January 6th, and the "Gospel" of Violence
One year removed from the darkest day in recent American history, we reflect upon on the social and spiritual implications of the devastating siege of the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters.
I had never wanted to own a gun in my life prior to January 6, 2021. I grew up in the urban north, where firearms were associated with crime. Yet on that day, I felt so helpless, so unsure of what could happen to my family, that I wished I had some means to protect them. Some may find it to be an overreaction, but I wager that my feelings were perfectly normal, and altogether justified. You see, I was raised by Southern Black people. Part of my upbringing included warnings from their past encounters with White rage. This is a reality of nearly every Black person I know, regardless of social context, so long as they are not assimilated into nationalistic thinking. We are taught how to navigate a system that we are not in control of, for our safety. So with that said, I’m well aware of what angry White people can do - and what I was watching that day lined up with the same mob mentality that fueled lynchings and other brutalities upon whoever was deemed the “enemy” throughout history.
Now at this point, you may be wondering, "Why is he talking about race? This is about the Capitol storming."
One thing you should know about me as a writer: I deal in narratives and social messaging. My goal is not to attempt the work of emulating textbook scholarship on every issue - there are books and smarter people for that. As for me, I aim to address the statements made by scenarios...and in our racialized society, many of these statements have racial undertones. Now let's talk about the power of White pride.
The unwavering commitment to the ideals of the Constitution are found primarily within White circles. Yes, there are many senators, civil servants, and military personnel of color who have sworn to uphold the principles of Old Glory. But historically speaking, these are adopted principles which these folks have chosen to take on, because they were not designed for us. There are no Founding Fathers of color. My people recieved a type of freedom through constitutional amendment, and fought for other civil rights by challenging America to uphold its original promises in a way that would expand rights to those whom there was never an original intention to benefit. As a result, America's core values are naturally embedded into the heritage of White people, not the rest of us. This place is seen as their birthright...which radicalizes those most attached to that worldview.
As a Black man, I generally have no paradigm for sedition, insurrection, or large-scale violence against the United States of America. In a recent podcast interview, I mentioned that I believe that this is largely due to the history of my people as being an oppressed community, who had (and have) no infrastructure with which to go to war with America. That's not to say that the US has nothing to answer to Black people for, or that our anger doesn't push us into damaging emotional places - on the contrary, the reparations due on multiple levels would upend society as we know it if ever put in place (and let us just take a moment to grieve that...Selah.) But despite our trauma and rage from what has happened to us, there has never been anything close to the actions of January 6th taken by my people, ever. Which is precisely why the consistent responses that I saw from our community on that day were, "We could never do this," or most commonly, "If these were Black folks, they'd be shot dead before they hit the doors."
Consider further the effects of the 9/11 attacks on our Muslim brothers and sisters (and if we’re being honest, on Brown folks from Muslim/Middle Eastern countries in general.) That day was the product of a strategic and vicious assault from a small group of wicked people, sanctioned by a radical leader, in a country across the ocean. The result was a call for war against several nations, the strictest protocols for air travel in the history of flight, and the top-down warning to “never forget,” so that nearly two decades after that incident, a ban to prevent this type of harm was instituted.
But when a strategic and vicious assault on the crux of American democracy was incited by a leader who was right here on our shores, with the majority of the participants in this terrorist attack being White, no statement was made about the dangers of White people or the radical nationalist ideas propagated by mainly White voices, and no White ban was instituted to resist further immigration of these people.Now, rest assured, I’m not saying that should have happened. What I am doing is comparing the extreme response to a handful of evildoers to the relative docility toward an unprecedented incursion on our electoral system. Among the most powerful privileges of within majority dynamics is that of individualism - namely that the actions of specific persons or even large groups do not serve as defining traits of their ethnic, or even racial group as a whole. The problem is not that we didn’t put an APB on White America after January 6th. The problem is that most don’t even consider what can take place when we lack a national systemic paradigm to even begin to hold wicked ideals and behaviors to account on a macro level if those actions occur at the hands of White people.
To another major point, the spiritual messaging of the Capitol Riots was plain as day to any believer with a modicum of discernment. Look at the glaring markers of syncretism between faith and nationalism on that day. Hear the prayer in the capitol thanking God for His role in the strike on a government building. Revisit the picture of a street preacher with a “Jesus Saves” sign. Listen to the references of these rioters as “patriots” by MAGA Christian rapper Bryson Gray, whose album “Can’t Cancel God” went #1 on the iTunes Gospel charts. Think of the message sent when preachers like Marcus Rogers, who at the time of this writing has 605,000 Youtube subscribers, are in attendance at the Trump rally. These are not minor circumstances, and they do not hold minor weight. Christian Nationalism preached a word on January 6th that held the attention of the unbelieving world in a way that the late Billy Graham never could.
Deeply intertwined within the traditional American ethos is the connection of divine authority to our government. From the passive understanding of the "Creator" mentioned in the Declaration of Independence as being God, to the formation of the Religious Right and Moral Majority in the last century, there is a belief held among the majority of what we now call Evangelicals that this country is God's country. There is something deeply wrong with America’s “gospel,” because unlike the true gospel, which places its focus on the redeeming power of Christ, it elevates the redemption of the world through our versions of democracy, capitalism, and military might. We hold our flags here like miniaturized Arks of the Covenant, symbols of our god, "Freedom." However, unlike YHWH, Freedom has to be defended...and that defense has all of the permission in the world to include violence. That violence is embraced and packaged into a false credo, which itself consistently hails the coming of false messiahs who will restore our land to its former prestige. Now what happens when the doctrine of the USA as your "promised land" meets the potential for you to lose your "Moses," i.e., Donald Trump?
January 6th happens.
The hope of Jesus is that His power has not ceased to flow through His people, regardless of what others do in His name. We are not without a chance to redeem our witness. But the only way that I see that happening is for us to refuse to associate national pride with our Christ any further. There cannot be a sharing of Old Glory with the Shekinah glory. There cannot be a tolerance for Evangelical conventions which rehash the same anti-abortion talking points without compassion, who form witch hunts over what they throw into the junk drawer terminology of "Critical Race Theory," but maintain relative silence over the most public shaming of Jesus' reputation since the Jim Crow era. There must be change. I believe that change is coming. I think it will be painful. I also think it may draw more to the real Jesus than ever before. Regardless, the line in the sand must be drawn. Pastors, don't gloss over this in your Sunday sermons. Be prophets of the truth. We've gone decades upon centuries, building gods in our image, and expecting the real God to bless them, and to bless us while we build a country that praises our name. That heresy met a fever pitch last year. It is our duty as the hands and feet of Jesus to raise up a new standard.
"I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them."
Isaiah 42:8-10 (NRSV)