Michael Gerson is Doing Theology from the Pages of *The Washington Post*

c0d8e-gersonThe election of Donald Trump has really lit a fire under Michael Gerson.  His columns on the POTUS do not mince words.  He is speaking with a prophetic Christian voice and we need him to keep writing.

But this post is not about one of Gerson’s Trump columns.  Rather, I want to bring your attention to his piece written in the wake of the Vegas tragedy.  As I read this column I wondered at what point we should start calling Gerson a public theologian.

Here is a taste:

That said, I do come at these events from a religious perspective, as some of the victims surely did, and as some of their loved ones surely do. The Christian faith involves a whisper from beyond time that death, while horrible, is not final — that the affirmations of the creeds and the inscriptions on tombstones are not lies. And for many, this hope is a barrier against despair.

Yet faith also encompasses something deeper and more difficult — what theologian Jurgen Moltmann has called “God’s terrible silence.” In that silence, only the scarred God, the weak and victimized God, the God of the cross seems to communicate. Not in words, but in a shocking example of lonely suffering. Christians turn to a God who once felt godforsaken, as all of us may feel in the nightmare of loss.

At this type of moment, even those with tenuous ties to religion offer their thoughts and prayers. But how should we pray? Concerning grief, as many can attest, it is not strength or struggle that matters most; it is perseverance. And that is as good a thing to pray for as any, for those who cannot see a future without their friend, without their child. Our attention is temporary; their suffering will not fade easily, if ever.

Read the entire piece here.

“The Deadliest Mass Shooting in American History”

mandalay

Was the Las Vegas shooting the “deadliest?”  Many people are calling it that.  My news station of choice–CNN–is calling it the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, but they are not saying which shooting in pre-modern American history was deadlier.

Over at Vox, German Lopez tries to makes sense of it all.  Here is a taste:

The short version: It was definitely the deadliest mass shooting in recent history. But if you look further back in the US’s past, the real answer depends on how you define a mass shooting.

The National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, for example, pointed to two past attacks as examples of previous massacres with higher death tolls than the Las Vegas shooting.

In 1873, an all-black militia defended a local courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana — fearing, at the height of racial tensions after the Civil War, that white supremacists were about to topple the regional government, which was evenly split between white and black citizens at the time. Soon after, a mob of more than 150 white men — made up of Southern Democrats, former Confederate soldiers, members of the Ku Klux Klan, and the paramilitary White League — surrounded the courthouse and attacked. Three white men and as many as 150 black men died, according to Smithsonian.com.

Another example: The 1917 East St. Louis Massacre — a white-led race riot — left at least 39 black people and nine white people dead, according to official estimates. But as Smithsonian.com noted, it’s widely believed that more than 100 black people were killed during the three-day massacre.

Read the entire piece here.  In the end, they were all horrific.

The Real History of the Second Amendment

CornellIn an earlier post I recommended Fordham University historian Saul Cornell‘s book A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America.  It is the best historical account of the Second Amendment that I have read.  I was again reminded of why I admire Cornell’s book when I read his recent piece at The Baffler titled “Gun Anarchy and the Unfree State.”

Here is a taste:

To begin reckoning with this challenge, it’s worth pausing to consider the entire wording of the Second Amendment. Contrary to what the NRA would have us believe, the amendment does not even mention guns, but instead proclaims, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Thus, the Second Amendment, in contrast to the First Amendment, contains a preamble; an introductory clause affirming the necessity of a well-regulated militia. This arcane Latinate construction so dear to the Founding generation was an ablative absolute. Translated into modern parlance, the amendment would read something like this: “Because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Also, note what the aim of a citizen’s militia is: achieving the security of a free state. In other words, the Second Amendment not only ties the right to keep and bear arms to a particular means, but it states a clear purpose. What, then, is entailed in promoting the security of said “free state”? To begin with, we should clearly stipulate that the individual right of self defense—the one closest to the heart of modern Americans—denoted something very different from a free state’s maintenance. Americans esteemed this right, but did not have much to worry about when it came to safeguarding it. Indeed, the right was such a fixture of Anglo-American law that John Adams used it as the basis for his defense of the British troops charged with murdering civilians in the Boston Massacre. An American jury empaneled to hear that case found Adams’s argument entirely persuasive and exonerated six of the eight soldiers.

So a free state’s security was something other than procuring the self-defense of a society’s individual members. It was, rather, a collective enterprise: In the eighteenth century, the security of a free state was accomplished by a well-regulated militia—a local institution, composed of citizen soldiers. And as the wording of the amendment makes plain, that militia was subject to extensive regulation by government. Indeed, militia statutes were typically the longest laws on the books in early America. So the logical question that one ought to ask—one that seldom gets raised in the contentious modern debate over the role of guns in contemporary American society—is this: How do we maintain and promote the security of a free state when we no longer live in small rural communities and depend on well-regulated militias? How can one enjoy liberty in a society awash in guns?

This is, at bottom, a historical question—one that’s largely anathema to the NRA and other advocates of expansive gun rights. Many gun-rights advocates fail to understand the actual historical background of the Second Amendment because our debates over gun ownership typically revolve instead around a potent set of myths that cloud our historical understanding. Chief among these myths is the iconic image of the “good guy with a gun,” eagerly manufactured and marketed by American popular culture. From the dime novels of the nineteenth century to Hollywood westerns and more recent figures such as Jason Bourne, a powerful entertainment folklore has infused the gun-rights narrative.  

Read the entire piece here.

A Message for Pat Robertson: “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” (Matt. 12: 36)

Pat Robertson

Richard Mouw President Emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary, has no patience for Pat Robertson’s antics.  In case you missed it, Robertson said the Las Vegas shooting was divine punishment for the disrespect Americans have shown Donald Trump.

Read it here.

Mouw concludes:

Those of us who believe in a Last Judgment know that we may learn a little more about God’s purposes in history when that day comes. In the meantime, we had better be clear about the warning that came from Jesus himself:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” (Matt. 12: 36).

You have been warned, Pat Robertson!

As long as we are talking about Pat Robertson, do you remember when he leg-pressed 2000 pounds?

David Frum Rips Trump’s Vegas Speech

Trump speeech

Neoconservative writer David Frum tells it like it is.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

Pre-presidential Trump was a man of many faults and vices, but one endearing quality: He was no hypocrite. He exaggerated his wealth, his success, his physical fitness, but he never pretended to religion or morality.

Trump’s speech to the nation after the Las Vegas atrocity, however, was steeped in hypocrisy. He is the least outwardly religious president of modern times, the president least steeped in scripture. For him to offer the consolations of God and faith after mass bloodletting is to invite derision. “It is love that defines us,” said President Trump, and if we weren’t heartbroken, we would laugh.

Those who praised the speech, as CNN’s John King did, are reacting on reflex. This is the kind of thing we are used to hearing from Republican politicians; Trump is a Republican politician; therefore this is what he should say.

But whereas Vice President Pence could have pronounced those words with sincerity, or a convincing simulacrum thereof, Donald Trump looked shifty, nervous, and false. Speeches are watched as well as heard, and the viewer saw a president who wished he were somewhere else because he had been compelled to pretend something so radically false to his own nature.

Read the entire piece here.

I think court evangelical Robert Jeffress might disagree with Frum:

 

Some Good Books on the Second Amendment and Guns in America

CornellSaul Cornell,  A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America

Saul Cornell, Who’s Right to Bear Arms Did the Second Amendment Protect?

Akhil Reed Amar, The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction

Adam Winkler, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America

Michael Waldman, The Second Amendment: A Biography

Carol Berkin, The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America’s Liberties

 

What a Historian Said to His Classes Today

CMU

Central Michigan University American history professor Andrew Wehrman was kind enough to let me publish his Facebook post on how he and his students worked through the Las Vegas shootings:

Today was sadly not the first time I’ve had to address a class of students who have just learned about a mass shooting. I’m weary that I’m so used to it. I remember talking to in my first ever self-taught course at Northwestern after the Virginia Tech shooting. I remember talking to students in a lecture hall after a gunman had killed a professor and students at Northern Illinois. And on and on. This morning in my early American history class I reminded the students of what the Puritans did after tragedies. As strange and sometimes horrible as the Puritans could be, after tragedy struck they called for a day of fasting and humiliation. A day of solemn reckoning with events. A day to pray, but also a day to listen, think, and a day to ask hard, searching questions. I emphasized a point that I make in class about what the Puritans would think of our celebration of Thanksgiving. That every year we assume there will be something to be thankful for without taking time to reflect on things that we should be sorry, sad, or angry about and wish to change. I encouraged my students not to let recent tragedies like the mass-shooting in Las Vegas and the on-going tragedy of hurricane Maria dull our senses. I encouraged them not to let these tragic events become background noise. But to fully engage with them as our present and to think about ways not only to be kind to one another but also to seek ways to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Amy Sullivan: What Religious Communities Can Do in the Wake of the Vegas Shooting

I am sure there a lot of people tweeting this morning about the Vegas shooting.  I found writer Amy Sullivan‘s thoughts to be helpful: