Dan Forest to headline Charlotte event featuring controversial religious right speakers

By: - September 5, 2019 5:00 am
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest

Lt. Governor to share the stage with speakers who have vilified LGBTQ and Muslim communities, called for plan to “free Christian children from public education”

Next month, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest will be the special guest at The American Renewal Project’s “North Carolina Renewal Project” event in Charlotte. The roster of speakers for the private conservative Christian event includes:

  • A pastor who calls the notion of a separation between church and state “cowardice” and those in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality “militant homofascists” bent on turning the U.S. into Sodom.
  • An author who has railed against Muslims as would-be conquerors and rapists and LGBTQ rights as a first step to America living under Sharia law.
  • A pastor and Republican politician who has asserted anyone not committed to the U.S. as an explicitly Judeo-Christian nation should leave.

Forest’s office did not return requests for comment on his appearance at the event. But LGBTQ and Islamic rights activists and state lawmakers condemned his participation this week.

“It’s unfortunate to say the least,” said North Carolina Rep. Deb Butler (D-Brunswick). “At a time when we’re here in eastern North Carolina [ahead of Hurricane Dorian] with neighbor helping neighbor irrespective of differences and things like sexual orientation, they’re planning an event that in my point of view is going to incite hatred, fear and otherism.”

Butler, who is a lesbian, said Forest could learn a lesson from the way communities pull together during a weather emergency.

“When those swift water rescue teams come up to your house, they don’t ask what your background is,” Butler said.

Zainab Baloch

Zainab Baloch, a Muslim community organizer based in Raleigh, said the on-the-record anti-Islam rhetoric of those speaking at the event makes it infuriating that Forest would attend.

“If they were preaching these kinds of things about the African American community, the Latinx community or the Jewish community would he show up?” Baloch said.

“It’s disgusting and ridiculous that we have people in office right now in North Carolina who think it’s okay to associate with people with these racist, Islamophobic views,” Baloch said. “It makes it clear that Forest doesn’t represent all of the people of North Carolina. He represents the people who look and think like him.”

Rhetoric and “renewal”

The American Renewal Project holds similar expense-paid private events across the country for “church and ministry leaders, and their spouses.” Its goal, as stated by founder David Lane, is to “engage the church in a culture war for religious liberty, to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage and to re-establish a Christian culture.”

David Lane

That can mean recruiting Christian religious leaders to run for political office, as Lane has done through his “Pastors in Pews” program. It can also mean encouraging Christian leaders to be more explicitly political in their messages to their churches, as advised by some of the pastors who regularly speak at Renewal Project events.

Lane’s rhetoric often uses violent, militaristic imagery to describe what he calls the fight for survival of Christian culture in America – often against government from the local to the national level and particularly non-religious public education.

“Can you picture what America would look like following a decade-long war – a knock-down drag-out – to return God, prayer and the Bible to the public schools?” Lane asked in the 2012 essay in which he announced his American Renewal Project. “To regain our Christian heritage and re-establish a Christian culture?”

Extending his Biblical war metaphor, Lane called for divine punishment for political opponents.

“The message to our federal representatives and senators?” Lane wrote. “Vote to restore the Bible and prayer in public schools or be sent home. Hanging political scalps on the wall is the only love language politicians can hear.”

“One of these days some nobody – yet conversant and skilled in the Word – will call for religious liberty by reintroducing the Bible, Jesus, the Ten Commandments and honoring God at commencements in the public schools of America,” Lane wrote. “Then we will watch Providence call for ‘punishment executed by angels’ to those who oppose His Word.”

Failing that, Lane argues in a separate essay from just last month, America is “doomed.”

“It is a spiritual battle and what by now should be evident is that America is doomed, unless men and women of Issachar ‘conceive and orchestrate a plan’ – God’s Plan – to free Christian children from public education.”

Following religiously motivated shootings at synagogues, mosques and LGBTQ clubs and gatherings in the last few years, there has been a renewed debate over militaristic religious rhetoric in politics, particularly when it is joined with white supremacist or white nationalist sentiment that has been on the rise throughout the country – a development some see as having led to a spike in hate crimes.

The violence has led to a Christian movement against just the sort of Christian Nationalism espoused by The American Renewal Project and, state lawmakers said, should lead to elected leaders choosing their words and associations much more carefully.

“I recognize that every time I open my mouth to say something to a group of people, I have to be very careful and thoughtful,” said Butler. “Because it’s so easy for people to misunderstand and so easy to inflame people. For leaders who don’t have that kind of thoughtfulness and incite that kind of intense emotion in people, I find it shameful for them to do that in the name of religion.”

Looking at some of the rhetoric of The American Renewal Project, Butler said, it is clear North Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor shouldn’t have accepted their invitation.

[Tweet ““There’s no way in the world you should accept an invitation from a group that could incite violence or promote hatred.””]

“There’s no way in the world you should accept an invitation from a group that could incite violence or promote hatred,” Butler said. “And I think the lieutenant governor has failed to do his homework on this group or doesn’t care. Either reason is unacceptable.”

Faces of the movement

Though Lane is The American Renewal Project’s founder and architect, he rarely gives interviews and is known for staying out of the spotlight.

Instead, the gatherings are often headlined by stars of conservative religious circles – charismatic pastors, writers and political commentators who echo Lane’s message with an emphasis on homosexuality and Islam as looming existential threats to Christianity and democracy.

Many of those personalities will be speaking alongside Forest at the October event in Charlotte.

William Federer

William Federer is a one-time U.S. congressional candidate who has self-published a number of books on historical and religious subjects with conservative political orientation through his company, Amerisearch, Inc.

In interviews, Federer has warned of an eventual Islamic takeover of Europe and the U.S. of which he said the LGBTQ rights movement is a first step.

“The whole atheist-homosexual-gay-agenda movement, that’s a temporary thing,” Federer said. “That’s simply a detaching phase to get us away from our past to move into an Islamic future.”

In starkly religious and racial terms, Federer warned of the United States following what he sees as a pattern of Europeans being out-bred, outnumbered and victimized by Muslims in Europe.

“Ten years ago there were three mosques in Germany, today there’s over 200,” Federer said. “The number one name for newborns in London, Milan, Brussels is Mohammad. The number one crime in Norway, Sweden and Denmark is rape – Muslim immigrant men raping European women. In other words Europe went from a Judeo-Christian past and then they backslid into a secular neutral and now they’re having an Islamic future.”

Also speaking with Forest at October’s event is Pastor Ken Graves of Calvary Chapel church in Bangor, Maine. Graves’ speeches and writings, which often center on “men being men,” also rail against the LGBTQ equality movement and encourage Christians to stand up to it.

Pastor Ken Graves

“When we’re being honest, we are conscious that militant homofascism seeks to take over our land and make it Sodom,” Graves has said.

Another of the speakers at the “North Carolina Renewal Event” will be E.W. Jackson, who ran unsuccessfully for both a Senate seat and Lieutenant Governor in Virginia. Now a Christian minister and conservative commentator, Jackson sparked controversy last year when he complained that Muslims were taking over the U.S. Congress after the election of Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesotta) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).

The two were the first Muslim women elected to Congress, which led to a change in rules allowing for their religious headwear.

“The fact that we’re electing these people to Congress and electing them to office is just beyond the pale,” Jackson said on his radio show. “Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe in the freedom of religion, I believe in the First Amendment, but I’ll tell you what, I’m not voting for a Muslim to serve in any office. Me, personally, I’m not doing it. I’m not doing it. Period. I’m not doing it.”

Jackson continued in an extended commentary in which he suggested the country was in danger of Sharia Law being imposed.

“The floor of Congress is now going to look like an Islamic republic,” Jackson said. “We are a Judeo-Christian country. We are a nation rooted and grounded in Christianity and that’s that. And anybody that doesn’t like that, go live somewhere else. It’s very simple. Just go live somewhere else. Don’t try to change our country into some sort of Islamic republic or try to base our country on Sharia law.”

“Not unexpected”

Kendra Johnson

Kendra Johnson, executive director of LGBTQ rights group Equality NC, said Forest speaking at the October event is “disheartening but not unexpected.”

This has been Dan Forest’s track record so far – supporting measures that don’t support all of the citizens of North Carolina,” Johnson said. “This is another way LGBTQ people are marginalized – when we see our elected officials in North Carolina refuse to sit down and talk to us about our lives, but they will speak before groups like this.”

When painting a portrait of the ideal American family and its values, Johnson said, groups like The American Renewal Project forget about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families, immigrant families and non-Christian families.

“There are a lot of types of families in North Carolina,” Johnson said. “If you claim you want to represent family values, you also have to consider those families.”

State Rep. Alison Dahle (D-Wake) agreed.

“If you say you represent North Carolina, you have to represent North Carolina and all its people,” Dahle said.

Religious communities of all types are important and they should be free to discuss social and political issues, she said – but state elected officials should not appear before groups preaching the superiority of one religion while demonizing another.

“As a country we were founded on the freedom of religion,” Dahle said. “We weren’t founded to be governed by religion.”

Dahle, who is a lesbian, said Forest should ask himself why this group believes people like her – and so many other North Carolinians – need to be villainized.

“I would like to know why we’re fair game, why people of another religion are fair game,” Dahle said. “If you need that kind of hate behind you, you’re not a very good politician.”

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Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.