Author: johnhawthorne

I’m sorry we lost you: A letter to Elizabeth Dickens

Last month, I wrote my only reaction to the news out of Wheaton. Without dealing with the specifics of the Hawkins situation, I addressed what I saw as the potential for collateral damage:

When the news breaks about the latest Christian college outrage, that bright high school student will decide to opt for the state school instead of embracing the Christian College his parents attended. Maybe that bright graduate student, whose academic and personal life were deeply shaped by her alma mater, will think twice before applying for that vacancy in her home department.

That last sentence was ringing in my brain as I read an excellent post in this morning’s Chronicle update. Elizabeth Dickens, now of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (one of my favorite higher education groups), wrote of her experience teaching at an evangelical institution. Her argument is worth considering carefully at face value because it deals with real issues that will increasingly confront Christian Higher Education. So I’ve decided to write the following letter:


Dear Elizabeth:

Thank you for sharing your story this morning. Although my experiences began over three decades ago, there are some parallels and some differences. In the midst of a difficult job market, I had a real offer from a Christian college.  Even though I was ABD, it seemed to be the right opportunity.

I didn’t attend a Christian college but my wife was an alumnae of the school, so I knew the culture fairly well. Aligning with the faith statement wasn’t problematic as we were members of the denomination. But finding my fit was a real thing. As a sociologist, I was more progressive than many colleagues.

Like you, I had alternative reasons for taking the position. It wasn’t just to be able to teach. It was to raise the bar on the kind of sociology that was being taught (or, more correctly, not taught) in Christian institutions. I wanted students to engage the broader world with awareness and courage. I wanted them to own their faith and be able to relate to the world outside the Christian bubble. I completely understood what you meant when you wrote this:

Yet my motivation for taking the position went far beyond merely wanting a job. Rather, I wanted my students to believe what I’d had such a hard time believing when I was an undergraduate at a Christian college: that they, too, could “fit,” even if they were not stereotypical evangelicals. I wanted to be the professor I wished I’d had in college. I believe I was that professor for at least some of my students, but the strain of doing it was brutal.

When I was leaving that institution for another Christian University (I’ve served at five), the president told my wife, also on the faculty, that we were having a significant impact except we had a tendency to be “lightening rods for the disenfranchised.” I have to admit, hearing that statement was one of the proudest moments of my career. I cannot think of a better role for a Christian faculty member.

While playing that role is draining, it is still rewarding after all these years. Nearly all of the former students from that school who today are friends on Facebook fit the “disenfranchised” label. Most of them are still people of faith (or struggling with past pain) even though no longer from the denomination. I wish administrators, trustees, and constituents had a better sense of the importance of this mission.

Students are in the midst of a major transition from home, from family, from Sunday School stories and are beginning to confront difficult questions. They express what you did:

I was upset that I couldn’t explain why it mattered. I wish my 19-year-old self had been able to articulate that diversity makes us richer because different points of view and different life experiences are essential to educated citizenship and to the kind of well-rounded education that most Christian liberal-arts colleges aim to deliver.

It makes me remember a student leader who got a job at the university. Once “on the inside”, issues of injustice and patriarchy became real and burdensome. I spend many afternoons in conversation about to process all of that in ways that would make an impact, or at least to maintain sanity. That leader is now a professor and occasionally calls to work through issues of injustice and patriarchy.

Your story of teaching Atonement was particularly real to me. I spent half my career as a senior academic administrator. When the parent called the president about that book the professor used in class, the president would put that situation on my desk. My role, as I saw it, was to make sure that the professor was sure that the educational value exceeded the discomfort of the sex and language. I’m sure that’s not what the president was looking for but I still saw administration as an educational role. Part of my task was to explain the heart of Christian higher education to the parents.

This is particularly important because the student upset (or more likely, the parent upset) is in a distinct minority. A casual observation of the cultural consumption of today’s Christian University students finds them frequently exposed to movies and videos that deal with sex and bad language (although I doubt that Atonement was a movie they watched). What they need is for good Christian faculty members who are helping them with discernment about deeper challenges than an occasional swear word. Reading only G-level material doesn’t provide them with the skills to navigate a difficult terrain.

Yet students still complained that Jesus wouldn’t approve of my syllabi, and colleagues still questioned how I justified feminist or Marxist theory in the context of Christianity. When certain students and colleagues stopped by my office, my first instinct was to fear that they were attacking the moral merit of some new thing I had said or assigned.

I’m always amazed at students and professors who seem to think that Jesus is threatened by feminist theory or Marxist analysis (disclaimer: I taught Marx’s revolutionary strategy this morning). If a Christian university is to be truly Christian, faith in God’s leading must be a living and active part of life. If we say that “all truth is God’s truth”, then we have to wrestle with what feminist theory and Marxist analysis have to say to us today. If they have nothing, God will lead us in that. It’s frankly idolatrous to think that we have to protect God from difficult topics.

I wish I could have been your academic dean. I would have introduced you to people I’ve had the pleasure of working with who are proud of a Christian feminist identity or whose Christian faith has led them to advocate for structural engagement of inequality and exploitation.

As you say, “But I miss teaching, and most of all, I miss teaching the students who particularly need professors like me.” All of Christian Higher Education needs professors who will engage in the difficult topics. This generation needs that honesty more than ever before.

I’m glad you’ve found a role with AAC&U. I think it’s a wonderful organization developing critical thinking and high level engagement that can transform the nature of higher education. I’ve always wanted Christian Universities to play more of a lead role in the organization.

But I also think that what you’ve learned with the organization would be of great value to Christian Colleges, even (maybe especially) the institution you served.

Your reflection saddened me because it’s clear you had a great deal to offer Christian Higher Education. I hope that someday you might be led to notice another opportunity in a Christian University. While I’m no longer a full time administrator, I still have something of a professional network in the CCCU. I’d be glad to provide any assistance I can in your future searches.

Maybe there’s still a chance to get you back.




MLK: “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”

Each time I teach our general ed capstone class, “The Christian in the Contemporary World”, I share one of the last sermons that Martin Luther King, Jr. ever gave. It was delivered at the Washington Cathedral the weekend before the assassination. A remarkable critique on issues of race, poverty, and war, it is as important today as it was then. The Stanford MLK archive not only contains the text, but has maintained the audio. While I’ve shared the text below, there’s nothing quite like hearing that voice.


Here is the text:

I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here this morning, to have the opportunity of standing in this very great and significant pulpit. And I do want to express my deep personal appreciation to Dean Sayre and all of the cathedral clergy for extending the invitation.

It is always a rich and rewarding experience to take a brief break from our day-to-day demands and the struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with concerned friends of goodwill all over our nation. And certainly it is always a deep and meaningful experience to be in a worship service. And so for many reasons, I’m happy to be here today.

I would like to use as a subject from which to preach this morning: “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” The text for the morning is found in the book of Revelation. There are two passages there that I would like to quote, in the sixteenth chapter of that book: “Behold I make all things new; former things are passed away.”

I am sure that most of you have read that arresting little story from the pen of Washington Irving entitled “Rip Van Winkle.” The one thing that we usually remember about the story is that Rip Van Winkle slept twenty years. But there is another point in that little story that is almost completely overlooked. It was the sign in the end, from which Rip went up in the mountain for his long sleep.

When Rip Van Winkle went up into the mountain, the sign had a picture of King George the Third of England. When he came down twenty years later the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. When Rip Van Winkle looked up at the picture of George Washington—and looking at the picture he was amazed—he was completely lost. He knew not who he was.

And this reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountain a revolution was taking place that at points would change the course of history—and Rip knew nothing about it. He was asleep. Yes, he slept through a revolution. And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.

There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. In a sense it is a triple revolution: that is, a technological revolution, with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution in weaponry, with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapons of warfare; then there is a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world. Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place. And there is still the voice crying through the vista of time saying, “Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away.”

Now whenever anything new comes into history it brings with it new challenges and new opportunities. And I would like to deal with the challenges that we face today as a result of this triple revolution that is taking place in the world today.

First, we are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood.

Now it is true that the geographical oneness of this age has come into being to a large extent through modern man’s scientific ingenuity. Modern man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. And our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took weeks and even months. All of this tells us that our world is a neighborhood.

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” And he goes on toward the end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” We must see this, believe this, and live by it if we are to remain awake through a great revolution.

Secondly, we are challenged to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation. I must say this morning that racial injustice is still the black man’s burden and the white man’s shame.

It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle—the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly—to get rid of the disease of racism.

Something positive must be done. Everyone must share in the guilt as individuals and as institutions. The government must certainly share the guilt; individuals must share the guilt; even the church must share the guilt.

We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing “In Christ there is no East or West,” we stand in the most segregated hour of America.

The hour has come for everybody, for all institutions of the public sector and the private sector to work to get rid of racism. And now if we are to do it we must honestly admit certain things and get rid of certain myths that have constantly been disseminated all over our nation.

One is the myth of time. It is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. And there are those who often sincerely say to the Negro and his allies in the white community, “Why don’t you slow up? Stop pushing things so fast. Only time can solve the problem. And if you will just be nice and patient and continue to pray, in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out.”

There is an answer to that myth. It is that time is neutral. It can be used wither constructively or destructively. And I am sorry to say this morning that I am absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation—the people on the wrong side—have used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”

Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

Now there is another myth that still gets around: it is a kind of over reliance on the bootstrap philosophy. There are those who still feel that if the Negro is to rise out of poverty, if the Negro is to rise out of the slum conditions, if he is to rise out of discrimination and segregation, he must do it all by himself. And so they say the Negro must lift himself by his own bootstraps.

They never stop to realize that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. The people who say this never stop to realize that the nation made the black man’s color a stigma. But beyond this they never stop to realize the debt that they owe a people who were kept in slavery two hundred and forty-four years.

In 1863 the Negro was told that he was free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation being signed by Abraham Lincoln. But he was not given any land to make that freedom meaningful. It was something like keeping a person in prison for a number of years and suddenly discovering that that person is not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. And you just go up to him and say, “Now you are free,” but you don’t give him any bus fare to get to town. You don’t give him any money to get some clothes to put on his back or to get on his feet again in life.

Every court of jurisprudence would rise up against this, and yet this is the very thing that our nation did to the black man. It simply said, “You’re free,” and it left him there penniless, illiterate, not knowing what to do. And the irony of it all is that at the same time the nation failed to do anything for the black man, though an act of Congress was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest. Which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor.

But not only did it give the land, it built land-grant colleges to teach them how to farm. Not only that, it provided county agents to further their expertise in farming; not only that, as the years unfolded it provided low interest rates so that they could mechanize their farms. And to this day thousands of these very persons are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies every years not to farm. And these are so often the very people who tell Negroes that they must lift themselves by their own bootstraps. It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.

We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice.

There is another thing closely related to racism that I would like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad. I’ve seen it in Latin America; I’ve seen it in Africa; I’ve seen this poverty in Asia.

I remember some years ago Mrs. King and I journeyed to that great country known as India. And I never will forget the experience. It was a marvelous experience to meet and talk with the great leaders of India, to meet and talk with and to speak to thousands and thousands of people all over that vast country. These experiences will remain dear to me as long as the cords of memory shall lengthen.

But I say to you this morning, my friends, there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes God’s children sleeping on the sidewalks at night? In Bombay more than a million people sleep on the sidewalks every night. In Calcutta more than six hundred thousand sleep on the sidewalks every night. They have no beds to sleep in; they have no houses to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than five hundred million people, some four hundred and eighty million make an annual income of less than ninety dollars a year. And most of them have never seen a doctor or a dentist.

As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh no!” Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking of the fact that we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, “I know where we can store that food free of charge—in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.” And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.

Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them here and there. I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying.

I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day, which is in Whitman County, the poorest county in the United States. I tell you, I saw hundreds of little black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear. I saw their mothers and fathers trying to carry on a little Head Start program, but they had no money. The federal government hadn’t funded them, but they were trying to carry on. They raised a little money here and there; trying to get a little food to feed the children; trying to teach them a little something.

And I saw mothers and fathers who said to me not only were they unemployed, they didn’t get any kind of income—no old-age pension, no welfare check, no anything. I said, “How do you live?” And they say, “Well, we go around, go around to the neighbors and ask them for a little something. When the berry season comes, we pick berries. When the rabbit season comes, we hunt and catch a few rabbits. And that’s about it.”

And I was in Newark and Harlem just this week. And I walked into the homes of welfare mothers. I saw them in conditions—no, not with wall-to-wall carpet, but wall-to-wall rats and roaches. I stood in an apartment and this welfare mother said to me, “The landlord will not repair this place. I’ve been here two years and he hasn’t made a single repair.” She pointed out the walls with all the ceiling falling through. She showed me the holes where the rats came in. She said night after night we have to stay awake to keep the rats and roaches from getting to the children. I said, “How much do you pay for this apartment?” She said, “a hundred and twenty-five dollars.” I looked, and I thought, and said to myself, “It isn’t worth sixty dollars.” Poor people are forced to pay more for less. Living in conditions day in and day out where the whole area is constantly drained without being replenished. It becomes a kind of domestic colony. And the tragedy is, so often these forty million people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.

Jesus told a parable one day, and he reminded us that a man went to hell because he didn’t see the poor. His name was Dives. He was a rich man. And there was a man by the name of Lazarus who was a poor man, but not only was he poor, he was sick. Sores were all over his body, and he was so weak that he could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of Dives every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. And Dives did nothing about it. And the parable ends saying, “Dives went to hell, and there were a fixed gulf now between Lazarus and Dives.”

There is nothing in that parable that said Dives went to hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came to him, and he advised him to sell all, but in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery and not setting forth a universal diagnosis. And if you will look at that parable with all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between heaven and hell, and on the other end of that long-distance call between heaven and hell was Abraham in heaven talking to Dives in hell.

Now Abraham was a very rich man. If you go back to the Old Testament, you see that he was the richest man of his day, so it was not a rich man in hell talking with a poor man in heaven; it was a little millionaire in hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich; Dives didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum. Indeed, Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.

And this can happen to America, the richest nation in the world—and nothing’s wrong with that—this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.

In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect. We are going to bring those who have come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. We are going to bring children and adults and old people, people who have never seen a doctor or a dentist in their lives.

We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.

We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.

Why do we do it this way? We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.

Great documents are here to tell us something should be done. We met here some years ago in the White House conference on civil rights. And we came out with the same recommendations that we will be demanding in our campaign here, but nothing has been done. The President’s commission on technology, automation and economic progress recommended these things some time ago. Nothing has been done. Even the urban coalition of mayors of most of the cities of our country and the leading businessmen have said these things should be done. Nothing has been done. The Kerner Commission came out with its report just a few days ago and then made specific recommendations. Nothing has been done.

And I submit that nothing will be done until people of goodwill put their bodies and their souls in motion. And it will be the kind of soul force brought into being as a result of this confrontation that I believe will make the difference.

Yes, it will be a Poor People’s Campaign. This is the question facing America. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. America has not met its obligations and its responsibilities to the poor.

One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power.

It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, “That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.” That’s the question facing America today.

I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” The world must hear this. I pray God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.

I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.

It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.

Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home that can’t hardly live on the same block together.

The judgment of God is upon us today. And we could go right down the line and see that something must be done—and something must be done quickly. We have alienated ourselves from other nations so we end up morally and politically isolated in the world. There is not a single major ally of the United States of America that would dare send a troop to Vietnam, and so the only friends that we have now are a few client-nations like Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and a few others.

This is where we are. “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind,” and the best way to start is to put an end to war in Vietnam, because if it continues, we will inevitably come to the point of confronting China which could lead the whole world to nuclear annihilation.

It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.

This is why I felt the need of raising my voice against that war and working wherever I can to arouse the conscience of our nation on it. I remember so well when I first took a stand against the war in Vietnam. The critics took me on and they had their say in the most negative and sometimes most vicious way.

One day a newsman came to me and said, “Dr. King, don’t you think you’re going to have to stop, now, opposing the war and move more in line with the administration’s policy? As I understand it, it has hurt the budget of your organization, and people who once respected you have lost respect for you. Don’t you feel that you’ve really got to change your position?” I looked at him and I had to say, “Sir, I’m sorry you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader. I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I’ve not taken a sort of Gallup Poll of the majority opinion.” Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.

On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?

There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of goodwill to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ study war no more.” This is the challenge facing modern man.

Let me close by saying that we have difficult days ahead in the struggle for justice and peace, but I will not yield to a politic of despair. I’m going to maintain hope as we come to Washington in this campaign. The cards are stacked against us. This time we will really confront a Goliath. God grant that we will be that David of truth set out against the Goliath of injustice, the Goliath of neglect, the Goliath of refusing to deal with the problems, and go on with the determination to make America the truly great America that it is called to be.

I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America.

Before the Pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. Before the beautiful words of the “Star Spangled Banner” were written, we were here.

For more than two centuries our forebearers labored here without wages. They made cotton king, and they built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most humiliating and oppressive conditions. And yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to grow and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face will surely fail.

We’re going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. And so, however dark it is, however deep the angry feelings are, and however violent explosions are, I can still sing “We Shall Overcome.”

We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

We shall overcome because Carlyle is right—”No lie can live forever.”

We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right—”Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.”

We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right—as we were singing earlier today,

Truth forever on the scaffold,

Wrong forever on the throne.

Yet that scaffold sways the future.

And behind the dim unknown stands God,

Within the shadow keeping watch above his own.

With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair the stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

Thank God for John, who centuries ago out on a lonely, obscure island called Patmos caught vision of a new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, who heard a voice saying, “Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away.”

God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy. God bless you.

Why Wheaton Matters

Like everyone else in Christian Higher Education over the past month, I’ve been following the Larycia Hawkins situation at Wheaton. I have my own ideas about what’s going on there involving understandings of tenure, institutional boundary maintenance, and ideas of shared governance.

I have friends who have asked “is anyone safe?”. These are not just my rabble-rouser friends but from folks I consider fairly conservative in any other context.

But my concern goes beyond the faculty worries about the weakening of tenure and threats to academic freedom. My concern goes to the overall academic reputation of Christian liberal arts institutions.

We in Christian Universities have been concerned about gaining recognition for our academic programs since the post-World War II period. We pursued regional accreditation not just to gain access to federal dollars but to show that we were accredited “just like the state schools”. We hired faculty members with doctorates instead of missionaries home on furlough. We expanded professional development and required scholarship (even in a limited form) as a component of the promotion portfolio.

Even though I absolutely hate the US News and World Report rankings, I pay attention to how we do each year to demonstrate that, like the Velveteen Rabbit, we are real.

This week, in the midst of the Wheaton controversy, several social media friends shared a troubling article from Inside Higher Ed. The story was about a forthcoming book, Inside Graduate Admissions by Julie Posselt from the University of Michigan. She had obtained access to graduate school admissions committees in several universities.

Admissions Commitee
Scene from Tina Fey’s movie “Admissions”

A particularly troubling passage in her book is quoted in the IHE article:

The applicant, to a linguistics Ph.D. program, was a student at a small religious college unknown to some committee members but whose values were questioned by others.

“Right-wing religious fundamentalists,” one committee member said of the college, while another said, to much laughter, that the college was “supported by the Koch brothers.”

The committee then spent more time discussing details of the applicant’s GRE scores and background — high GRE scores, homeschooled — than it did with some other candidates. The chair of the committee said, “I would like to beat that college out of her,” and, to laughter from committee members asked, “You don’t think she’s a nutcase?”

Messiah historian John Fea and I had some good Facebook dialogue about the challenges present in the book.  He aptly expressed his concerns as follows:

I have always believed that the  members of department admissions committees at elite graduate schools who choose potential students for history Ph.D programs honor good work and intelligence.  I tell my students who want to pursue graduate school that they will be judged on their test scores, college work, and letters of recommendation, and not on the fact that they attended a religious-oriented institution.

John and I discussed steps that we might have to take to coach our students in their application letters or to enhance what we communicate in our recommendation letters.

George Yancey, sociologist at Northern Texas, has written extensively about what he calls “Christianophobia”. He argues that there is a stance held within the culture in opposition to evangelical Christians (or, at best, quiet suspicion). He wrote on the Posselt book this morning.

George and I have a friendly (I hope) disagreement about the character of the bias he identifies in his research (see his most recent book here). My pushback is that what we’re seeing is a bias not against all Christians but an identifiable subset. The problem is that the secular communities he studies don’t have a sufficient base of knowledge to distinguish one type of religious student from another. And because they are afraid of getting the “right-wing religious fundamentalist” (who, it should be noted, aren’t big on PhD programs in linguistics!) they generalize to all evangelicals.

In Christina Cleveland’s excellent Disunity in Christ, she describes how we tend to recognize the diversity present in our in-groups (where we have sufficient knowledge) but assume that out-groups are homogenous. In that case, we rely on caricatures to stand in for the reality of a diverse group of others.

This brings me back to Wheaton. If Wheaton is known as the “Evangelical Harvard“, then it must be the gold standard for Christian Universities. [That appellation has always struck me as strange, given how much evangelicals pick on Harvard as the religious school that lost its way!]

But if academic freedom is challenged at Wheaton, secular groups wonder, what must be going on elsewhere? Certainly academic freedom must be a farce at all Christian Universities.

Because I pay attention to Christian Higher Education a lot, I understand this critique.

What makes the higher ed news? A college rewrites its core values statement to include previously uncovered material and requires its faculty to sign or be fired. A president writes a viral piece of how college isn’t day care even though his institution has the normal set of near in-loco-parentis community standards as most Christian schools. A tenured professor suddenly finds his position eliminated due to mysterious budget cuts. Another must quit his job if he is to remain connected to an organization the institution disapproves of.

Every time one of these stories goes viral, there is one more graduate admissions committee member pausing when looking at one of my graduates.

And it goes beyond the college environment; find the evangelical scandal du jour and Christian Universities are affected. The latest news about Bill Gothard feeds the stereotype about hypocritical and judgmental evangelicals.

When the news breaks about the latest Christian college outrage, that bright high school student will decide to opt for the state school instead of embracing the Christian College his parents attended. Maybe that bright graduate student, whose academic and personal life were deeply shaped by her alma mater, will think twice before applying for that vacancy in her home department.

What then do we do? In my conversation with John, I suggested that we needed to speak in academic terms that our disciplinary colleagues will recognize. We need to identify with them as classroom teachers and discuss our common struggles in motivating unfocused students. We need to be active in our professional organizations, not just with those from like institutions but in commonality with people in a variety of school settings.

Perhaps the best place to begin is to call out those situations where a protectionist stance is evident. It’s amazing to me how much the common wisdom about Wheaton is that unhappy donors pressured the school into its current predicament. We need an alternative vision of Christian Higher Education that finds more commonality with the larger educational enterprise while maintaining our unique identity as character forming institutions.

As I’ve written before, what we need are Fearless Christian Universities. These Christian Universities embrace their Christian identity AND their academic identity. We must tell that story if we are to better educate the admissions committees of the future.

The Criminal Justice System Isn’t the Path to Justice

It’s been two weeks since we wrapped up my favorite class at Spring Arbor: Spirituality, Faith, and Justice. It’s a hodgepodge of approaches trying to articulate a Christian approach to Justice. We explore issues of The Common Good, Utilitarianism, Reconciliation, Privilege, Kenosis, and Power.

At the beginning of the semester, I usually have several students who define Justice as something related to the Criminal Justice System. Justice means that people get what they deserve, that they atone for their wrongdoing, and that the wronged parties receive some form of closure.

I write this as many of my social media friends are struggling with the decision of the Cuyahoga Country grand jury not to indict the officers who shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice. It’s been a mere two weeks since a Baltimore judge declared a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury in the case of the first officer tried in the Freddie Gray death. Both of these are reminders of the outrage resulting when Darren Wilson was not indicted for the shooting of Michael Brown. While not involving a police officer, it also reminds us of the anguish when George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin.

I understand the pain and anguish. I get the acknowledgement of Injustice. I just don’t believe the criminal justice system is the avenue for bringing justice to bear.


Atticus Finch taught us that in To Kill a Mockingbird. Anyone who heard his arguments in defense of Tom Robinson knew that justice required Tom to go free. Yet he was convicted just as the local criminal justice system expected he would be.

There are limitations built into the criminal justice system that make it a poor avenue for pursuing social justice in cases like Tamir Rice or Freddie Gray. These include the requirement to prove intent on the part of the police officers or to demonstrate willful malice. It includes a “rational man” defense which presumes the officer was acting within his training and responsibility unless there’s clear evidence to the contrary (as it was in the Walter Scott shooting in South Carolina). It requires a decision path that clearly shows that the officer was acting improperly with the certain knowledge that death would result. None of the characteristics make it easy to get an indictment. And even if one were to occur (as in Baltimore) getting a conviction is simply that much harder.

If not the criminal justice approach, what’s left? Is it sufficient to rely on the federal government to explore eventual civil rights violations? The Ferguson report on financial dealings was some great work by the Justice Department but takes too long and can only be applied sporadically.

Here are some random thoughts.

First, we must broaden the coalition around the Black Lives Matter organizations. It has been too easy for critics to make false claims about groups opposed to police. That is not the point. It’s about police misconduct and a systemic willful blindness that creates the situations in question.

Consider the protests in Minneapolis the weekend before Christmas. Groups protested at the Mall of America and then at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. This was not only a strategic protest in the midst of Christmas shopping and holiday travel. It was also remarkably diverse. Look at these pictures posted by Minnesota Public Radio (#8 is my favorite — I share a screen shot below). These are white protestors who are very unlikely to have an officer decide they are an imminent threat and then respond with force. It is their voices and bodies that must be on the line.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 11.38.14 PM

I watched Selma the other day. I don’t know the historicity of this interaction but there is a scene where MLK is talking to leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (“snick”). He tells them that they have been working “to raise the consciousness of the black man” while he “has been working to raise the consciousness of the white man, specifically the white man in the White House”.

When the death of a black child or the death of a black grandmother is met with national outrage and a demand for action and accountability coming from all quarters, we begin to see changes. It may be crass, but one thing that is certain is that political office-holders are pretty good at finding ways of responding when public attention turns their way (looking at you, Rahm).

Another avenue of promise lies in what happened this fall on college campuses in the face of administrative inaction regarding racial microagressions (and some not-so-micro). Demands for changes in policy and even leadership were heard, especially when the Missouri football team threatened not to play if changes weren’t forthcoming. This is another lesson that can be seen in the Minneapolis protests. They targeted their protests in the areas that would demand a response due to their disruptive nature.

In addition, we need to address the question of organizational culture in some police departments. After video of the Laquan McDonald shooting was released in Chicago last month, the Tribune included this in their editorial.

Think back to the decades of systematic torture of suspects at the hands of Cmdr. Jon Burge and his crew, as prosecutors and police supervisors looked the other way. That stain will be with us for a long, long time.

But the city also has a poor record for dealing with everyday allegations of police misconduct, from unprofessional behavior to unnecessary force.

A Tribune review of four years’ worth of complaints against police officers found that just over 4 percent were sustained, and in nearly half of those cases, the officer was given a reprimand or a “violation noted.” That’s it.

Again, self-interest works. To change the culture, we must adjust the reward structure. If there is an officer-related shooting, it should be in the permanent record of all of that officer’s supervisors. That, in turn, should be related to the supervisor’s promotion or retention. The kind of transparency brought by technology (both video and data) can have far-reaching cultural impacts.

Finally (for now), we need to address the inequalities that provide the context of most of these deadly encounters. Chicago has a pretty good track record of not having police shootings in Winetka. What is it about depressed neighborhoods that makes officers more likely to believe a young boy was a lethal threat?

Yesterday I saw this profile of sociologist William Julius Wilson who though turning 80 is still leading the field in untangling the relationships between race, class, the economy, and criminal justice. Wilson says:

“We should be cognizant of the choices available to inner-city families and residents in high jobless inner-city black neighborhoods,” he says, “because they live under constraints and face challenges that most people in the larger society do not experience, or can’t even imagine.”

This, of course, connects us back to the criminal justice system and the school-to-prison pipeline. When we begin to recognize these realities and identify them as problems that we will exercise our personal power to engage, then we can begin the path toward Justice.

After Trump…


Trump Crowd

I’ve been thinking of this post for quite a while. In fact, it goes back to 1991 when Bill Moyers first travelled to Milwaukee to interview families disrupted by the closure of the Briggs and Stratton lawnmower plant (which was moving to Mexico). The families affected were people who had, in Bill Clinton’s words, “played by the rules”. They stayed out of trouble, worked at the plant, and believed that the future would play out as promised. (Moyers returned to this topic in a 2013 Frontline special titled Two American Families.)

I thought again of the Milwaukee families when I read Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog Monday (written by David Wasserman). As their chart shows, there is a remarkable split among Republicans based on whether they have college degrees or not.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 6.55.15 PM

Trump’s support comes disproportionately among those without a college degree. Among those with a degree, he’s in a dead heat. E.J. Dionne reflected on this pattern in his column Monday:

But Trump’s enduring strength among the most disheartened members of his party — and the divided loyalties of upscale Republicans — suggests that it is wishful thinking for the Republican powers that be to say they are sure he will never be nominated (emphasis mine).

One the common themes cutting across these stories is the way in which things have changed in American society for the white working class. Underneath all of the “Is College Worth It?” stories is the fact that the bottom has fallen out economically for those with only a high school diploma.

I’m not sure that Dionne’s “disheartened” is strong enough. If I look back at the Moyers material, what we’re talking about is closer to “betrayal”. There is a large segment of the American population that believes they were sold a bill of goods. They worked hard at jobs that were dirty, kept their churches afloat, and showed up a Rotary every week. And what to show for it?

Lost pensions, declining unions, broken rural economy, challenges to their faith, closed factories.

And who cares? Not politicians, not Hollywood elites, not “the lamestream media”. Not a 2008 presidential candidate who talked of people clinging to guns and religion.

It’s what created crowds of “real Americans” following Sarah Palin across middle America in 2008. It’s why some people are more likely to find conspiracy theories compelling in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Five years ago, I was working on a project I called Broken Stories. My thesis was that social change was undermining the narrative identity of many Americans resulting in feelings of betrayal, anger, and frustration. My conference presentation in October of 2011 included this passage:

The arrangements of social structure, which had been relatively stable in decades past, provided a narrative model that was internalized, passed along to children, and reinforced by the folks in the weekly bowling league. Of course change was happening, but there is a natural lag between those structural changes and the compensating narrative identity.

The last twenty years have seen an acceleration of changes at the structural level. The uncertainty of those changes has, as a short-term byproduct, a retrenchment on the side of narrative identity. Seen in this light, claims of abandonment on the one hand and desires to “take our country back” on the other, are actually rational responses to a situation of radical social change. Civil discourse becomes a challenge when it is blocked by fear and anxiety.

That same year, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich came out with the updated version of his book on the great recession, Aftershock (2008|2011). He documents how the Great Prosperity (1945-1975) gave way to growing inequality. In a flight of fancy, he imagined an election in 2020 where an Independence Party won the presidency by combining nativist sentiments on the right with anti-finance sentiments on the left. The newly elected president, Margaret Jones, begins her victory speech as follows:

My fellow Americans: You have voted to reclaim America. Voted to take it back from big government, big business, and big finance. To take it back from politicians who would rob us of our freedoms, from foreigners who rob us of our jobs, from the rich who have no loyalty to this nation, and from the immigrants who live off our hard work (80).

It almost sounds like Reich knew that Trump was going to run!

But I don’t want to dismiss those Trump supporters as a bunch of racists, rubes, and xenophobes. They are reacting to something real. And that’s what troubles me.

Things are changing in American society. And “Make America Great Again” offers little more than a fuzzy nostalgia which doesn’t hold up to evidence.

But the change is real. Demographics are shifting. Millennials are at odds with their Boomer predecessors. Religious Pluralism is here.

If you want a snapshot of what I think motivates the Trump supporters I’m writing about, look no further than the title of a forthcoming book by Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute: The End of White Christian America. Jones is right in terms of demographic and attitudinal shift in the broader society. But I can’t think a more alarmist title for those who feel left behind.

What does all this mean? Mostly I’ve been thinking about what happens to all of these folks when Trump loses at some point down the road. It might be in the primary process or at the convention. At the very least, Nate Silver is right when he points out that the numbers just aren’t there for a national election win for The Donald. In a piece he wrote last month titled “Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls” (which they haven’t), he explained his logic pretty clearly.

One problem with this is that it’s not enough for Trump to merely avoid fading. Right now, he has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.) As the rest of the field consolidates around him, Trump will need to gain additional support to win the nomination. That might not be easy, since some Trump actions that appeal to a faction of the Republican electorate may alienate the rest of it. Trump’s favorability ratings are middling among Republicans (and awful among the broader electorate).

The question I’m left with is this: Where do these disaffected activists go next? What happens after another four to eight years of either a Democratic administration or an establishment Republican administration? What happens as the non-religious and other-religious percentage continues to grow? What happens as even more people of faith begin accepting same-sex marriage?

It’s unlikely that they will simply say, “Oh well, that’s how democracy works.” Unless we can address the material realities of this segment of the population and help them find their story in a changing America, part of electorate will continue to believe that something was taken from them.

If anything should be driving the policy thinking of the major political parties, it should be on how to engage this disaffected segment back into our democratic process.



It’s Time to End Primary Debates

Twenty years ago, PBS’ Jim Lehrer wrote a book titled The Last Debate. It was a story about a group of debate Lehrer Debatemoderators who saw it as their responsibility to stop a megalomaniacal man from becoming president. They determined that they were the final vanguard that could prevent the inevitable. After the debate, the ringleader went into hiding in Greece while two other participants went on to dominate the morning gabfest on cable.

It’s not a perfect book by any stretch. But it was intriguing. I’ve returned to it every presidential cycle and found it’s reason for being to be compelling. It captures all of what we see in modern debate politics: the moderator as a persona, the attempt to catch candidates in misstatements, the antagonism between candidates and the media, and the difficulty of getting the candidates to move off their standard talking points.

By now you’ve certainly read about the moderators at last week’s CNBC Republican debate. The general picture that emerged was of moderators inserting themselves into the middle of things, becoming actors in the debate rather than questioners. This assertion is itself at least in part a media creation fostered by opportunistic politicians like Ted Cruz. Senator Cruz made his little “this is why people don’t like you” speech to great applause and guaranteed sound-bite status. But as Ezra Klein observed, Cruz did so by misrepresenting every question that was asked by the moderators to make it sound outrageous.


I’m not saying that the moderators didn’t deserve critique. Some of the set-up questions were deliberately provocative (“comic book campaign“) and unnecessary. I tend to like John Harwood but was surprised to see him on The Daily Show the week before the debate. Harwood shared a clip in which Ben Carson had hinted at “what was next” after gay marriage was legalized. It was clear that Harwood wasn’t going to become a Carsonite at any point in the near future. It’s fine for Harwood to have personal views about candidates. But going on cable television the week before to raise doubts about that crazy candidate isn’t the way to get people to give you the benefit of the doubt.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the impasse we’ve now reached. I’ll mention three.

First, James Fallows’ Breaking the News remains one of the finest books on modern journalism I’ve ever read. He argues that the combination of post-Watergate crusaders, corporate consolidation, cable news talkathons, and lazy journalists combined to make a very different kind of media environment. The presence of opinion shows that allow endless speculation and inside politics looping in a 24 hour news cycle creates news bits where real news is lacking.

Second, as much as I admired the late Tim Russert, his later years on Meet the Press followed the script Fallows described. He would have a newsmaker on, then share a statement made or a criticism offered, and ask the newsmaker to respond. There would be little light thrown on the topic and a lot of dissembling. This pattern of “You said this; what did you mean?” or “Yesterday, Governor Kasich said you were crazy; what would you like to say to him?” builds on that pattern. (As an aside, this is just too easy to do, as Jon Stewart showed for 17 years. Don’t these politicians understand the basics of video recording?)

Third, there is an assumption that a good question will demonstrate that the Emperor has no clothes. I really enjoyed Matt Bai’s All the Truth is Out last year. It’s the story of the 1987 implosion of Gary Hart’s presidential campaign (featuring a bit role by current candidate Martin O’Malley). Bai tells of how Hart was running a campaign from an earlier era at precisely the point when tabloid journalism was born.

All three of these factors combine to create the environment in which contemporary debates occur. They actually provide very little probative value. I think people watch debates the way non-race fans watch auto races: hoping for a terrific crash. What’s memorable about debates from 2012? “Self-Deportation“, “Binders of Women“, and, of course “Oops“. You could see the very moment when the wheels started to skid into the turn.

The CNBC debate somehow managed to make the candidates seem like aggrieved parties. Their response has been to meet together and take control of debate negotiations away from the Republican National Committee. (Why is the RNC allowed to broker the terms of debates? Where is the public interest?). So now the campaigns themselves want to dictate the conditions of future debates. Ben Carson suggested that moderators only be people who have voted in Republican primaries. The Trump campaign announced that they’d negotiate directly with the networks (because “the art of the deal“).

The prospect of the candidates dictating terms under which they’d agree to debate lends itself to easy ridicule, as Andy Borowitz and Alexandra Petri discovered. But the real issue runs much deeper.

These debates serve little public purpose. We are months away from national selection of candidates. Public opinion polls are loosely based on name recognition and media focus. Candidates simply repeat talking points, vague generalities, and mis-statements about the other party. It’s good for energizing the base and keeping donations flowing but plays little role in creating an informed electorate. Policy is not discussed, giving way to promises to make America great again and tell Putin who’s boss.

So rather than find ways of mitigating the symbiotic negative relationship between the media and the political machines of the candidates, I have a better idea. Just stop.

The candidates can continue to make their stump speeches and do their non-interviews on Sunday mornings. But let’s drop the pretense that anything can be learned by putting them all together on a stage and expecting them to say anything meaningful.

The Hawthorne Rules for Effective Media Consumption

Tonight is the first of the Democratic Debates. While we’re still very early in the election process (election day is only 55 weeks away!), it’s helpful to think about how we cover politics in America.

For a Sunday School class this past week, I put together my own rules regarding the media world. I hope you find them helpful.

Cable News


  1. Have a trusted national news source but watch its biases
  2. Websites from centrist think tanks can provide good background if you know how they lean (e.g., American Enterprise Institute and Brookings).
  3. Trust a handful of editorial writers who aren’t angry all the time
  4. Use Snopes, Politifact, and other Fact-checkers

Cable News

  1. Local issues are never national trends
  2. Increased media attention does not mean that the issue in question has increased
  3. Just because the media thinks it’s a crisis doesn’t make it a crisis.
  4. Discussions of polls are useless without context
  5. Isolated cases of bad behavior don’t reflect a cultural shift
  6. “Gaggle shows” (a group of pundits chatting amiably about topics) are generally inflammatory and not educational
  7. For some sources, their business model depends upon your outrage
  8. Conspiracies are hard work involving lots of people and so rarely occur (in spite of what gaggles claim)

Reading Politicians

  1. When a politician starts a response with “look”, he’s about to dodge the question
  2. When a politician starts a response with “What the American people want” he’s describing what his closest constituents want.
  3. Politicians are not acting simply out of personal interest
  4. A gaffe by a politician is usually an unimportant distraction
  5. Candidates will do well early due to name recognition and fade as negatives erode positives


  1. Don’t watch debates for the zingers
  2. Watch debates to look for grasp on actual policy ideas that could become law
  3. Never watch the debate post-game
  4. In the end, evidence of ability to govern trumps rhetoric


  1. Data without context on Facebook is almost always cherry-picked
  2. Current problems have long histories that cannot be ignored
  3. Easy solutions have complicated unintended consequences
  4. The stories that aren’t told are the most important of all.