By Father Casey

It is incredibly important that we not move on too quickly from the terrible events of January 6. What happened at our nation’s Capitol was too devasting to be forgotten or swept away for the purpose of avoiding further conflict. As the prophet Jeremiah writes, we cannot cry for “Peace, peace, when there is no peace (8:11).” There is a grand reckoning that needs to happen in our nation right now, for while we stepped back from the abyss of violent upheaval this time, we now know just how close that abyss resides.

Make no mistake about it, what we witnessed was a Christian insurrection.[1] Standing tall amidst the rioters was a giant wooden cross. “Jesus Saves” signs were sprinkled through the crowd. Christian music blared from the loudspeakers. One man marched a Christian flag into the evacuated legislative chambers. And rioters prayed loudly for God to rain down vengeance upon Congress.[2]

James Martin describes the invasion of the Capitol “not simply as a political act but a religious one, in great part thanks to the moral framework fostered by too many Christian leaders. Christians in the mob probably did not consider themselves criminals as much as prophets.”[3] But the religion that animated their hateful cries, their violence against law enforcement, and their defacement of the heirlooms of our democracy, was the religion of white nationalism. They had far more in common with the crucifiers than the crucified. It was the godless religion of the terrorist.

It will be up to law enforcement and Congress to decide what actions are appropriate in order to hold those responsible accountable. We should each pray for the full and fair weight of justice to be enacted against those who sought to overturn the will of the people through inciteful speech and violent actions. But at the end of the day, there is no one person to blame for the tragedy of January 6. That would be too easy and simple, and it would mistakenly lead us to think that when that one person is removed, all will be well. But by now I hope we all know differently.

Here is what Bryan Massingale, a professor of theology and ethics, wrote last week in America Magazine: “What we saw today is the consequence when truth is ignored, trampled and dismissed. And when lies are repeated, winked at or cynically embraced. We cannot have justice when charade passes for reality, when racist delusion is passed by in silence, when political cynicism passes for public service.”[4] Which is to say, neither the rioters nor those who incited them are the only ones culpable. We should all be reflecting on how we have ignored truth, winked at lies, and shrugged our shoulders at racism. A mob of white nationalist insurrectionists doesn’t arrive at the steps of the Capitol out of thin air. They are born from a deeply divided and unhealthy society, a society of which we are members.

So, what are we to do? Well, it must start by remembering the plumb line against which we always measure our lives and the causes we support: the life of Jesus. And he is not an imaginary figure we get to transform into a cheerleader for whatever we want. His life and teaching is not ours to invent. Reread the gospels. Meditate upon the Sermon on the Mount. Absorb the very essence of Christ’s witness. It may not always provide specific guidance for every moment, but it will always orient us in the right direction.

Secondly, in emulation of the way of Christ, we must redouble our commitment to speaking and protecting the truth. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall you free,” Jesus says (John 8:32, KJV). He is speaking of himself as the very essence of truth, and he is also speaking of truth as a necessity for true freedom. Truth is not something to be forced into the mold of existing beliefs, but rather the shape around which we form our beliefs. Which means we must not compromise with deceit for the sake of convenience. Lies are sins that beget sins; they are never tools God uses to move us to where we are meant to go. Those who practice deceit cannot be champions for the Kingdom, for there is no deceit in the presence of God.

Third, we must remember that a Christian insurrection must be combatted by the Church. Those who waved “Jesus Saves” signs as they terrorized the Capitol may seem to have little in common with us, and yet, are we not mystically bound together with all who profess allegiance to Christ? Which means we bear a sacred responsibility for righting these wrongs. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has wisdom for us in this regard. In times like this, he says, members of the Church must learn how to kneel and stand at the same time. We must stand firm in our convictions about what is just, true, and godly. But we must also kneel in humility that we do not possess all truth, and none of us are God. “If we all do that and engage each other, kneeling in real humility before each other and before God, and yet being honest and up front and clear about what we stand for or what we believe and hold, the fact that we have knelt before each other creates the space where we can stand together with our differences.”[5]

Friends, I’m trying to stand and kneel right along with you. I am grief-stricken and angry and confused, too. But let us not lose heart. Let’s keep praying and striving and hoping together. For the sign waved in the riot was right; Jesus does save. May he save us from ourselves and have mercy on us all.

[1] David French, “Only the Church Can Truly Defeat a Christian Insurrection

[2] Washington Post, “Inside the Capitol siege: How barricaded lawmakers and aides sounded urgent pleas for help as police lost control

[3] James Martin, “How Catholic Leaders Helped Give Rise to Violence at the US Capitol

[4] Bryan Massingale, “The Racist Attack on Our Nation’s Capitol

[5] The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Interview with Episcopal News Service