On Christian Nationalism
An Examination of the Disease Rotting a Religion & Threatening a Democracy
Because I know that this is an intersection of contentious topics (religion, politics, and Trump — the three anti-dinner table topics) I want to start with a few disclaimers to try and avoid misunderstandings up front.
First, I know that not all American Christians are supporters of Trump or the GOP. Of course it’s never “all white evangelicals,” or “all American Christians”. But according to the polls, around 85% of white evangelicals are supporters of Trump (or at least have the honesty to admit to it), and many in the remaining 15% are enablers. So I will be making a lot in broad brushstrokes here, because I believe that these are broadly true observations I’m making.
Second, I want to make it clear that this white evangelical, Christian Nationalist world is a world I was raised in and come from. I’m not just some aloof observer disconnected from this, these are my people. I was one of them. I am a primary source on this subject.
That leads me to the third disclaimer. Because a lot of my knowledge of this Christian Nationalist world is from first-hand experience, and due to the way that this ideology uses plausible deniability and unconscious participation, a lot of the things I’m going to be saying are anecdotal by necessity. There’s not really a way for me to quantify or make-empirical a lot of of what I’m discussing, but that also is not in any way my intention here.
My final disclaimer is more of a definitional one. Throughout this piece, I will largely be using the term “Christian” in a broad, cultural sense, rather than a faith-based sense. Personally, my view of a Christian is anyone who intentionally tries to live out the virtues and teachings of Jesus Christ, but for this piece I use the term “Christian” to refer to all members of a Church and/or Christian tradition, regardless of theological, doctrinal, denominational, etc. differences.
Why is Understanding Christian Nationalism Important?
I think it’s impossible to fully understand what’s happening in the American political right right now — particularly the violent, anti-democratic elements of the right — without understanding the fusion of Christianity and conservative, far-right politics in America. I’m not saying that Christianity is the only force responsible or even the main force for the majority of the far-right, but I think it’s undeniably a huge aspect of that movement that needs to be understood.
Just think about it what we saw at the Capitol on January 6. There were people there hoisting up crosses right next to a gallows. There were people there in Christian shirts and waving huge Jesus signs. There were many people who justified their participation in that insurrection as being part of their “holy Christian duty”. There was a ton of Jesus stuff going on there. For that reason alone, understanding Christian Nationalism is important even for non-Christians because it’s critical to understanding the broader moment and what’s coming in the future.
Understanding Christian Nationalism is especially important for Christians though. I think we should strive to understand Christian Nationalism because it’s an ideology that we as Christians bear the greatest responsibility for combating.
And that’s because the Christian side of all this is not incidental. Clearly, there is something about American Christianity that is predisposing people to move in that right-wing direction. I think that is very important for Christians to think about and try to figure out, because we as a people have to own that. Although it would be nice and convenient, we can’t just say that these Christian Nationalists are “fake Christians” because the sad truths are 1) that a majority of American Christians sympathize with them, enable them, and/or are them, and 2) these Christian Nationalists can trace their current actions and ideology back throughout the history of Christianity through a lot of different streams.
As Christians, we have to figure out how to deal with our own tradition critically without just lazily pushing aside the vile parts as something gross that we don’t want to associate with. We have to try and metabolize these darker aspects of our religious community and think through why our theology and ecclesiology are essentially preparing people for fascism and nationalism.
The Catholic moral tradition holds some excellent insight for this moment. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that people share in the evil of others in two ways: “by omitting the counsel that would have hindered the wrongdoing” and by “silence, by not preventing, by not denouncing.” As a people in a society, but especially as Christians, we are our brothers’ keeper. It’s our duty to de-radicalize our fellow Christians, to de-mystify them from Trump and this nationalist narrative. But before we can do that, we must first recognize what Christian Nationalism is.
What is Christian Nationalism?
I want to start off by saying one thing that Christian Nationalism is not: It’s not surprising. If you’ve paid any attention to the religious right over the years, or if you grew up in the type of Christian environment that I did, you could see this resurgence of Christian Nationalism coming from a mile away. It’s the natural culmination of everything we were groomed for. All we had to do was listen to what’s actually been said. None of this is new.
Also, given the white Evangelical culture that it is mainly coming from, Christian Nationalism is not hypocritical. It’s perfectly consistent with the shared values that have been at the core of American Christianity for decades, centuries even (those values being patriarchy, White/European heritage/chauvinism, desire for cultural dominance, etc.).
What Distinguishes Christian Nationalism?
Christian Nationalism falls under the broader umbrella category of fascism. Because of this, understanding what fascism is is critical to understanding Christian Nationalism. This has already been done ad nauseam, so I won’t do it again here (some excellent resources for understanding fascism are here, here, and here).
If you have a good understanding of fascism, then the next step to understanding Christian Nationalism is to understand the specific features of that ideology that set it apart as it’s own distinct sub-category of fascism.
Christian Nationalism as “Soft Fascism”
When you think about fascism, you probably think about the Brown Shirts marching through the streets, the 14 main points, World War II, all of that. You probably think of fascism as being totalitarian in the sense of physical compulsion, but one of the distinguishing traits of Christian Nationalism, or Christofascism (as some call it), is that it’s not compulsory in that sense. It’s a “soft fascism”. There’s definitely a fascinating sort of Christian logic to this non-compulsion component, it’s a very Arminian type of fascism where the impetus is that you have to make the decision to embrace the ideology, to let Nationalist Jesus into your heart.
This compulsion/non-compulsion idea is key to understanding the Christian Nationalist ideology. It’s not forced on you with a gun, but it is forced on you through a series of social pressures that relentlessly push you into this one way or another. It’s in a huge amount of the Christian rhetoric you might see on social media, it’s the lifestyle Christian bloggers, it’s your church having a special 4th of July Sunday celebration where you wave the flag and say the pledge and sing patriotic hymns. It’s the production and proliferation of Christian media that glorifies the lives of some and the deaths of others. There’s a Kevin Sorbo movie called The Reliant that came out in 2019, and the plot of the movie is essentially that Antifa is crawling around and Kevin has to defend his farm and daughter from the scary leftists. Or, think of the Left Behind series, where the (literally) Satanic villains are mostly secular Europeans, globalists, etc., and the killing of these people is celebrated. These tropes are all extremely prescient in the world we live in, and especially so in the Christian spheres of the world.
Christian Nationalism & Christian Piety
Christian Nationalism is an ideology that you become socialized into and pressed into through all these different nonviolent means and methods. This is a critical facet that distinguishes Christian Nationalism from the more familiar European fascism, the fascism in 1930s/40s Germany and Italy — not really Spain though, Franco’s reign is actually a very solid example of Christofascism in many ways. Those European types of fascism mobilized lots of Christians of course, but they didn’t rely on the participants’ Christian piety. To be a Nazi or a Brown Shirt you could be a Christian or not, it really didn’t matter. You could be a good Nazi without being a pious person.
On the other hand, Christian Nationalism does require the kinds of psycho-theological habits that are often implanted in you by active participation in American Christianity. For example, Christians are told repeatedly that pornography, homosexuality, and promiscuity go with secular humanism, Satanism, and communism. They just lump all those things together without even blinking an eye, and that’s obviously a scandalous level of intellectual dishonesty, if just not outright maliciousness. Just like many non-Christians, there are a lot of Christians who depend on authority in their search of something meaningful to hold on to, and Christian Nationalism uses religion to foster hate and to lead the followers into crusades.
Christian Nationalism & Self-Selection
Another distinguishing aspect of Christian Nationalism is the idea of self-selection, and this idea draws us back into the broader conversation of how American Christianity is preparing people for Christian Nationalism. In the public discussion, the concept of fascism has been almost completely whittled down to totalitarianism. So many of the essential fascistic elements — such as imbedded racism and militarism — are dismissed. So we have this idea that fascists have to look like Hitler or Mussolini, but that is just flat-out wrong.
Among Christians, it is this idea of self-selection that makes it so difficult for Christians who are within this Christian Nationalist ideology to understand it for what it is: fascist. They can’t comprehend that they could be part of a fascistic ideology because they opted into it. The people who circulate in Christian Nationalist spaces rarely think of themselves as such because their understanding of fascism is inherently totalitarian in this coercive, violent way. What they are denying though are all the ways that coercion functions differently, that there is not only violent but social coercion. This self-selection idea helps to hide the fact that the compulsion is still there, just in a different form.
And this idea of self-selection I believe springs straight from Christian theology. You’re a Christian because you chose to be; your entire religion is predicated in the idea that you have to choose Jesus. I don’t want to downplay or bash that theology at all — I’m adamantly opposed to Calvinism, pre-destination, all that. But at the time, I think that the brands of Christianity that do believe in free will put so much emphasis on that personal decision to follow Jesus that this moment in people’s lives of choosing is elevated to an undeserved level.
How Does Christian Nationalism Happen?
How has Christian Nationalism become such a strong, prevalent force in America? What is it about our theology, ecclesiology, and culture that has led to the current moment?
There are more answers to these questions than I could possibly address here, but I will do my best to lay out a few of the prominent ones I have seen and experienced.
Social Pressure & Manipulation
Within Christian Nationalism, there is a weird dialogue constantly occurring between compulsion and self-selection, and I think that this weirdness occurs because it’s a perversion of Christian theology.
Within American Christianity, you make a personal choice for Jesus which almost always happens in a social context which may or may not be coercive. Of course, no one is holding a gun to your head demanding that you accept Jesus as your savior, but they are holding powerful emotional and social strings and pulling on them to make you make that decision. Once you make that decision you end up in all sorts of siloed social spaces that continually make this self-selection more and more compulsory and you don’t realize it because the leaders are telling you that you are freely choosing it. Next thing you know, you’re only listening to Christian music, you’re only watching Christian movies, listening to Christian podcasts, taking advice from Christians, etc.
But then the minute you mess up — let’s say you cuss — you are bombarded by a myriad of social pressures that make you rethink that decision, that compel you to say a different word even though everyone knows you mean the same thing. Obviously that’s an extremely innocent manifestation of the logic I’m trying to identify, but from those innocent examples it ramps up into a force that leads you to support extremely violent, extremely brutal national policies like carpet bombing Middle Eastern cities or family separations at the border. It also led some into bizarre personal actions like we saw at the Capitol.
Being on “God’s Side”
A big question is how to make sense of the self-selection of people all converging at Capitol Hill on January 6. There’s a particular video from that day of a woman going around — you’ve portably seen it. She’s talking to a reporter and her eyes are just streaming with tears, and not just because of the chemicals in them. She is completely bewildered, utterly flabbergasted that she was tear gassed while trying to storm the Capitol. She says in a sense of unbelief “this was supposed to be a revolution”. She cannot even conceive the fact that the police turned against her in this particular moment (albeit in a very limited, extremely restrained way).
I think this video is incredibly revealing of the Christian Nationalist mindset; they buy into this fantasy that they are doing God’s will so much, so much so that they would do something completely bizarre and dangerous without any consideration that anything bad could possibly happen. Because you’re part of a holy war, right? David, Gideon, Jephthah, Joshua — they all went against incredible odds in battle and came through perfectly fine because they were on God’s side, and that’s legitimately what these people think is going to happen with them. Now, whether that particular women is a Christian or not I don’t know. Regardless, I think it’s still illustrative of the type of thing Christians can be duped into doing because they have this completely rosey picture of what’s gonna happen when you’re on “God’s side”.
Indoctrination of Youth
From a very young age, at the height of your impressionability, you’re taught in church that you’re one of the chosen people with a mission to “take America back for God.” You learn militaristic songs in Vacation Bible School about being in “the Lord’s army”. You’re told that ever since “God was taken out of schools”, America has gone to hell in a hand basket (non-coincidentally, this rhetoric emerged in the 1960s during school integration).
In these circles, from elementary school onwards, the whole Bible and the entirety of Christian tradition is filtered through the white grievance lens of Christian nationalism. You’re taught that America was once a land of abundance, ”a shining city on a hill”. But now alleged “socialists, atheists, and communists” (which is/historically has often been code for people working for civil rights, economic justice, racial justice, equal rights, voting rights, etc.) are trying to take over the country and ruin it; they’re anti-God agents of the Anti-Christ. You’re taught that you have a God-ordained mission to stop that, to “make America great again”.
This indoctrination results in many other interrelated dynamics among those being groomed for Christian Nationalism. One of these is that most young Christians are taught to distrust the government and fear “the deep state”. This fear of the deep state is not bad in and of itself, but it does open them up to being especially vulnerable to conspiracy theories. Evangelicals grow up hearing insane conspiracies like dinosaur bones were buried by scientists to trick them into believing evolution, for example. This conspiratorial mindset leads them to interpreting entire books of the Bible (I speak mainly of Revelation here) without any historical context and entirely literally. This further feeds the conspiracies (for example, vaccines are secretly for government control).
American Christianity is full of rhetoric that grooms participants for a violent holy war against the enemies of Christian Nationalism.
For example, thousands, tens of thousands, of pastors have spent years and decades telling their congregations that Democrats are literally going to bring God’s wrath on America. You might have grown up with one of these pastors — I know I did. Most of the time they won’t actually say “Democrat”, but something more along the lines of “politicians who support gay marriage and abortion”, but they aren’t half as clever as they think and everyone knows what party they’re talking about. (These pastors are also typically spineless cowards too afraid of losing their Churches’ tax exempt statuses to say what they actually mean.) So these respected religious leaders have spent decades programming people to believe that if Democrats control the state, then God is literally going to “smite America” with some sort of plague, natural disaster, foreign enemy, economic collapse, etc. So of course when Democrats are on the verge of controlling the Federal state, a plurality (probably a majority) of the terrorists who attempted a coup were evangelical Christians.
Why is Christian Nationalism Resurgent in the Trump Era?
While Christian Nationalism is not new, it is certainly resurgent in the Trump Era. Why?
The Church & the Right are Intertwined
This resurgence is happening for numerous reasons, but one of the largest is also the simplest: the American Church and the American right are so intertwined that as goes the right, so goes the Church. As the right has drifted more and more populist, nationalist, and fascist, the church has too because the Church is at this point effectively just an organ of the political right. So in a lot of ways, asking why Christian Nationalism is so prevalent now is the same as asking why is Trumpism so prevalent now.
I think a lot of people have trouble trying to characterize the Capitol insurrectionists and rioters. This has been a recurring problem when thinking about Trump supporters in general over the past five years but in this particular case I’ve seen all kinds of classist and out-of-touch assumptions being made about these folks; they’re just dumb poor people from rural wherever. (Now, I think there’s a story to be told as to why so much of rural space is Trump and GOP space. Not all of it is, and rural America is more complicated than the media portrays, but it is true that there’s a lot of resentment going on there. It’s also true that this resentment is racialized and economic and cultural — it’s all those things all at once.)
If we look down our noses at these “dumb poors” enchanted by the idol of Donald Trump, then we’re ignoring the real problems that lead them to being sucked into a racialized narrative and we insulate ourselves from understanding we might be complicit and contributing to a culture that allows these things to happen. Like with any social ill, it’s important to find that middle ground between self-flagellation and claiming to have perfectly clean hands. All of us — especially Christians — should be asking ourselves “how am I implicated and/or complicit in this time of Christian Nationalism resurgence?”
Obsession With “The Plot”
Another reason we’re seeing this resurgence in the Trump era is because Christian Nationalists have an obsession with “the plot”. They think the world and events are predestined and following this laid-out plot line where they are the good guys and there are clear-cut bad guys, and we are all in this inescapable, zero-sum narrative of good vs. evil.
When Donald Trump came along, they suddenly had the protagonist for their plot — the past few decades have just been exposition and conflict setup. Obviously Trump isn’t the root cause of this insanity we’re seeing on the right, but he was the catalyst, he gave them the hero figure to rally around. Honestly, if you want to understand how Christian Nationalists view Donald Trump you need to be familiar with Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey because he is that hero figure to them. All of this sentiment and ideology has been there, Trump just empowered them to release it in these extreme ways.
Of course, there is a religious aspect to this plot with Christian Nationalists. This largely comes from certain interpretations of Biblical prophecy that encourage this sort of “follow the plot” mentality. Many strains of American Christianity have what I can only describe as an end times fetish — they are unironically looking forward to the end of the world and the suffering and deaths of billions. While this is weird, it is also dangerous. It leads some to try and accelerate this prophecies end of the world. For most though, it leads to a sense of complacency where the future of the planet and society are not a concern to them. Why should they worry about the lives of their unborn descendants when they earnestly believe that the rapture is imminent?
Their Grift is Being Exposed
A third reason why we are seeing increasingly extreme displays from Christian Nationalism in the Trump era is because there is such a massive pushback to their ideology and heroes in this era. Trump has embodied this far-right ideology so incompetently and abrasively that he’s brought a ton of heat on the whole movement. For a lot of these people, being a Christian has nothing to do with what Jesus taught, or what the Bible says, or following a specific set of values. For them, being Christian is about having an identity to dominate over others. Also for a lot of these people, Christian identity is just a disguise for white identity. In the United States historically the term “Christian identity” has been a dog-whistle for white identity. If you don’t believe me, Google “Christian identity” and see what comes up.
Things are really coming to a boil now at the end of Trump’s presidency because they feel more threatened than ever. Remember, the bulk of these people are just following their leaders and the truth is that their leaders are mostly just a bunch of dirty grifters. These aren’t just a bunch of normal Republicans who preferred Trump to Biden. These leaders are actual fascists. The people I’m talking about are the people who’ve been using the whole disguise of “harmless conservative Trump supporter” as a grift to push actual fascism on their social media and in their churches.
They’ve been using “normie” conservatism as a Trojan Horse to push fascism. This has been a real issue for the entirety of the Trump era and now that Trump’s lost the election their grift is being threatened, the game’s up. The only way to keep the grift going now is to say that the election was stolen, that the government hates conservatives, and that the Republican Party has become a bunch of leftists (they’re not, and neither is the Democratic Party). So the new game they’re playing is to label everybody a leftist, and they do this because they still can’t outright say that they’re fascists or Christian Nationalists. What they can do though is say that they’re the “real conservatives” and that the Republican Party has moved to the left even though by any reasonable measure, the opposite is true. And because of that new grift, literally everything to the left of Reagan has become a spooky Antifa ghoul to the millions of people caught up in Christian Nationalism.
This new grift has exponentially increased the fear that is already a part of Christian Nationalism in just a few short months. This new fear has led to anger, and that anger is leading to violence and destruction.
Like I’ve said, at present the Church is inseparable from the political right in America. The question of how to address Christian Nationalism in the Church is really now different than the questions of how to convince 70 million or more people that the election wasn’t stolen, or how to rehabilitate the hardcore QAnon believers after their entire worldview crashed down around them.
These aren’t hopeful questions, and they’re not questions I can even remotely claim to have an answer to. But by thinking about them, and breaking the questions down, maybe someone someday will.
Christian Media Ecology
I need to draw out one last piece of Christian Nationalism, and it has to do with the media ecology of that ideology.
All these people caught up in it are sitting at home watching TV and scrolling through Facebook. They see this perverted version of Christianity that makes all kinds of promises to them and because they have unfulfilled material needs, they want those promises which causes them to get caught in all these cycles of thinking. There are people in my life who are in this ideology, so I feel confined anecdotally stating that with social media all of this is a thousand times more insidious than it ever was when it was just televangelists.
You can get on Facebook and all of the sudden Franklin Graham is telling you that January 6 is going to be “a big Jesus moment”, and if you combine that with a near-total lack of understanding of how the Electoral College works, and suddenly you are not only hoping, but expecting and preparing to see something “big” happen. And some people won’t stop at just expecting something big to happen, they’ll go and try to be a part of bringing something big about.
I think it’s important to think through what is it about the consolidation of Christian power and influence that slowly folds Christians into saying that the Capitol insurrectionists are totally normal, or that is was actually Antifa who stormed the Capitol. I think it’s important that we examine how these ever-new relations between the changing media environment and our habits of Christian obedience and Christian trust, how those are all coming together and collapsing right now. Where is all that stuff pushing people? I don’t want to belabor this point, but I think that this media ecology facet is central to understanding the perpetuation of the Christian Nationalist ideology in the long term.
After the first debate between Trump and Biden, I talked with several of my right-wing family members about what Trump said regarding white nationalists and the Proud Boys. I thought we had a very good conversation, and I honestly think that we got somewhere: I think I empathized with them more and they understood the meaning of what Trump said better. But the second I left, they looked at their phones and they went back to the political and social environment of their conservative church, and they were absolutely bulldozed by all the opposite takes of what I had said and what I think they were starting to realize. All of the progress I might have made with them was undone almost instantly just because of the sheer cacophony of all these talking points. Progress is made in baby steps, but baby steps can possibly compete against the onslaught of this Christian Nationalist messaging. The Christian Nationalists messaging, that echo chamber, is impossible to overcome if Christians are committed to using certain platforms, attending certain Churches, and being part of certain circles and groups.
Organize & Engage
I no idea what to do about the impregnability of the right’s messaging, but I am terrified to see where all these fascistic ideologies push people. Without organizing, without a really large-scale and meaningful effort to engage with people and actively de-radicalize them I can’t imagine that things won’t become more tense and more violent from here on.
Personal family relationships are always complicated, and I never want to advise anyone about them because that’s a whole can of worms I have no idea how to deal with myself.
When it comes to combatting Christian Nationalism in the world, I think the liberal view is to say “well, if we just have the better argument then eventually our opponent is going to realize it and submit” or “if we just strengthen our civil institutions and put our trust in the police and hope they arrest the right people” then society will naturally come out on the other side of this moment for the better. I don’t think it’s that simple though, that seems far too Pollyanna to me. Without a massive organizational effort of outreach and confrontation, I don’t think those liberal answers are enough. They’re good and decent answers, but not enough.
I think my general idea of an answer to the question of what now? can be summarized as “organize and repent”. We need to meaningfully (in quantity and quality) organize people to make them understand what solidarity looks like and how to wish for — and create — a better world. This includes organizing with people you don’t like. And then there is repentance. Like I’ve said numerous times already, we all must try to uncover where you’re still complicit in evils like white supremacy, where you’re still feeding into it or reproducing it or tolerating it. There’s a dialectical relationship between self-reflection and political work that I think Christianity and leftist politics can both prime people to think about, but — like anything worth doing — it’s easier said than done.
Christian Nationalism & The Gospel
While the people participating in Christian Nationalism are by and large Christians, their ideology is not. These are Christians believing extremely un-Christian things and acting in obviously un-Christian ways. I cannot overstate this enough: Christian Nationalism and the Gospel are utterly, irreparably, incompatible.
The Gospel is, according to Luke chapter 4, good news to the poor, healing to the sick, and liberating to the oppressed. I think it’s pretty obvious just by looking at Christian Nationalism that it is none of those things, especially liberating to the oppressed. Throughout the history of Christian Nationalism/imperialism, it has been one of the largest sources of oppression in the world and never, not once, a liberating force. Along these same lines, the Christian tradition according to Paul’s letter to the Galatians states that the “fruits of the spirit”, the markings of true Christianity are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Can anyone look at Christian Nationalism and honestly claim that it bears any of these fruits?
I also think that Romans 13 is a strong bulwark against Christian Nationalism. This is one of the most unpopular passages among libertarians because it essentially says that unless the government is forcing you to do evil, that Christians should go along with it and not resist it. If you want to abide by Romans 13 you can get away with draft dodging, but it’s not an excuse to refuse to show a cop your license or to disobey gun laws for example. And that notion is deeply rooted in the Gospel teachings of turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s, etc. Of course, Christian Nationalists clearly have zero interest in submitting to the governing authorities if they don’t like them; seeking to overturn elections, to resist anti-discrimination laws, certainly storming the Capitol building — all those things are to me clear violations of the Gospel model for how Christians and the state should interact. Romans 13 doesn’t have a “only if you like them” clause.
And of course I need to address the Kingdom of God and what that is, because a lot of these Christian Nationalists have very theocratic, dominionist views of God’s Kingdom. Many of them believe that they can use force and coercion and fear to bring about God’s Kingdom through laws and political, economic, and cultural power. They have a very literal, physical idea of what God’s Kingdom is, and to be honest I don’t thin that impulse to have that physical idea is completely wrong. I believe that the Kingdom of God is something that is constantly being created on Earth through the actions of people; The Kingdom of God is the gospel made manifest, when not only individuals are transformed by entire social orders and communities are transformed by the Gospel message in holistic ways. But if we look at the ways that these Christian Nationalists want to bring about that Kingdom and the ways that we see Jesus himself, the apostles, and the Early Church go about manifesting the Kingdom, there’s some pretty clear contrast there. These people are all about power over others, domination, violence, and a sense of exclusive choseness, Christ was all about subverting power, submission to others, peacemaking, and a universal inclusiveness.
Epiphany & The Hidden Christ
Something about the Capitol insurrection that has flown largely under the radar is that it happened on Epiphany. The traditional Christian calendar has a lot of feast days and celebrations. Most of us celebrate Christmas on December 25, but less well known is that 12 days later many Christians also celebrate Epiphany. This holiday celebrates the part of the Christmas story where the Magi find Jesus and give him gifts. (This is also where the song “12 Days of Christmas” comes from.)
All kinds of rituals are used to celebrate Epiphany, and most of these rituals relate to searching for something that is hidden in the same way that the Magi searched for the Messiah hidden away in a foreign country. There’s an Eastern Orthodox ritual where a priest will throw a cross into a river and people have to swim in and look for it. There’s also the tradition in Latin America of “King Cake”, in which a ring-shaped cake is baked with a little baby Jesus figurine inside that you have to look for while you all gather and eat the cake (it’s not an actual Christian tradition if carb-consumption isn’t involved).
I love the symbolism of Epiphany, this image of God hidden in places that you wouldn’t expect and so you have to go searching for God in places that you normally wouldn’t look. Jesus lived in a way that encouraged this search; he didn’t announce himself as God or even as the Messiah or king or anything like that for a long time. He was humble, people had to find God for themselves and every time people wanted him to reveal his power to the world, he refused — even though that meant suffering the death of the cross.
So with the theme of Epiphany in mind we can affirm that Christ isn’t to be found in “Christ is King!” chants of literal Neo-Nazis trying to end democracy or to be found in erecting giant crosses in front of capitol buildings or in Christian states or in Christian laws or in any sort of move for dominance and power. Instead, we find Christ hidden among the lowly and the powerless, as the lowly and the powerless. That’s where Christ is.