Here I simply wish to quote and recommend a statement posted on January 8 by Denver Seminary president Mark Young. Against the background of many unwise statements issued by other putative evangelical leaders, his stands out. It neither endorses nor condemns particular politicians or parties by name, but it delivers a serious, substantive admonition—and exemplifies the virtues that it commends. —JDE
Images of the U.S. capitol being stormed and occupied by a violent mob have stunned our nation. What words can we use to describe this attack? Sad? Shameful? Disturbing? Disgraceful? Shocking? Unfortunately, one word that does not come to mind is “surprising.”
As we grieve this tragedy, we have an opportunity, even an obligation, as the people of God and residents of this nation to carefully consider its causes and to commit ourselves to beliefs, values, and behaviors that are directly opposed to those used to incite and perpetrate this violence. With that as a goal, let me offer a couple of thoughts.
Truth matters. What happened on January 6 was built upon months of baseless claims and willful deception about the integrity of the election. Truth matters, as do the systems and institutions in our society that are uniquely tasked and equipped to investigate, discern, and judge the truthfulness of claims and allegations of wrongdoing. Those systems and institutions have found no evidence to justify the ongoing contention that the election was “rigged” or “stolen.” The willful deception of others to accomplish one’s own ends is as old as human history itself. Through the willful deception of Satan, the first humans believed a lie and acted upon that belief. Their action constituted the greatest tragedy in human history. Jesus reminds us of the destructive power of deception when he excoriates the Pharisees with these words, You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44-45). Truth matters, it brings life; deception brings death. As those who claim allegiance to the One who declared, I am the way and the truth and the life, we must not tolerate, originate, post, or propagate falsehoods, half-truths, conspiracy theories, baseless speculations, and any other unfounded beliefs, no matter how well-intentioned or sincerely held. And we must call out those who do, no matter what office they hold.
Character matters. Although we often think of character as a matter of personal morality, there is another dimension of character, especially when it comes to leadership, that we must not overlook: a commitment to something bigger than oneself, something more important than one’s own needs, and something more beneficial to others than the stroking of one’s own ego. A commitment to truth, even when it makes us uncomfortable and proves us wrong, is a testament to character. A commitment to the rule of law and the institutions and practices of our democracy as established in our Constitution and applied through our legal system no matter one’s personal grievances testifies to character. A commitment to the common good more than any single person’s own needs speaks of character. That’s the kind of character a leader must have. Narcissism and power create the politics of nihilism. The people of God, however, are called to live for something bigger than ourselves and to set aside our own needs and wants for the sake of others. And so are our elected officials. We must demand that they honor the institutions, laws, and governance practices of our democracy for the sake of the common good, even at great personal cost.
Decency matters. We believe that all humans are created as the image of God and in His likeness. That unyielding truth is the foundation of human dignity. The dehumanization, vilification, and demonization of others denies that foundational truth and lies at the root of the most heinous evils our world has ever seen. Slandering, name-calling, mocking, belittling, and threatening others verbally, even when couched in humor or cloaked in innuendo, are insidious forms of dehumanization, vilification, and demonization. We’ve suffered these indecencies almost daily for the past five years. They have sown discord and provided the justification and motivation for acts of discrimination, injustice, racism, misogyny, and violence against others. Decency, courtesy, empathy, and respect, on the other hand, allow us to acknowledge the dignity of others and invite them into relationship. Democratically elected leaders must bring people from opposing points of view together, listening, showing respect, seeking understanding, and finding common ground in order to pursue together the common good. That’s the currency of effective governance. It’s the only way democracy will work. That’s the way we as followers of Jesus are called to relate to others. Jesus reminds us that peacemakers will be called the children of God (Matt. 5:9) and James tells us they will “reap a harvest of righteousness” (Jas. 3:18). Leaders who lack common decency intentionally divide and sow disharmony for their own purposes. Unfortunately, to our shame their tactics have poisoned the Church as well as the nation. We must cry out against them.
Truth. Character. Decency. That’s what we are called to embody and to prophetically demand from our leaders. Let’s be about both.