A Christian Response to Civil Unrest
Dear PCCT Family,
What do we do with news that our nation’s capital was overrun by an armed and angry mob of Americans, in peacetime America, intent on attacking our democratically elected leaders in Congress? We witnessed an attack on the Capitol Building yesterday afternoon that resulted in the death of one woman and injuries to scores of others. We saw on television the shocking destruction of legislative offices, and the desecration of congressional chambers by brute thugs. What is the Christian response to civil insurrection? What should we do?
Here are some thoughts from your Pastor to help you make sense of the events of yesterday:
We can find guidance, and hope, in the teachings of Jesus Christ. As Christians we insist on peaceful behavior and follow Christ’s command to help the suffering. We come to the aid of those who have been bullied and beaten. We might even join the EMT squad or donate blood. We teach our children to resolve their conflicts with thoughtful words not their fists. And when conflicts arise, we respond to Christ’s gracious forgiveness of all of us by seeking ways to reconcile with others. We hold dialogues with our opponents. We find a middle ground. We acknowledge differences while establishing shared values. We try not to judge.
But yesterday’s violence in Washington D.C. was of another order altogether. We watched an attack on our democratic institution of governance. What does the church say to that?
Our Reformed tradition offers practical guidance on how the church can and should work with civil authorities. Presbyterians have long been known as a tradition of “good order” and measured action. Our term “Ruling Elders” does not refer to governance by dominating rule but rather speaks to measured orderliness. We have a Book of Order. Do our actions line up with our values? Set the yard rule of our Christian beliefs against it and see.
The writings of John Calvin, an early protestant reformer and founder of our Presbyterian tradition, reflect this measured response to the world based squarely on the teachings of Scripture and faith in our Triune God: Creator, Christ, and Spirit. Calvin, a lawyer by training, narrowly escaped violence and arrest in fleeing his native France to worship freely in Protestant Switzerland. He saw it as a sacred duty for Christians to model their faith through their actions at home, in church, and in the public square. He encouraged a benevolent co-existence between church and state, while insisting that the church step up and speak out if the state authorities were to transgress the essential moral values that God’s laws inspire, or worse, to usurp the primacy of Jesus Christ in directing the actions of the church.
Calvin took his cues from scripture but also understood the secular world as a place where Christians are called to practice higher ideals, to aspire towards virtuous behaviors. Calvin acknowledged the needfulness of magistrates and civil authority in order to establish and maintain peace. He saw the primary goal of civil government as ensuring the peace and safety of the community. He supported this primacy of its purpose because it was exactly what a thriving church needs as well: a peaceful community from which to worship and celebrate God. Thus, Presbyterians do not shy away from public service nor political life, but they engage in civic matters as Christians. We are called to model the faith and speak out against wrongful actions. And we are always to dedicate our efforts to God, not our personal ambitions or desire for political power.
So, what do we do about the mob attack on the Capitol? We denounce it. We model better behavior. We begin the important act of healing political divisions within our community, our neighborhoods, and even within our own families with conversations on things we can agree on. We raise our children as thoughtful Christians and good citizens. We vote.
Pray with me today for a brighter future for our democracy, that lessons were learned yesterday, that legislators might now reconcile, that all of us might live together in the peace and harmony that God intended for us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark Clémot
Sr. Pastor/Head of Staff
The Presbyterian Church of Chatham Township