As thousands gather for ReAwaken event, pastors across town speak out against Christian Nationalism
Christian Nationalism is a threat to freedom and the American way of life, a group of pastors told a small gathering in a parking lot behind the First Baptist Church in Batavia this morning, while across town about 3,000 people were gathered at Cornerstone Church for the ReAwaken America Tour.
Among the speakers at First Presbyterian was Rev. Nathan Empsall, an Episcopal minister and director of Faithful America, an online organization that Empsall said puts its faith in action for social justice and love.
"Christian Nationalism, is defined by researchers and academics as a cultural framework and a political ideology, a political world worldview, not a religion," Empsall said. "Christian Nationalism, is the merging of the national American identity with a religious identity, making them one in the same, saying you aren't a real true American unless you're a conservative Christian. The hallmark phrase of Christian Nationalism is that America is a Christian nation. That's not true, of course. We are a pluralistic nation."
Empsall said Christian Nationalism is a threat to freedom in America.
"The goal of Christian Nationalism is not to follow Jesus," Empsall said. "The goal of Christian Nationalism is to seize power, political power, at any cost, no matter who you have to hurt along the way. No matter how many rights you have to take away from other groups, no matter how many elections you may have to try and overturn despite the will of the voters. It's typical of authoritarian movements in this regard."
He tied many of the speakers at the Tour event to the Jan. 6 insurrection, when Donald Trump supporters stormed the capital to try and overturn the presidential election results.
He suggested that while the ReAwaken America Tour may not be explicitly violent, it does builds the framework for future political violence.
"When we talk about the threat of violence, we're not saying ReAwaken America is a bar and at the end it's gonna have a drunken brawl in the parking lot," he said. "You might not see violence today. What we are worried about is another January 6 happening, but perhaps not in the nation's Capitol, perhaps in every town or local state capitals when elections don't go the Christian nationalist way next time.
"When you raise the stakes as high as they come and demonize your opponents in God's name, you don't have to tell people to commit violence," he added. "They connect the dots."
That said, he is ready to embrace Mike Flynn and Roger Stone, he said, two Trump allies and former advisors speaking at the Tour event, as brothers in Christ.
"Now look, if Mike Flynn and Roger Stone, and the pastors who are with them today, tell me that they are Christians, I believe them," Empsall said. "I don't know their relationship with God. I don't know their heart. I do not doubt them. But I do know that their actions and their words are not Christian actions. They are not Christian words.
"So this morning," he added, "as we hear all the lies from Qanon 2.0 about public health and about democracy -- we ask them to know the truth for the truth shall set you free. We say to Clay Clark and Mike Flynn, 'brothers, don't bear false witness. Come home like the prodigal son.' We follow the Prince of Peace. We love our neighbors. We don't call them Team Satan because they don't share our politics or because they share a different approach to our faith or to faith itself."
Rev. Roula Alkhouri, the pastor of Batavia First Presbyterian Church, hosted the event.
"Our hearts are broken," she said. "Because of the damage this tour, this ReAwaken America Tour, has already caused around our country, using the cover of religion to sow division and hate. I have experienced this kind of hate personally since I started speaking up and saying that we shouldn't have this here, this kind of language and this kind of hate-inciting event. I've received a lot of hate for this."