WASHINGTON (RNS) — The insurrection that took place at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was many things — an assault on the seat of American democracy, a riot that threatened the lives of elected officials, a medieval-style brawl that left at least five dead and hundreds wounded.
But amid the chaos, Jan. 6 was also an outpouring of religious expression, especially in the form of prayer. Often it was the insurrectionists themselves who were spotted praying, many appealing to the Almighty as they waged their attack. But equally as prayerful were those they threatened — lawmakers and the chaplains who ministered to them, some of whom asked God for protection and safety. And then there were observers — pastors and others who voiced prayers of warning and lament for the violence they witnessed.
These are some of those prayers said in and around the Capitol that day, collected by Religion News Service from videos, public documents, interviews and news reports.
On Jan. 6, the Rev. Karen Brau began the day around 9 a.m. outside a Lutheran church, huddling with a group of interfaith clergy as they stood around a Black Lives Matter sign. The sign was a replacement for one of several destroyed in the area a few weeks prior when Proud Boys marauded through the streets of Washington. The clergy had gathered on Jan. 6 to offer a counterprotest vigil against Trump supporters as they massed in D.C. Brau explained their collective efforts this way:
(We’re praying for) … our common faith in a God who loves the world, and all of what that means. We’re bearing witness today, because there is a lot of anxiety around this being a day where there is violence and perhaps destruction of spaces and places, and perhaps people will be harmed. We are here bearing witness of peace. So we’re praying. … Today happens to be Epiphany. So on Jan. 6, we’re mindful that this is a day we’re asking for the wisdom of the wise ones who found, by following a star, the Christ Child. And who are also being tricked by (King) Herod, to reveal the place of the child’s birth so Herod could go and give him praise — which was absolutely a lie. We’re also bearing witness that, for the Christian faith, some of these patterns of leaders who are despots continue.
Florida pastor and White House official Paula White opened the Trump rally at the White House Ellipse around 11 a.m., offering a prayer to attendees, which concluded with a plea for justice to be done:
… God, you said you honor your word and your name above all things. So as we hold you, in covenant with you, today, let justice be done. Let justice be done. Let justice be done. Let we the people have the assurance of a fair and a just election. Hear our cry and turn our hearts to you. God, I pray that you would turn the hearts of those who are in power and position to make decisions, to walk in your wisdom, and to do justly today — for the integrity of democracy. For our nation.
God, we ask right now, in conclusion, for your provision. For your protection. For your power. For an outpouring of your spirit like never before. I secure POTUS — I thank you for President Trump. I thank you that he has stood with Israel. He has stood with life. He has stood for righteousness. He has stood for the most vulnerable. He has stood to alleviate poverty. He has stood for religious freedom. He has stood for safety and protection. He has stood in a place, God, that few men could stand. He has walked in your ways. And as you have allowed me to have a relationship with him and his family for 20 years, right now, as his pastor I put a hedge of protection around him. I secure his purpose. I secure his destiny. I secure his life, God, and I thank you that he will walk in a holy boldness and a wisdom, God, and that you will go before him. You will be his rear guard, and you will go in front of him this day and every day, God. …
Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben, a Presbyterian minister just three days into her new job as House chaplain, opened the joint session of Congress with prayer around noon, kicking off the process of certifying the 2020 presidential election:
O God, our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of discord and trouble. Mountains crumble, waters rage, nations roar, and yet we need not be afraid, for even now you abide with us in these times of great discord, uncertainty and unrest. We, who have pledged to defend our Constitution against all enemies, we pray our hedge of protection around this nation. Defend us from those adversaries, both foreign and domestic, outside these walls and perhaps within these chambers, who sow seeds of acrimony to divide colleagues and conspire to undermine trust in your divine authority over all things. The journey of this experiment in democracy is perilous and demanding, fraught with anger and discontent. But wise rulers still seek you. So help us, God, to find you in the midst of us. So help us, God, to see Your gracious plan even in the events of these days. So help us, God, to serve you and this nation with godliness and dignity. We lay before you the gifts of our hopes, our dreams, our deliberations and our debates, that you would be revealed and exalted among the people. We pray these things in the strength of your holy name. Amen.
A short time later, Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, a Seventh-day Adventist, offered a prayer to those assembled in the Senate chamber:
Almighty God, have compassion on us with your unfailing love. As our lawmakers prepare to formally certify the votes cast by the Electoral College, be present with them. Guide our legislators with your wisdom and truth as they seek to meet the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. Lord, inspire them to seize this opportunity to demonstrate to the nation and world how the democratic process can be done properly and in an orderly manner. Help them to remember that history is a faithful stenographer, and so are you. We pray in your sovereign name. Amen.
A group of Proud Boys, roughly an hour and a half before they helped lead the charge toward the Capitol, kneeling in prayer:
Dear Lord, we come to you today, we ask for protection and wisdom for our leadership here today as well as (for) the rest of our fellow Americans, Lord. We pray that, uh, oh you soften the hearts of those that have turned hard towards you. We pray for all those in our government that have turned harshly away from you, as well as others in our society, Lord. We pray that they realize the only way to return to you is via reclamation and revival, and we ask for that, Lord. We understand that the ideas and ideologies that come out of some of these value systems and — in socialism and (inaudible) — are antithetical to what you would wish for us, Lord. (We) particularly understand that family is the institution you put on this earth that’s most important to us.
So, again, thank you for the wonderful nation we’ve all been blessed to be in, and the value systems we’ve all got to experience in our lives, Lord. We pray that you continue to uphold and restore these. And we pray that you provide all of us with courage and strength to both represent you and represent our culture well. In his name: Amen.
Jenna Ryan, currently in prison for her role in the attack, via video she filmed of herself as she entered the Capitol through a battered door:
USA! USA! Here we are, in the name of Jesus! In the name above all names!
Joshua Black of Leeds, Alabama, explained in a YouTube video — posted shortly before turning himself over to authorities — that God called him to be in D.C. on Jan. 6 and he prayed repeatedly while participating in the insurrection. Despite bleeding from a gaping hole in his cheek created after he was shot with a nonlethal projectile, Black said his “goal” was to “get inside the building so I could plead the blood of Jesus over it.” When he pushed past the doors of the Capitol, he said, he burst into a prayerful chant:
Praise the name of Jesus! Glory to God! God bless America!
As insurrectionists began to gather outside the House chamber, Chaplain Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben was asked to offer an impromptu prayer. It was not recorded as part of the official congressional record, but a brief clip of the orison, presumably taken via cellphone, was seen in a recent HBO documentary, “Four Hours at the Capitol.” It shows Kibben praying “for those who were protecting” as lawmakers scrambled to put on gas masks. She also told RNS last year that while she didn’t remember the exact details of the prayer, she recalled it this way:
It was a matter of asking for God’s covering and a hedge of protection around us. … That in the chaos, the spirit would descend in the room to offer us peace and order. That we would look to care for each other, even as we are under stress.
Around 2:50 p.m., after most lawmakers had evacuated the floor of the House chamber, some remained trapped in the chamber gallery, hiding under seats. As the group watched law enforcement draw their weapons and aim at insurrectionists gathered outside the House chamber, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester burst into ecstatic prayer, parts of which were caught on video. Shortly after she finished, Rochester told HBO, the lawmakers were rescued by law enforcement.
… Peace in this land, peace in this country, peace in this world! … Protect all of our brothers and sisters in this Congress … We thank you, we praise you … you are powerful, above all, and we thank you right now, in this moment …
Unidentified insurrectionist, praying with a group that appears to include an “Oath Keeper” in the Capitol Rotunda:
Hey, guys, let’s pray! Father God, thank you. Thank you for each other. Thank you for letting us stand up for our country and what we believe in. Guide us so we may do your will. I pray for that, and I pray for these brothers that stand beside me. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
As the chaos unfolded, aides to Sen. Mitch McConnell took shelter in their offices, listening to insurrectionists repeatedly attempt to open their doors. According to The Washington Post, at one point they heard a woman praying loudly outside their door:
The insurrectionist prayed for “the evil of Congress to be brought to an end.”
Among those who stormed the Capitol was 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by law enforcement as she attempted to climb through a broken window as the mob pushed toward the Speaker’s Lobby. A man claiming to have witnessed the shooting later described it to Pastor Ren Schuffman, who filmed the exchange as the two stood outside the Capitol. When the man finished, the pastor offered this prayer:
God, Lord, protect this soldier for you, this man that was brave. Father Lord, I just declare right now, this lionheart, that the angels of God be protecting over him. Father Lord, any trauma, any trauma from this event, Father, I just declare and decree right now that it’s all broken, that this man is secure and safe and held in your hollow of your hand. Lord, thank you for his heart to serve his country and be a patriot. And we declare right now the blessings and favor of God on his life, on his family, Lord. We speak it in the mighty name of Jesus, (who) will protect him and guard him and strengthen him. In the mighty name of Jesus, Amen.
Jacob Chansley, aka “The Q Shaman,” was filmed by a New Yorker reporter praying with a group of insurrectionists gathered in the chamber of the U.S. Senate:
Unidentified man: Jesus Christ, we invoke your name: Amen!
Jacob Chansley: Let’s say a prayer. Let’s all say a prayer in this sacred space.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for gracing us with this opportunity … (takes off hat) … to stand up for our God-given unalienable rights. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for being the inspiration needed to these police officers to allow us into the building, to allow us to exercise our rights, to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists and the globalists that this is our nation, not theirs, that we will not allow the America — the American way, of the United States of America — to go down. Thank you, divine, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent creator God, for filling this chamber with your white light and love, your white light of harmony. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ.
Unidentified man: Yes, Lord! Yes!
Chansley: Thank you, divine, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent creator God, for blessing each and every one of us here and now. Thank you, divine creator God, for surrounding (us) with the divine omnipresent white light of love and protection, peace and harmony. Thank you for allowing the United States of America to be reborn. Thank you for allowing us to get rid of the communists, the globalists and the traitors within our government. We love you and we thank you, in Christ’s holy name we pray!
Couy Griffin, a New Mexico-based pastor, county commissioner and head of Cowboys for Trump, grabbed a bullhorn and prayed to the sprawling crowd massing outside the Capitol’s east entrance. As insurrectionists behind him engaged in hand-to-hand brawls with police, Griffin, who was arrested by police days later and placed in a cell near Chansley, removed his cowboy hat and prayed:
Griffin: We’ve been screaming, we’ve been fighting, but now I want you to pray with me, if you will. Pray! Pray! Pray! Pray! Pray! And if you want, take a knee. … Let us pray, let us pray Second Chronicles, Chapter 7, verse 14, over our nation. Let us pray. Our father says that if we will repent and pray he will hear our prayers, and he will hear us. Please pray, let us pray: Father God, Father God, we come before you, Father, and we pray, Lord God, for peace on our nation …
Crowds behind Griffin begin to chant “Fight for Trump!”
Griffin: … We pray, God, for justice. We pray, Father, for mercy, Lord God. And we pray, Father God, for our nation to come back stronger than it ever has. We rejoice in you. Thank you, we love you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
As the mob ransacked the Capitol, lawmakers were taken to undisclosed secure locations. House Chaplain Reverend Margaret Grun Kibben was with them, offering pastoral care to those in need. She later told RNS that she was asked to pray for the group of House members, and began by reading from the Bible’s Psalm 46:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.”
Kibben described the rest of her prayers as calling for a “covering of peace and shelter” and lifting up prayers for the attackers — namely, that those “who felt so strongly against us” might come to understand that the lawmakers they decry ultimately want precisely what the insurrectionists insist they were denied: “That our legislative process is appropriate and legal and representative.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican and evangelical Christian, was a conservative critic of President Donald Trump during the end of his term. After the events of Jan. 6, he was one of 10 Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment. Kinzinger now sits on the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack. Asked this week if he recalls praying on Jan. 6, he conveyed this through his communications director:
(I) prayed that the evil would be stopped and that eyes would be opened to the truth.
Sen. Chris Coons, a Presbyterian Democrat from Delaware who speaks often of his faith, told RNS this week that he remembers speaking with police officers the morning of Jan. 6. Asked if he remembered praying that day, he replied:
On the morning of Jan. 6, I had no sense it was going to be the tragic, awful day that it turned out to be. I said a morning prayer no different from any other day. Once we got into session, if anything, I said a prayer that we could complete our work and go home. Once it became clear — because the Secret Service hurried Vice President Mike Pence out and Capitol police in tactical gear came in — that our safety was actually at risk, I think I said a prayer for the law enforcement officers and the National Guardsmen. And by very early the next morning, when we finally returned (to certify the results), I know I said a prayer of gratitude that we were able to finish our work — while still being anxious about the year ahead.
After insurrectionists were cleared from the Capitol and lawmakers returned, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, condemned the attack and lifted up a small prayer during a speech to colleagues.
So on this holy day of Epiphany, let us pray. I am a big believer in prayer. Let us pray that there will be peace on Earth and that it will begin with us. Let us pray that God will continue to bless America.
Chaplain Black closed out the session with another prayer:
Lord of our lives and sovereign of our beloved nation, we deplore the desecration of the United States Capitol Building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life and the quagmire of dysfunction that threaten our democracy. These tragedies have reminded us that words matter and that the power of life and death is in the tongue. We have been warned that eternal vigilance continues to be freedom’s price. Lord, you have helped us remember that we need to see in each other a common humanity that reflects your image. You have strengthened our resolve to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, domestic as well as foreign. Use us to bring healing and unity to a hurting and divided nation and world. Thank you for what you have blessed our lawmakers to accomplish in spite of threats to liberty. Bless and keep us. Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to do your will, and guide our feet on the path of peace. And God bless America. We pray in your sovereign name. Amen.