1. General Christian

‘Not Real Christians’: Communal Confession for a Faith Divided

On January 6, 2021, an angry mob of white nationalists, some armed with guns, stormed the Capitol and rioted inside. Several Christians were in this group, seen waving flags and banners that proclaimed “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my president.” There is also a video that has gone viral of a woman singing a Bethel song and dramatically repeating the words, “Jesus, Jesus.” It is no surprise that many faithful supporters of President Trump over the years have been conservative white evangelicals and their choice to engage in this “failed insurrection,” to use the phrase of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is both equal parts a commitment to their faith in Trump as well as Jesus.

However, many other Christians, including Christians of color, watched in horror as this act of terror unfolded. Beyond the trauma that it caused to many looking on, a number of people found themselves wrestling with how to feel about those bearing the same faith as them yet committing great evil. How are we supposed to talk about this event in which Christian complicity with American nationalism is unquestionable?

Divisions within Christian spaces have become entrenched and fortified over these past four years. We have witnessed the quiet exodus of Black and Brown Christians from evangelical churches. Many Christians of color have even made the choice to no longer identify as evangelical in order to separate and distinguish themselves from a group of Christians who seem largely committed to colorblindness and are unrepentant of their own racist rhetoric and views. Many Christians, who have chosen to speak up against the sins of Christian nationalism have lost friends and jobs, they’ve been shamed and worse. Now countless of us carry the weight of hurt and betrayal for the actions of white Christian nationalists in this country; and, undoubtedly, there is a long road ahead of finding racial healing from these wounds.

It’s for these reasons that it can be easy at times to denounce Christian nationalists and say “those aren’t real Christians.” But many not arrested probably attended church this past Sunday. They read the same Bible we do. They claim to love Jesus with all their heart the way we do as well. As Christians, we are quick to draw lines in the sand among ourselves, but do you think the world cares? Buddhists, Muslims, Atheists and more see us as a united whole. Fundamentalist, progressive, conservative, white, Black and Brown. There is only one Christianity. Despite the pain and the anger that many of us feel for fellow believers, we would do well to better embrace this view too.

The more we come to see Christian nationalists as our siblings, the better we will be able to respond to their actions as a body of Christ. In the Bible, Christians are called to a communal faith and this includes communal confession. Nehemiah 1:4-7, for example, states, “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps a covenant of love with those who love you and keep your commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.” Nehemiah uses the language of “we” and confesses the sins of all Israel before God. He doesn’t distance himself from disobedient Israelites. Rather, he owns their wickedness as his own and confesses on their behalf as well as his.

Likewise, Daniel 9:4-7 states, “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps your covenant of love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you.” Daniel speaks of Israel’s sins with a collective voice. He doesn’t say “they have been wicked.” Rather, “we have been wicked and have rebelled.”

What if we responded to the events of January 6 like Nehemiah and Daniel? The biblical model of communal confession challenges us to collectively own Christian complicity in the insurrection at the Capitol. Our Christian witness includes confessing the sins of Christian nationalists as our sins because the people of God communally confess sins they didn’t commit. We don’t excuse or condone their behavior. We must still raise our voices to denounce Christian pursuit of power and boldly denounce cycles of violence perpetuated in the name of Jesus. We also seek that justice be given to those involved in last week’s events. Nevertheless, we can still own and apologize to a watching world the sins that our fellow siblings have committed.

I’ll never forget the time a professor at Wheaton College apologized to a group of Germans for the bombing of Kristallnacht. At the time, as a 19-year-old college student, I was confused. Why would this man apologize for America’s actions? I thought to myself, “We were at war, after all.” But I later came to realize how profound his confession was. No, he hadn’t been a soldier during WWII. He had not flown over Leipzig or been personally involved in the bombing. But he understood the gravity and long-term consequences of these actions and its impact on German perceptions of Americans, and he owned that as his own. Our response to fellow siblings in Christ must follow suit.

In these days and weeks following the insurrection, we should pray, “God, we lament the loss of life, those injured, the destruction of property and the terror that was caused on January 6; and may the perpetrators be brought to justice.” We should also pray, “God, forgive us for our idolized view of this nation. Forgive us for those perpetuating the myth of Christian persecution in the U.S. Forgive us for the hateful, racist rhetoric, and violence we have committed.”

Let’s take ownership to right the wrongs of January 6’s insurrection. Let’s collectively clean up this mess, Christians. There are sympathizers around the country. Pastors and congregants alike must denounce Christian violence and nationalism in their respective town and church.

May God purify us as Christians. May God cleanse our churches from the sin, violence and hate of Christian nationalism. May God safeguard each of us from thinking we are above such actions. May each of us own and denounce the sins within the body of Christ.

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