The assault on democracy started a long time ago
I look forward to the end of the presidency of Donald Trump. And not just because he is responsible for inciting the insurrection against the U.S. Capitol last week—which, for me, will be a moment that lives in infamy. I won’t ever forget watching the Senators discuss Mike Pence’s Electoral College vote count only to be rushed out of the chamber as the Capitol was breached. It was a shocking moment in four years full of those moments.
But, no, my looking forward to the end of this wicked man’s presidency started at another moment that I won’t forget any time soon. It was during the January 2017 Love Feast. We worship together during Love Feast every quarter on the fourth Saturday. In January of 2017 it was the Saturday after Trump was inaugurated, and already his administration ordered what became known as the “Muslim ban.” My heart was aching that week already, and it ached even more as I learned that there were children being held behind the gates at O’Hare International Airport. I knew those children looked like my children and looked like me when I was their age. I can’t explain the pain that I experienced during that moment, the despair that I felt. But what many Americans felt on January 6, I felt in January 2017 when Trump enacted the Muslim ban.
I was assigned to offer communion to the Love Feast, and when I went up in front of the congregation, I started to cry. I needed my Lord to see me and save me again. I needed to broadcast his death, which ended all deaths, even as the President promised more of them. Today, I still yearn for his Lordship, as we experienced yet another horrific event for which Trump is responsible (and for which he takes no responsibility).
Trump’s assault on immigrants really hurt me, personally. Whether it was his “zero tolerance” approach to immigration (where he separated families, putting children in cages), or when he called immigrants “animals with many White Evangelicals (who I know like to call White Christian Nationalists) co-signing, or when he told Ilhan Omar, Rashia Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Presley to go back to the places they came from. Trump’s defenders will find a way to equivocate about all this, but I felt it personally, because I’ve been called named because of how I look and where I’m from. I’ve been told to go back home. I’ve had the country my parents immigrated from called a shithole.
It was all of these moments, many of them sadly memorable, that cause me to look forward to the end of his administration. And look forward to the fullness of Jesus’ Lordship.
What was the America they wanted to make great again?
But speaking of the shithole country my parents came from, the insurrections who sieged the Capitol reminded me Egypt. Egypt, for the last ten years, and especially in the early 2010s, had a great deal of political instability. Protests during the Arab Spring helped to oust the thirty-year dictator Hosni Mubarak. Mohamed Morsi followed up before the military ousted him, and now Abdel Fattah el-Sisi rules the country. That sort of change in leadership, without a democratic process, was what the United States looked like last Wednesday. The U.S. reminded of me of the Egypt my parents fled, and apparently Trump thinks the U.S. is so distinct from.
Trump showcases that in his disdain for countries he deems are shitholes because of undemocratic values, while he tries to make the U.S. more like them. Trump, and the insurrectionists that he emboldened don’t actually love the U.S., they love their idea of the U.S. I mean, they say they love the U.S., chanting it down the halls of the Capitol they are invading, as they try to invalidate the voice of the people, an institution which the U.S. props all of its mythology on. They attack its institutions, which they deem are not democratic. And so the question is, for Trump, and for the radicals he has emboldened. What is the U.S. they are after? What is the U.S. they are imagining? What is the U.S. that’s painted across their faces?
As many have said before me, the U.S. they want is a White Nationalist one. One where their racist politics are part of the political discourse and where critiquing those racist ideas is reduced to “cancel culture” or a “threat to unity.” One where “free speech” means saying whatever you want on social media with no consequences. I think the America they want is one where they are in power, and they feel threatened because their President, who gave them permission to express those views, lost a free election. Trump and the Republicans that cooperated with him, empowered his supporters to question the results of the election, specifically in Black cities. They poured gasoline on the fire of racism in the United States. They worked as dividers and not healers. Given the opportunity to heal a nation after an election, they decided to seek their own power and empower the insurrectionists.
And the church needs to reckon with this, and not merely distance ourselves from it, even if we think we are on the right side. The truth is that many of our brothers and sisters were sieging the Capitol, and they were emboldened by Christian politicians who are not shy about their faith, and often in Jesus’ name. David French called it a Christian insurrection. All of us who name ourselves as Christians must root this evil out of our churches and call those who committed it to repentance. There is hope for them too. But not if we say “peace, peace,” when there is no peace. We need to make peace, not presume it.
So yes, this is the U.S., but it isn’t.
Some have said that Joe Biden’s declaration that “this is not who we are” couldn’t be further from the truth—they argue electoral violence is a historical fact. I’m no patriot, and I see their point, and my experience in the U.S. has never been as idyllic as my elected officials have suggested. But I don’t think that this is all that it is. There is more here, and the good parts of it, I saw attacked on Wednesday.
All of the worst that we saw last week may be the U.S., but there is more to this complex country than that. I woke up on Wednesday proud that Georgia elected a Black Christian pastor, because I think Christians should lend their wisdom to the state if they are called to. However, the election of a man with slavery in his ancestry, the first of Georgia’s history, I think startled the demons of racism and fueled the insurrectionists.
But I know, for many Black people, this is America they always knew. Many commentators noticed the drastic difference in policing this riot than the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. Reports are coming out, though, that this wasn’t merely the negligence and bias of the officers, but a systemic neglect and intentional understaffing from above them. Many of the officers were heroes. And the negligent ones are being held to account.
Look, I want to live in a country with free and fair elections. I want to live in a country where police officers are known for their heroics and not their racism. And I saw some of the best of the U.S. In fact, America had the institutions to protect itself from turning into a banana republic. But it’s clear that those institutions are under attack and have been under attack for the last four years. I’m prepared to say that U.S. democracy is worth defending, and that it has institutions that are worth naming as good. I can say that the responsible thing is for Trump to resign, as other Christian leaders have said. I think that impeachment and removal is the moral thing to do too. But even if American Democracy withstands this attack, that’s not the end of the story.
U.S. Democracy is worth defending, but Jesus is still Lord
I don’t usually extol the virtues of the U.S., but even as we saw the worst parts of it, we saw the best parts of it last week too. U.S. Democracy is worth defending, and well-led country can bless its citizens and the whole world. But even as I felt an iota more patriotic at this moment of national unity against the violence of the insurrectionists, I know that even if American falls, Jesus is still Lord.
The Lordship of Jesus doesn’t take away the virtues of the United States, just like it didn’t take away the virtues of the Old Covenant in the Bible. This analogy is imperfect, but the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses, and the Temple that represented it was good (and sometimes it wasn’t), just like the U.S. is good and sometimes isn’t (and just like American Christianity is and isn’t). But for Christians, our hope is in the Lordship of Jesus. The promise that Jesus brings something that is far more nourishing and fulfilling than even the best of human systems and human expressions. Because we have that hope we can speak to where we see its echoes and where we don’t see it.
For many Americans, and for me in part, the fall of the U.S. Capitol would have felt like the end of the world. And I’m glad it wasn’t sacked. But if it was, Jesus would be still be Lord. Jesus prophesied about his Lordship over the Temple at the end of his ministry. He prophesied that the Second Temple of Herod, a symbol of nationalism and identity for Jewish people, would fall, and that it would be the worst of times.
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
But even as all these events come to pass, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
The promise for Christians is the Lordship of Jesus. And ugliness that we saw in the United States this week is even subject to the Lordship of Jesus, and the goodness that we saw, from heroic achievements, to moving speeches, to politicians even showing us that they can change their mind, that is also subject to the Lordship of Jesus.
The truth is democracy has been under attack for the last four years. The attackers failed this time, but they may not next time. America will pass away, but the words of Jesus won’t. Jesus will still be Lord even if American democracy fails.