I posted a version of this op-ed on Unmasked, but in a time of intense anonymity on this campus, I felt it was important to put my name to what I wrote.

Last Thursday, a group of white men distributed miniature Bibles outside Paresky and on Spring Street. As several people on social media posted, I thought it was the College handing out journals or planners, so I grabbed one. When I saw it was a Bible, I immediately felt uneasy. I’m very outwardly queer and trans, blur the binary, and tend to be seen somewhere between “dyke” and “fag.” Although there are many Christians who support gay people and many gay Christians, in general, people handing out Bibles on street corners don’t tend to like people like me. I looked at the Bible-engraved organization, Gideons International, and was fairly certain that these particular men belonged to this sub-group. They are an evangelical society made up only of Christian men (their wives are – and I quote – “helpers”).

Many people on campus – myself included – have expressed their unease online with this new presence on campus. In response to these comments, someone posted on Unmasked, “Not a practicing Christian, but uncomfortable with the way people are bashing Christians on this campus,” which started a thread with 62 comments. There were a lot of comments that boiled down to, “If you said X thing you said about Christianity about Islam or Judaism, that would be Islamophobic or anti-Semitic. So why is it different for Christianity?

It’s different. Criticizing Christianity is different from criticizing other religions.

Christianity is the most dominant religion and has been for centuries. In much of the world, especially the United States, this domination has resulted in genocide and large-scale colonialism. It has shaped how our society has responded to women, minorities, and LGBTQ+ people in massive (often bad) ways. Many religions have problematic views, but they have not shaped the fabric of our country as Christianity has. As one commenter on my article noted, our nation’s motto says “in God we trust.” This God designates the Christian God. All but two presidents – Lincoln and Jefferson – have been Christians. 88% of the current Congress identifies as Christian. Although we are a more secular campus, Christianity dominates our nation and wields tremendous power.

Just like expressing frustration with white people or with men, expressing frustration with Christianity is expressing frustration with systems that have done great harm to those who are not part of their subgroups and to privileges that members of these dominant groups derive from their membership. Not all men are sexist, but sexism remains, and men benefit from its history and its present. Not all white people are racist, but they do benefit from racist histories and systems. Not all Christians have problematic beliefs, but all Christians benefit from the dominance of Christianity, which is rooted in its problematic history.

Moreover, criticisms of Christianity are generally not rooted in racism and therefore cannot be equated with Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. While Christians are of all races, whiteness is coded into religion in America due to its history and demographics. While many people of many races and ethnicities practice Judaism and Islam, Islam is consistently associated with brown-skinned people in Southwest Asia and North Africa and there is a persistent belief ( in many places) that the Jews are of a different race from the whites. , Anglo-Saxon people. For this reason, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are rooted in racism. Criticisms of Christianity are not rooted in this same racism. Thus, it is impossible to assert that criticizing Christianity (or even denigrating it) is comparable to Islamophobia or anti-Semitism.

The people distributing Bibles were white men. This context matters. Bibles are symbolic of a religion with a history of violent and forced conversion and domination in the United States. These men have an inherent privilege that allows them to distribute Bibles without serious risk of harm. It would be different if people of color distributed Bibles. It would be different if copies of the Koran or the Torah were distributed.

For many reasons, people on this campus may have reactions to the presence of men. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think a lot of these reactions are rooted in the complex stories and powers associated with Christianity. I don’t think they are expressing a problem with Christians in general. I also don’t think many of the criticisms are aimed at silencing religion or hampering religious freedom. I have criticized the distribution of Bibles and believe in the freedom to practice religion (as long as it does not harm others). Respecting the freedom to practice a religion does not mean that we cannot be critical and reflective about it. The reflex to be on the defensive should be examined under all the complex privileges that exist within Christianity.

All beliefs must be examined in their history and context. In fact, thinking critically about our religious beliefs is one of the most sacred things we can do. I come from a Quaker Jewish family and these beliefs deeply shape me. These beliefs do not exist in a vacuum. For me, an important part of being a Jew is to criticize the State of Israel and the colonial violence it perpetuates. An important part of being a Quaker for me is fighting against the violent Christian stories in which Quakerism exists.

Christianity is not simple. A belief in Christianity must tackle this. Christians, Muslims, Jews and all religious people are not monoliths. There is no one way to be a religious person. But religions have histories and powers. It is worth considering your own position within them.

Alice-Henry Carnell ‘22.5 is an English and Environmental Science major from Towson, Md.


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