Evangelical apologist Michael Brown wants the world to know that it wasn’t Jesus-loving Evangelicals that fomented insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Ignore the Evangelical rally that preceded the insurrection. Ignore the incendiary words for months by prominent Evangelical leaders, preachers, and writers. Ignore the Jesus flags, crosses, and Christian apparel. Ignore the Christian music that wafted across the concourse. Ignore the social media posts from Evangelicals who proudly shouted, I WAS THERE! Brown wants everyone to know that the violent, murderous insurrectionists were not real Evangelicals. This was not, according to Brown, a Christian insurrection.
David French calls bullshit on Brown’s disingenuous, facts-challenged denial. (And Brown ignores his own culpability in stoking the flames of Trumpism over the past four years.)
We have to be clear about what happened in Washington D.C. on January 6th. A violent Christian insurrection invaded and occupied the Capitol.
Why do I say this was a Christian insurrection? Because so very many of the protesters told us they were Christian, as loudly and clearly as they could.
I saw much of it with my own eyes. There was a giant wooden cross outside the Capitol. “Jesus saves” signs and other Christian signs were sprinkled through the crowd. I watched a man carry a Christian flag into an evacuated legislative chamber.
I could go on and on. My colleague Audrey Fahlberg was present at the riot, and she told me that Christian music was blaring from the loudspeakers late in the afternoon of the takeover. And don’t forget, this attack occurred days after the so-called Jericho March, an event explicitly filled with Christian-nationalist rhetoric so unhinged that I warned on December 13 that it embodied “a form of fanaticism that can lead to deadly violence.”
Are you still not convinced that it’s fair to call this a Christian insurrection? I would bet that most of my readers would instantly label the exact same event Islamic terrorism if Islamic symbols filled the crowd, if Islamic music played in the loudspeakers, and if members of the crowd shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they charged the Capitol.
If that happened conservative Christians would erupt in volcanic anger. We’d turn to the Muslim community and cry out, “Do something about this!” How do I know we’d respond in that manner? Because that’s what we’ve done, year after year, before and after 9/11. And while there were many times when Christians painted the Muslim world with an overly-broad bigoted brush, it is true that violent insurrections do not spring forth from healthy communities.
That’s true abroad, and it’s true at home. During this summer’s riots, I wrote multiple posts detailing the extraordinary difficulty in quelling urban unrest once violence starts. Sometimes the unhealthy community is suffering from the effects of systemic injustice. Sometimes it’s dominated by outrageous and unreasonable grievances. Sometimes it’s infested with unhealthy fears and grotesque ambitions. Often there’s a combination of all these factors in play. But the violence always has a cause.
The problem is that all too many Christians are in the grips of two sets of lies. We’ll call them the enabling lies and the activating lies. And unless you deal with the enabling lies, the activating lies will constantly pollute the body politic and continue to spawn violent unrest.
What’s the difference between the two kinds of lies? The enabling lie is the lie that makes you fertile ground for the activating lie that actually motivates a person to charge a thin blue line at the Capitol or take a rifle to a pizza parlor.
Here’s another enabling lie: The fate of the church is at stake if Joe Biden wins.
And here’s yet another: The left hates you (this sentence sometimes concludes with the phrase “and wants you dead.”)
I could go on, but the enabling lies that have rocketed through the church for years share important characteristics. They not only dramatically exaggerate the stakes of our political and legal disputes, they dramatically exaggerate the perfidy of your opponents. Moreover, when the stakes are deemed to be that high, the moral limitations on your response start to fall away.
After all, when people believe our national destiny hangs in the balance, they often respond accordingly. Or, as I said in a December 4 newsletter warning about potential violence, “if you argue that the very existence of the country is at stake, don’t be surprised if people start to act as if the very existence of the country is at stake.”
And so the enabling lies spread. They poison hearts. They poison minds. They fill you with rage and hate, until along comes the activating lie, the dangerous falsehood that pushes a person towards true radicalism. How does a person come to the conclusion that cannibal pedophiles dominate Hollywood? Or that a vast conspiracy of politicians, lawyers, journalists, and tech executives (including conservative politicians, lawyers, and journalists) brazenly stole a presidential election?
You believe that when you know your enemy is evil. You believe that when you know they will destroy the country. In that context, fact-checks and rebuttals aren’t just wrong, they’re naïve. All too often, when you’re arguing with the person who believes the activating lie—the falsehood that immediately motivated them to take to the street—then you’ve already lost.
If the church plays whack-a-mole against Q and Stop the Steal while it tolerates and spreads enabling lies, expect to see the insurrection continue. Expect to see it grow. After all, “they” hate us. “They” will destroy the country. “They” will stop at nothing to see the church fall.
Rebutting enabling lies does not mean whitewashing the opposition. It does not mean surrendering your values or failing to resist destructive ideas. It does mean discerning the difference between a problem and a crisis, between an aberration and an example. And it means possessing the humility to admit when you’re wrong. It means understanding that no emergency is ever too great to stop loving your enemies and blessing those who persecute you.
And the rebuttal has to come from within. The New York Times isn’t going to break this fever. Vox won’t change many right-wing minds. But courageous Christians who love Christ and His church have a chance.
While I do not agree with everything French writes in his article, his central premise rings true. Central to the events of January 6, 2021 is American Evangelical Christianity.
Emma Green describes the connection between Evangelicalism (and Conservative Catholicism) and the insurrection in an Atlantic article titled, A Christian Insurrection.
The name of God was everywhere during Wednesday’s insurrection against the American government. The mob carried signs and flag declaring Jesus saves! and God, Guns & Guts Made America, Let’s Keep All Three. Some were participants in the Jericho March, a gathering of Christians to “pray, march, fast, and rally for election integrity.” After calling on God to “save the republic” during rallies at state capitols and in D.C. over the past two months, the marchers returned to Washington with flourish. On the National Mall, one man waved the flag of Israel above a sign begging passersby to Say Yes to Jesus. “Shout if you love Jesus!” someone yelled, and the crowd cheered. “Shout if you love Trump!” The crowd cheered louder. The group’s name is drawn from the biblical story of Jericho, “a city of false gods and corruption,” the march’s website says. Just as God instructed Joshua to march around Jericho seven times with priests blowing trumpets, Christians gathered in D.C., blowing shofars, the ram’s horn typically used in Jewish worship, to banish the “darkness of election fraud” and ensure that “the walls of corruption crumble.”
The Jericho March is evidence that Donald Trump has bent elements of American Christianity to his will, and that many Christians have obligingly remade their faith in his image. Defiant masses literally broke down the walls of government, some believing they were marching under Jesus’s banner to implement God’s will to keep Trump in the White House. The group’s co-founders are essentially unknown in the organized Christian world. Robert Weaver, an evangelical Oklahoma insurance salesman, was nominated by Trump to lead the Indian Health Service but withdrew after The Wall Street Journal reported that he misrepresented his qualifications. Arina Grossu, who is Catholic, recently worked as a contract communications adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services. (Weaver and Grossu declined to comment. “Jericho March denounces any and all acts of violence and destruction, including any that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021,” a PR spokesperson for the March wrote to me in an email after the publication of this article.) Still, they will have far more influence in shaping the reputation of Christianity for the outside world than many denominational giants: They helped stage a stunning effort to circumvent the 2020 election, all in the name of their faith. White evangelicals, in particular, overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016 and 2020. Some of these supporters participated in the attack on the Capitol on Wednesday. But many in the country hold all Trump voters responsible—especially those who lent him the moral authority of their faith.
“This is bigger than one election,” Grossu says on the Jericho March website. “This is about protecting free and fair elections for the future and saving America from tyranny.” Paranoid thinking abounded among the protesters in D.C.; the QAnon conspiracy has circulated within some evangelical circles. On Wednesday, the Jericho March account tweeted a screenshot of Trump condemning Vice President Mike Pence for not stopping the certification of the Electoral College votes. “A sad day in America,” it said, along with prayer-hands emojis. The march organizers were not mourning the attack on the Capitol. They were mourning the vice president’s refusal to help the president overturn the election.
Were all the insurrectionists Evangelicals? Of course not. That said, Evangelicalism was on prominent display, and those of us who have been following and writing about Evangelicalism for years knew that the baby birthed on January 6th was conceived decades ago in the rhetoric of Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and the Moral Majority. Over time, culture warriors dropped all pretenses of spirituality, trading their Biblical beliefs for a bowl of political power. In 2016, 82% of voting White Evangelicals voted for an immoral, godless New York con-man named Donald Trump. In 2020, most white Evangelicals — knowing all they now know about Trump — voted once again for him.
Early in Trump’s presidency, Evangelicals tried to convince the American people that Trump was a Christian. James Dobson called the President a “baby Christian.” Trump gathered together prominent Evangelicals — led by crazed charismatic Paula White — and presented them as his “spiritual” advisory board. These preachers sold their souls for bowls of pottage. Trump, of course, was using them for political gain. He knew he needed Evangelicals to vote for him again if he hoped to win re-election.
Evangelicals have pretty much given up on calling Trump a Christian. All that mattered to them is that Trump delivered culture war victories on issues such as abortion and restoring Evangelicals to the head of the cultural table. Decades of separation of church & state progress went out the window, with Christianity being granted unprecedented access to government services and programs. Numerous federal agencies and cabinet positions were headed by Evangelicals and Conservative Catholics.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 vote, voted to require:
a pill used in medication abortions must be distributed to patients directly by health providers and not by retail or mail-order pharmacies. A lower court temporarily suspended this requirement during the pandemic; the Supreme Court’s decision effectively reinstates the requirement.
Thanks to Trump, the Supreme Court now has a solid conservative Christian majority. It is likely, that the Roberts court will, in time, overturn Roe v. Wade — fulfilling the wet dream of millions and millions of Evangelicals, Mormons, and Catholics. We can also expect to see frontal assaults on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. Trump may have lost the election, but he’s given Evangelicals historic victories in the culture war; victories that will negatively affect us for decades.
It should come as no surprise, then, that millions of Evangelicals who recently voted for Trump believe that the election was stolen from Trump; that the “deep state” is out to destroy all they hold dear. While they certainly weren’t the sum of the insurrectionists, they made up a substantial percentage of the white Americans who stormed the Capitol eight days ago. Apologists such as Brown are living in denial of what happened on January 6th. And until such men and women are willing to admit that they are a cancer eating away at the heart of our democracy, there can be no forgiveness or unity. I find it laughable to hear Evangelicals who encouraged sedition now calling on Democrats and people of color to ignore their treasonous behavior and unify with them for the “good” of our Republic.
What’s good for the United States is the arrest and prosecution of those who invaded the Capitol. Hundreds and hundreds of prosecutions should be forthcoming. Members of Congress that helped foment the insurrection should be immediately expelled, and, if warranted, prosecuted. Many of the shrillest voices promoting conspiracies in the Senate and House of Representatives were card-carrying Evangelicals. Ted Cruz? A Southern Baptist. Josh Hawley? A Fundamentalist Calvinist. Evangelicals are everywhere if you dare to pay attention.
There was a day when the religion of a politician was off-limits. We can no longer afford to ignore the connection between theological beliefs and political ambition. Josh Hawley, for example, is a Rousas Rushdoony-loving theocrat. His theological beliefs are a direct threat to our Democracy. And he is not the only Senator or Representative with such beliefs. We must not play nice with such people, all because we supposedly shouldn’t criticize the religious beliefs of others. Their beliefs are fair game, as are the beliefs of all of us. If beliefs affect how we think and act, should we not pay attention to them? After the events of January 6th, the answer to this question should be obvious.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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