A Pastoral Response to Wednesday - Word&Way

A Pastoral Response to Wednesday

I was a junior in high school on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked multiple planes full of fuel and passengers and flew them into the twin towers in New York City and the Pentagon, and attempted to fly another into the Capitol before crashing it in a field in Pennsylvania. Many of my friends and classmates enlisted in the various branches of United States Military Service following that day. Some of them never came home. Some of them came home missing limbs. Almost all came home with the effects of PTSD.

Screengrab as Nolan Porter leads an Election Day Communion service at University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri, on Nov. 3, 2020.

I was in the hallway, running an errand for my science teacher. I turned a corner and noticed everyone huddled under the TV mounted in the corner of the room. The door was open and a friend motioned me over. We watched the smoke and the ash and a second plane and all of those images of that day that are forever stuck in our mind’s eye. I remember some of my feelings that day as a 16-year-old kid: fear, anger, anxiousness, and grief, just to name a few. It felt as if the things that made us uniquely American and uniquely safe in the world were crumbling.

The images of Americans attacking and ransacking our own Capitol that we saw on Wednesday (Jan. 6) afternoon will also stay with us. As I watched those images unfold on my computer screen, I felt some of those same things: anger, anxiousness, and grief.

In some ways, those two days (9/11 & 1/6) are apples and oranges, and in other ways they are all too much the same. Those days are dominated by destruction, by chaos, by fear, and by grief.

Five people, one a Capitol Police officer, lost their lives in the mayhem Wednesday. But the grief is far more than those five because we are in an extended season of grief with COVID-19. In fact, 4,000 people lost their lives Wednesday in our country alone.

What we saw Wednesday was a shame of the highest order.

No matter the cause, peaceful protesting is fine. In fact, it’s a part of our right as a citizen in this democracy. Rioting is not fine. Whether you voted  Republican, Democrat, chose to abstain from voting, or wrote in the Flying Spaghetti Monster as your candidate, Wednesday was a shameful day in our nation’s history and a stain on our democracy.

A few months ago, in the weeks leading up to the election, we outlined at our church some of the dangers of wrapping our faith in nationalism and partisan politics. Wednesday those dangers were put on full display in all its ugliness. A Christian flag waving next to a Confederate flag held by rioters ransacking the Capitol. A giant “Jesus Saves” sign being held up next to a vulgar sign about our president-elect. Hanging gallows set up on the national mall in front of the Capitol.

There are no excuses. There are no justifications. My heart grieves for those watching television and news livestreams who will base their understanding of who Jesus is by what they saw on Wednesday afternoon.

(Julio Cortez/Associated Press)

As believers and disciples of Jesus we must distance ourselves from a watered-down, cheap gospel, pseudo-Christianity that cannot separate itself from a political ideology. The comments, the vitriol, the conspiracy theories, the ugliness, the divisiveness that has marked the last several months all led up to what we saw just a couple of days ago. As a disciple of Jesus, I cannot and will not bow to the lord of chaos and mob rule.

Brothers and sisters, whether you are Republican or Democrat or nothing at all, as disciples of Jesus we cannot bow down to the lord of lawlessness, intimidation, and to the disregard and vitriol for anyone who disagrees with us.

Jesus is not Republican. Jesus is not Democrat. Jesus is Lord of all – of people who voted Republican and people who voted Democrat and people who did not vote at all. Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords bows to no political platform and no politician.

Brothers and sisters, even after January 20th when our president-elect is sworn into office, we will still reside in an increasingly divided nation. The church of Jesus in all its forms, denominations, stripes, and tribes should be leading the way in moving above and beyond the ugly quagmire of partisan politics.

May we lead the way in moving above and beyond the partisanship and vitriol that has marked so much of our culture. May we redeem what it means to be a Christian in our community and around the world.

Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, Wednesday was Epiphany. As you know, it’s the day in our Christian calendar where we recall the manifestation of Jesus as God incarnate to the Gentiles as represented to the magi.

Jesus, of course, was not to be found among the powerful and well-to-do in palaces. Instead, he was found in Bethlehem, in all its normalcy. Jesus was a king like none they had ever seen before and ushered in a Kingdom like nothing they had ever imagined. King Herod was back in Jerusalem, so consumed with the news of a new king that he was willing to do anything to retain power — even to the point of murder. As you remember, the wise men left Herod, rejected his kingdom, and instead went and worshiped Jesus, the Lord of all.

Putting our trust and hope in politics will leave us empty and angry. Staking our futures and our security on a politician will leave us frustrated and fearful. But Jesus will not leave us empty. He will not leave us fearful. The Lord is worthy of our trust, worthy of our hope, and worthy of all that we have. The wise men sought the true hope found in the true king. And wise men and wise women still do.

Nolan Porter is senior pastor at University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri. A previous version of this piece ran in a UHBC e-newsletter, and it is reprinted with permission.