Kathryn Brightbill graduated from Covenant College, a PCA school in Georgia. For those unfamiliar, “PCA” stands for “Presbyterian Church In America,” and it is not the mainstream Presbyterian church, which is known as the “PCUSA.” The PCA is extremely conservative and deeply Calvinist, sharing a worldview similar in some ways to that of the Southern Baptists. They bristle at the comparison, because PCA people tend to view themselves as among the most intellectual of all the Christian sects.
Kathryn, a law student, sent an update to Covenant’s alumni newspaper, detailing professional accomplishments related to the Prop. 8 and DOMA cases, and the school didn’t see fit to print any of that:
The brief I worked on dealt with the way that the laws negatively affect children raised by LGBT parents, and how those laws negatively affect LGBT youth, their sense of self and their ability to imagine a future for themselves. More specifically, I worked on a team with several other law students to coauthor a survey to capture the voices of LGBT youth and young adults, and our paper is cited in the amicus brief.
The responses that poured in were heartbreaking. Kids sharing their stories of growing up and realizing they were different, and the fear and worry about whether their future relationships would be treated as legitimate by the government, feeling that they were lesser because of the law. Yet, in all that, hope that someday things might change. Kids daring to dream that there might be a future where they could build a life for themselves as equal citizens. I worked to provide justice for those kids.
As you can see, my work on that brief is something that I’m very proud of. I got to play a tiny role in one of the most important civil rights cases of a generation, and I got to give a voice to those who don’t have one. Like many people do when they have a significant professional accomplishment that they want to announce, I decided to submit an alumni update for my alma mater, Covenant College’s alumni magazine, the View.
And so, I filled out the alumni update form to say that I’m a student at UF Law and was asked to work on the Family Equality Council, et al. brief in Perry and Windsor, and that as part of that I coauthored the LGBTQ Youth and Young Adult Survey as a joint project between the University of Florida Center on Children and Families and the Emory Child Rights Project. All very professional and academic. There was no intent to make a political statement. It wasn’t a protest against Covenant or the PCA’s position on homosexuality in general or marriage equality in particular. It was just a nice, generic alumni update about what I’ve been up to recently.
The only part of my update that Covenant published was my name and the fact that I’m a student at UF. The rest of the update, the professional accomplishments that prompted the decision to send an update in the first place? Gone. Erased. Unacknowledged.
Instead they simply printed this:
Kathryn details the response proffered by the school:
Covenant tells me that they won’t run it because they won’t print anything that’s counter to the position of the college. Apparently doing so would “celebrate” something they disagree with. The disclaimer in the masthead that the contents of the View may not necessarily reflect the views of the college isn’t enough. Neither was my suggestion that they print a disclaimer before the updates specifically stating that updates were for informational purposes only and did not imply endorsement by the school.
I’m not asking Covenant to endorse or celebrate anything. Just to give me the courtesy that they give every other alumnus and run my alumni update.
Covenant keeps reassuring me that the campus is loving and safe for LGBT students, but apparently when we graduate we’re persona non grata. Everything is erased except for our names. Our lives are sanitized to remove any hint that LGBT alumni even exist.
Play a role in the biggest civil rights case of a generation? Sorry, merely printing an alumni update that acknowledges that it happened is too much.
This story hits me personally for a couple of reasons. First of all, I am a child of the PCA. I didn’t go to one of their colleges, but rather attended and worked for one of their flagship churches back in the 1990’s, and though I hear from a few friends who still go there that things are — slowly — getting better on the LGBT issue, at least among those under forty, the church will not doctrinally change until said day when hell freezeth over. They don’t call them the “frozen chosen” for no reason.
But the story also strikes me because of the intersection between the intellectualism of the PCA and the results of teaching kids how to think. There is a movement afoot in conservative Christian education to, essentially, keep children as far away from analytical thinking as possible, instead teaching them to regurgitate things by rote. This is a handy philosophy if you want to raise kids who never think for themselves or question the worldview of their parents and church. The fundamentalist homeschooling movement has been burned by their focus on teaching kids to debate over the years. Early on, the idea was to train students to defend their positions as Christian Warriors to a new generation, but what they inadvertently have been doing is teaching their kids to think, since one of the fundamental tenets of debating is truly understanding the other side’s point of view. Many of those who have gone on to act as whistleblowers documenting the horrific secrets of the fundamentalist homeschooling movement are former debate champions.
Many of the PCA kids I knew growing up were really, really freaking smart and went on to become quite esteemed in their fields. At least half of them have “left the fold.” I do not believe this is a coincidence. My non-denominational Christian high school has experienced a bit of that as well. I’ve never tried to submit an alumni update — “Evan Hurst is the Associate Director of Truth Wins Out, a gay rights organization that fights anti-LGBT religious extremism, and a co-founder of the NALT Christians Project, where Christians around the world are standing up to proclaim that they fully support inclusion and equality for LGBT people” would probably be reduced to “Evan Hurst is apparently a godless heathen, bless his heart” — and I doubt I will. And to be honest, my Christian high school wasn’t really educationally superior in any way. There were a few amazing teachers, though. My AP English teacher was exemplary, and I can honestly say that, at least where prose is concerned, that’s where I really learned to write. Due to the fundamentalist worldview of the school, I doubt that their intention for the AP English class of 1998 was to produce a published gay rights journalist, opinion writer, blogger, occasional humor writer, activist and non-profit professional, or that one of my classmates would grow up to be a comedy writer and producer for Comedy Central.
But dangit, that teacher and several others committed the crime of teaching us to think, and look what happened.
Alumni updates from people like Kathryn Brightbill, my former classmate and myself might force a solid moment of reflection on the true meaning of education, and they might have to confront the fact that fundamentalists and conservative Christians really do face a choice when rearing and teaching kids: teach them to regurgitate information in order to keep them in the fold or teach them to think and love learning and risk the very real possibility that they will recognize the weakness and the intellectual and moral shortcomings of that worldview, and thus leave.
I’m glad that I can say that when I have children, I will not have to face that choice.