January 6th was a theological event. Just a month before, the Jericho March rallies in DC featured nationalist prayers. They declared God’s will was to reinstate Donald Trump. At the insurrection a month later, the Cross & signs of “Jesus Saves” joined the mob up the Capitol steps.
January 6th was more than a failed political coup. It was a failed theological apocalypse. Treated this way, we come to an inevitable conclusion: this god lost. He lost because Donald Trump was not President on January 7th. We should never stop asking “what happened?” Even when some want to forget it. For those who keep asking, we need to perform a theological autopsy of this failed apocalypse.
Some speak of healing from January 6th politically or culturally. We have political committees doing important work. But healing from January 6th is impossible without addressing the failed theology at the heart of the violence.
Calling this theology “evangelical” ignores the majority of the world’s evangelical Christians existing outside the United States, who have nothing to do with the sort of theo-political views that fueled the violence that day. But inside the house of American evangelicalism, where I come from, it’s equally ignorant to use the No-True-Scotsman to disown the mob and deny the distinct American evangelical influence among them.
We ignore this failed apocalypse and American evangelicalism’s contribution to this vision at our own peril. This failure affects Americans who continue to believe in this god. For them, keeping this theological commitment will demand increasingly dangerous theological gymnastics, like an ever increasing reliance on conspiracies and isolated communities. This poses a threat to democracy, too. But it is irreducibly a theological problem.
There’s a need for churches here. I fear some stay silent out of fear. Speaking would offend the sympathies of the sharehlders in the pews. I fear some choose false piety, saying “we don’t talk politics.” This avoids a lengthy prophetic surgery of generational idolatry. I fear others would go to DC again if given the chance. And yet there are others who are taking responsibility, faithfully.
The Christian responsibility to our world is to witness to the risen Jesus as totally other than the god that failed on the Capitol steps. This path may call for confession, for repentance, for the breaking of alliances which have been forged to fight a culture war. This path may also call for proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom to the very people who believe their god failed on January 6th. The same people who are renegotiating and reinterpreting the latest conspiracies to prevent a catastrophic collapse of their false reality. This is all theological work.
Let’s be clear: the hope of the mob was undeniably theological on January 6th. This isn’t unique. Similar theo-political hopes animated another mob, the one that crucified Jesus. That mob made room for Jesus’ cross by releasing a revolutionary nationalist insurrectionist named Barabbas. We prefer insurrection to crucifixion. That’s a political statement, and a theological one. Healing from January 6th requires dealing with failed theology, just as much as our politics. If not more so.
Epilogue: Allowing The Gospels To Perform Theological Surgery
How do churches address these challenges? The gospels and the whole of Scripture give themselves to the mending and healing of idolatry in God’s Church, specifically when we confuse the survival of Empire with defending the Kingdom of God.
The climax of Mark’s gospel is the confession of a Roman soldier at the foot of Jesus’ cross, “this was the son of God”. This soldier was an agent of the empire. The one whose task it was to dress the injustice of a religious mob in the legitimate garb of Imperial power. At the Capitol, this same Cross was used in a different way: to dress up political violence in the legitimizing theological garb of Christendom, with its interwoven threads of gospel and empire.
The Insurrection’s chief theological claim was that God willed Donald Trump as his chosen leader. This claim justified violence in protection of his seat in the Oval Office. In the gospels, we find the exact opposite: God’s chosen one suffers. Following this Messiah means we cannot escape this path.
Mark’s gospel is thought to have been received by Roman Christians living in fear of persecution. To these Christians, the confession of a Roman would have meant something more than technically correct theology. The confession of a Roman at the site of crucifixion centered Jesus’ identity as the Crucified One. Eventually, the empire bows to the Kingdom. The way this happens (reminds Peter through Mark) is through suffering. The exact situation these Christians found themselves in. The world sees the Kingdom of God not by wielding the Cross, but yielding to it.
Today, something is greater than making America great again. Especially if Christianity is seen solely as a means to that end.
The Cross is not a weapon to enforce our Christian way of life. A return to the gospels helps us wrestle with the ways American evangelicalism shaped the particular theological flavor of January 6th. The Cross is where the life of Jesus leads, and where the power of God is released into the world with forgiveness and justice. And the Capitol Insurrection fundamentally refused this shape of the Cross, even if it claimed the symbol as a blessing of its nationalist aims and goals.