Baptist pastors and leaders took to social media Wednesday, Jan. 6, to express outrage and remorse and calls to prayer as supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol in an attempt to disrupt certification of Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election.
Since the events of the historic day fell on a Wednesday and on the Day of Epiphany on the church calendar, many pastors already had scheduled Bible studies, prayer meetings or other gatherings with their congregations, whether virtually or in person. Those sessions quickly got turned to addressing the events of the day.
Alan Sherouse, pastor of First Baptist Church of Greensboro, N.C., announced his church would host a “call to prayer for our nation” on Zoom. “Join us as you’re able to hold space for all of the grief and confession, anger and pain at once,” he invited.
He added: “The fact that the riot at the Capitol is deeply disturbing does not change that it is utterly inevitable. The fact it is not who we — white Americans — want to be, does not keep us from taking responsibility for who we currently are. The fact we grieve does not mean we do not also confess. The fact it appears outrageous does not mean I get to hold it at a distance. Faith gives us resources for all of this.”
Garrett Vickrey, pastor of Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, also invited his congregants to an evening community meeting that already had been scheduled.
“The Confederate flag was waved inside the Capitol. A guy with a KKK tattoo sat in the Speaker’s chair. This is not just happening on TV. This is on us. We are culpable and capable. Our planned beloved community meeting … today will be a time of lament, grief, planning and prayer.”
Courtney Allen Crump, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., offered a stark assessment of the events unfolding just a short drive away in the nation’s Capital.
“Let’s be clear. The people who stormed the Capitol today are not ‘great patriots.’ They’re insurrectionists who attempted a coup. There were not ‘very fine people on both sides’ in Charlottesville three years ago, but rather white nationalists with tiki torches — and this remains something white people must reckon with within ourselves, our communities, our institutions, and our nation.”
She continued: “But words matter. Because words shape worlds. And what we’ve seen today in our country is the end result of hateful rhetoric, an inability to tell the truth, and the refusal of seemingly good people to stand up to a man wholly consumed with himself over the good of our nation, the principles of our democracy, or any future beyond what we have already witnessed. May God give us clarity and courage and all things needed to be truth-tellers and agents of justice and reconciliation in these days.”
Warnings from Scripture
Bill Ireland, pastor of Norris Religious Fellowship and a church consultant from Knoxville, Tenn., said he doesn’t normally comment on political matters on Facebook because he doesn’t find that fosters healthy conversation. “Nevertheless, today’s developments are beyond the pale and reveal the absence of principled leadership at the highest levels,” he said.
“The phrase ‘sow the wind, reap the whirlwind’ keeps coming to mind. If we persist in demonizing others and turning our neighbors into enemies — well, today is what results. One of my teachers insisted that God’s judgment is not somebody else getting zapped. Instead it’s us simply getting what we choose. Today we got what we chose.”
Other pastors likewise quoted Scripture, particularly the Hebrew prophets, as epithets for the day.
“The Hebrew prophets remain timely and relevant,” said Kevin Gardner-Sinclair, pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. “May God‘s shalom fall fresh on our nation … but not a cheap armistice which offers only a veneer covering wounds which still fester under the surface. May God’s true peace (come), the peace of the Crucified Christ — a man of sorrows, a person of color, a child of poor, peasant parents — who still heals lepers, still opens eyes, and is still casting out the unclean, unholy ghosts of violence, greed, white supremacy, and delusion which haunt our world.
Differences in response based on race
Others drew comparisons between the apparent ease with which the largely white male rioters gained entry to the Capitol and the extreme defensive measures enacted during a previous Black Lives Matter protest.
“It’s amazing how much restraint there is in D.C. I wonder what would happen if BLM did this (We all know the answer),” tweeted Cory Jones, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Burlington, N.J.
Benjamin Boswell, pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., picked up the theme: “Where are the accusations of treason? Where is the media calling this a radical right-wing riot or coup? Where are the arrests? Where is the tear gas? Where are the rubber bullets? Where are the calls for peace and civility? Our double-standard and hypocrisy are showing. Our whiteness has brought any semblance of democracy we had left to the brink of destruction.”
Mitch Randall, CEO of Good Faith Media, wrote: “This is what a coup looks like. If they were BLM, they would have been shot.”
Jacqui Lewis, senior pastor of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, added: “So damn tired of living in a country that treats Black grief as a threat and white rage as a sacrament.”
A time for truth
Some homed in on the need for truth-telling to preserve civility and democracy.
“Minister friends, we must confront directly the baseless conspiracy theories and allegations that our own church members are embracing and passing along,” said Steve Harmon, theology professor at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity. “They are not just wrong-headed ideas; they have consequences, and to tie these falsehoods to the salvation of Jesus is nothing less than blasphemy.”
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi issued a statement adopted unanimously by its coordinating council.
“Truth, in fact, has been at the center of this tragedy,” it said. “On this day of all days, when we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord — the beginning of a season of light and revelation — truth must be told, revealed, epiphanic.
It added: “Pray with us for God’s peace, which is more than the absence of violence, but the presence of wholeness and well-being. Pray with us for God’s justice to correct and heal the wrongs that have been committed and put us on a path to repentance and even reconciliation. Pray with us for leadership that tells the truth and leads by example in pathways of kindness, generosity and dignity. If the Bible is true and we reap what we sow, then let us sow the seeds of justice, love and compassion so that they may grow up to govern our lives.”
Others focused on the effects of Christian nationalism.
“This just in: If you hold a ‘Jesus Saves’ sign while violently storming a civic building in a fear-driven, anti-democratic attempt for earthly political power, the basis of your faith is way off. It seems many have trusted in another as their ‘savior.’ This is not the American way, and far more important it is not the way of Christ,” said Texas-based educator and church consultant Jonathan Davis.
Joel Andrew Bowman Sr., a clinical social worker and senior pastor of Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., posted a photo from the day with this comment: “How sickening! A ‘Jesus Saves’ flag being waved as Trump supporters storm the Capitol! This is not true Christianity, but religious nationalism! Further, I’d say this is taking the name of the Lord in vain, a violation of one of The Ten Commandments.”
Christian author, pastor and speaker Brian Zahnd, agreed in a tweet: “This is what it means to take the name of the Lord in vain.”
Calls for unity
Some took the occasion to once again call for a kind of unity in purpose that increasingly seems impossible in America today.
“Today the U.S. Capitol building was breached for the first time since the invasion of the British army in 1814. I am angry and shocked about this development, but also concerned about the deterioration of our national traditions and norms,” said Danny Chisolm, pastor at First Baptist Church of Clinton, Tenn.
“This is not a partisan issue for me but a patriotic one. However, I believe this can be a watershed moment and a wake-up call for this nation,” he added. “Dissent is part of our heritage, but this behavior cannot be normalized. What happened today can never happen again. Our democracy is fragile and it’s possible to lose it — not from outside forces but those from within. I hope that our love of country will be stirred in response to this effort at insurrection.”
Timothy Peoples, pastor of Emerywood Baptist Church in High Point, N.C., recalled the words of Sinclair Lewis, who said, “When fascism comes to America, it will come cloaked in American flags and bearing crosses.”
“We must be honest with ourselves and confront the mirage under which we have been living,” Peoples said. “We are not and have not been ‘United.’ What happened today is not democracy. For decades — centuries — the nation has claimed, ‘Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us’ while continuing to abhor justice and detest equity, just as in Micah 3:9. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers and rebuke our wrong and evil ways.”
Bob Guffey, pastor of Freemason Street Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., said: “There is nothing of what it means to be a person of faith that can justify the behavior of the mob in D.C. today. Nothing. There is nothing of what it means to be a true follower of Jesus that justifies anyone acting in any way that threatens the lives of other human beings. Nothing.
Doesn’t matter who you are or what your grievances, for Christians, our baseline for living is found in how God showed up in the life, death and resurrection of a poor brown man born of poor parents in a backwater place, whose power was made real before us through an executioner’s handiwork. How did he respond? LOVE.”
Likewise, Jeff Roberts, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., said: “I am appalled and disgusted by what we are witnessing. I believe in our Constitution and the good will of the majority of the American people. This will end and it will not end well for those who participated. Praying for peace and for those who keep the peace.”
And Daniel Glaze, pastor of River Road Church, Baptist, in Richmond, Va., posted an emotional confession: “I have written and rewritten this post several times now. My hands shake as I type. I’m not sure what to say. But I must say this. What is happening in D.C. right now is not right. It is not pro-democracy. And it is un-Christlike. This is beyond Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal. Guns drawn in the U.S. Capitol. Windows smashed. Rioting through Statuary Hall. Gas masks given to lawmakers and their staffs, ushered into secure locations. This is not who we are. It must end now. Join me in condemning these actions and in praying for law enforcement officers, lawmakers and anyone in harm’s way. We are better than this. Love and light, dear ones.”
Addiction to violence
Jared Jaggers, a Baptist pastor currently serving at the American International Church in London, drew a longer historical connection: “America is violently ill. We’ve been addicted to violence for generations, and the violence we have sowed around the world has come home. And sadly, the church in the U.S. has been co-opted to give moral authority to the hatred, racism and nationalism that supports the violence.”
And then he, like others, posted a specific message to his own extended family members in the United States: “And for my family who consider Trump to be divinely ordained, it’s not too late to repent. Your words denouncing the evils of these right-wing terrorists will be meaningful.”
Barrett Owen, pastor of First Baptist Church in Waynesboro, Va., noted the irony of these events happening on Epiphany.
“It’s the day we remember the magi blessing Jesus,” he said. “But you should keep reading after the magi leave because today is also the day we remember Herod’s call for the massacre of the innocent. From the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, a divide is set up between Jesus’ future kingship and a fearful dictator attempting to hold on to power ready to murder if necessary.
“Today we witnessed an attempted insurrection on our nation’s Capitol during the moment Congress was to confirm the next president. It’s the first time since the War of 1812 our Capitol building was breached by domestic terrorists. Today’s seditious events will be remembered forever, and they feel a lot like something Herod would do.”
He added: “Anyone who celebrates, honors, appreciates or participates in the sedition we witnessed today has planted their flag square in Herod’s camp, and their actions must be condemned. We can never be OK with today’s behavior.”
Owen concluded: “The voice of the church must be unequivocally clear tonight: We stand on the side of love, justice, reconciliation, hope, civility, grace and loving our neighbor.
The voice of the church must also condemn the lies, hatred, bigotry, racism and sedition unearthed. These are the actions of Herod. Full stop. And in no way do they represent Christianity.”
Jake Hall, pastor of Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., recounted his nightly ritual with his children as he reads to them and turns on a night light that illuminates a canopy of dancing red, white and blue stars.
“Tonight, I struggled to explain why they saw images of the Capitol that looked like movies we don’t let them watch where guns are drawn, and fearful people hide behind barricades in fear of death,” he said. “Sitting in the swirl of stars and I am dizzy and angry and grieving and trying to find my words for this day. We have lost so much of our compassion and shared space for each other during this season of partisan fighting and pandemic suffering.”
And then: “In the pages of the Christian calendar, today marks Epiphany, a story of wise stargazers who must find home another way after meeting Jesus and becoming entangled with Herod. Their story is about leaving and finding a home, dealing with the dangers while nimbly finding a new path. I don’t know what to do about this day. Yet, I do have a sense of what we owe to each other tomorrow.
“We will survive this terrible day to change the trajectory of our path. We must commit to finding a home together by another way.”