Home Christian News How Big Christian Nationalism Has Come Courting in North Idaho

How Big Christian Nationalism Has Come Courting in North Idaho

But activist Alicia Abbott, who works with the liberal Idaho 97 Project, said the political influence of conservative churches in the region is growing. Congregations such as Pastor Tim Remington’s The Altar Church, in Coeur D’Alene, regularly host forums for right-wing candidates, and since the pandemic they increasingly, and dramatically, espouse Christian nationalist ideas.

“It’s an issue across the state now that we have to deal with, these really bombastic political actors,” she said. “Their ideology is rooted in Christian nationalism.”

During one October service, Remington, who could not be reached for comment by press time, welcomed into the sanctuary a slate of 15 candidates for state and local office. Many were running unopposed, having already won their hotly contested Republican primaries in the deeply red state. But most made a point to connect their campaigns to their Christian faith, and four noted they were members of Altar Church. When they finished, Remington asked for a show of hands of those who intended to vote for “biblical values” while in office. All 15 lifted their hands.

The 12 who went on to win their races include state Sen. Joe Alfieri, who told the Altar Church congregation that “drag queen shows in libraries” showed that the country was moving away from “Judeo-Christian values.” Alfieri pushed a bill in early February that would limit access to absentee ballots. Another is State Sen. Ben Toews, who told Altar Church he prayed for people while knocking on doors for his campaign, and who introduced a bill this month that would prohibit any instruction involving human sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity before the fifth grade.

According to the Idaho Capitol Sun, Toews was also one of the founding incorporators of the Idaho Family Policy Center, a group created in 2021 that has authored or championed some of the most conservative bills placed before the state Legislature — including one this month with a provision that would ban books depicting homosexuality from libraries. The Idaho Family Policy Center’s head, a recent transplant, has described himself as a Christian nationalist, and the group’s board includes two men connected to Doug Wilson’s churches and schools in Moscow.

Coeur D’Alene’s Mayor Jim Hammond. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Abbott said it was all part of a larger “takeover” of the state Republican Party by far-right actors too extreme for the state’s established conservatives. Coeur D’Alene’s Republican Mayor Jim Hammond expressed dismay about the growing tone of Christian nationalism in the party. He pointed to a moderate conservative group, the North Idaho Republicans, working to “pull back some of the influence” from Christian nationalists, which, he noted, is inconsistent with his Catholic faith.

“Damn it, it’s not right,” Hammond said. In a later email, he said Greene’s presence at the Kootenai County Republican event left him “embarrassed and very disappointed.”

Greene isn’t the only one to capitalize on the region’s embrace of Christian nationalism. A Spokane, Washington-based pastor long associated with the Redoubt is Matt Shea, a former Washington state legislator who has advocated for a “Holy Army.” Shea was expelled from his state’s GOP caucus in 2019 after an investigation concluded he had engaged in domestic terrorism in connection with the 2016 armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. He was on hand last June protesting a Pride in the Park celebration organized by LGBTQ rights advocates (including Abbott) in Coeur D’Alene, when police arrested 31 members of Patriot Front — a white supremacist group — in the back of a U-Haul truck, alleging they were planning to riot.

Shea insisted the militia members were actually members of the leftist group antifa, but there was no evidence to support that claim. In fact, at least two of those arrested had connections to Shea’s own church.

Last September, the Reawaken America tour, an unabashed Christian nationalist traveling exhibition that mixes right-wing politics, conspiracy theories and antipathy toward COVID-19 restrictions, hosted one of its rallies in Post Falls, a short drive from Coeur D’Alene. In addition to speakers such as Michael Flynn, onetime adviser to Trump, as well as Trump’s son Eric, the two-day festival included nighttime baptisms overseen by Shea and a minister from Altar Church.

Christian nationalism has many iterations, however, and divisions have emerged. Walsh, the Redoubt Realtor, said he was skeptical of any effort to push sectarian Christian theology on others in the region.

“I think we’d be fighting in no time,” he said.

There are even fissures among vocal Christian conservatives. Paul Van Noy, pastor of Candlelight Christian Fellowship in Coeur D’Alene, said Reawaken organizers originally approached him to host the September event, likely in consideration of Candlelight’s embrace of politics and clashes with LGBTQ rights activists; last year, local LGBTQ advocates pushed unsuccessfully to keep the church from being used as a polling location. And like Wilson’s congregation in Moscow, Candlelight has doubled in size since it refused to close during the pandemic. (Van Noy was so opposed to COVID-19 restrictions that he kept the church open even after he was hospitalized with the disease in 2020.)

Van Noy is unashamedly political — “I tell people what I think about candidates,” he said — but as he reviewed Reawaken’s proposal, Van Noy was struck by the inclusion of baptisms.

“All of a sudden someone says ‘We’re going to do baptisms,’” he said. “I’m asking the question, ‘OK, well, then who’s preaching the gospel? What gospel? Are they going to believe? Are they going to be told that if they’re baptized in water they’re saved?”

Van Noy pulled out, and after organizers cut off communication with him, he was forced to bum a ticket from a friend in order to attend.

He told Religion News Service, “I was appalled to hear, in the name of Jesus, some things that were said.”

But to Christian nationalism’s loudest detractors, focusing on these rifts misses the Panhandle’s forests for its towering evergreens. While sectarian varieties of Christian nationalism certainly exist, the version most ascendant — and the kind activists say is working its way through the state Legislature — relies not on theological purity but an alliance between conservative Christians who collectively oppose liberal policies and what they deride as secular culture.

That powerful puree of ideologies is something that, Walsh acknowledged, could unite even North Idaho’s famously isolationist Redoubters.

“Would they band together and say, ‘We’re all Christians, and we’re gonna go fight the liberals’? That’s possible,” he said.

(This story was was reported with support from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.)

This story has been updated to correct Stephen Wolfe’s affiliation with Princeton University.

This article originally appeared on ReligionNews.com.