The events of this past week weigh heavy on my heart, not only for the destruction and violence that took place, but for the way that many framed their actions with references to the cross and to Jesus. As Kimberly Winston reported,
- The Christian flag, an ecumenical white flag with a blue field and a red Latin cross, was carried by one rioter on to the floor of the House of Representatives even as guns were drawn to keep them out;
- At least two flags featuring the icthys, the outline of a fish adopted by early Christians;
- An American flag altered to read “Make America Godly Again” on its white stripes;
- A white flag with a green pine tree and the words “An Appeal to Heaven;”
- And blowing prominently in the foreground as the mob kicked in a Capitol door was a red, white and blue flag that proclaimed, “Jesus is my savior” and “Trump is my President” on either sides of an elongated American flag.
Armed with pipe bombs and firearms, these terrorists wrapped their efforts in Christianity and country, or, what is otherwise known as Christian nationalism. This amounts to a syncretistic form of faith, conflating the goals of the gospel with aspirations of a nation. But it’s more than that. Its not just a vision for a godly America. Christian Nationalism is a vision for the United States that is theocratic, patriarchal, and willing to violently defend an ideal that has never really existed except in the minds of some proponents.
The effects of Christian nationalism were on full display this week, and to anyone paying attention, it is nothing short of idolatry: the idolatry of a nation, the idolatry of a way of life, the idolatry of self, over and in distinct contrast to Jesus’ call to surrender and to lay down our lives and be willing to suffer for the sake of the kingdom. In short, the reality of a gospel-centered life and the ideas of Christian nationalism stand diametrically opposed to one another.
So, how do we overcome this corrupted version of the gospel so many have bought into and find our way back to the kind of sacrificial and humble servanthood that Christ calls us to? How do we rediscover the power of loving our neighbor and abandon the false power promised by political ideologies?
I have a few suggestions.
- Stop being afraid. I believe that fear is the number one driver of all this: Fear of losing our rights, fear of the United States slipping further into moral decay, fear of losing the power inherent in being in the majority, fear of an uncertain future. But fear should never be a primary quality of God’s people for it is the very antithesis of faith. If we truly believe in the sovereignty of God, if we believe in all His promises, if we believe in heaven, then we should know that this world is not our home and whatever we have here is already passing away whether we know it or not. It is all temporal. But it will also one day be made new. The longer we live in fear of what we might lose if things don’t go our way, the more militantly we fight for things we should have already surrendered to Christ.
- Practice the fruit of the Spirit. When I look at the church in the public square today, I often wonder, where is evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our public engagement? Where are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? We need to be a people who pray every day that these qualities above all others would be evident in our lives. For too many Christians today, these are absent. And before you say to yourself, “yeah, I know somebody who needs do a better job of this!”—ask yourself if you are doing a very good job of displaying these. I know I need to do better. If someone were to ask all of your friends and everyone you interact with on social media what qualities immediately come to mind when they think of you, would they list any of these? Would they say that your top qualities are love, joy peace, patience, gentleness? Or would they say that your chief qualities are combativeness, contentiousness, argumentativeness, divisiveness, and anger? It is time to repent and let go of our political talking points and stop defending our favorite politicians at all costs and start becoming the kind of people Christ by his Spirit wants to transform us into.
- Be more self-critical and acknowledge our mistakes. A handful of Christian leaders like Beth Moore, Russell Moore (no relation), Brian Fikkert, and a few others have steadily and constantly denounced Christian support of a President that we all knew from day one was morally bankrupt. But too many convinced themselves that it was worth it as long as he stood for the unborn, gave us conservative justices on the Supreme Court and defended religious liberty. Those who warned us told us that we would pay a price for embracing someone whose character was so deeply flawed. Republican Senator Lindsay Graham tweeted in 2016, “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed….and we will deserve it.” Yet, later, he became one of Trumps most constant supporters. The problem in all of this is that many within the church, just like Graham, convinced themselves that the ends justify the means. As long as we get what we want, it doesn’t matter how we get there. The folly of that decision played out on live TV this week in the horror show that unfolded on the US capitol. Now, instead of digging in our heals and piling folly on top of folly, lie on top of lie, its time to admit the errors we made, repent and pray that we will be more sensitive to God’s Spirit in the future. We need to admit when we are wrong.
- Be relentless in our pursuit of truth. What saddens me more than anything in all of this is that so many in the church are continuing to deny reality and floating more conspiracy theories and spreading more lies because they refuse to acknowledge that they made a mistake. We have to do better. We have to stop living in echo chambers in which we are only ever exposed to ideas we agree with. We have to consider that even those we support and voted for are not perfect and can be guilty of heinous crimes. We have to be so committed to the truth that we will follow it wherever it leads because to do otherwise is to abandon the Lordship of Christ, who Himself is the way, the truth, and the life.
- We need an encounter with God. We need to come together in humble repentance for our own sins and for the sins of our nation. We need to cry out to God from the very depths of our being that he would sanctify us and show us the error of our ways more clearly. We need the transforming power and presence of God to be manifest in such a powerful way that there is no chance that we walk away trusting in anything more than we trust in God.
I don’t write any of these things because I have any illusions that I have it all figured out or that I am somehow immune from these critiques. I too need to do better. But for the sake of the church, we have to figure this out. We cannot continue on the path that we are on if we want to reach the world for Christ. Our witness has suffered during the last 4 years because of the things we have lent our voices to and because of the things about which we have remained silent. And we cannot preach the gospel if we have been muted by our own sins. We cannot reach the lost with the hope of Christ if we place too much trust in political systems. We need to rediscover our prophetic bent and to do that we need to embrace the downward mobility of a life of service, surrender, and sacrifice. We need to decrease so that He may increase.