Panties Fundamentalism | Fred Clark
Panties! They are not just the focus of the sartorial world, they are also a very telling signifier for a particular brand of white American fundamentalist Christianity. So let me explain why this scary christian candidate for panty endorsement by colorado legislature gives me goosebumps.
We’re not talking here about the kind of 18th century men’s breeches that Francis Schaeffer adopted as an affectation. We’re talking about the above-the-knee slit skirts worn in the gender-enforced modesty white-bottom groups that think Schaeffer was a dangerously liberal threat to real, real Christianity.
I graduated from Timothy Christian, a white foundation private school in central Jersey. Sometimes when I tell stories about good old TCS – the more bizarre rules of our multi-page dress code, or the trivial matters we treated as taboos of great moral importance, or the folklore we learned in “Bible” class, or the classmate whose parents punished him for listening David Meece – people will gasp and giggle awkwardly in disbelief. “What? Nope! Let’s go….”
People who have never been part of a white fundamentalist subculture don’t quite seem to believe me when I tell them that, yeah, those stories are true and those things really happened, and we were really like that, honestly.
TCS was staunchly fundamentalist – young earth creationist, awaiting Rapture, KJV-inerrantist, etc. At the time, he was also part of a regional athletic conference for private (i.e. private) Christian schools. Protestant schools) which included schools much more fundamentalist than us.
The hallmark of these ultra-fundie schools was that their women’s football and basketball teams had to wear panties. (Baggy, knee-deep, “modest” unflattering, hard to play football culottes.)
We, the children of Timothy, would talk to the children in these schools about the other kinds of “biblical” rules and teachings they followed and their answers would make we gasp and giggle awkwardly in disbelief. “What? Nope! Let’s go….”
That that’s what breeches mean in white fundamentalist churches.
For shocking photos, see this 2012 look at the “Top 10 Worst Christian Fads(skirts are #2). This post notes that:
The thing about culottes is that they’re still mandatory in some Christian schools for girls…assuming they’re allowed to wear anything other than an ankle-length skirt. These schools are usually affiliated with the Bob Jones Program or Pensacola Christian College. Many Baptist schools still adopt this style. These schools are usually referred to as Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) schools because they use the ACE curriculum to teach their students.
These schools are also mostly segregation academies, though that fact has been buried under layers of pious understatement. That history, that white theology, that identity, and that purpose is still what shapes those schools and those churches.
It’s not hard to see this pro-segregation agenda when you look at these “Christian school” programs produced by Bob Jones and Pensacola. Their history lessons are still full of hymns to devoutly benevolent white slave owners and other white nationalist Bartonian nonsense. But these texts are now produced and read by people a few generations removed from Brown’s “crisis” and the civil rights movement that sparked the founding of all these schools (and the religious right more broadly).
For these contemporary white founders – as for the current version of the religious right in all its guises – the original language laden with original euphemisms is simply all they have ever known. It is their subcultural heritage, absorbed from birth, with little understanding of how these devoutly theologized euphemisms originally worked – and still function – as agents of the segregationist policy.
So people like right-wing anti-pants pastor Corey Seulan and his flock may not be fully and consciously aware of the extent to which their sartorial and doctrinal totems and “banners” have arisen and still serve as proxies for a white nationalist policy. which dates back to before the second founding of the United States. Their confusion – partly honest, partly just convenient – is the whole point of such an understatement. (“Redemption” sounds Well is not it? It sounds positive witty and holy.)
You start in 1954 saying, “Nr, nr, nr”. In 1968 you can’t say “nr” – it hurts you, backfires on you. So you say things like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that, and you get so abstract. Now you’re talking about lowering taxes, and all of these things that you’re talking about are totally economic things and a by-product of that is that black people are mistreated more than white people… “We want to reduce that”, it’s a lot more abstract than even the bus thing, uh, and a lot more abstract than “Nr, nr”.
A generation or so after 1954, you have a group of white people whose politics are centered on abstract euphemisms – “cutting taxes and all that stuff” – like all they’ve ever known of their ideology. They know euphemisms and proxies, but are less aware than their ancestors that all of these things are euphemisms and proxies. So they get really defensive and angry and offended when someone points out to them that their whole program was pitched – and still works – as just another way of “saying N—r, n—r, n—r “.
They get very angry at this suggestion because on some level it’s not what they personally wanted to say and promote. And they get very defensive at that suggestion because on another level they realize that, wait, that explains a lot, doesn’t it? And oh no, what exactly have I been doing all this time?
The same dynamic has shaped white Christianity in America for the past 400 years. You start in 1619 saying, “N—r, n—r, n—r.” But generations later, you can’t say that, it hurts you, it backfires to be so overt and explicit. So you say stuff like, uh, “inerrancy,” “literalism,” and all that, and you get so abstract. Now you talk about “defending the authority of the scriptures” and all of these things that you talk about are totally theological things, but a by-product of them is white-centric politics and the politics of white nationalism.
It’s much more abstract, but it serves the same purpose and function.
The panty thing is also, of course, about female control. It is part of Comstock’s white Christian “purity culture” and therefore has as much to do with anti-feminism and patriarchy as it does with white nationalism. But, as with Comstock himself, these things have always been intertwined. The “purity” of the culture of purity has always had an element of racial “purity” to it. Reactionaries have always been intersectional, long before we had a name for it. White pro-segregation Christianity has always been, and still is, anti-suffrage too. (They don’t just come for your birth control, they come for your vote.)
Anyway, if you see a bunch of Christians wearing culottes, run away. (Don’t worry, they probably won’t be able to catch you – it’s impossible to run into these things.)