The Desecrations of Michael Flynn

The former national security adviser is fusing deranged political ideas with a mangled version of the Christian faith.

Michael Flynn
Mark Peterson / Redux

A prayer at a “ReAwaken America” event in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a few days ago, at which Michael Flynn appeared, captured the sensibilities of this moment: “Father God, we come to you in the name of Jesus. We’re asking you to open the eyes of President Trump’s understanding, that he will know the time of divine intervention. He will know how to implement divine intervention. And you will surround him, Father, with none of this deep-state trash, none of this RINO trash. You surround him, people that you pick, with your own mighty hand. In the name of Jesus.”

Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who once led the Defense Intelligence Agency, resigned as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser after less than a month for allegedly misleading the vice president, and then pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. (He later filed to withdraw his guilty plea, insisting that he had been set up by the FBI, and was eventually pardoned by Trump.)

Flynn has been embraced by MAGA world in part because he’s seen as a martyr, the victim of a “deep state” hit job. But what turned him into a rock star on the right was the post-pardon chapter of his life, as the Associated Press’s Michelle Smith points out in the recently broadcast Frontline documentary “Michael Flynn’s Holy War.” It was then that Flynn, whom a former military colleague describes as being susceptible to “extreme thinking”—fully took up residence in a world of fantasy and illusion, of crazed conspiracy theories and disinformation.

Flynn didn’t just claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump; he floated the idea of having Trump declare martial law and try to “rerun” the election. He suggested that the president should seize voting machines. And he said that the election involved “probably the greatest fraud that our country has ever experienced in our history.” At an event in Arizona last month, Flynn said, “Did you know that a governor can declare war? A governor can declare war. And we’re going to probably see that.”

Flynn has also asserted that COVID-19 was unleashed intentionally by global elitists in order to “rule the world,” “control humanity,” and “steal an election.” He has warned about the dangers of a “new world order” in which people such as Bill Gates, George Soros, and World Economic Forum Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab “have an intent to track every single one of us, and they use it under the skin. They use a means by which it’s under the skin.”

But it doesn’t end there. In a video deposition for the House committee investigating January 6, Republican Representative Liz Cheney asked this question of Flynn: “Do you believe the violence on January 6 was justified morally?” To which he responded, “Take the Fifth.” Cheney then asked, “Do you believe the violence on January 6 was justified legally?” Flynn responded, “Fifth.” And then Cheney asked this question of the former general: “Do you believe in the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America?”

“The Fifth,” Flynn replied.

“It was a surreal moment,” The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman wrote. “Here was a retired three-star general and former national security adviser refusing to opine on the foundational requirement of a constitutional democracy.”

Today, Michael Flynn is building a nationwide, grassroots movement that is fusing deranged political ideas with a mangled version of the Christian faith. In April 2021, the “ReAwaken America” tour was launched by Clay Clark with an event in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For the second event, held at the River Church in Tampa, Florida, that June, Flynn signed on as the star attraction. Organizers claim that more than 10,000 people came to the Pentecostal church for a sold-out show. Since then, the “ReAwaken America” Tour has averaged more than a gathering a month. Charisma News, which is aimed at Pentecostals and charismatics, is a sponsor. (Charisma News describes itself this way: “To passionate, Spirit-filled Christians, Charisma News is the most trusted source for credible news and insight from a charismatic perspective.”)

Tour speakers include a wide range of COVID and election conspiracists—Flynn, Eric Trump, Alex Jones, Mike Lindell, Roger Stone, Sidney Powell, Peter Navarro, Charlie Kirk, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. among them—and the events are permeated with Christian symbols and apocalyptic visions, the language of spiritual warfare and Christian nationalism. Fears and grievances are stoked, and people are invited to be baptized.

“The performances wrap the narrative of election fraud in a megachurch atmosphere, complete with worship music and prayer,” The New York Times’ Charles Homans reported.

“Clearly the focus of the tour—to kill the spirit of fear, expose the truth about medical fraud, expose election fraud and the great global reset while promoting Jesus is King and not done with America yet—resonates with a great number of Americans,” Pamela Christian wrote in Charisma News. (Christian’s website describes her as “a motivational speaker, author, and media personality who provides balance between rational thought and spiritual realities.”)

“The majority of people attending are not churchgoers,” Clay Clark told her. “As I’ve talked to many, I hear them express dissatisfaction with parts of the Bible not being taught, lack of authenticity or having been burned by the church. Their interest in attending the ReAwaken America Tour is to learn truth about medical and election fraud. But then they experience genuine Christian fellowship, their minds are changed and their hope renewed that we really can turn our nation red—not red as in Republican, but red as in the color of our Lord’s blood shed for us to live in truth.”

In November, Flynn told a packed sanctuary at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God and one religion under God.” He has described this as “a moment in time where this is good versus evil.”

“Mike Flynn has emerged as a martyr and a mascot for the far-right contingent of the Christian-nationalist movement in the United States,” Samuel Perry, a sociology professor at the University of Oklahoma, a scholar of Christian nationalism, and himself a person of the Christian faith, told Frontline.

What is being done by many people on the American right in the name of Jesus is a desecration of the actual Jesus—the Jesus of the Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount, and the parable of the Good Samaritan; the Jesus who shattered social, cultural, and religious barriers and hung out with the “wrong” crowd; the Jesus who was drawn to the forsaken and the despised, the marginalized and the outcast; the Jesus who demonstrated profound mistrust of political power and who declined Satan’s offer of the kingdoms of the world. The Jesus who said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” and “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of the Lord.” The Jesus who won, even if haltingly and imperfectly, the affections of my heart many years ago.

It doesn’t seem to have dawned on too many Christian nationalists and MAGA “culture warriors” that the people with whom Jesus clashed most intensely, and who eventually crucified him, were those who wielded political and religious power.

Today, the people in politics who most often invoke the name of Jesus for their political causes tend to be the most merciless and judgmental, the most consumed by rage and fear and vengeance. They hate their enemies, and they seem to want to make more of them. They claim allegiance to the truth and yet they have embraced, even unwittingly, lies. They have inverted biblical ethics in the name of biblical ethics.

This doesn’t mean these people aren’t good friends or reliable neighbors or beloved family members. It doesn’t mean they are without virtue in other areas of their lives. And it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t show personal kindness to those in need. I know such people; you might too. And even those who hold toxic political views deserve some measure of grace and understanding. Many of them are being misled.

But we also need to directly and candidly name things, and the views of Michael Flynn and those who think like him—the views and sensibilities of many of those in MAGA world and who claim to be followers of Jesus—are malicious. They may think of themselves as faithful, but they are promoting views and attitudes that are antithetical to the life and teachings of Jesus.

“Once you have made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing,” a senior devil advises a junior devil in C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. “Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours.”

This is not the place a lot of Christians wanted to end up, but it is where they are. They need to change direction, to look to heal rather than to wound, to become ministers of reconciliation instead of agents of antipathy. In the name of Jesus.