We know from more than a quarter of a century of working with colleagues and students from around the world and from our own work in the United States that democracy is fragile and democratic systems of governance are only as strong as our ability to sustain just and respectful relationships.
The January 6 events in Washington DC should have surprised no one. The rhetorical justification for disrupting the peaceful transfer of leadership in the United States has been on full display for years. In dark corners of the online world, it has mutated into a toxic stew of conspiracy theories and fantasies of a lost Eden and a final battle of redemption. The boundaries between our open online lives and the darker parts of the digital world have grown porous. On January 6, it all spilled out into the open.
January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany in the Christian tradition, a fitting day for a lot of people to experience sudden insight into the true nature of where this country is and where we might end up if we don’t do something. Here are some indicators that we are reaching a new understanding.
- The mainstream media immediately recognized and called out the differences in law enforcement response to the mob that invaded the Capitol and the Black Lives Matter protesters last summer. We are reaching a cultural tipping point in the awareness of racial disparities and injustice in policing.
- Much of the media (including Fox News) called those who invaded the Capitol rioters, a mob, and marauders and they acknowledged the presence of white supremacists and QAnon conspiracists in the crowd. We are being more honest about the threat of domestic terrorism and the radicalization of our neighbors.
- Brian McLaren — a Christian author, activist, and former pastor — reminds us that we need to figure out why many who stormed the capital did so in the name of Christian faith. We who claim Christian faith for peace are recognizing that we need to have hard conversations with Christians who don’t share our views about current social and political challenges.
Clear sight is only the first step. We have years of work ahead of us if we are going to call this country into the full fruits of equity and justice; the necessary foundation for a robust democracy. We have seen the power of language and symbols to mobilize people to violence. When working to transform the drivers of violence, we need to be equally attuned to the power of our words and symbols. We need to be precise and accurate in our descriptions of what has happened while building bridges to our neighbors who are starting to recognize the threats to democracy.
Center for Justice and Peacebuilding
Strategic Leadership Team