A growing number of prominent Christian leaders are sounding the alarm over threats to democracy posed by ReAwaken America rallies where Donald Trump loyalists Michael Flynn and Roger Stone and right-wing pastors spread misinformation about the 2020 elections and Covid-19 vaccines, and distorted Christian teachings.
Lies pushed at ReAwaken rallies have prompted some Christian leaders to warn that America’s political and spiritual health is threatened by a toxic mix of Christian nationalism, lies about Trump’s loss to Joe Biden and ahistorical views on the nation’s founding principle of separation of church and state.
Several well-known Christian leaders, including the president of the Christian social justice group Sojourners and the executive director of a major Baptist group, have called on American churches to speak out against the messages promoted at ReAwaken America rallies held in Oklahoma, Arizona. , Texas, California, South Carolina and other states.
More tourist gatherings, some of which have taken place in religious spaces, are planned in New York and Virginia this summer and some local Christian leaders are encouraged to publicly voice their concerns about the dangerous rhetoric and messages they convey.
“This ReAwaken tour is peddling dangerous lies about both the election and the pandemic,” Adam Russell Taylor, the chairman of Sojourners, told The Guardian. “Jesus taught us that the truth will set us free, and these lies hold people captive to these dangerous lies. They also exacerbate the toxic polarization we see both in the church and in society at large.
Taylor added that he was deeply concerned about “a confusion between Christianity and a nationalistic form of patriotism” at “tourist gatherings that promote a more open form of Christian nationalism.”
Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which has organized Christians against Christian nationalism, said: “Christian nationalism is a threat to the Church because those who peddle it wrap this ideology in language and biblical pictures. Christian nationalism is bad when it comes to Christian ethics. The Bible is not limited to a nation and even less to a party or a list of political positions.
She added, “The ReAwaken America Tour is a gross misrepresentation of Christianity and it is up to Christian leaders in the areas visited to speak out against this ideology.”
The ReAwaken Tour’s pro-Trump political messages mixed with Christian nationalism were on display at a two-day rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in May that drew Flynn, Stone, Eric Trump and the pastor of right Mark Burns, who is running for a home seat in the state.
Stone ignited the crowd with sometimes bizarre conspiratorial claims. “There is a satanic portal above the White House, you can see it day and night. It exists. It’s real. And it must be closed. And it will be closed with prayer,” he said.
The “portal,” Stone told a delighted crowd, first appeared after Joe Biden “became president and it will be closed before he leaves.” Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, was convicted of three counts, including obstructing investigations into Russian interference, but was pardoned in late 2020 by Trump, who had previously commuted his sentence.
Burns, a staunch Trump supporter, drew applause at the rally with scathing attacks on the LGBTQ community, leading congressional Democrats and even GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, a powerful Trump ally.
Known for his penchant for mixing religious messages with politics, Burns said at another ReAwaken meeting in Ohio in February that God would “raise armies” to help conservatives “shut down” America run by democrats.
“Are you ready to fight with me? Shout yeah!” Burns urged the crowd loudly. “Are you ready to stay with me? Shout yeah!”
But retired Lt. Gen. Flynn, a staunch Trump ally who told the right-wing Newsmax network in December 2020 that Trump should deploy the military to “jump start the election” in swing states Biden won, is the most promoted draw of the tour.
At a ReAwaken event in Texas in November, for example, Flynn drew heavy criticism when he argued that America should only have one “religion.”
“If we want to have a nation under God, which we have to, we have to have a religion,” Flynn said. “One nation under God and one religion under God, right? All of us, working together.
At the South Carolina rally, Flynn proclaimed that the United States had a “biblical destiny” and posited that the United States was built on a “set of Judeo-Christian principles.”
Flynn’s opinions alarm Taylor of Sojourners. “Flynn has a distorted understanding of religion and American history,” Taylor said.
The ReAwaken Tour was started by a conservative Oklahoma host and entrepreneur named Clay Clark in tandem with Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s first national security adviser. Flynn pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI about contact he had with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office, but in late 2020 Trump pardoned him.
Patrick Byrne, a Trump loyalist and multi-millionaire, the former CEO of Overstock, told the Guardian last year that the America Project, an advocacy group he founded that boasts of Flynn as an adviser special and spokesperson, has put up “tens of thousands of dollars” to help kick off the 2021 rallies, and that he has attended some himself.
Flynn’s pivotal role during the ReAwaken events was cited in a hard-hitting April San Diego Times op-ed by Reverend Melinda Teter Dodge.
“Tragically, at the end of last month, church leaders and religious fanatics proclaimed went down to San Diego county, and twisted this scriptural truth for specific political purposes. By reaching out to thousands of vulnerable participants, this group spewed dangerous lies after lies about Covid-19 and the 2020 election,” she wrote.
“The event at a church in San Marcos was the final stop on disgraced retired General Michael Flynn’s ‘ReAwaken America Tour,’ a nationwide series of mega-church engagements featuring a who’s who of religious extremists from around the world. far-right, Trump aides, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and other reckless characters. At every stop along the way, the Christian nationalist tour has left dangerous misinformation in its wake that leads to bigotry, hatred, and, at its extreme, to violence.
Teter Dodge added that a “staple” of the tours has been Pastor Greg Locke, “who made a name for himself peddling QAnon conspiracy theories from his pulpit, and even kicking people out of his church s ‘they wore a mask. More recently, Locke has taken up the latest cause celebre among the radical far right: the book burning.
In the run-up to the fall election, Taylor of Sojourners fears the rhetoric of the ReAwaken events could threaten voting rights.
Taylor said he was “particularly alarmed by the way this tour enacts and provides religious cover for the big lie that the last election was stolen. This big lie erodes faith in elections and is being exploited to justify and fuel efforts to erect new barriers across the country that restrict the right to vote.