The following is part of RD and PRA’s special coverage of the Pray Vote Stand Summit. All posts can be found here. – eds
Note: this post includes graphic content regarding reproductive healthcare.
Alison Centofante, a national strategist for the anti-abortion movement and founder of Reprotection, starts the afternoon session with a call to arms. Her organization investigates abortion clinics based on reports from “sidewalk advocates.” These volunteers play an integral role in the fight against abortion, according to Centofante. She describes an incident in the Hebrew Bible when Nehemiah rebuilds the wall surrounding Jerusalem. To Centofante, the wall is God’s vision for the world (according to the Christian Right). In the Bible’s words, to protect the wall from being destroyed by enemies, Nehemiah instructs half his followers to build the wall and the other half to be “equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor” to defend it.
Today, Centofante calls on “the builders” to use their resources to strengthen the institutions and systems that support the Christian Right’s work; she calls on followers with “weapons and armor” to zealously defend Christian Right ideologies and policies. Her allegory closes with Nehemiah 4:20: “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” In her interpretation, when organizations like the Family Research Council sound the alarm on opportunities to advance or protect the Christian Right’s vision, true believers in the gospel must respond with institutional and weaponized action.
Dr. Ben Carson arrives on stage to a standing ovation and cheers. Like many speakers before him, he rails against abortion, with a disturbingly graphic description of using forceps to reach into a woman’s uterus, “stirring it around to grab an arm or a hand or liver and pulling it out.” Carson bounces to other issues—making an incoherent argument that there’s no systemic racism in the United States, because if there were, “people wouldn’t be caravanning to and seeking entry into the US.” Further undermining the concept of systemic racism, Carson counsels audience members away from focusing on slavery in the US “two hundred years ago” because there are “more slaves today than ever” in the history of the world—namely due to sex trafficking. Carson rambles for minutes, calling for institutionalization of the “criminally insane.”
A panel of Christian School advocates and leaders assembles next. Barry McKeen, Administrator at Grace Christian School near Tampa, Florida, describes how NBCNews published an article about his school’s anti-LGBTQ policies. McKeen defends his school for not allowing its students to “practice homosexuality” or be (openly) transgender because his school follows what he calls “the truth of God.” Co-panelist Troy McIntosh, Executive Director of Ohio Christian Education Network, speaks of his “model Christian school” that’s easily scalable and can be replicated by the dozens within years.
Both celebrate the June Supreme Court ruling on Carson v. Makin that allows school vouchers to be used at religious schools. The educators’ conversation is moderated by Joseph Backholm, Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at the FRC. The trio shares an urgent call for hundredfold increases in Christian schools in every state in order to protect students from “liberal indoctrination.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Christian Right conference without mention of David and Goliath. This year’s Goliaths are large corporations like Disney, Starbucks, and Target, all of which have succumbed to so-called “woke capitalism.” (Target, curiously, has also been the focus of chronic right-wing conspiracy theories about sex-trafficking, which had been flaring up once again in the weeks prior to Pray Vote Stand). With the panelists acting as David, they have the perfect slingshot loaded with two stones: 1) leveraging large assets and 2) organizing consumer voices.
According to Jonathan Danhof, Head of Corporate Governance for Strive (an asset management firm Breitbart calls “anti-woke”) most woke corporations don’t want to be woke—they’re forced to be by large progressive asset management firms. While Danhof mentions a few of these firms, he chooses to rail against Larry Fink in particular, the only CEO of the firms he mentions who’s Jewish. Conveniently, Danhof’s solution is his own asset management group which urges corporations to support issues aligned with Christian Right values by leveraging its potential investment.
Michael Seifert, founder and developer of the new app PublicSq., wants to help members of the Christian Right avoid giving their money to woke corporations. He hopes doing so will influence corporations to cater to conservative Christian values. Ultimately, the panelists agree with Danhof when he claims that corporations “care too much about politics and not enough about profit.”
In the United States, massive corporations like Target have a legal fiduciary duty to their boards of directors and shareholders. Every little decision a corporation makes is to the benefit of its bottom line, whether that’s selling rainbow towels or donating to anti-abortion candidates. Decisions like whom to advertise to are financial. “Woke capitalism” is merely capitalism that conservatives don’t like.
On the second anti-transgender panel of the day, two panelists leverage their personal stories to advocate against trans-affirming care. Kathy Grace Duncan, a veteran of Pray Vote Stand, identified as a man for many years before, as she describes it, “God called her back.” Travis Weber of the FRC asks Duncan if she made a choice, a “walking out,” to which Duncan agrees. “Being trans is the fruit of a legitimate issue.”
Erin Brewer, author of multiple anti-transgender books, agrees. She attributes her briefly identifying as a boy in first grade to the childhood sexual abuse she experienced. “If I was a child today, teachers would affirm me,” bemoans Brewer. She continues, racking up the anti-trans disinformation: “I wouldn’t have been able to grow up and have the beautiful children I have now. It’s time to fight for the born.”
Duncan and Brewer are joined onstage by Jennifer Bauwens, Director for the Center for Family Studies at the FRC. Bauwens, who has a “background in the clinical world,” warns us to listen to the Lord’s voice when seeking counseling, lest we be led to a counselor who is affirming of transgender identity. According to Bauwens, the affirmative model (the model of transgender care supported by every major medical organization in the United States) “stifles innovation.” Bauwens has an ominous message for the crowd: Dry wood burns fast, she says, implying that American society is reaching a critical point on the issue of trans affirming care, and that if we don’t stop it there will be “fiery” consequences.
Opening the evening’s programming, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee laments that “in the weeks after 9/11, every house had a flag, every window, every business. Nobody took a knee at an NFL game or NBA game…this country celebrated who we are.” Continuing his nostalgic erasure of systemic white supremacy, Huckabee charges that “in the weeks after 9/11 this country didn’t deem itself to be systemically racist…we weren’t attacked because of darkness—we were attacked because of light!” Striking a religious tone, Huckabee claims that “we better pray for a spiritual upheaval, a spiritual revival because spirituality does not follow politics, politics follows a spiritual revolution where people get their hearts and souls right with God.”
Next, Tony Perkins introduces David Barton, a well-known Christian nationalist who specializes in revisionist, Christian triumphalist accounts of American history. “They’ll say ‘that’s Christian nationalism!’” Perkins charges, “no—it’s American history.”
Barton delivers a meandering account of the Revolutionary War through a Christian nationalist lens, claiming that “in the American war for independence, national wars were won by local battles.” Based on this, Barton concludes that “we can’t change the national [politics],” perhaps referencing the Right’s loss of the 2020 election. “We tried, it doesn’t work. But we can change the local.” Barton cites “Christian [Right]” school board victories—a favorite tactic of the Right—in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Dallas, and calls on believers to “find anyone in church that’s not registered to vote, register them to vote and get them to vote their biblical values,” claiming that church mobilizations, and efforts by groups like Moms for Liberty, were key to these local victories.
Pastor Jentezen Franklin, Senior Pastor at Free Chapel, based in Georgia, exclaims during his speech that “America is the greatest nation on earth. God—well, after Israel, that is.” Franklin lavishes praise on Tony Perkins, calling him a leader “who is carrying the torch, fought the fight, defended this land physically and defended this land even more when he came out of the military by defending freedom.”
Perkins next introduces Bishop Vincent Mathews, World Missions President for the Church of God in Christ. Noting that Mathews is Pentecostal, Perkins celebrates the collaboration across Christian denominations that’s long been key to the Christian Right’s coalition victories. While “not minimizing doctrinal differences,” Perkins advances that “If you believe in salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, I can lock arms with you and stand for the word of God.”
Mathews delivers an especially fiery speech, charging that FRC’s political opponents will “bomb your church [and] pregnancy center…come for you, and shoot to kill you.” Mathews signals opposition to liberal Christians within denominations, claiming that “the fight is within the church and outside the church, because enemies have crept inside and have run amok inside the church—and the church must stand.” Striking a militant tone, Mathews insists “this is a war meeting…this is gonna get dirty, belly to belly, bayonets fixed—and we need to stand and get our hands dirty to fight this fight.”
To close the evening, Perkins introduces Oklahoma Senator James Lankford as a “champion for conservatives who cherish their faith, family and freedom.” Lankford outlines his decision to leave his career in the Baptist church and run for office over a decade ago, inspired by the realization that “36 of the 39 books of the Old Testament were written to, by or about a political leader.” During their conversation on stage, Perkins reminds Lankford that “God calls people to govern together,” and recounts their close collaboration. “We’ve gotten great things done in Israel in the policy front for people who understand the biblical foundations of those issues.” The staunchly anti-LGBTQ Lankford speaks regularly with Perkins, and has delivered addresses to the Family Research Council since at least 2014.