The following is part of RD and PRA’s special coverage of the Pray Vote Stand Summit. All posts can be found here. – eds
First Baptist Atlanta is huge—a sprawling campus of parking lots and Grecian-revival entrances to the church itself. Inside, hallways beget hallways beget hallways, all leading to the plush auditorium that serves as a sanctuary. Vendor booths from familiar Christian Right groups like The Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, Standing for Freedom Center and The Leadership Institute dot the spacious hallways.
With available seating for a couple thousand, the sanctuary was sparse on Thursday morning—maybe 300 people in total. As we choose our seats, volunteers usher us to the front section “for the cameras and for the security.” Speaking of security, armed law enforcement lurk in the hallways and at the entrances, guns at hips.
Tony Perkins welcomes Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to the stage who rails against “rogue local governments” and federal overreach, leaving attendees with little recourse but to trust in Kemp’s state leadership sandwiched between the two. “Marty and I,” says Kemp, referring to his wife, “are in a fight for the soul of the state.”
Following Governor Kemp, Perkins returns to the conference’s overriding theme, focusing on the overturn of Roe vs. Wade.
“Overturning Roe vs. Wade was an act of repentance, and we must continue the work of repentance…now that the work has returned to the states, what does the work look like?”
Perkins then welcomes an anti-abortion panel on to the stage, featuring South Carolina State Senator Josh Kimbrell, who urges audience members to deflect questions about their own stances and punt back challenges to liberals who want to “kill babies until the day they are born.”
Kimbrell echoes Perkins’ call to action, reflecting that “after Roe fell a lot of people believed that was it…but really the battle has just begun. We’ve just pressed reset to where we were 50 years ago.”
Connor Semelsberger, FRC’s Director of Federal Affairs – Life and Human Dignity, repeats the message that now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned on the federal level, the fight goes to the states:
“Campaign promises on pro-life aren’t fleeting anymore—they’re real. And now elected officials have to put their money where their mouth is.”
He challenges the audience to keep up the pressure during election season:
“Who are the attorney generals in your state? Who are the judges?…you need to look down your ballot. The life issue is on the ballot, down to your local city mayor.”
He then laments that “sadly, 20 states still allow elective abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy. We have our work cut out for us.” The task ahead, he and others explain, is how to “go all the way” to banning abortion at conception, “with very narrow exceptions.”
Cole Muzio, President of Georgia’s Frontline Policy Council, explains that moving his state’s heartbeat abortion ban to one that begins at conception, is “gonna be a very tough battle…for the first time in our lifetimes,” he says, “life is on the ballot. We have a choice if we wanna vote for life or vote for death.” The November 8 election, he stresses, “is the most critical day we’ve had for pro-life empowerment in this country, so you have to seize that opportunity.”
Brandi Swindell, who runs anti-abortion pregnancy centers in her home state of Idaho, as well as a few around the country and in Ireland and Scotland, spoke of the Left going after “pro-women pregnancy care centers” that are simply trying to give women options. Swindell warned against the abortion pill, which she said is leading to the “trafficking of abortions” by healthcare providers who are deceptively on a mission to “sell abortions,” or by men who are forcing abortion on their partners, crushing up abortion pills in their food and drink without the woman’s consent.
Todd Starnes, who was fired as a Fox News broadcaster for agreeing that Democrats are not Christians, jokes about Governor Abbott “sending more illegals” to Vice President Harris’ home, to a roomful of cheers. Starnes complains that “our classrooms are the front lines of the sexual revolution,” referencing Drag Queen Story Hour “transgenderism,” and more. “What they are doing in our public schools is not just criminal—it is sinful.”
But the audience goes bananas over Starnes’ anti-trans joke: “Now you may say I didn’t need that cheesecake,” he says, gesturing toward his body, “but what if I told you I was trans-slender?” Roars of laughter. “You see?” Starnes chuckles, “there really are absolute truths.”
Stressing the importance of youth activism, Starnes claims that:
“[T]he most important role in your church is the youth pastor. Your youth pastor needs to prepare young folks for the attacks coming from the culture…now we are in a fight for the soul of the nation, and we gotta start taking it seriously.”
Striking a Christian nationalist tone, Barnes declares that:
“[W]hen you take God out of our founding documents and way of life, and marginalize our churches, you put chaos in the culture.”
Perkins then gathers retired Lt. General William Boykin, author Gordon Chang, and Joshua Youssef, head of Help The Persecuted, to discuss the state of US foreign policy. Every panelist agrees that the US is weak and the rest of the world knows it. Boykin cites US withdrawal from Afghanistan as the worst failure in US history which, as Chang confirms, encouraged Russia to invade Ukraine and has made China bolder in its threats to invade Taiwan.
Youssef cheers the efforts of missionaries to convert Afghani civilians to Christianity in the two decades since the US invasion of Afghanistan, and argues forcefully for Christian Afghanis to be resettled and “assimilated” in the US—a paradoxical exception to the Right’s increasingly strident anti-immigrant and anti-refugee stance.
According to Boykin, US weakness in the international arena stems from a domestic move to pursue “wokeness.” Any policy that fights climate change, enforces public health measures like vaccines, and protects LGBTQ people “disrupts” the military by reducing its numbers in both personnel and resources. This prevents the US military from “preparing for war in times of peace,” which Boykin considers its most important responsibility.
“Is there an intentional effort by the left,” wonders Perkins aloud, “to hollow out our military to make it less effective?” Boykin agrees, hitting a conspiratorial tone and alleging that “globalists want us to become part of this global government,” and make us part of a “worldwide utopia.”
“Globalist,” it should be noted, is a well-known antisemitic dog-whistle.
Meg Kilgannon was once a “concerned parent” who worried that an LGBT education nondiscrimination ordinance passed in her hometown school district of Fairfax County, Virginia would endanger her children’s education. In that capacity, she spoke at the 2017 summit (at the time still known as the Values Voter Summit) warning attendees that if the Christian Right wanted to win the culture war on gender and sexuality, they needed to “divide and conquer,” focusing on transgender people as a threat separate from gay and lesbian people. (Bisexual people weren’t mentioned.) Kilgannon now serves as a Fellow with the Family Research Council.
At this year’s conference, Kilgannon is moderating a conversation between Vernadette Broyles, founder of the Child and Parent Rights Campaign (CPRC), an anti-transgender legal organization, and CPRC’s client Wendell Perez. Perez tells the heartbreaking story of his child, who attempted suicide at school. According to Perez, the school was unlawfully supporting his child’s transgender identity, allowing the child to use their preferred name and pronouns at school.
After finding out that the school had been supporting their child for months without informing his parents, Wendell and his wife Maria filed suit with CPRC, alleging Constitutional and state law violations. “[My child] was being transitioned in secret,” says Perez, visibly emotional, “And our faith was being used against us.” Devout Catholics, Perez and his family allege that the school told them their child was afraid their family’s faith would keep them from supporting their transition.
Broyles fills in the policy pieces, claiming that children are “being transitioned” across the country without their parents’ consent, listing state after state in which children are being “secretly” transitioned, or in which schools can support transgender students’ social transition without needing to inform the students’ families. “Social intervention leads to surgical intervention,” says Broyles, which leads to “permanent sterilization” for some youth, which “robs them of their right to have children.”
Perez earns a robust round of applause when he proclaims that “confusion is not from God.” If being trans is confused, and confusion is not from God, then the equation completes itself: being trans is against God, satanic. Connecting the anti-abortion and anti-trans fights, Perez explains that “for 50 years we did very well defending our children in the womb. It’s time to defend our children outside of the womb, and our families.”
Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s daughter and founder of her eponymous AnGeL Ministries, brings the morning session to a close with an emotional, bombastic address. “Woe to those who call an abomination ‘gay’,” she intones in her mesmerizing, husky voice. “We’ve rejected God.”
Lotz calls for a worldwide Christian revival. “Some of this nation’s problems are so hard there is no human solution. But there is no higher solution than Jesus,” she declares. Lotz calls out to those in the audience who have not already knelt before the cross to do so now, and begs those who have to kneel again and again so that we will be ready when Jesus returns “at any minute.”