Category Archives: Religion

The Evidence of Things Not Seen

Ah, if only it were so

There is so much to say about the pair of dueling events that took place in Essex last Friday. The first was a cauldron of conservative outrage concerning Their Latest Bugaboo, critical race theory, about which they know nothing. The second was a counter-event across the road, featuring supporters of the school district’s anti-racism efforts.

There’s what it says about the Vermont Republican Party that its chair attended Hate Night. There’s the ideological connection to recent events in the Mill River school district, where conservative outrage has also reared its unsightly head. There’s how the event was covered: Badly by VTDigger, and with manufactured both-sidesism by Seven Days. There’s the complete unmasking of a prominent conservative “journalist,” and the rise of a new contender for Worst Lawmaker in Montpelier.

But let’s start with Hebrews 11:1. In the King James Version favored by many evangelicals, it says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This verse has multiple applications here.

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The Congregation of the Aggrieved

First time, long time (not really)

Something odd and troubling has been happening in southern Rutland County for more than a year now. Bits and pieces of it have been reported in the Rutland Herald, but nobody has put together the big picture.

It’s something you wouldn’t expect in the Vermont of our imaginations, the tolerant place where politics is characterized by civility, and the Religious Right is a toothless fringe. But for almost a year, the Mill River school board has endured harassment from a small group of far-right Christians. (The district includes the towns of Clarendon, Shrewsbury, Tinmouth and Wallingford.) They were originally upset over the proposed flying of the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ Pride flags at the district’s high school, but their list of grievances has grown by leaps and bounds. They’re upset over alleged illegality by the school board, its supposed “very left ideology” which seeks to “politicize and sexualize our children’s education,” a critical Front Porch Forum post by school board chair Adrienne Raymond, and the district’s failure to provide in-school education during the pandemic.

I’m probably missing some stuff, but you get the idea. It’s a great big bag o’nuts.

The group includes Rep. Art Peterson, notorious for denying the existence of systemic racism and saying that victims of discrimination should shake it off and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Peterson was inspired to run for the House after the school board approved the flying of the two subversive flags.

This spring, the group ran candidates for five school board seats. They didn’t run as a slate, but their issues and concerns were pretty much identical.

If they’d swept the field, they would have been one vote shy of a majority on the 11-member board. In the end, they only won two. The group’s candidates in the March elections were Todd Fillmore (pictured above in an out-of-focus yet somehow telling Zoom screenshot), Bruce Moreton, Julie Petrossi, Matthew Gouchberg, and Arne Majorell, who happens to be Peterson’s son-in-law. Moreton and Gouchberg are now on the school board; Majorell lost his race by six votes.

These people and a few allies are frequent participants in the public-comment section of school board meetings. They’re also active posters on Front Porch Forum. And while they try to couch their concerns in the language of earnest disappointment, they can’t entirely stop the crazy from showing through.

After the jump: Let’s look at the crazy!

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Bookshelf: “Jesus and John Wayne”

Yes, this is very real and entirely serious.

There’s a lot of talk these days about information bubbles like Fox News, Newsmax, and the sludge pits of Facebook. But the original, biggest, and baddest information bubble of them all surrounds white evangelicalism. For decades, white evangelicals have existed in their own cultural ecosystem, with their own churches and schools and universities and books and movies and music (ever heard Christian rap?) and cartoons. And artists like Stephen Sawyer, who created the above depiction of the Lamb of God as a tattooed he-man. Biker Jesus?

Anyway. This evangelical ecosystem is invisible to the rest of us, but it’s very real. And understanding its worldview is key to understanding why over 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. Yes, devout Christians voted in droves for a philandering divorcee who paid off a porn star and bragged about grabbing them by the you-know-what and has a long, sordid business career full of bankruptcies and lawsuits. And swears a lot. And clearly doesn’t know beans about the Bible, except that it’s a useful prop.

You’ll get it entirely if you read “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, published in 2020. She takes us inside the world of modern white evangelicals, and shows clearly that they didn’t support Donald Trump in spite of who he was — he was the exact kind of leader they were looking for. He fit the role to a T.

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Finding a positive response to the election

Like many other liberals, I’ve been dealing with the pending Caligula Administration with studious avoidance. Not watching the news (not even Rachel), ignoring all the stuff coming out of Washington these days.

Not a healthy long-term solution, but I just can’t spend much time staring into the void without it staring back. Fortunately for me, I write about Vermont politics, so I can remain engaged without focusing on the potential horrors of the next two years.

Also helps that I’m a cis white male, so my immediate freedom, security, and personal safety are not at risk.

But still, not a long-term solution. A correspondent writes:

I still feel physically ill from last week, and am only now dipping back into the news. And trying to figure out what to do that might be useful. And not coming up with a lot yet.

I have some ideas that don’t involve moving to Canada or taking part in ineffectual protests on our safe Vermont streets or the left’s favorite pastime, the circular firing squad. They don’t immediately involve political action of any sort, because it kinda feels toxic right now and there’s plenty of time to plan for 2018’s Return Of The Jedi.

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The flip side of a bishop’s obituary

Kenneth Angell, the former bishop of the diocese of Burlington, has died. The Burlington Free Press marked the occasion with a story that completely failed to mention  his “see no evil, hear no evil, maybe there’ll be no evil” approach to the Roman Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal.

But hey, I’ll be happy to fill in the blanks.

Angell was stationed in Burlington from 1992 to 2005. Before that, he served for 18 years as the bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, one of the many epicenters of priestly criminality and hierarchical complicity.

A total of 36 lawsuits were filed by alleged victims of clergy sex abuse in the Diocese. They were , eight years after Angell had moved on to Burlington, for $13.5 million. A couple examples of Angell’s approach to victims’ complaints:

Bishop Angell testified in a 1990 lawsuit that he did not take seriously allegations – made by both parishioners and assistant priests – that the Rev. William O’Connell was molesting boys. The priest was convicted, served a short sentence, moved to New Jersey, committed more crimes and died in prison. In another Rhode Island case, Bishop Angell in 1989 promised to “take care of it” when the Rev. Normand Demers was accused of misconduct with boys while working at a Haitian orphanage, according to a former orphanage staffer. The priest was brought back to work in the Providence diocese.

“Did not take seriously,” indeed. This is exactly the kind of wishful thinking that turned a handful of bad apples into a worldwide scandal that left thousands of victims emotionally scarred, and undermined the moral authority of the Church.

At the same time, Angell was a man on fire when his own definition of morality came under threat.

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Right to Life might want to hire a proofreader (UPDATED)

UPDATE: I got this wrong. According to Sharon Torborg of the Right to Life Fund, state law requires that any name mentioned in campaign material must be reported on the Secretary of State’s mass media form. RTL endorsed Carolyn Branagan for Senate, and also mentioned the other two Republican candidates, Norm McAllister and Dustin Degree.

The Right to Life Fund is not endorsing Norm McAllister. My apologies to Ms. Torborg and the rest of the RTL crew. 

There’s a couple things I’m getting really tired of, as the primary campaigns enter the homestretch. The first is candidates whining about “Washington-style” attack ads. C’mon, folks, even in Vermont, politics ain’t beanbag.

The second is candidates bemoaning an influx of out-of-state money on behalf of their opponents — especially when the moaners are getting major outside backing themselves. None of these people are pure as the driven snow, and their complaints ring hollow in my ears.

So I don’t have much to say about the ex-Bear Stearns executives creating a Super PAC in support of Bruce Lisman, or EMILY’s List pouring $100K into pro-Minter ads, or a Silicon Valley tycoon spending twice as much for Matt Dunne. It’s the way the game is played in our post-Citizens United world, and any politico not named Bernie Sanders is practicing unilateral disarmament if they don’t take advantage of every available resource, The Vermont Way be damned.

But there is one recent mass-media spending report that should not pass unnoticed. It involves far less money, but there are a couple of things you should know.

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The Mormons are coming! The Mormons are coming!

To all those up in arms over Scott Milne’s planned development near Exit 1, or Jesse Sammis’ soon-to-be-downsized proposal at Exit 4, how about this one?

A wealthy Mormon developer is buying land in four towns near the Joseph Smith Memorial in hopes of building a planned community there inspired in part by the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This doesn't look at all cultish to you, does it?

This doesn’t look at all… cultish, does it?

That’s from the Valley News, which would be Vermont’s best daily newspaper if only it was headquartered in Vermont. After it published a story a few days ago, it was picked up by ol’ buddy BP at Green Mountain Daily. Since then, it’s begun to ripple outwards — as it should. This is a Big Biden Deal.

David Hall has already bought some 900 acores in Royalton, Sharon, Strafford and Tunbridge. His goal is to build a massive development housing “as many as 20,000 people within a few square miles.”

Geesh, talk about changing the Vermont landscape. If fully populated, his hypothetical Mormontown would be the third-largest community in Vermont. Not that we have to panic just yet; he’s looking 30-50 years down the road.

But still. His NewVista Foundation has already invested more than three and a half million dollars in land purchases, and “has about $100 million at its disposal.” That’s enough to carry out the plan, for sure.

If this were to come to pass, it would completely change the character of what is now a largely rural area nestled in the crook of I-89. It would probably lead to continuous development from this area to the Upper Valley. Scott Milne’s plan is dwarfed by comparison.

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Top Vermont Republican still consorting with hatemongers

Susie Hudson is still going to Israel on a trip paid for by the American Family Association, the far-right Christianist organization. She sees nothing wrong here.

Predictable, but disappointing.

Hudson, a resident of Montpelier and newly-elected secretary of the Republican National Committee, is one of many RNC members going on a nine-day trip to Israel paid for by the AFA and guided by AFA leaders. The trip made news when the Israeli news outlet Haaretz reported the many bigoted comments by longtime AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer. In response, AFA fired Fischer as its spokesman — but retained him as a talk-radio host.

Yep, they’re still paying the guy for equating Islam with Ebola, asserting that the First Amendment only applies to Christianity, and that gay Nazis were responsible for the Holocaust because homosexuals are inherently savage.

He may not be their spokesman, but as a talk radio host, he remains their public face. And they’re happy to pay him for that. Plus, his comments were barely outside the usual poisonous stream of AFA demagoguery.

After I revealed Hudson’s travel plans in this space, Seven Days‘ Paul Heintz reached Hudson, and she gave him a heapin’ helpin’ of weaksauce.

“I mean, I know there’s been some stuff that’s been out in the press yesterday, but it’s my understanding that there was an individual who made some inappropriate comments, and I certainly don’t agree with them, and it’s my understanding they are no longer with the organization.”

Okay, stop right there. Fischer is still with the organization, still holds a prominent position. His public statements have arisen from his radio show, not from his duties as AFA spokesman. If they wanted to punish him, they’d take away his media platform.

… Asked whether she was familiar with AFA’s beliefs, Hudson said, “I mean, obviously I’m somewhat familiar with them, yes.”

But, she said, “I did not know that whatever group you said has called them a hate group.”

Wow. Just wow. That’s an almost Palinesque cavalcade of ignorance. Now, I’m sure Ms. Hudson is just acting stupid to avoid taking a stand on the AFA, but I’d expect someone in her position to do a better job than that.

“Somewhat familiar” with the American Family Association, a leading power-broker on the Christian Right? “Whatever group you said”? Yeah, just the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of America’s leading crusaders against hate groups for more than 40 years. “Stuff that’s been out in the press”? In the words of Katie Couric, what newspapers do you read?

To top it all off, “Hudson… repeatedly declined to say what she understood AFA’s beliefs to be.”

Come on. That’s not credible at all. The Republican Party’s top officials have to know the lay of their land. That includes groups like the American Family Association, who have a lot of influence in Republican politics.

There, of course, is the rub. Hudson can’t afford to publicly distance herself from the AFA because it is so influential. And because AFA members and sympathizers form a substantial part of the Republican base, even in liberal old Vermont. She’d rather come across as an uninformed dunderhead than utter a word against the AFA and the extremism it stands for.

Which brings us to the Vermont Republican Party itself. VTGOP leaders like to downplay social issues, but they don’t want to actively contradict the views of the Christian Right. No matter how extreme, hateful, and downright unAmerican those views might be.

Every Coyne has two faces

So the Catholic Diocese of Burlington has a new bishop: Christopher Coyne, currently auxiliary bishop in Indianapolis. And let me welcome the Bish in my own inimitable way by pointing out a few of his qualifications for the job:

He knows how to lie with a straight face.

He knows how to subsume the interests of truth and justice to those of his institutional home.

He is willing to put a smiley face on some of the Church’s most abhorrent crimes in order to prop up its facade of morality.

You see, Coyne spent three tumultuous years as the media spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Those happened to be the years when the Archdiocese’s hidden history of cosseting pedophile priests came to light. And Coyne was right there on the front line, defending the purity of the Church and of his master, the disgraced Bernard Law, last seen scuttling into a Vatican spider hole.

On the other hand, he was appointed by Pope Francis, which is a mark in his favor. But it’s hard to overlook Coyne’s three years of defending the indefensible. Especially when he comes to a Diocese with its own sordid history of sex-abuse coverups and his predecessor Salvatore Matano’s all-out efforts to avoid being brought to account.

The new guy brings a lot of heavy baggage to the job. He’ll have to prove by his actions that he holds the best interests of “the least of these” above those of his ermine-wearing overlords.