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After the Capitol riots: Three questions everyone is asking and a biblical path to empowering purpose

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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An ATF police officer cleans up debris and personal belongings strewn across the floor of the Rotunda in the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, after protesters stormed the Capitol in Washington, on Wednesday.
An ATF police officer cleans up debris and personal belongings strewn across the floor of the Rotunda in the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, after protesters stormed the Capitol in Washington, on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

US Capitol Police confirmed late last night the death of one of their officers from injuries suffered when a mob stormed the Capitol two days ago. As the attack on the US Capitol continues to dominate the news, I’d like to do something I’ve not done in the twenty years I’ve been writing the Daily Article: I’d like to preach a sermon.

Actually, I’d like to write the sermon for you that I would preach this Sunday. I am doing so after spending all day Thursday in radio interviews with stations around the country; the questions I was asked are questions everyone seems to be asking today. I hope my “sermon” will help answer them and offer you a path to empowering purpose. 

My text is the familiar statement of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” (Matthew 5:13). Let’s see how this powerful metaphor applies to us and to our nation. 

Why should I get involved? 

One question was especially poignant: “In light of the Capitol riots, what would you say to those who are wondering why they should get involved in our broken culture?”

My response was twofold: because God says to, and because seeking to change the culture changes us for the best. 

Jesus said to us, “You are the salt of the earth.” However, salt is no help if it stays in the saltshaker. Christianity is an incarnational faith—just as Jesus incarnated himself in his earthly body, so he incarnates himself in us (1 Corinthians 12:27). Now we are commissioned to “go” and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), beginning in our Jerusalem and continuing to the “end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 

Retreating from the challenges of our day is therefore not a biblical option for Christians. 

Such engagement is also vital to the abundant life Jesus intends for us (John 10:10). The Holy Spirit empowers us to the degree that we are willing to fulfill God’s purpose as his witnesses (Acts 1:8). To experience our best, most blessed life, we must be most fully obedient to our Lord’s missional call to our culture. 

Why did this happen? 

A second question I was asked repeatedly was, “Why did this happen? Can you offer some context?”

My response was that many Americans do not trust the electoral process, their elected leaders, or those with whom they disagree. 

After the 2000 election, only 18 percent of Democrats said George W. Bush won fairly. After the 2016 election, 66 percent of Democrats believed that Russia hacked the election. Now 67 percent of Republicans believe the 2020 election was “rigged.” 

If we cannot trust the electoral system, it’s hard to trust the leaders it elects. In a day when many have made institutions into platforms for personal celebrity and advancement, servant leaders are in short supply. In a time when social media gives everyone a platform by which to broadcast their opinions while listening only to those with whom they agree, discernment goes missing. In a culture where we see those with whom we disagree as the enemy, forgiveness and grace are scarce. 

However, let me be blunt: explaining what apparently drove the rioters is no excuse for their behavior. What we saw Wednesday was abhorrent and sinful. God’s call is clear: “Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness” (Ezekiel 45:9). We are told, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (1 Peter 3:9). 

The late Chuck Colson noted: “People who cannot restrain their own baser instincts, who cannot treat one another with civility, are not capable of self-government.” He added: “Without virtue, a society can be ruled only by fear, a truth that tyrants understand all too well.” 

How can I make a difference? 

One last question I was asked often: “Can Christians change our broken culture? If so, how?”

I’ll respond with four imperatives from our biblical text. 

One: Repent personally. 

Jesus asked, “If the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” Our Lord’s question requires us to ask ourselves: In light of the Capitol riots, what sins should I confess?

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you condoned or participated in what happened in Washington. But are you sinning with regard to our nation and culture in other ways? Have you used social media and other platforms to slander (Psalm 101:5), gossip (Proverbs 16:28), or condemn (James 4:11)? Have you been as proactive in influencing your culture as you should be? 

Nehemiah confessed the sins of his people even though he had not committed them personally (Nehemiah 1:4–10). His solidarity with his nation should model our solidarity with ours. 

Two: Intercede passionately. 

We are called to pray for our leaders, even (and especially) when we disagree with them (1 Timothy 2:1–2). This was the immediate response of many Christian leaders to the violence in Washington and should be ours as well.

Do you know the names of your governor, mayor, city council, and local school board? Are you praying every day for God to lead, protect, empower, and use them? 

Three: Speak graciously. 

Part of getting our “salt” out of the saltshaker is speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). As we noted, slander and gossip are sins. But speaking biblical truth to the issues and souls we encounter is a gift of eternal grace. 

Four: Act redemptively. 

As I noted yesterday, I believe that God is calling more Christians into public service than are answering his call. Where can you begin? What difference can you make where you live? What larger mission is the Lord calling you to serve? 

The late evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry noted, “The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.”

How will you get the gospel to your culture today?