Politicians and pundits ponder what a fitting response should be to the storming of the US Capitol on Jan. 6.
Some say we should impeach the president again, remove him from office by invoking the 25th Amendment or pursue both. Others say that either course would be too divisive or impractical.
On Monday, the House of Representatives began a formal process for a second impeachment of President Trump by introducing an article of impeachment for “incitement of insurrection.” A vote is planned for today.
Whatever happens, I do believe that those who contributed to the debacle must take responsibility for their part and be held accountable.
It is not just political leaders who should be held accountable, however. It is time for us, as a nation, and especially Christian citizens of the United States, to name our sins.
We have lost the ability to do so for many reasons. Among them are the normalization of behaviors that used to be considered unacceptable, the fetishizing of individual freedom and the eroding of religious traditions under these and other forces.
Still, the Christian tradition provides us resources that can guide us in naming our sins. And so, as I process the events of Jan. 6, I gravitate toward three biblical texts and a liturgical practice.
The texts are:
- “And what the Lord requires of you: only to do justice, to love goodness and to walk modestly with your God” (Micah 6:8)
- “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
- “The truth will make you free” (John 8:23)
The liturgical practice is that of confession of sin. The penitential system evolved as a pastoral way of dealing with continued wrongdoing that, at its best (and that qualification is important), both held people responsible for their actions and provided a pathway for returning them to meaningful life in the community.
Doing so required naming specific sins – not the generic ones we confess in worship today, if we even retain a confession of sin in our services.
As painful as the specifics may be, however, it is only by telling the truth that we can be free to move ahead. We should have learned this from Jesus.
Yet, we have to be careful in this practice of confession, for as Paul reminds us, all of us have sinned. Put differently, there is no place for self-righteousness, for all of us have, in one way or another, contributed to the problems facing us.
Micah reinforces this reading of Paul by reminding us that we are supposed to walk with God humbly, not self-righteously.
Moreover, what we require for acts of repentance must not be motivated by revenge. From Micah, we learn that true repentance must be marked by a justice that is tempered by goodness (some translations say kindness).
So then, let us name our sins by telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Perhaps this list can serve as a prompt:
Politicians, both Republican and Democrat, have to varying degrees substituted loyalty to person, interest group, base, personal ambition, ideology or a combination of the above for loyalty to the Constitution and rule of law.
They need to own responsibility for how they have contributed to the demand for ideological purity, partisanship and erosion of civility that has become cancerous over the past several years.
U.S. citizens, Republican, Democrat and independent alike, have likewise replaced a commitment to the common good with loyalties to person, interest group, ideology or some combination thereof.
Moreover, too many of us have abdicated responsibility by failing to let our voices be heard, by failing to critically reflect on the claims and promises made by politicians or both. As citizens, we must acknowledge our contributions to the current situation.
Christians have likewise given the loyalty due only to God to nation, person, movement, ideology or some combination of the above.
We, from conservative to progressive, have too often, now and in the past, confused nation or party with the reign of God. We have all failed to learn the lessons of history where demand for loyalty and ideological purity have led to the violence of pogroms and crusades.
Others have commented on the sins of law enforcement’s preferential treatment of some groups, the media’s subordination of reporting to profit and ratings, even higher education’s failure to make its core mission the formation of informed, responsible citizens and leaders.
Paul is right; all have sinned. We have done so in different ways, to different degrees, but all have sinned and so there is no room for self-righteousness.
In humility and sorrow, we must sincerely tell the truth and name our sins.
But telling the truth is only the start. It must next be matched with deeds that demonstrate repentance.
Only then can we begin to heal, reconcile and move forward.
Professor of religion in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He is the author of Wisdom Calls: The Moral Story of the Hebrew Bible and Faithful Innovation: The Rule of God and a Christian Practical Wisdom.