“What do you love about America?”…
…I asked a dear friend today as I was preparing to write this article, first published on January 1, 2021. He responded, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” – as in, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”
Wednesday, January 6, 2021 will be remembered for a long time. And even as I write the sentence, I find a warning in my heart that says, “And I hope it will be the worst thing that will be remembered from this period in our political history for a long time.”
In the midst of the most devastating pandemic to reach the United States in my life where currently according to the Los Angeles Times, “A person is dying every 10 minutes. And Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti noted Sunday that a person was getting infected every six seconds”, Americans are undergoing a cultural and political struggle to complete the “peaceful transfer of power” so central to the heart of our democratic process.
The anxiety and unsettledness I felt in looking up the definitions listed at the bottom of this piece was so tangible and strong.
Reading the definitions then called my emotions back to actually watching the events of that day unfold live and watching videos of what occurred – and then reading about them afterward as more details emerged, and again my heart started to beat more pronouncedly.
As an adult I come from 25+ years of conservative outlook, largely based on the teachings of Evangelical Christianity…
…but as my life’s journey has unfolded into my mid-50’s, I have progressed further and further away from the “right / wrong”, “good / bad”, “heaven / hell” concepts that the American author, spiritual writer and Franciscan friar Richard Rohr calls a part of dualistic thinking. His teaching combined with that of many others, particularly learning from those coming from a Celtic Christian perspective such as J. Philip Newell, John O’Donohue and poets David Whyte have led me into a much more open pathway of my Christian faith. Something else that has contributed to my journey was the time I spent sojourning in Florence, Italy, the birthplace of the renaissance, with a study abroad program hosted by my local community college.
There, as we studied the history of the Italy, I felt that the history of the Christian church was laid bare to me. Gone went the simplistic idea that Christians have always been in the “right”, the white hat / white horse savior ideal. While it’s true that throughout history people of faith have been honorable, admirable, loving, even sacrificial humans, this study continued to show me that the closer proximity to power that the people of my faith have experienced, the more temptation and potential for horrible and unjust behavior has also increased. Certainly horrible and unjust behavior that resembles nothing like the founder of our faith, Jesus of Nazareth, ever exhibited or taught.
As my education continued…
…with taking wonderful classes on subjects like sociology, literature and art history, I became more and more aware that not only was my faith not built on a pristine history of interpretation and actions, but that neither was the history of my country, two things that were often taught outright or implied in my Evangelical background. The “sins” (to use religious language) of the church and the “sins” of the country are multiple and grievous and, for my background, intertwined. Does this eye-opening understanding invalidate my personal faith? No. Do these horrible, immoral crimes such as slavery, systemic racism and oppression negate my love of country? No. In fact, learning about these things has simply brought a deeper understanding and a wider thinking that actually causes me to press in further toward continuing clarity, honesty, and work on behalf of justice. This understanding leads me to be an active part of moving toward the ideals of both my personal faith journey as well as the ideals of my great country.
In my past thinking from a conservative perspective and in my current more progressive understanding, I have always felt deeply patriotic about my country of origin, America.
Once when talking politics with a music-industry friend from Canada, he said, “You’re so patriotic you ought to have an American flag tattooed on your a**!” So funny! But I mention my personal journey here to give context to the pain I feel in seeing my beloved America come so close to going up in flames that week on January 6th. And although I now consider myself a “recovering Evangelical”, I know many people that have stayed within the American Evangelicalism system of beliefs and that have embraced the political power offered them through the 45th U.S. President as an means to their desired end(s).
In fact, according to an extensive 2016 article published prior to the 2016 presidential election, in The Atlantic, it was said that Evangelical Christianity is, “… to the politician… a synonym for a white Christian Republican.” As we know, in the presidential election of 2016 “fully eight-in-ten self-identified white, born-again/evangelical Christians say they voted for Trump” according to Pew Research.
As I think about these things today, nearly a year later, I am not much encouraged. According to US News & World Report, “More than a third of Americans believe President Joe Biden’s victory was illegitimate, according to a new poll conducted almost a year since rioters breached the U.S. Capitol as Congress worked to certify the 2020 election.” The poll was released at the end of December 2021 by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. So all those recounts had no effect on people’s views? There is so much disinformation available, it’s beginning to feel unbelievable, with people convinced of the strangest things! And the acceptance of violence as a means to political power is increasing. In the last year (2021) alone, the Capital Police fielded over 9,600 threats to lawmakers on Capital Hill! In fact in a recent Washington Post-UMD poll, 1 in 3 Americans say violence against government can be justified, the largest share of Americans to hold that view since the question was first asked more than two decades ago. What this has to do with the Jesus of Christian scriptures is not clear.
Breaking the numbers down, the truth is glaring. Supporters of the former president are largely white, largely evangelicals and likely to not only believe but be inflamed by false narratives like the lie that Joe Biden didn’t win the last presidential election fair and square. In fact, this recent poll showed, “Seventy-one percent of GOP respondents said they don’t believe that Biden was rightfully elected to the White House, echoing former President Trump’s baseless claim that he was the actual winner of last year’s election.” There is another disturbing aspect to all this and that is the river of white supremacy that runs undercurrent through many of these presuppositions and lies.
To that point, as the events of last year unfolded, those Social Justice activists and people of color that I follow began to draw contrasts between the police/authority response during the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020 and what was witnessed on January 6, 2021. Here is a photo of preparedness and response to the Black Lives Matter protests from last summer in Washington DC under the Trump administration:
Below is a photo of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman attempting to hold back an angry mob by himself as they broke into the US Capitol building while the same administration was in power. Officer Goodman is now considered a hero as the story unfolds – that he knew the senators were not finished evacuating to safety and that he led the rioters on a chase in the opposite direction to give the elected officials more time to exit the chamber. Can you imagine what would have happened to Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi or others if the mob would have come across them? It makes me shudder to think of it.
Those that I follow were remembering and reminding people of a basic truth, that the response of police and those in authority is VASTLY different when it comes to interacting with Black and brown people than with white people. This is also something I’ve written about in an article about police response in the city of Pasadena, California.
As you may know, we at Culture Honey have participated in multiple peaceful protests in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. I have also personally participated in four years of the Women’s March beginning on inauguration day in 2017 and have written about those experiences on CultureHoney.com. I’ve also written about the difference between protests and rallies and the great American tradition of both of them!
Having said all this, nothing in my background could actually prepare me for the shock, but unfortunately not the surprise, of what happened in our nation’s capitol on January 6, 2021.
The people that scaled the walls outside the building reminded me of the terrifying orcs from The Lord of the Rings, intent on blind outrage and obedience to their leader with violent intent. The fact that banners were being waved and posted on the walls with the current president’s name and that some rioters carried signs and flags with “Jesus” and “Christian” slogans on them was especially disturbing since Jesus himself did not exemplify or preach violence as a means to an end. At the time of the original writing of this article, five people had already died as a result as the events of this terrible day. Others will be traumatized forever. A year later more than 700 people have been charged with crimes from that day. These rioters brought a noose to their mayhem and confederate flags. They shouted about hanging the vice president.
There was nothing that I recognized as Christian – or American for that matter – in the actions or words of those leaders who sought to agitate the crowds gathering in our nations capitol that day or the actions of rioters last Wednesday. Nor is there anything remotely Christ-like in the silence of many of our national leaders or my evangelical friends, silence instead of condemning and calling for prosecuting immoral, violent, and undemocratic acts. Pope Francis had it right when he tweeted, “I am praying for the United States of America, shaken by the recent attack on Congress. I pray for those who lost their life. Violence is always self-destructive. I urge everyone to promote a culture of encounter and of care to construct the common good.”
According to Merriam Webster, a riot is “a violent public disorder, specifically, a tumultuous disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled together and acting with a common intent.”
Collins Dictionary says, “A mob is a large, disorganized, and often violent crowd of people.”
“A lynch mob is an angry crowd of people who want to kill someone without a trial, because they believe that person has committed a crime” according to Collins Dictionary.
“Incitement of discontent or rebellion against a government. Any action, especially in speech or writing, promoting such discontent or rebellion.” – this, from Dictionary.com.
“A usually violent attempt to take control of a government” – Merriam-Webster
A protest, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is “an occasion when people show that they disagree strongly with something by standing together and shouting and carrying signs, especially on the streets.”
“A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” – this from Merriam Webster.
From Encyclopaedia Britannica – “principle of blind submission to authority, as opposed to individual freedom of thought and action.”
From Encyclopaedia Britannica – “also called coup, the sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group. The chief prerequisite for a coup is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.”
Wikipedia defines the concept as “…important to democratic governments, where the leadership of a government peacefully hands over control of government to a newly elected or selected leadership.”