The legacy of white evangelicalism is fused with nationalism and white supremacy. That was true before but it’s near impossible to miss right now. The coup attempt on the Capitol last week, with Jesus banners in seemingly every crowd shot, solidified that fact.
Writing for the New York Times, Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham explain the toxic mix:
Before self-proclaimed members of the far-right group the Proud Boys marched toward the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, they stopped to kneel in the street and prayed in the name of Jesus.
The group, whose participants have espoused misogynistic and anti-immigrant views, prayed for God to bring “reformation and revival.” They gave thanks for “the wonderful nation we’ve all been blessed to be in.” They asked God for the restoration of their “value systems,” and for the “courage and strength to both represent you and represent our culture well.” And they invoked the divine protection for what was to come.
The presence of Christian rituals, symbols and language was unmistakable on Wednesday in Washington. There was a mock campaign banner, “Jesus 2020,” in blue and red; an “Armor of God” patch on a man’s fatigues; a white cross declaring “Trump won” in all capitals. All of this was interspersed with allusions to QAnon conspiracy theories, Confederate flags and anti-Semitic T-shirts.
This group may be to Christianity what the terrorists of 9/11 are to Islam — a radical fringe — but it’s a very real and very potent branch of the faith. Christians don’t get the luxury of disavowing it simply because its very existence is embarrassing when many of their own churches have perpetuated the misinformation and Trump-as-Savior mythology that led to the insurrection.
In other words, this Christian Nationalist theology didn’t come out of nowhere. For many, it was learned in churches. And many Christians let it go unchecked in the name of “unity.” They began treating Trump as their true savior — the man they were to lay down their lives for.
These rioters were Christians, like it or not. They were sincere in their faith. The question now is how churches will respond: Sure, most leaders have openly denounced the violence, but will they make any serious moves to push their congregations away from the lies that led to the riots?
There is no room for violence in the Sermon on the Mount. Patriotism is never mentioned as a “fruit of the spirit.” If Jesus’ death, and the deaths of his disciples, suggests anything, it’s this: Sometimes being a good Christian means being a bad Roman — or in this case, a bad American. It means standing up to a corrupt government, not enabling it.
Trump has already destroyed his brand. He may have destroyed the Republican Party for generations. Christians will have to decide whether they want to go down with them.
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