Inside ReAwaken America
We should not take these tour events lightly. This is an empty form of religion, based on accruing political power.
For the past two years, the ReAwaken America tour has traveled across the country, mixing Christian nationalism with COVID-19 and election conspiracy theories. BJC’s Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign has partnered with Faithful America at multiple stops of the tour to organize a Christian counter-witness from local and national Christian leaders who don’t want to let the tour’s distortion of our Christian faith go unchallenged.
I witnessed the tour firsthand when I attended the stop at the Trump Doral resort in Miami in May, along with BJC Communications Director Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons. We also went inside the kickoff event for the “Pastors for Trump” group.
I was surprised by how much I learned. The content itself was not that surprising — I’d seen clips from prior events and extensive reporting about Michael Flynn and his “army of God,” as it was called by a Frontline/AP documentary. But my insights came not from watching the stage but from watching the people around me.
We should not take these tour events lightly. There were people of all ages, including small children. Younger, college-aged students were working registration. They are organizing and creating communities at these events. For many there, it seemed like a genuinely religious experience. I noticed that in the excitement to be baptized, for instance, or in the response to the music and prayers. And that realization made me feel sad. This is an empty form of religion, based on accruing political power. And it was all in service to former President Donald Trump.
The baptisms were the strangest part of the event. Each one took less than a minute. People being baptized would step into a plastic kiddie pool one at a time, sit down, tell three people their name, and then be dunked. The officiants didn’t even say anything when doing it — no liturgy or explanation of what the act represented. People wore whatever they had on for the conference, such as a ReAwaken America T-shirt or — for one person I saw — a QAnon T-shirt. It wasn’t a recognizable Christian baptism to me.
The calls for political violence were bolder than I expected. Speakers talked about “spiritual warfare” and that we were meant to be lions instead of sheep for Jesus. Greg Locke, in an incredibly fiery “sermon,” talked about the need to use our Second Amendment rights if the government won’t respect our First Amendment rights. This was a huge applause line, with people jumping to their feet and pumping their fists. A pastor at the Pastors for Trump event told a story from Marine lore about a unit that was surrounded by enemy troops. The unit went to the commanding officer in despair, and the officer said that that was exactly where we want them — now we can shoot in all directions. Then that pastor told Mike Flynn (who repeated to the whole crowd) that he was “packing” right then.
As horrifying as it was to see the ReAwaken America tour in person, going inside the Trump Doral resort wasn’t the main reason I went to Miami. I wanted to be there to work with Florida and national Christian leaders to ensure an alternative Christian message rooted in love was offered at the same time as ReAwaken America’s message of power. We partnered with Faithful America, Faith in Public Life Action, the Florida Council of Churches, and many other Christian groups to hold a press conference at an Episcopal church near the resort. “We are here to say to the millions of Christians across this country who are likewise horrified and angry about Christian nationalism: You are not alone,” I said at the press conference.
In addition to our press conference, we had three mobile billboards traveling around Miami to share an alternative Christian message to the tour’s Christian nationalism. Two were on trucks that circled the Trump Doral resort, while another was on a boat.
Our work in Miami and across the country challenging the ReAwaken America tour has generated positive attention for our Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign in the media, including coverage in The New York Times and MSNBC. I also discussed my experience on BJC’s Respecting Religion podcast. It brings to life the final line of our Christians Against Christian Nationalism statement: “As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.”