Like hundreds of millions of people across the country and around the world, I watched in horror as what once seemed unthinkable played out before my eyes.
The United States Capitol came under siege by a violent and delusional mob, carrying out an insurrection in the seat of American government as they attempted to overturn the results of a free and fair election.
The assault was not just on the building, but it was on America’s representative democracy itself. It’s an attack that every American should take personally.
As someone with close connections to the physical building, I felt it immediately. I live in Washington, D.C., work across the street from the Senate office buildings and spent nearly 10 years of my professional life in public service as an aide for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
My outrage increased when I saw photos of the rioters holding up signs like “Jesus Saves” and heard reports that the first invaders to enter the Senate chamber carried a Christian flag.
These images are textbook examples of Christian nationalism, an ideology that merges American and Christian symbols, narratives and identities.
Christian nationalism perverts Christianity and endangers our political union, claiming a special, privileged position for Christianity and its adherents. Because it ignores the sin of Black chattel slavery, Christian nationalism in the American context also provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.
Think about the additional harm perpetuated by the assailants acting in Jesus’ name.
The rioters, who can accurately be labeled as radical Christian terrorists, used Christianity as a kind of mascot, trying to lend credibility and social acceptability to their terrorism. In the process, they sullied Christianity and Jesus in the hearts and minds of people all over the world.
While the scale and effectiveness of the attack was shocking, anyone who has been paying attention to the events of the past several years couldn’t possibly be surprised.
The rioters were dispatched to the Capitol by their leader and the current leader of our country, President Donald J. Trump, at a rally held outside the White House on Wednesday, when he continued to repeat lies about the results of this election. Many of his followers have attached messianic significance to his presidency.
What we witnessed this week was un-American and un-Christian, at least when we consider those descriptors in their ideal forms. Those of us who claim both identities have a special responsibility not only to repudiate these actions but also to continue the work to dismantle Christian nationalism and to reveal how this dangerous ideology permeates our society.
This egregious display can serve as a wake-up call, but we shouldn’t be complacent about the less obvious but insidious displays of Christian nationalism in our communities.
Christian nationalism predates Trump, and it will long outlast him. But the damage done — not only this week but over the past four years — will take a concerted, long-term effort to reverse.
BJC will continue our work to increase understanding of both Christian nationalism and what it means to stand up for religious freedom for all.
Those who embrace Christian nationalism tend to use the language of “religious freedom” in describing their efforts to prioritize Christianity and give it special protections.
We will need a renewed commitment to protecting religious liberty for all, not just the privileged few. We will continue to foster an understanding of how rules prohibiting government sponsorship of religion are safeguards for religious freedom, not acts of religious discrimination.
We will continue to work with those fighting Christian nationalism in all of its forms.
We are still supporting the Christians Against Christian Nationalism platform, encouraging individuals to take a public stand for faith freedom for all and to share resources to help identify and call out Christian nationalism – in both its blatantly obvious and also more subtle manifestations.
We do this work as Christians because we love our country, we love our neighbors and we love our God.
Executive director of BJC and the co-host of the “Respecting Religion” podcast series.