I think most of us hoped that the beginning of 2021 would bring a new start for our country and community. Unfortunately, as you saw this past week, it did not. On Wednesday afternoon of this past week, I was completing the last of many Zoom calls when Chief of Staff Melissa Terry asked me to look at the news. I could hardly believe my eyes – thousands of American citizens overwhelmed Capitol police forces and were rioting in the Capitol. They believed their actions were supported by the President of the United States. Never in our history has a president encouraged the intervention of citizens to stop the counting of electoral votes. It was tragic. President-Elect Biden is the legitimately elected president of the United States.
I was deeply saddened and angered that our democracy had descended into chaos. I never dreamed that I would see American citizens ransacking the office of the Speaker of the House and breaking apart the Capitol Building itself. A Capitol police officer lost his life. Several citizens were killed. It was unbelievable.
As a university community, we strongly condemn the violence that occurred in the Capitol Building. As Christians, we must encourage civility and justice. We must be bold as followers of Christ, willing to listen to each other, engage in respectful discourse, and pursue what is true, noble and right – together – as we are instructed in Philippians 4:8. As followers of Jesus, we condemn the suppression of underrepresented voices, white supremacy and the violent disruption of the peaceful transfer of power.
Many years ago, in a meeting that included both Richard Nixon and Billy Graham, the great senator of Oregon, Mark Hatfield, called for Christians to be voices for justice and reconciliation amidst political polarization: “Let us be aware of the real danger of misplaced allegiance, if not outright idolatry, to the extent we fail to distinguish between the god of American civil religion and the God who reveals Himself in the Holy Scriptures and in Jesus Christ…if we as leaders appeal to the god of civil religion, our faith is in a small and exclusive deity, a loyal spiritual advisor to power and prestige, a defender of only the American nation, the object of a national folk religion devoid of moral content. God’s word to our nation and our structures of government is in no way allied to their perpetuation.”
Senator Hatfield was among a small minority of senators in the 1960s who opposed the Vietnam War on moral grounds – in his case because of his deep commitment to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. While we may be participants in the American political system, our deeper commitment is to the work of God in our world. As Hatfield noted, as Christians we must stand apart at times from the system in order to offer a moral and prophetic critique that speaks for justice and God’s peace into the moment. It does not matter what your politics are, the riots this past week were an attack on our Constitution and our system of government. As Christians, we cannot condone or appease such actions and we have to note that such actions do real harm to the Gospel.
Alongside you, I grieve the events and the loss of life that unfolded in the Capitol last week. It reaffirms to me the urgency and importance of our commitment to undergraduate and graduate students. We want them to meet, in real terms, the God of the Bible and also become agents of God’s work in this world. We will continue to engage in the George Fox Civility Project led by Faculty Emeritus Ron Mock. We will continue to equip our students for thoughtful civil discourse– both in their education and beyond graduation. We will continue to believe that Jesus reigns on the throne of heaven and our identity rests securely in Him. We will certainly continue to pray but we will also act to educate and nurture our students in spiritual and character development.
I encourage you also to read the statement released by the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities last week. We echo their sentiment.
Our system, in spite of the attack on the Capitol, remains resilient. Our hope in Christ remains intact. That hope continues to drive the mission of everything we do here at George Fox.