Oct 1, 2017

ArtPrize entry takes aim at extreme 'Christianity' spanking

extreme 'Christianity' spanking
Amy Biolchini 
September 30, 2017

GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- On a windy corner of Ionia Avenue and Newberry Street, Daniel Vander Ley has set up his Extremist Supply Company store.

On Friday, Sept. 29, he had a stack of leather belts on display. Their belt buckles bear the same name as the giant sign hung on the building behind him -- "fundamentalism."

On other days during ArtPrize, the ESC conceptual store offers "street" Bibles marked with religious passages that discuss child abuse and homosexuals, or pamphlets for conversion camps for gays as an exaggerated performance art and political statement.

Vander Ley, 34, was homeschooled by his Baptist family in Hudsonville. He now lives in Detroit where he designs airbags as an automotive safety engineer -- but his experience being spanked as a child hasn't left him. His parents sent him to "change camps," though he knew he was gay.

"This is my childhood," Vander Ley said as he gestured to the table full of belts. "Growing up with adults that thought it was OK to use corporal punishment to instill religious values."

Vander Ley is using the exhibit to lobby the U.S. Department of Education -- and now Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in her hometown -- to prevent funding from going to public schools where they use corporal punishment on children.

"This struck me as a perfect time to drive a conversation with a local leader," Vander Ley said of why he entered ArtPrize.

Vander Ley has sent DeVos one of his "fundamentalism" belts, along with an invitation to visit his ArtPrize entry.
Vander Ley is also using the exhibit to draw attention to how Christian fundamentalism can be used to hurt or oppress.

"When you take the word of God seriously, it can be used to hurt people," Vander Ley said.

He points to Proverbs 23:13-14 which says, "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death."

According to an NPR investigation, 28 states -- including Michigan -- and the District of Columbia expressly prohibit corporal punishment in schools. Fifteen states expressly permit corporal punishment in schools -- mostly southern states -- and seven states do not prohibit the practice, according to Department of Education information compiled by NPR.

Vander Ley claims 19 states allow corporal punishment in schools, citing a 2014 Economist article. Though he's spoken out on other issues in the past, this is his first go at performance art.

Vander Ley's ArtPrize entry was initially slated for an unopened restaurant. Instead, his Extremist Supply Company is located outside of a building.

It means he has to set up and tear down the entry every day during ArtPrize.

Most of the traffic to the entry is drive-by, and most visitors don't get out of their vehicles, Vander Ley said. He's received some middle fingers, which he sees as people reacting to his assertion that "extreme Christianity is harmful."

"It pains me to have to show everyone who goes by what happened to me as a kid," Vander Ley said.

But some stop, roll down their windows and share their own experience about how they too have been hurt.
Vander Ley was involved in a lawsuit filed by Jenison Bible Chuch in which the chuch claimed a sign Vander Ley held at a June 2015 protest falsely protrayed the church as being in support of same-sex marriage. The lawsuit, filed in Ottawa County Circuit Court, was later dismissed.

An Ottawa County judge said that the church did not have the same privacy rights of people.

Vander Ley has taken his ArtPrize entry across the country for the three weeks leading up to the event, taking a three-month sabbatical and investing in the project.

On Sept. 18, he was in Topeka, Kansas, where he "renamed" a street near the Westboro Baptist Church to "Fundamentalism Way." Two days later, he was in Nashville protesting Tennessee's corporal punishment laws with a large painting of Jesus spanking a little girl.


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