A Comedian and a Doctor

Two characteristics of the Reawaken America Tour in Batavia NY were (1) a focus on conspiracies and (2) demonizing people. The dozens of speakers included high-profile people like Gen. Michael Flynn, Eric Tump, and Mike Lindell (“the pillow guy”), as well as preachers with a national “presence,” self-proclaimed prophets, business owners, attorneys, medical doctors, even a comedian who was a Saturday Night Live regular in the 1990s.

The comedian Jim Breuer (https://www.jimbreuer.com/home)  – who has also hosted specials on VH1 and Comedy Central and is on tour right now – was on stage because he “has decided not to perform at any venues that require the RNA-modifying nano-technology COVID-19 vaccines” (according to the program). Like most current comedians, he was rude and crude and dismissive of people. How that behavior can be considered Christian seems strange to me, but he was not alone in speaking that way at this event. Even worse, though, he demonized people like Bill Gates and Barack Obama whose faces were on the “Great Reset” graphic behind all the speakers – that being a major conspiracy at this event. At times, what he said was subtle, and I almost missed it. For instance, he talked about people with faith and morals “who can think for themselves,” and said these people reject the vaccine shots, as if people who do not are without such “faith and morals.” You can get a sense of his comedy routine in this video and of how the people there felt about it in the comments below the video. At the event, the response was a lot of laughter and shouts of affirmation and long ovations. (CLICK ON THE “WATCH ON YOUTUBE” LINK TO SEE IT)

One of the doctors, Jim Meehan, MD, spoke on “How to Fight Back Against Medical Corruption.” The program described him as a “leading Oklahoma medical doctor who has successfully treated 4,000 COVID-19 patients with 0 deaths.” He is an ophthalmologist MD, now licensed for general preventative medicine and nutrition, who also runs a company committed to “healing without harming your body with harsh chemicals or pharmaceuticals laden with negative side effects.” https://www.meehanmd.com/ His approach to holistic health, however, has been accompanied with anti-vaccination activism. He was sued by a pediatrician in 2017 for his aggressive attack on her for giving vaccines to children (https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/anti-vax-message-gets-meaner-social-media-n809166). And in September, 2020, he spoke at a state Public Health Committee hearing to say that “masks are ineffective at slowing the spread of the virus and that people of color need more vitamin D in their diets to prevent them from contracting COVID-19.” (https://www.readfrontier.org/stories/thehead-of-an-oklahoma-public-health-committee-invited-anti-vax-doctors-to-talk-with-lawmakers-about-the-coronavirus/)

As Dr. Meehan spoke at the event, he claimed that “friends and family are dying because of vaccines” and called Dr. Fauci a “domestic enemy.” He referred to the government’s efforts to control COVID with masks and vaccines as “luciferian” and said “they are coming for your children.” As with many speakers, he combined a wide array of his ideas as he continued: “They’re buying the fraudulent research they want. … They’re going after the children to control us. … They’re going to do something this fall to shut down elections. … They’re using COVID vaccines as bioweapons unleashed on us.” And at times, he used scripture quotes to “support” his ideas about all of this.

Among other ideas, he suggested putting Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on a science board to “help work against the deep state.” In 2019, before COVID, three Kennedys wrote an article in Politico where they said “he is part of a misinformation campaign that’s having heartbreaking—and deadly—consequences” because of his anti-vaccination stance. Numerous articles have been written about his high-profile opposition to masks and vaccines since then. You can read for yourself some of his ongoing work in this area on his Twitter feed – https://twitter.com/RobertKennedyJr?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor and his Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/rfkjr.

I do not doubt that people like Jim Breuer and Dr. Meehan are Christian, as they claim, in their hearts and minds. What troubles me as a fellow Christian is how that faith can be used to demonize human beings and spread disinformation and lies through conspiracy theories that cause fear and harm the lives of so many people.

Meet Mel K

In the early afternoon of the first day of the ReAwaken America Tour in Batavia, NY, Mel K came to the stage. I had never heard of her, but the program described her much as her website does (https://themelkshow.com): “Mel K is a devoted lover of truth, facts, history, God, and America….focusing full time on exposing truth, uncovering hidden history…to inform the public of the embedded forces geopolitically and within America that are hell bent on a long planned One World Government where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will be replaced with surveillance, compliance, conformity, and control.”

She began with this – “JFK said there was a plot to enslave everyone in America, which is why he was killed….Trump tried to finish the job of exposing it.” I was even more startled by her claim that “David Rockefeller is behind a decades-long plot [to establish] a one-world government” – especially since he died at age101 in 2017, assuming she meant David Rockerfeller, Jr. Perhaps his lifelong friendships with people in the intelligence, banking, and foreign affairs communities – and his advocacy of political and economic cooperation among nations – is the reason. She also named the World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund, and the Council on Foreign Relations as part of this grand conspiracy. Mel K went on to explain this chart to us:

With the limited time each speaker had, Mel K moved to wrap up her presentation, with much of it accompanied by passionate amens and applause. [President] Biden “was installed by the ultra-wealthy,” and they are trying to divide us. Biden’s plan to Build Back Better, she said, is meant to “destroy what is.” George Soros is somehow involved in all of this and is “trying to destroy America and us.” And to a standing ovation, she ended with these lines: “If you’re a liberal … the army of the left … you are fighting against America. There will never be peace until these people are destroyed.”

If you have 11 minutes, and want to hear another presentation, click here and scroll down to Grand Rapids, MI and watch Mel K speaking at this tour event in August 2021. … https://themelkshow.com/articles/must-see-mel-k-speeches/

Meet Mark Burns

Today Heather Cox Richardson wrote “the current-day Republican Party needs chaos,” and the Lincoln Project tweeted that what remains is “an authoritarian nationalist cult dedicated only to Donald Trump.” (https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/august-16-2022?utm_source=email) Chaos and Cult was my experience at the Reawaken America Tour.

Over the next few weeks, I will introduce you to some of the speakers. Their influence often extends far beyond their thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. For instance, Mark Burns was labeled by Time Magazine as “Donald Trump’s Top Pastor” (https://time.com/trump-pastor/), and he has appeared on a wide array of news networks. (See https://www.markburns.org/ for more.)

When he stepped onto the stage, his rhetoric immediately cast him as either a “true believer” in the cause and mission of this tour or a consummate actor. “I am here to declare war on every demonic power in the state of New York,” he began. “We are here to take over for the Lord Jesus Christ.” He pivoted throughout his 15-minute spot from using specific Christian language one might hear in some pulpits to political and culture war topics.

“I’m tired of grown men wearing a dress and going into women’s bathrooms,” he shouted – and got a standing ovation. “They are using race to divide us.” Cheers. “They hate you because they hate Jesus.” He spoke about Martin Luther King, Jr. to (mis)use him to call the crowd to engage in a new civil disobedience movement aimed at taking over the country because “they’re trying to take God out of everything.”

From there he jumped to repeating the false claims of this movement like “a stolen election” and “The Democrats messed up when they raided Trump’s home,” and the boos filled the air. Then … “Do you believe Joe Biden is the president?” … then called for Biden to be arrested for treason and led the crowd in chants for Trump to be president now. Watch this clip from that moment, posted by Right Wing Watch:

This tour has attracted tens of thousands of people to multiple events, yet the tour itself is but one slice of a movement threatening our diverse, democratic nation. The religion espoused at these events does not represent mainstream Christianity. What they call “a biblical worldview” does not represent my understanding as a Christian minister of our scriptures and faith traditions. The movement has already amassed enough legislative and judicial power to begin a reversal of the movement toward civil and human rights so many have worked for. It must be stopped.

What comes out of our mouths

A frequent question I asked myself for two days was, “How can they say that?” Not just the conspiracy theories and proven lies, but the way they demean and threaten people. In the Scriptures frequently quoted at the Reawaken America event, Jesus says “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” and “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart.” (Matthew 12:34; 15:18) With that in mind, I want to simply quote some words I heard.

Marty Grisham  (www.LoudMouthPrayer.org)

Covid mandates are a “decree of death.”)

[President[ “Biden is an evil, usurping man.”

Pastor Mark Burns (https://www.markburns.org/)

“They hate you because they hate Jesus.”

“We are here to take over for the Lord Jesus Christ.”

[They are] “using race to divide us.”

“I’m tired of grown men wearing a dress and going into women’s bathrooms.” (That got a standing ovation.)

“They’re trying to take God out of everything.”

Kash Patel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kash_Patel)

“We will do to them what they did to us.”

“Corruption at the highest levels of our government … Government gangsters at the DOJ and FBI… the Clinton Cartel”

Christie Hutcherson (https://wffa.win/about-us/about-me/)

“This administration is working with drug cartels and terrorists … and this Administration has murder, blood, and rape on its hands.”

“Trying to destroy America and make it socialist, communist.”

Mel K (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-mel-k-show/id1587492577)

“If you’re a liberal [you are in] the army of the left fighting against America … There will never be peace until these people are destroyed.”

This language is a sampling from the first day – and does not include multiple conspiracies and easy-to-prove lies. A movement that calls itself Christian is rightly judged by the words of the one they call “Lord.” So … what would Jesus say about this? What did he say? As a Christian minister, I think we can set his words alongside their words and discern what seems to be in their hearts toward people like me. And I don’t like it.

What happened at the Reawaken America Tour?

For eighteen hours over two days, I listened to the speakers at the Reawaken America Tour in Batavia, NY – a new one about every 15 minutes with no breaks. I took breaks, of course, and wandered through the carnival-like atmosphere of the grounds. Under the big tent, it was unapologetic Christian Nationalism with every speaker talking about God and Jesus, about being Christians in a Christian nation – and pleading with the 3,500 people there to “save America now.”

The formal title of this tour is “The Great ReAwakening vs the Great Reset.” One speaker used an old term for Upstate New York as “the burned-over district,” referring to the 2nd Great Awakening 200 years ago when people expected the fire of God’s Spirit to set the country ablaze with a new spirit. This crowd prayed for exactly that – for America to be a truly “Christian nation” again. Christian Nationalism to the core.

Unlike spiritual awakenings in the history of this country, this movement focuses on who is in control of the nation’s government, indeed who wants to control the world. Among the multiple conspiracy theories espoused was one they call “the Great Reset,” where “they” (always the nebulous “they”) used the pandemic – government-mandated restrictions and vaccines – to test “their” ability to control people everywhere. The cry of “freedom” was everywhere. “We” will not let “them” take away our freedoms.

In what sometimes felt like an alternate universe, I listened to the constantly-repeated claims of a stolen election and an illegitimate president – and how Trump will return. Joe Biden (they never called him our president) was called a traitor, along with everyone who stole the election and installed him as president.

Christian Nationalism threatens our democracy by calling for “real Americans”/Christians (only from within their “biblical worldview”) gaining control of every level of government, all while saying “we the people” will take “our nation back.” The rhetoric and “jokes” and casual references to specific groups of people all made clear who does not belong – LGBTQ, Jews, BLM, liberals, Democrats, for instance.

Many speakers challenged the charge against them of promoting white supremacy and violence, pointing out that a third of the dozens of speakers are Black (although 95% of the audience was white) and that there was no violence in and around the event (although there were personal bodyguards and armed security). However, the myth of a Christian nation, chosen by God (historically controlled by white men) dominated the whole event. The idea of systemic racism and white supremacy is anathema to this movement. Only individual responsibility matters, and racism only exists (in their minds) if an individual consciously hates a person of another color. They also denied that they encourage violence, even though speakers regularly used the rhetoric of warfare and enemies and “the mission.” And the main speaker and organizer was always referred to as “the general” (Gen. Michael Flynn). It was not overt, but it was implicit throughout.

In the coming weeks, I will post about my experience at this event, with quotes, details, and reflections – and what people who recognize the threat can do to challenge it.

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It’s fear, not hate

A 40-year movement now called Christian Nationalism threatens democracy around the world. Especially dominant in U.S. politics in the past few years, this movement endangers our future as one nation. Many people opposed to it see it as hate-filled, but I believe it is driven by fear. And many people drawn into its influence are motivated not by hate, but by fear – although fear can drive people into hate. Here is one definition of it:

“Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.” (https://www.christiansagainstchristiannationalism.org/statement)

As a Baptist minister for 50 years, I am especially opposed to the movement’s rejection of the separation of church and state. Almost since the arrival of European colonists, “Christians” tried to establish their version of the religion as the basis for law and culture – just as Europeans had done for centuries – and the founders of this nation rejected that. The first amendment made it a constitutional principle.

Many Christians today are afraid. They fear losing the culture and nation they thought we were – although in reality we never were. Many see the establishment of our laws and government on the basis of their version of Christianity as the best way forward for the whole nation. We are a diverse nation, though, and no single religion or group of people has the right or the power to do that. The growing power of Christian Nationalism must be stopped.

Fear is the opposite of love, not hate. Only love / compassion can drive out the fear that motivates people in this movement. At the top levels of leadership, it is about money and power, but the majority of people caught up in the movement are driven by fear of losing what they believe is “right.”

While my gut wants to stop this movement any way we can, my heart says the only we can turn many people away from the movement is through compassion, respect, and nonviolence.

Click hear to learn more …. and I will keep writing about it.

What can we do?

The question on all our minds …. what can we do? We can pray and no doubt have prayed. We can “talk” or “argue” on social media, and we do. But what else can we DO?

After every tragic shooting, whatever the cause of it, we ask the same question. Time to decide, to work on a solution, to get something done about easy access to guns, to make it harder to get a gun than to get Sudafed or a wheelchair.

I doubt there are any new ideas about what to do. The best one is to license guns, just as we license cars. The 2nd amendment gives the right for states to have a “well-regulated militia,” giving citizens a right “to keep and bear arms” for that purpose. Until recent years, that was the common legal understanding rather than the idea that individuals have a “human right” or “God-given right” to own guns strictly for their own purposes. There is no constitutional, legal impediment to requiring a process to test, license, and insure gun ownership. Here’s the proposal I think is realistic:

  1. PASS A TEST: Tests would be designed for different categories of weapons, corresponding to different levels of licensing. The testing process would require background checks and a waiting period before getting a license.
  2. CARRY A LICENSE: Every person in possession of any category of firearm would be legally required to carry a license proving their legal right and ability to own and use that firearm.
  3. PURCHASE INSURANCE: Liability insurance, corresponding to the category of each firearm, would be required with the license before purchasing or acquiring ownership of the weapon.

Is this a compromise? Yes. – Banning guns will never happen in this country, even “military-style” weapons, but enacting legal requirements for ownership of firearms to protect the lives of people of all ages and color could be done.

It’s time to act. Keep praying, but take action. Do something now!

A Gospel for Today

For today – as in this day, this moment. Most of Scripture speaks about this life, not a life beyond this world. The gospel is not primarily about what happens after we die, but what happens while we live in this world.

When the Bible uses the word “salvation,” it means one or more of these five things – freedom, healing, justice, compassion, and life. We can say much more about each one, and I will have more to say, but here is a quick glimpse:

Freedom from our “enemies,” sometimes human, sometimes spiritual. God delivered us from our enemies, the Hebrew scriptures often say. We have been set free from the power of sin, the apostle Paul says.

Healing, not only from physical sickness or infirmity, but healing from a “sickness of soul,” to use older language – and healing as “being whole,” to use more current language.

Justice for the poor and oppressed – restorative justice and not retributive justice – justice not in the sense of vengeance, but justice that restores us to live as God desires.

Compassion, according to Marcus Borg, is Jesus’ answer to holiness (to a holiness code that shows little mercy). Jesus had compassion on the crowds and showed us a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Life – abundant life (and eternal) – life we have entered into already that is given us by our Creator – life lived in wisdom according to God’s desires.

Much more to come!

One word

What one word do we find in almost every book of the Bible? – Love!

What do Jesus and Paul say is the most important thing? – Love!

Jesus said that “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” … “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. … And …. Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40 – and see Mark 12:28-31)

Paul quoted four of the 10 Commandments, then said: “and whatever other command there may be, [all] are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)

The writer of the first letter of John said that “all who live in love live in God and God in them” and that “perfect love drives out all fear.” (See 1 John 4)

If we see all of Scripture through the lens of love, we will understand and interpret it from the heart of God, for God is love.

“Can It Be?”

Imagine who might have been at Bethlehem the night Jesus was born – people beyond the stories in Matthew and Luke. Each story re-imagines the Christmas story from the perspective of their own lives. You can find all four stories here. (By Jimmy Reader  © 2021)

I’ve seen too much in my life, but never anything like this. I’ve been a Roman soldier since I was a youth and have served Caesar all over the world. I’m not sure I believe in any god, but what is happening at this moment … well, if there is a god, this must be the work of that god.

It’s noon in this barren, rocky, sun-drenched land, but a darkness has covered us like a heavy, smothering blanket. Then the lightning blinds us, and the thunder makes us deaf for the moment. Only an occasional wail or moan interrupts the almost total silence among the crowds surrounding this hilltop.

I can remember only one other moment in my life when silence itself seemed overwhelming. How long has it been? 25 years? 30? Maybe 33 years ago now? The memory of that night crept into my dreams often for many years, but it has been a long time since I’ve thought of it.

I was just a young soldier then, taking orders from everyone, assigned to outposts and the edges of civilization – or so it seemed at the time. Now I give the orders to a hundred men who do whatever I tell them. That night I was on duty at a small village not far from here, but it seemed like the edge of nowhere to me. I had come recently from Rome where I grew up – the city that rules the world. And there I was on my first tour of duty, walking the edges of the village to be sure there would be no trouble.

Caesar had decided that everyone in the world had to be counted so we could be sure to demand enough taxes from people all over the world – even from this dreadful place they call Judea. And even this tiny place was now filled with people who had to return to the town their families were from for generations. Houses were turned into what they called “inns” and they were all full. People were being turned away. Some were sleeping in the streets. There was no more room. One of the other soldiers told me when I took over the watch that he had seen a young couple go into a stable to sleep – although he thought the woman seemed close to having a baby. A baby born in a stable? What kind of people are these Jews? He said there was something different about them, though. They seemed at peace even to be in this smelly, dark place by themselves when the time came.

I had been on watch for about four hours. It was dark. Silent. Too quiet. I didn’t hear animals or babies or anything moving. It was almost as if the world had stopped at that moment – as if something was happening right then that would change the world forever.

Where did that thought come from? I’m a soldier, not a philosopher or a dreamer. I deal in the hard facts of reality. I live a disciplined life, sometimes a ruthless life – making people do what the laws of our government demand and enforcing those laws whatever I think of them – arresting, beating, killing (if necessary) those who refuse to obey. That’s why I’m here today.

It was so long ago. I had almost forgotten about it. But today on this hilltop – some place they call Golgotha – it seems as if it was last night. This moment and that moment – are they somehow … what? … maybe linked together in some way – almost as if they are the beginning and the end of one life. And not just any normal human life. Almost … no, I don’t believe in that…. Almost as if this were a son of a god.

The memory of that night is coming back to me now. In the darkness, in the silence, I saw light shining on another hilltop – outside the village, probably where the shepherds were with the sheep all night. I could not see anything but the light, yet I thought I heard a sound as well. Music? Singing? How could that be? My mind was playing tricks on me. That happens sometimes on watch at night. Then the light was gone. Silence again. I waited, wishing my watch was over.

Not long before someone came to take my watch, just before dawn, I heard a noise. At first I thought it was some animal, then I knew it must be human. I drew my sword. There were so many rebels in the hills in those days. They hated the Romans. They hated me because I was a soldier. They didn’t care who I was, and I guess to be honest I didn’t care who they were. I had a job to do. … Sword drawn, I moved toward the noise, and then out of the darkness came a few shepherds. They were whispering among themselves, scared and happy at the same time. There seemed to be a glow to them as if something from beyond this world had touched them, and they were looking for something.

As I stepped out of the shadows to confront them, they stopped. The leader smiled at me, a deep laughter coming up from inside him as if he had discovered the most important thing in life. And he moved toward me, held out his arms, slowly moved my sword toward the ground, and … hugged me! I was stunned. I couldn’t move. Even my family didn’t hug each other when I was growing up. Here is a stranger, a Jewish man, hugging a Roman soldier – and I just stood there. And then watched them move on.

They seemed to know what they were looking for – something, someone on the edge of the village. The glow of their joy – what a strange thing to say, but that’s the only way I could describe it – the glow of their joy drew me with them, leaving my post, just following them. They came to one of those stables. Maybe the one the other soldier had told me about? They disappeared inside, and yet it was not dark there. That glow, that light was inside.

To this day, I do not believe in any god. Ask anyone who knows me. And yet …. That night something drew me to the stable opening to see what was there. I stayed only a moment. The young couple was there – and a newborn baby – and the shepherds were kneeling and praying. Suddenly, I heard a noise behind me, and I realized soldiers were going to change the watch, and I knew I would be in trouble if I were not at my post. So I got up and ran back.

Life went on over the years. As a Roman soldier, I was assigned to other towns, other countries. I moved up in rank to Centurion. About two years ago, I was assigned again to Judea, based here in Jerusalem. I traveled through that village – Bethlehem, it was – and wondered whatever happened to that couple and that baby. Somehow I’ve always known he must have been special, chosen for something great. Recently, I’ve heard stories about large crowds gathering to hear a man speak – someone unknown to the authorities until he started attracting their attention with stories of miracles, even raising people from the dead. More than that, though, I’ve overheard talk among some of the Jewish authorities that this man – Jesus, they call him – has been stirring up people in Galilee and here in Judea against the authorities. We can’t allow that. Rome is in charge. I’m in charge of keeping order here.

That’s why I’m on this hilltop today. I hate this part of my job, but it’s what we do. If people are found guilty of crimes against the state, of challenging the authority of Rome, we crucify them. There are only three men today, but the one in the middle is different. He’s the one they call Jesus. I’ve heard stories about him, and one has troubled me – a story that he was born in a stable in Bethlehem and something about shepherds seeing angels at night. It can’t be! Can it? Can it be him?  This man would be about the right age. And while my men were putting him on the cross, I overheard someone nearby speak quietly to a woman standing there and saying something about her son. Could that be his mother, that young woman in the stable? … What have we done? What have I done?

Just at that moment – in the darkness, out of the silence – Jesus shouted out, “It is finished!” The earth we stood on shook violently. The rocks around us broke open. Some of the tombs down the hill from where I stood opened up, and people – the dead – began to walk away alive again!

In that moment, I knew! There is a God. That birth and this death – the beginning and end of one human life meant to change the world. And for the first time in my life, I shouted out words I had never thought I would speak: “Truly, this was the Son of God!”