I am a Christian, an evangelical Christian. And I am a pastor.
I watched, like most of us, in stunned disbelief as the Capitol was breached last week by insurrectionists. I was overwhelmed by what this meant for our nation. I love America – it is my native land. What does this mean for our democracy? The stability of our institutions? What does it mean for my sons and their futures? Even more, I was distraught over what this meant for the church. I wept when I saw the Capitol assaulted last week by a mob including Christian rioters carrying “Christian flags” and banners with slogans like “Jesus is my Savior; Trump is my President.”
In the second century, common era, Justin Martyr took up to defend Christians, explaining their faith and worship. Writing to the emperor, Justin argued Christians were among Rome’s “best helpers and allies in securing good order.” Today that seems laughable; depressingly untrue. Last week, we were insurrectionists. Last week, we were marauders. Last week, we rioted with hate groups, broke the peace, and people died. My first response is to try to distance myself from those people, to say, “I opposed this President,” and “I warned of this new Cult of Caesar.” Though true, I am not allowed this retreat. These were my people.
I love the church more than any other institution in this world. I knew this would stain her reputation, a stain we will likely not erase in my lifetime. And for this stain, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We cannot blame the media or fringe fanatics. We were there. We were the fringe fanatics, and we, at least in part, did this.
To the watching world, I am sorry. I am ashamed. We have failed to serve our nation well. As a pastor, I will say we, evangelical church leaders, have failed to serve our people well. We have failed to instill in our people the ability to discern truth from lies and recognize wolves pretending to be sheep. Instead of a people known for their love of the truth, we have become a gullible lot. We have believed and spread pernicious lies. We have allowed our passion for politics (read, “love of power”) and our devotion to a politician (bordering on cult-like veneration) to cloud our good judgment, even our common sense. We must do the work of teaching our people to hear and acknowledge the truth. We must display the courage to accept the facts even when they disappoint us.
We have also failed to foster a longing for our true homeland. Above I said, “I love America,” and I do. It is my home. I pray for it, pay taxes to it, consider myself blessed to be a citizen of it, and work for its prosperity. But America is not my first love; Christ and his kingdom have my heart. I am a resident alien. As a sojourner, I seek the good of this nation, but I do not treat it as ultimate or eternal. Christians have embraced this biblical truth for centuries, that we are looking for, longing for, a “better land.” This nation is great, but it is not the Kingdom of God, nor is it the Promised Land. It is most certainly not heaven. Unfortunately, from what I saw last week, we have not preached this truth to the people in our pews in a compelling way. These were the actions of people who believe political defeat is ultimate defeat, for whom this nation is their one real hope, their one true love. We have failed. We must recast Jesus’ vision of the His Eternal Kingdom, a spiritual kingdom, within us, and growing by the work of the Spirit, not the sword.
Lastly, we have failed to develop servants who will fight for others’ rights but turn the cheek when struck themselves. The constitution of Christ’s kingdom, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, calls for meekness, mercy, peacemaking, and turning the other cheek. Some have interpreted Jesus’ words as an absolute call to pacifism. I am not one of them, but certainly, Jesus does not call us to “fight for our rights.” Fight for the other, yes. Defend the powerless, yes. But certainly not to storm the seat of government to fight for our vision of America or to overturn an election and install your “king,” and most definitely not to injure or kill in his name. We have failed to grow people who love their neighbors. We have failed to cultivate a love for those who do not look like, believe like, or act like us. We must teach our people to serve with their strength, to heal, and not to harm.
There is a legion of other failures. Tell us what they are, we will listen; some of us at least.
Of the world, I would ask that you please offer some grace. These past years, culminating in the events of last week, have been a season of failure for us evangelicals. We have let you down, and for that, I am deeply sorry. Our failures have brought dishonor to the church and the name of her Lord and pain to our neighbors. I pray this moment in our history will not define us. Do not let us forget we did this. Please also remember we have been, for centuries, those who serve in soup kitchens, run homeless shelters and addiction centers. We foster children, and we adopt. We have founded hospitals and universities. We work quietly by your side in schools and hospitals, in PTOs and nonprofits. We pray for you when you are sick, or your child is being bullied. We check on you in blizzards and hurricanes. This is our better self, which I pray we will find again.
God be merciful to us.