We greet a new U.S. president and vice president today, and as we do we should be looking forward to a restoration of civility, of the rule of law, of basic human decency in the White House.
But we can't simply walk away from the four-year dumpster fire that constituted the Trump presidency and especially not from the last few weeks that included the 1/6 terrorist attack on the nation's Capitol. It's important that we understand who was behind this national disgrace -- besides Trump himself -- and especially what role some people of faith played in getting us to this terrible spot in our history.
So let's consider several columns and articles today that attempt to explore that question, starting with this analysis in the Jesuit magazine America by Fr. James Martin.
Martin offers a fairly lengthy series of examples of what some Catholic leaders were saying that contributed to the upheaval and division in the U.S. These examples, he writes, "were part of a pattern of messages from bishops and priests casting the election not only in terms of pure good versus pure evil but in apocalyptic language."
And he asks this: "Can anyone doubt that the moral calculus proposed by some Christian leaders, including Catholic priests and bishops, framed in the language of pure good versus pure evil, contributed to the presence of so many rioters brandishing overtly Christian symbols as they carried out their violence?"
The problem is, of course, that despite overwhelming evidence of what Martin just wrote, lots of delusional Americans doubt it and continue to confuse patriotism with faith.
Next, let's look at this analysis from a professor of sociology at Biola University, Brad Christerson. He argues that "a particular segment of white evangelicalism that my colleague Richard Flory and I call Independent Network Charismatic, or INC, has played a unique role in providing a spiritual justification for the movement to overturn the election which resulted in the storming of the Capitol. INC Christianity is a group of high-profile independent leaders who are detached from any formal denomination and cooperate with one another in loose networks."
There is much that the 81 percent of white Christian evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016 (and the huge majority that continued to support him in the 2020 election) have to explain and atone for. But there are also radical evangelicals such as a coalition known as the Jericho March that Christerson says was "formed after the 2020 presidential election with the goal of overturning its results." And that faith-based coalition clearly contributed to the insurrection of 1/6.
Next, there's this recent report on NPR quoting Ed Stetzer, head of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, as saying that it's time for a reckoning, meaning evangelicals "should look at how their own behaviors and actions may have helped fuel the insurrection." Part of this reckoning, he says, "is: How did we get here? How were we so easily fooled by conspiracy theories? We need to make clear who we are. And our allegiance is to King Jesus, not to what boasting political leader might come next."
Finally, this Washington Post report describes how QAnon conspiracy theorists helped to lead to the 1/6 insurrection, in part, I would add, because QAnon seems to be becoming a new religious movement: "QAnon’s prominence at the Capitol raid," the story says, "shows how powerful the conspiracy theory has become, and how quickly it has established a life of its own. On fringe right-wing platforms and encrypted messaging apps, believers are offering increasingly outlandish theories and sharing ideas for how they can further work to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 contest — with violence, if necessary."
The central point here is that in many cases people of faith abandoned their commitment to the truth, to say nothing of other values, to support Trump and to buy into his bogus charges of election fraud. And because people of faith make up such a large (though shrinking) percentage of the American population, what they think and do makes a huge difference.
It's way past time for confession, repentance and a recommitment to the core religious value of not spreading lies. In the meantime, some prayers for the new administration and new Congress are in order, too.
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STILL RACIALLY SPLIT IN THE U.S.
A new survey of attenders of Black churches shows many feel politically powerless but, by contrast, have some and say in what goes on in their churches. That feeling is, interestingly enough, in harmony with what my former Kansas City Star colleague Charles Coulter reports in his 2006 book, Take Up the Black Man's Burden. There he describes a 1919 Kansas City gathering to celebrate black life in mid-America and notes that "the development of parallel communities (one white and one black), with parallel institutions and organizations, created a safe haven for African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century." But, he writes, "the development of separate black churches, businesses and professional organizations was not an acquiescence to segregation; rather, these groups were essential elements in the fight to integrate African Americans into the mainstream of American society." One hundred years later, that struggle continues. Maybe having a Black (and south Asian) female vice president will help a little. We'll see.
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P.S.: My new book, Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety, was published yesterday. Here's a story about it that ran in ReadTheSpirit.com this week. If you missed last night's KC Library YouTube event to introduce this book, the link is here.