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Christian nationalism comes to Nevada Day of Prayer

Three people dressed in formal attire are standing indoors. One person is holding a small book and the other two are looking toward it.
Liberty Baptist Church via YouTube
David Barton (left) and Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo (center) at the Nevada Prayer Breakfast in Carson City, Nev., on May 2, 2024.

Nevada is inundated every two years by candidates and political operatives from around the country. This year, that list includes a prominent figure in the Christian nationalist movement.

On the first Thursday in May, worshippers, pastors and Gov. Joe Lombardo gathered outside the Nevada State Capitol Building for the National Day of Prayer.

They listened to songs, invocations, and a lecture by Christian nationalist organizer David Barton.

“We have a culture right now that’s trying to suppress the acknowledgement of God,” he told the crowd.

Barton travels the country to promote the inaccurate idea that the United States was supposed to be a Christian nation. If the country’s going to succeed, he argued, it needs to return to its biblical roots.

“There had been 1,400 government issued calls to prayer by 1815. That’s a lot of praying that was done in those days. That’s what America needs today, we’ve become very secular,” he said.

This wasn’t Barton’s first appearance that day. Earlier, he and Lombardo joined about 80 ministers for a prayer breakfast.

The private event was organized by Liberty’s Hope, a Baptist ministry in Las Vegas. It was closed to the press, but Pastor Tom Willadsen of Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church was there.

“[Barton’s] topic was supposed to be a history of prayer in Nevada. And he didn’t touch on Nevada at all,” Willadsen said.

In response to emailed questions from KUNR, a spokesperson for Lombardo wrote that the governor “is a man of faith, and he treats and respects all leaders and constituents equally, regardless of their personal religious background.”

According to Willadsen, Barton’s rhetoric was more narrowly focused on ideology.

“[Barton’s] understanding of the presence of Christian faith at the founding of our nation is kind of like: Ben Franklin sneezed, and George Washington said ‘God bless you.’ And based on that, both of them are evangelical Christians,” he summarized.

Barton didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

But according to Frederick Clarkson with Political Research Associates, his goal is much grander than just connecting with a few pastors over pastries.

“I call him the ‘Energizer Rabbit’ of the Christian right,” Clarkson said. “He’s so energetic, and he shows up in so many places – even at age 70.”

Barton’s political career began in Texas, where he was vice chair of the state GOP for nearly a decade.

But Clarkson said the crux of Barton’s success comes from his melding of religion and politics.

Barton is affiliated with several branches of the Christian nationalist movement, including Seven Mountains Dominionism, which seeks evangelical control over key sectors of society. Those sectors, or “mountains,” include family, religion, education, arts and entertainment, media, business, and government.

And Clarkson thinks it’s probably that final mountain that brought Barton to Nevada.

“[Nevada’s a] swing state. It’s as simple as that. He’s a Republican Party operative, but he’s also a Christian right operative,” Clarkson said.

Clarkson’s been studying the Christian right for years. He said a key part of their political strategy is to elect candidates who support a theocratic vision for the country.

But first, they need to get out the vote – and that’s where Barton comes in.

By claiming the United States is supposed to be a Christian nation, and that its relationship with God is under threat, Barton is trying to motivate evangelical voters with fear.

But Pastor Tom Willadsen has a different vision for the country:

“Psalm 131 begins, ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in harmony,’” he said.

As a Presbyterian, Willadsen said he doesn’t want to see civil society promote any religion – whether that’s his, or anyone else’s.

The image in this story is a screenshot from 0:54 of the Nevada Prayer Breakfast recap published by Liberty Baptist Church on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Bert is KUNR’s senior correspondent. He covers stories that resonate across Nevada and the region, with a focus on environment, political extremism and Indigenous communities.
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