Friday, January 8, 2021
It is hard to get the grotesque images from Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol out of one’s mind. The Confederate flag paraded in its halls, Members of Congress huddled under desks as police struggled to contain a stampede, the noose set up on the West Lawn, the protester dangling from the balcony above the Senate floor across the Latin inscription Annuit Coeptis (meaning “God has favored our undertakings”) — all will be hard to forget.
I’d walked these halls for many years while serving as a legislative aide to a Congressman and three different Senators. During that time, I saw all manner of protests, angry constituents, runaway ambition, intimidation efforts, and other political misbehavior. But never have I seen or imagined anything like what happened on Wednesday.
What made it all the more sad and sinister was the adornment of the mayhem with Christian symbols — the cross erected near the Capitol, the Christian flag hoisted through the halls, the “Jesus Saves” banners, etc. So it is important to say: the conflation of Christian faith with such chaos and lawlessness is anathema.
But more than that, there are concrete things we can do as those who follow Jesus in this volatile time. And perhaps the most basic are these: love your neighbor, and tell the truth.
One of the challenges of our era is that we receive so much conflicting information that it can be hard to know what is true. Add in our hard-wired instincts to give more credence to information we would like to believe, and our tendency towards tribalism and sorting (where our preconceptions are not only deepened, but become a basis for affiliation), and the ways in which social media amplifies those information streams and suppresses others, and wise discernment becomes even more difficult. But part of discipleship is to attend to what is eternally true, and to let such truth serve as filter for new information — and to have courage in seeking out what is true and right. Over the past few years, Christians have shown themselves to be just as susceptible to misinformation and conspiracy theories as any other group. And an additional challenge, in the words of Russell Moore, is that “too many people who do not believe such things are afraid of those who do.”
Telling the truth will necessarily mean that we may not be the quickest with the hot take (or hot takedown). Our social media feeds may be less spicy. We will be slower to speak, quicker to listen, more eager to understand, less likely to fan the flames of fear or anger, or appease those who do. It will be good for our soul and good for our country.
Loving God and our neighbor is Jesus’ summation of all of the Bible’s commandments. It may also be the greatest need our country has — for its citizens to will the good of each other, even across lines of difference, and to work towards the realization of the common good. We have so many historical examples of what this might look like: the extraordinary reform efforts of William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day; the relief work of Jane Addams, Albert Schweitzer, and many others; the beauty of the artistic or literary imagination of T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, or Handel, or the unifying magnanimity of Nelson Mandela. It has been said that the actual proves the possible; their example can be a spur to our modern imagination. Loving our neighbor is necessarily creative work; it requires and inspires the generation of new conversations, joint efforts, collaborations, and understandings.
Let’s get creative.
On Friday, January 22nd we are delighted to welcome author and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. The past 10 months have been a difficult and uncertain time. We are keen to hear from Ross on what the events of the past year have revealed about our condition and how we might serve as agents of renewal in a divisive and decadent time.
Register for our Online Conversation
In case you missed them, these are our 2020
Trinity Forum Readings published or re-printed last year.
As we navigate these uncertain times together, we recommend these Readings
as both an encouragement and catalyst for reflection.
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | A Trinity Forum Reading by Frederick Douglass
- Out of My Life and Thought | A Trinity Forum Reading by Albert Schweitzer
- Letter From Birmingham Jail | A Trinity Forum Reading by Martin Luther King Jr.
- Devotions | A Trinity Forum Reading by John Donne