Dorhauer: Jan. 6 and 2021, an indictment of white America

We all woke up the morning of Jan. 6 with a sense of fear and loathing. 

For the first time in our history, a sitting president had not only spent months refusing to accept the outcome of an election and participate in the peaceful transfer of power to his successor, he was openly agitating for — if not outright orchestrating — an open rebellion. 

Jan. 6, 2021, would be the day that Congress gathered to officially count the electoral votes from each of the states. 

We had heard enough from the recalcitrant sitting president to expect something dramatic. Very few of us had any notion of what was actually coming or could anticipate the full extent to which this man’s megalomania had infected us. He would start the day riling up his minions, giving them their marching orders, promising to stand with them on their march to the Capitol (another of his countless lies) while instead choosing to sit and watch the insurrection unfold from the safety of his dining room. He both fomented the dissent and abdicated his responsibility, gleefully watching as not only his bitter enemies but his closest ally, Mike Pence, would become death targets of the mob. 

A scene outside the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

I don’t have to describe what followed. We all saw it. And we have seen it played out in greater detail since. It was horrific. It was sickening. I cried then and have cried often since thinking about it. 

I write now on the anniversary of that ignominious tragedy not in some sort of “lest we forget” kind of way, but with the fear that we perceive it as some sort of catharsis — an eruption that had to happen in order to alleviate the pressure that was building. 

It was more a spark than an explosion — a catalyst than a catharsis. It didn’t relieve anything. It inspired something, not in a hopeful way — more like a festering germ that grows inside a diseased culture and makes it worse. It was a birthing moment — and the full articulation of this particular brand of race hate, bigotry, xenophobia and insurrection did not reach its climax on that day. It is now and again growing, festering — a feasting virus that has taken over one of the two major parties that govern this nation, has given even more power and prominence to a narcissistic dictator-wannabe, and grown a movement looking to thwart our collective effort to bend the arc of history towards justice.

This is a call to the Church to become what I recently heard someone refer to as a co-conspirator for racial justice.

At the very heart of this rising tide of insurrectionist fervor that seeks to undo our democracy as we have known it is the ever-present, still fomenting original sin of American racism.

White America and white Christianity are far too complacent in the face of this. There is far more at stake here than our comfortable lives are willing to evidence; and whatever efforts we as whites committed to racial equity have made in response are woefully short of what is required of us to face fully into this coming storm. Whatever we, and whatever history will identify as the cause of what is coming will not exempt white liberals and white Christians committed to the cause of justice who did just enough to assuage their guilt but never enough to compromise their privilege.

We have as white progressive Christians, in the words of Jeremiah, healed the wound lightly, crying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

A short while ago, I listened to a podcast unpacking white response to racism in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.

The podcast talked about how that moment created momentum. It fueled outrage in ways the murders of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, Brianna Taylor and countless others did not. Peaceful marches gave way to cities burning as the collective rage boiled over. Whites and Blacks alike gave new energy to the Black Lives Matter movement. Polling data showed the highest percentage of white rage for violence against black bodies ever recorded. Cries for justice were heard from pulpit and pew. It felt like a turning.

And once again, with the passage of time, the rage and anger dissipated.

Two things happened after Barack Obama was elected president. Both of those things would manifest themselves again in white America the day Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder.

First, white America patted itself on the back and told themselves that they did it: they effected change. They pointed to a moment that their marching for racial justice created and now they could declare victory. And having won, they could rest.

And second, the victory gave birth to a rising tide of race hate.

The racist whites organized new resistance while the liberal whites took a breather and celebrated victory.

Barack Obama’s election and the rising tide of newly organized race hate in response to it gave Donald Trump an idea, an awful idea. He would ride that rising tide of birtherism and race hate all the way to the White House.

Jan. 6 was what the election of a race-baiting narcissist in the aftermath and context of a newly organized commitment to racial justice looks like when liberal white Christians sit on the sidelines because they did something good again.

The worst part about the George Floyd story, as told in that podcast, is this: post-Jan. 6 and post-conviction of Derek Chauvin, new polls show that white support for Black Lives Matter has not only dissipated since the conviction (hear whites again saying, “We did it! We won and now we can rest”). It is lower now than it was before George Floyd was murdered. That’s right. Fewer whites today support BLM than before the murder of George Floyd — and that is even given the traumatic impact of witnessing Jan. 6 unfold right before our very eyes.

Liberal white Christians can get angry about insurrection, about a race-baiting president who fueled it, and about a host of other injustices that disturb their morning coffee.

But there is still no voting rights legislation passed by the Senate.

There is no New Green Deal.

There is no commitment to reparations.

And fewer whites today support Black Lives Matter than did so when 2021 began.

The producers of the podcast called white support for racial justice episodic.

Inspire us with a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — and we will march. Well, until we pass a voting right bills and a fair housing act — watered down and changed little — and call it a victory.

Send us a Barack Obama and we will vote in change that matters, but then sit by while a new form of racism takes hold.

Capture the murder of a George Floyd on video, titillate us and activate our agitation button and we will march again. And when the white cop who shot him goes to jail, we will return to our complacent lives and wonder why our Black siblings are still upset.

Episodes that either inspire hope or trigger anger get whites going — just long enough to claim a victory, assuage some guilt, and engender a lifetime of sitting back and telling your children and grandchildren about the change you made possible.

Meanwhile our children and grandchildren are living in a world where racism thrives.

That isn’t good enough.

On this anniversary of Jan. 6, we need to realize that complacency will end whatever democracy is left in America. We are soon going to lose the right and ability to agitate. New legislation threatens to ban or burn books, criminalize the teaching of critical race theory, and empower Republican-controlled districts to rewrite voting outcomes.

White complacency, as much as white racism, is threatening to end the American experiment that gave the world the hope that such a thing as “all are created equal” was even possible.

It is high time for whites to renounce not only the privilege afforded them by unjust and institutional racism, but their love affair with the baubles it engenders. It is long past time for whites like me to end our sick and traumatizing “now we march,” “now we rest” commitment to racial equity.

Our commitments as co-conspirators must be unflagging, fully orchestrated by leaders of color, and continue unabated until the next Dr. King or Fannie Lou Hamer says they have reached the promised land.

Maybe this time it will matter enough to know what Jan. 6 portends: when this revolution fueled by white supremacy succeeds, being white won’t be enough. It won’t be enough to preserve your ill-gotten, privilege-laden wealth. It won’t be enough to ensure your right to vote or have your vote count if you do get to vote. It won’t be enough to maintain the positions in society that your education and your white-skin privilege put you in. And it won’t be enough to protect you from the terror coming at the hands of those whose ideology we despise — since our police forces, our government, our judges and our military have been infiltrated by right-wing, hate-mongering advocates of the worst of what white-supremacy can imagine.

It is one year since the insurrection began. 

The work of those who assembled did not end on that day. 

I have to ask white America and white Christianity: how much do you care about that? 

The question begs a reply for which words will not suffice. 

The Rev. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

On this first day of Epiphany, the Rev. Traci Blackmon points out the ironic timing of the insurrection and what counters such chaos. Read her reflection here.

Read an eyewitness account of the insurrection from Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC Washington, D.C. office, here.

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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