January 29, 2021

A Bald-faced Lie: “This is Not Who We Are”

Many Americans witnessed the siege of the Capitol building on January 6th, just as Congress was certifying the electors in our most recent Presidential election. Irrespective of where you place yourself on the American political spectrum, it was shocking, and a horrible scene of violence. And yet, it must be said, that the insurrection of January 6th 2021 by domestic terrorists was the logical culmination of four years of dehumanizing rhetoric and actions. As the majority religion of the United States, we Christians are culpable and complicit, because far too many of us did not exercise our political values in concert with our baptismal faith to speak out against the President’s reckless words and behavior. Far too many of us preferred to remain silent through these tumultuous four years, and that silence has come home to roost.

Throughout the Bible, there are numerous instances where the wilderness becomes a liminal place that invites either blessing or judgement. We see that in the Gospel lesson of Mark 1: 4-11 where John the Baptist wanders into the wilderness and people from all over the Judean countryside and Jerusalem are drawn to him. The message from this forerunner of Jesus is radical, not only in the contemporary sense of the word; but also in the biblical sense, “it is rooted.” Rooted in the sense that a new life in baptism is predicated on confession and repentance. The invitation from this rabble rouser is connected to our contemporary situation here in the United States. After the siege of the Capitol, Americans of faith parroted, “this is not who we are;” but the truth is that we have always been this way. Our history is littered with racism and white supremacist culture, which has disenfranchised whole people, in order to center whiteness. White supremacy was on full display on January 6th as the riotous mob infiltrated the Capitol. Can we collectively imagine, what the scene would have been like if this riot was perpetuated by black and brown people?

The Church and individual Episcopalians must heed John’s clarion call of confession and repentance, otherwise we continue to perpetuate this terrible lie, “that this is not who we are.” We can either invite blessing or damnation.

The option is open to us at this pregnant moment - will we choose to tell the truth about the full narrative of American history, confessing our complicity to racism and empire, to subjugating whole groups of people to dominant tropes of supremacy, or we will take the road more traveled, the road that escapes accountability for not speaking out and telling the truth about our common life as Americans? As people of faith, we are called to tell the truth, to embody justice, to live into the vows of our baptismal covenant; and when we do that, we are spiritually defying the principalities of the world through the Holy Spirit. My reading of the Gospel tells me that we can only move into that new life, the gift that is afforded us in baptism, if we first confess our sins in this regard, and then repent of them. Every Church in America must be invited into this space. Unless we do that, I think we invite God’s judgement, rather than God’s blessing.

Once we tell the truth about our own complicity in parroting a unity bereft of justice, we create space for the Holy Spirit lead us in new ways. I pray that as a Church, as Episcopalians, we will heed John the Baptist and take up his clarion call for collective and individual confession and repentance.

May God grant us the courage to confess and repent. Our spiritual lives hang in the balance.

This blog is part of a series for the Good Book Club. Learn more about the Good Book Club here.