‘We Have to Be a Counter Voice to White Christian Nationalism’ | Sojourners

‘We Have to Be a Counter Voice to White Christian Nationalism’

A person holding a wooden cross adorned with the phrase “Jesus Saves” marches down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the U.S. Capitol building alongside supporters of former President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021. Madison Muller/Sojourners.

Last January, over two dozen community members assembled near the large Martin Luther statue outside Luther Place Memorial Church in downtown Washington, D.C., for a morning of orchestrated silent prayer. Staggered six-feet apart in the sharp winter air, they were acutely aware that the Capitol was already abuzz with protesters waving Trump flags, holding signs invoking Jesus Christ, and outfitted in insignia from dangerous far-right organizations.

The group at Luther Place had gathered to start their 24-hour prayer vigil on Jan. 6, 2021. But soon after beginning, their meditation was interrupted.

From among the throngs of protesters who had descended upon the city that day, two people approached the church: One imitated lying on the ground while the other stood above them, holding their knee on their partner’s neck. When the crude reenactment of George Floyd’s murder received no response from those gathered at Luther Place, the perpetrators repeated it on the steps of nearby National City Christian Church.

“We weren’t provoked to action or retaliation, but people were provoked to understand the linking between the white Christian nationalists, white supremacy culture, and police brutality,” Rev. Karen Brau, senior pastor at Luther Place and who witnessed the action, told Sojourners.

This year, to mark the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6, the church plans to hold a prayer service in reflection of the insurrection that took place less than two miles from their congregation at the U.S. Capitol building.

“For our congregation, it’s one of those opportunities to be the church and also to be interfaith, understanding that we’ll bring our Christian witness into something bigger,” Brau said. “We have to be a counter voice to white Christian nationalism.”

The stark display of Christian nationalism on Jan. 6 is something that members of the faith community are still grappling with. Like Luther Place, other groups also plan to mark the somber anniversary with prayer, action, and opportunities for engagement.

Christy Vines, founder and president of the Ideos Institute, a Christian nonprofit that promotes an empathetic approach to conflict resolution, mobilized her organization after Jan. 6 to bring together 13 people from different political backgrounds to discuss how widespread polarization was afflicting the country. The first event was held in January of 2021, and the second held in July.

“If we were simply having the hard conversations - you know, the ones we’re taught not to have at the dinner table or in polite company - without judgment, animus, or fear, January 6th might just have been a regular day,” Vines said in a statement sent to Sojourners.

On Wednesday, the day before the Jan. 6 anniversary, a documentary film based on the Institute’s July panel discussion premieres as part of its first National Day of Dialogue. In partnership with 18 faith-based, ecumenical, and secular organizations, the daylong event is intended to be a “celebration of dialogue” featuring breakout sessions with experts and opportunities for bipartisan engagement.

“Communities of faith should be modeling what it looks like to live in a redemptive way and to lead by example,” said Mairin McCuistion, director of communications and outreach at the Ideos Institute. “We think the best example of empathy is portrayed in Jesus Christ, so it’s our call to be disciples of him. We as Christians should be at the forefront of peacebuilding and dialogue.”

But McCuistion also acknowledges that it will take more than dialogue for real change to occur.

“This is just a starting point,” McCuistion said. “And it's a starting point to get people of all different ideological backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, faith backgrounds to come together … recognizing the importance of dialogue and committing to move forward together.”

An afternoon breakout session hosted by the Center for Public Justice, will feature panelists, including CPJ’s Rachel Anderson, in conversation about the lessons learned on Jan. 6, the challenges that still remain and their visions for the future of Christian political engagement.

To some, the widespread religious symbolism and invocation of Jesus Christ among insurrectionists on Jan. 6 remains a troubling example of a larger problem. This anniversary serves as a reminder of how critical it is for the faith community to understand and combat Christian nationalism.

“I think Jan. 6 and the scale of violence and just the audacity of the attack really focused attention on Christian nationalism in a new way,” Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, told Sojourners. “But it is not limited to that attack.”

In 2019, Tyler co-founded Christians Against Christian Nationalism after seeing an uptick in violent incidents of Christian nationalism, such as the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in October 2018. When Jan. 6 occurred, her organization used the tools they had been refining over the last two years to help others understand the attack.

Soon after the insurrection, they hosted a webinar with faith leaders such as Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry and sociologist Andrew Whitehead. This summer the organization published a discussion guide and curriculum based on the webinar. Both the webinar and curriculum are free and available to the public.

“A lot of our goal has been to help people recognize more mundane, everyday examples of Christian nationalism because we have to start at the most basic level if we’re going to work to dismantle the ideology,” Tyler said. “We can’t say this is only an extremist problem; this is a problem that I believe is really rampant in American Christianity and something we all have a role in understanding.”

Later this month, Christians Against Christian Nationalism and the secular nonprofit Freedom From Religion will release a comprehensive report detailing Christian nationalism as it relates to Jan. 6. It’s important, Tyler says, that the conversation about Christian nationalism continues beyond the one-year mark of Jan. 6.

“It’s something we’ll be continuing to learn about for years to come,” she said.

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