Wheaton College laments those who used name of Jesus at Capitol riot

The sign on the campus of Wheaton College display's the Illinois evangelical institution's motto. | Wikimedia Commons/Christoffer Lukas Müller

An influential evangelical college has issued a statement condemning those who invoked the name of Jesus Christ when storming the Capitol last week.

Illinois-based Wheaton College, the alma mater of the late televangelist Billy Graham, issued a statement on Monday that addressed the storming of the Capitol building last week by a group of fringe supporters of President Donald Trump that resulted in six deaths.

Those who died include unarmed 35-year-old Air Force veteran Ashely Babbitt who was shot by Capitol police as she attempted to climb through a smashed door pane into the House chamber during the riot while three others purportedly died from health emergencies. Capitol police officer Brian D. Sicknick, 42, who had been on the force since 2008 and was an Iraq War veteran, died on Jan. 7 after he suffered injuries while responding to the breach. Another Capitol police officer who responded to the riot died by suicide on Saturday. 

“Wheaton College joins citizens across the United States and the evangelical community in decrying the violent attack on democracy we witnessed this past week in Washington, D.C., and lamenting the way perpetrators used the name of Jesus to promote violence, display racist symbols, and attack our nation’s leaders,” the statement read in part. “We also call our community to fast and pray with other Christians for the healing of our nation during what ought to be a peaceful transition of power to a new presidential administration.”

“We pray for all among us who are deeply grieved and unsettled by these events. May the Holy Spirit strengthen our evangelical witness for Jesus Christ as we seek to shape future Christian leaders who demonstrate love, compassion, and truth. These events serve as a reminder of the importance of our ongoing commitment to the educational mission of building up the church and benefitting society, especially in preparing our students to address the challenges of living in a divided world.”

More than 250 faculty and staff at Wheaton signed an additional statement concerning the storming of the Capitol that included a strong condemnation of Trump, who has maintained strong support from the evangelical community throughout his presidency: “The January 6 attack on the Capitol was characterized not only by vicious lies, deplorable violence, white supremacy, white nationalism and wicked leadership — especially by President Trump — but also by idolatrous and blasphemous abuses of Christian symbols.”

“The behaviors that many participants celebrated in Jesus’ name bear absolutely no resemblance to the Christian teachings or ethics we submit to as faculty and staff of Wheaton College,” the signatories stressed.

“Furthermore, the differential treatment displayed by those with a duty to protect in their engagement with rioters who trespassed on the Capitol grounds illegally, when compared to recent protests over police brutality in D.C. last summer, illustrates the ongoing reality that systemic racism in our country is tragically and undeniably alive and well.”

Some have argued that there was not "differential treatment" because no rioters were killed during the ongoing riots in Washington, D.C., over the summer even as White House barricades were breached and the president was moved to an underground bunker.  

During Black Lives Matter protests and riots outside the White House on May 30-31, more than 60 Secret Service officers "sustained multiple injuries from projectiles such as bricks, rocks, bottles, fireworks and other items" as rioters "repeatedly attempted to knock over security barriers, and vandalized six Secret Service vehicles," The Secret Service said at the time. 

"Secret Service personnel were also directly physically assaulted as they were kicked, punched, and exposed to bodily fluids. A total of 11 injured employees were transported to a local hospital and treated for non-life threatening injuries." No rioters were killed in the melee. 

The riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 began 20 minutes before Trump finished speaking at the Ellipse where over 100,000 supporters were gathered. A scheduled rally with other speakers was scheduled to start outside the Capitol after Trump spoke. However, hundreds of fringe Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and violently attacked Capitol police officers in an attempt to thwart Congress' certification of Electoral College votes. 

In a letter to federal officials before last Wednesday's rallies, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser urged federal law enforcement to maintain a light footprint for the protests. 

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who directs Washington’s National Guard, told The Wall Street Journal last Thursday that U.S. officials believed the protests would be peaceful, like other pro-Trump rallies, and they “had no wildest imagination that you could end up breaching the Capitol grounds.”

The Wheaton statement also condemned the failure of many evangelicals to speak “truth to the disillusioned Trump supporters” and instead opted to remain “unduly silent in a just cause.” The faculty and staff also expressed regret over “the failures of the Church to teach clearly and to exercise adequate church discipline in these areas.”

“We grieve over the inadequate level of discipleship that has made room for this type of behavior among those who self-identify as Christian. We pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us all manner of idolatry, and we commit to speaking plainly against it wherever and whenever we find it,” they added.

Since the storming of the Capitol, members of the evangelical community have been quick to condemn the violence that took place. Immediately following the attack, Beth Moore, a frequent critic of the president, took to Twitter and remarked that “I don’t know the Jesus some have paraded and waved around in the middle of this treachery today. They may be acting in the name of some other Jesus but that’s not Jesus of the gospels.”

Pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas, Texas’ First Baptist Church, a longtime supporter of Trump, wrote a lengthy op-ed for Fox News condemning the actions of those who stormed the Capitol. According to Jeffress, “what the angry mob did by storming into the Capitol was not only a crime, it was a sin against God.”

“Shouting profanities, beating back police officers, destroying property, intimidating elected officials … These are not forms of political argument, no matter who uses them. They’re just an ungodly power grab,” he wrote.

Jeffress also lamented the fact that “too many of us, in the heat of this political moment, have fallen into an all-consuming hatred for our fellow Americans, fellow human beings made in God’s image.” That development, he contended, has caused a bitterness that has “clouded our vision, causing us to lose sight of God’s command to love and seek peace.”

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