Dear Friends in Christ at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church,
First of all, I ask you to forgive my silence up to this point on the violence at the Capitol on January 6th. As many of you know, I’ve been taking some long overdue time off, and while I haven’t exactly been ignoring the news, after an exhausting year I have been trying to use this time to focus my mind on things that are restful and renewing. Moreover, as you know – to the frustration of some and the appreciation of others – I am usually reluctant to weigh in on the latest news cycle, choosing to base my ministry more on timeless Biblical truths than fleeting, usually media-stoked, controversies. However, what happened on January 6th was shocking. Our Capitol, the seat of our precious democracy, was overrun by rioters who were threatening to hang the Vice President of the United States. A police officer died protecting our elected representatives. Another was beaten on the Capitol steps with a pole bearing the American flag. It was horrifying, and I have been feeling increasingly nudged by the Holy Spirit to say something about it.
I believe there are many factors that contributed to what happened in the Capitol on January 6th, including widespread toleration of political violence for much of last year, media distortions which have eroded public trust, and social media echo chambers which have increased radicalization at both ends of the political spectrum. That said, I believe President Trump bears the heaviest burden of responsibility for this violence. His recent lies about the outcome of the election, his impugning of the veracity and integrity of Republican governors and election officials, and his attack on the character of Vice President Pence, were all matches set to the tinderbox. All directly contributed to what happened. I pray he would repent of this behavior and use the power of his influence to tell the truth and to clearly and repeatedly rebuke this violence. Every day he fails to do so only increases his complicity in what happened.
I know we have many people in our congregation who voted for Donald Trump. I respect you. I do not believe you expected any of this to happen or that you condone it. While I myself did not vote for him (If you must know, I have written in candidates the past two presidential elections and have felt politically homeless for several years now), I believe there were legitimate policy aims and appointments you hoped for with his presidency. I get it. In these remaining days of his presidency and into his uncertain future, I hope you will join me in praying that he would have a change of heart and begin to speak and act truthfully, constructively, and honorably.
I know we have many people in our congregation who did not vote for Donald Trump. It might be tempting for you to view this recent violence as a confirmation of all your worst fears of a Trump presidency and all your worst prejudices towards Trump voters. Please be careful here. I believe you are correct that Trump’s deep character flaws led to what happened at the Capitol, but it is easy to make such a judgement in hindsight. It wasn’t inevitable. Moreover, just as the vast majority of Muslims reject Islamic terrorism, and just as the vast majority of recent civil rights activists reject rioting, we shouldn’t paint all 74 million Trump voters with the same brush. The vast majority of these voters are just as shocked and saddened as you are.
I’m not a history expert, but I was a history major in college. I believe the frequent comparisons of the Trump presidency to NAZI Germany are misguided at best, and more often have been absurd and offensive. In my opinion, a better (but still troubling) historical analogy for our current politics is the Spanish Civil War, when the left and the right drifted so far apart from one another that they radicalized, bending the truth to fit their own agenda and justifying violence to achieve their aims. In order for our country to pull back from the brink of such a fate, it is going to take an intense amount of cooperation, patience, and reconciliation from both ends of our political spectrum.
As Christians, we are well suited to help with this important work. Rather than assimilating Christianity into either side in these warring factions, we can be agents of reconciliation, understanding, and peace. It is our vocation as citizens to not only advance our policy preferences, but to love and serve our neighbors and seek the greater good for our communities and our nation.
Let this work begin with us. Let it begin right here at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church as we strive to love one another in spite of our differences. Let us speak with one voice to rebuke all political violence and to call to repentance all our political leaders who put their own self-interests above the good of our country. Let us pray together for the safety of all those elected by “we the people” to represent us in Washington DC and in state houses across our country. Let us pray, and work for, reconciliation and peace in our nation and in our world.
God bless you, friends, and God bless our beleaguered country.
In Christ’s Service,
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer