My favorite meme of the new year: “I’d like to cancel my subscription to 2021. I’ve experienced the free seven-day trial, and I’m not interested.”
As post-holiday COVID-19 deaths surged the first week of January, a sitting president incited a violent attack by his followers on the Capitol, seat and symbol of our democratic republic. The insurrection killed five people, including a Capitol police officer, injured dozens and forced members of Congress to flee the House and Senate floors and hide, not knowing if they would escape with their lives.
Some of the invaders reportedly were looking for Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the electoral count process, so they could hang him for “betraying” their glorious leader.
This is America?
I wanted to spend Jan. 6 celebrating the historic election of two new U.S. senators — including an African-American Baptist pastor — from my home state of Georgia, long notorious for racist voter suppression. Instead, I spent the day and much of the night monitoring the Capitol attack and its aftermath, shouting at the TV screen and “unfriending” (via social media or phone) anyone I know who still believes Trump’s lies that the election was “stolen” and must be overturned.
What is the point, I reasoned, of continuing to associate with people who are clearly delusional? I no longer could pretend their self-deception was merely a “difference of opinion.” It now threatens American democracy itself.
When I finally cooled down, I sent apologies to several of those people for my harsh words. I don’t know if our friendships can be restored or should be. But I need to work on my own heart.
That brings me back to the new year. Here are my prayers for the rest of 2021, if we get past January:
- Lord, please change our hard and angry hearts, starting with me.
- Help us to step back from the brink of civil war, Father. We already had one; we might not survive another.
- As we hold certain politicians, demagogues and terrorists accountable for assaulting our democracy, help us to distinguish between justice and vengeance. Some people need to be shunned, denounced or prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Others, millions of gullible followers, need to be challenged to return to the democratic (small d) fold before it’s too late.
- Forgive the American church for the ways we have winked at evil, supported cruelty, believed lies, rejected truth and mistreated the “other,” the weak, the poor, the immigrant and the refugee over the past four years.
- Help us to fight our fears, our hatred and our racism like our survival depends upon it, because it does.
- Help us to overcome COVID-19 at last, and in the meantime, to find new ways to minister to others amid the suffering and isolation.
- Help your church to return to our chief tasks: to love you, love one another and declare the gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples. We, right and left, have wasted our energy and destroyed our witness fighting the culture wars. The culture is no longer listening, nor our own children.
- Remind the church that you call us to personal salvation and social justice, holiness and unconditional love, righteousness and mercy.
- Bring us back to your word. We’ve spent too much time listening to false prophets, celebrity preachers and talk show hosts.
- Teach us to be quiet, to listen, to seek you in silence. We have run our mouths enough.
Erich Bridges, a Baptist journalist for more than 40 years, retired in 2016 as global correspondent for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. He lives in Richmond, Va.