We Need a Letter-Writing Campaign to Seminary Staffs

I appreciate and applaud Coach Steve Kerr’s emotional and impassioned discourse—prior to Game 4 of the Western Conference NBA finals—about the Texas school shooting. Kerr is, he said, “…tired of the moments of silence. Enough! There’s 50 senators right now who refuse to vote on HR 8, which is a background rule that the House passed a couple years ago; it’s been sitting there for two years. And there’s a reason they won’t vote on it: to hold onto power.”

Kerr is right, of course. Republican senators refuse to vote on the bill because they want to hold onto power—and money. But, Steve, holding onto power and money is what politicians do. After all, while $174,000 annually is nowhere near what a professional athlete in a major sport makes, it’s still more than three times that of the average American worker’s salary.

Getting elected to Congress—House or Senate—is like hitting the lottery. Beyond that generous salary, according to ThoughtCo, “there is currently no limit on the amount of non-salary income members can retain from their investments, corporate dividends or profits.” And, while “members of Congress are strictly prohibited from earning or accepting income that may appear to be intended to influence the way they vote on legislation,” simply by virtue of their influential standing, they are able to generate loads of income beyond their $174,000. So, Let’s face facts: Those 50 senators are following base human nature, which all too often is selfish. No amount of pleading or browbeating will convince them to give up their cushy, lucrative positions of power.

How can we persuade the millions of white evangelicals who believe they need guns to protect them from an evil federal government that their fears are unfounded?

Many or most of those 50 senators Steve Kerr referenced are from conservative—Trumpist— districts or states. Those Trumpists believe “the establishment’s” systems are stacked against them, hence they cannot win at the ballot box. As many of them see it, then, their only alternative is armed insurrection—much like what they attempted on January 6, 2021. So, to them, the innocents slaughtered in the numerous mass shootings are just unfortunate collateral damage in a war for the heart and soul of the nation. And rather than prompting them to rethink their views on gun ownership, the slaughter has only reinforced their resolve.

Consequently, the efforts of reasonable Americans to change the votes of intransigent Republican representatives and senators will continue to prove futile. The way to change the votes of politicians whose primary goal is to remain in their cushy jobs is to first change the hearts and minds—and, subsequently, the votes of those who keep them in office.

So, how might we change the minds and votes of those Trumpist conservatives, most of whom are evangelicals? How can we persuade the millions of white evangelicals who believe they need guns to protect themselves from an evil federal government that their fears are unfounded?

The starting point in persuading white evangelicals about anything is the churches, the most influential institutions in their lives. So, in order to influence the senators, first, one must influence the voters. And to influence the voters, one must influence the evangelical churches. And to influence the evangelical churches, one must influence the pastors of those churches. And to influence the pastors, one must influence the schools and seminaries that train the pastors. And, finally, to influence the evangelical schools and seminaries, we—reasonable people who are fed up with the carnage—must persuade those evangelical schools and seminaries to be intentional about focusing on the messages of inclusion and peace that were central to the teachings of the one they claim to follow.

I graduated from one of those evangelical college/seminaries, and I am certain that every faculty member I knew there would fervently oppose the violence we’re seeing so frequently seeing these days. I’m equally confident that every one of them would categorically reject the Christian Nationalism that has infected so many white evangelical churches and that so often give tacit approval to violence as a means of ushering in a Christian kingdom on earth. I can also attest from interactions and experiences that most other Christian college and seminary staffs around the country oppose blatant Christian Nationalism.

Yet, somehow, far too many of the graduates of those colleges and seminaries wind up preaching and promoting messages of legalism and judgmentalism. Too many of them pay more attention to the exclusive teachings of Christian Nationalists like David Barton of Wallbuilders rather than the inclusive teachings of Jesus the bridge-building itinerant carpenter.

So, again, in my view, simple, peace-loving, reasonable folks—regardless of their religious beliefs or atheism—need to lobby Christian colleges and seminaries to be more intentional about Jesus’ messages of peace, mercy, and social justice; we need to write to seminary presidents and professors with letters along these lines:

Dear Professor _______,

My name is __________ and I am profoundly saddened and, frankly, angered at the repeated senseless mass shootings across our nation. Our nation has witnessed 248 mass shootings so far this year. Last year saw 28 mass shootings just in schools.

I understand that gunmen who release their anger through murderous rampages can come from any background. But I also know that Christian Nationalism is growing dramatically among white evangelical churches and that this nationalism often sanctions violence as a means of attaining its goals. I know, too, that many white evangelical pastors and church leaders have embraced this toxic white Christian Nationalism and are passing it along to their congregants.

I suspect you and your colleagues at ____________ __________ oppose violence in general and, more specifically, violence arising from a Christian Nationalist creed that values the ends—an imminent messianic kingdom—at the cost of a potentially violent means.

So I plead with you to openly state your opposition to violent Christian Nationalism, and to ask your colleagues to do the same. Please do so in public forums such as newspaper op-eds, but especially in your classes. Please train students to emulate the Prince of Peace rather than the angry, vitriolic pastors we can see on TV or YouTube spewing rage and labeling anyone who disagrees with them as demons who need to be eliminated.

I wish you well.

Name and address here.