January 6

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On January 6, 2021, I sat in my COVID home office and watched the insurrection in real time. I had two livestreams open on my laptop and was switching between raw footage and curated news reporting as it was being developed. It was a trainwreck for US democracy and for all the horror, I couldn’t look away. And we shouldn’t.

I heard them chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” in real time. I saw the violence.

My chest tightened when Steve sent us The Twelve schedule and I saw my name listed for January 6. In a visceral way, I wish I didn’t need to think about it. But, with apologies to non-US readers, the January 6 insurrection is too important to ignore. Ignoring something sometimes communicates things we don’t intend. We remember and reflect on peril to prevent having it (or something worse) happen again. You can watch a sober reconstruction here

In the past few days, I’ve read dozens of commentaries and histories of January 6 and the net effect is that for all the illumination, I remain as angry, sad, and worried as I was watching it occur from the safety of my internet portal a year ago. Whatever distance a year may bring to soften the shock is mitigated and erased by the fact that a large fraction of our country, against all reason and goodness, is aligning itself with the chief instigator. The big lie and its spinoffs are being pushed in a thousand ways large and small, to the point where truth itself is bending like light at the event horizon of a black hole. 

A prominent New York Times editorial entitled “Every Day is Jan. 6 Now” (1) resonates because it decries the ongoing assaults on US democracy in terms of new laws restricting suffrage under specious claims of rampant voter fraud, violent threats directed at public servants responsible for conducting elections, partisan gerrymanders, and cynical promotion of the big lie that President Biden’s election was stolen and therefore illegitimate. It also resonates in a very personal way. I believe in an activist Christianity. Salt and light. 

There is a blizzard of commentary. One can be grateful that most of it recognizes the horror of the insurrection and the on-going threats spun off and fed by trumped-up grievances that undermine our democracy. But how is it that revulsion at an attack on our democracy as violent and damaging as the January 6 insurrection fails to rise above partisanship except for a notable few?

They chanted to hang the vice president. They went hunting for the Speaker of the House. They beat overwhelmed police officers. Some 140 officers were injured. Concussions. A severed finger. Gouged eyes (2). 

They broke into the well of the evacuated Senate and invoked the name of Jesus.

The low-level rioters are being tried and sentenced; the ones unlucky enough to be identified. Evidence coming from the House January 6 commissions indicated that the insurrection was planned, from the foot-soldiers to the highest levels of the Executive branch. I want accountability. I want justice. I want deterrence so I never have to worry about something like this again.

I’ve been writing and re-writing parts of this post for days. Second-guessing myself and wondering what there is to add. But in the spirit of introspection and with acknowledgement of The Twelve readership, I would point you to the Uncivil Religion (https://uncivilreligion.org/home/index) project–a “collaborative digital project between the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.”

 It would be hard for any observer to miss the overt Christian iconography and ritual (e.g. performative prayers) in the January 6 footage. But it goes deeper. The Uncivil Religion project is a curation of digital media associated with the “Stop the Steal” rally and the ensuing insurrection and provides interpretation of the religious dimensions of those media from scholars who are experts in the study of religions and politics. The researchers “contend that religion was not just one aspect of the attack on the Capitol, but, rather, it was a thread that weaves through the entirety of the events of January 6.”

The scholars find varied religious representation including a sort of mock-religion. But the dominant religious thread is clearly evangelical Christianity morphing itself into a politically conservative civil religion–or trying to. It’s a Christianity centered on a nostalgia for a medieval model where heroic white men are militant guardians of a faith under siege. So, for example, rioters carried the “Deus Vult” cross (Latin for “God wills it”), the putative cross of the medieval Christian crusaders (3), and Calvin University’s Professor Kristin du Mez interprets a Trump-as-William-Wallace sign as an outcome of evangelicals adopting Mel Gibson’s ahistorical avenging movie depiction as an archetype (4)–effectively a John Wayne for the moment.   

This is challenging stuff. But to the extent that Reformed Christians share any historical or theological DNA with the wider evangelical moment we need to confront a poisonous patriarchal white supremacy in the genome. The Uncivil Religion scholars see it in the belligerent politics surrounding January 6; Charles and Rah (2019) see it in the doctrine of discovery and the subjugation of native peoples (5); I see it in the church’s unwillingness to take the climate crisis seriously. It’s been the sad backstory to several recent Twelve posts about the experiences of women in ministry. Calls to “Hang Mike Pence” make sense if you allow that extra-judicial lynching is acceptable when white men say so (6). Some part of us knows. Some part of us sees. Some part of the responsibility we bear as Reformed Christians is to address this apostasy in our own social media circles, communities, and churches.

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Thank you for putting this into words.  I appreciate what you wrote here.

I believe many church leaders feel they are much like the capital police on Jan. 6, 2021.  They fear that if the speak out against the "Big Lie," they will be run out of their congregations.  As I watched the footage of the reconstruction of Jan. 6.  many of the capital police seemed a bit passive, not daring to resist the crowd, but when they did they got run over.  As a pastor in know that feeling very well.  The danger in avoiding confrontation is that the "lie" continues to gain momentum, just lke the violent protestors did on Jan. 6.  While I have a deep concern for the well being of our Country, I have a much deeper concern for the witness of the Christian Church, the Body of Christ.  The Christian symbols peppered throughout the protestors and the "Christian" prayers by them have left a hideous scar on the face of Christianity that needs the balm of Gilead.  And the balm is the bold proclamation of the truth, which confronts all the lies, especially the "Big Lie" that fueled the anger of the violent protestors.  

May the peace of Christ reign!!!  

I want to thank Tim for leading the way!           

I would be curious as to your thoughts on what happened on 1-6-2021

Les, you and I both served the same pulpit in our ministerial journey, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for your professionalism and the outstanding service you have given to the CRCNA.  I would suggest, however, that this response is pretty cynical and sarcastic.  To dismiss a fellow believer's sincere effort to put into words Biblical teaching as it applies to legitimate problems facing our nation as "Democratic talking points" certainly does not enhance conversation between fellow believers who have sincere differences in viewpoints.  As a church, we need to address the issues Biblically and theologically, which I think the CRCNA does exceptionally well.  We need to speak more in our native language as Reformed Christians:  words like Kingdom rather than the media's language of Democrat, Republican, and "talking points."  If the demands of responsible citizenship  in God's Kingdom coincides with a particular political party, even if many Evangelicals do not identify with that party, we fall in line with the Kingdom.  If the demands of the Kingdom oppose the platform of a particular political party, we need to courageously and prophetically stand for the Kingdom.  Life in the Kingdom means living under God's Law.  The Ten Commandments are a good starting place for discovering God's Will for our Lives (language I used almost every Sunday back in the day when we read the Commandments in Sunday morning worship).  One of those commandments is,  "You shall not murder."  Thus, the CRCNA is strongly pro-life, which in fact conflicts with the Democrats.  Another is,  "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," which certainly speaks to the lie that many Republicans continue to hold that Donald Trump won the 2020 Presidential election.   In my view, the most important sentence in the original posting is this:  ". . .to the extent that Reformed Christians share any historical or theological DNA with the wider evangelical moment we need to confront a poisonous patriarchal white supremacy in the genome."  The foundation of our faith is the Bible, to be read with the exegetical tools we have all agreed on (i.e., original meaning, context, original audience, etc.) not FOX, CNN, a sitting or former President of the US, or the current emphasis of either political party.    

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"Life in the Kingdom means living under God's law." 

Amen. 

Participant

Les, thank you for articulating your thoughts with more respect in a later comment. I didn't find myself resonating with the original post and came to the comments to see what differing perspectives were offered. I was disappointed to find your sarcastic and dismissive comment. I hope you will delete the comment above as I don't think it reflects well on the mutual respect that God creates between us in Christ. I've also flagged the comment for review for these reasons.

CBS News reported recently on a YouGov poll (a British international Internet-based market research and data analytics firm, headquartered in the UK) that shows that a majority of Americans believe the January 6 Capitol Hill riot resulted from a “protest that went too far” rather than a coordinated insurrection.

One of the issues with a post on January 6 is that it may sound credible on the surface but it looses any credibility by ignoring the context. For example:

1. Over a decade ago, in the February of 2011, unionists stormed the Wisconsin State Capitol to prevent a vote on collective bargaining reform – the Act 10 protests. News reports at the time noted, “thousands of demonstrators managed to enter the building by violently breaking down doors and shattering windows.” In response at the time, Nancy Pelosi not only refrained from words like “insurrection” or “terrorism” in reference to the public disorder, she outright praised the occupation as “democracy in action.” I was living in Wisconsin at the time, and our representatives personally told of VERY harrowing experiences. In addition, a local CRC "social justice" pastor was among those who stormed the Capital.

2. In May of 2020 masses of people gathered in Lafayette Square in Washington DC, joined by such leaders as then-Sen. Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. By night, rioters hurled bricks and bottles at the Secret Service; Trump had to be evacuated to a bunker for his own safety. Mobs of far-left rioters tried to storm the White House. They were repelled by police, who were assaulted and hit with projectiles. Democrats and leftists condemned law enforcement at the time for stopping the rioters.

3. In June of 2021, there were days of insurrection in Minneapolis and in the major cities of the United States following the death of George Floyd, resulting in the destruction of a police precinct and billions of dollars of property damage nation wide.

4. The insurrection continues in Portland, now at 18 months and counting.

There is no question that what happened on January 6 was traumatic. But to ignore the context drains away any credibility one might have. January 6 was not an isolated incident perpetrated by "those bad guys." January 6 is a reflection of the fact that we are living in a setting in which the foundations are shaking. Pointing the finger in one direction will do no one any good.

Regarding comparing this to Wisconsin https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/some-are-comparing-the-us-capitol-riot...

 

and comparing what happened on January 6 to the protests after George Floyd's murder (a horrible occurrence where as the Jan 6 insurrection was solely based on Trumps lies) and the protests in Washington is not worth debating.  I could say to you the same thing you initially commented except change "Democrat" to "Republican".  

And the fact that January 6 was instigated by a sitting President makes it far worse that the incidents you cite.  

It looks like you are just interested in us pointing fingers at each other, and saying "Gotcha." For you to say that January 6 was "instigated by a sitting President" shows that you have been listening to MSNBC too much.

I am not pointing fingers.  I feel you did that in your initial comment.  Guess we will agree to disagree.  I firmly believe Trump was behind January 6.  And my hope he is held accountable.  

If you read my comment I was not "comparing" the events which I cited, but was providing context for the events of January 6 which indicate a pattern. This is a pattern, which I believe, will eventually erupt into a civil war. I further believe that the eruption into civil war will be initiated not by the right but by the left. While there are those on the right who are extreme (eg Jan 6), generally people on the right are more critical of violence. In contrast, the left has shown a willingness to engage in violence and to defend it as being appropriate. Even your comments were defensive of the massive violence in response to George Floyd's death. My prediction is that it is somewhat likely that this civil war may begin following the political earthquake coming with the midterm rejection of the Biden/Schumer/Pelosi agenda in November of this year.

You present your thoughts around the theme of "Uncivil Religion." There is a "civil religion" which holds us as a nation together.  Our coins have imprinted on them,  "In God We Trust."  Sessions of Congress are opened with a generic prayer to  a rather generic "God."  When I served as a military chaplain, I offered numerous such prayers.  I suspect when you speak of "Uncivil Religion" you are suggesting this January 6 was Civil Religion gone amuck.  What if we consider January 6 under the them of  "Christian Nationalism"?   In unpacking this theme, let me limit myself to a discussion of the flags flown by the protesters on January 6.  Of course, there was the stars and stripes, our national ensign. But there was also the Christian or Church flag. God and country. Dangerous, but with our Augustinian "two Kingdom" worldview acceptable.    But what about the presence of the Confederate Flag?  I lived in South Carolina for ten years when there was a huge fight about that flag.   The Confederate Flag represents many things, depending on who you're talking to.  (1) Southern Heritage.  So is Christianity a Southern thing?  Is God a tribal god, whose influence is limited to the American south, similar to the local gods of the Old Testament?  (2) Racism.  The real issue behind the Civil War, in spite of Southern attempts to claim otherwise ("it was about states rights")  On January 6 we saw a Christianity affiliated with racism-- very disturbing.  (3) Rebel.  Many in the North have adopted this flag as the "rebel flag."  So is the Christian faith about rebellion?  As I understand the Bible, rebellion is the problem.  I have come to believe Christian Nationalism is a heresy as dangerous as the heresies of the early church.   As an American, I grieve the loss of democracy in our nation.  As a Christian, I take comfort in knowing that the Kingdom of God is not the same as the American Empire.  God's Kingdom survived the fall of Rome, it will survive the end of American Democracy, should that occur.  The loss of Democracy in the nation is sad.  Apostasy in the church is a much bigger problem, one that needs to be courageously addressed.