Before she shares Thanksgiving dinner with her father at her childhood home in the mountains of North Carolina, Anna Jane Joyner plans to meditate, do yoga, and drink several mimosas. Still, chances are dinner won’t be easy. Joyner, a full-time climate activist, will be celebrating the holiday with her father, a prominent Southern evangelical pastor and climate skeptic. While Anna Jane has spent the past year grieving the results of the presidential election, Rick Joyner, who runs MorningStar Ministries in South Carolina, has been proclaiming Donald Trump’s victory a miracle of God.
Although they find themselves across an ideological divide on almost every issue, Rick Joyner could almost be credited for his daughter’s career path. He introduced her to reading and, through it, the intellectual pursuits that have given meaning to her life. The oldest of Rick and Julie Joyner’s five children, Anna Jane also credits her father and the countless hikes they took together for her love of nature, which emerges in the documentary work she’s done, as well as in the podcast of climate-related stories she hosts.
But the elder Joyner also helped elect Trump. Rick Joyner has likened the president to Jesus’s disciples and is said to have prophesied his victory. Based in the South Carolina compound that used to belong to Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker, Joyner, who is still a frequent guest on the “Jim Bakker Show,” was even part of a group of ministers who advised Trump on immigration issues during his campaign. While Anna Jane has made the fight against climate change her life’s work, her father believes climate change was invented by communists so they “can be the ones who save the world.”
Since Anna Jane left the church at 16 and the Young Republican Club a few years later, the political rift between father and daughter has widened. Anna Jane, who has her father’s brown eyes and gentle curve of a smile, is pro choice; her father sees abortion as “the gate of hell.” Anna Jane took a stand against discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity; her father derided the fight for transgender rights as “a war on nature, basic common sense.” And while Anna Jane was calling attention to the role of climate change in the string of massive storms that have hit our country, her pastor father was chalking them up to the wrath of God for, among other things, homosexuality.
Still, Trump brought new challenges. And last November, with his election still fresh, sharing Thanksgiving with her father “simply wasn’t possible,” as Anna Jane delicately put it last week. Instead of gathering with her parents and siblings, Anna Jane and her husband spent the day with likeminded friends in Asheville, North Carolina. “It was a huge relief to be with people who shared our horror and pain,” she recalled. “We drowned our sorrows.”
The intervening year has been a painful one. In the first months after the election, sleep often evaded her. Many nights, Anna Jane stayed up reading the news and worrying about the consequences of pulling out of the Paris Agreement until the sun rose over her small home in coastal Alabama. “They were some of the darkest times I can remember,” she said.
To make this year worse, storms have ripped through her corner of the Southeast, causing flash floods and more waves of anger at her father. His use of the pulpit to dismiss and mock concerns about climate change felt at times like a personal assault. “You think of your father as a protector,” she said. “Yet he’s playing with my future, and that doesn’t seem to be of concern to him.”
On a few occasions, that anger has erupted spectacularly and publicly over the past year. After the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this August, Rick Joyner blamed the violence on Obama and the Black Lives Matter Movement. Within the hour, Anna Jane posted an apology for her father’s comments on Facebook, in which she positioned herself opposite her father in “this very serious battle for the soul of our country.” At last count, her video was seen 89,000 times.
Just last week, after spending the morning working on a fundraising campaign for the Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones, Anna Jane logged on to Facebook to find her father defending Roy Moore, the Republican candidate who has been accused of sexual assault and molesting numerous teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Seated in his den, wearing a sheriff’s cap, Anna Jane’s father described those allegations as “really fishy.” The white-bearded pastor went on to tell his more than 42,000 Facebook followers that he was “proud of the way Alabama seems to be standing behind” Moore. “They’re not letting the Washington Post determine who their senator’s going to be.”
Anna Jane, who is a survivor of sexual assault herself and has told her father about that experience, quickly dashed off a response, in which she called his and other evangelicals’ defense of Moore “one of the most perverse things I’ve ever witnessed” and then posed a question: “If well-reported pedophilia is not a boundary for you — then what is?”
In one sense, this was just another social media musing, one of countless expressions of outrage launched into the ether to be “liked” or marked with a frowny-face. In another, the question was an arrow Anna Jane aimed directly at her father’s heart. In case it didn’t land, she fired off another: “Who is the God you pray to?”
Missiles launched, Anna Jane closed her laptop. Thanksgiving was coming and she had much to do: pick out the recipes she was making for the holiday meal, put the finishing touches on her latest podcast episode, and think through a pipeline-related campaign she’s helping craft for the Sierra Club.
While she worked, she found herself looking forward to her first post-Trump Thanksgiving with her family — the evenings on the porch sipping cocktails and throwing balls for the family dogs, the company of her siblings, and even the time she’ll spend with her father. No doubt, at some point, the two will begin talking politics and tensions will rise. Anna Jane won’t shy from the argument; she will probably never give up trying to convince her father she’s right. Voices may rise and doors may slam. But after that, she hopes, the two can go for a walk in the North Carolina hills they both love.