I watched the events of Wednesday with some combination of shock at the surreal images I was seeing and a complete lack of surprise that this was happening. John the Baptist, in his ministry that preceded the public emergence of Jesus, said this to his nation, "Bear fruit worthy of repentance, the axe is already laying at the root of the tree." It is important in these sorts of moments that we speak clearly about what is at the root. In my view, the seeds of what transpired at the Capitol on Wednesday have been flowering for generations and in our own time have been watered through a continuous disinformation campaign merging vague Christian language with a nationalistic agenda, insidious white supremacy, and the hyper-reactivity of social media.
To come out and say that in response to this week's events that "violence is wrong" is, of course correct in a sense, but it falls short of identifying the root of the Christian idolatry of America that takes the name of Jesus in vain that sustains these actions. To proclaim, in response to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor (among so, so many others) that "racism is wrong" is of course correct in a sense but it falls short of identifying the poison root of white supremacy that is the subterranean ideology feeding so many of the systems in our culture. To try and argue "both sides" or to ask the question "what about when the other side does this" is relativistic, an abdication of truth. The truth is available to us, the truth is a person, Jesus of Nazareth (John 14v6), and he has made his ways and his life known to us.
So what do we do in these types of moments? How do we respond in days such as our own? What does it mean to tell the truth?
1. Pray: On Wednesday evening, several Ecclesians gathered to cry out to God, to stand in the gap on behalf of the darkness that seems to be thickening over our nation. News media can often be unhelpful to us because it is a way of seeing all without an accompanying agency to act. Prayer is our invitation to act in the world. Prayer gives us access to God's heart, his ways, and his power. Prayer is asking God to do in the world what we cannot forge on our own. We finished our time of prayer with the Lord's prayer. The words that Jesus taught us to pray are as vibrant and vital as ever and I invite you to hold them dear and to pray them fervently over the coming months:
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.
2. Remember Your Baptism:
In baptism, we transfer our allegiance from the empire of sin and death to the eternal kingdom of Jesus (Romans 6). We are "citizens of heaven" and our hope is in Christ (Philippians 3v20). We are also united across racial, socioeconomic, and yes, even political lines as a new humanity (Galatians 3; Ephesians 2), a temple of the living God (1 Peter 2v5). Our first commitment is to Jesus and to one another (the Church). When we know our primary identity and our primary story, it reframes the events of the present and it helps us to know what to do next.
I like to think I am the last person who has participated in the nationalism that takes Christ's name in vain. I would like to think that I have never used my life to serve white supremacy or have not been deceived. I would like to look at the terrorists who stormed the capitol yesterday and say, "See, those are the bad people in our world, they are the one's who must repent." Yes, I would like to think all of these things and rest comfortably in my own superiority but that would of course make me as prideful and crooked as those I so easily deride. John the Baptist's command to repent goes out to all of Israel. We never run out of need for repentance and here's the beauty, God never runs out grace. The Lord's Prayer (above) starts not with "forgive others" but "forgive us our trespasses." We must repent of our own sins and allow the Spirit of God to transform our hearts.
4. Speak Clearly
Just because we need to repent does not mean that we need to be timid about speaking the truth and calling out evil. I have encouraged you to identify the root of the evil that manifested itself on Wednesday and in other instances. Jesus, in Mark 5, encounters a man possessed by what turns out to be a whole host of demons. Before Jesus casts out the demons, he asks their name. "Legion" the dark powers reply, "for we are many." Jesus then casts out the demon, healing the man. Our bleeding world needs a church that is humble in repentance and bold in the face of evil, able to ask the names of the poison roots of our society, identify them, and to get rid of them. We can call nationalism that appropriates Christian terms, white supremacy, and blatant disinformation evil, because we have the "spirit of truth" (John 16v13).
5. Don't Lose Heart
Come what may, we are the people of the resurrected Jesus. We take heart not in nations, or stability, or comfort, or prosperity but in the one who has overcome the world (John 16v33) through suffering love on a cross. We have hope in Jesus. He will be our shield, our guide, and our shepherd. Let us be a people together who live out this hope.
Grace and peace to you,