Opinion: January 21st can't come soon enough
I don't know about you, but I haven't been coping very well with the shocking attack on democracy we just witnessed. Interrupted sleep, loss of appetite, mood swings, and feeling regularly conflicted about whether to try and tune it out or jump back into doomscrolling as horrifying new details continue to emerge. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this sense of melancholy, loss, sorrow and at times rage before. It's one thing for a bunch of goons and domestic terrorists to launch such a sinister, dangerous and violent attack on congress, but that some of the people there were Christians is utterly distressing and sickening to me.
And I feel in an indirect way this is going to be a real issue in Australia over the next few years for the Christian church. Pastors, leaders and general members will need to decide whether an emboldened and aggressive form of Christian nationalism usurps Jesus’ call to love our neighbour, to obey our governments, and to try to live at peace with everyone.
Conservative media and some influential Christian groups are railing against big tech for censuring Trump (along with many high profile Qanon supporters and right wing extremist groups fomenting political violence). Rather than confront what happened they are actively encouraging their followers to move over to Parler, the app/website known for being right wing friendly and a safe haven for extremist groups and conspiracy theories.
Now of course there are times to argue and protect freedom of speech as a central bedrock of democracy and human flourishing. But this is not one of them. Especially when that freedom is being used to actively overthrow the government with acts of terror and violence. This moment in history calls for some serious soul searching, rather than defending the indefensible. Let’s be clear:
Trump incited this, and is responsible for it.
It is incontrovertible. And he has now been impeached a second time for his behaviour.
Even if he didn’t directly command people to physically storm the Capitol, he created the conditions, worked up his base, knew exactly what it would lead to, and dragged his feet on quelling the violence. And I plead for Christians who are going along with the false narrative that either a) Trump had nothing to do with it or b) this isn't that big of a deal, to see this for what it was: A deliberate stunt to not only undermine the results of the election, but democracy itself.
Joe Biden won this election. And Christians need to stop believing the entirely bogus claims that the election was stolen or fraudulent. The Trump administration had their chance to provide evidence in the courts, but so far they have produced a stunning, if not entirely predictable, 1 win and 61 losses in court. It is clear that Trump’s claims did not stack up. Mere claims of evidence are not synonymous with actual evidence.
William Barr, who was the Michael Jordan of loyalists to Trump (or at the very least in the starting five) said emphatically that the US Department of Justice found no evidence of mass voter fraud. The courts, many of them Trump appointees(!), smacked down decision after decision for their frivolity and jaw-dropping audacity for unrealistic judicial remedy.
Conservative media and lobby groups often pride themselves on being truth-tellers, and yet I don’t see a lot of statements or posts coming out from them that align with biblical or objective reality, even when it hits them in the face on the world’s largest stage. What I do see is the same inflammatory rhetoric, the same predictable and diversionary scapegoating tactics, and the same future for Australian Evangelicalism if we’re not careful.
It’s easy to stoke the fires of negative partisanship when it’s lucrative, makes you feel important, and like you’re making a difference. But I’m not sure that tearing a country apart is the sort of difference Jesus calls us to. When you incense and blind Christians to their own rage and perceived grievances, that is not leadership, and our credibility becomes as bare as the chest of a certain Qanon Shaman, sporting horns and a pelt jacket. Not an image to be respected, but the symbol of a crazed movement forcibly inserting itself into a place it never belonged in the first place.
When Christians adhere to the political mania, our ability to meaningfully connect and empathise with others disappears. Our ability to hear and live out God’s Word suffers. Our ability to worship the God who is transcendent, sovereign, eternal, and the final arbiter of justice, starts to diminish and shrink back as we take temporal justice into our own hands. Reeking of desperation, delusion and death, yet perplexed why the world hates us for our poisonous politics far more than it ever did for being selfless followers of Christ.
Normally I don't get so worked up about politics. I follow it with more than a passing interest, but I don’t consider myself particularly left or right, progressive or conservative, beholden to any one tribe or party. My allegiance is to Jesus. I try and take each issue as it comes, and line it up with what I know to be true of the Bible. Sometimes I change my mind on certain issues, sometimes I don’t. I also know that a functional pluralistic society entails sacrifice, working with people we at times disagree with, making good faith arguments based on persuasion and truth, and being people that promote the common good and see all men and women as being made in the image of God.
I understand that people vote for a range of different reasons, some with hesitation, some with enthusiasm. And we can disagree charitably about our politics. But the era of Trump has been different. He has embodied the very opposite of living in a civil society. America is seemingly more divided than ever, and so are its churches as we’ve grappled with such a polarising figure. And if we can’t draw the line now, when will we? As a reflection I want to point out five basic biblical truths that challenge much of what has been going on for the last four years, and unequivocally denounce the Capitol siege.
- Character and truth matter (Galatians 5:16-26) - Read Proverbs, read the sermon on the mount, or read 1 Corinthians 13 on love. Read just about anything in the Bible, and you can’t help but conclude that the Bible really cares about virtue and honesty. As well as not being led astray. St Paul in 1 Timothy 4 warns against wandering from the truth to follow silly divisive myths which come from ‘hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron’. While Paul has another controversy in mind at the time, the principle remains the same. Christians aren’t supposed to be known for being gullible props ripe for deception and exploitation.
- Love our enemies (Matthew 5:44-48) – Jesus says not only to ‘love your enemies’, but also to ‘pray for those who persecute you’. Apparently the Democrats, or whoever our perceived enemies are, are an exception where the ends justify the means. We can hurl our moral high ground into the abyss claiming to have pierced leviathan, but what’s the point if we never make it back to the surface?
- Live peaceable lives (Romans 12:16-20, 1 Timothy 2:1-4) - The apostle Paul lived in a time far more vicious and hostile to Christianity than what Western Christians are going through right now, and yet he urges Christians not to fight but live peaceable lives. What we saw was the collusion between violent rhetoric, paranoia and manipulation leading to the words physically attacking the flesh. A stark contrast with biblical imperatives.
- Be careful of who you associate with (2 Corinthians 6:14) - Paul talks about being yoked with unbelievers, and asks the question “what partnership does righteousness have with lawlessness?”. And yet I’ve never seen a group more eager to welcome a guy with such callous regard for the law or our faith. Let alone a character black hole so large it threatens to pull everyone in around him. We should have nothing to do with someone with such obvious tyrannical aspirations, and an impeccable resume when it comes to deception, hatred, narcissism, love of money, self-dealing, vindictiveness, and demand for praise. “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’.” (1 Cor 15:33)
- The church is called to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16) - Light is meant to be a symbol of hope, and the church is supposed to be that symbol of hope in a dark and painful world. What we saw was parts of the church snuffing out their candle, smashing the globe and livestreaming the self-sabotage of their values, identity and mission. What is ever more clear is that some Christians have given up on the hope of the gospel itself, and have replaced it with support for a shameless power grab to try and force some sort of grotesque heaven on earth, denying God’s sovereignty, and Christ’s redemptive power. Christian Nihilism is a contradiction in terms, and yet is there any other way to describe this Christian ‘will to power’?
For Christians reading this who have enjoyed the Trump ride, and what it embodies… I hope the gravity and seriousness of this historical moment can be a time to take stock, and remind ourselves what truly matters in this world. Most of us would have wished Trump well and prayed for his success regardless of who voted for him or not, but surely enough is enough. It’s time to put aside our political allegiances, to lay down our arms, to retire the MAGA hat and rebuild our divided churches on the foundation of Jesus.
For those that don’t identify as Christian and are further away than you ever have been before…I hope that you’ll forgive us one day, and trust that the example of Jesus and Christianity at its best still has something to offer in these dark times. That we can still be a force for good when we are true to the words of the saviour we profess to follow.
I cannot wait for this chapter to be 'over' on January 21st, but I genuinely fear for what might happen before then. Joe Biden is a flawed man like everyone else on this planet, but he has a chapter to write, an immense health and economic crisis to confront, a nation to piece back together (if such a thing is possible), and a heart for decency, people and the democratic institutions that can help us thrive together if we are willing. I pray that we’ve seen the worst, but after everything over the last four years, and especially post-election, January 21st can’t come soon enough.
Disclaimer: the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this piece belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily reflect on the author's employer, organisation, or wider staff team.