Pray Not with Swords in Hand: Reflecting on A Prayer by Violent Insurrectionists

Pray Not with Swords in Hand: Reflecting on A Prayer by Violent Insurrectionists January 19, 2021

January 6 insurrectionists pray in the Senate chamber. Rioters stopped smearing their own feces on the halls of Congress long enough to stop and pray. Are these rioters "real" Christians? What does that mean?

Imagine the shock and disgust that rippled through mainline and progressive Christianity in this country after the New Yorker video from the January 6 insurrection showed a group of rioters standing around the Senate President’s chair in the Senate chamber pray, holding hands in the air praising God for their success at storming the Capital. One rioter who was interviewed after the event said he consulted God three times before coming, and each time “he didn’t hear a no.” Discerning types noticed that God also didn’t offer the man a “yes” either.

What can we say other than we denounce traitors and violent rioters who are overcome with a spirit of evil — a mob mentality — and that we do not believe this is something Jesus would ever sign off on? Jesus’ last words to his apostle Peter (and to future followers as well) was “put down your sword.”

We can’t say “they aren’t true Christians” because we know full well there is a strain of Christianity that is heavily nationalistic. And while we don’t interpret scripture the same way they do, we must acknowledge that they are part of what we call “the body of Christ.” We leave the judgment of who is and is not a Christian to a higher authority.

We can’t say “not all Christians” are like this. Even if it is true, it’s beside the point. Most people know there are a variety of strains of Christianity and not all strains condone violence. However, there are enough radical right activist Christians around to sully the reputation of all Christians. And our nationalist brothers and sisters manage to claim the media limelight more than we do.

What can nonviolent Christians say about a situation where a half-naked man wearing bull’s horns on his head calls on Almighty God for a blessing on his fellow rioters, some of whom were defecating in the halls of the Capital and smearing their waste on the walls? Until today, I’ve been at a complete loss for words. The faces of those around him praying and reaching to heaven confirmed how seriously these men felt that God was on their side. Cultic Christianity was on full display.

The responses to this deadly storming of the Capital have varied. Some Christians are holding prayer vigils. Some are doing a sort of biblical criticism denouncing this form of spiritual expression. Others are sticking their head in the sand — it’s just too horrible to think about. And still others are wondering how we can influence these nationalistic types and basically “convert” them to nonviolence.

My way, as a progressive, contemplative Christian spiritual director, is to simply grieve. To lament. If it were my style, I would cover myself with ashes and rent my clothing in distress. But it’s not my style. I grieve the loss of life; the way it will spread more Coronavirus; the fear it caused for so many of my elected leaders. I grieve how this event makes Christians look, and how this hardness and hatred will drive some people out of the church. I grieve what it all means for the future of our nation.

Like many others, I will watch, wait and pray for better days. And, however you respond to seeing rioters pray over Senate chambers, may it be a way that cultivates hope and deep peace in your life.


Want to learn more about spiritual direction? I have a book Spiritual Direction 101: The Basics of Spiritual Guidance by Apocryphile Press that addresses many aspects of this practice. It’s available on Amazon.

Also, you may reach me at teresa@teresablythe.net or via my website www.teresablythe.net.

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