“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” (Matthew 24:7)
Like many of you, I found myself glued to the television on Jan. 6. As someone who spent years doing advocacy inside the U.S. Capitol, seeing it under siege by my fellow Americans felt surreal. There was something strange and scary that this mob absurdly thought they were “saving” the country by attempting to bring down our democracy.
That last line may seem strong, but it is hard to interrupt the events of that day any other way. The goal was to disrupt the peaceful transition of power. The protesters demanded the results of a free and fair election be overturned. Subsequent news reports about the behavior of the insurrectionists and the Trump Administration (the President, his official staff, and his allies outside the government) make clear how close they came to success.
The insurrectionists, some expressing intentions to kill members of Congress or Vice President Pence, came shockingly close to their targets. Top lawyers in the White House and Justice Department threatened resignation to stop a plan by President Trump to wield the power of the Justice Department to further his campaign’s baseless allegations of election fraud. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Advisor, called former colleagues in the Department of Defense encouraging the military to seize ballots and participate in a coup.
With changes to voting rights laws, election processes, and gerrymandering, the concern about the integrity of our election system is only growing. Our democracy remains in peril. That is not a sentence I could have imagined typing when we left Washington, D.C. in early 2015.
Jesus’s apocalyptic vision in Matthew’s Gospel is similarly hard to fathom. It is hard to imagine the Prince of Peace, born so meekly, promising such chaos. Yet, the larger point is that human sin knows almost no bounds. Left to our own hands, we will destroy ourselves and each other. Salvation must come from beyond us.
That, of course, is what we’re pleading for during Advent: “Please, God, come rescue us from this mess that we’ve made!” We are trapped in our humanity. We are eager to join the Eternal Reign of God that Jesus inaugurates.
Part of my sadness watching the insurrection was realizing those participants had transformed politics into a religion. They were willing to violate norms and break laws for what they falsely believed was a righteous cause. Their idols failed them. Their zealotry harmed us all.
Beau Underwood is vice president of external affairs and senior editor at Word&Way.