(RNS) — As prosecutors charge the alleged perpetrators of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, it’s become clear that evangelicals were among them.
That’s painful for me to say. I’ve been an evangelical for 46 of my 62 years. I’ve served the evangelical church as a minister for more than four decades. My three university degrees are from evangelical institutions, I head a small evangelical denomination, and I advise the largest global association of evangelicals.
While evangelical participation in and support for the Jan. 6 event profoundly saddens me, I’m not shocked by it either. Big-name preachers, ministry celebrities and political figures have stoked fear, resentment, and affront among my fellow believers for nearly half a century.
Because giant fundraising operations routinely trade, rent, and sell “cause-oriented” donor records, tens of millions of digital and paper appeals are sent to evangelical households repeating the same often manufactured outrage under different signatures.
During my now regrettable 30 years as an activist on the religious right, I aided and abetted the poisoning of evangelical culture by engaging in alarmist rhetoric from the pulpit. I denounced the “abortionists,” the “homosexual lobby,” “godless atheists” in academia, and “Demoncrats” in Congress and the White House. More than 50,000 financial contributors rewarded me for doing all that.
After a while, the money and adulation became a drug to which I became addicted. Sadly, addicts sometimes do things they wouldn’t do if they were sober. Thankfully, I got sober before I committed a physically violent act.
I’m afraid many of my old colleagues haven’t done the same. Too many fellow preachers, jacked up on their cultural spite, aren’t producing the peacemakers Jesus blessed in his Sermon on the Mount. Instead, they’ve spawned a new breed of sanctimonious warriors.
Until the insurrection, I saw these new soldiers of the cross as paper tigers, quick to comment on Facebook but otherwise carping cowards in the digital shadows. After Jan. 6, I now see them mobilized for literal urban warfare. My community has gone from merely toxic to dangerous. One pastor called recently to warn me he and his people are “armed to the teeth — and I mean that literally!”
Religious, social, political, and legal authorities must take this new threat seriously and act on it. For my evangelical colleagues who care about this heretical defection from the faith, I remind you of what we once demanded from other groups whose members committed violence in the name of religion: Your silence is complicity. You must acknowledge the danger you are harboring and unequivocally denounce terrorism committed in the name of religion!
Berating those outside our community is always easier than taking ourselves and our own to task. Fellow evangelicals, it’s time we take a dose of our own medicine. This time it’s not someone else’s religion or culture that poses a real threat — it’s ours.
Rev. Rob Schenck is administrative bishop of the Methodist Evangelical Church USA, president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute in Washington and author of Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope and Love. He blogs at www.revrobschenck.com.