By Rudy Barnes, Jr., January 15, 2022
Over 160 years ago a morally muddled mainstream in America produced a Civil War. The divisive issue of slavery split America’s mainstream into irreconcilable political factions in the north and south. Today’s racism is an echo of slavery that has once again polarized the nation’s mainstream. The January 6, 2021 insurrection could portend another civil war.
Secession is not likely today. Our divisions are not geographical but are based on who should govern our nation. America’s mainstream is divided and polarized by a radical right Republican Party and a radical left Democratic Party, and the church has once again lost its moral compass by failing to promote the common good needed to restore political legitimacy.
Churches once moderated partisan extremes with the altruistic morality taught by Jesus. It’s summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. But churches remain racially segregated, with most Blacks voting Democratic and most Whites voting Republican.
The American political mainstream has shifted from moderates who were once prevalent in both political parties to partisan extremists who control both parties and reject moderates, who have been left with no voice in Congress. Partisan differences have become polarized, with the violence of civil strife now the norm in America’s morally muddled mainstream.
Most white churches either support or ignore the partisan walls that divide America rather than promoting the dialogue needed to build bridges of reconciliation between those of different races and religions. America’s fractured mainstream today looks a lot like it did in 1860. Are America’s churches once again ignoring a great evil in its midst?
Christianity became the world’s most popular religion after church doctrines supplanted discipleship (following Jesus as the word of God) with worshiping Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian God. The church has been the mainstream religion of America since its birth, but it failed to prevent the Civil War and lost its legitimacy in 2016 when most white Christians supported Donald Trump, a narcissist demagogue who instigated the abortive insurgency of January 2021.
Jesus was crucified as an insurgent, but he wasn’t one. Jewish insurgents of his day were known as Zealots, and in 66 CE they succeeded in overthrowing Roman rule in Jerusalem; but their success was short-lived. Romans recaptured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 70 CE, sending Jews fleeing to the four corners of the ancient world.
For the church to restore its lost legitimacy and provide moral direction for America’s muddled mainstream, it should abandon the cheap grace and big lie of exclusivist Christian doctrines and emphasize the teachings of Jesus as moral imperatives of faith. That would likely cost Christianity its popularity as America’s mainstream religion, but it would be worth the cost.
According to extensive research by Professor Robert Pape at the University of Chicago, “the people who participated in the Capitol riot [of January 6, 2021] and the beliefs they hold are not on the fringe but are decidedly ‘mainstream.’ Pape believes that faith leaders have a vital role in reaching these Americans who are increasingly comfortable with the use of political violence. We’re so used to thinking of extremists as being on the fringe—being part of fringe militia groups or fringe religious sects. What’s striking about those who broke into the Capitol—and also what’s striking about the insurrectionist sentiments in the country today in the general population is that they are mainstream. This comes through in our research in multiple ways.
The number one finding is their economic profile: Over half of the nearly 700 who were arrested for breaking into the Capitol are business owners or from white collar occupations—doctors, lawyers, architects. Only about 13 percent are members of militia groups like the Oathkeepers or the Proud Boys. At least 25 percent of the insurrectionists have college degrees. When we look at military service, about 15 percent of the insurrectionists have military service. That’s a little higher than the 10 percent in the general population, but actually quite close to the general population. Seven percent of those insurrections who broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6 were unemployed—nearly the national average at the time. They’re not 100 percent the same as the general population. They’re more white; 93 percent of those who were arrested for breaking into the Capitol are white. They are also more male—about 85 percent. The average age is 42. Overwhelmingly what we’re seeing is the mainstream.” In that mainstream, Pape found “that a large number of Americans—21 million—hold two radical views. One, they believe that the use of force to restore Donald Trump to the presidency is justified. Number two, they believe that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president. Those are the two key insurrectionist beliefs we saw on Jan. 6.” Pape says ”the primary beliefs of the movement are not mainly religious. We see an idea on the right that used to be just a fringe idea, which is now moving into the mainstream, called ‘the great replacement.’ This idea is that whites are being replaced by non-whites; it’s either happening through birth or, in the right-wing extremist conspiracy theory, liberal Democrats are making it happen by opening the borders so that they can change the electorate. The number one characteristic of the counties that the individuals came from is the decline of white population in their counties.” While Pape said that the primary beliefs are not religious, he went on to say that “Faith leaders in the church are powerful voices in a community’s mainstream. And at a point in time when our politicians are so polarized, we need places where we can have real dialogue. Church leaders are a powerful venue for ameliorating what we have in front of us today. Having church leaders see the details of what I’m describing here...to really come to grips with this information and absorb what we’re describing, that’s the next step. See https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2022/01/05/jan-6-capitol-riot-faith-leaders-242148?utm.
Brian Broome has described the desire to be right as a motivating force behind the polarization of mainstream America into partisan factions. He has said, “I like being right..but some of the power in being right rests in its ability to make us feel superior and, more insidiously, from the way it makes our worlds appear solid and unassailable. The only feeling that might be more intoxicating than being right is the feeling of superiority that comes from being right while someone else is wrong. I have wasted many hours fighting with strangers online about politics or gender or culture. In most cases, of course, I thought I was right. Often the arguments got ugly and soon the most important thing became proving that I was right and my opponent was wrong. The specifics fall away and the stakes become clear: If I am wrong, my world becomes threatening and unsafe. I imagine the same is true for them.” Broome concludes, There must be a way to set aside the hollow satisfaction of right-thinking and to find out why other people believe what they believe. If the United States should fail, I doubt it will be because of some foreign power. America’s destruction will take place inside its own borders because we conflate being wrong with failing or losing. Our destruction will come from those of us who are so damned right all the time. The ones who refuse to listen, who will never even bother to consider other people’s viewpoints and who will protect their worldview with their lives. We must find a
better path to safety.” Dialogue can counter our insistence on being “damn right all the time.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/10/why-certainty-is-americas-kryptonite/?utm
The term “insurrection” has different connotations, some positive and some negative. When liberty from oppression (De oppresso liber) is the objective (see Luke 4: 18-19 and Isaiah 61:1-2), as it was in the American Revolution and slave liberation, an insurrection can have postive biblical connotations. But a violent insurrection by radical right nihilists like those who participated in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol is not only negative but also a crime.
Hawa Allen has noted that the term “insurrection” under the Insurrection Act of 1807 primarily refers to Black insurrections: “Defining the mostly white crowd that stormed the Capitol on January 6 as ‘insurrectionists’ does more than set a narrative mood, it represents a major narrative shift—expanding the traditional role of the insurrectionist beyond the Black actor to the white one. This is not the first time the shift has happened: When Ulysses S. Grant invoked the Insurrection Act in March 1871 to deploy federal troops in South Carolina to help put down the paramilitary Ku Klux Klan, it was abundantly clear that violent Klan members were the “insurrectionists.” But such use of the term has been rare. And for those who resist the word “insurrection” to describe the events of Jan. 6, this history may only underline that it may be a troubling harbinger of future state action that then-president elect Joe Biden was among the first people to use it.” See What the history of the word insurrection says about Jan 6 at https://time.com/6137604/history-insurrection-jan-6/?utm_medium=email&utm_.
On the topic of de oppresso liber, See De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/05/de-oppresso-liber-where-religion-and.html.
See also Liberation from Economic Oppression: A Human Right or Obligation of Faith? at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/05/liberation-from-economic-oppression.html.
Carl Krieg has asserted a “big lie” in Christianity: “For over 2,000 years the masses of Christian believers have held that Jesus died for their sins even though the original disciples had no such idea. They were encountered by a person of love who changed their lives.” That “big lie” of Christian doctrine has supplanted the altruistic teachings of Jesus as God’s word, and it “exemplifies the power of falsehood to get a grip on the imagination of the masses and grow exponentially under its own power,” just as Trump’s big lie that he won the 2020 election continues to motivate his supporters, including most white Christians, despite there being no credible evidence to support his claim. “This is one dimension of human nature of which all fascists seem to be aware.” See https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/the-big-lie/.
Martin Thielen is a former UMC pastor who has lost faith in the relevance of the institutional church to real world issues. He says “we cannot deny a stark and depressing reality. Legions of people are disgusted with the sorry state of institutional religion in 21st century America--for many good reasons. For example, our country is currently struggling with massive challenges including climate crisis, a pandemic, poverty, hunger, racism, injustice, polarization and serious threats to democracy.” See https//doubtersparish.com/2022/01/01/leaving-church/.