In one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, the great poet describes the perennial American pattern of always assuming God is on our side. More American than apple pie, this is. In a not-so-subtle way, he traces this absurd pattern through American history.
The slaughter of Native Americans, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, the two World Wars, the Cold War – all was permissible, all was baptized, all was blessed because God was on our side. I imagine there is a label for this kind of thinking but I’m not quite sure what to call it. Is this Christian nationalism? American exceptionalism? a form of Christian syncretism? Whatever one calls it, it dangerous, wrong, and remarkably unChristian. Dylan’s song “With God On Our Side” has been playing on repeat in my head. It’s a helpful lens to think about the crisis of the church in America. You can listen to it here: What follows is not a robust political theology – I merely offer a few thoughts and questions for the faithful to consider as we reflect on recent events. As a Christian and an American, I have been deeply, deeply disturbed by the recent actions of some Christians in America (or at least those who claim to be Christians – I make no judgment). I am referring specifically to the seditious insurrection of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. In her piece “A Christian Insurrection” in the Atlantic, Emma Green reports about how “the name of God was everywhere” during the insurrection. From prayers to posters, many amongst the mob proudly wielded Christian symbols. In so doing they did great violence not only to American citizens and institutions, but also to the name of God. What they were doing was, at least in part, motivated by their faith. They firmly believed they were doing the will of God. The protests, the vitriol, the violence, the sedition – so much was motivated by a kind of Christian nationalism.
For me, one of the most disturbing examples of this was the prayer offered by Jacob Anthony Chansley after he and small group of insurrectionists broke into the Senate chamber. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of Jacob: he was the shirtless man with patriotic face paint, a fur hat and horns (hereafter referred to as organic-horn-boy-Jacob). You can watch the prayer in the video here (warning: offensive language and behavior): This is an excerpt from the prayer offered in the Senate chamber by an insurrectionist: “Thank you heavenly father for gracing us with this opportunity…for this opportunity to stand up for our God-given unalienable rights…Thank you divine, omnipotent, omnipresent creator God for filling this chamber with your white light of love and your white light of harmony. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and love Christ.”
Organic-horn-boy-Jacob knows how to pray. God is not on the side of any pollitician, he is on the side of the weak, faithful, opressed, sick, fatherless, righteous.
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