This text is the primary in a collection on Christian nationalism supported by the Pulitzer Heart.
(RNS) — About halfway by way of his deal with to a crowd in St. Louis in late August, Greg Locke shifted gears. The goateed pastor of International Imaginative and prescient Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, had been regaling the viewers — “patriots,” he known as them — with tales of defying state well being suggestions by holding maskless, in-person worship providers through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shouting into the microphone, Locke — who weeks earlier denied the delta variant of the coronavirus existed — all of the sudden started scolding listeners for not doing sufficient within the battle towards pandemic restrictions.
“Do one thing in your hometown,” Locke stated. “Stir your college board assembly up for the glory of God. Run for workplace. Do one thing. Go let some church buildings know on the town they should open up and give up enjoying the coward. Make some Fb movies till they de-platform you. Don’t simply go to conferences and revel in folks — save the nation.”
It was a name to arms repeated all through Bards Fest, a largely Christian extravaganza held Aug. 26-29 on the POWERplex, a drive-in movie show and occasions area in St. Louis. Organized by podcaster and vocal QAnon devotee Scott Kesterson, it was billed as “a re-awakening of GOD’s glory as the inspiration of our nice Nation” and the “biggest religious revival in human historical past.”
Footage of the occasion prompt it attracted no extra attendees than many megachurches on any given Sunday. However livestreaming throughout different digital platforms probably expanded its attain, making Bards Fest a broad platform for a peculiar, quickly rising variant of Christian nationalism being unfold by pastors and anti-vaccine influencers: one which mixes assertions the USA was based as a Christian nation with conspiracy theories derived from the QAnon motion and a conviction that authorities efforts to curb COVID-19 are oppressive — and a chance to additional a non secular trigger.
Appeals to Christian id have been widespread through the Trump administration, and Christian nationalist themes have been broadly seen through the Jan. 6 riot on the U.S. Capitol. However with Trump out of workplace and tons of of insurrectionists now dealing with federal expenses, hard-line Christian nationalists are more and more fueling their motion with opposition to COVID-19 vaccines and masks mandates, which they forged as threats to their non secular and constitutional freedoms.
A June ballot by the Public Faith Analysis Institute and Interfaith Youth Core reported that among the many 13% of People who stated they might not get vaccinated, white evangelicals make up the biggest non secular chunk, representing 28% of “vaccine refusers.” White evangelicals additionally occur to be one of many religion teams most probably to embrace QAnon, which claims the world is secretly run by Devil-worshipping pedophiles. Amongst vaccine refusers, too, a full 42% imagine conspiracy theories related to the motion.
There’s additionally a historic subtext: Locke’s name to “fire up” college board conferences harks again to the technique of the non secular proper within the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties, which agitated at — and finally took management of — college boards and different native authorities our bodies in an effort to shift American tradition from the grassroots up.
However right this moment’s Christian nationalists are arguably extra confrontational than their non secular proper progenitors. At a faculty board assembly in Lee County, Florida, on Aug. 30, protesters who gathered outdoors to oppose an impending masks mandate wore shirts that learn “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president” and the emblem of the lately launched “Conservative Christians of Southwest Florida,” which options a top level view of the state emblazoned with the American flag.
As protesters and counterprotesters bickered, finally exchanging blows, a pair of white-coated medical doctors tried to stroll by the gang. They have been promptly shoved and glared at by obvious opponents of the masks mandate.
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Contained in the assembly room, two males carrying the conservative Christian group’s shirt spoke towards the masks order. Later, a girl gripping a cross pointed in school board members and denounced them as “demonic entities,” saying folks like them are in “all the varsity boards” within the U.S., however that “all of us Christians will likely be sticking collectively to take all of them out.”
It’s a message that probably would have resonated at Bards Fest, the place the gang skewed white, evangelical and, judging from the applause on the audio system’ most intemperate traces, largely unvaccinated.
“Now they’re coming after your youngsters, and I don’t perceive, if I dwell to be 157 years outdated, why mother and father are usually not storming the gates on the colleges,” stated Bards Fest presenter Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopathic physician from Ohio and longtime anti-vaccine advocate. “I don’t imagine (the) excuses of why mother and father can’t homeschool and do it as a collective. … Simply determine it out. Seize your youngsters and run.”
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Tenpenny’s marketing campaign towards inoculation exploded through the pandemic, touchdown her on the Heart for Countering Digital Hate’s “Disinformation Dozen” record — a bunch of 12 folks researchers say are chargeable for 65% of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. Tenpenny claims her content material was subsequently faraway from Fb, Instagram and different social media web sites. However not less than certainly one of her packages persists: “Glad Hour with Dr. T,” a semiweekly Bible research on Instagram Stay that intermingles religion with inaccurate claims about COVID-19 with QAnon conspiracy theories.
At Bards Fest, Tenpenny in contrast herself to Noah (“all people thought he was a conspiracy theorist, too, till it began to rain”), described getting vaccinated as a “sin” and informed listeners to not “genuflect to the particular person within the white coat,” as a result of “we kneel to God.”
Tenpenny and different presenters usually framed anti-mask and anti-vaccine sentiment as upholding particular person liberties, describing it as “well being freedom” or “medical selection.”
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Bards Fest was only one faith-oriented anti-mask and anti-vaccine rally that convened the final weekend of August. At an occasion in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a nurse serving to set up towards vaccine mandates for medical staff requested the gang to cheer in the event that they beloved America, freedom, “God-given rights” and Jesus. (They roared after each phrase.)
Whereas acknowledging the hazard of COVID-19, the speaker nonetheless alluded to the biblical story of David and Goliath in describing her battle towards vaccine mandates, insisting the U.S. is “in a pandemic of twisted fact, of hate and division, of degrading households and taking God out of our nation.”
She stated her marketing campaign was faraway from the favored crowdfunding web site GoFundMe however seems to have discovered a house on GiveSendGo, which touts itself as “The #1 Christian crowdfunding web site.”
These Christian nationalist themes stay intricately tied to Trump’s presidency and claims that, in keeping with a prolonged presentation at Bards Fest, “the election was stolen” from the previous president. MyPillow CEO Michael Lindell, a frequent purveyor of Christian nationalist rhetoric and longtime distributor of broadly debunked election claims, delivered an hourlong speech through which he informed his personal religion story and criticized Fox Information.
However Bards Fest presenters usually appeared much less concerned about re-litigating Trump’s defeat. As a substitute, many centered their remarks on invigorating a grassroots motion to oppose masks mandates and espouse Christian nationalist values.
“Hey, I like Donald Trump, however I ain’t ready on him,” shouted “Coach” Dave Daubenmire, a onetime public highschool soccer coach who was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union within the Nineteen Nineties following allegations he led his staff in prayer and handed out Scripture to gamers. Daubenmire informed Bards Fest, “We’re going to enter the enemy’s territory and take again what the enemy stole.”
Shortly after Bards Fest, Tenpenny and Daubenmire introduced a brand new joint venture: “The Christian Revolution,” a company that goals to raise $100 million to create “Christian coaching facilities” to protest companies which have donated to Black Lives Matter activists and assist individuals who “converse out towards this international authorities tyranny” — referring to opposition to vaccines and masks mandates.
The Jan. 6 riot loomed massive at Bards Fest. It featured nightly shofar-blowing classes — a observe drawn from the Jewish custom that grew to become widespread at Christian nationalist “Jericho Marches” within the weeks main as much as the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Locke famous in certainly one of his speeches that he was lately named in a doc request filed by the U.S. Home of Representatives committee investigating the riot.
And in his Bards Fest speech, Daubenmire, adorned in his distinctive pink, white and blue cap affixed with a cross, requested the gang if any had been in D.C. on Jan. 6. A number of cheered.
“Why are they arresting these guys nonetheless right this moment? As a result of they don’t need you coming again,” Daubenmire stated, referring to insurrectionists. “They’re afraid you’re gonna get it. They’re afraid you perceive that as Christians, all energy has been given unto us. Now we have all energy. We the folks have all energy.”
Certainly, non secular expression has develop into more and more seen amongst insurrectionists and their allies elsewhere. Couy Griffin, a pastor and founding father of “Cowboys for Trump” who prayed over individuals within the Jan. 6 riot and was later arrested for his involvement that day, is the topic of a latest documentary portraying him as a “political prisoner.” Members of the militant nationalist group Proud Boys have been noticed praying earlier than the breaching of the Capitol, and a few within the Proud Boys Portland chapter have adopted a cross as part of their logo. There are additionally studies of Christian nationalist rhetoric at their gatherings.
Since Jan. 6, people charged within the riot have served as safety for latest rallies organized by Christian musician and anti-COVID-restrictions activist Sean Feucht. The first Modification Praetorian guard, a bunch that has offered safety for QAnon occasions, additionally listed Bards Fest amongst its upcoming occasions.
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These seemingly disparate tendencies swirled collectively at Bards Fest, the place QAnon proponent Kesterson grew visibly emotional as he thanked those that made the trek to St. Louis. After encouraging males to problem their college board and metropolis council members, he referred to the gang as “the remnant” — a reference to the time period’s use within the Bible, the place it’s invoked to explain, amongst different issues, Israelites who survive an Assyrian invasion.
He additionally likened them to the so-called “3%,” a perception in style with right-wing extremists — however challenged by historians — that solely 3% of colonists participated within the American Revolution.
“I’m grateful for each single certainly one of you that hear and have come,” he informed the gang, which was as soon as once more assembled in a gymnasium to keep away from the climate. “That is America. That is our nation. That is the remnant. That is the three%. That is how we take it again.”
Kesterson then bowed his head and prayed, describing these current “as warriors of Christ” and exclaiming to God that “it doesn’t matter what the associated fee in flesh and blood, we is not going to give up this nation, this blessed nation that you just gave us.”