Ian Ellis: Proper Christianity had nothing to do with January 6 pro-Trump riot at US Capitol

The term ‘Christian nationalism’ has been invoked in connection with last year’s January 6 storming of Washington’s Capitol Building, the seat of the US House of Representatives and Senate.
An FBI ‘wanted’ image from the disorder at the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021An FBI ‘wanted’ image from the disorder at the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021
An FBI ‘wanted’ image from the disorder at the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021

While the churches in any country would naturally want to see everyone in their nation embrace the Christian faith, that is quite a different matter from Christian nationalism, which carries the idea that national identity and the Christian religion are essentially bound together.

In an article published by Religion News Service (RNS), Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Washington based Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, has written that only moments after “an insurrectionist carried the Christian flag into the US Senate chamber”, Jacob Chansley (the “QAnon Shaman”) led the intruders in prayer in the name of Christ.

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Ms Tyler added that this was “just one of the dozens of examples of Christian nationalism that the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol must acknowledge and address”.

She stated that there would not be a full picture of what happened on that day without “a thorough accounting” of how Christian nationalism was involved.

For the purpose of background, one may recall that on the morning of January 6, 2021, at a rally of then President Trump’s supporters at Washington’s Ellipse (a park close to the White House), Mr Trump – who had very recently lost the presidential election but did not accept the result – told those present to proceed to the Capitol in protest.

Shortly after 1.00pm that day violence broke out at the Capitol, following which Capitol police ordered the evacuation of the Library of Congress and other buildings close to the Capitol.

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There was much violence and many who were inside the Capitol feared for their lives.

A bipartisan US Senate report earlier this year found that in fact at least seven people lost their lives in connection with the assault on the Capitol.

The congressional committee inquiry into the events of that January 6 is ongoing.

The chair and vice-chair of the committee, respectively, are Bennie Thompson (Democrat) and Liz Cheney (Republican).

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Ms Cheney is the daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney (2001-2009) who served under former President George W. Bush.

The committee’s hearings have been publicly broadcast and are due to continue in September.

At its last hearing, the committee considered what Mr Trump was doing during the three hours and seven minutes between ending his speech to the crowd and finally issuing a message telling the rioters at the Capitol to go home.

In that message, Mr Trump told the rioters he knew their pain, described the election as having been a landslide but “fraudulent”, adding: “Go home, we love you, you’re very special.”

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Regarding those critical three hours and seven minutes, Reuters reported that Democratic Representative Elaine Luri testified: “President Trump sat at his dining table and watched the attack on television while his senior-most staff, closest advisors and family members begged him to do what is expected of any American president”, that is, act without delay to restore order.

The report added that Republican representative Adam Kinzinger said that Mr Trump had no interest in calling off the rioters, commenting: “The mob was accomplishing President Trump’s purpose, so of course he didn’t intervene.”

However, Mr Trump has recently said of the January 6 committee: “They’re knowingly spinning a fake and phony narrative in a chilling attempt to weaponise the justice system against their political opponents.”

That mob – and that is what it surely was – had even called for vice-president Mike Pence to be hanged.

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The aim of the insurgents was to stop the formal declaration of the voting result, thereby keeping Donald Trump in office after all.

According to custom, this mainly-ceremonial meeting is presided over by the vice-president and on this occasion, while Mr Trump maintained there had been fraud and that he had actually won the election, Mike Pence proceeded to certify the actual result.

Dr David Scott, a US Methodist academic, has defined Christian nationalism as an outlook that “identifies the nation with God’s will and action in the world; conflates national and Christian identity; and identifies service of the nation with service of God”, adding that the theory “gives moral cover for actions, even unseemly ones, taken in pursuit of national or political goal”.

Moreover, American scholar Robert Jones, CEO and Founder of Public Religion Research Institute in Washington, has described Christian nationalism in the United States as also associated with white supremacy theories.

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Underscoring this, writer Kelly Baker, who has taught at universities in Florida, New Mexico, and Tennessee, was quoted in a RNS report as saying that “Christian nationalism has a deep history in America’s racist right-wing”.

The assault on the Capitol was appalling and was entirely out of keeping with any proper Christian world-view.

Canon Ian Ellis is a former editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette

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