Faith leaders react to mob at Capitol with prayers, calls for end to violence

From prayers to calls for Trump to halt rioters, some statements react to a sign of a divided nation with cries for peace.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier on Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. As Congress prepared to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory, thousands of people gathered to show their support for President Donald Trump and his claims of election fraud. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(RNS) — As a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday (Jan. 6), American religious leaders reacted quickly to a chaotic and unprecedented scene.

From succinct prayers to calls for Trump to ask the rioters to halt, the faith leaders’ statements mostly appealed for unity. But some who have affirmed the current president expressed their support for protesters they considered to be peaceful or made unsubstantiated claims that members of the mob might be related to far-left leaning militants of the antifa movement.

“Disobeying and assaulting police is a sin whether it’s done by Antifa or angry Republicans,” tweeted the Rev. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas. The Rev. Franklin Graham speculated, apparently without substantiation, that those who invaded the Capitol building were related to antifa.

For his part, Trump, in a brief video posted on Twitter but later removed by the platform, empathized with the mob but also asked them to leave.

RELATED: As chaos hits Capitol, two forms of faith on display

“I know your pain. I know your hurt,” he said, before repeating falsehoods about the political process. “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it — especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time.”

President-elect Joe Biden in brief remarks demanded “an end to this siege” and asked Trump to “step up” and intervene to end the violence.

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an address from The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, on Jan. 6, 2021. Biden called the violent protests on the U.S. Capitol “an assault on the most sacred of American undertakings: the doing of the people’s business.” (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The president-elect said he was reminded of the words of President Abraham Lincoln: “We shall nobly save or merely lose the last best hope on earth. … The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way that, if followed, the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.”

Biden, who typically ends speeches with an appeal for God’s blessings on the nation and its military, appended his remarks by saying: “May God bless America. May God protect our troops and all those folks at the Capitol who are trying to preserve order.”

Here is a sampling of reaction from faith leaders across the country:

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

“Lord God of peace, hear our prayer.”

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear

“Peaceable transitions of power have marked our Republic since the beginning. It is part of honoring and submitting to God’s ordained leaders whether they were our choice or not. We need you, @POTUS to condemn this mob. Let’s move forward together. Praying for safety.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance

“The sickening sight of rioters storming the U.S. Capitol Building as members of Congress try to carry out their constitutional duties should be condemned by all Americans. We are not witnessing a peaceful protest — this is a violent attack on our democracy. President Trump must ask his supporters to peacefully withdraw from the Capitol grounds immediately.”

California megachurch pastor Rick Warren

“Armed breaching of capitol security behind a confederate flag is anarchy, unAmerican, criminal treason and domestic terrorism. President Trump must clearly tell his supporters
‘We lost. Go home now.’”

People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Evangelist Franklin Graham

“They have a right to protest. To tell people to go home, it’s not for me to decide that. The people who broke the windows in the Capital did not look like the people out there demonstrating. Most likely it was antifa. For people busting windows, they need to go home. But for people standing out there peacefully holding flags, and protesting, they have every right to do that.”

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

“We are witnessing an unprecedented assault not just on the U.S. Capitol building and members of Congress, but on American democracy itself. The scenes of insurrectionists breaching Capitol security, of Senators and Representatives hiding under chairs on the chamber floor praying with the chaplain while Capitol police stand at the ready, are terrifying and heartbreaking.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network

“We had over 200,000 people March on Washington last August. Not one incident or arrest. Compare that to the bedlam unleashed today in DC and ask yourself. Who are the real patriots?”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins

“The violent, lawless actions at the U.S. Capitol building against Congress and Capitol Police are wrong and dangerous for our republic. Lawlessness is not the way, and such actions makes it difficult for law-abiding Americans to fight the good fight. Pray for our Republic!”

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

“The events at our Capitol today are deeply disturbing. We believe the actions of armed protesters represent a coup attempt. … This threatens the integrity of our democracy, the national security of our nation, the continuity of government and the lives and safety of our legislators, their staffs, law enforcement and all who work in the Capitol.”

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president, National Hispanic Leadership Conference and the Rev. Johnnie Moore, president, The Congress of Christian Leaders

“Under these circumstances, there is no conceivable situation where what happened within the U.S. Capitol today is acceptable activity. Violent, anarchist behavior emanating from the far left or the far right is immoral and criminal. It should be summarily condemned — beginning with the President of the United States — and its perpetrators ought to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Those many thousands of peaceful protestors whose first amendment rights have been spoiled by this behavior should go home for their own safety. We are relieved that both the President-Elect and President Trump have now spoken directly to the issue telling protesters in D.C. to go home, calling for peace. We call on all Americans —  Democrat and Republican — to unite in prayer for our nation that righteousness and justice, love and faithfulness will guide the heart of our nation (Ps. 89:14).”

Daniel Darling, senior vice president of communications, National Religious Broadcasters

“What we can do in this moment:
1) Pray for everyone in DC, for safety and restoration of order
2) Repent, reflect, mourn
3) Pray for our country and our next President, Joe Biden
4) Work to bridge and heal divides. Dunking is cathartic but ineffective

5) Speak truth, not lies”

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore

“This mob attack on our Capitol and our Constitution is immoral, unjust, dangerous, and inexcusable. What has happened to our country is tragic, and could have been avoided. …
President @realDonaldTrump, you have a moral responsibility to call on these mobs to stop this dangerous and anti-constitutional anarchy. Please do so.”

Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

“In a moment of national crisis and terror, Trump said ‘we love you; you’re very special’ to these White Christian nationalists. Take that in.”

The Rev. Nathan Empsall, campaigns director, Faithful America

“The violence and sedition unfolding at the Capitol today — both inside and outside the building — are an unprecedented, anti-American, and anti-Christian attack on our democracy and on our people, one fueled by white supremacy, Christian nationalism, and the actions of self-serving Republican politicians.”

Nihad Awad, national executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations

“Today’s attack on the U.S. Capitol represents the culmination of the far-right extremism that Donald Trump first unleashed on the campaign trail five years ago. Make no mistake: the armed Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol are violent insurrectionists. We pray for the safety of everyone under siege on Capitol Hill, including lawmakers and their staff. We call on our government to protect those in harm’s way, and we urge Congress to demand that President Trump, who is responsible for every act of seditious violence committed today, resign or face impeachment.”

Pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas

“Violence at our nation’s capital is to be condemned and law and order must prevail. Pray for our country. This is heartbreaking.”

Bible teacher Beth Moore

“I don’t know the Jesus some have paraded and waved around in the middle of this treachery today. They may be acting in the name of some other Jesus but that’s not Jesus of the Gospels.”

The Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ

“I never in my life thought I would ever witness such a thing. It is a night for prayer, my friends. I call us all to pray tonight for a peace to settle throughout our land. Before this escalates further, may we all be vigilant in our prayerful support for a quick and peaceful end to this.”

United Methodist Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, leader of the Baltimore-Washington Conference

“This alarming occupation and violence at the U.S. Capitol are symptomatic of the vitriol and poison that now infects our culture. It disheartens. The rioters who climbed the steps and walls of the Capitol sought to overturn the law, a fair election, and justice, and claimed their motivation was to defend God and their freedoms. They waved banners emblazoned with the words, ‘Jesus Saves,’ but this is not what Emmanuel came to earth to embody. This is a perversion of the Gospel. This should drive all of us to our knees.”

Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, senior officials of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

“The right to protest is sacrosanct in American life. But the very values and rights bestowed by our democracy are degraded and diminished when police officers have to draw their guns to protect our duly elected officials in heart of our nation by violent protesters who, by their reckless and dangerous behavior have inflicted grievous wounds on our nation. Nothing, not even the emotional charges of voter fraud in a presidential election, can ever legitimize or excuse such behavior. For as the Talmud warns, ‘Pray for the welfare of the government, for without…it man would swallow his fellow.’ Today is a dark day for America.”

Diane Randall, general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation

“At the macro level, we’ve failed to teach people how to make change, how our system of government and democracy work. Faith teaches us that violence is anathema, and that it’s dialogue that actually has the bigger impact.”

National Council of Churches

“We are particularly disturbed by and aware that the votes that are being contested are those that have been legally cast by Black and Brown people in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. These actions have proven once again that the vestiges of racism and white supremacy are still affecting and infecting our democracy. We must increase our efforts to end the scourge on our society, which not only impacts people of color but is detrimental to democracy itself.”

Homi D. Gandhi, immediate past president, Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America

“We are outraged and deplore such mobocracy actions resulting from the President’s urging the unruly mob to overturn the declaration of election results. Like you all, I value the Freedoms of Human Rights and Religion. And like you all, I will work and dream of bringing peace and prosperity for everyone in our world.”

Black Church PAC

“What we are seeing in D.C. is the consequence of the long-term harboring of hatred and racism. While every American citizen is entitled to freedom of speech, the insurrectionist attack on the United States Capitol went beyond the bounds of protected expression and was nothing short of white supremacist violence. The unprecedented storming of one of the most sacred spaces in D.C. placed essential workers, who are most likely to be Black and Brown; people who work and live in D.C.; policymakers; persons who are unhoused; and law enforcement in grave danger.”

Leaders of Christian Churches Together Latino Network and other Latino groups

“In the face of the events transpiring at the U.S. Capitol yesterday, we, the followers of the Prince of Peace, won’t stay silent. We condemn the unlawful actions of the rioters in Washington, DC. We also denounce the dangerous actions, misinformation campaigns, and incendiary rhetoric of President Donald Trump and other political leaders who have encouraged these unprecedented acts of violence. These acts of violence are contrary to the laws and norms that have ruled our country since its founding and represent a seditious attack on the operation of government itself. We hope that all Christian leaders will reject these reckless acts that not only subvert our democracy but have endangered Congressional members, staff, law enforcement, and the public.”

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