On the calendar of Christian worship, January 6 is Epiphany; it is a day to acknowledge that Jesus is the in-the-flesh manifestation of God’s dreams for the world and to celebrate that he is an embodied revelation of the Divine’s unifying and healing love.
In the history of the United States, January 6, 2021 was a violent eruption of a recurrent nightmare: white people, many of them fueled by a version of “christianity” that minimizes or marginalizes or maligns the ways of Jesus, enacted the nightmare of white supremacy: the insidious idea that white people, particularly white men, have a right, encoded somehow in their nature and inscribed functionally, even if no longer legally, in the institutions of this nation.
Some of the rioters carried crosses, “Jesus Saves” banners, and Bibles. Some sang hymns and prayed for God’s blessing on and vindication of their cause. There was at least one Confederate battle flag, symbol of a seditious and secessionist movement in defense of chattel slavery, a defense that many southern theologians helped to rationalize.
Among the rioters were people who believed, because their pastors taught them to do so, that Donald J. Trump is central to the plan of God for this country. They had listened to preachers who told them that God had anointed Mr. Trump to him to play a Messiah-like role in the liberation of Christians from “secularism” and “liberalism,” much as the Persian king Cyrus had been a divine instrument to set God’s covenant-people free from captivity in Babylon. Those religious leaders are, in my view, guilty of malpractice.
People were there for many reasons. Perhaps some had come for a protest and demonstration against election results they fervently believed, without evidence, to be fraudulent, and they got caught-up in the fever of the moment; but they still went along and became part of a mob. Clearly, though, many of the rioters were there to storm the Capitol as an attack on democracy since, if democracy succeeds, supremacy fails. There is abundant evidence of advance planning and inside knowledge.
At a “Save America Rally” before the assault on the Capitol, Rudy Giuliani called for “trial by combat,” and Mr. Trump said: “We fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country any more. . .. So, we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give . . . our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” In the context of the rally and the climate of the day, such words are incitements to violence.
For a long time, I’ve not been surprised by Mr. Trump’s deceit, cruelty, and narcissism. Angered and grieved, yes, but not surprised. His Republican enablers frustrate me, but I’ve learned that, with a few notable and admirable exceptions, elected Republicans will defend the indefensible out of, for the most part, fear of Trump’s reprisals.
I’ve been, and am, very troubled–dismayed, disturbed, and disillusioned–by the numbers of (white evangelical) Christian leaders who have convinced themselves that the ways of Trump are consistent with the ways of Jesus. It saddens me to see the Good News of salvation and liberation and God’s purposes of a healed creation and a beloved community get lost to the temptations of political power.
On Epiphany, the church listens to the story of the “wise men” who travel a long distance to visit the child Jesus so that they could honor him as a “king” who would be different from the harsh and oppressive Roman Emperors and their officials. Jesus would practice the ways of love, justice, peace, and nonviolent resistance to the Powers. Herod tried to use the wise men to get information from them about where to find Jesus. Herod wanted to murder Jesus–to eliminate a rival. The wise men were warned in a dream to go home by “another way,” a way that avoided Herod.
On January 6, 2021, people who believed themselves to be honoring Jesus colluded with Herod for his purposes.
There is another way: the way of, with, and (back) to Jesus.