Enter the Vandals

As everyone in America knows, on the night of June 17 Dylann Roof, armed with a .45 Glock, slaughtered nine black men and women in Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME church.  Well before Roof was apprehended the following day, the mediasphere went ballistic.  Hoping to start a “race war,” Roof generated instead what the Rev. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) called a “third great awakening of American society.”  The hyperbolic Cleaver was referring to the impetus given by the shootings to renewed calls for removal of the Battle Flag from the South Carolina State House grounds; for the eradication of Confederate memorials and monuments in Georgia and elsewhere; and for a national “conversation” about racism in America, said to be enabled by the public display of Confederate icons.  Cleaver’s mention of a third Great Awakening is puzzling, since historians have identified four such awakenings already.  (Perhaps the reverend disputes the validity of the third and fourth, as indeed some do.)  Nonetheless, I am grateful to be reminded that this most recent wave of iconoclasm sweeping the nation is rooted in our religious history, even if most of its exponents are today adamantly secular.

What is striking about the Second Great Awakening is that its postmillennialism led many to embrace a kind of social gospel, which sought a sweeping purification of American life. ...

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