The attempted insurrection last week by white nationalists, many of them claiming allegiance to Christianity, has garnered more and better analysis than I can offer here (find links to some great articles at the end of this post). One thing that struck me as I watched the events unfold last Wednesday, I was struck by the pictures of crosses, a gallows and a noose.
I was also struck by the refrain from many, from President-elect Biden on down, that “this is not who we are.” Except, this is who we are. This point was illustrated by a photo Dr. Anthony Bradley shared on Twitter:
In this photo we see images of the mob from last week as well as a picture of KKK members a century ago, standing under a KKK banner. White Christians forming mobs and rioting in an effort to keep power – this is as much a part of our country’s history as anything else. Ibram X. Kendi made this point strongly in his article “Denial is the Heartbeat of America”.
In the week since the insurrection, we have heard religious and political leaders calling for unity. We have read and heard prominent Christians lament the violence our nation is experiencing.
Before we can get to reconciliation, we need repentance.
Have we seen the necessary first step of repentance?
The problem with many of those calling for unity and lamenting violence is that these are the very people who have led the way in drumming up fear and promoting a white Christian Nationalist view of America. You cannot call for reconciliation without first repenting of your role in the brokenness.
White Christian Nationalism is an aberrant and absolutely false form of Christianity. Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry define Christian Nationalism as “Christian nationalism is a cultural framework—a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems—that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life” (Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States). Christian Nationalism is also the dominant form of Christianity for millions of white American Christians.
White Christian Nationalism is a much greater threat to American Christianity than the other bogeymen we usually hear of such as Critical Race Theory. We often fear the wrong things. This reminds me of the constant warnings we heard growing up about “compromising our faith.” We were told to stay true to Jesus and resist the world and never compromise! Yet like in that old scary story, the killer was already in the house! Worried about compromise somewhere out there, we were blind to where we had already compromised. Christian Nationalism is quick to embrace violence in defense of the nation, totally ignoring Jesus’ clear nonviolent teaching. One leading Christian Nationalist pastor tweeted that he would be quick to grab his guns if he felt his rights were in danger. That’s not WWJD. Christian Nationalism combines a mythologized national past and a constant fear for the future. The mantra is: we have to fight for our nation, and our children, and use violence if necessary!
If we cannot admit the sins of our past, we cannot admit the sins of our present. And if we cannot repent of our sins now, we cannot reconcile.
A few days ago I was listening to The Pass the Mic podcast and one of the hosts, Tyler Burns, shared a story that was powerful and convicting. Once he was invited to preach at a mostly white church in the south. He was unsure how this congregation would receive his message about racism but, surprisingly, they were nodding along. It seemed they were open to his message. Between two of the services he had a conversation with a parishioner that led him to realize the members were nodding along because they thought the message was not about them. It was about someone else! I was convicted by the story because I know I am susceptible this. We hear a powerful sermon or a scripture and think, “this is so true; I wish my friend would hear this!”
We need to hear this.
We need to repent.
I did not share this story to convict you (though, I hope it does) as if I am not needing to hear it myself. This is a “we” thing, not a “you” thing. I need to repent.
Of course, I am also a pretty small fish. My prayer is that before more Christian leaders lament violence and call for unity, they would examine their own role in creating an environment where their followers would consider violence. I pray they would examine how their words have contributed to creating disunity.
Christian Nationalism does not leave room for repentance. When you believe there was some past time when everything was good, you can’t be critical of the past. The problem is always going to be someone else. Yet if we can move away from idolizing our nation and pretending we’re not like this, we can leave room to recognize and repent.
This sort of self-critical examination and repentance goes the whole way to the beginning of our faith. As St. Mark the Ascetic said way back in the 300s somewhere in the desert of Egypt: “When reading the Holy Scriptures, he who is humble and engaged in spiritual work will apply everything to himself and not to someone else” (Source: The Philokalia). Or we could reference Jesus himself and begin by taking the plank out of our own eyes.
Just an idea.
For Further Reading: