Hundreds of evangelical leaders condemn role of 'Christian nationalism' in Capitol riot

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump protest outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Demonstrators breached security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification.
Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump protest outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Demonstrators breached security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. | ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Hundreds of evangelical Christian leaders signed a letter this week decrying "Christian Nationalism” as “heretical and antithetical to the teachings of Jesus,” saying it played a role in the storming of the U.S. Capitol last month. 

Over 400 pastors and faith leaders signed a lengthy letter released Wednesday on that describes Christian nationalism as "a version of American nationalism that is trying to camouflage itself as Christianity.”

"Over the centuries, there are moments when the Church, the trans-national Body of Christ-followers, has seen distortions of the faith that warranted a response. In ages past, the Church has responded by holding emergency councils in order to unilaterally denounce mutations of the Christian faith, and to affirm the core values at the heart of Christianity," the evangelical leaders wrote.

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"Just as many Muslim leaders have felt the need to denounce distorted, violent versions of their faith, we feel the urgent need to denounce this violent mutation of our faith," they continued.

Among signatories of the letter are influential megachurch pastors including David Swaim of the Highrock Covenant Church, Rev. Kevin Riggs of the Franklin Community Church in Tennessee, Joel C. Hunter of Northland Church in Florida and Pastor Mark DeYmaz of the Mosaic Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Others include Jerushah Duford, the granddaughter of the late Rev. Billy Graham; Aaron Niequist, husband of Shauna Niequist; singer Israel Houghton; Bread for the World founder Eugene Cho; Sojourners founder Jim Wallis and Bishop Claude Alexander. 

Though the signees “come from varied backgrounds and political stances,” they “stand together against the perversion of the Christian faith” demonstrated by those that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 carrying Christian symbols and signs that read: "Jesus Saves.” 

“To watch the events of January 6 unfold and to see ‘Jesus Saves’ banners and ’Jesus 2020’ signs made me angry,”  Riggs said in a statement. “As a conservative evangelical pastor in the South, I wanted to add my name to this statement declaring Christian Nationalism is not only wrong, it is heretical and antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.” 

The signatories were brought together by Pastor Doug Pagitt, who leads the progressive evangelical grassroots organization Vote Common Good, and progressive Christian activist Shane Claiborne of Red Letter Christians. 

The open letter is the result of meetings on Feb. 12, Feb. 17 and Feb. 19. According to a statement shared with The Christian Post, the new letter signals the launch of a new “intracommunity anti-extremism effort.” 

“The dangerous rise of extremism in our communities merits this sense of urgency, and I look forward to partnering with these leaders and others to address it,” Pagitt said in a statement. 

Pagitt’s organization spent millions in the 2020 election to encourage voters of faith not to vote for President Donald Trump. 

One part of the Jan. 6 riot that drew the ire of signatories was that one of the rioters stood on the Senate rostrum and led a Christian prayer. The insurrection left five dead and 140 officers injured.

“Many of us recognized the content, the structure, and the style of that prayer as matching our own churches and faith,” the letter said. “But we reject this prayer being used to justify the violent act and attempted overthrow of the Government.

We have witnessed the rise of violent acts by radicalized extremists using the name of Christ for its validity in the past, including the deadly actions in Charlottesville in 2017.  We join our voices to condemn it publicly and theologically.”

The signatories went on to urge "all pastors, ministers, and priests to boldly make it clear that a commitment to Jesus Christ is incompatible with calls to violence, support of white Christian nationalism, conspiracy theories, and all religious and racial prejudice."

During a recent Zoom call with other signers of the letter, Pagitt said he is not trying to “assign to people something that they didn't want assigned to them.”

“[T]hey were moving and marching in Christ's name,” he said. "People from our very communities called people to this action in the days before, unleashed them into the Capitol, and then chose to baptize that action in the name of Christ. And this is our time where we need to stand up."

Several conservative Christian leaders have publicly condemned the events of January 6.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler said that though “attempts to co-opt Christianity for political purposes” aren’t new, there is “absolute shock in the extent to which it was on full display in Washington.” 

Village Church Pastor Matt Chandler said he was "heartbroken" seeing Jesus' name on the flags waving at the U.S. Capitol. He stressed on social media that "This is not the way Jesus lays out for us."

A recent study found that evangelical Protestants are more likely than any other religious group to sympathize with and accept Christian nationalism, defined as a “cultural framework that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life,” with Christianity being more cultural and tribal than spiritual.

In an op-ed for CP, conservative author and radio host Michael Brown clarified that those who simply “love and appreciate America” are not “Christian nationalists,” but warned that equating America with God’s Kingdom or merging the cross with the flag is a “terrible and dangerous mistake.”

“And that is the error of Christian nationalism,” he wrote. 

“The irony of all this is that if we would be Kingdom-minded people first and foremost, we would bring the most blessing to America. If we would look at America as our mission field rather than our spiritual refuge, we would help our nation fulfill whatever plans the Lord has for us. And if we would exalt Jesus infinitely more than any political leader, we would best serve our country (and our leaders).”

John Stonestreet and Timothy D. Padgett of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview argued in a recent op-ed that the term Christian nationalism is too often being used as “a scare label to dismiss any policy or person more conservative than whoever is using the term.”

“… we’re all but guaranteed for the near future that anything vaguely traditional or moral, and any appeal to anything higher than the latest cultural fad, will be smeared with this label,” they wrote for BreakPoint. “It’s silly. Even more, it’s dangerous. Even so, Christians must not abandon the public square just because people say mean things about us.”

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