The manifesto of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol was written on the flags:
“JESUS IS MY SAVIOR, TRUMP IS MY PRESIDENT.”
Trump flags and Jesus flags waved together commingled with nazi imagery, paramilitary gear, and confederate flags. Life-size homemade crosses marched alongside noose scaffolding platforms. These symbols of white supremacy, patriarchy, and religious nationalism are embedded in the larger Evangelical colonized message dating back to the Puritans: America is a Christian country with Christian values that is threatened by secular democracy. And when threatened, better call on Jehovah of the Old Testament to defend Jesus of the New Testament. Fight, bully, rage, shock, vandalize, militarize, terrorize, and kill– all in the Name of God.
This, this is what it means to take the name of God in vain.
Slogans like Take America Back, Save America, and, yes, Make America Great Again are all rooted in Christian nationalism, the hallmark of Evangelicalism. The narrative that America is in danger of losing its faith and needs to repent or lose its soul is old. The personification, while ludicrous, is an effective motivator that elevates the church, its leaders, and its politicians to savior status. It bundles salvation through the letter of the law and the power of politics rather than addressing the everyday needs of individuals. It attempts to codify a conservative moral agenda as a shortcut to changing the human heart. It equates evangelism with legislation by electing politicians and seating supreme courts justices who mirror a particular brand of Christianity. It trades compassionate service for political power under the guise of saving all of America.
READ: Why I Cannot Stay: A Letter to My Church
This dangerous narrative uses faith infused political language to sustain cult-like political loyalty. It rationalizes the Church’s partnership with politics. It becomes more dangerous when that power is threatened, or worse, taken away by free elections. It will justify any act in the name of God, even if it means defiling the name of God. The Evangelical Church is the modern day Roman Empire that has crucified the reputation of Jesus in exchange for power afforded by religious nationalism.
“So Jesus, aware that they intended to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself, alone.”— John 6:15
Here’s the thing, America doesn’t need saving anymore than Israel needed saving when it expected a messiah to save it from the Roman empire. The message on the insurrectionists’ flags is a dangerous narrative rooted in pride of converting thousands through political fervor rather than doing the humbling work of loving one’s neighbor or washing the feet of a stranger.
Jesus doesn’t bundle salvation or healing. He touches individuals. He speaks to the particular pain of each person. He restores the soul of the singular that then speaks to the wounds of the collective. He saves people, not countries. He intentionally separated from institutions of faith and state and disrupted the status quo that often left leaders debating, not praying. Jesus explicitly rejected the title of king and refused to be the messiah that Israel anticipated would save them from the empire. Instead he was a servant who would save them from their own distorted faith rooted in religious indoctrination.
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” Luke 12:49-51
The jarring reality is that this may not be the time for an altar call to unity.
This may be a time for separating the sheep from the goats.
This may be a time for recognizing division and reckoning with our own role in creating it.
It may be a time to take a clear stance.
It may be a time to separate from the church’s alliance with political power.
It may be a time to recognize truth and call out power-dependent structural distortions, manipulations, and traumas.
It may be a time to denounce the systemic racism, patriarchy, and religious nationalism tolerated through silence.
It may be a time to recognize division for what it is: an incompatibility of truth and injustice. A division ushered in by Christ himself.