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Post-Trump, Christian nationalists preach a theology of vaccine resistance

This article is the first in a series on Christian nationalism supported by the Pulitzer Heart.

(RNS) — About midway via his address to a crowd in St. Louis in unhurried August, Greg Locke shifted gears. The goateed pastor of World Imaginative and prescient Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, had been regaling the audience — “patriots,” he known as them — with reviews of defying direct effectively being ideas by conserving maskless, in-person treasure companies throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shouting into the microphone, Locke — who weeks earlier denied the delta variant of the coronavirus existed — all with out extend began scolding listeners for no longer doing ample within the fight against pandemic restrictions.

“Enact something to your fatherland,” Locke acknowledged. “Race your faculty board meeting up for the glory of God. High-tail for office. Enact something. Lunge let some church buildings know on the town they must originate up and stop playing the coward. Draw some Facebook movies till they de-platform you. Don’t dazzling plug to conferences and procure pleasure from folks — put the nation.”


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It became as soon as a name to fingers repeated throughout Bards Fest, a largely Christian extravaganza held Aug. 26-29 on the POWERplex, a force-in movie theater and events build apart in St. Louis. Organized by podcaster and vocal QAnon devotee Scott Kesterson, it became as soon as billed as “a re-awakening of GOD’s glory because the muse of our mountainous Nation” and the “greatest non secular revival in human historical previous.”

Footage of the event urged it attracted no more attendees than many megachurches on any given Sunday. But livestreaming all the contrivance in which via different digital platforms seemingly expanded its attain, making Bards Fest a colossal platform for a irregular, with out discover rising variant of Christian nationalism being spread by pastors and anti-vaccine influencers: one which mixes assertions the US became as soon as founded as a Christian nation with conspiracy theories derived from the QAnon motion and a conviction that government efforts to curb COVID-19 are oppressive — and a risk to further a non secular cause.

Appeals to Christian identity were fashioned throughout the Trump administration, and Christian nationalist topics were widely visible throughout the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. But with Trump out of office and a complete bunch of insurrectionists now facing federal charges, exhausting-line Christian nationalists are more and more fueling their motion with opposition to COVID-19 vaccines and conceal mandates, which they solid as threats to their non secular and constitutional freedoms.

A June ballot by the Public Faith Be taught Institute and Interfaith Early life Core reported that amongst the 13% of American citizens who acknowledged they wouldn’t procure vaccinated, white evangelicals originate up the greatest non secular chunk, representing 28% of “vaccine refusers.” White evangelicals additionally happen to be one in all the faith groups per chance to comprise QAnon, which claims the world is secretly move by Devil-worshipping pedophiles. Among vaccine refusers, too, a fats 42% imagine conspiracy theories linked to the motion.

Pastor Greg Locke addresses the Bards Fest crowd in St. Louis. Video screengrab

Pastor Greg Locke addresses the Bards Fest crowd in St. Louis. Video conceal grab

There’s additionally a historical subtext: Locke’s name to “plod up” faculty board meetings harks support to the capability of the non secular correct within the 1980s and 1990s, which agitated at — and at closing took put off an eye on of — faculty boards and numerous local government our bodies in an effort to shift American culture from the grassroots up.

But right this moment’s Christian nationalists are arguably more confrontational than their non secular correct progenitors. At a school board meeting in Lee County, Florida, on Aug. 30, protesters who gathered outside to oppose an impending conceal mandate wore shirts that study “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president” and the emblem of the unprejudiced no longer too long within the past launched “Conservative Christians of Southwest Florida,” which capabilities a prime level opinion of the direct emblazoned with the American flag.

As protesters and counterprotesters bickered, at closing exchanging blows, a pair of white-covered clinical doctors tried to glide by the gang. They were promptly shoved and glared at by obvious opponents of the conceal mandate.


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Within the meeting room, two men sporting the conservative Christian personnel’s shirt spoke against the conceal present. Later, a girl exciting a tainted pointed at faculty board individuals and denounced them as “demonic entities,” announcing folks love them are in “your entire faculty boards” within the U.S., but that “all of us Christians will be sticking collectively to put off all of them out.”

It’s a message that seemingly would agree with resonated at Bards Fest, the build apart the gang skewed white, evangelical and, judging from the applause on the speakers’ most intemperate strains, largely unvaccinated. 

“Now they’re coming after your youngsters, and I manufacture no longer stamp, if I are living to be 157 years stale, why oldsters are no longer storming the gates on the colleges,” acknowledged Bards Fest presenter Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopathic doctor from Ohio and longtime anti-vaccine advocate. “I don’t imagine (the) excuses of why oldsters can’t homeschool and manufacture it as a collective. … Factual figure it out. Grab your youngsters and move.”


RELATED: The gospel of Sherri Tenpenny: COVID-19 misinformation meets Christian nationalism


Tenpenny’s campaign against inoculation exploded throughout the pandemic, landing  her on the Heart for Countering Digital Loathe’s “Disinformation Dozen” checklist — a personnel of 12 folks researchers declare are accountable for 65% of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. Tenpenny claims her speak material became as soon as therefore some distance from Facebook, Instagram and numerous social media internet sites. But on the least one in all her programs persists: “Contented Hour with Dr. T,” a semiweekly Bible see on Instagram Live that intermingles faith with faux claims about COVID-19 with QAnon conspiracy theories.

Dr. Sherri Tenpenny speaks at Bards Fest in St. Louis. Video screengrab

Dr. Sherri Tenpenny speaks at Bards Fest in St. Louis. Video conceal grab

At Bards Fest, Tenpenny when compared herself to Noah (“all and sundry thought he became as soon as a conspiracy theorist, too, till it started to rain”), described getting vaccinated as a “sin” and urged listeners no longer to “genuflect to the person within the white coat,” because “we kneel to God.”

Tenpenny and numerous presenters step by step framed anti-conceal and anti-vaccine sentiment as upholding person liberties, describing it as “effectively being freedom” or “clinical different.”


RELATED: For insurrectionists, a violent faith brewed from nationalism, conspiracies and Jesus


Bards Fest became as soon as dazzling one faith-oriented anti-conceal and anti-vaccine rally that convened the closing weekend of August. At an event in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a nurse serving to arrange against vaccine mandates for clinical workers requested the gang to cheer if they cherished The US, freedom, “God-given rights” and Jesus. (They roared after every word.)

Whereas acknowledging the bother of COVID-19, the speaker nonetheless alluded to the biblical myth of David and Goliath in describing her fight against vaccine mandates, insisting the U.S. is “in an outbreak of curved truth, of loathe and division, of degrading households and taking God out of our country.”

She acknowledged her campaign became as soon as some distance from the usual crowdfunding internet speak material GoFundMe but looks to agree with came all the contrivance in which via a house on GiveSendGo, which touts itself as “The #1 Christian crowdfunding region.”

These Christian nationalist topics dwell intricately tied to Trump’s presidency and claims that, based mostly totally on a lengthy presentation at Bards Fest, “the election became as soon as stolen” from the veteran president. MyPillow CEO Michael Lindell, a frequent purveyor of Christian nationalist rhetoric and longtime distributor of widely debunked election claims, delivered an hourlong speech throughout which he urged his possess faith myth and criticized Fox Data.

Bards Fest took place in St. Louis Aug. 26 - 29, 2021. Courtesy image

Bards Fest took build apart of living in St. Louis Aug. 26-29, 2021. Courtesy image

But Bards Fest presenters step by step regarded much less inquisitive about re-litigating Trump’s defeat. As an alternative, many targeted their remarks on invigorating a grassroots motion to oppose conceal mandates and espouse Christian nationalist values.

“Hiya, I love Donald Trump, but I ain’t waiting on him,” shouted “Coach” Dave Daubenmire, a onetime public excessive faculty football coach who became as soon as sued by the American Civil Liberties Union within the 1990s following allegations he led his personnel in prayer and passed out Scripture to players. Daubenmire urged Bards Fest, “We’re going to head into the enemy’s territory and take away support what the enemy stole.”

Rapidly after Bards Fest, Tenpenny and Daubenmire offered a brand fresh joint project: “The Christian Revolution,” a corporation that aims to elevate $100 million to originate “Christian practising facilities” to reveal businesses that agree with donated to Dark Lives Topic activists and toughen folks that “talk out in distinction world government tyranny” — relating to opposition to vaccines and conceal mandates.

The Jan. 6 insurrection loomed plump at Bards Fest. It featured nightly shofar-blowing sessions — a say drawn from the Jewish custom that grew to turn out to be fashioned at Christian nationalist “Jericho Marches” within the weeks main as a lot as the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Locke infamous in a single in all his speeches that he became as soon as unprejudiced no longer too long within the past named in a record seek files from filed by the U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating the insurrection.

Pastor Greg Locke, of Global Vision Bible Church in Tennessee, during a video interview. Video screengrab

Pastor Greg Locke, of World Imaginative and prescient Bible Church in Tennessee, throughout a video interview. Video conceal grab

And in his Bards Fest speech, Daubenmire, adorned in his distinctive red, white and blue cap affixed with a tainted, requested the gang if any had been in D.C. on Jan. 6. Several cheered.

“Why are they racy those guys unruffled right this moment? Due to they don’t desire you coming support,” Daubenmire acknowledged, relating to insurrectionists. “They’re alarmed you’re gonna procure it. They’re alarmed you stamp that as Christians, all power has been given unto us. Now we agree with all power. We the oldsters agree with all power.”

Certainly, non secular expression has turn out to be more and more visible amongst insurrectionists and their allies elsewhere. Couy Griffin, a pastor and founding father of “Cowboys for Trump” who prayed over contributors within the Jan. 6 insurrection and became as soon as later arrested for his involvement that day, is the self-discipline of a fresh documentary portraying him as a “political prisoner.” Contributors of the militant nationalist personnel Proud Boys were spotted praying earlier than the breaching of the Capitol, and some within the Proud Boys Portland chapter agree with adopted a tainted as share of their logo. There are additionally experiences of Christian nationalist rhetoric at their gatherings.

Since Jan. 6, participants charged within the insurrection agree with served as safety for fresh rallies organized by Christian musician and anti-COVID-restrictions activist Sean Feucht. The 1st Modification Praetorian guard, a personnel that has supplied safety for QAnon events, additionally listed Bards Fest amongst its upcoming events.


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These seemingly disparate trends swirled collectively at Bards Fest, the build apart QAnon proponent Kesterson grew visibly emotional as he thanked folks that made the toddle to St. Louis. After encouraging men to anguish their faculty board and city council individuals, he referred to the gang as “the remnant” — a reference to the term’s use within the Bible, the build apart it’s some distance invoked to describe, amongst assorted things, Israelites who continue to exist an Assyrian invasion.

The crowd at Bards Fest on Aug. 29, 2021, in St. Louis. Video screengrab

The crowd at Bards Fest on Aug. 29, 2021, in St. Louis. Video conceal grab

He additionally likened them to the so-known as “3%,” a perception effectively most traditional by correct-walk extremists — but challenged by historians — that simplest 3% of colonists participated within the American Revolution.

“I’m thankful for every single one in all you that listen and agree with attain,” he urged the gang, which became as soon as all yet again assembled in a gymnasium to steer obvious of the climate. “Here is The US. Here is our country. Here is the remnant. Here is the 3%. Here is how we put off it support.”

Kesterson then bowed his head and prayed, describing those repeat “as warriors of Christ” and exclaiming to God that “it’s some distance rarely important what the worth in flesh and blood, we are able to no longer stop this country, this blessed country that you simply gave us.”

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