Meet the new breed of Christians shaping our culture.
Alisa Harris grew up in a family that actively fought injustice and moral decay in America. She spent much of her childhood picketing abortion clinics and being home-schooled in the ways of conservative-Republican Christianity. As a teen she firmly believed that putting the right people in power would save the nation.
But as she moved into adulthood, Alisa confronted unexpected complexities on issues that used to seem clear-cut. So, she set about evaluating the strident partisanship she had grown up with, considering other perspectives while staying true to the deep respect she held for her parents and for the Christian principles that had always motivated her.
Raised Right is not only an intriguing chronicle of Alisa’s personal journey; it also provides a fascinating glimpse into the worldview of a younger generation of faith––followers of Christ who believe that the term “Christian” is not synonymous with a single political party or cultural issue.
Whether you are moderate, conservative, or progressive, Raised Right will prompt you to consider more deeply what it means to affirm Christ-like justice, mercy, and righteousness in the current cultural landscape. And it will give you a deeper understanding of how the new generation of Christians approaches the intersection of faith and politics.
Flesh and Blood
I marched down the side of a highway, clutching a sign in my fist. My baby sister bounced in the carrier on my mother’s back while her left hand gripped my sister and her right hand held a sign. My dad led the way with my three-year-old brother on his shoulders and his own sign held in front of him. I lifted my sign as high as I could.
Cars blew past as people put their heads out the windows and screamed, “Go to hell!” “Separation of church and state!” They honked their horns and stuck their fists out the windows, raising their middle fingers in salute.
“Why are they doing that?” I asked my mom while mimicking the gesture.
“Don’t do that, honey. It’s not a very nice thing. They’re just not being nice.”
The Oregon sun seared my head, and my feet ached from thumping against the hot pavement, but we kept marching, indifferent to jeers. The woman behind me started asking God to bind the forces of darkness and cast out the demons who sat on young women’s shoulders and urged them to murder their babies. The people around her took up the murmur. Soon the line of marchers was murmuring, “Amen,” and as the woman reached a crescendo, they said, “Thank You, Jesus.”
A car drove past. The driver rolled down his window and made the not-nice gesture while his twenty-something passenger rolled down her back window and gave us the thumbs-up—a gesture of derision from the front seat and a gesture of support from the back.
I didn’t understand why we were here, where we were trying to go, and why we had to care so much that we trudged so long. I was too young to know we were fighting a war, but I was a child soldier on the front lines.
I had been picketing since before I could walk. Before my parents moved to Oregon from New Mexico, they had bundled me into a carrier twice a week and hauled me and their signs to the local abortion clinic, where they paced the road across the street, praying as pregnant women walked in and empty women came out. They preached the pro-life message to churches and pastors, building contacts and a network of people who could mobilize activists quickly. My father could rattle off Supreme Court cases and grisly facts in church presentations while my mother told the pastors the story of her own abortion long ago and her lingering regret.
When the local hospital bought the building where the doctors performed abortions, my father, who worked ten hour days in the mud of the oil field, changed from his Levi’s into a suit and went to meet with the hospital administrators. Not above some good old-fashioned political pressure, he explained that he and his group would continue to picket the clinic twice a week if the hospital kept performing abortions. They would also take their own wives, who would give birth to several more children than the American average, all the way to a hospital in another state. He gave the administrators the pro-life newsletter he helped compile and explained it had a mailing list three hundred citizens long: three hundred citizens, in a tiny community, who would know and care that San Juan Regional Medical Center owned a clinic where doctors killed babies. Plenty of people to take picketing shifts.
The next time he met with the hospital administrators, they said they were relieving the offending doctors of their duties. “We don’t do abortions in San Juan County,” an administrator said. And from that day on, they didn’t.
When we read Old Testament passages like the story of Rahab and I asked my mom what a prostitute was, she said, “Women that men paid to act like their wives,” which conjured confusing pictures of paid cooks and housekeepers. When I asked how the single mom in our church had a baby without a husband, she said the mom “acted like she was married.” Apparently I was too young to know how people made babies but not too young to know how they killed them. Once, at one of my parents’ pro-life action meetings, I left the children with their tedious games and went to see what the adults were doing. I crept into the room at the moment an image of a dead baby, swollen with blood and thrown on a trash heap, flashed onto the screen. The image would continue to haunt me whenever I saw pictures of un-born babies floating—fragile, with veins lacing their eyelids, their tiny toes curled and their thumbs in their mouths—in clouds that looked like jellyfish frills in the sea.
At home we had two tiny pink plastic embryos that bounced from room to room. Once used at the crisis pregnancy center my parents helped start to encourage women to “choose life,” the babies now rattled around with the Legos and Lincoln Logs. We played with them as we would with born babies, since they looked like tiny babies crouched into balls. The fingernail-sized gold pin that my mother fastened to her fifth child’s diaper bag showed two feet with ten perfect toes about a quarter-inch tall, the exact size of an unborn baby’s feet at ten weeks gestation. Even a child like me could see they were a baby’s feet and not a blob of tissue.
Growing up in pro-life circles, I heard people give the exhortation, “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.” They said, "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” My aunt was an obstetrician, and if she had performed abortions, my father said they would have paced her sidewalk too, holding signs: “Abortion stops a beating heart” and “Unborn babies are people too.”
I stood at another rally years later, this time as a journalist instead of a protester. A bill legalizing gay marriage had just smoothly passed the New York State Assembly and was waiting for approval in the Senate. Thousands of people, bused in by Hispanic clergy to protest, pressed behind barricades the New York Police Department had positioned in front of the Manhattan office of David Paterson, the governor. NYPD cops—exuding that impassive, genial objectivity I also strove for—expanded the barricades again and again to let more people in. The crowd throbbed to a Dominican beat, lifted Bibles, and raised signs that read “Un hombre and una mujer = Voluntad de Dios.” One man and one woman equals God’s will.
The pastors mounted the platform and bellowed Leviticus 18, with all its bald, blunt commands: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” They quoted Romans 1: “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.”
A pastor turned state senator read the names of Hispanic assemblymen who had voted for gay marriage while the crowd booed after each name. A Jewish leader pointed to the size of the crowd and rejoiced, “There are many more God-fearing citizens in this state than there are deviants and perversions.” Despite this assertion of such a “moral majority,” he painted a picture in which all Christian freedom would disappear, yelling, “Where will we go when the state says we’re bigots? Who will take us out of jail?… If, God forbid, you pass this legislation, next year the perverts will come to you: We demand that uncles can marry nephews. We demand that nephews can marry aunts, and this will also be taught in the schools. You are making this into Sodom on the Hudson.” And hearkening to that picture of destruction, he shouted, “We pray to You, God—do not punish us because of the evil and wicked ones.”
Detestable. Vile. Against nature. Perverts.
Then the pastors roared prayers to the heavens, prefacing their rebukes to Governor Paterson with, “Oh, almighty God!” No one in the crowd bowed their heads or stretched their arms; they cheered and booed as the prayers required. One pastor shouted, “The noise that we make is not political; it’s worshiping the God of heaven.”
Excerpted from Raised Right by Alisa Harris. Copyright © 2011 by Alisa Harris. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Praise for Raised Right
“Journalist [Alisa] Harris gives a face and a voice to America’s younger generation, offering herself up as a case study of Christian youth caught in a partisan nation.… Young Americans will identify with her coming-of-age struggles and passion for weeding out injustice. Right-wing politicians and older generations of Christians should pay close attention in order to understand, and perhaps empathize with, her demographic.”
“Endorsements to co “A wonderful story for political misfits of all shapes and colors. Harris invites you to hop off the political bandwagon and to walk with her down the narrow way that leads to life. And she reminds you not to veer too far off the path to the left or to the right, lest you get confused and can’t find the way home again.”
—Shane Claiborne, author, activist, and recovering sinner, www.thesimpleway.org
“Raised Right demonstrates that the evangelical stampede to the far right in the 1980s has produced a generational backlash, as young evangelicals like Alisa Harris encounter the Hebrew prophets and the words of Jesus. This is the most encouraging book about evangelicals and politics I have read in a very long time.”
—Randall Balmer, Columbia University, author of Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America
“Raised Right is funny, insightful, and packed with truth. Harris speaks on behalf of a generation of culture warriors longing for a more peaceful way forward. Those who grew up in the trenches will relate to every page.”
—Rachel Held Evans, author of Evolving in Monkey Town
“In Raised Right, Alisa Harris paints a fascinating picture of how the same religious devotion can send succeeding generations to opposite sides of the political battlefield. And while her story may be more common than ever, it’s uncommonly told. Alisa’s voice is fresh, honest, gracious, and provocative in all the right places. An enthralling and illuminating read.”
—Jason Boyett, author of O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling
“Alisa Harris is a smart, fearless, gracious writer who, in her memoir Raised Right, showcases a deft mature-beyond-her-years honesty and kindness when sharing her affecting story of growing up in a politics-and-faith-charged environment. But the brilliance of Raised Right shines brightest when Harris begins confessing—often with a self-deprecating spin—the personal and spiritual unraveling that happens when she begins to unmarry her faith from her politics. Ultimately, hope wins throughout as Harris discovers small bits of humble truth along the journey. And because narrative in Raised Right is rich yet familiar, readers will discover small bits of their own.”
—Matthew Paul Turner, author of Churched and Hear No Evil
“Raised Right chronicles Alisa Harris’s journey from an evangelical childhood community steeped in the politics of James Dobson to an evangelical young adulthood where the politics of Barack Obama are preferred. It is engaging and well written, and it will be very illuminating to anyone who wants to understand the changes afoot among youth raised evangelical and what those changes will mean for American politics.”
—Jonathan Dudley, author of Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics