On the Storming of the Capitol: No to Political Violence. Yes to Civil Society
The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church strives to serve the Gospel of Life. Remember that the Gospel of Life is simply the Gospel, and that the Gospel is simply the Gospel of Life. (St. John Paul II and Rev. Richard John Neuhaus often reminded us of that.) Political violence—assaulting people and property—is open rebellion against the Gospel of Life. Therefore, the Church condemns all such political violence.
On January 6, the United States Capitol in Washington, DC was violently overtaken by a mob. The Church condemns, without qualification and without question, this lawless act of political violence that resulted in a few deaths, many injuries, considerable property damage, interruption of constitutional process, and harm to an already ailing civil society. Whatever their motivations, the perpetrators of this political violence must be brought to justice and pay for their crimes.
The Gospel of Life consistently collides with the culture of death. In the storming of the Capitol, the culture of death was on dramatic display. But the political violence of January 6 on Capitol Hill was not a stand-alone event. It was the culmination of many events and trends in the United States, including: the reduction of everything in public life (and much of private life) to politics; our deepening and destructive political polarization; the stoking of political hatred on social media; the heightening of tensions between identity groups; the normalizing of political violence in cities over the last year.
Our trust in journalistic and political institutions has been diminishing for a while. Now we hear coarsening and “canceling” political speech from presidents, past and present, and their allies and opponents. And from Big Media and Big Tech. Hollywood celebrities and university professors. Commentators behind desks and demonstrators in the streets. Far-off public officials and neighbors nearby. Add to this the strain of the enduring pandemic, which has caused and continues to cause so many deaths, and the unprecedented shutdowns, which have been spiritually, socially, and economically devastating to countless people.
The culture of death and its eruption on January 6 cannot be blamed on one person, one group of people, or one political party. Nor can the culture of death and its future outbursts be ameliorated by one person, one group, or one political party. Restraint of the culture of death requires the best efforts, in word and deed, from all of us. At this time, all Americans, without exception, must rededicate ourselves to the tasks of responsible citizenship— which include upholding the rule of law and practicing civility in public life—as we exercise God-given freedoms.
God’s providence provides two gifts that help restrain the culture of death: the rule of law and the virtue of civility. Justice in America requires that laws encourage citizens to do what is good and to avoid what is evil, and that they apply equally to all citizens. Taken together, such laws make for the rule of law. (The rule of law is a legal consequence of the Jewish and Christian belief in the God who is Lord, who mysteriously rules over history and humanity.) Observance of the rule of law is necessary for justice in America to be approximated and advanced.
The culture of death is also restrained by the practice of civility throughout the land. As citizens exercising God-given freedoms, we must speak and behave in ways that build up, not tear down, civil society. Today, American citizens must relearn how to: respect one another and avoid personal attacks (even in the midst of disagreements); tolerate (not criminalize) political differences; and set aside (not welcome and satisfy) the urge for vengeance.
The Gospel of Life relies upon the rule of law and the practice of civility to rein in the chaos of the culture of death. Though Jesus Christ, in His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave, defeated the culture of death, it will continue its devastations in this world until Christ’s return in glory. When Christ returns and completely destroys the culture of death, He will establish the Gospel of Life as the Kingdom of God, fully and totally. Until then, God’s gifts of law and civility will be necessary to restrain the culture of death and protect the Gospel of Life.
The Pledge of Allegiance of the United States concludes: “. . . one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.” “[O]ne nation under God” signals that the United States of America is under God’s sovereignty, providence, and judgment. Reminded by the Church’s Gospel of Life, the American people would be wise to live in liberty under law and with civility—and awakened to God’s present and coming judgment.
Rev. Paul Stallsworth, who is retired from pastoral ministry in United Methodist congregations, is president of the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality, and edits its quarterly newsletter Lifewatch.