On Friday, a group of religious leaders met outside First Baptist Church in Batavia, New York, to denounce the arrival of General Michael Flynn’s ReAwaken America Tour. Hosted by Flynn, Eric Trump, Clay Clark, Mike Lindell, and other notable conservative figures, the tour arrived earlier that day at nearby Cornerstone Church for a two-day event.
What made this different from previous events put on by the group Faithful America is that the leaders speaking out against Christian nationalism came from both within and outside of Christianity. Local Presbyterian pastor Roula Alkhouri served as the moderator for Rev. Nathan Empsall from Faithful America, Rev. Dr. Shiela Campbell McCullough from the New York State Council of Churches, Rabbi Drorah Setel from Temple Emanu-El, pastor Doug Pagitt from Vote Common Good, Sareer Fazili from Pittsford Youth Services and the Barakah Muslim Charity, and Rev. Jennifer Butler from Faith in Public Life.
Each of these speakers echoed what New York Attorney General Letitia James warned of earlier this month — that the ReAwaken America Tour promotes extremist rhetoric that has the potential to lead to violence. The tour has been making periodic stops at churches across the United States for over a year promoting the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, COVID-19 conspiracy theories, as well as antisemitic and Islamophobic talking points.
According to the religious leaders participating in the Faithful America event, what ties all these things together is Christian nationalism. Scholars define this term as a cultural framework that promotes the fusion of Christianity with American civic life. Christian nationalism fundamentally includes idealizing nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divinely sanctioned authoritarian control.
The Christian nationalism promoted by the ReAwaken America Tour “has as its central tenet a belief in Christian domination over, and at the expense of, all others,” according to Rev. Dr. Shiela Campbell McCullough. “In truth,” she continued, “Christian nationalism is an anti-God, anti-Christian, and anti-American toxic movement designed to deceive its current and prospective members through the creation of a narrative that sounds like Christianity, thereby masking its actual agenda.”
Rabbi Drorah Setel said that she grew up in an America where she was told that “it could never happen here.” The United States was presented to her as a safe refuge with a history of successful racial and religious integration. “For many of us,” she noted, “that was something we believed until quite recently.” She emphasized that no place, including America, is immune from forms of othering that lead to fear and violence.
Sareer Fazili underlined that “it’s not just the church that is being threatened by Christian nationalism. Non-Christians, the broader community — fortunately for us we all know that a flourishing democracy needs us all.” He added that “as a Muslim, I know a little bit about having your religion taken over a little bit by the loudest of the loud and the worst of the worst.”
The protest of Christian nationalism is something much larger than just this event, according to Rev. Nathan Empsall. He pointed to the work of multiple groups such as his own Faithful America organization or the Baptist Joint Committee’s Christians Against Christian Nationalism initiative that have promoted petitions and public statements signed by over 60,000 members of every major Christian denomination.
Though many of the warnings about distortions of the gospel and threats to America were quite dire, the event concluded with a literal note of hope. Everyone in attendance joined together in singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” which includes the lyrics “let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.” This represented not only a call for democratic pluralism but, as Rev. Jennifer Butler put it, “faith that is supposed to be this beautiful vision of living together in abundance.”