Granderson: Republicans use 'God' to turn tragedies into talking points

·4 min read

A number of so-called religious conservatives like to explain away national tragedies — be they natural or man-made — through the lens of God’s wrath, or at least indirect punishment for "sins." Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich blamed same-sex marriage for the 2008 economic crash. Former Sen. Rick Santorum blamed abortions for Social Security’s troubles.

One of the all-time classic remarks came from John Hagee, pastor of a megachurch in San Antonio, who famously said, “God caused Hurricane Katrina to wipe out New Orleans because it had a gay pride parade the week before.” So God didn’t “wipe out New Orleans” because of the “Girls Gone Wild: Mardi Gras Invasion” DVD that came out the same year Katrina hit. God didn’t punish the city for having a corrupt police department so well known for terrorizing citizens that the first sentence of a 2011 Department of Justice report read, “The NOPD has long been a troubled agency.” And God didn’t punish New Orleans for having hosted the largest slave market in the country. No, according to Hagee, God punished New Orleans with Katrina because drag queens were dancing on floats the week before.

It's an interesting theology that conservative Christians like Hagee, Santorum and Gingrich espouse. They clearly have a period in mind in which they believe God was happier with the direction of the country, but our history makes it impossible to pinpoint a date without looking racist. So they tend to talk in nostalgic Judeo-Christian generalities. Like Sen. Ron Johnson, who recently said, “I think the solution is renewed faith,” as if there’s an agreed-upon faith or showing of that faith that we all should agree to return to.

As the first funerals for the 21 victims of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, are happening this week, starting with services for 10-year-olds Amerie Jo Garza and Maite Rodriguez, we’re going to be hearing a lot more of these generalities. The services in Uvalde come less than three days after the funeral for the last of the 10 victims in Buffalo, N.Y.

With each passing day, it is clear that conservatives want to move the national conversation surrounding these mass shootings away from gun access and toward God. This despite Pew having found the U.S. to already be “the most devout of all the rich Western democracies.”

It's not guns we have to fear, according to the Hagee-Santorum-Gingrich theology: It’s evil that threatens us. The adherents of this thinking say after any horror: We have to fight evil.

My question is how a nation that romanticizes, even monetizes, its own evil beginnings can even start to fight the kind of evil some of these politicos speak of. This is the country that turned Christopher Columbus from being lost at sea into a folk hero who “discovered” a land full of people. We are the ones who rebranded slave labor camps as plantations.

We have Civil War reenactments in which people root for the bad guy. And yeah, considering that “the Union” is really just another way of saying the United States, the Confederacy would be the enemy. But we haven’t been conditioned to think that way, have we?

The needle of our moral compass is susceptible to political spin. The kind of spin elected officials like Johnson deploy because it panders to our desire to see ourselves as good people. That’s much more pleasant for us than acknowledging we were never as holy as we like to tell ourselves. We don’t need to return the kind of faith that allowed brutal enslavement to be the law of the land for centuries. We don’t need to return to the kind of faith that allowed Jim Crow laws to follow.

After the Uvalde shooting, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick opined about the killer: “You just cannot change character without changing a heart, and you can’t do that without turning to God.”

I would ask Patrick: When exactly did a nation built on stolen land, kidnapping and enslavement turn away from God? I only ask because after the shooting in Texas, Johnson said: "We've stopped teaching values in so many of our schools. Now we're teaching wokeness.” Which isn’t a subject in school, but certainly is one outside of it. And it’s being vilified by the same political leanings that meet cries for gun control with rhetoric like, “We took God out of schools and we wonder how this evil comes in.” That’s what Fox News’ Rachel Campos-Duffy said.

Such an interesting perspective.

In May 1961, a bus carrying Freedom Riders was attacked in rural Alabama. A bomb was thrown on board, and as flames grew, a racist mob blocked the door.

“Fry the goddamn n--,” someone reportedly said.

When the activists finally escaped, they were beaten with baseball bats.

The following year, a Supreme Court ruling banned school prayer.

So no, Campos-Duffy, many of us don’t wonder how this evil came in. We wonder why people like you won't admit it’s been here since the beginning.

@LZGranderson

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.