Denison Forum – Two years after the January 6 Capitol riot, do we still care? What extremism can teach us about evangelism

I’ll admit, my initial reaction when I realized that I would need to write about the second anniversary of the Capitol riots was somewhere between “not this again” and “I just don’t care.”

That’s not to say that the breach of the Capitol lacked significance or was in any way an appropriate or moral response to the 2020 election. As Dr. Denison wrote in the days following those events, “what we saw [on January 6] was abhorrent and sinful.” However, it was also not, as President Biden described it, “The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”

The truth is that most Americans think what happened that day was wrong, but far fewer think it is worth continuing to dwell on or investigate going forward. So, if that’s the case, why am I writing about it today?

In short, it’s because it provides a good opportunity to think about a larger cultural question that continues to impact all of us, regardless of our political affiliation: Why is it that we so often feel the urge to push views to the extreme?

And, as we’ll see in a bit, the answer to that question has a profound impact on the way we should see evangelism as well.

Why people are pushed to extremism

With the Capitol riots, we see this trend in those who, like President Biden, exaggerate the historical significance of the attacks. However, we also see it from those who view the breach of the Capitol as a patriotic defense of liberty.

Both are minority positions that seem unreasonable to those who do not hold them. However, for those who do, they quickly become the only viable lens through which the events can be viewed.

But why are people drawn to such extreme views in the first place?

One reason is that extreme events push people to choose a side rather than remain in the middle, a fact that can exert a powerful pull to those who care a great deal about a particular issue. But while such an approach may help to garner support to some extent, it can also push those who reject such extremism—on either side of a subject—to extreme apathy.

As David French discussed in a recent article, if you do not hold what could be considered an extreme position on a subject, then engaging with those who do is often not worth the time. As French describes, “you instantly experience a cost-benefit analysis. Do I want to end my relationship with a beloved aunt or uncle over an issue I can’t impact? Or do I choose discretion, decide to maintain the relationship, and move on?”

After all, it can be just as difficult—if not more so—to have a rational conversation about an event when those involved assign it different levels of significance than when they hold fundamentally opposed views.

For example, the person who sees the January 6 riot as the greatest assault on democracy since the 1800s likely has more common ground for discussion with the person who sees it as a righteous protest against a stolen election than either does with someone who thinks it’s really not worth fussing about two years after the fact. The reason is that the first two participants are more likely to feel invested in the conversation while the apathetic person will probably look for a way out shortly after the dialogue begins.

Most of us probably don’t have to think back very far to remember such a conversation.

Whether it was about politics, sports, family events, or any number of other issues, we all get trapped in discussions we’d prefer to avoid from time to time. And remembering what that feels like is important when it comes to sharing our faith.

Knowing when to speak

If you have a personal relationship with Christ and your life has been transformed by his grace, chances are that you see the gospel as profoundly more important than those with whom we are called to share it.

There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, we should be the ones most fired up about telling other people about Jesus. That purpose is central to what it means to be a Christian (Matthew 28:18–20).

However, that reality also means that we are likely to be seen as the extremists by those who accord faith and religion a less essential place in their lives. As such, we shouldn’t be surprised when it feels like non-Christians just don’t care as much as we think they should.

If someone has shown that they have little interest in the gospel and seem to check out every time you bring it up, continuing to press them about it is unlikely to prove productive. That doesn’t mean we should give up on them, but people can get to the place where continuing to hit them over the head with God’s word—figuratively speaking—can do more harm than good to their long-term prospects of accepting Jesus.

When people reach that point, it’s all right to give them space when it comes to the subject of spirituality. We should absolutely continue to live out the gospel around them and make sure they know that we are available to talk should they ever want to do so, but it’s all right to leave it up to them.

Ultimately, God knows their heart and their mind better than we can. He understands when the gospel will be welcome and when it will be ignored. And while his word promises that it will never return void, that is only when it is sent out according to his will (Isaiah 55:11).

That’s why it’s so important that we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide our interactions with others and to respond in obedience when he prompts us to share our faith with them. He has a way of redeeming hardships and using the events in a person’s life to help them assign faith a higher level of importance, even if that shift is fleeting.

Will you be ready the next time God gives you that opportunity?

Denison Forum

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