Spreading Post-Conviction Violence in Jesus’s Hijacked Name - Word&Way

Spreading Post-Conviction Violence in Jesus’s Hijacked Name

After Donald Trump’s historic conviction, many of his supporters are predictably yet tragically began threatening violence.

Rev. Nathan Empsall

While there is still much unknown about what happens next, now that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is also the first ex-president criminally convicted by a jury of his peers, the public can be sure of two things.

First, leaders of the MAGA movement are already using the felony conviction to grow their threat of political violence, subverting the rule of law. This is particularly troubling for states like Michigan, where militias have gained strength and threatened violence before.

Second, Trump, his fellow MAGA Republican politicians, and a cabal of far-right televangelists and self-proclaimed prophets are co-opting and corrupting religion to help increase the threat.

That’s what was on display in the Detroit suburbs earlier this month, when the high-profile, pro-Trump ReAwaken America Tour rolled into Sterling Heights, Michigan. The ReAwaken America Tour is well known to many Word&Way readers, and provides an unfortunate showcase for what we can expect to see elsewhere in the months ahead.

The tour, hosted at Grace Christian Church and headlined by disgraced General Michael Flynn and Eric Trump, has stopped at megachurches and other venues across the country for three years, always speaking to crowds of thousands. It is a multi-day event that mixes baptism and praise music with angry election denial and QAnon conspiracy theories.

Tour organizers and speakers, including the leaders of “Pastors for Trump,” misuse both God and country as props in an insatiable quest to gain power and wealth for themselves and their fellow conservative evangelical Christians.

Michigan Advance, a statewide news source, reports that at the Sterling Heights stop, “hands were raised and hymns were sung at the revival meeting-style event calling for donations for conservative causes. Speakers said Democrats had declared ‘war on God’ and called for bringing back Donald Trump, who they said was God’s chosen president, to the White House.”

This abuse of faith and patriotism is called Christian Nationalism. Christian Nationalism is not a religion, but rather a toxic political ideology. It is defined as merging religious and national identities, proclaiming that only conservative Christians count as true Americans. They demand a warped version of “religious freedom” only for themselves, erasing freedoms for moderate and progressive Christians, churches of color, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and other American communities.

Christian Nationalism poses multiple threats to the common good, but perhaps none are more dangerous than its misuse of Christianity to incite violence, its left hand claiming to follow the Prince of Peace while its right sows division and bloodshed.

Sometimes ReAwaken America’s call to arms is overt. Pastor Mark Burns has threatened elected officials with God’s wrath, and told the crowd that in order to take political power, “Bible says the violent take it… and we take it by force.” Meanwhile, Scott “the Patriot Streetfighter” McKay, a pro-Hitler bodybuilder, has spouted off rhetoric about pastors “putting balls and bullets” into doctors who support vaccines.

Tour speakers can also be more subtle in their encouragement of division and hate, building a permission structure for political violence by demonizing their opponents and trying to justify their lies with Scripture. For example, emcee Clay Clark has told supporters that they’re all on “Team Jesus,” while those who stand in their way are “Team Satan.” In Michigan this month, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani aligned President Biden with America’s historical enemies Hitler and Stalin, even accusing Biden of taking “God out of schools and government to establish loyalty only to him” and claiming that the president wants to “get those kids early.”

A boat billboard sponsored by Faithful America and Christians Against Christian Nationalism travels around downtown Miami Ahead of Michael Flynn’s speech at the Trump National Doral Miami stop of the ReAwaken America Tour in May of 2023. (Faithful America)

Speakers also get their point across by glorifying previous examples of violence. Flynn has routinely been joined on the tour by several other prominent figures who helped incite the deadly January 6, 2021, insurrection, including Roger Stone, Mike Lindell, and Patrick Byrne. Sometimes they even share the stage with some of the domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol, bringing them up to church altars to portray them as political prisoners and martyrs for God’s cause.

When speakers raise the stakes to apocalyptic levels, downplay past examples of violence, claim that everything they do is anointed by God (thus presumably justifying any tactics), and mix in talk of the Second Amendment, they don’t need to give an explicit call to violence. The audience can then connect the dots on their own.

Throughout history, whenever Christianity has been perverted to support the empire, the result has been authoritarianism and violence. These lies and threats should have no place in God’s church, and they are a critical danger to our democracy.

But we also know from history that when violent authoritarian political movements weaponize religion, they ultimately fail. The current Christian Nationalist movement here in the United States will fail too. If enough people continue to speak out and reject the violence and lies spread in Jesus’s hijacked name, and if we Christians make it clear that Christian Nationalism does not speak for us, then we can help expedite its collapse.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has noted that one of the best deterrents to political violence is to have trained faith leaders as poll watchers, calling them “the most potent and remarkable form of de-escalation available to us.” Thanks to the good work of Faiths United to Save Democracy, there will indeed be many poll chaplains this fall — and democracy can always use more.

Across the country, local Christians have been standing up to Flynn and his insurrectionist friends. More than 54,000 people have spoken out against ReAwaken America with Faithful America, the group I lead, including more than 3,200 Michigan residents. When the tour visited Branson, Missouri, we held a joint press conference with Word&Way and local pastors to denounce its warping of our faith.

In fact, the Los Angeles Times cited the public pressure mobilized by Faithful America, along with our partners at such other organizations as Word&Way, Christians Against Christian Nationalism, and Vote Common Good, as a reason why tour organizers have had increasing difficulty securing venues for their grift.

For this is who Christians are called to be: Followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, standing with the exploited and loving all our neighbors without exception — not false prophets who use violence and misinformation to ignore juries and consolidate power only for themselves.


The Rev. Nathan Empsall is executive director of Faithful America, an online community of nearly 200,000 grassroots Christians putting faith into action for love and social justice, as well as an Episcopal priest.