Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few days, by now you’re aware that Second Lady Karen Pence has taken the highly unusual step of working while her husband occupies the office of vice president. One could arguably make the case that a Second Lady taking on a full-time job could be done in an appropriate way, a way that could be inspiring to broad swaths of the American public. But given that the Pences are radical right-wing Christians, it should come as no surprise that “Mother’s” job–as an art teacher at Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia–is the sort of work that inevitably alienates and others many Americans that Christian nationalists seek to define out of the category of “real” Americans.
As Human Rights Campaign put it, “The Pences never seem to miss an opportunity to show their public service only extends to some.” The Christian nationalism on display is ugly. In order to sustain itself, nationalism always needs external enemies and internal others–members of marginalized groups excluded by the ideologues from “the nation” or “the people.” So for that reason, Mother Pence’s choice to take this particular job is one that not only does not allow her to represent all Americans, but one that, in the school’s patriarchal and anti-LGBTQ views, actively shows contempt for many Americans.
Naturally, as soon as Huffington Post education reporter Rebeca Klein broke this story, the Pences received a deserved outpouring of criticism from Americans who actually support pluralism and equal rights. Predictable, and predictably absurd, cries of “persecution” from right-wing Christians quickly followed. David French predictably whined about the calling out of the Pences’ (and his own) anti-LGBTQ bigotry in National Review. On Twitter, Mike Pence himself showed particular petulance, tweeting, “We’ll let the critics roll off our back. But the criticism of Christian education in America must stop.”
As a survivor of a traumatizing Christian Right education steeped in #ChristianAltFacts, this didn’t sit right with me. The kinds of schools that explicitly label themselves “Christian schools” or “Christian academies”–fundamentalist and evangelical schools, in other words–are overwhelmingly authoritarian. They are anti-democratic and anti-pluralist, and the culture wars ethos into which they indoctrinate children is intensely harmful, particularly to women, queer people, and people of color. You don’t have to take my word for it, either. If you want to understand the kind of radicalization that goes on in Christian schools and through Christian homeschooling, one place to start is with North Florida University Religious Studies Professor Julie Ingersoll’s excellent book Building God’s Kingdom.
Anyway, I thought that it would be a good idea for Christian school survivors to find our collective voice and clap back at the Pences and Frenches and other pearl-clutching right-wingers on social media, so, coining the new hashtag #ExposeChristianSchools, I tweeted this:
The response has been overwhelming, and, despite attempts by trolls to hijack the hashtag and to trend other hashtags targeting public schools, etc., it’s been immensely encouraging. The new hashtag held steady in Twitter’s top trends from yesterday evening through most of today, and, according to Trendsmap.com, has accumulated 130,000 tweets in the last day. In addition to exposing the kinds of evangelical schools I graduated from, many have been tweeting about Catholic schools, not least Covington Catholic High School, some of whose MAGA-cap clad students viciously harassed an Omaha tribe elder at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. today.
Below are just a few of the tweets exposing the inherently abusive environments represented by right-wing Christian schools, both k-12 and colleges and universities:
Be reminded that thanks to the vouchers so beloved of
Cruella Betsy DeVos, these highly irresponsible, authoritarian, abusive Christian schools represent your tax dollars at work. We should be outraged about this.
#ExposeChristianSchools is the first big exvangelical hashtag of this year. Our community and movement continues to break through. My thanks to everyone who bravely shared your stories of fuckery, abuse, and resilience. We talked back to the Pences in a way that is impossible to ignore.