By Stephen K. Reeves
By now you’ve read some of the powerful statements from faith leaders following the violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. You can find the initial statement from Paul Baxley here and a follow-up here. Our CBF state and regional leaders worked quickly to release this joint statement. When our democracy is threatened, people of good will should speak out in defense of our ideals and against mob violence. Beyond making your voice heard, your convictions known, and praying fervently for nation and our leaders, what can you actually do? I offer these three initial suggestions.
Vocally address Christian Nationalism, white supremacy and racism in your church.
Among the crowd at the Capitol were signs saying, “Jesus Saves,” the Christian flag, and at least one large cross, right alongside the Confederate flag, makeshift gallows, and other hateful and anti-Semitic symbols and slogans. Could one of your fellow church members have been in that group and not seen any conflict with the messages they hear on Sunday? While it may be easy to point fingers and say we’re not like “those people,” the crowd was largely white evangelical Christians. Some were active church members and there was at least one Baptist pastor among them. Whether or not they committed or condoned the violence, they marched right alongside Proud Boys who chanted “Hang Mike Pence.” The hate group itself knelt in prayer before the march. Many close observers and commentators have called this a “Christian” insurrection.
If majority white churches, like most of those who support CBF, do not explicitly denounce Christian Nationalism and teach against racism and white supremacy then I fear little will change. This will not be easy, but fortunately there are many books, videos, resources and colleagues willing and available to aid in this journey. While everything we say is judged through hyper-partisan lenses, we cannot allow teaching against white supremacy, Christian Nationalism and a deadly anti-democratic insurrection to be considered “too political.” Naming and taking on these evils will be costly, but it is worth it. I fear we are witnessing the cost to the nation of too many white churches not addressing these evils among us.
Reduce Media Exposure & Seek the Truth
If constantly scrolling social media or watching cable news makes you anxious, angry and afraid—turn off the TV and put down the phone. Take a deep breath. This does not reduce the dire challenges we face, but perhaps it would help us to think and engage more constructively. I’m confident you can be a well-informed citizen without watching cable news. No matter your preferred channel, they all often succeed in provoking fear and anger, they just disagree on what we should be mad about or afraid of.
Be thoughtful about the media you consume and share. Conspiracy theories are attractive because they label as enemies all the same people we do. They thrive on fear, anger and lies. Take a step back, look at the big picture and ask if any prophesies or predictions have ever come true. Don’t pass along false info. Sharing lies is lying, so if something seems too outlandish to be true, it probably is.
The goal of social media companies is to entice you to spend as much time on their site or app as possible. The more time you spend, the more money they make from advertisers. Their goal is not to strengthen your relationships, your mental health, the welfare of the nation and certainly not promote truth—their goal is to show you things that keep you coming back and therefore maximize shareholder value. Take it all with a grain of salt.
I used to wonder how people I respect could see the world so fundamentally different from me. What I realize now is that we’re not being shown the same world at all. This is especially true in a pandemic when we experience even more of the world primarily through our screens.
Our divisions are deep and the threat of more violence real. It may seem small, but I believe our country would benefit if we reduced conflict on social media. Think before you post. Would you make that comment to someone sitting on the same pew? How much time should you devote to debating that friend from high school you haven’t seen in 20 years? Don’t give too much mental and emotional energy to inconsequential relationships.
The violence last week may cause you to recoil, swearing off political engagement altogether. That is understandable, and the exact opposite of what is needed. We need more thoughtful, compassionate people of faith to deeply engage the public square…and start locally. Reach out to your elected officials—mayors, city council members and school board members. Thank them for their service, acknowledge the difficulty of their position, assure them that you are praying for them and search hard to compliment them on something they have done or said that you agree with. Support good people running for office or decide to run yourself.
Nationally, I think we have an obligation to work for peace, but first seek truth, accountability, and justice.
The next few weeks are likely to be very challenging for our nation. A new administration does not receive a clean slate. Our deep divisions remain, as they always have. I believe a loss of community, how we consume media and how we interact online has had an extremely detrimental effect. Our congregations have not been spared the consequences, but I firmly believe people of faith have a critical role in helping us find ways out of this mess.
What will you do differently?