California’s Christian Nationalists Pushing Recall to Install Right-Wing Governor

Radio host Larry Elder (Image from Sept. 9, 2021 NHCLC town hall promoting California recall and Elder's candidacy)

California’s religious-right leaders have rallied around an effort to recall the state’s Gov. Gavin Newsom, and many are backing the campaign of right-wing radio host Larry Elder. A group of Christian nationalist and dominionist pastors in California have declared their intention in recent years to transform the state by turning out enough conservative evangelical voters. They weren’t terribly successful in 2016 or 2020, as California voters rejected former President Donald Trump by massive margins, but they did help Republicans flip some congressional seats, including one taken last year by Rep. Young Kim, an ally of Christian nationalist political operative David Lane. They see the recall election as a chance to install an ally as governor.

Ché Ahn, a Pasadena, California-based leader of the dominionist New Apostolic Reformation, is among those encouraging evangelicals to vote for the recall. On Jan. 5, the day before the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, Ahn spoke at a rally designed to fire up Trump’s supporters. Ahn told rallygoers that the election was stolen but that Trump would remain in office. “We’re gonna rule and reign through President Trump and under the lordship of Jesus Christ,” he declared. A month later, Ahn urged members of his congregation to sign a petition to recall Newsom.

Ahn resisted California’s COVID-19-related restrictions on church gatherings and won a legal judgment against the governor. But he didn’t stop there. On Thursday night, Ahn co-hosted a town hall with Elder sponsored by another Trump-promoting pastor, Samuel Rodriguez, and his National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Rodriguez claimed that Newsom’s policies are “anti-Latino” and “anti-people of faith.”

At the NHCLC town hall, none of the pastors asked Elder about his opposition to the minimum wage. But Ahn did ask about his commitment to ending abortion in the state. “I am 100 percent pro-life,” Elder told the group, pledging, “I’m going to govern as a governor who is 100 percent pro-life.” Elder pledged to use all the powers of the governorship–making emergency declarations, issuing executive orders, appointing people to commissions, calling special legislative sessions, using the bully pulpit—to advance his agenda.

Hours before the NHCLC event, Ahn’s anti-choice political group, 1Race4Life, sent supporters an email that called the recall election “an opportunity to recall Governor Newsom and vote into office a governor who is pro-life and pro-family.”

Asked about his faith and how it would help him govern, Elder said, “I don’t understand people who are not people of faith.” Elder told the NHCLC crowd that his pastor is Calvary Chapel Chino Hills pastor Jack Hibbs, an intensely political pro-Trump pastor and ally of Christian nationalist political operative David Lane. Hibbs recently prayed that God would forgive Californians for electing “people with antichrist” worldviews, “like Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris.” Hibbs used a recent Sunday worship service to promote Elder’s candidacy.

While Hibbs and other right-wing figures have claimed that “ballot harvesting”—collecting mail-in ballots—was a vehicle for voter fraud by Democrats, Hibbs and his church are among those conducting an ambitious ballot collection operation of their own, as he bragged about during a recent appearance with his close ally and recall proponent Charlie Kirk, head of right-wing youth organizing group Turning Point USA.

A Sept. 2 California Pastors Town Hall sponsored by the Salt & Light Council focused in part on the recall election. Bishop Art Hodges urged pastors to bring their ballots to church and to portray voting as a sacred duty. “It is our duty as Christians in America,” he said, to ensure God’s continued blessing on the U.S. by “choosing leaders who will honor biblical values and morality.” Hodges presented talking points favoring the recall, which began with Newsom performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples and running through a litany of complaints, including “Cash payments to illegals.”

Greg Fairrington, pastor of Destiny Christian Church in Rocklin, has urged his congregants to vote for the recall, claiming that Newsom’s policies “have continually contradicted the Word of God and have been in opposition with the millions of Christians in California.”

Online propagandist Dennis Prager, another participant in David Lane’s Christian nationalist organizing events in California, was among those who urged Elder to run for governor. National religious-right political and media figures are also promoting the recall and Elder’s candidacy, including Elder’s fellow radio show host Eric Metaxas. Metaxas called Elder California’s “next governor” in an Aug. 4 interview. Metaxas, who said “we are fighting against really dark forces,” pronounced himself “thrilled” about Elder’s candidacy.

At Charisma, Debbie Wuthnow, president of the conservative Christian iVoterGuide, called the recall “a unique opportunity for Californians to elect a governor who represents Judeo-Christian values,” adding, “Such an opportunity hasn’t occurred in California in many years.” Another Charisma column from August declared, “Prayers, from within and surrounding California, launched two strategic arrows into Newsome’s and the Democrats’ plans to hold office into 2022.”

Religious-right author and activist Craig Huey and Brad Dacus of the right-wing Pacific Justice Institute endorsed Elder in a video posted Aug. 12. Dacus said it was important for voters to send the message that “when a governor engages in tyranny, we the people have the ability to object and tear down that tyranny.” Huey said another benefit of recalling and replacing Newsom would be the ability of a new governor to appoint judges, eliminate positions in the bureaucracy, and “change out the radical socialists.”

“And if Diane Feinstein isn’t able to finish out her term, that governor can appoint a new U.S. senator,” Huey said. “Yes, that’s a very good point to make,” Dacus said. Dacus called Elder the strongest of the candidates running to replace Newsom, saying he has the charisma to make major changes in the state.

The special election will be held Sept. 14 and many voters have already cast their ballots. Recent polling suggests that the effort to recall Newsom is likely to fail, with Elder leading the field of potential replacements if the recall were to be successful.