“We are Trump’s army. We are God’s army.”
America doesn’t need another statement decrying the actions that occurred in the Capitol building this week—we have words abundant, from politicians, pastors, prophets, and pundits of every stripe.
In the context of the last four years, Wednesday’s events – an attempt at an armed takeover of one of the core institutions of American democracy – shouldn’t come as a surprise. In one sense, and particularly for many Americans who don’t happen to be of European descent, the events that occurred this week are simply the latest example of a litany of horrors that began in 1619 when the first slave ship landed on North American shores. Because let’s be clear: this is white supremacy at work.
Let me speak directly to my fellow Christians: it’s not enough for well-meaning Christian people of either (or neither!) political party to cluck their tongues, long for a more peaceful day, wonder “why we can’t all just get along” as Jesus intended, and go about our business. And to my colleagues in the clergy (and to myself): it’s not enough for Christian preachers and pastors to get up into our pulpits on Sunday, preach a barn-burning fire-and-brimstone sermon denouncing the evils of white supremacy and white nationalism (or let’s call it what it is: Christian nationalism) and then sit down while our progressive members shout “Amen!” and feel like finally the Church is saying something. “Saying something” has gotten us nowhere.
So let me be as clear as I can, for those who are wondering where the Church stands on issues of terrorism, fear, and racially-motivated abuses of power, and for members of the larger public who may be listening in to hear what we have to say right now about Jesus (you know, that guy whose name was invoked on Wednesday on the signs, tattoos, and lips of many of the so-called “revolutionaries”): Christian Nationalism is a perversion, an infection, and an illegitimate hijacking of the Christian faith, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and the life, ministry and ongoing witness of Jesus Christ in the world.
I made a sacred promise at my ordination to the priesthood to uphold all these things, and it would be dereliction of duty and of my vows not to denounce Christian Nationalism in the strongest possible terms, not to stand against it with every fiber of my being. The very fact that the name of my Savior is being invoked by those who pledge allegiance to a reality TV star who refuses to let go of his office is a desecration of that Holy Name.
That desecration has been going on for a long time in this nation. President Trump is a symptom, not a cause: focusing this moment on him and his maneuvers is precisely what he wants, and risks dulling each of us to the real danger we are in and blinding us to its true source. Many Christians (I count myself among them) have tended to try to get along with our “right-wing” siblings of varying stripes. They are not our enemies, easily dismissed as “crazy people” out there who take to the streets and wield the signs—they are our fathers and mothers, our grandparents, our crazy Uncle Bills, our police officers, our Sunday School teachers and our friends.
Many of us grew up in homes that taught some soft—and often unwitting—version of this form of popular Christianity: the belief that Christianity is the “one true religion” of America, that God has a plan for this nation, and that that plan involves the policies and politics of the so-called religious right: whether that’s abortion, same-sex marriage, or an unshakable faith in American capitalism. Ex-Right Wingers like me know that this belief system lies at the heart of much of what we were taught about what it means to be a Christian, and in many ways, an American. Many of us are working to disentangle what it means to be white with what it means to follow Jesus – and we know that what happened on Wednesday in the Capitol Building is not an aberration or the actions of a few rotten apples from an ultimately healthy bushel. These so-called “Bible-believing Christians” are doing exactly what their churches have trained them to do. We know this because many of us were trained the same way. I certainly was.
I intend to repent and to make amends to those whom Christianity has hurt as a result of these toxic beliefs. Some of those individuals harmed by toxic Christianity are the very ones who invaded the Capitol Building on Wednesday. But all of us have been damaged by these pernicious teachings – perpetrators and victims of violence alike. And I want to go on record: people of faith—whether that’s faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ, or simply faith in American Democracy—should be alarmed, unsettled, angry, and vigilant in the months (and probably years) to come as this newest version of American heresy raises its head and gains traction. Our resistance cannot be passive, it must be active – and compassionate.
Our tradition is being stolen from us and handed to a lynch mob. Christian Nationalism is a cancer on the American soul, and if those who gathered at the President’s rally are to be believed, “this is the beginning of the second American Revolution.” I do not believe that to be the case – but I take the threat seriously, because I recognize where it comes from. I know that the only thing that will prevent further violence, insurrection, and chaos is if individuals and communities of faith stand up and refuse to let our traditions, our scriptures, our beliefs, and our families be further desecrated by the evil being practiced and preached in the name of Jesus Christ.
—The Very Rev’d Nathan LeRud, Dean
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland, OR