The image was of a pair of underwear with a hammer, and the caption said, “Get it now: Paul Pelosi Halloween costume.” After a friend sent me the link, I was almost shaking with rage. Within an hour or so, Donald Trump Jr. would post the same image with a similar message, but it was the first one that left me angry—because it was posted by someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Keep in mind what we have witnessed this week: A man with a history of following conspiracy theories—including 2020 election denial—broke into the San Francisco home of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, took a hammer, and beat the Speaker’s husband until he needed critical surgery.
Police report that the man went through the house, yelling “Where’s Nancy?” The language is a direct echo of screams from insurrectionists on January 6, who swarmed outside the Speaker’s office after attacking and ransacking the Capitol.
Within hours of the Pelosi attack, the typical internet mobs spread lies and conspiracy theories about the event, some of them too vile and obviously fabricated to even mention here.
A friend asked why I was so upset about the allegedly evangelical man who posted the “joke” about Pelosi’s attempted murder. After all, we’ve seen for years his troll-like behavior on and off social media. “Why are you surprised?” my friend said. “That guy has shown who he is for years. I feel sorry for him.”
But that’s the point. This is not an isolated incident from one sad, angry, and “extremely online” guy. It reflects an increasing trend among some Christians.
Take for example Charlie Kirk, who responded to the Pelosi attack by saying, “If some amazing patriot out there in San Francisco or the Bay Area wants to really be a midterm hero, someone should go and bail this guy out. … Bail him out and then ask him some questions.” That’s the same Kirk who claims to be a born-again Christian and whose name was merged with that of Jerry Falwell Jr. into the “Falkirk Center” at the nation’s largest Christian university (until Falwell’s departure).
While all of this is going on, hordes of online commenters and conspiracy theory websites either deny the attack happened at all—as a “false flag” by the Deep State—or positively delight in the humor of it all. Many of them have “Christian. Husband. Father” or some similar designation in their social media bios.
All of this would be bad enough if it were simply happening in the “fog of disinformation.” But even after the official Department of Justice affidavit was released with details from the police officers’ interview with the alleged assailant—who admits to breaking into the Pelosi home to harm the Speaker—where are the apologies for spreading the lies? Where is the shame at delighting in what could easily have turned into murder?
When looking at some of the responses to the Pelosi beating, Mona Charen asked, “What the hell is wrong with these people?” The answer, of course, is hell.
James, the brother of Jesus, tells us that “the tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). He goes on to say to the churches that “bitter envy and selfish ambition” lead to “deny[ing] the truth,” and that leads to “disorder and every evil practice” (vv. 14–16).
This imagery of fires from hell shows just how much damage can be done by lies and how easily they can burn out of control. The threat of political violence hangs over our country in ways perhaps not seen since the fiery days of the 1960s.
Indeed, the situation could easily become even more intense. After all, people back then didn’t have social media incentives for getting attention through character degradation—the kind that could lead large numbers of people to communicate sympathy with Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, or Sirhan Sirhan.
Where does much of this violence or the threat of it come from? Lies. The idea that the election was stolen by a vast conspiracy of liberals is a lie. That elected officials are part of a secret cabal to drink the blood of babies is a lie. That Jews are pulling the strings of the “globalist” order is a lie. That the federal government designed COVID-19 as a hoax is a lie. That your pastor is a “cultural Marxist” for preaching what the Bible teaches on race and justice is a lie.
What’s worse, many of the people spreading such lies know them to be lies.
God is a God of truth, and he commands against both the bearing of false witness and the taking of human life. Jesus himself said the devil “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
The apostle Paul, too, points to the connection between lies and murder when he speaks of people under the power of sin as those whose “tongues practice deceit” and whose “feet are swift to shed blood” (Rom. 3:13–15).
We are in a precarious and dangerous time, and what’s worse, we’ve become more accustomed to all of it. In early December 2020, when a Republican election official from Georgia called for an end to lies about a stolen election, he warned, “Someone’s going to get shot; someone’s going to get killed.” A little over a month later, police officers were beaten at the United States Capitol. People were chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” And, yes, people were yelling out, “Where’s Nancy?”
Is this really the sort of society in which we want to live? Is this really the United States of America we want to leave to our children? And, more importantly, is this the witness of the church we want to display?
People will rightly note that the figures spreading conspiracies or joking about this recent assassination attempt are fringe and hyperpoliticized figures, not respected spiritual leaders. They will rightly observe that most evangelical Christians support neither the lies nor the political violence. That is all correct. And that’s why we must say so.
That’s why we must say to those who spread lies and who fuel violence, “You will not do this in our name, and you will definitely not do this in the name of Jesus Christ.”
What’s more, we’re ethically obligated to tell these bad actors the warning of Jesus—that the path of lies leads not just to violence toward the innocent but also to the damnation of the liars themselves (Rev. 21:8).
We should be people of the truth. And at the judgment seat of Christ, when every lie is uncovered, don’t be the person who must say, “I left my soul in San Francisco.”
Russell Moore is editor in chief at Christianity Today.