On January 6th while the 117th Congress gathered to certify the 2020 election, an individual who identifies himself as Crazy Cripple filmed a group marching on the street toward the US Capitol. At about the 2 minute mark in the video, the group stops to pray. Ahead of the prayer, someone announces, “If you’re on the outside, make sure you’re looking on the outside of the perimeter that no one is sneaking up on us.”
The prayer is one that might be heard anywhere among American Christians,
“Dear Lord, we come to you today, we ask for your protection and wisdom for our leadership here today as well as all our brothers. For the rest of our fellow Americans Lord we pray that you’d soften the hearts of those who have turned hard toward you. We pray for both those in our government that turned harshly away from you as well as others within our society Lord. We pray and realize that the only way we return to you is via reformation and revival and we ask for that Lord. We understand that the ideas and ideologies that come out of some of these value systems and socialism and capitalism are antithetical to what you would wish for us Lord. Particularly understand that the family is the institution you put on this earth that’s the most important to us. So again we thank you for the wonderful nation we’ve all been blessed to be in, the value systems we’ve all gotten to experience in our lives Lord. We pray that you continue to uphold and restore these and pray that you provide all of us with courage and to both represent you and represent our culture well. In Jesus name, amen.”
At minute 3:55, the Crazy Cripple states, “We’re marching with the Proud Boys guys” as he continues to live stream his video.
At 5:15, a bearded man carrying a bull horn and drink, dressed in dark clothing and tactical vest with sunglasses and a hat on backwards states, “The Proud Boys are in the room.”
Again, the Crazy Cripple says, “we got a whole load of Proud Boys walking through here folks.”
At 7:01 the gentleman in the tactical vest comments through his bull horn, “If you have noticed, real men are here. We know what the hope is this morning. To support the constitution of the United States against [inaudible] foreign and domestic. Let us remind those who have forgotten what that means.”
The remainder of the hour and forty minute video documents events leading up to the break-in of the Capitol. At 1:40:34, Crazy Cripple comments, “We’re storming the Capitol guys” and the video ends.
The events and images of Wednesday, 6 January 2021 are confusing for many American Christians, but they are the result of a conflation of faith and politics that began in American evangelicalism in the 1980s. The identity that was created then is a powerful motivator today. That identity is reinforced by groups like the Proud Boys who might use religious, ideological, and/or nationalistic language and behavior to solidify and legitimize their cause. When experiences (behavior), convictions (belief), and a social group come together (belonging), there is a remarkable unification of individuals who will do anything for their movement–riots, insurrection, even murder.
All people are susceptible to creating group identities. It is a natural human penchant that distinguish one from the other. Whether politically, socially, religiously, even racially speaking, people can become so emotionally invested in a group’s cause that it becomes a powerful source of personal meaning. For many Christians, that search for meaning and identity is wed with social movements (no matter if it be the Proud Boys, Wall Builders, Seven Mountains Mandate, or BLM) as beliefs, behaviors, and belonging coalesce. The end result is the fragmentation of the larger society as no one listens to what others say because of polarizing messages.
Holding to their ideals reinforced by the community’s actions becomes more important than the preservation of a greater good. It takes true biblical discipleship to navigate this situation and courage to step boldly into an identity devoid of ideologies and solely aligned to Jesus Christ.
In one of the most tumultuous times in modern history, Dietrich Bonhoeffer pressed the German evangelicals to recover their identity in Jesus. They had become aligned with the narrative of a German exceptionalism that believed God had especially chosen them for a grand purpose. For Bonhoeffer, however, only complete devotion to Jesus, not national or political identities, could result in the unification of the community of saints committed to fulfilling God’s will. He wrote,
“Jesus releases his community from the political and legal order,… and makes it into what it truly is, namely, the community of faithful that is not bound by political or national ties.” (Discipleship, 1937).
The only matter that could unite the disciples was the common commitment to the Christian mission. Bonhoeffer noted,
“Nothing in the world could have united these men to do the same work except the call of Jesus. It overcame all their previous divisions [political, social, economic] and founded a new, strong community in Jesus.” (Discipleship, 1937:161)
That community certainly has an identity. Her identity is founded on the reconciling work of Jesus Christ, the manifestation of that work in the lives of disciples, and the utter devotion to being and acting like her Savior. In other words, the identity of the church myopically focuses Christ-followers on joining with God on His missionary activity – defending the faith, visiting the sick, caring for the marginalized, clothing the naked, welcoming the immigrant, proclaiming good news to the poor and the year of the favor of the Lord. Simply stated, it declares and lives out the euangelion in radical identity as Jesus’ disciples (Matt 25:35-40; Luke 4:18-19).