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Kentucky reaches a new low in white Christian nationalism

There’s no proof that Kentucky Christians are being persecuted — and yet many seem determined to believe otherwise.

Here in Kentucky, we have reached a new low in white Christian nationalist politics.

Barely a week after Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear decisively won re-election in our deep-red state, parents Brad and Stacy Briscoe marched their teenage daughter to the front of an Anderson County Schools Board meeting — and effectively outed her.

I have never seen a mob of this magnitude — so overwhelming that the meeting had to be moved, in real time, to a larger venue.

Hundreds packed that Nov. 13 board meeting, held less than 15 miles from the state Capitol. They came, they said in speech after speech, to support the Briscoes, who had filed a complaint stating that their daughter was groomed by a school counselor, and to demand the superintendent and counselor be fired. 

“The counselor acted inappropriately by encouraging the student to seek a legal consultation regarding emancipation without her parents’ knowledge or consent,” according to the Lexington Herald Leader’s summary of the complaint. “In February, the student told her parents that she and her female classmate were in a romantic relationship and had been since the fall of 2022. The Briscoes expressed to (their daughter) their strong opposition to homosexuality, which was based upon convictions derived from their Christian faith.” (The Briscoes, reports the Herald Leader, “insist that the reason for the daughter’s punishment was her dishonesty with her parents, not her sexuality.”)

The complaint also alleges that Anderson County Schools superintendent Sheila Mitchell investigated the counselor but declined to punish her. Yet neither Mitchell nor the counselor can defend themselves, because the Briscoes have thus far refused to sign a release allowing them to publicly share details about the case.

I live in this community, population 24,000; I have attended many school board meetings; I have watched folks speak in anger and demand change; I myself have spoken at contentious meetings, one in which I talked long enough past my allotted time that a deputy was summoned.

But I have never seen a mob of this magnitude — so overwhelming that the meeting had to be moved, in real time, to a larger venue — overflow a school board meeting at the urging of a preacher.

Earlier this month, preacher Randy Adams of Ballard Baptist Church in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, invited Mr. Briscoe to come to the pulpit and share his daughter’s story with the congregation. Two days later, Adams posted on Facebook, “Share this message if you support the Briscoe family and want to protect children” with an edict to attend the Nov. 13 meeting and a list of what to say. 

“White Christian nationalists take advantage of preexisting societal cleavages to mobilize supporters”

Adams is no ordinary preacher. Last fall, he was a teacher and ACS employee, who encouraged parents to descend upon an October 2022 school board meeting. In a (since deleted) Facebook manifesto, Adams stated he would not follow the Kentucky Department of Education’s guidance on student pronoun preference. “As a Christian,” he wrote, in part, “I cannot call a person a gender other than their biological gender. That is a sin against God.”

Like this month’s meeting, last October a crowd answered Adams’ call to fill the room. Many quoted Bible verses, insisting there only two genders. One speaker was David Walls, a non-local whom I later learned was a registered lobbyist with The Family Foundation.

Come January, Adams was no longer employed by the school system. (He says he resigned.) During the 2023 legislative session, I often spotted him at the Kentucky Capitol with Walls. Together, they lobbied lawmakers to pass Senate bill 150, arguably one of the most pernicious anti-trans bills in the country.

In a Facebook video posted by The Family Foundation in late October, Adams tells Walls, “Over the last couple years, how many Twitter or YouTube videos have you seen of parents going to school board meetings and giving impassioned speeches and there’s no reply? It’s like talking to a blank wall … I believe educational freedom is the solution.” He also claims the guidelines he was given as a teacher meant “Christians aren’t welcome as public servants in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. We’ve got to really address that is a form of persecution.”

There’s no proof that Kentucky Christians are being persecuted or are not welcome as public servants — a truly ludicrous statement. Beshear’s re-election notwithstanding, Kentucky Republicans and their white Christian nationalist electorate maintain a supermajority in the state. Yet this angry, scared, organized mob won’t let that fact interfere with the charade of persecution — up to and including parading a teenage girl in front of a school board meeting.

As Bart Bonikowski, associate professor of sociology and politics at New York University, observed, “white Christian nationalists take advantage of preexisting societal cleavages to mobilize supporters, channeling their fears into resentments…” And social media makes it practically effortless for leaders who stoke fear and resentment to summon a mob.

All it took for a small town preacher was to urge his Facebook followers to pack a school board meeting under the guise of protecting children. It did not seem to matter to any of them, caught up as they were in their fears, resentments and grievances, that they were exploiting an innocent child in the process.

Likewise, all it took to get thousands to Washington, D.C., to threaten lawmakers on Jan. 6 was a tweet. “Be there, will be wild!” former President Donald Trump wrote a few weeks prior. And the mob came. And that same mob continues to be stoked, with the rest of us left to face the consequences.