The fair-sounding [seemingly pure] word “Patriotism” is often used as a cloak for the basest and meanest conduct.—Reuben A. Torrey, first Dean of Biola University
I am thankful that President Trump has called for the end of violence. Sadly, though, the attack on the Capitol may not be the end of extremist violence. The QAnon conspiracy is growing in the aftermath of the uprising. Therefore I would like to speak into these troubled times by commenting on the last week and suggesting a way to think about the weeks to come.
Not in the Name of Jesus
Insurrection is always out of bounds. Done in the name of Jesus, it is especially grievous and anti-Christ. The extremists who attacked the Capitol do not walk in The Way of Jesus. Yet, violence was cloaked in his name as insurrectionists bore crosses, pictures of Christ in a MAGA hat, JESUS SAVES banners, and other corrupted markers of faith.
The Church cannot get more deceived, divided, or violent than this: a group of Christians, thinking they were doing the right thing, stormed the capital while men and women chanted “Hang Mike Pence” in the name of patriotism. It was among the most egregious, anti-Christian events of my 45 years as a Christian leader.
The violent and the hateful can never be associated with the person or aims of Jesus. Christlikeness, which sets aside unrighteous anger, would never engage in the name calling that is common in our civil discourse, much less murder (Matthew 5:21, 22).
Denouncing Violence and Shaping the Future
I do not like making public statements. I have rarely done so in my career, but the Church needs to speak up in this moment. We do so not as an institution scrambling and elbowing for a place at the table of political power, but as a neighborly example of the non-violent ethic of the New Testament.
We can start by saying this: politically motivated violence does not adhere to the teachings and vision of Jesus and Paul, of scripture. Nor does it fit with the iconic Christian leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., who pursued agape love for the sake of all, achieved via non-violent, direct action.
I want to steer the Church toward agreement that we must never use violent means of achieving even what one may contend to be godly ends. Violent means only foment even more violent ends, creating a more violent world.
Without qualification or deflection, we must denounce all acts of violence committed in the name of Jesus and reject any further violence in his name.
Christlike Thinking About Current Political Violence
The ongoing investigation into the violence at the Capitol is yielding horrific information. “Murder the media” was scratched into a set of doors. Some in the crowd tied a camera cord into a noose. Here is the root problem with such anti-Christ thinking and action: There is no such thing as The Media. There are only people: reporters, on-air talent, lighting and sound personnel, producers, directors and writers. Murder them? There is no situation in which that is proper behavior for a follower of Jesus.
Christians can in good conscience have different opinions about the State’s role in governing morality and about the nuanced policies of tax codes, gun rights, immigration, and environmental care. There are plenty of Christlike ways to advocate for change: write, speak, campaign and engage in non-violent protest. But there is no Christian ethic that supports violently turning over an election or calling for the murder of our perceived political enemies. Last week’s event at the Capitol ought never to bear the name of Jesus.
There is a deeply spiritual Christian tradition that knows all about what I am saying. For decades, the historic Black Church and other churches led by people of color have cried out about the injustices occurring in our nation. Oftentimes their cries fell on deaf ears. This is the time for the Church to be a prophetic voice speaking up on issues that affect fellow image bearers. It is also the time for the Church to pause and listen to what their Black and Brown brothers and sisters have been proclaiming all along.
Followers of Jesus: please do not engage in or encourage any forthcoming violence. Do not be present at any violent event. Do not support those who incite, stir up, or organize violence. It will destroy your soul and our common testimony concerning Jesus. Engaging in violence is only sowing to the wind; it surely reaps the whirlwind.
The Christian message is not “Stand back and stand by,” but:
In humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others… No one should seek their own good, but the good of others (Phil. 2:4, 1 Cor. 10:24).
You Are Already Safe
America may be falling apart, but the kingdom of God is not. God’s kingdom is never at risk. While that is true, it is also important to recognize that our brothers and sisters in marginalized people groups are likely experiencing the events at the Capitol differently than those in the majority. They know by experience that very real threats exist in our nation that impact those Jesus told us to care for: the immigrant, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed.
All of us are invited to place our lives in Jesus and to follow him into kingdom living. There we will always be safe, never at risk, living an undying life, being human as God intended. A lovely upside to all that is that you will never have ears to hear a calling to harm others in the name of Jesus. Rather, you will have genuine freedom and an inner stance from which to love and serve all others (Galatians 5:13).
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