Category Archives: Religion

Republican Stealth Candidates: Chickens, Maple Syrup and Kombucha

Meet Rebecca and Tom Pitre. They make maple syrup and keep chickens. She plays guitar. She ferments her own kombucha. She’s a certified riding instructor, using horses as therapy animals.

She has also said some very nasty things about Drag Queen Story Hour on social media.

Which matters because Rebecca Pitre is a Republican slash Libertarian candidate for Vermont House in the Lamoille-3 district, which includes Cambridge and Waterville. In her campaign, she presents herself as an everyday sort who just has some sincere concerns about the health of rural Vermont. In service of this deception, she seems to have scrubbed her past social media activity; her only extant Twitter account is a campaign-related one that only recently went live and has [checks notes] 13 followers.

Unfortunately for her, a community member dug up her five-year-old drag queen comments, and Aaron Calvin of the Morrisville-based News & Citizen has done a thorough job of reporting the controversy. In his story, Pitre makes a strenuous effort to weasel out of her self-inflicted corner — but she makes it clear that she still believes 100% in her past statements.

This story is why, my friends, I keep hammering on the duty of political reporters to dig beneath the surface when writing candidate profiles. In a time when Republican candidates are trying to disguise their extremism, who else is going to pull off the masks?

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Hey, Lenore Broughton Has Found Another Rathole to Throw Her Money Into

Well, doesn’t that look impressive. A new “Institute” focused on the idea of Human Flourishing, a well-established principle in the humanities — and also in evangelical Christianity. Classically restrained logo and font. You might assume this is a broad-based serious enterprise… until you explore its website further.

Upon which you discover that (a) there’s not a heck of a lot of substance, just a few minimal pages with big pictures and not much text, and (b) the Institute’s two top officers are former VTGOP chair Deb Billado and Vermont’s Favorite Archconservative Moneybags, Lenore Broughton.

I’ll give you one guess who’s writing the checks for this outfit.

The Vermont Institute for Human Flourishing joins the likes of True North Reports and the late unlamented Vermonters First on the roster of no-hope organizations Broughton has funded in lieu of doing anything that might actually have an impact.

Well, to be fair, it’s too early to make that call on VIHF. It hasn’t had time to fail. Yet.

A brief explanation of “human flourishing.” In the social sciences slash humanities, it’s an interdisciplinary study of how best to help people reach their full potential. (Harvard has a Human Flourishing Program.) In evangelical Christian circles, it means channelling sexuality into traditional male/female marriage and battling deviant practices like homosexuality, extramarital sex, and pornography.

I think we know which camp the Vermont Institute is a member of.

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Edifice Complex

I’ve gotten some blowback from people I respect about my comment that the Statehouse is just a pile of bricks. I understand their point of view, but I don’t share it. Here’s a bit of exposition that I’m sure won’t change anyone’s mind.

There’s a saying in National Football League circles: “Protect the Shield.” The NFL logo is a blue shield with white stars and a white football, and “NFL” in big red letters. The saying is invoked when there’s some threat to the league’s reputation (don’t laugh), but I’ve always thought it was completely backwards. Because a shield, by definition, is the thing that protects, not the thing that needs protection. It’s as if you had a bulletproof vest and did everything you could to keep it in mint condition.

I see this all over the place, the conflation of symbol with substance. Many a Trumpy Republican carries a pocket Constitution, but it’s more a fetish than a guidebook. They don’t mind trashing our principles when convenient, but they carry their pocket Constitutions like, well, NFL shields. Same with their obligatory flag lapel pin.

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Hate Comes to the Capitol Plaza

Oh looky, the anti-critical race theory fanatics gathered last night at Montpelier’s Capitol Plaza Hotel! CRT, a purely academic construct understood by few — and by no one who’s taken it up as the latest cudgel in the culture wars — is apparently a front for Marxist indoctrination! Who knew???

This ignorance extravaganza was promoted by Vermont Grassroots, whose tag line is “Empowering Parents and Teachers.” Well, that’s the friendly mask on this angry face; the full motto is “Empowering Parents and Teachers By Exposing Marxism.” The rest of the two-day event was held at the Ignite Church in WIlliston, a notable outpost of far-right Christianity. Or, more accurately, a radical worldview masquerading as Christianity. It’s the kind of thing that’d have Jesus rolling in his grave if he was still there.

(Funny that they put a Montpelier event in the middle of a Williston soiree. I seem to recall that Ignite had a spot of trouble with a Burlington hotel canceling in the face of controversy. Did they have to go all the way to Montpelier to find a willing caterer?)

Vermont Grassroots was the organization behind the series of low-budget, local-talent-only meetings organized around the state last summer by Gregory Thayer, Rutland ideologue and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Apparently the group’s budget has increased because now they’re bringing in outside speakers.

Sadly, it’s too late to organize a protest in Montpelier. It’s not too late to let the Capitol Plaza know how you feel about profiting off hatred. However, there will be other opportunities for protest throughout the summer. Vermont Grassroots has planned a series of events designed to fan the flames of manufactured outrage.

And before anyone goes all First Amendment on me, just stop. These jackasses have every right to express their views. And the rest of us have every right to express our views about their views.

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Apparently the Larner College Insists On Doing This Dumb, Politically Damaging Thing

Well, after quite a bit of back-and-forth and a false alarm along the way, it now seems that UVM’s Larner College of Medicine will stand by its baffling decision to grant continuing education credits to medical professionals who attend a conference organized by the Vermont Right to Life Committee.

No, seriously. Stop laughing. Medical education credits for a political organization with no expertise in medicine, and that peddles junk science to support its agenda. That’s hunky-dory according to Vermont’s one and only medical school.

I wrote about this landmark of stupidiousness last Friday. Shortly after my post went live, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale tweeted that Larner was reversing the decision. I amended my post to reflect the news. But Friday came and went, as did the weekend and Monday, and there was still no official word from Larner.

It’s now apparent that news of Larner’s reversal was, well, fake news.

Here’s what we know so far.

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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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