Faith and the American Insurrection

January 22, 2021

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Exterior of the U.S. Capitol Building rotunda

Various forms of faith were on display during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, when lawmakers met to certify the victory of Joe Biden in the Electoral College. With members holding banners with messages such as “Jesus Saves” and displaying anti-Semetic symbols, the mob was steeped in the language and worldview of white Christian nationalism. The violence at the Capitol was also adjacent to the “Jericho March,” a biblically named movement aimed at overturning the legitimate results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In December 2020, the march ended with the burning of Black Lives Matter (BLM) banners at a number of Black churches in Washington, DC. The flagrant display of anti-Black racism and white privilege was particularly striking a month later at the Capitol, where police response was almost non-existent in comparison to the state violence directed at largely peaceful BLM demonstrators last summer.

The Capitol attack was met with swift condemnation across the country and around the world. Some faith groups have joined calls for the impeachment and prosecution of former president Donald Trump, who incited the insurrection. Other faith leaders—including prominent evangelical figures—have publicly condemned the violence but still support the president and his illegitimate attempts to undermine the election results. The insurrection also spurred broader questions related to American civil religion, with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) describing the U.S. Capitol as a “sacred place” that was “desecrated” by mob violence. Other commentators such as novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge have connected the attacks to the very core of American democracy. As the nation prepares for the inauguration of President-elect Biden, the Berkley Forum invites an interdisciplinary group of religion scholars to consider faith and reimagining American democracy.

This week the Berkley Forum asks: What are some of the sociological, historical, or theological roots of faith on display at the U.S. Capitol attacks on January 6? How does the Trump-backed insurrection connect to the interface between race, religion, and politics in the United States—especially the racial politics of white Christian nationalism? What might the attacks suggest about the role of civil religion in American public life today? What ethical or religious resources could help to not rebuild but to reimagine American democracy?

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