Protestants & Politics 1/12/21
Reporting and reactions to faith and evangelicals at the Capitol insurrection. Do No Harm Act. Postcards from Babylon: The Church in American Exile.
|Napp Nazworth||Jan 12|
A Christian Insurrection: Many of those who mobbed the Capitol on Wednesday claimed to be enacting God’s will.
The name of God was everywhere during Wednesday’s insurrection against the American government. The mob carried signs and flag declaring JESUS SAVES! and GOD, GUNS & GUTS MADE AMERICA, LET’S KEEP ALL THREE. Some were participants in the Jericho March, a gathering of Christians to “pray, march, fast, and rally for election integrity.” After calling on God to “save the republic” during rallies at state capitols and in D.C. over the past two months, the marchers returned to Washington with flourish. On the National Mall, one man waved the flag of Israel above a sign begging passersby to say yes to jesus. “Shout if you love Jesus!” someone yelled, and the crowd cheered. “Shout if you love Trump!” The crowd cheered louder. The group’s name is drawn from the biblical story of Jericho, “a city of false gods and corruption,” the march’s website says. Just as God instructed Joshua to march around Jericho seven times with priests blowing trumpets, Christians gathered in D.C., blowing shofars, the ram’s horn typically used in Jewish worship, to banish the “darkness of election fraud” and ensure that “the walls of corruption crumble.”
The Jericho March is evidence that Donald Trump has bent elements of American Christianity to his will, and that many Christians have obligingly remade their faith in his image. Defiant masses literally broke down the walls of government, some believing they were marching under Jesus’s banner to implement God’s will to keep Trump in the White House.
The presence of Christian rituals, symbols and language was unmistakable on Wednesday in Washington. There was a mock campaign banner, “Jesus 2020,” in blue and red; an “Armor of God” patch on a man’s fatigues; a white cross declaring “Trump won” in all capitals. All of this was interspersed with allusions to QAnon conspiracy theories, Confederate flags and anti-Semitic T-shirts.
The blend of cultural references, and the people who brought them, made clear a phenomenon that has been brewing for years now: that the most extreme corners of support for Mr. Trump have become inextricable from some parts of white evangelical power in America. Rather than completely separate strands of support, these groups have become increasingly blended together.
On the first Sunday since a mob of his supporters seeking to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s election stormed the U.S. Capitol and five people including a police officer died, the messages from the pulpits of Christian leaders who’ve backed Trump were as disparate as the opinions of the nation’s citizenry.
They ranged from recitations of debunked conspiracy theories of who was responsible, to calls for healing and following Jesus Christ rather than any individual person, to sermons that made no mention of Wednesday’s chaos and what it means for the future.
If the Rev. Albert Mohler could rewind history, he says he would have had a different judgment on President Donald Trump.
But the well-known evangelical figure does not feel remorse about his decision to support the president’s re-election and advocate that others do the same.
“I stand by the comments that I've made at every point,” Mohler said on Wednesday evening. “If I could rewind history and know then what I know now, we’d be talking about a different kind of judgment. But we have to live life in a temporal line and seek to be faithful in those moments.”
Evangelist Franklin Graham
“They have a right to protest. To tell people to go home, it’s not for me to decide that. The people who broke the windows in the Capital did not look like the people out there demonstrating. Most likely it was antifa. For people busting windows, they need to go home. But for people standing out there peacefully holding flags, and protesting, they have every right to do that.”
Donald Trump has been granted five honorary degrees in his lifetime - from Lehigh University in 1988, from Wagner College in 2004, from Robert Gordon University in Scotland in 2010, and from Liberty University, which granted honorary degrees to Mr. Trump on two occasions - 2012 and 2017.
But as of today, only one of those institutions- Liberty University - has not revoked the honorary degrees originally granted to Mr. Trump.
“I think you see a brokenness in the country, and you see a brokenness in some spaces of Christianity,” said Giboney, co-author of “Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement.” “I mean, what could have more clearly symbolized Trump’s tenure than what happened yesterday?”
He added that many are frustrated that there were “professing Christians” among those “who allowed Trump to incite this insurrection” and “used the Bible to validate Trump’s leadership.” They should have known better, Giboney said.
“Our faith talks a lot about to kind of be skeptical of that kind of power,” he said.
The Do No Harm Act “would preserve the law’s power to protect religious freedom, but also clarify that it can’t be used to cause harm,” said Maggie Garrett, vice president for public policy for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
But the bill’s opponents object to this characterization, as well as its name.
By limiting the reach of religious freedom protections, the Do No Harm Act would make it harder for many people of faith to operate businesses, launch charities or share their beliefs in the public square, said Doug Laycock, a professor of law and religious studies at the University of Virginia.
“This bill would strip the heart out” of religious freedom law, he said.
The coming weeks will see a gradually arriving reckoning. Political leaders who sought access and influence over the past four years through a political alliance with insurrectionists and domestic terrorists are responsible for unleashing insurrectionists and domestic terrorists. This is true of some Federalist Society conservatives, who cared only about judicial appointments. It is true of some economic conservatives, focused only on tax and regulatory policy. And it is true, above all, of Trump evangelicals, who sought to recover lost social influence through the cynical embrace of corrupt power.
I come back to this group repeatedly, not only because I share an evangelical background and resent those who dishonor it, but because the overwhelming support of evangelicals is the single largest reason that Trump possesses power in the first place. It was their malignant approach to politics that forced our country into its current nightmare. As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner “Jesus Saves.”
No one likes to admit they were fooled. It's tough to admit we were wrong. Now, many evangelicals are seeing President Donald Trump for who he is, but more need to see what he has done to us.
It’s time for an evangelical reckoning.
As the evangelical sheep are being led astray by bad shepherds and their lies, the good shepherds cannot remain silent. The sheep need to hear courageous, truth-tellers from within their own faith communities. They need pastors who are willing to sacrifice congregational tranquility, and sometimes their own jobs, in order to rescue their flocks from the wolves surrounding them in the media or be willing to go down trying. Please don't assume I'm asking pastors to become partisans. I am not. I'm simply asking for pastors to remembering their calling. They are to lead us from false idols to the true God. They are to lead us from the father of lies to our Father in heaven. They are to lead us from darkness into the light.
You don’t have to agree with me. I might be wrong. I don’t speak for anyone else, only myself. But you deserve to hear from me what I honestly think. If I were the President, I would resign. If I were the Vice President, I would assemble the cabinet in accordance with the 25th Amendment. If I were a Member of Congress, I would vote to impeach. And if I were a United States senator, I would vote to convict. And I would be willing, if necessary, to lose my seat to do so. As a matter of fact, I am willing, if necessary, to lose this seat.
But for saying all this, Moore was not only debated and criticized, he was threatened, punished, and bullied. The infrastructure of the Southern Baptist Convention failed to defend one of its most respected entity heads and kowtowed to the voices of churches and leaders who should have been led, not deferred to. Moore was not the only evangelical Baptist who warned us about Donald Trump, but he was frequently the most consistent, most visible, and most Bible and gospel-centered voice. He didn’t just talk about the politics. He talked about the church. It was the church that Moore feared would buckle under the moral sludge of an unqualified President. But it was the church that attributed the most outrageously false motives to Moore. It was the church that told itself Moore was a closet liberal. It was the church that found more trustworthiness in an unrepentant, twice-divorced Playboy billionaire than in one of its own pastors.
And now, tonight, family members text me that people in their churches were at the protests, bragging about how the “capitol was ours now.” Church members. Not professional protesters, not QAnon cultists. Christians—Christians with Bibles, and Sunday school classes. Christians storming the halls of Congress on behalf of a lie, peddled by a lover of lies.
It is clear to me now that the United States is in much deeper trouble than I realized even a week ago. In Live Not By Lies, I write about how closely the US today resembles Hannah Arendt’s portrait of a pre-totalitarian society. I focused on the ideology that the progressive Left believes, and is putting into place in the institutions where they dominate. The mainstream media don’t see this, because they are part of it. But it’s real, and it’s happening.
However, as I’ve said here in the past few days, and as I repeat again, the depth of the ideological capture of the Right by a parallel insanity is becoming clearer to me. It troubles me not because I think these people have any chance at taking and exercising power — remember, Trump, for all his bluster, did not change much — but because in their willingness to live by lies, they not only can mount no effective defense against the much more powerful Left, but they also will act to give that same Left — which controls the infrastructure of the United States — reasons to lean more heavily into soft totalitarianism.
For the record, the following United States Senators objected to the Electoral College vote in Arizona last night:
Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Josh Hawley (R-MO)
Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)
Roger Marshall (R-KS)
John Kennedy (R-LA)
Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)
They are all Republicans. They are all Trump supporters. But they are also, in one form or another, evangelical Christians.
Odds & Ends
In the days and weeks preceding January 6, many more leaders, including many evangelical leaders, could have spoken truth to the disillusioned supporters of President Trump—diminishing the prospects for violence and bolstering the witness of Christian love and the call for justice in our civic life. Some did. However, many wittingly propagated lies, or were unduly silent in a just cause. Our Christian faith demands greater courage.
We repent of our own failures to speak and to act in accordance with justice, and we lament the failures of the Church to teach clearly and to exercise adequate church discipline in these areas. Moreover, we grieve over the inadequate level of discipleship that has made room for this type of behavior among those who self-identify as Christian. We pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us all manner of idolatry, and we commit to speaking plainly against it wherever and whenever we find it. We commit ourselves to a more faithful witness in our callings as the faculty and staff of Wheaton College, and will work diligently to provide ample opportunities to show students, as well as the larger Wheaton College and Christian community, how to practice discernment in civic engagement, to demonstrate the connections between love and justice, and to courageously communicate the truth—even and especially when the truth is difficult to hear.
THE WAIT IS OVER ….As you know, not all theaters are open at this time, so instead we are offering YOU an Exclusive Pre-Release online ticketed showing of Postcards from Babylon: The Church in American Exile - streaming live January 21st at 7:00 p.m local time.
Filmmakers David and Kathi Peters will welcome you live before the showing, and following the showing a panel composed of many of those interviewed for the documentary will delve further into its themes.
Postcards From Babylon is a documentary featuring author and pastor Brian Zahnd as he investigates possibly the most important question for the church in North America today, a church often characterized by Christian Nationalism: How does the church stay faithful to the beautiful way of Jesus while situated in one of the most divisive political climates in our nation's history?
If you can’t make this LIVE event date, you can still watch with your viewing ticket because the replay will remain viewable until February 28th, 2021.