It may be low-grade trauma.
I have found it difficult to focus since the events of Jan. 6, when the United States Capitol was overthrown, with lawmakers huddled inside. My lack of focus has left me doom scrolling, watching countless videos of the insurgency. The assailants’ stated goal was to overthrow Congress, the legislative branch of our government, as Congress performed the sacrosanct duty of confirming the results of a democratic election. For 244 years, this task has been perfunctory — an afterthought. Not this year.
This riot was different than other uprisings we have seen in recent months. It was different because of where it happened — inside our nation’s Capitol. It was different in that this was not just a riot; it was a coup attempt. This insurgency sought to overthrow Congress, not at the ballot box, not through the power of the pen, not through rhetoric or persuasion, but via a violent attack.
It appears that some of the Capitol intruders intended to take hostages or worse. They came dangerously close to those in the line of presidential succession, including the vice president (a Republican), the speaker of the house (a Democrat), and the president pro tempore of the Senate (a Republican). I name their parties because this insurgency was not about conservative versus progressive, left versus right, Republican versus Democrat. No, what happened at the Capitol was outside the norms of a two-party system. This was extremism that left five individuals dead, including a Capitol police officer.
It may be low-grade trauma. It is definitely anger.
I am furious that Christian symbols were on full display, co-opted for something so despicable. In countless photographs and video from the Capitol uprising, you can see the Bible, the Cross, and homemade signs like one that read “Jesus Saves.” You can even see the Christian flag — the flag that takes its place on many church chancels — being paraded around in an empty congressional chamber after members of Congress had been evacuated.
“I am furious that Christian symbols were on full display, co-opted for something so despicable.”
And in the middle of all of these Christian symbols, rioters erected makeshift gallows, complete with a bright orange noose. In this made-for-TV chaos, rioters spoke of “revolution.”
Emboldened by this victory, it is being reported that future attacks on our democracy already are being planned on social media. The tragic events of Jan. 6 may be just the beginning.
But here’s the deal: Any hate-fueled, violent revolution is antithetical to the Jesus I know. To be clear, Jesus launched a revolution, but his revolution was nonviolent, fueled by love. In fact, the one time we see one of his followers commit an act of violence — when Peter drew his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear at Jesus’ arrest — Jesus rebuked Peter, and then Jesus healed Malchus.
And despite Jesus’ commitment to nonviolence, rioters at the Capitol screamed, “Hang Mike Pence!” An orange noose alongside a “Jesus saves” sign outside in the crowd. Zip ties for hostage-taking and a Christian flag inside congressional chambers.
Church, we have work to do.
I don’t exactly know the way forward; I can’t see the future and how this dark chapter in our American history resolves. I’m just a local church pastor, trying to make sense of it all and my role in the madness. But here’s what I believe each person of genuine faith must do as a starting point:
- We must commit ourselves to the truth. We must not contribute to the spreading of lies and disinformation. We must not get sucked into conspiracy theories based in suspicion, without facts or empirical evidence. We must check the facts before we send that email or make that social media post. There are no excuses for spreading falsehood — not when it is so easy to go to Snopes or PolitiFact or other fact-checking sites. “If you can’t prove it, don’t spread it,” is a good rule of thumb.
- We must commit ourselves to humility. Too many of us are walking around with a superiority complex, imagining ourselves better than others who look or think or worship or vote differently. Humility means we are willing to reevaluate our own thoughts and ideas, recognizing that no single person has a monopoly on the truth. I once heard Walter Brueggeman, brilliant Old Testament scholar, say, “Dare to think you’re wrong.” That’s humility. I did not see a lot of humility on display in videos I watched from the Capitol.
- We must commit ourselves to nonviolence. If we are followers of Jesus, we must put away our swords, remembering how Jesus rebuked Peter for his violent resistance to Jesus’ arrest. If someone you listen to on talk radio or follow on social media calls for someone to be executed or hung, know that that individual is not a follower of Jesus. They may invoke Jesus’ name, but anyone who calls for death or bloodshed is not a follower of the Jesus I know. Unfollow anyone who calls for violence. Stop giving them a platform. Adopt a “turn the other cheek” rule of life.
Truth. Humility. Nonviolence. That’s where we start. More will surely be required of us, but that’s where we start. Do not give space in your brain or your heart to those who don’t embrace these three fundamental values of authentic Christian faith.
There’s a lot that’s masquerading as Christianity these days that isn’t very Christian. Church, we have work to do.
Rhonda Abbott Blevins serves as senior pastor of Chapel by the Sea in Clearwater Beach, Fla., and an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates. She earned the doctor of ministry degree from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology and previously served as the coordinator of CBF Kentucky. She and her husband, Terry, live with their two sons in Palm Harbor, Fla.