Did the January 6th Capitol riot involve Christian “heresy” or “apostasy”?
THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:
The U.S. Senate may have debated whether ex-President Donald Trump bears responsibility for the Jan. 6 riot at U.S. Capitol, but certain conservative Christians focused instead on his followers. They propose that the final day of Trump’s campaign to overturn President Joe Biden’s December 14 Electoral College victory involved religious “heresy” or “apostasy.”
Those leveling this charge are not #NeverTrump politicians or pundits but devout and conservative Christians. That may seem surprising because in the media and the public mind the “religious right” fuses with devotion to Trump. But such thinkers take doctrine and biblical teaching seriously (unlike religious liberals who define political sins while ignoring theological errors).
A survey by the conservative American Enterprise Institute shows 63% of white evangelicals think Biden’s win was illegitimate, despite the numerous federal and state court rulings that found no evidence for Trump’s claim of a “sacred landslide.” But to what extent were Christians implicated in the Capitol mayhem?
As weeks roll on, we’re learning how a radical fringe planned the Capitol attack in advance and energized the crowd that Trump assembled and addressed.
Terry Mattingly of GetReligion.org distinguishes among four groups: The horde that Trump assembled to hear his demand that Congress and Vice President Mike Pence somehow overthrow Biden’s election; those who obeyed Trump’s plea to march on the Capitol; the militant marchers who broke into the security zone, but only protested outside the Capitol; and the smaller, violent, and foul-mouthed mob that desecrated this potent symbol of democracy across the globe.
Regarding that fourth group, Tony Carnes, editor of the A Journey Through NYC Religions website observed that, “no pastors, priests, or other organized religious leaders have been identified so far as part of the riot.” Mattingly wondered where’s the evidence that links a legal protest that evolved into insurrection with “evangelical networks and institutions.” And yet, videos do capture some incongruous Christian symbols and prayers that mingled with the homicide, threats to kill national leaders, injuries to 138 police, vandalism and theft.
One easy point. The New Testament opposes anarchy and any Christians who committed criminal acts should be prosecuted, as in “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) and “honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). (Trump was no “emperor,” of course; in modern democracy, legitimate sovereignty resides collectively among elected officials and their appointees.)
Was the January 6 riot heretical? World magazine, which is deeply Christian and politically conservative, published cover art of the “Jesus” and “Trump” banners and American flags brandished during the riot with this dramatic headline: “The Insurrectionist Heresy.” The cover story stated that “invading the seat of government as part of a spontaneous mob is antithetical to Scripture.”
The article quoted the Rev. Russell Moore, chief socio-political spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, who called Christian signs waved by rioters “satanic.” Holly Pivec, author of “A New Apostolic Reformation?,” told the magazine that certain “prophets” brought “shame” upon the Christian faith by announcing that direct messages from God said Trump would and must win.
World Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky thought those living in the “fantasy land” of Trump’s 2020 victory are like his own 1970s “addiction” to the Communist Party. He appealed for prayers that Christians will not be “fooled” into embracing the Trump-centric QAnon conspiracy theory and “other Gnostic heresies that pretend to have secret wisdom.”
Which matches the broader “heresy” charge and Gnostic analysis of Edward Feser, a Catholic traditionalist teaching at Pasadena City College. His blog updated the view of the late political philosopher Eric Voegelin that disastrous Communism, Fascism and Nazism are modern forms of Gnosticism. The early Christian church suppressed this important and variegated heresy (which is fashionable with some religious seekers today). These ancient devotees dealt in secret knowledge and elite wisdom (shades of QAnon), distrusted human reasoning, and shunned the real world and its Old Testament Creator.
Heresy by definition draws elements from orthodox Christianity but spurns it.
CONTINUE READING: “Did the January 6th Capitol riot involve Christian ‘heresy’ or ‘apostasy’?”, by Richard Ostling.
FIRST IMAGE: Screenshot from CNN coverage of U.S. Capitol attack.