This extended NPR piece does a nice job of covering the divisions in the evangelical community right now. The GOP is not the only group that is divided in the wake of the Trump era.
The pastor of the Knoxville Patriot Church, Ken Peters, introduces the service wearing a “Rigged 2020” T-Shirt. He tells his congregation that Antifa stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2020 and describes Mike Pence as “evil.”
The main speaker, Sharam Hadian, a former Muslim and pro-Trumper, tells the audience that “this is the time to run toward the battle.” He says anyone who walked away from the U.S Capitol during the insurrection is not a “good Christian soldier.” He adds, “there comes a time to overturn the tables of the temple” and “put the fear of God” in those trying to stage a coup on the government of the United States. The senators in the Capitol on January 6, Hadian preaches, have betrayed America. He refers to Mike Pence as “Pontius Pence” and claims that the former vice-president has “betrayed his anointing.”
Hadian tries to separate the true Trump followers in Washington D.C. from the insurrectionists, but I am not sure that many of the Christian nationalists who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021 really understand this difference, especially when they are constantly fed this militant language.
This entire service is a conspiracy theory baptized with Christian praise music, Bible quotations, and prayer.
On January 13, 2021, Peters holds a “men’s discipleship” meeting at the Patriot Church. They are discussing David Gibbs‘s, One Nation Under God: Ten Things Every Christian Should Know About the Founding of America. Gibbs They are also reading David Barton’s (Wallbuilders) Christian nationalist book The American Story.
Peters starts with a lesson on the Pilgrims and the Mayflower Compact. He has a “Rigged 2020” baseball cap on as he teaches. He talks about how “God cleared out the Indians with plagues” in order to allow the Pilgrims to claim the land and build America. Notice how this Christian revisionism is shaping the day-to-day life of evangelical churches. “When you discover that America was founded on Christian principles, by Christian men…it makes you want to fight for it, Peters says. He adds: “if America was a totally pagan country I wouldn’t have the love for it that I do.”
This is classic Christian nationalism. But what if this history is wrong, or at the very least more complex? The entire Christian nationalist movement is built on a distorted view of American history. It rests on the work of pseudo-historian David Barton and this Wallbuilders organization.
Peters then moves into providential history and Christian Zionism. “I believe that America was a move of God for the sake of Israel, protecting Israel, helping Israel get established.” At this point, Peters references an interview he did with CBS News. I am familiar with this interview because CBS also interviewed me for this story–a forthcoming video piece on Christian nationalism. I am told it will be out soon.
Peters’s “men’s discipleship class” then moves into a discussion of Trump’s second impeachment: “It reminds me of what the world did to Jesus.” There is definitely “discipleship” going on here, but I am not sure if it is Christian discipleship.
On January 14, 2021 Peters wrote on the Patriot Church-Knoxville Facebook page: “The left is going to use the Capitol incident to try and destroy me and others who have taken a stand. They will spin and deceive. They are absolutely evil and bent on our demise. Don’t fall for. It. Satan is a liar.”
On Sunday morning, January 17, 2021, Shahram Hadian was back to finish his sermon from the week before. He warns the congregation not to believe the “lie” that the Left wants “unity” or “peace” when they really “want to destroy us.” The Church, he adds, cannot “sit at the table with demons.”
In this speech, preached on the evening of January 17, 2021, Hadian tells the congregation that the 2020 presidential election was a “deep state coup” orchestrated by Satan. Now that Trump is out of office, Hadian says, we can expect “the rise of Islam, globalism and ecumenicalism converging to a one world government, one world religion and the coming of Anti-Christ system!” The coming of this new world order is directly connected to digital chips in the COVID-19 vaccine and “digital passports.” In other words, the pandemic is “paving the way for the mark of the beast.” And that is just the beginning.
I’ll keep my eye on this Patriot Church movement.