3 ways the church can respond to the Capitol building riot

January 13th, 2021

One of my favorite writers, Walter Brueggemann, says, “The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.” The violent rushing of the Capitol building last week brought me back to this quote again and again.

Many of us are asking right now what we can do. I offer Brueggemann’s quote as a starting point.

Tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion

We live in a self-described “post-truth society.” We huddle together in like-minded packs, seek mutually reinforcing opinions and read only media sources that agree with our partisan agendas.

Yet we fail to see that this is exactly what drove the Capitol riots last week. Conspiracy theory thinking promoted by QAnon, certain government officials and media personalities rejects any “truth” that does not fit their predetermined narratives.

The church should soundly reject such thinking.

The church’s job is to see and label the illusions under which we live. The church’s job is to remove the façade and shatter the illusion.

This means we can be owned by neither left nor right media sources. We should be controlled by no partisan narratives. We must question the propaganda of politicians and media powerbrokers.

To tell the truth, the church must be more devoted to the truth than to the illusion.

This means, then, that the church must invest itself in difficult sacred conversation. I know social media arguments can get out of hand. I also know we don’t want to upset the applecart at Thanksgiving dinner and become estranged from our family and friends. However, telling the truth in difficult sacred conversation is our only way out of this. The people we love, the people in our families, and the people in our own political parties are living under an illusion that is literally threatening the integrity of our national democracy. Their illusion risks their own lives and the lives of people they love. Someone must love them enough to have the difficult sacred conversation. Someone must love them enough to tell them the truth and hold them accountable.

I am not, of course, advocating for arguing with everyone you meet. A sacred conversation recognizes the humanity and dignity of even those who espouse conspiracies. Nevertheless, sacred conversation assumes that conversation will be difficult and, at times, cost us something. The world is not transformed in holy love without difficult sacred conversation. The church’s job is to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion. Are we yet brave enough? What else must happen before we find our voice?

Action items

  • Choose and cite only reliable, fact-checked sources.

  • Do not share articles you have not read.

  • Actively reflect on how your own partisanship hurts your ability to see the full truth.

  • Engage in difficult sacred conversation with family members and loved ones.

  • Affirm the humanity of your family and friends while also drawing boundaries that protect you and your loved ones from their behavior and beliefs.

  • You can write letters to members of Congress to ask them to denounce and hold accountable those who were involved in the Capitol riot.

Grieve in a society that practices denial

After telling the truth about the illusions of our society, the church’s next job is to model grief. This is a difficult task because our society and culture have taught us to deny our grief through numbing, shutting down, or anger. We listen to radio and TV shows designed precisely to make us forget our pain through laughter or take us from rage to despair and back to rage. Either way, they never allow us to grieve.

The church must tell the truth about the Capitol building raids last week, but also grieve those events. With Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, we must grieve that men and women in our country thought disrupting democracy was more palatable than accepting and grieving the loss of their political power. We must grieve that we live in a society that knows how to express resentment but does not know the first thing about sadness. We must lament that we live in a society where Jesus is used as a prop for our denial instead of the one who knows our sorrow and walks with us through it.

What happened at the Capitol building last week was the result of denied grief, not anger. It was the violent, threatening expression of people who have not learned or have chosen not to sit with their sadness.

This does not make their actions right. The choice to believe illusions so that we do not have to accept the truth is a moral issue. Conspiracy theory thinking is a moral not intellectual problem. Threatening the integrity of our democracy and risking innocent lives is a moral issue not merely a political one.

The church’s job is to open the way for alternatives so that we can help events like this be avoided in the future. The church must both tell the truth to people who live in the illusions but also walk with people as they learn to grieve the loss of their illusions. People turn to conspiracy theories because they believe they’ll find “belonging” in a community of denial. The church can show that people can find belonging in a community of truth-telling.

Action items

  • Read and meditate on Psalm 2.

  • Be present to and grieve with the people you know who may be most directly impacted by the events at the Capitol building.

  • Be present to and grieve with people who have lost their loved ones to conspiracy theory thinking.

  • Pay attention to your own anger and search for the root cause.

  • When engaging family members who are angry, see past the anger and ask yourself what their anger is hiding. What are they afraid of? What are they sad about but do not realize it?

Express hope in a society that lives in despair

I admit that in this moment of our nation’s history, I sometimes lean more toward despair than hope. I have often thought there is no hope for our divided nation. I have said, “I wouldn’t even know where to begin the healing process.”

Still, despite this, I also recognize that Christian hope exists precisely in moments where we don’t see a silver lining or the sun coming up over the horizon. Christian hope always exists in a world where the potential for despair is real. It exists precisely for the moments when everyone else has lost hope and succumbed to despair.

Moments of despair are where the church’s hope shines the brightest.

To give in to despair is to re-choose the illusion. Despair says “no one can save us and no one can make things better.” The truth of Jesus, however, is that God has placed the church in the world “for such a time as this.” We are here to tell the truth in a world of illusion. We are here to model grief in a world of denial. And we are here to tell people that it does not have to be this way. Jesus offers a better way. The church can live that better way now. That is our hope.

Action items

  • Ask yourself, where have you given in to cynicism and lost hope?

  • Ask yourself, how does the resurrection of Jesus fit into your thinking about America’s current political divisions?

  • Remember that hope can only be offered within the context of truth-telling and grief.

  • Put yourself in a position to learn gospel hope by speaking hard truths and intentionally engaging difficult sacred conversation.

  • Remember, even when you don’t have hope or do not know what to pray, Paul tells us that’s precisely when the Holy Spirit prays with and for us. (Romans 8:26-27)

  • Continue to invest and support local organizations that are making your city a better place for everyone. We cannot always act on a national scale, but we can always begin by living out our hopes at home. 

Friends, we live in a difficult season in our nation’s history. But let us be a people of the truth. Let us be a people willing to grieve. And let us be a people who boldly hold to hope when everyone else is in despair.

This post was originally published on the website of Bluff City Church in Memphis, Tennessee.

comments powered by Disqus