Will A Revival Save Us?

In hopes of understanding my own blindness about race relations in America and what I (me me I I me me) might do to make the nation and me less racist, I listened to Thabiti Anyabwile’s discussion with Carmen Fowler LaBerge. Here’s what I learned. First, I need to acknowledge that whites have treated blacks badly:

We need to acknowledge the ways in which the church has intentionally, historically refused to be the Body of God along the lines of race. Whether it from Virginia’s enactment of laws that if a slave became a Christian did not mean they would be freed from slavery, to the segregation of congregations in the 1800s and into the 1900s, to the Evangelical church just missing the ball in the Civil Rights Movement and other areas. We have to tell the truth- the bone deep truth- about our complicity if we will ever be free from it.

When I taught colonial America last fall, I ended with the point that race is one of the lasting and darkest legacies of colonial slavery. I may need to do more in class. But I think I’ve got this part of it. I understand in part if not in full.

Second, I need to do something:

Pastor T says one tangible step is to pray for revival. Pray that God pours out his Spirit on His church, and that His spirit would graciously bring conviction of sin. That He would quicken His church in repentance and holiness. Pray that God would subdue the hearts of those hearts in rebellion against God and turn to Him.

Pastor T hopes the Lord would use the grief and mourning that has gripped the nation to break our hearts in repentance and so we would draw near to Him in revival.

Here I’m scratching my head. Does Pastor Anyabwile (and Carmen) not know that revivals were incredibly divisive throughout U.S. history? Revivals don’t unify. They divide churches between pro- and anti-revivalists.

If Pastor Anyabwile means that revival might bring sanctification, I appreciate the point. But in the case of cop shootings, does that mean city governments should only hire applicants who have made a profession of faith? If revival saves America, aren’t we still thinking about politics the way Constantinians, neo-Calvinists, Covenanters, and theonomists do? Can we only trust officials who are saved?

So what do we do if we are to live with non-Christians? Any policies? Interestingly enough, Pastor Anyabwile faulted Ta-Nehisi Coates in the latter’s piece on mass incarcerations for not recommending any policies:

Coates repeats the significant failure he recognizes in an earlier Moynihan. Coates tells us that the fatal flaw in Moynihan’s infamous report was Moynihan’s decision to omit specific policy solutions. Having seen that so clearly, it’s odd that Coates should repeat that failure so often in the important writing he now undertakes. A mind as formidable as Coates’s ought not stop with descriptive analysis, however compelling its portrayal of the problem. It should push itself to hazard a prescription, to call for some specific redress.

Pastor Anyabwile is of course right. He should also know that revival is not policy.

So what policy is out there? Maybe Peter Moskos is on to something about what California and Chicago police can learn from New York City’s patrol people and their supervisors:

Last year in California, police shot and killed 188 people. That’s a rate of 4.8 per million. New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania collectively have 3.4 million more people than California (and 3.85 million more African Americans). In these three states, police shot and killed (just?) 53 people. That’s a rate of 1.2 per million. That’s a big difference.

Were police in California able to lower their rate of lethal force to the level of New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — and that doesn’t seem too much to ask for — 139 fewer people would be killed by police. And this is just in California! (And California isn’t even the worst state; I’m picking on California because it’s large and very much on the high end.)

Now keep in mind most police-involved shootings are not only legally justifiable, they are necessary and good at the moment the cop pulls the trigger. But that doesn’t mean that the entire situation was inevitable. Cops don’t want to shoot people. They want to stay alive. You give cops a safe way to reduce the chance they have to pull the trigger, and they’ll certainly take it.

I really don’t know what some departments and states are doing right and others wrong. But it’s hard for me to believe that the residents of California are so much more violent and threatening to cops than the good people of New York or Pennsylvania. I suspect lower rates of lethal force has a lot to do with recruitment, training, verbal skills, deescalation techniques, not policing alone, and more restrictive gun laws. (I do not include Tasers on this list.)

If we could bring the national rate of people shot and killed by police (3 per million) down to the level found in, say, New York City (The big bad NYPD shoots and kills just 0.7 per million) we’d reduce the total number of people killed by police 77 percent, from 990 to 231!

The thing is, we don’t need the Holy Spirit’s miraculous powers for this. Providential control is always appreciated.

Republicans – The Party of Christian Charity

I don’t know why evangelical historians are so opposed to Trump. Have they not seen how forgiving Republicans are when it (thanks to one of our southern correspondents) comes to failed campaigns and the managers who run them?

The Republican Party has no natural defense mechanism against charlatans and saboteurs because politics is not what Republicans think about every second. Democrats love government. They spend their lives trying to maneuver themselves into a position to run other people’s lives. Republicans don’t want careers in government and give little thought to how to get there. Often they run for president only because they hope it will lead to more speaking gigs and TV appearances. […]

Anyone who hurts the Democrats’ electoral prospects is dead. Not so, the Republicans. If John Edwards, Ned Lamont, and Bill Bradley were Republicans, they’d have radio shows, TV gigs, and bestselling books.

What ever happened to Wesley Clark? Where’s Mike Gravel? Mike Huckabee has a TV show. If you want to know what the other former Republican presidential candidates are doing these days, just turn on the radio or TV. […]

No one gets rich by sabotaging the Democratic Party. But a lot of people get rich off losing races for the Republican Party. […]

There are no prizes in politics for caring the most, only for scoring the most. Devotion to the cause isn’t better than having a modicum of political savvy. If we’re serious about improving the country, we need candidates to be brutally honest about their own appeal. That’s if they really care about the team.

That sounds like conservatives are the truly loving and caring Americans.

Update:

Even when you fail, you win:

Fox News confirmed to The Daily Beast editor-at-large Lloyd Grove on Tuesday that beleagured chairman and CEO Roger Ailes will depart the cable news network following sexual harassment claims by former anchor Gretchen Carlson. According to a document obtained by the Drudge Report, Ailes will receive at least a $40 million buyout from the network. The news comes hours after New York Magazine reporter Gabe Sherman wrote that Fox News star Megyn Kelly told investigators hired by 21st Century Fox that Ailes had sexually harassed her ten years ago.

See how conservatives love one another?

What History is Supposed To Do (which is different from blogging)

More thoughts today on the outlook that historical knowledge cultivates.

First comes the pietist version — the past as pointer to what’s true and right:

In the introduction the authors offer five reasons to study church history: 1) It continues to record the history of God’s faithful dealings with his people and it records Christ’s ongoing work in the world. 2) We are told by God to remember what he has done and to make it known to those who follow us. 3) Church history “helps to illuminate and clarify what we believe” and in that way allows us to evaluate our beliefs and practices against historic teaching. 4) It safeguards against error by showing us how Christians have already responded to false teaching. 5) And finally it gives us heroes and mentors to imitate as we live the Christian life. In this way it promotes spiritual growth and maturation.

History as a means of grace? I’m not sure.

Second, history as perplexity:

… we developed an approach we call the “five C’s of historical thinking.” The concepts of change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency, we believe, together describe the shared foundations of our discipline. They stand at the heart of the questions historians seek to answer, the arguments we make, and the debates in which we engage. . . .

One of the most successful exercises we have developed for conveying complexity in all of these dimensions is a mock debate on Cherokee Removal. Two features of the exercise account for the richness and depth of understanding that it imparts on students. First, the debate involves multiple parties; the Treaty and Anti-Treaty Parties, Cherokee women, John Marshall, Andrew Jackson, northern missionaries, the State of Georgia, and white settlers each offer a different perspective on the issue. Second, students develop their understanding of their respective positions using the primary sources collected in Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents by Theda Perdue and Michael Green.7 While it can be difficult to assess what students learn from such exercises, we have noted anecdotally that, following the exercise, students seem much less comfortable referring to “American” or “Indian” positions as monolithic identities.

Third, history as empathy:

I hope that the young adults who study history with me find themselves cultivating five interrelated values: comfort with complexity, humility, curiosity, hospitality, and empathy. I don’t think Donald Trump is unusual among Oval Office aspirants in his utter lack of humility (here’s a conservative critique of him on that point), his disinterest in learning (see his recent comments on his reading habits), or his impatience with complication and nuance. But if I’m going to tell my students that historical study exists to a significant extent to help them be more hospitable and empathetic to those of a different culture, ethnicity, religion, ideology, etc., I can hardly stay silent about a candidate who has demonized immigrants and Muslims.

So I think the open letter’s authors are right to characterize the Trump candidacy as an attack not only on the “constructive, evidence-based argumentation” we try to practice in our profession, but on “our values, and the communities we serve.”

What is striking is how even professional historians can make history be what they want it to be.

But why is it that professional historians don’t recognize that the way they frame the historical enterprise winds up making not a scholarly but a political point. If the aim of history is to empathize with others (among other things), where have historians been about developments in Turkey or the real complexity of issues that inform the current discussion of police and crime in the United States? (For some academics, there’s not much complexity about cops shooting people.) I’m sorry, but to be so outspoken about a guy like Trump just doesn’t take all that much insight or courage. Most people who work outside history departments know he is egotistical, bombastic, clownish, and a jumble of assertions and passions. Even supporters see that. Are students so desperate?

Or is it that historians want to present as being on the “right” side?

The thing is, the responsibilities necessary to be president are not the same as the virtues that historical study cultivates. In the case of empathy, a president does need to be empathetic. But that’s not all. Just think back to episode 2, season 4 of West Wing where President Bartlet approves the assassination of a Qumar state official suspected of terrorism. Sometimes prudence trumps empathy. And that’s something that history actually teaches. Or it should. (Why should Aaron Sorkin get all the good lessons?)

To John Fea’s credit, he excerpts Jonathan Zimmerman’s reasons for not signing the letter:

I won’t join Historians Against Trump, which indulges in some of the same polarized, overheated rhetoric used by Trump himself. In a statement released on July 11, the new group warned that Trump’s candidacy represents “an attack on our profession, our values, and the communities we serve.” But that claim is itself a repudiation of our professional values, which enjoin us to understand diverse communities instead of dismissing them as warped or deluded.

I speak, of course, of the millions of people who have cast ballots for Donald Trump. According to the signatories of the statement, there’s only one historically grounded opinion on Trump: their own. By that definition, then, Trump supporters are uninformed. When he accepts the Republican nomination this week, the historians’ statement concludes, the party will have succumbed to “snake oil.”

Of course, there are plenty of ignoramuses and bigots in the Trump camp. But surely there are reasoned, knowledgeable people who back him.

The “lessons of history” — to quote the historians’ manifesto — can be read in different way, by equally informed people. And it strains credulity to imagine that all Trump supporters have had the wool pulled over their eyes.

One consolation in all this: it’s not only Reformed Protestants or social conservatives who traffic in outrage.

Move Over David Barton, Make Room for Eric Mataxas

Donald Trump has struck a nerve. Why even I had a hard time not thinking of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee when last week reviewing a book about nineteenth-century Protestantism in the U.S.

Trump is the nearest reason I can fathom for the pronounced attention Eric Mataxas has received from two prominent evangelical historians. Because Metaxas endorsed Trump, because evangelicals seem to be moving their support increasingly to Trump, and because evangelical historians identify with evangelicalism but evangelicals not as much, some professors may feel the need to create distance between their public persona and the larger evangelical feng shui.

Now it turns out that one of those historians has joined other historians in signing a letter opposing Trump’s candidacy. That same historian, John Fea (don’t mean to pick on you today, big fella), wonders about the intellectual chops of Metaxas when he writes that Metaxas’ book is “an intellectual mess” that demonstrates the ongoing validity of Mark Noll’s lament about the scandal of the evangelical mind.

What about the intellectual coherence of the historians who oppose Trump? They start this way:

Today, we are faced with a moral test. As historians, we recognize both the ominous precedents for Donald J. Trump’s candidacy and the exceptional challenge it poses to civil society. Historians of different specialties, eras and regions understand the enduring appeal of demagogues, the promise and peril of populism, and the political uses of bigotry and scapegoating. Historians understand the impact these phenomena have upon society’s most vulnerable and upon a nation’s conscience. The lessons of history compel us to speak out against a movement rooted in fear and authoritarianism. The lessons of history compel us to speak out against Trump.

Do these historians really want to invoke morality when it is evangelicals and the social conservatives who regularly complain about America’s moral decline? Invoke morality selectively? Like when it’s about professional duties but not about what happens sex happens. And is the work of historical understanding really a moral enterprise? Did we somehow go back to the days of the academic Protestant establishment when Jews and people of color were scarce on university and college campuses? Those were times when professors sometimes talked about morality.

But let morality go. What about the intellectual prowess that historians bring to assess Trump? What part of the past do these historians draw upon to show the dangers of populism (or even fascism)? I read the letter and I don’t see any — ANY!!! — historical references. Believe it or not, it’s all about Trump:

Donald Trump’s record of speeches, policies and social media is an archive of know-nothingism and blinding self-regard. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is a campaign of violence: violence against individuals and groups; against memory and accountability; against historical analysis and fact.

The Trump candidacy is an attack on our profession, our values, and the communities we serve. No less than his sham “Trump University,” Donald Trump’s contempt for constructive, evidence-based argumentation mocks the ideals of the academy, whether in the sciences or the liberal arts. Academia is far from the only profession endangered by Trumpism. Donald Trump bullies and suppresses the press, and seeks to weaken First Amendment protections as President. Trump singles out journalists for attack and mocks physical disabilities. Both the judiciary and individualjudges face public threats from Trump. Non-white, non-male professionals and civil servants are irredeemably compromised in Donald Trump’s eyes.Judges are disqualified from service because of their ethnicity; women Presidential candidates succeed only because of their gender; the President of the United States is under suspicion as illegitimate and alien because of his skin color and heritage.

Those are all fair points. But it doesn’t take a Ph.D. or tenured job in history to notice those defects in Trump’s candidacy. So what gives? Why is Trump so much inside so many’s heads?

To John Fea’s credit, he tries to explain why he signed:

I signed this document because I believe that historians, as historical thinkers, have a LOT to offer when it comes to critiquing political candidates. The emphasis in the letter on evidence-based arguments, the respect for the dignity of all humanity, the importance of context, the uses of the past in political discourse, the commitment to a civil society (rooted, presumably, in the kind of empathy that historical thinking brings), and the very fact that making America great AGAIN is ultimately a statement about the past. Trump runs roughshod over all these things.

But all the letter says about context and evidence is to say that historians affirm that stuff and they do so in a not so self-deprecating way:

We interrogate and take responsibility for our sources and ground our arguments in context and evidence.

And if historians are so good at context, where have they been on the context for relations between blacks and police? It’s not like cop shootings and cops being shot has not been in the news.

Like I say, Trump changes everything (and I’m still not voting for him).

Cop In the Hood

Glenn Loury had Peter Moskos on this week to talk about police shootings. Moskos is an unlikely person in the United States — a Harvard grad who worked on the Baltimore police force and now teaches sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

What is particularly valuable about Moskos’ perspective is that he knows the beats that cops work. That doesn’t excuse bad policing. It does mean he knows more about the context of police work than the ACLU or Black Lives Matter. Consider, for instance, his defense of enforcing the law against Chicago youth in a rough part of town:

But the ACLU is wrong. Dead wrong. Look, if you want to argue that these young men shouldn’t be stopped at all, fine. You agree with the ACLU (and don’t live on that block or hear the gunshots). And the ACLU is right in criticizing police who stop people for the sake of making a stop.

As a cop you don’t (or shouldn’t) harass everybody walking down the block. You harass these guys on this block. And by “harass” I mean, within the law and constitution, make it little less fun for them to hang out in public and sell drugs. Yes, you as a cop give these guys a hard time. Is that fair? Yes. Because there have been six shootings on this block this year. Is it racist? No. Because these guys are the problem.

If you’re a cop, you need to ask a bunch of questions 1) how do you do knowing these guy are slinging and shooting? 2) Should you stop these guys? 3) Are they committing a crime? 4) Are they a Broken Window? 5) What legal basis do you have to stop and frisk those guys?

[The answers are 1) get out of your damn car and talk to them, or at watch them disperse at your presence, 2) yes, 3) no, and 4) yes. 5) very little at first, but you can build it, ask for a consent search, or conduct a Terry Frisk.]

You pull up to them. See what they do. You can crack down on this group by enforcing Broken Windows quality-of-life crimes. You get to know who they are. You can use your discretion and ticket them for something — drinking, smoking joints, jaywalking, littering, truancy, spitting — whatever it takes. You can arrest them when they can’t provide ID (they can’t, trust me). You can harass these criminals legally and within the bounds of the constitution. This is what police are supposed to do. It’s how homicides are prevented. It’s how some kids stay out of gangs. But if cops do their job, then we, society, need to support police officers against inevitable accusations of harassment, racism, and even discourteous behavior in their confrontations with these criminals.

As a cop you will not win the war drugs, but as long as drugs are illegal you need to fight the fight against pubic drug dealing. But we’re telling cops not to do this. In Chicago cops are listening. And so are the criminals.

So maybe America isn’t so great (for reasons other than Michelle Higgins gives).

I Would Like to Know What It’s Like to Write for the New York Times

We hear a lot these days about how poorly certain Americans understand their neighbors, especially when it comes to racial differences.

But if I can’t understand the experience of a person of color, am I any better equipped to understand a great grandchild of Irish immigrants who worked as domestic help in Boston?

And why not reverse the direction? Can people of color understand mmmmeeeEEEEE? Do they know what it felt like to put on a wool uniform with the junior high marching band to perform in the July 4th parade, to receive a B+ on a paper for Reformation history at Temple, to be rejected for a Luce post-doctoral fellowship, to experience the retirement of Mike Schmidt? Some might say that these experiences are insignificant compared to those of other people? That is a fair point. But it also raises a question about whether we only care about the experiences of others when they die. Which is another fair point. Death does put a point on experience. But how often do memorial services capture the entire experience of a deceased’s life. We remember the person as a great guy or gal and stay quiet about the blemishes.

When it comes to black men who get pulled over by police and die, should Michael Eric Dyson, a professor at Georgetown and op-ed writer for the Times, be able to say that his experience is akin to that of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile? I have a hard time understanding how a man with Dyson’s experience can think that his is similar to men who live in very different circumstances. According to Dyson:

At birth, you are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class. In fact the greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by a cop and not end up dead when the encounter is over.

Perhaps Mr. Dyson did not receive his privilege (elite university professor and writer for the nation’s premier newspaper) at birth, but that status surely puts him at several removes from Castile and Sterling and many other African-American men who live in our nation’s cities. It is also several removes from white Americans, even those with advanced degrees and who teach for a living.

The problem with framing race relations along the lines of what each of us experience, and that some can never know the experience of another, is that it leaves no hope or way out. Mr. Dyson will never know my experience and I will never know his.

But if you want to talk about law enforcement policies that lead to the mass incarceration of blacks, municipal governments’ failure to recruit and train people who will be good cops, or the lack of independent oversight of law enforcement officials (like even Jim Comey), that’s a conversation we can have. But one that always informs me how I cannot know what you’ve experienced is going to be a conversation stopper.

When Calvinists Impersonate Muslims

Why does this description of Islam sound familiar?

So I think ISIS is a wakeup call for all Muslims, especially Islamists who see no problem in mixing religion with politics. You want sharia? You want Islam to “conquer” and “dominate”? This is what you get. And when you say, “No, no, that is not real Islam,” you easily become the “apostate” of the “real Islam” that the other guys believe in.

Look at how this works for 2k and neo-Calvinism:

So I think ISIS theonomy is a wakeup call for all Muslims Calvinists, especially Islamists transformationalists who see no problem in mixing religion with politics. You want sharia the Bible? You want Islam Christ to “conquer” and “dominate” every square inch? This is what you get. And when you say, “No, no, that is not real Islam Calvinism,” you 2 kingdoms easily become the “apostate” of the “real Islam Calvinism” that the other guys believe in.