Yesterday was the day after one of the darkest days most of us have faced as a people. As a nation. I woke with the fleeting realization that the world didn’t dissolve overnight, and I mentioned that as an off the cuff remark to my husband as I said hello. Much of the day was spent reading and talking and thinking through the events of Wednesday afternoon, trying to piece it all together and understand. And at the end of the day, I retired with a sadness for our country that I haven’t felt until now. Once again coming to terms with the fact that all we’ve held to be true of America, of Americans, could be destroyed from within. The renewed understanding that what we hold to be the reality of living in a democratic, free society, is tenuous, and it depends greatly upon us. Me. The people who live here. Yes, the sun rose and the sun set. The Lord upheld the universe by the word of his power, as he has done and will do until his return. But some days are more weighty than others and yesterday was that day.
This morning, I read an article discussing the aftermath of the events at the Capitol. It was one of several articles I’ve read over the past two days, but this one showed a photo of a car leaving town. The passenger was holding a sign that stated “Vote Biblically: Biblically voting allows God in your tomorrow!” Similar pictures have littered my newsfeed over the past couple of days, making it clear that Christians were very much present and a part of the rally turned riot there. Crosses being carried. Bibles and signs displayed. A Jesus 2020 banner. Each one causing me to wonder what good would come out of Christian involvement and admittedly disagreeing there was good to be had at all. But that car leaving. Those people leaving. Seeing that made me wonder again: How is it that we got here? To his place where the people did vote. And their candidate lost. And they refuse to accept it. Millions of people, many of whom profess faith in Christ, absolutely refuse to accept it.
How did we get here? The questions were asked, and rightfully so. The lawsuits were filed and ruled upon. Voting machines called into question. Votes recounted and recounted again. Yes, fraud was uncovered, much like any other election, but certainly not enough to make a difference in the outcome. Yet, two months later, here we are. I’m not interested in hashing through what’s already been discussed. I’d rather delve into the why behind the what, for it is the why that will either lead us further down the road of division or lead us to a place of reconciliation. And that is what we desperately need right now. Peace. As long as it depends upon us, especially as it depends upon us who call ourselves the followers of the Prince of Peace.
Of course, the why is quite complicated and more involved than I could parse out completely over the course of a lifetime, much less here and now. But in thinking through these issues over the past year, I think there are several factors that have led to Christians supporting President Trump to the extent that led to the events at the Capitol this week. To be clear, I’m not talking about all Christians who voted for him to be their President. I’m not even talking about all Christians involved in the rally as some were most likely there to simply voice their desire for democracy to be upheld, whether I agree with the avenue of doing that or not. And I’m certainly not saying the Christians who were there were involved in criminal activity. However, I am interested in discussing those who were there to “stop the steal”. Those who refuse to believe Trump is not their President. I’m referring to those who are part of a Cult of Personality or Christian Nationalism or whatever your preferred terms are to describe what we’re seeing in our culture today and what was vividly on display at the Capitol this week.
Although each of the reasons why can stand on its own, they really tend to meld together, making it difficult to delineate where one might start and the other end or where one might be the cause and the other the effect. But I think they are all part of Christianity in America today, specifically conservative, Evangelical Christianity (which is how I would personally identify), and I think they are all deadly to the Church of Jesus Christ.
Hate divides us from them. Hate is the left vs. the right. Evil vs. Righteous or the other way around depending on your personal beliefs. Hate sees groups, not people. Hate sees political parties, not individual politicians. Hate causes us to close our ears and our minds to anyone or anything that does not agree with our ideologies. It chastises someone else for watching or reading a news source not left or right enough. It finds faults in political leaders or pastors or former friends, and deems them unworthy. Hate causes people to riot, to break into a building, to assault a police officer, and to cause terror to everyone else who is rightfully there. Hate has no regard for any other human being’s mental, emotional or physical state; it simply wants what the hater wants. Hate kills everything good.
Christians should have no part in hate and yet Christians harbor it just as much as anyone else. If left unchecked, it destroys the heart of the one who bears it, just as it destroys the recipients of it. We have no way of knowing the religious professions of everyone involved in the riot, and we have no way of knowing what their heart motivations were for being there. But Christians are required to examine their hearts and where hate is found, repentance must follow. Before it ruins us and our witness to a needy world.
Fear paralyzes us. It blinds us. It makes us unable or unwilling to see a way out or a way forward, other than the way we’ve chosen for ourselves. Fear feeds our anxieties until they take control of our reality, making us act and react in ways that are illogical and irrational. Fear pervades our thoughts, our emotions, and our physical bodies as well. It makes us hold onto people and things rather than letting them go. It makes us believe theories and ideas that are not based in reality, but offer us the safety we crave.
Like hate, Christians should have no part in fear. We have an entire book of God’s Word that tells us over and over again not to fear. And yet, we do. We give into it in thinking we cannot survive if our government is not comprised of the leaders we’ve chosen. It leads us to believe our personal freedoms are tethered to our faith. If we lose one, we lose both. Or worse, that our freedoms are more important than what we have in Christ.
Pride is love of self. For a Christian specifically, it is love of self over love of God. Pride tells us our choices are good. Our beliefs are right. Our desires are true. Even in the midst of overwhelming evidence they’re not. Pride deceives. It puffs up and puts down. Pride separates us, from each other and from a holy God.
American Christians are especially prideful. Perhaps that is a natural outpouring of abundance and opportunity. We depend upon ourselves. We pull ourselves up from our bootstraps and we work hard, make money, and live comfortable lives. We even save ourselves in most Christian belief systems. We don’t like to be told what to think or whether our thinking is Biblical, much less lucid. We don’t want to be confronted with our sin and told we need to turn from it. We think we’re relatively good, at least better than many others, and that’s good enough.
Pride is death to a Christian. It kills our ability to see who God is and who we are in relation to him. And yet, we hold onto it even though it will lead to our fall. Guaranteed.
Idolatry places someone or something above God. It loves countries. It loves leaders. It loves money. It loves comfort and prosperity and recreation and relaxation. It loves freedom and liberty. It loves health. Idolatry takes good things, as are all of these, and makes them into our gods. It makes us place our hope in objects, in others, in ideas, in ideals. Idolatry controls our hearts, our minds, our emotions. It twists our affections, turning us into people who protect our idols at all costs. Blinding us to all the ways those idols are controlling us, eating away at our love for our true God, little by little, bit by bit. Idolatry ensnares us, depletes our faith, and ultimately ruins us from within.
Despite God’s commands to refrain from loving anyone or anything more than Him, Christians are no more and no less idolatrous than everyone else. It leads some of us to searching for truth, beyond the limits of what can be known, or reveling in secret truth that can only be found by a few. Idolatry leads believers to desire an earthly king, an earthly ruler, to deliver them from their earthly misery, discomfort, poverty, or any number of other lots in life they have been dealt. Any number of things given to us by a God who is more concerned about our holiness than our happiness, as so many wise theologians have said.
Perhaps the foundation of the why, the part that undergirds all of the rest, is the neglect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For decades, over a century in fact, the American church has been more concerned about raising up Americans than it has Christians. We’ve been told our legacy is rich in this country; that we were given this land of prosperity and we have been promised good. We have been sold a lie by Christian leaders who conflate God’s promised land and God’s chosen people with a country and its citizens. The flag of the United States stands next to the cross of Jesus Christ in many sanctuaries. Pastors are preaching politics from many pulpits. And patriotic songs are sung right along with hymns on national holidays.
The Gospel says otherwise. It says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It says all must repent and trust in Jesus as their Savior. The one who lived the perfect life, took our sin upon himself on the cross, and rose again to defeat the death we deserved. It says we will be reconciled to God through Christ alone. And that promise is open to all who believe. From every nationality and every nation on this planet.
America is a great nation and yet, one day, it will cease to exist like all great nations before us and ahead of us. Christians who put country ahead of Christ are showing the world images of their savior that are anything but sweet. On Wednesday, the world saw a mob of people rallied around a single cause: Trump. They saw images of a large wooden cross, people carrying Bibles, political signs imploring others to vote Biblically, the confederate flag, large wooden gallows with a noose attached, Trump flags, Q-Anon shirts, MAGA hats. And they made no distinction. To them, all of those images are wretched. Examples of something they understandably despise.
As Christians, we are called to a higher standard. Not a perfect standard, but a standard that desires to point others to Christ, not away from Him. We are called to love others. To strive to understand them. To be people of reason, logic, rational thought, and integrity. We are called away from hate, fear, pride and idolatry. To the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To building up his church and living in light of eternity.