God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
John 8: 31-32
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
“God is our refuge and strength,” Rear Admiral Margaret Kibben read these words Wednesday afternoon to a gathered group of lawmakers and staff members sequestered in a secure location within the capitol. Kibben, a former Navy Chaplain, was serving her first day as chaplain to the House of Representatives. I cannot begin to imagine what that must be like. To have your first day be consumed with one of the most harrowing moments of your life and in the lives of an entire nation.
Wednesday is a moment that I do not think any of us will likely forget. I hope it is a day we hold onto and never let go of. Nothing like it has ever happened in the history of our country. While we have seen devastating attacks, while we have seen secession and sedition, we have not seen a house of government stormed by bands of people since the British attack on Washington in 1814 – and never have we seen such an attack carried out by American citizens. An enormous crowd of insurrectionists – some armed, some not, but all of them there to disrupt democracy and to threaten the lives of law makers in the course of their duties.
Last Wednesday was an attack on the American Democratic System perpetrated by Far-Right organizers who had been publicly planning such violence for weeks. On Parler and other far more fringe, unregulated sites, and even here on Facebook, plans were made to answer the call that had been given and, “take back,” the United States. While many who gathered on the Mall that day may not have known about these plans, many others still did. Proud Boys and other White Supremacist groups who had previously been told to, “stand down and stand by,” were now coming to do what they had been called to.
Some may wonder why we would be talking about this in our worship service and I have two reasons to put forward. Firstly, many of those who stormed the capitol did so following prayer circles along the way to begin the siege, even erecting a cross across from the building preceding their attack. These people thought what they were doing was blessed by God and I have a duty as a minister of the Gospel to refute that. Secondly, though we would often like to pretend this isn’t the truth – our politics and our faith have to overlap. If our faith is so insignificant to us it does not impact our opinions in political realms and life outside of Sunday mornings, it is no faith at all. As a minister of the Gospel, occasionally I must turn the lens of scripture on the world around us, and call us all to repentance for the world we live in.
I watched, as did many others, the chaos of Wednesday unfold in real time. It began on a lunch break I had during the Immersion I am participating in. Taking a break from discussions of Ho-Chunk spirituality, I thought it would be good to turn on C-Span and watch the certification of the Electoral College votes. A good, boring foray into the political happenings of the day. Unfortunately, my Twitter lit up with a video of people breaking through the first set of barriers between them and the Capitol building. There were no updates for some time, but I trusted that those guarding the building would push them back. However, within minutes I saw the floor of the House erupt as news began to break that people had successfully pushed behind all barriers, some moved out of the way for them, and were breaking through doors and windows to enter the Capitol.
As shocking as the images were, as astounding as the videos were, I was not overly surprised by it all. The simple fact is that we have been building up to this kind of unrest for some time. However, the sad fact is that it was likely completely avoidable from the first moment it began to fester within us. We all know that a lot happened in 2020 to exacerbate existing problems in our country. Racism was not invented in 2020, but we were given opportunities to explore its lasting presence in our society. Disease was not new to us, but a new strand of human coronavirus made us realize how poorly equipped we were to face viral threats.
Yet, each of these problems would have been easier to face if not for the one all consuming threat which we in the United States continually face and that we in the Church must oppose openly and strongly. We must reject viewpoints that trade morality and ethical actions for political power. We must reject the proliferation of falsehoods at the expense of truth. We must divest ourselves from all cruelty and greed and instead pursue godliness at all times. In short, our greatest threat is that we have let ourselves believe lies. Just look at the major crises of this past year.
From the beginning of last year, with the initial cases of COVID-19 being reported around the world, lies spread about the nature of the virus. Those who wished to gain followings, to sell ad dollars, or to secure political power began to plant seeds that would grow into disaster. Accusations that the virus was made in a lab, rather than the reality that it naturally mutated and spread like any virus does. False reports that the virus was a globalist conspiracy to induce mind control or remove rights, led people to doubt measures that would have limited viral spread. Even now, lies about the vaccines being distributed to help end this pandemic are leading to events like the destruction of vaccines to prevent them from doing harm they are incapable of.
The many demonstrations which were held over the Summer in response to the deaths of people of color led to a great deal of unrest. More often than not, any unrest incited by these demonstrations was initiated by those outside of the groups who had gathered to protest. Yet, disinformation was spread to paint all protesters as dangerous killers bent on destroying the American way of life. The Black Lives Matter movement, which has no central leadership and is distinct from the foundation of the same name, was described as a Marxist institution undermining American democracy. The reality, we know, was that these falsehoods were predominately spread by bot farms on social media and White Supremacist groups to stoke the fires of conflict, to push people to take up arms where otherwise they might not have.
The disasters we saw on Wednesday were part of the same parade of lies and disinformation. However, instead of focusing on viruses and protestors, the lies which incited the violence were about the November election. The strangeness of this year naturally contributed to many questions about how various aspects of voting would be carried out. However, those who feared losing power made a point to spread seeds of doubt in the election to ensure that, if things went the wrong way, they could leverage their base to reject the results. Despite repeated audits, recounts, court cases, and ample evidence that this election was secure, many people refused to budge from the disinformation they had initially heard. Doubt, once it has entered into our hearts, can be very had to exorcise.
Years of this kind of information, but an especially bad year of it in the form of 2020 culminated in what we saw Wednesday. A group of people, who had publicly made known their intent to cause harm. Political leaders, including our sitting president, who encouraged them, calling them heroes of democracy and, “patriots.” All these who were given lies and who had written these lies. Some of them fully aware they were false, fully aware they were simply justifications for violent actions, some of them just swept up in the flood – all of them laying siege to the symbol of our democracy, the Capitol, a literal temple devoted to our nation.
What has been frustrating, from beginning to end, is not simply how many historically significant things we have seen pass us by as of late, but that so many of them have been made exponentially worse by lies told to dupe people into following those who told the lies. Conspiracy theories are some of the leading causes of violence in the United States. Countless school shootings and bombing have been motivated by lies surrounding, “White Genocide.” The recent Nashville bombing was motivated by 5-G conspiracy theories. We have seen thousands of people die every day from a virus we could have stamped out of existence, if not for policy makers and armchair virologists spreading disinformation and pushing us all to take unsafe actions.
Even now, people are lying about what happened Wednesday. As I implored the day of here on Facebook, “Do not forget what you have seen today.” Some are saying that no crime was committed, even though property was destroyed, people killed, and government property stolen. Others have begun to conspire, saying that it was Antifa or Black Lives Matter that instigated the siege, even though all evidence and ample weeks of public planning tell us the organizers were largely white supremacists, neo nazis, and other Alt-Right groups. We know who to blame, but are we willing to do it?
In many ways I have simplified our problems, but I think that much of what we have faced in the past few years can be chalked up to our inability to trust God and our willingness to accept convenient lies. We do not trust God to care for us and so invest our hope in political parties and public figures to bring us salvation. We do not love the truth enough so we chase after anything that makes us feel better or that will justify our politics and lifestyle. In a world of pain and misery, rather than fighting back with God’s goodness and the true nature of God’s creation, we descend into a world of tinfoil hats and loaded guns.
I return to the image we began with, of a chaplain sitting with congresspeople. Some of them were the same people encouraging the mob outside just days ago, but all of them now locked behind doors as an insurrection raged above them. The words that rang out, the words that will endure for all of them, the words that may yet save us – are those of scripture. “God,” not hatred, not power, not lies, “God, is my refuge and strength, an ever present help in times of trouble. We have to repent and come back to God. We have to hold people accountable for inciting insurrection. We have to divest ourselves of anything that gets between us and God, and accept that politics and faith are often more deeply entrenched than we can ever imagine. We have to do better, or else there will be no democracy left to save, no nation to live in – Christian or otherwise. We must begin to fix this broken state we find ourselves in, and it begins with us, it begins with the truth, and it begins with the God who is our refuge and strength in all things. – Amen.