.

Stephanie McCrummen, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, reported on Mercy Culture, one of the fastest growing churches that is actively working to build the Christian American Kingdom. She described their culture this way,

“It is a world in which demons are real, miracles are real, and the ultimate mission is not just transforming individual lives but also turning civilization itself into their version of God’s Kingdom: one with two genders, no abortion, a free-market economy, Bible-based education, church-based social programs and laws such as the ones curtailing L.G.B.T.Q. rights now moving through statehouses around the country.”

Churches like Mercy Culture indoctrinate young people with sermons advocating for spiritual warfare against demonic forces, which are of course represented by liberals and anyone who rejects their supernatural claims. These calls for spiritual warfare feed into the Holy War narrative that is used to justify oppression and violence against Black and L.G.B.T.Q. communities.

These tactics have proven very effective in generating the kind of fear and rage that gets Christian voters to the polls and enables conservatives to push legislation through state houses. At the current pace, anti-trans legislation will disenfranchise a generation of trans and L.G.B.T.Q. youth, just like the restrictive voting laws in many of those same states will disenfranchise a generation of Black youth.

This is a very slippery slope we are on. And we’re sliding headfirst into a fascist Christian theocracy.

Peter Tchoryk

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Part Nine: Accountability


Part Nine of Thirteen

When Jason Berry of the National Catholic Reporter first reported on the systemic sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church and the coverup by church hierarchy, he anticipated the story would become international news and finally bring an end to the atrocities. He expected public outrage over the abhorrent nature and Watergate-esque scale of the crimes. What he did not expect was the story to die on the vine.

The abuse, in fact, was allowed to continue unabated until the Boston Globe Spotlight investigations finally got the world’s attention 15 years later. It is yet to be seen whether the church can be made to take responsibility for the suicides, pain, and suffering of victims and their families.

Too often we discover that the most egregious sexual criminal activities have been committed by Christian leaders and covered up by their leadership and attorneys. Sadly, these activities often go uninvestigated, unreported, or underreported.

Even when the abuse is acknowledged, the matter is handled internally, and many abusers were simply transferred to a different location. Churches have proven incapable of holding themselves accountable, resulting in a continuing cycle of abuse, all while gaslighting the public with false accusations against the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

One of the more recent examples of widespread sexual abuse in Christian churches involves the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second largest faith group after the Catholic church. Much like the Catholic church, the S.B.C. has a long history of child sexual abuse and cover-up that extends to its top leaders.

The mostly white S.B.C. has long supported far right issues like anti-abortion, anti-L.G.B.T.Q., and alt-right white nationalist causes. As reported in the Guardian, after a third-party investigation by Guidepost Solutions came out, the S.B.C. itself released a document listing “hundreds of Baptist leaders and members accused or found guilty of sexual abuse of children, including 700 entries on cases between 2000 and 2019.” Their lawyers had fought for years to shield the S.B.C. from liability.

A confidential settlement was reached at the end of 2023 in a high-profile lawsuit against Paul Pressler, a leader in the S.B.C. for over 50 years. A 2017 lawsuit brought by Duane Rollins against Pressler led to the “Abuse of Faith” investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.

The lawsuit showed that former Harris County Republican Party Chair, Jared Woodfill, was aware of allegations that Paul Pressler was a sexual predator, a fact he recently admitted under oath. Woodfill nonetheless continued to provide Pressler with young, male personal assistants, three of whom have also come forward to accuse Pressler of sexual abuse or misconduct. Woodfill is currently running for a Texas House seat and received an endorsement by Attorney General Ken Paxton, both of whom are vocal anti-L.G.B.T.Q. critics.

One of the most sobering realizations of both the victims and journalists investigating sexual abuse in churches was that the institutions may never truly be held accountable. And that lack of accountability means the abuses are likely to continue unabated into the future.

If we claim to be committed to social justice, then each of us must take responsibility to scrutinize the churches we endorse and to hold them accountable; not only for internal offenses like sexual abuse, but also for supporting causes deeply rooted in racism, misogyny, and bigotry. While some organizations are transparent, others may downplay or even hide their views and doctrine. The last thing we need to do is unwittingly support the very causes we are rebelling against.

This is especially true if our support is financial in nature, like tithing. We must recognize that our donations are largely going to support the organization itself, not the community.

Does your church operate a private school? If so, you’re helping their school teach young people that abortion is murder and L.G.B.T.Q. identities are the devil’s work. Does your church operate a hospital system? If so, you’re financially supporting their hospital’s decision to deny certain life-saving procedures for pregnancy complications and essential gender-affirming healthcare, based solely on the church’s belief system.

Every year we lose too many people to hate crimes, especially trans women of color. And every year, we lose too many children who give up hope that there is a place for them in this world. Kids who are not supported in their gender identity have a very high rate of depression, self-harm, and suicide. They struggle to live in a world that denies their very existence. A world that actively tries to erase them. The more our kids are forced to hide who they are, the more dehumanizing and life threatening the effects will be.

In contrast, youth who are affirmed in their gender identity experience mental health similar to the rest of the population. We owe it to our kids to be more responsible in the churches, congregations, and causes we support.

It’s not enough to hold churches and other organizations accountable. We have to hold ourselves accountable. If you suspect your church or denomination is party to this kind of abuse and continue to support them with donations or tithes, you may as well be writing checks to the abusers themselves.

Peter Tchoryk

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Part Ten: The Mother of All Inconvenient Truths

Before we can stop Christian nationalism, we have to understand how its leaders operate. More specifically, how they weaponize religion to manipulate the religious right. The origin of the anti-trans movement offers the ideal case study.

In 2014, conservatives were beginning to panic as the public started learning more about homosexuality and rejecting Christian right-wing propaganda. Even more concerning to them, anti-discrimination legislation was being introduced in cities around the country that included sexual orientation and gender identity. Legislation like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance measure.

Conservative Houston churches were especially outraged about the bill’s provisions allowing trans people to use the restrooms or locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity. It wasn’t long before a local Houston lawyer and political activist, Jared Woodfill, and a local right-wing radio host and dietary supplement supplier, Dr Steven Hotze, hatched their plan.

Both men were running the influential Conservative Republicans of Texas group that considered itself the vanguard of the Christian right in Texas and were also members of Houston’s Second Baptist megachurch. This is the same church attended by Dan Patrick, a one-time Christian right radio host who became Texas’ lieutenant governor in 2015.

The group started gaining traction when it launched a fear-mongering ad campaign that branded trans people as child sexual predators. The success of the Houston campaign led to similar approaches in North Carolina and initiated a wave of Republican-sponsored bills around the country.

But the wave of bathroom bills didn’t quite translate to the victories conservatives expected. The lies about trans people posing a threat to public safety were easily debunked by evidence, not the least of which came from law enforcement. The laws passed by North Carolina in 2015 were rescinded by 2020. False claims that gender dysphoria is a mental illness were also debunked, as were the false claims about massive numbers of trans kids de-transitioning.

Nevertheless, the Houston experiment was still an overall success for conservatives, if for no other reason than it reaffirmed the effectiveness of fearmongering and their Big Lie strategy. Facts and evidence were the least of their concerns.

This also applies to Christian-centered groups of medical and mental health practitioners who reject evidence-based practices in favor of their personal religious beliefs. These practitioners follow in a long line of racist and bigoted medical professionals, like those who made pseudo-scientific claims about the inferiority and criminal inclinations of Black Americans.

In an attempt to discredit the medical and mental health community’s Standards of Care for gender-affirming healthcare, right-wing groups like the Heritage Foundation and Family Policy Alliance once again redirected their political war machine to waging disinformation campaigns against trans kids.

Smear campaigns were launched that falsely accused gender-affirming parents and healthcare professionals of being child abusers and part of a greater conspiracy to sexualize and groom children. The result was the unprecedented wave of legislation that now outlaws evidence-based medical practices – it is another rejection of the scientific method that will endanger the lives of trans kids.

The A.C.L.U. and other advocacy groups can only afford to challenge a small percentage of the harmful legislation affecting L.G.B.T.Q. and other marginalized communities. In the interim, trans youth are dying, seeing no future in a world that criminalizes their very existence. Black, Asian, and Native American youth see their history being denied and a violent backlash against attempts to change institutionalized racial injustice.

White Christian nationalists have made no secret of the Holy War they are waging against Black and L.G.B.T.Q. identities. Today’s crusaders advertise themselves as soldiers of God, and they follow a Jesus made in their image. Instead of the Prince of Peace, their Jesus is a gun-slinging warrior. As Mike Johnson preached to a Louisiana congregation, “We serve the Lion of Judah, not some sort of namby-pamby little king. ‘Our weapons are for pulling down strongholds.’ This doesn’t sound like a namby-pamby Gospel.”

We know what happens to a group of people who are dehumanized and accused of being a threat to others because of their identity or the color of their skin. Fear quickly turns to rage, which quickly turns to violence, which quickly turns to erasure and annihilation.

Holy War is not an exaggeration. To the trans community, it seems we are in the sixth stage in the Ten Stages of Genocide developed by Dr Gregory Stanton. While we may not yet see the scale of atrocities described in stages seven through ten, we are clearly on a genocidal path.

We also know that many of the stages can occur simultaneously, with a suddenness that precludes intervention. It is for this reason we must fight to counteract the forces at every stage of the process. Unfortunately, the legislative onslaught this year shows that our country is accelerating down this path. We seem incapable of even slowing down these processes, much less stopping them.

When the stakes are so extraordinarily high, as they are when legislation is passed to criminalize gender-affirming care and eradicate trans and Black identities, the justification for those actions must also be extraordinarily high. Instead, we have just the opposite taking place.

Legislation is being proposed and enacted based on a weaponized interpretation of Christian doctrine and debunked pseudo-science, blatantly disregarding the overwhelming facts and evidence obtained through the scientific method. Our efforts to date have been largely unsuccessful because a narrow interpretation of Christianity has been deemed superior to facts and evidence by the Supreme Court and statehouses around the country.

The speed with which democratic principles can be eroded is far faster than they can be established. Witness the changes that took place on Day One of Trump’s presidency. And if he wins again, his transition team will be much better prepared this time around.

The Heritage Foundation, one of the conservative think tanks funded by the Koch Brothers, launched Project 2025 specifically to accelerate Trump’s transition process, should he win. In their 1000-page plan, the group enumerates its vision for a Christian American government and a step-by-step operating manual for theocratic fascism.

Project 2025 goes well beyond transition planning. Their vision includes undermining the independence of the legislative and judicial branches of government, making them subservient to the Executive Branch.

The elegant system of checks and balances our founders installed via the Constitution will be effectively neutralized, giving the Executive Branch supreme power and no accountability. The irony is that the Republican Party, longtime proponent of small government, is now promoting the most invasive form of big government in the free world: a theocratic fascist regime with no checks and balances, and a commander-in-chief with unlimited power and immunity.

In fact, the only winners in Trump’s government would be Christian nationalists, their churches and related businesses, the top 1% of earners who already own more wealth than the entire middle class, and companies that will no longer be burdened with consumer safety, environmental, and climate protections.

Individual liberties, human rights, and civil rights would all be viewed through the lens of a Christian nationalist ethos. This Christian equivalent to sharia law would extend the power of government and law enforcement further into the personal lives of every American; deeper into our sex lives, reproductive decisions, and healthcare choices.

We may very well see federalization of laws that ban abortion starting at conception and classify frozen, invitro-fertilized embryos as children; laws that criminalize gay and lesbian sex; laws that ban gender-affirming healthcare at any age; laws that ban contraception; and laws that ban books for challenging the Christian nationalist views on human sexuality, reproduction, marriage, societal norms, and American history.

If we do not act now to protect public schools, our children will be taught a white-washed, patriarchal version of our world, seen through the lens of an evangelical interpretation of Christianity. For students who fall outside that narrow Christian narrative, A Handmaid’s Tale will seem more like a documentary than a dystopian cautionary tale.

For this reason, I advocate for teaching about religion in K-12 public schools. We can start by explaining the difference between faith and fact, between firmly held beliefs and evidence, between hope and proof, and between the supernatural and science. This is an essential step in counteracting the religious indoctrination experienced by many of our young people exposed to false religious claims about the supernatural.

Similarly, we must teach about gender identity and sexual orientation in all K-12 public schools. Educators now have access to workshops, training materials, and other resources that help them facilitate age-appropriate discussions. It’s essential that L.G.B.T.Q. students see themselves and their families represented in curriculum. We’ve done it in our school system for the last decade and it’s been repeated across the country. It’s not rocket science.

This isn’t just about trans kids, Black lives, women’s bodily autonomy, L.G.B.T.Q. rights, or any single issue on the political spectrum. It’s about how racism, bigotry, and patriarchy are still deeply ingrained in our social institutions and how generations of young people continue to be indoctrinated through churches that operate tax-free while their affiliated religious schools benefit from public funds.

There was not some great transformation, after all, in the hearts and minds of Confederates in the post-Civil War era. Far from it. Reconstruction was actively subverted, and the South simply found other ways to oppress and exploit Black Americans, including slavery by another name.

Through it all, a large number of white Christian denominations provided the spiritual validation for continuing the violent oppression and segregation of freedmen in the South and thinly veiled oppression in the North. Many of those same churches vigorously opposed the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation efforts, especially as it concerned public education.

To put the power of the church further in perspective, it’s only been about 100 years since women were granted the right to vote and hold public office. Before 1919, women had no representation in government, no rights to property, no say in family decisions, and not even a right to their children – women did not exist as a separate legal entity after they were married. Suffrage opponents regularly quoted the Bible to justify why women were not entitled to the same opportunities as men.

And make no mistake, this is not just an American problem. Putin uses the Russian Orthodox Church in the same way Trump uses Evangelicals. They both exploit anti-L.G.B.T.Q., anti-abortion, and nationalistic arguments to incite fear and rage in their constituents. And Trump has left little doubt about his admiration of Putin and other dictators.

There’s no reason to assume that Putin’s aggression will stop with Ukraine. It could lead to a new world order in Europe if America abandons its longtime allies, something Trump has already demonstrated he will do without hesitation, and with a disturbing zealousness.

This is the world our young people are inheriting. They will not exactly be living the dream.

It isn’t easy to hold onto a dream. As Dr King shared with an interviewer in 1967, in many ways his “dream had turned into a nightmare.” He acknowledged that his previous optimism may have been a little superficial, and “now it must be tempered with a solid realism.”

There’s a time for dreaming. And there’s a time for waking up to reality. Our reality is that while we may make some gains along the way, the forces that want to preserve systemic racism, bigotry, and injustice are working just as hard or harder than we are. So much so that we are now losing ground and the prospects of lasting change are fading.

This is a time in which we all must stay woke, and I use that word intentionally. We should all know by now that for Black Americans during segregation, to Stay Woke meant to stay vigilant to the everyday dangers of being Black in white America. I’ve used woke to mean awakened through learning. I think both apply in this case.

Our country owes an immeasurable debt to Black and indigenous peoples who are still paying the price for an America that dehumanized them, largely on the basis of a weaponized Christian doctrine. If it’s possible for a nation to have a soul, ours is heavy with the weight of those injustices – a weight that requires reparations to lighten.

And once again, our country’s future depends on those who have sacrificed the most. We will need the combined strength of all those who have been marginalized and oppressed to combat the threat of Christian nationalism.

In King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he writes,

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate over the past few years.”

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, which is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

“Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership.”

“In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.’”

White Christian nationalists seek to build a theocratic fascist state they refer to as the Christian American Kingdom. Their envisaged Kingdom is the very antithesis of King’s Beloved Community and World House, which so wholly embodies the spirit of our constitution and what America can and should be.

Conservatives have framed their attacks against Black and L.G.B.T.Q. identities and women’s reproductive rights as a Holy War. A war sanctioned by God and led by their anointed savior, who has shown he will do and say anything to gain power and remain in power.

There are no bystanders in such a conflict. Inaction is still an action, and it favors the oppressor.

Are you ready to embrace the mother of all inconvenient truths, faith is not fact?

Are you ready to become a scientific rebel?

Peter Tchoryk

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Part Eleven: A Personal Note to Scientific Rebels

A Personal Note to Scientific Rebels

Part Eleven of Thirteen

In the fall of 2008, if you had asked me what keeps me up most nights, I probably would not have said “the end of democracy.” Politically speaking, I was more optimistic about our country’s future than I’d ever been.

These were the beginning of the Obama years, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I dared hope that our country was truly turning the corner – the most qualified and thoughtful candidate had just been elected, and by a fairly wide margin. Was it possible that the worst was behind us? If a Black man could be elected president, a leader of the free world, would it not be possible for our country to finally start living up to the ideals on which we were founded?

For a brief moment in American history, it seemed so.

At the time, America was still reeling from the financial meltdown that reached critical mass in the last few months of the Bush presidency. In spite of the market crash and fears over a global economic crisis, hope was almost palpable – especially among young people.

But as soon as Obama’s first term got underway, conservatives made it clear they planned to double down on their white supremacist roots rather than evolve toward equality. From Trump’s exuberant promotion of the birther conspiracy to the rejuvenated Klansmen and neo-Nazis extorting their brethren to emerge from their collective basements, Obama’s election served as a wake-up call for white supremacists.

It was reminiscent of the white supremacist opposition to Reconstruction after the Civil War. The backlash against the nation’s first Black president and his policies quickly rose to a fever pitch. Conservatives fought against every Obama initiative and stonewalled every attempt to find bipartisan solutions. They have not only perfected the weaponization of religion, but they’ve also perfected the Big Lie. From stolen election lies to lies about Black Lives Matter protests and trans kids – and of course, lies about the economy.

Elections are often swayed by the state of the economy immediately before an election. Inflation and high interest rates are more front and center than, say, the extraordinary rise in employment during Biden’s term. With his comically staged, un-reality show, The Apprentice, Trump managed to fool people into believing he’s a self-made business tycoon and a card-carrying member of Mensa.

In that respect, it’s not too surprising that Trump’s fans buy into even his most fantastic claims, like he’s “done more for Black Americans than anybody, with the possible exception” of Lincoln. Trump’s policies created or contributed to many of the economic and geopolitical problems we face today, yet he still takes credit for conditions improving even though he’s been out of office for nearly four years. His policies will more than likely exacerbate those problems if he’s elected.

Fast forward to 2024, and in November of this year there is a very real chance we witness the death of democracy in America. And for those who already find themselves persecuted because of the color of their skin, desire for bodily autonomy, gender identity, sexual orientation, or general nonconformance to a conservative Christian ethos, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

When I speak of the threats that lay before us, it may seem hopeless at times, but I am not without hope. When I look at Trump’s legion of fans and his lead in swing states, I have a sense of urgency, but I am not desperate.

Rebellion is more than a rallying cry. It is a state of mind, a state of being that allows us to recognize the harsh reality of our situation yet remain focused on what we need to do in this moment. It allows us to sit with the knowledge of how bad things may get, but not spend any of our emotional and intellectual energy worrying about outcomes.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Lucy Grealy, “Joy is a kind of fearlessness, a letting go of expectations that the world should be anything other than what it is.”

I cannot offer assurances of a victory, but I can assure you that your efforts will not be vain. We will be on this journey together and there is joy in that. There is joy in the fight.

Peter Tchoryk

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Part Twelve: Christian Nationalism and the Trump Effect

Amanda Tylor, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), describes Christian nationalism this way,

“The ‘Christian’ in Christian nationalism is more about identity than religion and carries with it assumptions about nativism, white supremacy, authoritarianism, patriarchy, and militarism.”

In her recent book The Power Worshippers, Katherine Stewart chronicles her decades-long investigation into Christian nationalism. The sobering reality is that Christian nationalism represents a clear and present danger to democracies everywhere. It is a worldwide network of evangelical and like-minded religious organizations funded by a dark web of extremely wealthy, powerful, old-money conservative families.

More than half of Republicans now openly identify as Christian nationalists. Not all Christian nationalists are card-carrying members of the American Nazi Movement, KKK, Proud Boys, or Oath Keepers. But there is little doubt many still deeply identify with the ideology of white nationalism sanctified by a militant, evangelical version of Christianity.

Christian nationalism exploits conservative churches, primarily white evangelical and Catholic churches. In that respect, it’s a parasitic movement that relies on host churches to spread its message and mobilize its voting base. Exposing it is a necessary first step, but stopping its influence is difficult because it is an amorphous, decentralized political movement that exists outside of any specific denomination.

Today’s Christian nationalist movement evolved from the Religious Right and Moral Majority, movements created by televangelists and conservative power brokers. In that respect, Trump seems biologically engineered to unite the religious right, with a televangelist’s gift for showmanship and a pathological lack of conscience. This is also what makes Trump infinitely more dangerous than his conservative rivals.

As the January 6th insurrection exploded into full view, it was tempting to think Trump had finally sealed his fate. Surely, he would face the condemnation of anyone who valued democracy, conservative or not.

But Trump’s base was largely unfazed. They seemed even more determined to put him back in office, even if it meant subverting democracy all together.

Many people underestimated how strongly Trump’s message of rage, racism, bigotry, and misogyny would resonate in America. As Trump famously remarked, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.”

If you think that’s hyperbole, consider how loyal Trump’s base has been since he entered the political scene. In 2016, he received 46.1% of the popular vote and that percentage remained roughly the same in 2020, coming in at 46.8%. Even though Trump is the only president to never achieve a 50% approval rating while in office, his numbers were fairly consistent, averaging 41%.

Trump expertly preys on his followers’ deepest and darkest fears about immigrants and white replacement. He validates their generational malice toward Black Americans and people of color. He exploits their misguided views on science, religion, and other cultures. And he manipulates their Christian faith to demonize anyone who supports women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ identities.

Through his nearly continuous attacks against democratic principles and anyone who challenges him, Trump has effectively normalized tyranny. Hannah Arendt described this normalization as the banality of evil. It results in populations becoming desensitized to the erosion of their civil and human rights as oppressors commit greater and greater atrocities.

Christian nationalism, by its very nature, relies on an ambiguous Christian narrative to both spread its message and deceive the uninitiated. This makes it difficult to confront without offending Christians who don’t subscribe to it or may not understand its true intentions. It is not just another Christian denomination with a different opinion on spirituality, it was created specifically as a political weapon.

None of this is really new, as Kristin Kobes Du Mez points out in her book, Jesus and John Wayne. It’s entirely consistent with enduring, mainstream evangelical values, where leaders have long preached a “mutually reinforcing vision of Christian masculinity — of patriarchy and submission, sex and power.”

In the recently released documentary, “God and Country,” Du Mez warns us that Christian nationalism is not some fringe movement. It is an extremely well-funded, global network of conservative think tanks and power brokers, politicians, and church leaders.

Christian nationalism seeks to create a Christian American Kingdom that is best described as a theocratic fascist state. Unlike in 2020, they are well prepared to hit the ground running if Trump is elected. For starters, PBS reports that the conservative Heritage Foundation is leading Project 2025, a transition plan that would replace around 50,000 civil employees with an “army” of employees loyal to Trump.

To see a model of how Trump’s Christian government would work in practice, look no further than the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under Trump. Roger Severino was appointed by Trump to direct the HHS Office of Civil Rights, and in 2018 created the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division.

Severino sought to punish blue states for protecting abortion access by encouraging conservatives to file complaints that those policies violated their religious convictions. He also rescinded an HHS regulation protecting trans people from discrimination in health care.

As reported by Sarah Posner, the Heritage Foundation’s thousand-page 2025 mandate calls for HHS to once again be the “epicenter of imposing the Christian right’s agenda on all Americans, under the guise of protecting the ‘conscience’ and ‘religious freedom’ of people who oppose abortion and LGBTQ rights.” She explains Severino’s views on LGBTQ rights as a “malevolent ideology deployed by soulless bureaucrats to crush the freedom of religious Americans.”

In his condemnation of gender-affirming health care, Severino has gone on record espousing easily debunked lies that contradict the peer-reviewed, scientifically validated recommendations of every major medical and mental health organization in the United States and internationally. He follows the script established long ago by segregationists who promoted lies about the inferiority and threat of Black Americans using pseudo-science to justify their inherent racism.

This speaks volumes about the lengths conservative leaders are willing to go to unite white Christian voters by demonizing vulnerable populations. Most recently, at the 2024 National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville, Trump preached a sermon to the choir of white conservative Christians that should be very familiar to Black Americans:

“Remember, every communist regime throughout history has tried to stamp out the churches, just like every fascist regime has tried to co-opt them and control them, and, in America, the radical left is trying to do both. They want to tear down crosses where they can and cover them up with social justice flags, but no one will be touching the cross of Christ under the Trump administration, I swear to you.”

Conservative Christians have long opposed social justice and have fought fiercely to preserve racist systems of segregation and discrimination. Christian nationalism is the rebirth of those earlier movements. But in Trump they truly did find their savior, a messiah figure who is not burdened by conscience or a moral compass. Trump is someone who has no problem with arguments devoid of logic and reason, and is more than willing to say and do anything to get a few votes.

This is the Trump Effect. It is real and it is powerful. Combined with the wealth and influence of the Christian nationalist movement, it presents a clear and present danger to our country. And it is why we must rebel.

Peter Tchoryk

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Part Thirteen: A Call to Action for Scientific Rebels

A Call to Action for Scientific Rebels

Part Thirteen of Thirteen

Black and L.G.B.T.Q. identities have long been the favorite targets of conservatives and the religious right. Conservatives then recognized that demonizing trans kids in particular would provide even more fuel to fire up their base. It worked.

With the aid of the newly branded Christian nationalist movement, legislation has already been passed in a majority of red states to whitewash history and prevent educators from teaching the truth about Black history and L.G.B.T.Q. identities in public institutions.

Curriculum in Texas and Florida, for example, requires teachers to minimize slavery as “forced relocation.” It requires teachers to emphasize that enslaved Black people somehow benefited from a lifetime of forced labor and dehumanization by learning skills that “could be applied to their personal benefit.” As if learning to repair shoes for the express benefit of white slave owners somehow made up for permanent and generational enslavement, not to mention that the enslaved would never be able to apply those skills as a free person.

Under Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, educators were also required to counterbalance any mention of white massacres of Black Americans with the instances where those same Black Americans had attempted to defend themselves or exercise their right to vote. This is another example of the indoctrination and insidious gaslighting campaigns that are a hallmark of conservative propaganda.

Unless the Black and L.G.B.T.Q. communities unite in opposition, Christian nationalism could soon become our national identity.

Coretta Scott King’s vision included the L.G.B.T.Q. community, as she made clear in her speeches at the Atlanta Pride Festival and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund celebration. She joined other civil rights icons like Congressman John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond in standing up for L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

Our goal is nothing less than making the Black and L.G.B.T.Q. communities one of the largest, most powerful voting blocs in U.S. history. Our community consists of the most diverse cross-section of the population, cutting across race, culture, and economic standing, and coming from every walk of life. We can do this.

Use whatever platform you have available to share your story and educate others on why we must acknowledge that faith is not fact. Above all, vote and encourage everyone you know to vote. Now is not the time to sit out in protest or cast your vote for a third-party candidate. Engage in local and state elections, as well as the presidential elections.

Join the rebellion. Lead the rebellion. Become the generation responsible for ending religious tyranny and preserving democracy.

Peter Tchoryk

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