Peter Manseau, the curator of American religious history at the Smithsonian, tells the story of Michael Sparks, an evangelical Christian who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Here is a taste of his piece at The Washington Post:
The 43-year-old husband and father didn’t believe that he actually would, but he knew even just saying so fell short of the Christian witness he wanted to bring to the world. His pastor at Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church in Cecilia, Ky., advised him to leave Facebook. He considered it. Instead,the rage that had begun online led him to Washington, D.C., not long after the new year.
According to the FBI, Sparks was the first to enter the Capitol through a smashed window near the Ohio Clock Corridor. Wearing jeans, a light black jacket and eyeglasses, he crawled over broken glass to overturn a presidential election. In his booking photo from Kentucky’s Oldham County Detention Center taken 13 days later, he is wearing a T-shirt that reads “Armor of God” and cites a Bible verse, Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
The attack on the Capitol was for many involved a Christian insurrection, urged along by passages of scripture and culminating with prayers intoned in the occupied Senate. But as Sparks’s story shows, his faith played a more complicated role in his journey to Jan. 6.While his social media posts make clear he connected the election and his religious beliefs, his church community had also been a force cautioning him against letting online resentment take over his life. That tension — religious rhetoric as a goad to extremism on the one hand; community accountability as a safeguard against it on the other — highlights the complex influence some churches have had through the past tumultuous months, and may yet in the future.
Read the rest here. Listen to our interview with Manseau in episode 75 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.