Twice today I was compelled to comment on public posts made by Christian pastors commenting on the events of January 6th, when Trump supporters encouraged by the President’s remarks felt justified in storming the Capitol resulting in death and destruction. It seems there is some movement now among many who endorsed the Presidency of Trump to moderate the perception that they were “full throated” in their support. While I applaud anyone coming to understand just how dangerous this President has been to our Republic, I do find the need of some of these folks to seek to draw a false equivalency between the actions of Trump supporters on Wednesday and protest movements such as Black Lives Matter over the past summer.
I endeavored to make the point that it is important that as Jesus followers we not unintentionally promote these false equivalencies. While it is tragic that there has been violence associated with movements on all sides of social and cultural issues, what is unique about what transpired Wednesday is that the people who were involved in this attempted insurrection, or (at the very least) were attempting to thwart the Constitutional obligations of our duly elected representatives including Vice President Pence, is that they were motivated because they lost an election. That’s it. They lost, and fueled by lies initiated and repeated by President Trump and others were convinced that the election had somehow been stolen. Further, what happened Wednesday not only perpetrated itself under the American flag but also under the flag (literally) of Jesus. This is what should be extraordinarily concerning to those of us who are Christians.
This idolatrous display was fueled by those who have replaced the heavenly King with an earthly President. What should sadden all of us is that the Christian witness in this Nation has been tainted for at least a generation due to the near sightedness of too many ‘Christian’ folks who sold their birthright of integrity for a cheap bowl of political beans.
When someone makes the “both sides” argument in reference to what happened at the Capitol it is often an attempt to justify their own complicity in supporting actions that they may secretly wished to succeed. It is is intellectually lazy at best by simply parroting an empty cliché, or it is deceitfully calculating at worst, seeking to shield itself from the more undesirable aspects of a philosophy by continuing to embrace the arguments that give such evils oxygen. When condemning this reprehensible attempted coup d’état, why is it necessary to point to some other event and then make the argument that these two things are the same? It is the behavior of impetuous children when implicated in nefarious actions to point to a sibling and say “But what about what she did?” This is what people sound like when they feel compelled to attach a “But” to their tepid condemnation of actions by those who have embraced the same political compromises as themselves.
In a powerful piece written in The Atlantic, Ibram X. Kendi points out that as much as people want to tout the idea that what happened at the Capitol isn’t American, it is perhaps the most American thing that we could expect to happen given our history. Kendi writes, “To say that the attack on the U.S. Capitol is not who we are is to say that this is not part of us, not part of our politics, not part of our history. And to say that this is not part of America, American politics, and American history is a bald-faced denial. But the denial is normal. In the aftermath of catastrophes, when have Americans commonly admitted who we are? The heartbeat of America is denial…In 1898, white supremacists murdered dozens of Black people and violently overthrew the democratically elected and interracial government of Wilmington, North Carolina. In 1921—in one of the most devastating economic coups in history—white supremacists murdered hundreds of Black residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and destroyed their prosperous Greenwood District, known affectionately as “Black Wall Street.” In 1933, financiers attempted to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to hand over power so they could establish a fascist government. This is a small sampling—but are all the attempted and successful coups in American history not part of American history?”
Kendi is right in his assessment that both the attempted insurrection at the Capitol and now our denial of its seriousness is fundamentally American. As is the complicity of the Christian church in America to endorse these and other evils that we have long denied, because denial is always easier than confrontation and repentance. Christian leaders now face a moment of reckoning. No matter how much white wash is applied to this one term and most likely twice impeached President, it is impossible to rid themselves of the tarnish of Donald J. Trump. Especially when many of them continue to conflate his recklessness with what they perceive to be that of others.
On January 6th, 2021 a trifecta of elements converged on the Capitol. Ideas that have sought to undermine the Christian witness and example for a generation in white nationalism, individual idolatry, and political expedience, came together to cement the legacy of the Trump Presidency and the Evangelical constituency that enabled him. Unless Christian leaders find the humility to admit that they were wrong in their support of Trump and in their influencing others to do the same, it is unlikely that the next generation should be expected to take any of our truth claims seriously. In the words of 1 Peter 4:17 let judgement begin first at the House of God.
When people support an unqualified temperament coupled with undisciplined rhetoric in the highest of our elected offices, should we be surprised at the results? I fear that as a country we are experiencing the chastisement of a Holy God, because those who should have denounced this President chose to remain silent, tacitly endorse, or overtly support him under the misguided notion that a few supreme court justices were worth the trade. The ends should never justify the means.
May God bring peace to our Nation and heal our land, and may the House of God find mercy as well.