On Wednesday, January 6th, the world watched as a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of the recent presidental election. The shocking incident resulted in the deaths of five people – including a Capitol police officer.
Amidst all of the political flags and signs, there was another sight to behold – scores of religious symbols, particularly Christian crosses, and signs with messages like “JESUS SAVES” or “JESUS 2020”.
Now faith leaders are speaking out in condemnation of those who would co-opt faith to justify storming the seat of American government.
Rick Warren, an evangelical Christian, senior pastor at Saddleback Church, and a New York Times bestselling author, had one of the strongest condemnations for the events of January 6th, which he characterized as “terrorism”.
And he wasn’t the only Christian leader to condemn the mob. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement that “Enough is enough… It will take decades to rebuild from the wreckage in this country. But, as Christians, we can start now—just by not being afraid to say what is objectively the truth. Joe Biden has been elected president.”
Other also joined in the chorus.
Presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church Rev. Michael Curry called it “a coup attempt”. Pat Robertson, host of The 700 Club, said a “madness” came upon President Trump.
Across the board, the reponse from Christian leadership has been to denounce the violence. But what about on the ground, as the riot was happening?
A Faith-Fueled Insurrection?
Many people who witnessed the Capitol riot noticed a strong undercurrent of religious self-righteousness apparent in the crowd. Some participants clearly felt that God had called them to be there, as evidenced by the signs and chants they brought along.
And it wasn't just laypersons who felt this way. In a Facebook post published just hours before people stormed into Congress, evangelical leader Franklin Graham called the results of the election into question and predicted that "God's judgment is coming."
In the aftermath of the rally-gone-wrong, others opined that religious belief was a stong motivator.
“I think that [the protestors] believe that God has a specific plan for this country, and that their vision for the country has been given to them by God,” said Andrew Whitehead, professor of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
And according to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, “the conflation of Trump and Jesus was a common theme at the rally,” citing numerous rallying cries heard at the rallies that seemed to equate President Trump with Jesus Christ, as well as anecdotal interviews, including with one man who said that “Donald Trump is in the Bible.”
Opportunity for Reflection
From their statements, it's plain that many faith leaders were horrified by the events they saw playing out. But a question remains: what now?
Before the dust had settled, evangelist Beth Moore sparked a new debate, this one about the behavior of believers – and indeed the very nature of faith itself.
What are your thoughts?