ON RELIGION: RNA say Jan. 6 riot was the year's top religion event

Terry Mattingly

For journalists who braved the chaos, the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill offered a buffet of the bizarre – a throng of Proud Boys, QAnon prophets, former U.S. military personnel and radicalized Donald Trump supporters that crashed through security lines and, thus, into history.

Many protesters at the legal Save America rally carried signs, flags and banners with slogans such as "Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my president" or simply "Jesus 2020." In this context, "Jesus saves" took on a whole new meaning.

Some of that symbolism was swept into the illegal attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In its poll addressing major religion events in 2021, members of the Religion News Association offered this description of the top story: "Religion features prominently during the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump insurrectionists. Some voice Christian prayers, while others display Christian or pagan symbols and slogans inside and outside the Capitol."

Consider, for example, Jacob Anthony Chansley – or Jake "Yellowstone Wolf" Angeli. With his coyote skin and buffalo horns headdress; red, white and blue face paint; and Norse torso tattoos, the self-proclaimed QAnon shaman, UFO expert and metaphysical healer became the instant superstar of this mash-up of politics, religion and digital conspiracy theories.

"Thank you, Heavenly Father ... for this opportunity to stand up for our God-given inalienable rights," he said in a video of his U.S. Senate remarks from the vice president's chair. "Thank you, divine, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Creator God for filling this chamber with your white light and love. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ. ...

"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."

That was one loud voice. A big question that must be answered, in future trials and the U.S. House investigation, is whether it's true – as claimed by The New York Times – that the "most extreme corners of support for Mr. Trump have become inextricable from some parts of white evangelical power in America." For that to be true, investigators will need to find links between the illegal Jan. 6 attack and evangelicals in major denominations, megachurches, publishers and parachurch groups, as well as seminaries, colleges and universities.

Here is the rest of the 2021 RNA Top 10 list:

(2) In Afghanistan, Taliban forces reimpose strict Islamic rule after U.S. troops withdraw. Many refugees flee in airlift, while thousands are left behind amid fears for religious minorities, women and other dissenters. This was my choice for the year's top story.

(3) U.S. Supreme Court considers Mississippi case seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade and America's current abortion rights legal culture. A decision is expected early next summer.

(4) Thousands of government and private sector employees seek religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates, raising tough religious liberty questions. The vast majority of religious leaders support vaccines, but many question government mandates.

(5) Joe Biden becomes America's second Catholic president, stirring controversy with his public displays of faith – mixed with words and deeds supporting abortion rights, same-sex marriage and evolving forms of gender theory. U.S. bishops ponder how to defend church teachings on Holy Communion. RNA members select Biden as Newsmaker of the Year.

(6) Gallup reports that membership in U.S. faith groups has dropped below 50 percent for the first time in the eight decades the organization has studied this issue. Only 47 percent of Americans say they belong to a church, synagogue or mosque in 2020.

(7) The coronavirus pandemic continues to affect religious life, with in-person worship attendance levels remaining short of pre-2020 levels. A Barna Research study notes that nearly 40 percent of Christian clergy seriously considered quitting, with burnout highest in liberal Protestant denominations.

(8) Investigators in Canada find hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools for Indigenous children, focusing criticism on church groups in North America that operated such schools. Several Canadian churches are burned or vandalized.

(9) Popular Bible teacher Beth Moore cuts ties to Southern Baptist Convention's publishing arm, dismayed by what she calls the "sexism" and "misogyny" in the SBC, including widespread support for Trump despite his boasts about sexual exploits with women.

(10) While shaken by resignations and leaked emails, Southern Baptists reject a rightward push at their annual convention and approve a probe of its Executive Committee's handling of sexual abuse accusations.

Terry Mattingly is the editor of GetReligion.org and senior fellow at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.

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