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Tue. Mar 2nd, 2021

JANUARY 7, 2021 BY RUTH JACKSON

Like many, my news apps and social media feeds were dominated by one thing today: the US Capitol riots. But how have Christian leaders around the world responded to these violent scenes in Washington?

On Wednesday 6th January – Epiphany – Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, forcing the suspension of a joint session of Congress to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Protestors made it to the senate floor and it took the police almost four hours to secure the building. One protestor was shot dead inside the building and three others died from “medical emergencies” over the course of the protests, according to police.

World leaders respond

World leaders were quick to condemn the horror unfolding in Washington. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter:

“Disgraceful scenes in U.S. Congress. The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tweeted that “democracy should never be undone by a mob”.

In India, the world’s largest democracy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said:

“Distressed to see news about rioting and violence in Washington DC. Orderly and peaceful transfer of power must continue. The democratic process cannot be allowed to be subverted through unlawful protests.”

The events shocked America’s close ally and neighbour to its north. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to share his thoughts:

Trump, in a brief video posted on Twitter, empathized with the mob, maintaining it was a “fraudulent election”, but he did ask the protestors to go home. President-elect Joe Biden in brief remarks demanded “an end to this siege” and asked Trump to intervene to end the violence.

Capitol Christians respond

As pro-Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol,  Joe Biden’s campaign team hosted a prayer event, calling on God to heal the nation and bring peace. A number of prominent faith leaders were featured on the Zoom call, including author and activist Shane Claiborne, Rev Dr William Barber II and Hispanic evangelical leader, Rev Luis Cortés.

In a notice announcing the call, the Biden team quoted civil rights leader Martin Luther Jr:

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” 

During the call, Claiborne prayed for the fruit of the spirit to be upon the country at this tumultuous time, and asked God to forgive the rise of idolatry, nationalism and racism that has grown during the Trump years. He prayed that God would bring forward a new season of hope across the US:

“Purify our anger so that we will transform our country.”

Once President-elect Joe Biden’s victory was finally certified, Barry C. Black, the Senate chaplain, said a prayer in the chamber, acknowledging the violence and urging unity in the face of division:

“We deplore the desecration of the US capitol building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life and the quagmire of disfunction that threaten our democracy. These tragedies have reminded us that words matter and that the power of life and death is in the tongue…Lord, you have helped us to remember that we need to see in each other a common humanity that reflects your image.”

Church leaders respond

As the news unfolded, church leaders around the world also united in condemning the violent actions of the US Capitol Building protesters.

The Archbishop of Canterbury encouraged Christians to pray for the situation:

Mega-church pastor Rick Warren called the activities in the US capitol “anarchy” and urged godly leadership:

Evangelist Franklin Graham argued that the mob “had a right to protest”, but he did urge Christians to unite in prayer:

Pastor JD Greear, on the other hand, urged Christians to submit regardless of whether the election went the way people wanted it to:

In Jesus’ name?

One shocking thing about the protests were the numerous banners depicting Christian slogans, suggesting that the mob was somehow committing these atrocities in Jesus’ name. Church leaders were quick to point out that the Jesus being paraded around these awful scenes bears no resemblance to the Jesus they know and love.

Author and speaker Beth Moore took to Twitter to share her thoughts:

These violent protests raise an important, if terrifying, question: were Christians to blame for these atrocities?

Columnist Michael Gerson said this on Twitter:

The disturbing scenes we witnessed this Epiphany demonstrate the prevalent idolatry of nationalism within some wings of US Christianity and it alerted us to the grave dangers of Christian nationalism.

Author Jemar Tisby responded to the event with a thought-provoking tweet:

White supremacy?

Tragically, more disturbing undertones were at play than damaged Christian reputation. These riots demonstrated the disastrous inherent institutional racism, summed up by television host Joy Ann Reid on MSMBC:

“White Americans are never afraid of the cops. Even when they are committing insurrection.”

As many, including author Robert P. Jones, pointed out on Twitter, Christians have got to work harder to eliminate racism:

Return to Epiphany

The morning after the events at the Capitol building, the Anglican Bishop of Leeds in the UK, Nick Baines, shared some thoughts on BBC Radio 4. He reminded listeners that the Christian season of Epiphany recalls not just the journey of the wise men, but also the violence of King Herod:

“The romance of the Christmas card crib gives way to the brutal reality of powerful people who are driven by fear and not drawn by hope or love or mercy. According to this story – the one that has supposedly shaped those protestors carrying banners proclaiming ‘Jesus saves’ – strength and power have been powerfully reinterpreted in the scandal of a man on a cross. Not a man with a gun. This story challenges me to re-imagine what power looks like when coloured by love and mercy rather than entitlement and fear.” 

Epiphany reminds us that our God refused to remain distant, but came into our broken world as a vulnerable baby. He weeps over injustice, hatred and disunity and we should too.

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