The Reawaken America Tour keeps popping up in news articles. MSNBC yesterday published an opinion column by Anthea Butler that says such rallies “have served as ground zero for organizing designed to encourage political contributions and election fervor among conservative Christians. The rallying call is the big lie that not only claims that Trump won in 2020, but that every election is compromised.”
She quotes Steve Bannon on a World Prayer Network call as saying that “what we need is poll workers. … If we want to win, your congregations have to be in the counting rooms and prepared to have those knife fights.” Their website claims to show people how to “vote biblically” – not that “knife fights” seems like a biblical values – but this organized effort wants more than that. Butler says that “Evangelical churches and large religio-political rallies have served as ground zero for organizing designed to encourage political contributions and election fervor among conservative Christians. The rallying call is the big lie that not only claims that Trump won in 2020, but that every election is compromised.”
Turning Point USA represents students and young adults in this movement. Their founding mission focused on educating students about freedom, free markets, and limited government … all traditional conservative values. However, they have joined forces with the Christian Nationalism movement, creating Turning Point Faith where their home page says, “Together we can restore America’s biblical values. We’re on a mission to engage, equip, and empower Christians to change the trajectory of our nation.”
Today’s movement recruiting Christians to go to the polls exploded with the Christian Coalition, founded by Pat Robertson in the 1980s, and under the leadership of Ralph Reed. Until the last few years, their efforts focused on producing voting guides for “values voters,” ostensibly non-partisan but what everyone understood to be a checklist for right-wing conservative policies promoted by the Republican party. As a midwestern Baptist pastor in those years, I experienced the transformation of Christian “values voters” into Republican-only voters.
That was not enough, though, for leaders of this movement. As Anthea Butler says in her column: “No longer is it enough to just get voters out to the polls or to pray. These organizations are designed to steer voters to their specific candidates, encourage them to work the polls and watch out for bogus voting. Republican candidates for office are even showing up at these large events.”
My experience at the Reawaken America Rally in Batavia, NY supports her description of the event:
ReAwaken rallies, which have been happening across the country since last year, have combined anti-vaccine messages, political action and religious services in order to reach their faithful. The Aug. 12 rally in Batavia, New York, featured Eric Trump and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Held in a tent on the grounds of Cornerstone Church, the rally included signs for Republican candidate Mario Fratto. A considerable amount of attention was given to New York Attorney General Letitia James, who had expressed concern to the tour’s organizers that the rally could lead to racial violence. At the rally, one of Trump’s former pastors on the stump, Mark Burns, prayed of James, “If she does not repent and turn back to you, show the world what happens to those that come against your servants.”
A “values voters” movement has now become a Christian Nationalist movement, intent not on getting conservative Christians to the polls to vote for Republican candidates, but that now seems determined to undermine trust in our elections, to demonize all who disagree with them, and to make the polls a battleground – in Steve Bannon’s words, a “knife fight.” I grieve for what has happened among Christians and in our nation, and I am determined to do what I can to change it.