Two events, at the same location, separated by a mere two weeks, and they could not have had more divergent responses. This is the take of many Americans who watched what happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 & 20. Many were troubled by the events of January 6, recognizing the chaos and destruction undermine the fabric of of our union. I, along with many, were especially troubled by the connections to Christianity which were on display during the day’s events. Others, such as one pastor I watched, were troubled because they felt the rally was essentially “Christian”; and so seemed confused by the presence of drugs, foul language, and violence. But the common link was we were each troubled by the close link between Christianity and chaos. Why was this event possible, because for many Christianity has been tied to a pagan idea of America, and bound so tightly that they are sometimes one. The figure of Lady Liberty which is among our nation’s symbols was modeled on the the Roman idea of the goddess Roma. We, as Americans, feel we are the true guardians of life and liberty; we are the light to the world on how to be civilized. But this is where we run up against pagan ideas and where that pastor came to his confusion. Because as we follow that path we begin to trade Christian virtues for their cheaper secular versions. Christian freedom, becomes American liberty, Christian honest labor becomes capitalism, Christian social justice becomes law and order. What revolted many Christians that day was much of the form of Christianity without any of the power. And it hurt.
Conversely, on January 20 many Americans felt hope as Mr. Biden spoke, Miss Gorman recited her poem, and Yo-Yo Ma played. Though I saw some who criticized this event (usually by ardent Trump supporters), most Americans praised the event. The Inauguration became a symbol of hope and unity after a very troubling time. [Especially the Bernie Sanders memes, who doesn’t love those.] But few seem to recognize that the same connections between Christianity and American Nationalism which were present on January 6 were also present at the Inauguration. I will freely admit that Mr. Biden seems devout in his Catholic faith, and so it was not unexpected for him to quote St. Augustine or even to pray. However, these elements were blended with a blatant secularism. I enjoyed watching Amanda Gorman recite “The Hill We Climb“; yet, I could not help but see the secular version of Manifest Destiny woven throughout the poem. The point climaxes in the performance of Yo-Yo Ma. Yo-Yo Ma is rightly celebrated as a fantastic artist, and his rendition of “Amazing Grace” was moving. The trouble for me is that the only grace he knows is the human spirit. His remarks to introduce the piece betray the fact that he fails to understand the true meaning of the song. I was talking with a musician in my church this past Sunday, and he lamented that such performances have made “Amazing Grace” seem like a secular hymn.
Just as Christian virtues were devalued by their close association with the events of January 6, they can be devalued by their connection with the events of January 20. I fear Christians will begin looking to the false hope of secular social reform. What is worse is that, this secular confusion of Christian ideals is subtle, it whispers calmly and is far more difficult to see than the boisterous shouts of January 6. But let me close on a note of hope. If these whispers of secular Manifest Destiny are going to blend with Christianity, maybe they can be more easily persuaded to come the full way into the fold. Perhaps, the fact that Mr. Biden seems to have a devout faith will allow Christians more full engagement with these voices. I genuinely hope this is true. I know many Christians who will consent to work with this government and I hope they do not end up as disillusioned as the pastor attending the rally on January 6.