God and Guns: Conservative Christians and the Latest Round of Mass Murder

What have conservatives had to say about the latest mass murders? Whatever your personal religion or politics, it’s fair to say that you don’t really understand America if you don’t understand the immense appeal of the statements below. Of course, conservatives have lots of different opinions, but here is a collection:

“There is a spiritual war over this country,” he said. “When you see things that take place like you saw last night in El Paso and Dayton, it’s nothing but the devil. The guns didn’t do this; people did this full of the devil and they were demon-possessed and these people are being used as pawns in this elite, deep state game to control this country, to take the guns away, to take any freedom away that we’ve got.”

“Listen to me,” McDonald added. “It’s not just about the guns, it’s about your ability to worship. It’s all tied together, because if they can take your guns away, they can take your ability to worship God away and they are trying to do everything in one swoop.”

Candice Keller mass shootingsIt has long been one of the toughest dividing lines in America’s culture wars. After storms and diseases, prominent right-wing preachers have long blamed left-wing cultural trends. For those of us on the left, these fulminations have seemed bizarre, hateful, and incredibly out-of-touch politically.

It might just be the best measure of where people stand in culture-war politics. When you read explanations of tragedies, when do you nod? When Beto O’Rourke blames them on guns and Trump? Or when Eric Metaxas blames the AntiChrist?

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What’s Wrong with Safer Schools?

For anyone who thinks Dan Patrick has a solution to school shootings, I have a two-hundred-year-old solution to urban poverty to sell you. As-is.

NYC manual 2 diagrams alphabet wheel

The solution to urban poverty, 1820 style…

You may have seen it by now: In the aftermath to the latest horrific school shooting, Texas’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has suggested tightening up school architecture. As Patrick put it,

We may have to look at the design of our schools looking forward, and retrofitting schools that are already built and what I mean by that is there are too many entrances and too many exits. . . . There aren’t enough people to put a guard at every entrance and exit.

Let’s be clear: There’s nothing wrong with thinking about school architecture and changing doors. What IS wrong is diverting attention from a real problem by directing conversations toward secondary considerations. In this case, we need to talk about school cultures that coerce and alienate students. We need to talk about gun laws that put deadly weapons in the hands of angry boys.

Along the way, we might ALSO talk about entrances, but it can’t be our main focus. In this case, IMHO, Dan Patrick is trying to wiggle out of a difficult political position by diverting attention from the real problems.

And, as I’m finding in my current research, this sort of diversionary tactic is the oldest trick in the school-reform book. Two hundred years ago, city planners in places such as Philadelphia, Boston, and New York faced a difficult dilemma. They had crowds of children in their streets from low-income families. The families couldn’t afford to send them to school so the children were growing up without being able to read or write.

What could be done? From London, Joseph Lancaster promised a solution. He described his system for educating poor children in meticulous detail. With the right school architecture and equipment, he promised, cities could eliminate the problem of poverty in just a few short years.

It didn’t work.

Just like Lt. Gov. Patrick’s plans to block doors and windows, Lancaster’s supposed solution treated minor symptoms in order to ignore the underlying cause. The right reading strategy is a good thing, but it is not a cure for urban poverty.

Are Conservatives Facing Oppression in Texas’ Private Schools?

The Texas Freedom Network Insider gives us a look this morning at an intriguing and influential line of conservative educational thinking.  For several decades now, conservative educational activists have claimed to be fighting for their civil rights.

The TFN, a liberal watchdog group, denounced Texas State Senator Dan Patrick’s attempt to make this argument recently.

Patrick, as chair of the Senate Education Committee, made his statement in favor of Senate Bill 573.  The bill would allow homeschool and private-school students to compete in the state’s University Interscholastic League.

Patrick claimed in a recent hearing,

“When you say the UIL has functioned for a hundred years, and everybody’s been happy, if you were black in this state before the civil rights movement, it didn’t function for you. And now I feel there’s discrimination against Catholics and Christians in these parochial schools.”

The TFN columnist and several commentators did not buy Patrick’s argument.  After sharing pictures of a lavish private school and a cramped, inadequate African-American school (c. 1941), the TFN columnist asked, “Seriously, guys?”

Commenter Linda Hunter asked, “Is it possible he [Patrick] actually believes what he’s saying? If so, perhaps he received the standard whitewashed version of history in school. Oh, I don’t think even that explains his argument.”

Whether Patrick is sincere or not, this line of argument has long been a favorite of conservative educational thinkers and activists.

Gish fossils say noTo cite just one example, in the early 1980s the late creationist leader Duane Gish was invited to join a conference of mainstream scientists to discuss evolution and creationism.  At the time, Gish was a leading voice at the Institute for Creation Research and best known for his book Evolution: The Fossils Say No! (1973, 1978, 1979)

At the conference with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Gish grumbled right away that he had been led into a trap.  He complained that only two creationists had been invited to face a bevy of evolutionists.  As he put it, he would “proceed to take one of the two seats on the back of the bus reserved for the creationists in this meeting.”[1]

Around the same time, the creationist academic Jerry Bergman protested that he had been denied tenure at Bowling Green State University due to rampant discrimination against his religious beliefs.  As Bergman claimed in his 1984 book The Criterion,

“Several universities state it was their ‘right’ to protect students from creationists and, in one case, from ‘fundamentalist Christians.’. . . This is all plainly illegal, but it is extremely difficult to bring redress against these common, gross injustices.  This is due to the verbal ‘smoke-screen’ thrown up around the issue.  But, a similar case might be if a black were fired on the suspicion that he had ‘talked to students about being black,’ or a woman being fired for having ‘talked to students about women’s issues.’[2]

Bergman the criterionFor Gish and Bergman in the 1980s, as for Senator Patrick today, as for the generation of conservative activists in between, the notion is a powerful one.  Many intellectuals and pundits have claimed that conservatives today face the same kind of repression that bedeviled African Americans in the run-up to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s.

For those of us who want to understand conservative educational philosophy, the Texas Freedom Network’s question is not the point.  Whether or not conservatives really believe they are oppressed, pundits and politicians have found the claim of minority persecution effective.

Check out Senator Patrick’s speech on the TFN Insider.  They include a video so we can see this ideology in action.


[1] Duane T. Gish, “The Scientific Case for Creation,” in Frank Awbrey and William Thwaites, eds., Evolutionists Confront Creationists: Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Pacific Division, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vol. I, Part 3 (San Francisco: Pacific Division, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1984), 26.

[2] Jerry Bergman, The Criterion: Religious Discrimination in America (Richfield, MN: Onesimus Press, 1984), 44.