Give us Barabbas – This is Not the Way of Christ

Christians, we have a problem: the world can’t tell the difference between the church and right-wing extremists, and that’s our fault.

Some of us are right-wing extremists, and many of us tolerate and even promote rhetoric that helps get people there. In fact, there was all sorts of Christian symbolism at the Capitol on Wednesday, and I have personally watched many Christians float ideas about civil war well before this week. Some of you are still referring to the mob that trashed our Capitol building and tried to overthrow the results of our election as “patriots” and comparing their actions to those of Jesus. This is not the way of Christ.

Now, I know there were people in that crowd who didn’t break anything or commit any crimes at all. I’d be willing to bet that those people want it clear that they were not part of that other group, especially when it comes time for consequences. Will the Church in general do the same? Will we reject alt-right rhetoric and condemn the actions of the rioters? Some have, but too many of you aren’t there yet. Maybe you still want to find rescue in the systems of the world.

Give Us Barabbas

This is nothing new. The Jewish people in first century Israel were waiting for their messiah, and they expected that he would overthrow the oppressive Roman government. Sound familiar?

Jesus didn’t deliver. Instead, he rejected the legalism and rituals of the Judaism of his day, which really ticked off the religious leadership. So much so that they decided he needed to go. Put another way, Jesus offended the traditions and values of the religious leadership so much that they were willing to manipulate the Roman government in order to murder him. Then, given the choice between Jesus and Barabbas, an insurrectionist, the people chose Barabbas.

You know where I’m going with this. Christians who participated in the activities on Wednesday, and the many who have promoted the ideas that fueled the actions of the few, have rejected the way of Christ for the way of the insurrectionist. I’m not talking about some ultimate, salvation losing rejection – all of life as a Christian is a tension between the way of Christ and some other way. But I am talking about a real abandoning of Christ’s ethics for those of power, and this is my plea to you to turn back.

You probably don’t want to even consider that you could be the one choosing Barabbas. It doesn’t make you the bad guy, at least not indefinitely. Recognize when you’ve been the villain and abandon that path. Don’t forget that the very people in that mob 2,000 years ago were also the people Christ came to redeem. In Acts 2 when Peter preached to the masses and confronted them with the fact that they had rejected and murdered Jesus they didn’t deny it, they repented. I am asking you to very seriously consider the ideas you are promoting and the way you are treating people “on the other side” and repent.

I’ve Never Seen Christians Say That!

Over the past year I’ve had several conversations with friends who have indicated that they’ve never seen or heard Christians express idolatrous-level loyalty to President Trump, treat others like garbage over political ideology, promote easily debunked conspiracies to justify either of those things, or suggest violence as a solution. If you feel the same way there are likely only two explanations: you don’t spend time online, OR you are one of the people promoting this dangerous rhetoric.

For those of you who just aren’t connected (a good thing, no disrespect!) and haven’t seen some of the things people have been saying about the election, the President, or any other politically charged thing, here’s a sampling I’ve collected over the past few months from real people, many of whom I know personally. I’ve left off the screenshots and names because I genuinely don’t want to bring any heat on any particular person. It’s fair to recognize that while the church has been nasty in the public forum, so has everyone else and I don’t want any of you to suffer. I want you to repent.

  • “how do we get people to fight?” (about rising against the election results)
  • “if Trump is forced out people will rise up and take back the country”
  • “God gave us a patriot and you rejected him like you rejected Jesus” (talking about Trump)
  • “We’ll kill them all!” (talking about the left regarding overturning the election)
  • “if it changes and Trump is the president and they riot and protest everyone can shoot them dead” (talking about the left)
  • “They need to see that they’ve perched themselves atop a powderkeg. They should consider carefully the need to cause sparks.” (meme apparently warning Democrats to be careful)
  • “I pray this happens” (regarding a shared image where the author encourages people to hunker down for 10-12 days while the Trump team installs a new government)

Recently a friend posted an image on social media that actively called for insurrection and the installation of a new government. When I engaged I was told by others that I needed to read the Declaration of Independence for failure to protect our rights. By people who haven’t even taken office yet. My friend couldn’t confirm that the new government would allow me the free speech to disagree with Trump – I could become an enemy of the state simply for writing this article. I don’t expect this fantasy government to become reality, but please understand that there are Christians out there who believe the left is so evil that we need to take the country by force and eliminate peaceful means of resistance.

Look over your social media feed – how often do you refer to the left as pure evil, or the anti-Christ? How often have you told America to wake up and stop living in fear of the virus with no regard for those who have lost loved ones to it, or worse, claimed it was for the sake of government control? How confidently, with no first-hand evidence yourself, have you asserted that the election was stolen? How many times have you tossed around the idea of revolution or cited the Declaration of Independence or second amendment as a subtle threat in response to things you disagree with? You are fueling the fire. Repent.

“But some of these things are true!” There’s a small possibility that some or all of the conspiracies you’ve heard and/or shared this year are true, but you don’t have the level of confidence your memes might suggest. If you really believed these things were true you would have been storming the Capitol to rescue democracy, but deep down you were either a coward or knew that there wasn’t enough real evidence for any of these things to be actionable. Spreading this rhetoric with 100% confidence the way many Christians have been over these issues is not the way of Christ, and leads to what we saw on Wednesday.

Jesus Was Not an Insurrectionist

When it comes right down to it, insurrection is not the way of Christ. Lies and half truths that promote insurrection are not the way of Christ.

Jesus never participated in any anti-Roman activities, though as a contemporary of Barabbas he obviously could have if that were part of his mission. Heck, he even showed compassion to Israel’s oppressors when he healed the servant of a Roman soldier. He did call out the religious leaders, since they were manipulating the people and teaching their traditions and values over and above the truth of God. Even then, when he was arrested in the garden he stopped his disciples from fighting and went as far as healing the injury they had caused to the servant of the high priest.

There is only one time in all of recorded scripture that Jesus “rioted,” and it had nothing to do with the oppressive Romans, his rights, or fighting against a corrupt government. Check it out for yourself in Matt 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, or John 2. It was the temple, and Jesus was driving out the profiteers who were using faith to take advantage of people, particularly the poor and vulnerable.

In stark contrast to the values we seem to embrace in our culture, Jesus barely even spoke to the Roman officials that were oppressing his countrymen, even when he was on trial. Even though he had the power to wipe their government from the face of the earth, he went willingly, carrying the instrument of his execution, supplied by the Romans for his killers. But he could not sit idly by and allow religious profiteering at the expense of the downtrodden. Do our rage meters align with his?

So What?

If it’s not clear by now, I’m pleading with my Christian friends to change our rhetoric. I’m begging you to refuse to accept it from people who claim the name of Jesus. To the rest of the world, I’m begging your forgiveness on behalf of the Church.

Are you one of the crowd calling out for Barabbas? Repent.

Are you one of the religious leaders refusing to show grace because you love your traditions and values? Repent.

Are you the disciple getting violent with the people you see as enemies? Repent.

Otherwise all our talk of grace, mission, and reaching the world with the love of Jesus is just empty words.

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