"For Such a Time as This"

"I was born in the wrong century," my politically and socially conservative brother, David, often says. Dave and I grew up in San Jose, and we still reside in the San Francisco Bay Area. As small children, we remember when San Francisco and Berkeley became lightning rods for the 1960's counterculture movement (hippies, flower-children, anti-war protests, and the sexual revolution). Politics took a sharp left turn at that time and continues to grow more leftist or "bluer" by the day. Now, social conservatives are becoming increasingly "closeted" and Republicans are becoming an endangered species here in the Bay Area. (In fact, California's registered Republicans have dipped to 29.3% in the last few years.) Hence, as a Bay Area resident, David feels isolated and often demonized for his conservative views. He longs to live in an era of soothing simplicity---one without the encroachment of governmental regulation and the relentless and increasingly twisted logic of political correctness, the politics of "hate," and "inclusion," etc. (Today's notions of "inclusion" have morphed into a form of exclusion.)
Even as a social and political moderate, I feel David's pain. (Please note: I'm not here to argue the morality of Democrat/Liberal or Republican/Conservative views. I see merit in all viewpoints, and I admire anyone who has the courage of his or her convictions.) However, David and I both work in the front lines of education. Here is where the ideological warfare to win young hearts and minds is most fiery and fierce. Neither of us believe that political, social, or sectarian movements belong in public education. Surely, they should be examined through a factual lens, but not used as tools for propaganda. Consequently, David and I bear some battle wounds in our efforts to push back against this juggernaut of totalitarianism and sectarianism within the educational system. We know we will ultimately lose this battle. We know we're simply "re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titantic," yet, we also know our careers in education are part of our life's mission while living in these last days.  I repeatedly reassure David that he was indeed born to do THIS work in THIS century. And so am I. As The Old Testament's Mordecai said to Queen Esther, "Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)

"For Such a Time as This" by Elspeth Young


Bear with me, dear readers, as I digress here in order to more fully define and illustrate this frightening academic, cultural, and political phenomenon. Education has leaned left for many years, but the pressure to conform and promote a radical leftist dogma has attained new levels of intensity. Political correctness, hate speech, microaggressions, safe spaces, cultural appropriation, colonialism, white privilege are all terms that have come to dominate our national discourse, but have been embraced and "normalized" in institutions of higher learning. (And, for the record, I strongly support a multicultural and pluralistic society.) The recent rise of identity politics, and the intimidation tactics used by social justice warriors have created a culture of offense and fear---especially on college campuses. Indeed, a new order of fascism is permeating public education and has been solidified and "normalized" in universities. Scholar David Horowitz is one of my favorite authors. He writes extensively about this "tragedy" in academics:

The standing orders....of university Regents...state that each school must 'remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interests'....and that professors must never allow the classroom 'to be used for political indoctrination.' Unfortunately, this rule and rules like it at academic institutions across the country are increasingly ignored by university professors, and almost never enforced by university administrations. [Many university] catalogs are littered with course descriptions that PROMISE indoctrination, almost invariably in radical politics. The clear goal of such courses is not to educate students in the methods of critical thinking but to instill ideologies that are hostile to American society and its values. These courses teach students WHAT to think, not HOW to think. The fact is that a growing number of activist instructors routinely present their students with only one side of controversial issues in an effort to convert them to a sectarian perspective. More importantly, these ideological doctrines often shape the core curriculum most undergraduates are required to take to earn their degrees..." (One-Party Classroom, 2012, p. 1).





I can personally attest to his words. I've been a critical thinking and argumentation instructor at San Jose State for 20 years. And each semester has become increasingly difficult to teach students differing points of view. Things have gotten so intolerable that I'm now willing to risk scorn and even my job security by openly speaking out against growing unreasonable and sectarian demands in communicating and making my classroom a "safe space." This term is code for encouraging students to mistake personal feelings as fact and exercise their innate right to not be offended. As their instructor, I believe that a safe space and an intellectual space cannot and should not co-exist. As a result, I now include "trigger warnings" in my syllabi and advise students to drop my classes if hearing diverse opinions feels threatening. 




I also believe that academia has become its own form of religion (even though it openly opposes traditional norms and interpretations of Christianity). Indeed, academia---despite its insistence on being all things secular---has formed its own godhead of the four trinities: racism, classism, sexism, and trans-isms. These tenets are the underpinnings of their moral imperatives. Thus, I have to be very careful as to what I say and how I act (anywhere on campus) less I be judged and deemed unworthy. Here's the clincher: I feel like I'm in "church." And it's emotionally exhausting.


Over the years, my friends have often accused me of exaggerating my claims regarding the intolerance and sectarianism on college campuses. Or, they say that these situations must be the exception, not the rule. Unfortunately, my friends are wrong on both counts. Here are a few examples of the radical left-wing oppressiveness that has stifled free thought and free speech:
  • Watch this professor's attempts to communicate with these Yale students. They're upset over an email regarding potentially offensive Halloween costumes. The email was sent by this professor's wife (who also teaches at Yale). Again, academia has helped to create this culture of offense, and below is a small sample of the consequences. (Beware, the student uses profanity.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tsgc0k594Js

The above professor eventually apologized for his insensitivity and for defending his wife. His wife, however, refused to apologize and resigned, saying, "I have great respect and affection for my students, but I worry that the current climate at Yale is not, in my view, conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry required to solve our urgent societal problems."
For the full article, here's the link:

  • Linked below is an assigned reading I give on my first day of classes. I warn students that my class is full of "scary ideas":

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/opinion/sunday/judith-shulevitz-hiding-from-scary-ideas.html

  • Additionally, I show this video of Missouri State University students, who in the name of anti-bullying, end up bullying a student reporter. A professor (of all people) eventually steps in and calls for someone to physically threaten and remove the reporter:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRlRAyulN4o


These students (and the professor) excuse their bullying as a method to fight racism. "This behavior is a kind of safe-baiting: using intimidation or initiating physical aggression to violate someone’s rights, then acting like your target is making you unsafe." (This quote comes from the link below.)

Professor Melissa Click physically threatens a student reporter


The link below is particularly telling. It's a placemat for Harvard freshman students to take home for winter break, and use as a prompt for dinner conversations regarding social and political issues. The placemat not only tells students what to think but gives them a script of what to say to conservative relatives. Can you imagine if Harvard provided students with conservative arguments to use against those "pesky" liberal relatives?!

http://www.campusreform.org/?ID=7093
Again, I have no problem with various points of view. I do have a problem with a little fascism served with dinner---thanks to Harvard's helpful placemats. Anyway, here's how I've navigated my dangerous working environment while staying true to my principles:
  • I pray each day before class for divine intervention in "loosening my tongue" and giving me utterance in teaching my students critical thinking skills without me being labeled as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or guilty of "isms."
  • I pray for divine intervention in stopping my utterance if I'm about to say something that might be interpreted as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or "isms."
  • I pray that if students complain about me to my superiors, their complaints will be fair.
  • I pray that students will not permanently injure my reputation with public online grievances.
  • I pray for divine intervention in giving me the courage to speak truths to my students and fairly present all sides of an argument.
  • I pray for divine intervention on my behalf to soften any potential hostility students might have toward me because I tell them hard things regarding their assumptions.
  • I pray for divine intervention in giving me the power of discernment in sensing any potential hostile feelings students might have toward me.
  • I pray that I will never be unfairly judged by students or fellow faculty.
  • I pray that I can win the hearts of my students and colleagues.
  • I pray that I can be an example of fairness to those around me.
  • I pray that God will lessen my fear and anxiety.
  • I pray for divine protection from students or colleagues who might want to cause me pain.
  • I pray for wisdom.



So, what does all my academic stuff have to do with LDS women in general? Well, I ask you:
  • Are you feeling marginalized or oppressed by societal norms that are counterintuitive to Mormonism? (If you don't, you will eventually as these radical notions become entrenched in society.)
  • Are made to feel like you cannot hold to traditional values and still be a critical thinker?
  • Do you feel pressure to voice your opinions in a manner of "anger" or "sadness?"
  • Do you feel pressure to be an "angry" activist in the Church or in society?
  • Do you work or volunteer outside the home or the Church? Do you feel pressure to conform to non-traditional ways of thinking?
  • Do you find parenting overwhelming in a highly sexualized, gender fluid, and pansexual environment?
  • Are you feeling confused regarding your womanhood?
  • Are you feeling more and more resentful of anything patriarchal?
  • Do you have to muster more and more courage to stand for your convictions?
  • Do you feel overt or subtle disapproval from those who might oppose your viewpoints?
  • Do you feel intimated to speak your mind regarding social issues?
  • Do you feel like you're living in an "us against them" culture?
  • Do you feel like you're forced to "pick a side?"
  • Do you feel pressure to be "the cool" parent?
  • Do you feel pressure to be a woman "who has it all?"
  • Do you live in constant fear that your children will reject your values?
  • Do you believe that you, too, were born "for such a time as this?"
  
"Esther" Artist Unknown

I say we all are. And it's up to us to pray for divine guidance as to our individual earthly missions and potential influences. We can extend our influence by inquiring about our spiritual gifts and working to use them for righteous purposes. BYU professor, Camille Fronk Olson has written extensively about women in The Bible. Her observations regarding Queen Vashti and Esther are worth noting because of their applicability to present day. Dr. Olson writes:
Many women in the Old Testament approached problems from different angles than did men and opened a way for amicable solutions. More specifically, they inspired changes in the law of Moses, in laws of foreign occupiers of Israelite lands, and in the cultural laws of the larger society. Furthermore, these women did not wait for praise or recognition before speaking up or reaching out to make a difference. Whether for good or evil, royal women in the Bible significantly changed the course of events that affected opportunities for future generations. They either preserved lives or immersed generations in apostasy, either secured greater rights for other women or hurled them deeper into oblivion and hardship. Juxtaposed against wicked women were the praiseworthy Vashti and Esther, who lived in Susa, the capital of Persia, during the fifth century before Christ. A bold and forthright queen of Persia, Vashti rebelled against her husband when his commands conflicted with her sense of propriety.Esther, who became queen after Vashti was removed, was a Jewess who saved her people from genocide through her royal position of influence.


"Queen Vashti Says No" Artist Unknown

Vashti and Esther present two likeable but very different women. Queen Vashti was not merely a trophy wife; she showed moxie. When the king summoned her to parade her beauty in front of his inebriated guests, she flatly refused. Fearing Vashti's influence would spread to their wives and all the other women in the court, the king's princely advisers counseled the king to regard her disobedience as a personal affront and to depose her (Esther 1:10-22). Easily celebrated as a 'woman's woman,' Vashti defiantly stood up for her rights--but at what cost? She was stripped of her royal rank for her haughty example, deposed as queen, and possibly even executed for her bold refusal to obey the king's command. Could Vashti have found a better way to avoid compliance with her husband's inappropriate demands and at the same time retain her position of rectitude and royalty? Was Vashti's approach the best choice to preserve her principles, or was she too rash?  In contrast, Esther was coy, easily entreated, and quick to accommodate. Where Vashti was assertive and confrontational, Esther was passive and malleable. Vashti was defiantly unbending to demands that violated her sense of right and wrong. Esther was submissive to the king and presented the image of the ideal woman in the eyes of many men. As Mordecai's beautiful puppet, Esther appeared quite mild until she accepted her own power to act. Learning of Haman's edict against all the Jews in Persia, Mordecai challenged Esther to forget about herself and do something to stop the destruction, reminding her, 'Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?' Knowing that she risked losing her royal position and possibly even her life by approaching the king without being summoned, Esther resolutely accepted her mission, saying, 'If I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). Esther offered a feast to disarm and appease the king, creating an environment in which the king could feel he was making a moral decision. She patiently waited for the right moment to make her request. Because of her courageous and wise approach, the Jewish people were not hunted but instead were feared as the hunters. Elements in Esther's technique could likely be applied today to resolve conflict and promote peaceful relations in families and communities. 


"Esther" by Edmund Long

Every person in the story of Esther exhibits serious character flaws, but the account illustrates that God works through imperfect people to bring about His purposes. Furthermore, the story shows how God intervened through the subtle designs of a woman to protect His people. The story also gives a woman credit for creating a legal document that received the king's full support and saved the Jews in Persia from extinction (Esther 8:8). Finally, the record of Esther inspired the Jewish festival of Purim, which perpetuates her influence. The book of Esther underscores how Esther and her exiled people specifically, and anyone who feels marginalized or powerless in society generally, can significantly influence the world for good. Using one's talents, wisdom, and divine inspiration, any woman or man can bring change by enlightening those who hold power and have the authority to make better laws. Assuredly, many women used their intelligence and charm in such positive ways throughout biblical history (Olson, 2009, Women of the Old Testament).

Regardless of our gifts, personalities, and communication styles, we can face opposition and successfully navigate the oppressive social and political norms of our day. We can righteously influence our communities and even face persecution while still feeling joyful and peaceful. We can become our own kind of "social justice warriors" in promoting peacemaking, civil discourse, fighting bigotry and prejudice in all its forms, and having the courage of our convictions.
As for me, I peacefully and respectfully refuse to apologize for my patriarchal religion and for my discipleship as a follower of Jesus Christ. I can engage in peaceful civil protest by refusing to bow down to dictates that run counter to my own ethics. I can understand that my opinions are not facts and know that opinions of others are just that: opinions to which others are entitled. And rather than feel intimidated, fearful, and anxious about the times in which we live, I can face the wind and know that I was born "for such a time as this!"

Peace and joy,
Julie


9 comments

  1. Awesome! I know I don't experience this as much as you do but it's definitely out there. Thanks for really putting it out there in detail!

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    1. Thanks, Jenny! (Sorry it's taken me so long to reply---been remodeling my website.) I don't think people outside academia recognize how fascist university campuses have become. It's insular environment that needs to be challenged for its closed-mindedness.

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  2. I love this piece more than I could ever express. While we're not Mormon, my husband and I do identify with Christianity, conservative Christianity in most respects, and I agree wholeheartedly with what you've write here. Fantastic job, Julie Mounteer Hawker. Keep writing and speaking out about this - it needs to be said! (And as an aside - I've got your back, sister). ;)

    Carolyn Perez

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  3. Thank you for expressing so beautifully my own feelings and frustrations with our current academic abyss. Very well done.

    Philip Hartung

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  4. You've developed a beautiful talent and are a gift to your students and colleagues even if some don't have eyes to see or ears to hear. We're fighting an ultimately hopeless but worthy fight nevertheless.

    Dave Mounteer

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  5. Great article! The same can be said for one's personal interpretation of gospel principles, potentially causing the formation of false Mormon doctrinal biases, which then propagate into our own familial dynamics. In other words, one's opinion/interpretation of a gospel principle is perceived as doctrine, and therefore should be followed in the manner they deem correct. If the status quo is challenged, or followed contrary to their bias, alienation or wrongful judgment occurs toward anyone who believes/interprets that principle in a different manner--in the name of "being righteous". Which is why your following comment resonates with me:
    "I can engage in peaceful civil protest by refusing to bow down to dictates that run counter to my own ethics. I can understand that my opinions are not facts and know that the opinion of others is just that: opinions to which others are entitled."
    I'm grateful for living prophets and apostles who help to squelch out any false doctrinal opinions, interpretations, and biases--and for a living Christ whom we can all follow and feel safe and accepted for who we are and where we are in our walk with Him.

    Steve Hawker

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  6. Very well-written. Much too often, I feel that society wants to promote one opinion over the other and discourage having a "different" opinion. Sometimes common sense is lost in the shuffle and everyone takes a "follow the herd" mentality. Being able to have an individual point of view free from undue influence is what makes America great today and everyday. Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading about how you tie your life to your religion.

    Rami Jarrar

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  7. Interesting article, I too feel concern about the polarization of soicio-political thought in our society and the lack of critical thinking it engenders. (Or is this a chicken or egg came first thing?) Though I am on the liberal end of this spectrum I still wish to know the thinking of all. It is the parroting of ideas that horrifies me from liberals or conservatives. Thanks for posting your concerns about the direction of critical thinking in higher education. Colleges and universities should be a place to challenge thinking -- conservative and liberal.

    Shanno McSpud

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  8. Hi, I'm reaching out to you because I am IN LOVE with the picture on this post of the young women warrior. We are hoping to use the idea of YW being fierce in their lives: standing up for their beliefs, being confident in who they are, and developing a fierce love of the gospel. So, I'm wondering where you got that photo and if you'd be willing to share?? Thanks!

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