To Process Attacks, Some Legislators Turned to Religious Language | Sojourners

To Process Attacks, Some Legislators Turned to Religious Language

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester addresses constituents following the attack on the U.S. Capitol in a video statement. Image via Facebook screengrab.

On Wednesday, symbols of Christian nationalism were on full display among many of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol. However, both before and after Wednesday's attacks, some legislators invoked the language of faith in a different way: to reject President Donald Trump's repeated attempts to to discredit the election and the insurrection it sparked.

“I considered lots of things, listened to a lot of North Dakotans … but at the end of the day, there are two things: My conscience is captive to God, and my oath is to the Constitution of the United States,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a supporter of Trump, told MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson on Tuesday.

Similarly, Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), told a cohort of Trump supporters Wednesday morning, “I share your conviction that President Trump should remain president … but the law matters. I took an oath under God ... Do we still take that seriously in this country?”

Philip Gorski, professor of sociology at Yale University, said the invocation of God alongside the Constitution serves as an attempt to appeal to an authority higher than the president.

“It’s a way to try and create moral and political separation between yourself and Trump … who has certainly been seen as an agent of God and sometimes seen as a God-man,” Gorski told Sojourners.

At the Capitol on Wednesday, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) was seen passionately praying as a mob breached the building.

In a video posted on Twitter, she later told constituents the anger she felt during the attack made it difficult to pray.

“That’s how sad and upset I was,” Blunt Rochester said. “But in [laying down that anger], I could pray for healing, I could pray for peace, I could pray that we understand our purpose is to love.”

After Congress returned to debating and certifying the election results on Wednesday, members of Congress searched for religious language in response to a riot that left four people dead and dozens injured.

“The counting of electoral votes is our sacred duty,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “This temple to democracy was desecrated.”

“This is a sacred place. This sacred place was desecrated by a mob today. On our watch. This temple to democracy was defiled by thugs,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) echoed.

“This building has been desecrated,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) concurred.

The language used is part of what Gorski considers a political theology that aspires to create a civil religion built upon democracy, equality, and embraces an affirming of American democracy.

“There has to be a sense of commonality … that undergirds any healthy democracy and it’s perhaps inevitable that this is going to invoke religious language to some degree,” he said. “But it is also a tricky balancing act because it is a short step from there to a mixing together of religious, racial, and national identity that you saw among the insurrectionists.”

Objecting to the insurrection on grounds that it defiles the sacred place of Congress can reinforce a political theology rooted in exceptionalism, Gorski said.

“It is reinforcing this idea that Americans are a chosen people, that American democracy is a divine project,” he said. “That, I think, is deeply mistaken. The stronger argument is the one that prophetic voices make about racism versus inclusion, justice versus injustice.”

When Congress certified the election results early Thursday morning, Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black closed the joint session in prayer.

“These tragedies have reminded us that words matter, that the power of life and death is in the tongue,” Black said. “Lord, you have helped us remember that we need to see in each other a common humanity that reflects your image … use us to bring healing and unity to our hurting and divided nation and world.”

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