Evangelicals, and Why Kellyanne Conway Blamed Late-Night Comedians for the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

Evangelicals, and Why Kellyanne Conway Blamed Late-Night Comedians for the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting November 14, 2018

After last month’s shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue, Kellyanne Conway stated that—actually, let me put it in her words:

The anti-religiosity in this country that is somehow in vogue and funny to make fun of anybody of faith to constantly be making fun of people who express religion, the late-night comedians, the unfunny people on TV shows — it’s always anti-religious. And remember, these people were gunned down in their place of worship, as were the people in South Carolina several years ago. And they were there because they’re people of faith, and it’s that faith that needs to bring us together. This is no time to be driving God out of the public square.

I know I’m running a bit late addressing this one—others responded to Conway’s statements when she first made them two weeks ago—but I want to pause here for a moment because I think there’s something worth discussing here. It has to do with evangelicals.

There are a lot of problems with Conway’s statement, the most obvious being her erasing of anti-semitism. If the shooting happened because of some sort of vague “anti-religious” sentiment, anti-semitism drops out of the picture and becomes unimportant. What’s important, Conway says, is that we’re “driving God out of the public square.” In other words, more prayer in schools please.

But there’s another piece here, and that has to do with Conway’s reference to late-night comedians. This comment stuck in my mind because the anti-religiosity of late-night comedians is a talking point that I grew up with, in an evangelical family and church community. Late-night comedians were anti-religious in general, the argument went, and they were anti-evangelical in particular.

But if late night comedians being “anti-religious” were the cause of shootings in houses of worship, as Conway alleges, wouldn’t we expect to see this sort of tragedy more evenly distributed? Certainly, last year’s church shooting in Texas occurred in a run-of-the-mill Protestant church, but that shooting was domestic-violence related, not motivated by anti-religious sentiment.

What other shootings have we seen in houses of worship in recent years?

Consider other high-profile, non-domestic-violence-related shootings in houses of worship: a politically motivated right-wing shooting at a Unitarian Universalist church in Tennessee in 2008; a white supremacist shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012; and a white supremacist shooting at an African American church in South Carolina in 2015. Is there a pattern emerging?

Conway actually referenced the South Carolina shooting. “These people were gunned down in their place of worship, as were the people in South Carolina several years ago,” she said of those who died in the Synagogue shooting. “And they were there because they’re people of faith.” But those worshiping in the Tree of Life synagogue weren’t killed because they were “people of faith.” they were killed because they were Jewish. Those gunned down in South Carolina weren’t killed because they were “people of faith” either. They were killed because they were black.

None of these shootings fit the Conway’s portrayal—this has never been about some sort of vague anti-religious sentiment. The talking point Conway plays into with her comments—that late-night comedians are “anti-religious”—typically posits that comedians make fun of evangelicals in particular, sometimes while treating other religious groups with kid gloves. Yet these shootings have not taken place in evangelical churches. They happen other places, for other reasons. It would behoove Conway to consider that her portrayal of what happened and why might be wrong.

For their part, evangelicals need to take five and consider how well their perception of the world—and of themselves as an embattled, persecuted minority—actually reflects reality. And then maybe they should stop listening to the NRA and start listening to communities forced to live in fear of being gunned down by white supremacists or anti-semites.

While pulling up articles for this post, I came upon one other thing that I wanted to mention. It has to do with the white supremacist church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Last month, when pipe bombings were mailed to major Democrat politicians and funders, Trump asked why media were tying the pipe bomber to him, as though he were somehow at fault, when the media never similarly tied Obama to the Charleston shooting.

No, really. It was in a Fox News interview:

“I was in the headline of the Washington Post — my name associated with this crazy bomber, ‘Trump bomber’ or something. They didn’t do that with President Obama with the church — the horrible situation with the church.”

As Vox notes, Obama actually took responsibility for a laps in the gun background check system that allowed the Charleston perpetrator to buy a gun when he should not have been able to. But the idea that a a white supremacist shooting a black church could be pinned on the nation’s first black president—the way a bombing carried out by a Trump fan can be tied to Trump—is ludicrous.

There are a lot of things that have been hard to watch in the past two years. Next to the separation of children from their parents at the border, the walking back of LGBTQ protections, the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, and the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the lies and the lack of decorum present in Trump and Conway’s statements can look rather small—but they still rankle.

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