A Church Cries Out for Barabbas

Or: The Church is Not God

Good afternoon, and happy Monday! This post is a bit more faith-focused than most, but I hope it’s meaningful for you even if you don’t call yourself a Christian.

What is the spirit of the Evangelical Conservative?

On January 6, 2021, a bible-clutching president told his zealous followers to march on the United States Capitol Building. And march they did. This mob of overwhelmingly evangelical protesters made their way to where Congress was certifying the 2020 presidential election and unleashed its collective rage on Capitol Police.

Many on the right were horrified by the acts of violence we witnessed that day. But this behavior was little more than a culmination of a years-long trend of the spirit of Barabbas supplanting the spirit of Christ in the hearts of much of the evangelical right.

When the Romans were deciding the fate of Jesus, Pilate avoided directly condemning Christ to death by letting the crowd decide for him. He offered the audience a choice: free the sinless Christ, or free the murderous insurrectionist Barabbas.

And the people cried out for Barabbas.

This story is about more than Pilate’s cowardice; it’s about the willingness of a fallen people to reject the pacifist, peaceful, loving spirit of Christ in favor of the fearful, vengeful, violent spirit of Barabbas. As David French explains, the spirit of Barabbas takes hold when people of faith prioritize earthly power over the sanctification offered in following in Jesus’ footsteps.

The desperate quest for power is a constant human temptation, and when people are gripped by the spirit of Barabbas they will scorn, reject, threaten, or sometimes even try to kill all those who stand in their way… The spirit of Barabbas has gripped much of the American church. That same spirit grips it still.

French’s words really moved me when I read them a little over a year ago, and they caused me to do a lot of reflection about the Church and my place in it. In my journey in trying to square the violent rhetoric of many conservative evangelicals with the peaceful, eternally forgiving rhetoric of the creator they believe in, I found a lot of other dissatisfied voices.

These people, with their critiques of eschatology and the more fearful strains of evangelicalism, had directionally identified the same problems that I had with the Church. They provided nuanced takes and conversation around the state of the Church and how it can become more Christlike.

I felt I had really found “my people.”

That is, until Hamas invaded South Israel and killed over a thousand innocent Israelis. Men, women, children, families, the elderly. They live-streamed it, they gloated, they celebrated the brutal murder of innocent people, much like Barabbas might have.

With the horror that I felt and some of the uncharitable takes I would see online, I turned to this group of believers for some semblance of sense, reason, and calm. After all, when conservatives frothed at the mouth over Trump being “persecuted like Christ was”, these people were consummately reasonable.

Instead, I was met with tweets like this:

Now, these Christians who follow a pacifist creator, who follow a Christ that's a tells us to turn the other cheek, and who criticize conservative evangelicals for failing to live up to these standards, are themselves justifying the brutal kidnapping, torture, rape, beheading, burning alive of innocent men, women, and children.

We are all fallen.

The calls for Barabbas are nonpartisan. We as human beings are flawed. We thirst for power, for validation of our ideologies, and for respect. And when faced with the choice between heavenly sanctification and worldly validation, we so often choose the latter. We claim the cross—the ultimate symbol of sacrifice, endurance, and pacifist love—but we reject the teachings of the man who died on it for us when it’s politically inconvenient.

But this isn’t anything new—look to the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and countless wars throughout the rise of Europe for proof of that. Christians have failed to live up to the call time and time again.

I thought I had found “my people.”

I thought I had found “my church.”

But in a world as fallen as ours, the reality is that no church will ever fully reflect the unfair love, grace, and mercy afforded to us by our Father.

Whether they are conservatives who conveniently ignore the Bible when their leader calls on and foments a violent insurrection against the government, or whether they are progressives who conveniently ignore the teachings of Christ when they are able to maybe justify the horrible atrocious acts committed against innocent civilians, humans will fall short.

The Church as an institution, the Christian faith as an institution, is and will always be falling short of the promise of Christ.

The hard part of spiritual growth is understanding that that’s okay.

It doesn't mean the church has failed. It means the church is full of fallen people.

Only through Christ and only through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is salvation, redemption, sanctification, justification. Only through God are those things possible, and the church is not God.

We Christians would do well to look less to the Church and more to the Savior.

The former lets us down constantly. The latter never will.

For your ears and your heart:

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