Christian Brothers and Sisters,
Yesterday may have been Epiphany, but it was dominated by a violent manifestation of American brokenness. May we join in prayer and reflection about our tragic national crisis, some of it perpetrated in the name of Jesus.
We need to hold in grief and sorrow another horrific gash in this nation, ripped open by events at the Capitol in Washington, DC. It has been over 200 years since such a breach has occurred. Like yours, my feelings about yesterday have been many. I watched the unexplainable delay in appropriate police presence and action at the Capitol. How could this mob not have been expected? As I asked myself that, I couldn’t help but be grieved by remembering the immediate aggression of some military and police against this summer’s demonstrations protesting racial violence. What do we make of our nation’s ready use of violence against voices for racial justice, while we slowly escort away the white supremacist insurrectionists who storm our nation’s Capitol? What defines danger? For whom? What defines the tolerable? For whom? Why?
What we have experienced has been wrenching and disturbing. The desecration of the Capitol justifiably has the headlines. The still deeper sorrow for me as a Christian leader has been the accompanying desecration of Christian life and speech revealed through fundamentalist and evangelical entanglement with idolatrous nationalism and racism and their attending loyalties.
I hope we will choose not to look away from this shameful violence, or its underlying lies, irrationality, and hatred. If we haven’t long since done so, we must face the reality that extremisms of various sorts are not only alive and well in the United States but in our government, and in churches and hearts across the land. Yesterday, some extremism landed with violence at the doors and hallways of the Capitol, tragically cheered on by the president.
In extremist and mainstream forms, and for longer than many of us want to admit and confess, Christians have substantially contributed to forms of American injustice across the political landscape. Some expressions of our faith have stoked the past and present fires of resentment, presumption, and self-righteousness now so strident and so grievous to the God we worship.
All of us have a stake in yesterday’s events. The roots of this drama are deep, tortured, and unresolved. We need a peaceful transition of power on January 20, especially since we are a widely varied and polarized electorate. Once we are on the other side of the inauguration, the work of truly addressing the issues and crises of our nation’s life must compel us.
Lord, in this moment and season, may you rebuke us who claim to be your disciples while we primarily pursue what is best for ourselves and for others like us; may you reveal our complicity in speech and action, personally and systemically, with anything that encourages lies, distortions, prejudices, and violence; may you break down our walls of hostility and fear; may you grant us the faith and will to live to pursue you and your ways.
Grant us anew your Epiphany of hope and justice for the common good—and the love and faith to live it.
God will not be mocked.
Clifford L. Penner Presidential Chair
Fuller Theological Seminary