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Faith leaders, including Trump allies, condemn Capitol riot

January 7, 2021 GMT
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U.S. Capitol Police hold protesters at gun-point near the House Chamber inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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U.S. Capitol Police hold protesters at gun-point near the House Chamber inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Religious leaders across the political spectrum, including several staunch supporters of President Donald Trump, strongly condemned the storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters.

The violence “is an assault on democracy and representative government,” tweeted Ralph Reed, a longtime political conservative strategist who heads the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

“Resort to mob violence has no place in the life of our nation,” Reed added. “It does not represent our movement or the cause of Christ.”

Several pro-Trump faith leaders, while condemning Wednesday’s mob, attempted to draw a parallel between protests by anti-Trump activists earlier this year, which turned occasionally violent, and the harrowing riot at the Capitol.

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“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,” said a statement from two Trump supporters, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and the Rev. Johnnie Moore, president of the Congress of Christian Leaders.

Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, voiced similar sentiments.

“I do not support violence from the right or the left,” he said. “Our country is in trouble. We need God‘s healing and we need God’s help.”

The Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of a Dallas megachurch and a close Trump ally, tweeted: “Disobeying and assaulting police is a sin whether it’s done by Antifa or angry Republicans.”

In an email to The Associated Press, he added, “It is especially important that those of us who claim to be Christians are consistent in condemning all anarchy, regardless of the ideology behind it.”

Another Texas-based evangelical leader, the Rev. James Robison, said Trump should urge Americans to pray.

“I believe Trump wants what’s best, and we know God — who knows best — answers prayer,” Robison tweeted. “Violence is not the answer and must not be used.”

The Rev. John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, also a stalwart supporter of the president, criticized what he called “an un-American abomination and a disgrace to our democracy.”

“There is nothing patriotic about storming our Capitol,” he said. “There is nothing honorable about physically attacking our institutions of government.”

The Rev. Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said he was “deeply grieved.”

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“The peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of American democracy, and today we saw the opposite of peace,” he said via email. “This is not what we are called to be as Americans, and this is surely not what we are called to be as Christians.”

On the progressive side, the Rev. William Barber II, a leading civil rights activist, lamented the violence but also warned that perhaps “this needs to be seen” in order to awaken the majority of Americans to the threat of “following great distortion” of facts.

“Maybe it’s necessary to see it so that we will resist it, so that we will stand against it,” Barber said in an interview. “It’s forcing even Republicans who played with it, who catered to Trump, hopefully to reassess their way of being.”

Barber was among several faith leaders agreeing to join President-elect Joe Biden in a “prayer for peace and the welfare of our nation” Wednesday evening.

The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, Episcopal bishop of Washington, and the Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, rebuked the president in an address via Facebook Live.

“Mr. President, there has been no fraudulent election,” Budde said. “You called your supporters to our Capitol, you fed their wild fantasies and conspiracy theories. You whipped them into a frenzy. This is not acceptable.”

“And let us be perfectly clear,” she added. “To those who see this as a Christian endeavor, or something to be blessed in the name of Jesus, there is nothing Christian about what we are witnessing today. Nothing. “

The Rev. Nathan Empsall, an Episcopal priest who is campaign director for the Christian social-justice organization Faithful America, said some GOP congressmen and “religious-right clergy who stood by Donald Trump throughout all his vicious attacks on democracy” share blame alongside the president.

“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,” Empsall said.

“The dishonest leaders who caused today’s violence by baselessly sowing doubts about Black voters and new voters, rather than doing their constitutional duty, should be held accountable and rejected from public life for the damage they have caused,” he added.

Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, two leaders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization which combats anti-Semitism, said Wednesday was “a dark day for all Americans.”

“The right to protest is sacrosanct in American life,” they said. “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 the heart of our nation by violent protesters who have stormed Congress and by their reckless and dangerous behavior have inflicted grievous wounds on our nation.”

Sharon Kleinbaum, a rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City, said the violence came as no surprise.

“Donald Trump has been following the pattern of authoritarianism since he came into office,” she said. “He will look for thugs to do violence on his behalf and then half-heartedly distance himself from the violence.”

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Associated Press writer Elana Schor reported from Washington, Luis Andres Henao reported from Jersey City, New Jersey, and David Crary reported from New York.

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.