A day-after guest column in the evangelical magazine Christianity Today on the Jan. 6 riot when an angry mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building and tried to stop certification of the 2020 presidential election returns. That mob action brought into sharp focus several of the themes I’ve been trying to track in my “Swedes in Roger Williams’Garden” research.
As Williams maintained and the Trump supporters demonstrated (pun not intended, but unavoidable), when you mix religion and politics, you get politics.
It also has a succinct explanation of “Christian nationalism,” something I’d never heard of before Jan. 6, and its relation to Trump’s attempted insurrection: “The storming of the Capitol cannot be understood outside the heresy of Christian nationalism peddled by the likes of Josh Hawley, Franklin Graham, and Robert Jeffress; the unhinged apocalyptic Trump-worship of Eric Metaxas; the blasphemies of the Jericho March; and the millions of evangelicals who see Jesus as a means to ill-conceived ideas of American greatness.”
The column is by Tish Harrison Warren, a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, a breakaway group that left the Episcopal Church USA over hot-button issues like gay marriage and abortion, and the author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night. She writes:
While what happened at the Capitol yesterday is tragic, it is not surprising. For more than four years, Trump has shown that he is more than willing to say any lie, ignore any standard of decency, and bring any amount of violence and division to shore up his own power. Through manipulative disinformation, he incited an insurrection. Like Herod, he is happy to use religious leaders as pawns.
But sadly, in this anti-epiphany, the wise men are not so wise. They willingly comply. So for me, the worst part of yesterday’s insurrection is how it represents an utter failure in the American church. This anti-epiphany reveals the horrid outgrowths of Christian nationalism, faulty spiritual formation, false teaching, political idolatry, and overriding ignorance.
Though it saddens me deeply, it must be clearly admitted: Yesterday’s atrocity was in large part brought to us by the white, evangelical church in America.
An emaciated and malformed evangelical political theology got us where we are now. Jeffrey Goldberg describes the insurrection at the capitol as “chaos … rooted in psychological and theological phenomena, intensified by eschatological anxiety.” He tells how one protestor told him, “It’s all in the Bible … Everything is predicted. Donald Trump is in the Bible.” Goldberg continues, “The conflation of Trump and Jesus was a common theme at the rally. ‘Give it up if you believe in Jesus!’ a man yelled near me. People cheered. ‘Give it up if you believe in Donald Trump!’”
Harrison gives a bit of background and, more importantly, an evangelical perspective:
The responsibility of yesterday’s violence must be in part laid at the feet of those evangelical leaders who ushered in and applauded Trump’s presidency. It can also sadly be laid at the feet of the white American church more broadly.
The conflation of the Christian faith and Trumpism did not suddenly spring up in a vacuum four years ago. It arose through decades of poor catechesis and spiritual formation. Through false teaching that the American flag and the cross of Christ do not conflict. Through evangelical leaders who counted losing their souls a small price to pay for grasping political power. Through white supremacist assumptions that snaked their way into church pulpits and pews. And through the belief that the church exists not to show forth the light of Christ to all people but to Make America Great Again.
By contrast, Epiphany tells us of Jesus’ kingship over all the nations, and yesterday’s events show us what happens when we invert that message: Christian faith is used as a tool to prop up political power.
Citation. Tish Harrison Warren, “We Worship with the Magi, Not MAGA,” Christianity Today, Jan. 7, 2021 https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/january-web-only/trump-capitol-mob-election-politics-magi-not-maga.html.