WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Catholic organization and a cardinal urged other church members, people of various faiths and people of goodwill to weigh the consequences of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and fight for democracy.
“If we succumb to despair, if we numb our minds to what is unfolding before us, we are tacitly surrendering our democracy, and all that it can do to protect the dignity of all God’s children,” tweeted Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, on the anniversary of the attacks.
On Jan. 6, 2021, thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump breached the U.S. Capitol, putting the building on lockdown and interrupting the count of electoral votes to certify the 2020 election.
The count continued but not before rioters destroyed federal property, broke into both chambers of Congress, assaulted hundreds of police officers and urged then-Vice President Mike Pence to listen to Trump in going against the electoral vote count and not certify the election.
Pence certified it, but it didn’t stop the rioters from believing that the election had, in effect, been stolen.
“The lies that led many millions to believe the falsehood that the 2020 election was ‘stolen’ must end,” said Cupich in a tweet. “We must also be vigilant and resist all attempts to restrict voting rights. We ignore these and any effort to weaken our democracy at our own peril.”
In Washington, Franciscan Deacon Frank Agnoli built context around the attack during an interfaith vigil online hours before the anniversary, reminding participants that the attack’s aftermath fueled widespread concern about the state of democracy in the U.S.
In a 2021 annual report, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance “downgraded the United States to a backsliding democracy, putting us for the first time in the same category as Brazil, India, Hungary, Poland and the Philippines,” Agnoli said.
“That should make us pause and ponder,” he added. “It should move us to tears and to action.”
Partisanship and ideology, not God, as many claimed, fueled the rage and subsequent violence that entered the Capitol that day, said others who participated in the Franciscan network’s vigil.
It’s also what’s behind efforts to suppress the vote in a different way, said Rabbi Sharon Brous, who took part in the Jan. 5 vigil.
But faith leaders who participated urged reflection of key questions for believers: “When have I put my political preferences above God? How have I made political power into an idol?”
“You know the definition of idolatry is treating a lie like the deepest truth,” Brous said. “When a lie takes hold in a society, every one of us pays the price. And today, an intoxicating lie has swept our nation, a lie that more than 21 million Americans are now willing to take up arms to defend, a lie that political leaders across the country are scrambling to mirror in legislation designed to strip the people of our basic right in a democracy: the right to vote.”
Looking at the truth and speaking the truth is the only way forward for believers, the rabbi said. Others warned that the unwillingness of some to accept the truth is what’s putting the country on the brink of peril.
Even die-hard Republicans like Karl Rove, in a Jan. 6 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, tried to sound the alarm, addressing Republicans and urging them to put “country ahead of party.”
“There can be no soft-pedaling what happened and no absolution for those who planned, encouraged and aided the attempt to overthrow our democracy,” he said of Jan. 6, 2021, and its aftermath.
He, too, encouraged reflection of a different kind.
“So, on this anniversary, here’s a simple thought experiment: What if the other side had done it?” he wrote.
At the Franciscan Action Network’s Zoom vigil, Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister at Washington’s United Church of Christ, urged finding ways to love others even in the midst of the chaos, political disagreements, general malaise and animosity the attack produced.
Though it’s tempting, she urged others not to dismiss those they disagree with.
“God dwells among us all regardless of our faith or denominational boundaries. God dwells among us regardless of our race, our political affiliations, our gender expressions, disabilities, socioeconomic status or geographical location,” she said. “God is with us all, all of us… we don’t get to throw away people or places or things.”
God calls for unity she said, not disagreements, and that unity can only be found in love.
“Love is the only thing, my friends, that never dies,” she said. “It is toward this light that we are called, and it is only in this light that we are one. May it be so.”