I have taken on a distinctly negative view of the attack on the Capitol building on January 6, and I have not even been particularly civil about my denouncement of it. Don’t worry, I don’t intend to change that now.
Which is probably at least a little confusing to those who have known me for a long time. After all, I have never really been quiet about my displeasure at the United States government in general; I have, for some years now, held the view that the Constitution has run its course and we are well overdue to replace it with something better. I am libertarian in my calmest moments and rabidly anarchist in my worst. So why have I been so vocally opposed to this act of sedition? It certainly isn’t that I felt some sacred institution was under attack and required defense, frankly the description of Congress and the Constitution as ‘sacred’ makes me ill. It isn’t even sedition itself that I oppose — I am, generally, more or less neutral on that matter — but rather this specific attack that I oppose.
So, why? Well, briefly put, much of it is a theological difference. The same theological difference, in fact, that I have been arguing about at least as long as Trump has been a factor of discussion in American churches.
It’s really quite simple: the issues that drove people to attack the Capitol building in an attempt to stop the certification of Electoral College votes, as well as the affiliate demonstrations and attacks at state capitals, are generally lies. Not only are they lies, which is intolerable enough as it is, but they are lies that people defended on the grounds that they were doing God’s will and had His protection. Not only were they lies that people affiliated with the one true God, but they were actively serving an idolatrous worldview in the process of it.
That is to say, what was on display that day on televisions was an openly heretical movement that was being presented to the entire world as the face of Christianity.
And that, regardless of our political or even ecclesiastical positions, should be enough to make our blood boil.
Let’s review. Was the 2020 election unusual? Yes. There’s a global pandemic going on, and accommodations were made to increase safe access to voting. Frankly, the government should probably be more accommodating to voters, anyway. If we’re going to use a vote-based system, we need to let people vote. Anyway, it was unusual, and that is not in dispute. Was it fraudulent? No. Now, I understand wanting to verify that claim, which is why this election was repeatedly investigated at the state and federal levels, argued before judges, and recounted numerous times. And, in every single instance, the findings were the same: the election was handled fairly, there was no significant evidence of fraud, and Donald Trump lost.
So why did people keep insisting that the election was stolen? The only source for that claim, in the end, is Donald Trump himself and those close to him. So on one hand, we have literally all of the evidence the world has to offer, and on the other hand we have the claims of one man who happens to have a vested interest in the results going one specific way. And Christians all across the nation, people who sit in our churches and ‘amen’ our sermons and sing worship songs heartily every Sunday, sided with that man against reality. Not only did they side with that man, but they presented it as a necessary stance for Christians to take. We were told that God was with Trump and those who opposed him were fake Christians. We read post after post on social media spreading conspiracy theories in the name of keeping Christians informed about the wiles of the enemy. We watched as pastors prayed against the people who were certifying votes, in at least one well-circulated video going so far as to call down curses on election officials. We watched as people swarmed into the Capitol building with guns alongside their signs and shirts proclaiming themselves to be serving Christ. When social media sites began cracking down on the far right voices that encouraged or endorsed violence, we heard endless diatribes about how what was being silenced was Christianity.
Too many Christians have treated this as a holy war, marrying their faith to Trump and his hold on political power. This is syncretism, the joining of two different ideologies into one so that they are defined by one another. To use a more biblical term, this is idolatry, the act of elevating anything to a position only God can hold. What else can it be, when we use it to define the Christian life and parse reality? What else can we call it, when it has become all-consuming, a source of identity, a cause for which all stakes are welcome and all opposition must be condemned?
There were many legal and pragmatic issues with what I spent my day watching live on January 6. But what I saw, and continue to see through the silence of some and endorsement of others, is nothing less than a corrupted gospel playing out for all the world to see. The evangelical support of Trump, through everything he has said and done, up to and including sedition in his name, is a massive and unavoidable blemish on the face of the church that will haunt our every work for a generation at least. Those who have dragged the name of Christ through the mud to advance their political ends have hindered the work of that same Christ in the world, added barriers to the path of those who need to know Him, and condemned all our disciple-making efforts to unnecessary strain and opposition.
It is time to choose your master. You may denounce Christ, or you may denounce Trump, but you cannot hope to hold them both any longer. There is no room for idols in the church of Christ, and we can never again try to carve out a place for one.