“I would rather be labeled a ‘Christian Nationalist’ than a ‘godless globalist’ any day of the week.”
That’s how Oklahoma pastor and failed U.S. Senate candidate Jackson Lahmeyer responded over the weekend to media reports about him and Christian Nationalism. Speaking at the latest iteration of the ReAwaken America Tour just days after he was included in the PBS Frontline documentary Michael Flynn’s Holy War, Lahmeyer quickly endorsed one of his proposed binary options.
“I will embrace Christian Nationalism because,” he explained, “we are at war within this country. It is a spiritual war between good and evil. And whenever you are faced with evil, you cannot purr like nice, little kittens. You know what you have to do whenever you are faced with evil? You got to roar like a mighty lion!”
Earlier this year, he ran against Sen. James Lankford, arguing the conservative Republican and Baptist minister shouldn’t be in office because he voted to certify President Joe Biden’s presidential win. Lankford initially announced he would vote against certification but changed his mind after being shocked by the violence at the Capitol that disrupted the certification process on Jan. 6, 2021. For Lahmeyer, that vote was an unforgivable sin. Republican voters in Oklahoma disagreed, as Lankford trounced Lahmeyer by a 68% to 26% margin in the primary.
Lahmeyer also sparked headlines by offering “religious exemption” forms for people if they wanted to challenge a vaccine mandate. And he’s become a regular speaker on the ReAwaken America Tour (or RAT for short) as it travels around the country peddling its mix of Christian Nationalism, anti-vaccine rhetoric, and election conspiracies. During his remarks at the latest RAT event in Manheim, Pennsylvania, Lahmeyer also insisted Biden isn’t really president. So, the preacher referred to Biden as “former vice president” and “Brandon” (drawn from a euphemism for cursing Biden).
After one of us (Brian) noted Lahmeyer’s comments about Biden on Twitter during the RAT event, Lahmeyer responded with his own tweet: “It’s true.” And reacting to Brian tweeting Lahmeyer’s embrace of Christian Nationalism, Lahmeyer wrote, “Christian Nationalism > godless globalism.”
His enthusiastic embrace of the term “Christian Nationalist” isn’t unique. We noted the emergence of this trend back in July. But at RAT over the weekend, speakers like Lahmeyer not only wore Christian Nationalism as a badge of honor, but they also attempted to create a false dichotomy as if the only two options are Christian Nationalism or atheism. This new strategy deserves greater attention, especially since it means RAT speakers are attempting to excommunicate a large swath of faithful Christians who reject Christian Nationalism.
For this issue of A Public Witness, we tuned into the latest RAT event so you wouldn’t have to watch. We’ll show you how Lahmeyer and others are trying to push Christians to accept Christian Nationalism as the only alternative other than atheism. Then we’ll look at the madness of their false gospel and the response needed from Christians outraged by such cynical logic.
A False Dichotomy
Early on the first of the two days of the Pennsylvania RAT, organizer Clay Clark set up a binary similar to what Lahmeyer would later suggest.
“What is a Christian Nationalist? I think the opposition to a Christian Nationalist, I guess the other direction would be an atheistic globalist,” Clark said. “That’s your option: I mean if it’s Christian Nationalist or an atheistic globalist.”
A little later, Michael Flynn showed up on stage to second Clark’s false dichotomy. A former military general implicated in helping foment the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, Flynn is the headliner at each RAT event as he’s pushed the myth of the U.S. being a Christian nation and urged pastors to preach from the Constitution more than from the Bible. After the recent PBS Frontline documentary on his holy war rhetoric at RAT and other events, he took to the stage in Pennsylvania both angry at being called a “Christian Nationalist” and willing to accept the term.
“Like Clay said earlier, you know, what’s the opposite of a Christian National? I mean, I’m a Christian, I’m a Catholic, by the way,” Flynn said. “I believe in God and I love my country. So, if that identifies me in that box that these people try to put us in, you know, fine. The opposite of that is being what? An atheist and a globalist.”
Flynn then claimed that one wouldn’t “find an atheist in a foxhole” and that all the veterans in the room know that.
Pastor Todd Coconato, who hosts a radio show and predicts that Donald Trump will be president again, joined Clark and Flynn in claiming people have just two options from which to pick.
“We are in a spiritual battle. And they’re using these weaponized terms now, just like they used the term ‘conspiracy theory’ and all these other terms. You know this new one, ‘Christian Nationalist,’” Coconato said. “What’s the opposite of a Christian Nationalist? It’s an atheist globalist. So, what if we started using that term? How would people like to be called that? When did it become bad in the United States of America to be a Christian? That’s a hill I’m willing to die on.”
Similarly, Thomas Renz, an attorney who rose to prominence filing suits challenging COVID vaccines, created a vision of either embracing Christian Nationalism or supporting a genocidal communist regime.
“This tour’s been bashed a lot, calling it ‘Christian Nationalist.’ I’m going to stand up in front of every one of you right now and announce before God and this country that I am a proud, hard-core Christian Nationalist,” Renz declared to cheers and applause before then suggesting the options were to adopt Christian Nationalism or support China and “kill Uyghurs.”
“What’s wrong with Christianity? What’s wrong with nationalism? What’s wrong with being a Christian Nationalist?” he added. “I stand for the things I just talked about. And if you don’t like it, go to hell!”
Not to be outdone, Mark Burns, a Pentecostal preacher in South Carolina who lost a primary for a U.S. House seat this year while running against an incumbent Republican, also embraced the term.
“They called me a ‘Christian Nationalist.’ Listen, I’m a proud Christian Nationalist!” he declared to applause. “Glory to God. Are there any other Christian Nationalists that are here in Pennsylvania who believe without a shadow of a doubt that this is a God nation? Help me, Holy Ghost. This is a Jesus nation! You will never take God out of America!”
Framing the options as Christian Nationalism on one side and atheism and globalism on the other, the RAT pack also gave a clear picture of what they mean by Christian Nationalism. And it’s an ungodly worldview.
While passing off Christian Nationalism as orthodox belief and lumping all others (including Pope Francis) under the banner of atheism is an extreme rhetorical move, it was far from the only outlandish argument made from the RAT stage in Pennsylvania.
The second day of the event included a prayer that cast Trump as a divine agent, imploring God to “surround him, Father, with none of this deep-state trash, none of this RINO trash. You’ll surround him — people that you pick with your own mighty hand. In the name of Jesus.”
That message was echoed by others. Claiming to have received a message from God, self-proclaimed prophet Julie Green told RAT attendees that the Lord said that “you can’t stop my son, who is the rightful president.” She continued her declaration to applause: “He is on his way back, and how he takes his position back on center stage you will never see that coming because you won’t see me coming. And I am with him.” Later, Amanda Grace, another self-proclaimed prophet compared the treatment of the Trump family to the crucifixion of Jesus.
In addition to speakers claiming the 2020 election was rigged and that Trump is still president, the crowd also cheered for an anti-vaccine doctor recently released from prison for her actions at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Controversial pastor Greg Locke called the pope a “pimp” who has “prostituted the church.” Preacher and congressional hopeful Mark Burns labeled Nancy Pelosi a “demon.” There were also prayers against “demon satellites” and promises that the “angel of death” would visit Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, John Roberts, Lindsey Graham, and both Bill and Hillary Clinton by year’s end (we’re not sure if someone has alerted the Secret Service about this threat). Also on the eclectic alleged divine hitlist were Bill Gates, former political pundit Chris Matthews, and George Soros.
Legitimating this bizarre rhetoric was the presence of Eric Trump who, as he regularly does at RAT events, dialed up his father to speak to the crowd. The former president told the attendees, “We love you all.”
Clay Clark, the event organizer, presents RAT not as a political event but as a religious revival — a remark hard to square with his suggestion over the weekend that Michelle Obama is actually a man.
“My number one goal is to lead people to Jesus,” Clark told Annie Gowen of the Washington Post. “When you start paying attention you realize: ‘Wow, there is a God and there is Satan, I should probably pick a side. It’s bigger than Republican or Democrat.”
“I always tell people that come to the event … that I allow the speakers to speak,” he added. “I encourage [the listeners] to ask themselves: ‘Is it fact based?’ ‘Is it biblical?’”
Like many religious crusades, the events end — after all the misinformation, militant rhetoric, and demonization of opponents — with an altar call. At the Pennsylvania event, RAT leaders claimed more than 400 people responded and were baptized.
Organizers say more than 4,000 people have been baptized into the movement at the 16 RAT events across the country over the past 18 months. Gowen of the Washington Post wrote about the baptisms at the most recent one.
“After former president Donald Trump called in to energize the troops, more than 100 people lined up to be baptized,” Gowen wrote. “Now they were waiting to be baptized in a black plastic animal trough, leaving the water soaked and shivering — newly cleansed soldiers in their war for America.”
Still, Clark isn’t optimistic about his mission.
“I don’t think America is savable,” he declared to Sam Kestenbaum of Rolling Stone. “I think all the Christians get slaughtered. I’ve read the whole Bible, I’ve read what happens.”
A More Faithful Option
Clark’s apocalyptic thinking reveals the danger the ReAwaken America Tour poses to church and state. Unable to accept cultural trends and election outcomes they disagree with, speakers and attendees are more interested in destroying democratic institutions than changing their minds or working within the system for change.
They promote the kind of tribalism that political scientist Christopher Beem labels as democracy’s “vice” and refuse to practice the virtues required to sustain democratic life.
“A society agrees and affirms that certain habits and behaviors are important, valuable, and help us understand who we are,” Beem wrote in his new book The Seven Democratic Virtues. “If some part of society does not accept this agreement and does not agree that democracy is worth preserving … then it is not clear how you have a society at all.”
The danger of democratic disintegration is exacerbated when tribalism is elevated from partisan squabbles to religious warfare. We’ve documentedat length how such demonization of opponents makes finding compromise impossible and justifies violence towards others because they are perceived as the embodiment of evil. ReAwaken America speakers trade in this devilish rhetoric, while simultaneously seeking to equate Christianity with Christian Nationalism.
“Mike Flynn and Clay Clark appeared to finally embrace the label of ‘Christian Nationalist’ from the stage of their anti-democracy, misinformation ReAwaken America roadshow,” Rev. Nathan Empsall, executive director of Faithful America, told us after the RAT event in Pennsylvania. “Their dishonest claim that you are either a right-wing Christian Nationalist or an ‘atheistic globalist’ reduces and insults the beauty and diversity of the Christian faith, ignoring the tens of millions of American Christians who have figured out how to be both faithful and patriotic without embracing a hateful and authoritarian political agenda.”
Similarly, Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, told us it’s inaccurate to suggest there are only two options. In fact, BJC has literally led the effort since 2019 to model a different way: Christians Against Christian Nationalism.
“The false idea that Christians in the United States must choose between embracing Christian Nationalism or abandoning their faith will ring untrue to the nearly 30,000 Christians who have joined us in the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign,” Tyler explained. “We know that we can be faithful Christians and patriotic Americans without blurring the lines between those two identities. It’s because of our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ that we resist Christian Nationalism.”
The rhetoric on display at RAT makes clear that an awareness of the threat posed by Christian Nationalism is growing. That’s why so many espousing Christian Nationalist ideals are trying to reappropriate the concept for their own purposes. Still, redefining Christianity to include only those who subscribe to Christian Nationalism takes that effort to a new and even more dangerous level.
The RAT gospel demands you believe that Donald Trump is God’s chosen son, Democrats are the devil’s agents, an angel of death is targeting American public officials, COVID-19 is a hoax, and various other conspiratorial and ludicrous claims are somehow true. If our culture comes to equate following Jesus with such militant Christian Nationalism, then few will be open to considering the abundant life offered by the gospel.
There’s no greater threat to Christianity or democracy in the United States than the word that goes forth from the RAT stage. It may help accomplish their partisan desires, but it only harms the purposes of God. If our critique makes us “atheists” in the eyes of Clay Clark, Michael Flynn, and others, so be it. We’re certainly not adherents of their religion.