Divisions are growing among Christians over the violence at the Capitol in Washington this week as many call for a more radical and forthright response challenging a widespread Trump-supporting conservative narrative.
Many are pointing the finger of blame squarely at the religious right, representing a further ratcheting up of the increasingly polarised nature of US religious politics, in which more and more lay and ecclesial religious figures in public life feel morally compelled to define themselves as liberal or conservative, an online discussion heard.
Speaking at a Religion Media Centre briefing Mike Lewis, editor-in-chief of the website Where Peter Is, and a strong critic of conservative Catholics who attempt to undermine the ministry of Pope Francis, looked to the influence of conservative Catholic media in America in relation to Trump: “The main and most powerful outlet is EWTN…they’ve been openly promoting Donald Trump,” he said.
Mr Lewis described how the rise of Donald Trump let to a “conflation of the theological resistance [to Pope Francis] with a political resistance and it picked up some momentum: the idea that Pope Francis is a socialist, Pope Francis is a Marxist.”
Mr Lewis went on to recount how the chief anchor of EWTN news, Raymond Arroyo, had “tweeted that the event had a les Misérables air…he showed a video of a fire extinguisher being exploded within the capitol building. A lot of them are romanticising this…they’ve really been fostering this narrative…it’s become this political mouthpiece”. (The tweet has since been taken down.)
According to Mr Lewis “the key here is the abortion issue…they’ve been able to leverage that to demonise the Democratic party and make it sound like the Republican party is the only alternative…that hooks them theologically then politically they just pump in the propaganda…and from there it gets more and more conspiratorial.”
Marianne Budde, Episcopal bishop of DC, spoke of her “shock, outrage, deep confusion and alarm at the way events unfolded without adequate response from those whose role it is to keep the city safe”.
The bishop was particular concerned about what she perceived as racist policing in respect to the “predominantly white” Capitol protestors, noting the “contrast in the way those protestors were treated relative to those of the summer in the BLM movement and so the racial hypocrisy is devastating to the city, absolutely devastating. The trauma of witnessing that, of witness that disparity, has been one of the overriding themes of the people I serve.”
One of the keenest sources of frustration for the bishop was what she saw as the appropriation of Christianity and Christian symbols by the pro-Trump protestors: “there was nothing Christian about what we witnessed today”. The bishop went on to turn her fire on right-wing Christian leaders who she claims have been “brilliantly co-opted by political forces who were using them to further their own purposes” the bishop specifically called out “not only those voicing the most heretical and blasphemous forms of Christianity, but those who choose to remain silent because they don’t want to lose that authority of the middle space”.
Her feelings were shared by Rev'd Winnie Varghese, chief justice and reconciliation officer at Trinity Church Wall Street, who compared the violence in that nation’s capital to 9/11, speaking of the shared “trauma to our closely held ideals, of who we are as a people” and describing how “if wall Street is the temple to the economy, Washington is the temple to our democracy”. The event she felt was a culmination of a pervasive sense of fear amongst minority communities in particular: “we are a nation that is so anxious and on edge and have been for at least four years…part of what it has done to us is we’re all on our toes all the time”.