Clockwise from top: protesters gathering outside the Capitol; Donald Trump speaking to supporters at the "Save America" rally; crowd is appearing to retreat from tear gas; tear gas being deployed outside the Capitol Building; A crowd pressing in to the Capitol at the Eastern entrance Wikipedia photo by TapTheForwardAssist

6 Ways The Church Can Respond to the D.C. Mob

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6 Ways The Church Can Respond to the D.C. Mob

By Martin Elfert

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

– Timothy 1:7

Last Wednesday was an experience of desecration.

To see a mob break into our capitol; to see confederate flags paraded in its halls; to see home-grown terrorists there wearing shirts that read “Camp Auschwitz – Staff” and “6MWE” (i.e., Six Million Wasn’t Enough); to see our congresspeople chased from their chambers by thugs and the peaceful transfer of power fractured; to learn that five beloved children of God are dead; to know that our president and his enablers called for and cheered on a scene straight out of a banana republic; to discover that alongside signs bearing the symbols of Nazism were signs bearing the name of Jesus:

This is violence against that which is holy.

What do you do after an experience of desecration such as this? What, in particular, do we do as church?

I want to put emphasis on that second question, because I believe that church has a particular witness to offer right now. The Gospel has a particular witness to offer right now.

Here are the beginnings of six possible answers to that question. These six ideas are very much half-finished thoughts. But I am convinced that this is a moment in which we must say something, in which saying something incomplete is vastly better than saying nothing.

I suggest that, as church, we are called:

To repudiate violence. 

In the famous words of 1John 4:8, God is love. In Paul’s equally famous words, Love is kind. We follow a savior who had every opportunity to choose violence and, even when faced with despotism, even when faced with his own death, refused to do so. A reading of the Gospel that leads us into violence is invariably mistaken.

To repudiate a theology in which America is chosen above other countries and in which white people are chosen above other people. 

I am proud to live in the United States. And I insist that, in the words of Psalm 67, God’s saving power is for all nations. I am at home in my body. And I insist that Jesus came to give life to the whole world. A reading of the Gospel in which America is God’s chosen country (and, by necessity, in which other countries are God’s unchosen) is invariably mistaken. A reading of the Gospel in which white folks are God’s favorites (and, by necessity, in which people of color are divinely assigned second-class citizenship) is invariably mistaken.

To repudiate Christian Nationalism.

Twenty five times in Scripture Jesus says Follow me. Every time his words are an invitation: never are they a threat or a demand. Forcing Christianity into the public sphere or into anyone’s life is to fail to offer our neighbor Christianity at all. Jesus wants our yes to him to be free, joyous, and genuine. And he knows that in order for that yes to be free we must have an equally free opportunity to say no. Let’s proclaim the good news that is the Gospel. And let’s trust that God is neither small nor weak. A reading of the Gospel in which God needs the coercion of the state or of a mob is invariably mistaken.

To offer radical welcome. 

Throughout his ministry, Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Because of his choice of dinner guests, he faced mockery and accusation from the religious and civic authorities. In imitation of him, we are called to draw the circle of Christ’s church ever wider. A reading of the Gospel in which we find new and surprising friends with us at Christ’s table is one that invites God’s Kingdom nearer.

To, in turn, receive radical welcome. 

Jesus was confronted by the Syrophoenician woman. He learned from her and, in so doing, transcended the bigotry which the world had taught him. In imitation of Christ, we are called to accept the holy confrontation of people of other races, other faiths, other genders, other places of origin. A reading of the Gospel in which we choose to remain in a place of holy discomfort and learning is one that invites God’s Kingdom nearer.

To do the hard work of reconciliation. 

In Jesus’ passion, Peter denied Jesus three times. In Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times: Do you love me? This was painful for Peter. But if Peter’s reconciliation with Jesus was to be complete then the fullness of his previous denial had to be named. There cannot be unity without naming the truth. There cannot be peace without justice. A reading of the Gospel in which we listen to those whom we have wronged and offer meaningful repentance for those wrongs is one that invites God’s Kingdom nearer.

What would you change about that list?

What would you add to it?

I don’t know that you can undo a desecration. Much like the murder of George Floyd earlier this year, what happened on Wednesday is an injury to God and to humanity that cannot be undone. The scar will always be there. I do know, however, that even when we do our very worst, God shows up with resurrection: that is the promise of the cross and the empty tomb. And I know as well that you and I and all of God’s church are called to participate in that resurrection.

About Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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