The Assault on the Capital
It was no small order to pick my way through the hundreds of thought pieces on the events of January 6. I’m not claiming the following say everything that needs to be said, but they are pieces I found compelling in way or another.
Blasts from the Past
First, I resurrect two pieces that earlier tried to highlight why a leader’s character is not a secondary political issue. Forgive the self-promotion, but a blog post from exactly a year ago on my website seems especially timely. I tried to bring attention to the Bible’s strong admonitions regarding the misuse of the tongue. See “Why I Believe Mr. Trump’s Caustic Speech Is Not Mere Bad Manners.”
For me, that is the paramount consideration in electing a president, in part because at some point it’s reasonable to expect that a president will face an unexpected crisis—and at that point, the president’s judgment and discernment, his character and leadership ability, will really matter.
I admit that over the last year, I was naïve in my Trump-related essays about character. I had imagined that his character flaws would lead only to poor judgment in picking advisers, in pursing legislation, in dealing with foreign leaders—bad enough, but not on the order what we witnessed this week. I have recognized his lies for what they are, but I was one of those who thought they were only so much bluster most of the time. I didn’t imagine he would actually resort to instigating violence on the Capitol.
A third piece may be of interest only to boomers who remember the violence that attended the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. It’s long, but since it was written by convention delegate, and famous playwright, Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman; The Crucible), it’s a good read. It looks at another moment when violence in America erupted because two factions had become complete strangers to one another. It begins,
There was violence inside the International Amphitheater before violence broke out in the Chicago streets. One knew from the sight of the barbed wire topping the cyclone fence around the vast parking lot, from the emanations of hostility in the credential-inspecting police that something had to happen, but once inside the hall it was not the hippies one thought about anymore, it was the delegates.
Naturally, many have suggested the way forward, of which two pieces caught my attention because of their implications for the church.
The first was published two days before the insurrection, which only put an exclamation point on the piece. It suggests how President Elect Biden can “Rebuild a Divided and Distrustful Nation.” The subtitle was what interested me: “Americans Must Get to Know One Another Again.”
Why is intergroup contact so important? In a famous experiment from the 1950s, psychologists found that when a group of boys were randomly assigned to two teams and then isolated from each other, hostility between the two groups escalated to a perilous level. Conversely, when people from an in-group spend time with those from an out-group, dislike or mistrust declines. As the social psychologists Thomas F. Pettigrew and Linda R. Tropp found in their landmark survey based on 515 empirical studies, prejudice and distrust are greatly reduced when groups get to know one another.
The author suggests mandatory military and national service as ways of bringing diverse Americans to work and talk together. But of course there is one ubiquitous institution that weekly gathers Americans of diverse views: The church. We normally avoid discussing politics in church, but maybe we should rethink that policy in light of our nation’s deep divisions. I know of a church in Sacramento that, for example, after the 2016 election, called a midweek meeting at which partisans on both sides sat in small groups and talked about why they voted as they did. In the end, they had to agree to disagree, but at least they talked with one another in a civil setting and, I can only assume, saw that those with whom they disagreed were not monsters. I cannot see why this cannot be done in every congregation, and where the congregation is monolithic, pastors’ could make arrangements for interchurch conversation.
Another way forward is suggested in “Proclaiming Christ in fractured America.” At first blush, you might imagine that this argument for evangelism comes from a conservative evangelical who dismisses political and social involvement. I point to it precisely because it is written, counterintuitively, by a Catholic to Catholics, whose commitment to justice and the poor is unassailable. And yet, as the author says,
If January 6 affords any moment of self-reflection or course correction, it is worth asking whether, for Catholics, it might become a moment to recognize the urgent priority of evangelization - of working zealously, strategically, and tirelessly, for the conversion and formation of hearts- which has the potential to achieve a kind of social transformation that far exceeds the capacity of policy priorities.
Something, I hope, Catholics and evangelicals can agree on wholeheartedly.
‘Here Comes the Judge’
In this video clip from Jordan Peterson’s reflections on Genesis, he starts by talking about the trial of Socrates and then moves on to discuss conscience and the “judges” he says we should create in our minds. It is a humanistic way of thinking about these dynamics, but it doesn’t take much effort for a Christian to see how to enrich his account theologically, as well as how God’s grace, from beginning to end, can shape these dynamics. I found it well worth watching at the start of a new year.
Grace and peace,