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Evangelical leaders condemn role of Christian nationalism in US capitol siege

by Will Maule
Photo Credit Youtube screenshot/ VOA - Banner image

A group of evangelical leaders, including Walter Brueggemann, Aaron Niequist and Israel Houghton, have issued a public statement condemning the role of Christian nationalism in January's attack on the US Capitol. 

The attack, which saw hundreds of pro-Trump supporters storm the US government buildings, was condemned as an insurrection that threatened the safety of elected politicians and their staff. In addition, many of those involved were displaying symbols of white supremacy and images related to the QAnon conspiracy. Others were seen carrying Bibles and signs that read “Jesus Saves" as they stormed the capitol.

The evangelical leaders strongly condemned the role of Christian nationalism in the event, calling the riot a "violent, racist, anti-American insurrection".

"We recognise the damage done by radicalised Christian Nationalism in the world, the church, and in the lives of individuals and communities," the statement reads. We know from experts on radicalisation that one of the key elements is a belief that your actions are 'blessed by God' and ordained by your faith. This is what allows so many people who hold to a Christian Nationalism view to be radicalised." 

The group said that they "stand together against the perversion of the Christian faith as we saw on January 6, 2021" and "stand against the theology and the conditions that led to the insurrection".

They continued: "Over the centuries, there are moments when the Church, the trans-national Body of Christ-followers, has seen distortions of the faith that warranted a response. In ages past, the Church has responded by holding emergency councils in order to unilaterally denounce mutations of the Christian faith, and to affirm the core values at the heart of Christianity. It is in that spirit that we unite our voices to declare that there is a version of American nationalism that is trying to camouflage itself as Christianity - and it is a heretical version of our faith.

"Just as many Muslim leaders have felt the need to denounce distorted, violent versions of their faith, we feel the urgent need to denounce this violent mutation of our faith. What we saw manifest itself in the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, is a threat to our democracy, but it is also a threat to orthodox Christian faith. The word 'Christian' means 'Christ-like.' As leaders in the Church, we do not agree on everything, but we can agree on this - Christians should live in a way that honours Jesus, and reminds the world of Him." 

Signatories to the statement include prominent Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, author Aaron Niequist and songwriter Israel Houghton. 

"We witnessed the cross and the gallow being erected," the group added. "We saw and heard the prayer the insurrectionists prayed from the Senate desk in Jesus' name. Many of us recognised the content, the structure, and the style of that prayer as matching our own churches and faith. But we reject this prayer being used to justify the violent act and attempted overthrow of the Government." 

The statement went on to urge all pastors, ministers and priests "to boldly make it clear that a commitment to Jesus Christ is incompatible with calls to violence, support of white Christian nationalism, conspiracy theories, and all religious and racial prejudice".

"Just as it was tragically inconsistent for Christians in the 20th Century to support the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi ideology, it is unthinkable for Christians to support the Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, QAnon, 3 Percenters, America Firsters, and similar groups," they added, calling on faith leaders to "engage pastorally with those who support or sympathize with these groups, and make it clear that our churches are not neutral about these matters: we are on the side of democracy, equality for all people, anti-racism, and the common good of all people". 

The group said they do not see the United States as "God's chosen nation," but rather choose to "thank God for the church around the world that calls people of all races, tongues and nations to the knowledge and love of God".

"Instead of seeing any particular political leader or party as divinely appointed, we believe in the prophetic and pastoral ministry of the church to all political leaders and parties," they said. "Instead of power through violence, we believe in and seek to imitate the powerful, servant love practiced by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 

More than 200 people have now been arrested in connection with the Capitol Hill attack, with the FBI continuing to appeal for information on those involved. Several federal grand-jury indictments have been filed against suspects who were in attendance at the Capitol.

At the first official hearing on the attack held at the US Senate yesterday, a capitol police officer delivered harrowing first-hand testimony of being viciously attacked by rioters.  

"I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day,” Captain Carneysha Mendoza told senators on Tuesday. “At some point, my right arm got wedged between rioters and the railing along the wall,” she added, noting that if she had not been freed by a fellow officer, her arm "would have been broken".

While the hearing is seeking to determine the extent of the security failings, Mendoza insisted that even if they had more officers available, the result would have been the same. "We could have had 10-times the amount of people working with us, and I still believe the battle would have been just as devastating,” she explained. 

Police were quickly overwhelmed by protesters on the day of the attack. The rioters had been at President Trump's "March to Save America" rally earlier in the day, during which Trump told them "walk down to the Capitol". The rioters heeded his call and began marching toward the Capitol, before breaking through barricades, assaulting police officers and storming through the windows and doors of the government buildings. 

The siege resulted in five deaths and more than 140 injuries. Earlier this month, Trump was acquitted of charges related to inciting insurrection, despite the majority of senators casting a guilty vote. The 57-43 vote did not meet the required threshold of a two-thirds majority to convict the president. Trump is the first president in history to be impeached twice. He said that the trial was part of the "greatest witch-hunt in the history of our country". 

This week's Senate hearing is the first in a series of a number of reviews aimed at figuring out how such a serious security breach could occur at the seat of American democracy. 

“This is certainly not the last hearing that we will have regarding this attack," said Senate Rules Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar on Tuesday. "Next week we will hear from witnesses from federal agencies including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense." 

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