On Jan. 6, insurrectionists invaded the U.S. Capitol, roaming its halls, rifling through desks, and threatening to capture and kill both Republican and Democratic-elected leaders. The storming of the U.S. Capitol by domestic terrorists incited by Trump, resulted in the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer.
One phase of the invasion ended when Jake Angeli, known as the QAnon “shaman,” who wore a fur hat with bison horns, gathered a group of white men around the Senate dais to say a prayer before exiting. The men all bowed their heads meekly as Angeli prayed in the name of Jesus Christ.
That scene and others, like a giant Jesus 2020 flag flying from a Capitol balcony, and signs held by the rioters that said, “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president,” did not surprise the Rev. Nathan Empsall, an Episcopal priest and campaigns director of Faithful America, a group which organizes online to reclaim Jesus from the religious right and white supremacists. In a conversation with Between The Lines Melinda Tuhus he spoke about his organization’s response to the attempted coup at the Capitol and the role of Christians in combating what he calls “toxic Christianity.”
THE REV. NATHAN EMPSALL: Christian nationalism is this absolutely toxic and unfortunately spreading ideology that is neither Christian nor patriotic. It basically says you cannot be a good American unless you are a Christian, and you can’t be a good Christian unless you are a patriotic, conservative, even right-wing American. This is what’s being espoused when we hear people saying that the Constitution is a divinely-inspired document, just like the Bible, that America is a Christian nation, nevermind the freedom of religion for people of other faiths and none. It’s this non-theology theology, which has nothing to do with the Bible and nothing to do with Jesus, has been a big driver of the Trump presidency and Trump has encouraged it in his supporters, attacking the faith of anyone who criticizes him.
And that’s what we saw displayed during the failed coup – all these signs outside and inside, that said Jesus Saves, Jesus is my Savior, Trump is My President, Jesus 2020, crosses erected on the grounds of the Michigan state Capitol the same day. It’s absolutely disgusting. it’s not Christian. But unfortunately, it drives violence, because when you think you’re on a holy mission from God, it’s easy to become blinded to the facts. So it’s important for our faith to inspire our values, but we also still need to pay attention to the facts and pay attention to all of our faith’s values, including non-violence and love, and that’s why what happened at the failed coup may have been done in Jesus’s name, but Jesus wept. None of it was Christian, none of it was just or right or holy.
MELINDA TUHUS: Rev. Nathan Empsall, can you give us any specifics about what your organization is doing to combat this?
THE REV. NATHAN EMPSALL: In the coming weeks and months and year, Faithful America is going to really focus on holding bad Christian actors accountable for spreading Trump’s Big Lie about the election results, because that’s the rhetoric that lead to the violence. If you really think the election was stolen, what we saw on Jan. 6 isn’t all that different from what the patriots of the 1770s did. We can quibble with the tactics, but some sort of big response is needed. So, the real problem here is the lies, the baseless conspiracy theories that incited that terrorism and a lot of that was spread in Jesus’s name, including by Franklin Graham and a lot of other figures who really put themselves out there, pretending to be mainstream Christian, when really they are just frontmen for conspiracy theories.
Right now, we are running two big campaigns. One, we are calling on Samaritans Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Associations’ boards of directors to fire Franklin Graham. And if board members can’t persuade their colleagues to join them in firing Graham, they can at least resign in individual protest. Graham in December was tweeting that he believes Trump’s election conspiracy theories. Graham has blamed the failed coup on Aantifa, which doesn’t even exist as a real organization, and he has compared Trump to Jesus by saying that Nancy Pelosi paid 30 pieces of silver to the Republicans who voted for impeachment. He didn’t say Trump is Jesus, but if he’s claiming that Nancy Pelosi is the Pharisees and that Republicans who voted for impeachment are Judas, it’s pretty clear what Graham is saying to Trump’s followers about Trump himself. So, Franklin Graham is as guilty as Trump, as guilty as Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, of inciting this terrorism. That’s not Christian, and we need Samaritan’s Purse – which does fantastic humanitarian work – to stop propping up Franklin Graham and to stop giving him cover to keep spreading these lies and appear somehow serious about it. He is not a serious figure and shouldn’t be taken that way.
We are also looking hard at a website called GiveSendGo, which bills itself as the largest free Christian crowd-funding website, sort of a Christian version of Go Fund Me. GiveSendGo has made headlines over the past few months for helping fundraise for Kyle Rittenhouse, the Kenosha vigilante who murdered Black Lives Matter protesters last year and in the past couple weeks it’s been fundraising for Henry (“Enrique”) Tarrio, the leader of the white nationalist Proud Boys group. Tarrio tore down a Black Lives Matter flag outside a Black church in D.C. and burned it like a KKK cross. He returned to D.C. to participate in the violent Stop the Steal rally but he was arrested as he left the airport, didn’t even make it to the rally. Now he’s fundraising on this website.
We started looking into this allegedly Christian website and found dozens more various examples of fundraisers to spread election lies and fundraisers to help so-called patriots buy armor and travel to far-right rallies across the country. None of that is Christian. This website started to fund church mission trips, and that’s lovely and innocuous, but it has really lost its way and ceased to be a Christian website, funding white nationalism in Jesus’ name. We are calling on Amazon web services to stop using its Cloud servers to host GiveSendGo.
The Washington Post reported just this morning on how bad Give Send Go has gotten. Over 200 of our members have sent personal emails to Amazon web services filing abuse reports against this website; I expect that number will be 500 by the inauguration. Amazon has already taken down Parler and QAnon where they can. We think they want to combat white nationalism and just need to be alerted to the problem. GiveSendGo is definitely part of that insurrectionist white nationalism and it’s heartbreaking that they say it’s in Jesus’s name. This bears no relation to the Gospel and white Christians need to say that and take action on that over and over again.
Rev. Nathan Empsall is campaigns director with the group Faithful America. For more information, visit Faithful America at faithfulamerica.org.