Van Ens: Capitol rioters incite faulty faith in God and country
A mob gathered outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 before rioting within its hallowed halls. Many mobsters hoisted flags, which symbolized their desire to save Donald Trump’s alleged election to a second term and the U.S. from godlessness.
Agitators unfurled Old Glory. They raised Confederate flags, one which later was paraded in the Capitol. Some saluted the Christian flag with its white field accented in the left upper corner with a red cross upon a blue backdrop. Many Trump flags popped up, also.
Rioters waving these flags tell the story of how a faulty version of Christianity stoked fires of incendiary patriotism. Capitol invaders proudly announced, by Twitter and by an ample pictorial record, why they practiced a militant, toxic brand of Christianity wrapped in flags. They waved “Jesus Saves” signs while hunting down Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Rioters accused these public servants of leading the U.S. nation into godlessness, like the Old Testament’s King Ahab and Queen Jezebel did.
Religion News Service reporter Jack Jenkins describes how rioter and West Texas florist Jenny Cudd defended her “God and country” faulty faith in a Facebook video she took in the Capitol.
“To me, God and country are tied — to me they’re one and the same,” she testified. “We were founded as a Christian country. And we see how far we have come from that. … We are a godly country, and we are founded on godly principles. And if we do not have our country, nothing else matters.”
Step into many conservative churches to experience how flag and faith are blended into Christian nationalism that encouraged some Capitol rioters. The U.S. and the Christian flag are displayed near the pulpit. What Old Glory stands for and what Jesus taught are identical, according to Christians like Jenny Cudd.
Some parochial Christian schools indoctrinate students by fusing militant patriotism with an Old Testament theme of saving true faith from unbelief. Students practice a morning ritual in which they place hand on their hearts before Old Glory and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In the same breath, they then pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, too.
Elizabeth Neumann, an evangelical who served as a top official at the Department of Homeland Security before resigning from the Trump Administration in April 2020, describes the misconstrued biblical support for this faulty Christianity.
She describes in Politico Magazine the “… movement in the ‘90s and 2000s among conservatives to explain how amazing [America’s} founding was: Our founding was inspired by God, and there’s no explanation for how we won the Revolutionary War except God, and, by the way, did you know that the founders made this covenant [solemn agreement] with God?
“It’s American exceptionalism but goes beyond that. It says that we are the next version of Israel from the Old Testament, that we are God’s chosen nation, and that this is a special covenant—a two-way agreement with God. We can’t break it, and if we do, what happened to Israel will happen to us: We will be overrun by whatever next Babylon is, taken into captivity, and He will remove His blessing from us.
“What threatens that covenant? The moment we started taking prayer out of [public] schools and allowing various changes in our culture—the [legislation] of abortion is one of those moments; gay marriage is another.”
How have these Christians gone wrong in their devotion that merges “God and country?”
Be wary of biblical interpretations in which Christians see themselves exactly portrayed in the ancient biblical record. God used history as a filter through which divine revelation is streamed, a past quite different from ours. To precisely superimpose what is happening in the United States today on what occurred with ancient Israel neither respects history nor the unique way God worked through Abraham’s lineage.
Be wary of Christians who recite the Ten Commandments but reject the second one against idolatry: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under that earth,” (Exodus 20:4).
Idolatry is practiced when belief in God collapses into flag waving or God is totally defined by a belief system. God cannot be domesticated. Your god is too small if you tightly identity this Deity’s will with a flag or a fatherland.
Moreover, be wary of citizens who confuse what the U.S. flag stands for with their brand of Christianity. Whether Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) coined the following “flag and faith” warning is a moot point because his novels spell out this danger. The adage attributed to Lewis is: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross,” as practiced by rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.
In 1935, after European dictators Hitler, Franco and Mussolini merged their nations’ flags with faith featuring Christian symbols, Lewis wrote in the novel “It Can’t Happen Here” about a main character Buzz Windrip. He appealed to voters with a mix of crass language and nativist [anti-immigrant] ideology. After being elected to office, he radicalizes his base against immigrants, the liberal press and welfare recipients.
Merging God with country rouses Christian soldiers who get drunk on this potent mix. They stir a toxic Christianity that distorts the biblical message. Trump’s supporters in the mob at the Capitol replaced faith in God with devotion to patriotic symbols, corrupting the faith Moses and Jesus taught.
The Reverend Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonrpofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries, (www.thelivinghistory.com) which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations that make God’s history spring to life.