Responding to Violence And Praying for our Nation

Dear brothers and sisters in the Diocese,

Greetings in Christ Jesus.

I write to call for prayer for our nation and to reflect personally and Biblically on some of what we have seen. Please know I am not a pundit and do not claim to understand it all.

First I want to say again that our starting point in any crisis must be to call out to the Lord. We petition him to bring peace where there is discord, wisdom where there is foolishness, truth where there are lies, justice where there is injustice, love where there is hate, humility where there is pride, and comfort where there is suffering. We dare not approach any topic until we pray.

Tragically we have seen in our recent American history that there are people on the far right, as well as on the far left, who believe that violence can be justified to attain their objectives. We now know that those who assaulted the Capitol came from the far right, based on the backgrounds of those being arrested. This evil, brief, and deadly insurrection was pointedly aimed to stop or hinder a constitutional process. As we have learned, some were apparently hoping to take hostages, others were even chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” The peaceful protesters were overshadowed by those who acted lawlessly.

Deadly mob violence is not only contrary to the nature of a democracy but contrary to Jesus’ clear teaching to love our neighbors and to love even our enemies. In general, the only times Christians can legitimately use force is when the innocent are truly threatened. Such use of force is usually delegated to the police or the military, who are responsible before God and country to respond justly and without prejudice. Thus the attack on the Capitol was not only lawless but godless.

The rally beforehand stoked emotions in dangerous ways. One speaker criticized those who “turned the other cheek” and he then dramatically said, “No More!” Those who chose to certify the election were called “stupid” or worse during the rally. Jesus warned us that calling someone a fool makes us liable to punishment. Tragically, anger was the common thread in many of the rally speeches. The “anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20) We can, and should, speak out against injustice and those who perpetrate it, but without arrogance or meanness. Pray for more peaceful and respectful speech all around as we seek to move on as a nation.

In addition to the tragedy of those killed, injured, or physically threatened, we as Christians should also be heartbroken by many marchers who promoted Nazi-styled nationalism, virulent anti-semitism, dangerous conspiracy theories, and/or blatant racism somehow mingled with symbols and references to Christianity. This unholy mixture was fully on display and dishonored Jesus the Prince of Peace. While faithful Christians can and should be responsible citizens of whatever nation they live in, our first calling is to be faithful citizens in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that has values that continually challenge those of any culture, nation, or party. Therefore while as Christians we must beware of both secular humanism and authoritarianism on any side, we must not be manipulated with fear to hate rather than to love.

It is tragically part of our fallen nature to rebel against authority. We all have been spiritual insurrectionists, enemies of the Kingdom of God. But the good news is that the Lord has loved his enemies (see Romans 5:8,10). Even while condemning the terrorist attack in Washington last week, we must not think that we could never have done such a thing.

Pray, therefore, for those who attacked the Capitol, that they would repent and return to the Lord, discovering his amazing grace. The apostle Paul wrote, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior...” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

God answers such prayers. Following the prayers of many, Charles Colson came to Christ while he was imprisoned for his part in the Watergate scandal. After his release, he reached thousands with the gospel through Prison Fellowship. The Lord can redeem lives even in the midst of tragedy.

I urge you to be in prayer for our nation, for President Trump, for Vice President Pence, for President-elect Biden, for Vice President-elect Harris, for Congress, and for all those who serve or will serve us in the days ahead. Pray for peace and for those who work to keep the peace. Please pray for your clergy, for your parish leaders, for one another, and for me as we try to serve Jesus and his Church in these difficult days.

Finally, I encourage you to examine your own heart. This past week I have found myself careening from anger to discouragement, self-righteousness to fear, from anxiety to a simple desire to escape. The Psalms speak to all of our emotions. Allow the Lord to comfort and strengthen you through them. In this world of plots and destruction, David reminds himself and us to “trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.” (See Psalm 52)

May the Lord bless you all.

In Jesus the Lord of all,

+Neil

The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar