Home World An anti-Trump evangelical pastor is on a mission to convert the former U.S. president’s most faithful church followers

An anti-Trump evangelical pastor is on a mission to convert the former U.S. president’s most faithful church followers

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Caleb Campbell, Pastor of Desert Springs Bible Church, has attended several Turning Point USA events over the past year.Joe Rondone/The Republic/Reuters

Donald Trump’s most loyal followers can be thought of as bigots or patriots, constitutional standard-bearers, or the deluded masses. Caleb Campbell likes to think of them as lost sheep He made it his job to put them back together.

Mr. Campbell is the pastor of the Desert Springs Bible Church in Phoenix. But for most of the last year, he’s been a masked man, using his pastoral credentials to enter the sanctuary where faith in the former president was cultivated.

This has given him a privileged perspective on the new ways religion is being adopted as a substitute for politics among some of Trump’s most ardent supporters.

It was the church that Mr. Campbell introduced to the Trump congregation. After a fellow Christian suggested that he participate in something called a Revival event hosted by Turning Point, a Phoenix-based conservative group.

“I was really scared,” Campbell recalls. He was in a familiar environment. People would gather inside churches, collect prayers and money, and sing Christian worship music.

But the preacher was not the pastor. A prominent conservative broadcaster, it was college dropout Charlie Kirk who became a pivotal figure in spreading and sustaining the new American wave of populist conservatism. He speaks “as a pastor speaks,” Campbell recalls.

That includes taking the Bible to the pulpit. Mr. Kirk regularly refers to Jeremiah, where verse 29 reads, “Seek peace and prosperity in this city.” But Kirk replaced “ask” with “demand,” Campbell said, which underpins his claim. ”

That biblical text “definitely has nothing to do with gun rights and school choices,” Campbell said. “This is ancient Israel in the Babylonian captivity.”

Kirk founded Turning Point USA and, in 2021, TPUSA Faith, and hosted several events that Campbell attended. Mr. Kirk called the separation of church and state a lie, saying “the church founded this country” and today “must stand up on all sides.” TPUSA Faith’s ambition is a resource to gather and organize religious leaders and “energize their congregations to fight for free people, free markets, free speech, and restricted government.” is to provide

The message upset Mr. Campbell. “What struck me was that people in the room raised their hands and said ‘Amen. Hallelujah.’ They were having a religious experience.”

Over the next year, Mr. Campbell spent more than 1,000 hours immersed in that world, watching videos, reading literature, attending Bible citizenship classes, and visiting luxury resorts with 500 pastors. .

His patriotism and honorable service, his emphasis on hard work and love of his neighbors, are many of the things I hear he likes.

He also saw these principles twisted to instill fear that such a way of life was threatened by minorities and liberal elites.

“They fear that outsiders will take over and take their lives. The biggest threat is the erasure part,” he said. He has come to understand Trump’s “Make America Great Again” as an “appeal to ethnic protection” masquerading as defending a Christian nation.

TPUSA Faith spokesman Andrew Kolvet said in a statement that the organization “condemns political violence. It is irresponsible and disappointing to suggest otherwise.”

“The truth is that Jesus himself was an outsider, and all people, regardless of race or background, are welcome to become part of what TPUSA Faith is building,” Corbett said. Quoting a passage from the Bible, Kirk said, “It teaches modern Christians to take an active part in the welfare of their cities and homes.”

American religious leaders have advocated conservative political activism for decades through religious rights, moral majority, and Christian coalitions.

According to Campbell, it’s the tenor and tone that set the new brand of Christian Nationalist apart. “This is a vulgar power grab with mean, violent rhetoric,” he said. Although he was raised a Christian conservative, he rebelled against his upbringing by becoming a neo-Nazi skinhead in high school. “I know what it means to be cultured into violent behavior,” he said.

Across America, moderate Republicans have fought within their own parties against election denial and culture war politics.

“It’s always dangerous to confuse politics and policy with prayer,” Arizona Republican Party leader Kathy Petsas said.

Mr. Petsas was the leader of a legislative district that produced icons of modern conservatism such as Barry Goldwater, Sandra Day O’Connor and John McCain. After Trump contested his 2020 loss in Arizona, she sees a number of America First supporters wanting to serve on local party officials’ regional committees. Now She met 132 people for coffee. About half believed Trump’s victory was denied by election fraud.

Those conversations often felt like psychological interventions. “You had all this delusion going on,” she said.

Petsas, a practicing Orthodox Christian, was surprised by people chanting prayers at a party convention. It is unconscionable to me that they take away religion for their own political gain. ”

Mr. Campbell’s initial resistance efforts were unpopular with his white, evangelical, suburban parishioners. His congregation shrunk from his 800 to his 300. He began writing a book about getting involved in the new religious conservatism “Mission Field” and began to attract new congregations. ”

He has created a set of tools to retrieve souls from the Trump Church. He starts by establishing his personal trust. Without trust, people tend to resist questioning their beliefs. He recommends people fast from the media for two weeks. Invite them to sit together at a table and discuss important issues such as immigration.

Arguing about facts and figures is of little use, he says. It is better to understand the fears and anger that fuel personal beliefs.

It’s slow and intensive work, but those who have embraced his intervention express relief at the emergence. is late.”

But overcoming a relationship severed by the zeal of the new rights has proven difficult. did not agree. Detractors have called Mr. Campbell a fascist, a Marxist, and a “luciferian leader of fear.”

But Campbell says he is driven to counter what he sees as a false doctrine of power that conflates political and religious kingdom-building. Such ideas were not new to Christendom, he said, pointing to Rome under Constantine and Charlemagne.

“It’s eternal heresy,” he said. “It’s just red, white, and blue sprinkled. This tastes like apple pie.”

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