On September 11, 2001 I had just sat down at the coffee shop around the corner from the church where I was interim pastor. I was booting up my laptop to work on my sermon for the week when the proprietor said, “Wes, you need to go home. Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center.” I thought for sure it had to be a small personal aircraft and expressed some anger, but resolved to remain calm and stay at the shop. It wasn’t until my wife called me on our cell phone, just as more and more people people were coming in with information, that I realized the scope of what had happened. I left just as soon as I could pack up.
My sermon changed that week, shifting from who knows what to a meditation on lament and it’s role in every day life when disaster hits. At the time, just a few months out of seminary, I thought it would be the most difficult sermon I would ever have to preach. And it was, right up until Wednesday.
On Wednesday I, along with much of the country, watched as insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol. And among those insurrectionists were people carrying banners which bore the name of Jesus. And now this coming Sunday will be the most difficult sermon I’ve ever preached.
I’ve preached after school shootings, natural disasters, when unarmed black people are murdered by police 1, and riots. Those have all been difficult. And sometimes I do well, and other times not so well, addressing these moments pastorally. But seeing people who claim Jesus’ name storming the capitol because they’ve swallowed lies is both gut-wrenching and infuriating. And still, two days later, there are Christians who are clinging to more lies which say this was all a “false flag” operation. That, or are saying that because “you all were ok” with riots over the summer storming the capitol was the same thing and is also OK.
I am reminded of scene in the PBS show Line of Separation, where the residents of a small town were forced by the Allied forces to watch a film documenting the atrocities of the Holocaust. Some just kept muttering, “The Führer could not have known…” I do know those films were, indeed, shown to the citizens of Germany after the war. I don’t know if there are documented instances of that response by some people who saw the films, but in any case what we have right now is life imitating art.
For Christians the images of those insurrectionists storming the capitol, claiming Jesus’ name as they did so, are the new film we all have to watch and process. And everyone claiming to be a disciple of Jesus Christ but is saying this was just like the summer riots or that it was a false flag operation are, in essence, saying, “The Führer could not have known.”
After Wednesday this culture needs to take a good look in the mirror, wrestle with how we got here, and accept what part we all played in getting to this point 2. And if people claiming Jesus aren’t first in line staring at the wretched reflection in the mirror then we have earned every bit of scorn that will ever be heaped on us. As it stands, those insurrectionists who carried Jesus’ name on Wednesday have already lost us any right to expect trust from our neighbors.
I do not care for binary choices, but Jesus’ disciples in this country are at a crossroads. We can either take some bitter medicine and maybe have a voice which means a damn in this culture moving forward, or we can stick with a collective delusion and retreat to enclaves both meaningless and doomed. And the agony is, if any would-be disciples choose the delusion of Christian Nationalism we may all go down with them.
Church. Choose Christ.
1 I am a police chaplain, and am honored to be one, but there are serious issues in the culture of policing which are reflections of our wider cultures. I’ve been privileged to some of the ways this systemic issue is being addressed, but change is slow and people are dying while policing catches up.
2 Anyone of us who thinks we’re exempt from that last bit is just waiting for the right trigger to become the problem.