Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA is increasingly leaning into right-wing Christian fundamentalism
TPUSA has used its college campus activism model with the faith community, partnering with far-right pastors and groups and demanding Christian pastors preach right-wing politics
Charlie Kirk and his conservative student-oriented organization Turning Point USA have spent the last two years bolstering connections with faith leaders on the religious right and Christian nationalist influencers as part of a “mission” to “restore America’s biblical values.”
As part of this effort, TPUSA is pressuring pastors to push right-wing politics, deepening ties with extremist pastors and groups that push Christian nationalist talking points, and teaching kids Christian fundamentalist curriculums under the guise of more innocuous “patriotic” and “Christian education.”
Christian nationalism, which contends that the U.S. is a fundamentally Christian nation and should be governed by right-wing Christian beliefs, has been on the rise in Republican politics. According to a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, more than half of Republicans support Christian nationalism.
This undercurrent of right-wing religious fundamentalism has helped fuel a torrent of anti-LGBTQ legislation and anti-abortion laws in GOP-led state legislatures across the country. The 2022 midterm elections also saw increased fervor from the religious right on the campaign trail, such as in the candidacy of Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, who experts warned had centered the dangerous Christian nationalist ideology at the heart of his campaign. (Kirk, however, praised Mastriano as "a fabulous person.”)
Turning Point USA, Kirk’s student-oriented youth group which he founded to increase right-wing political influence, has historically focused on college campuses, where its student chapters have a troubling history of racist incidents. Kirk also has espoused virulently anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and lamented supposed Christian persecution.
TPUSA Faith was launched in 2021, with a Turning Point spokesperson saying that “it was a no-brainer to recreate” the TPUSA model of activism for the faith community. Kirk has depicted the country as engaged in a “spiritual battle,” and this latest initiative seeks to win that supposed battle by restoring “America’s biblical values.” After Kirk partnered with extreme pastors and religious right leaders, some observers noted that TPUSA has increasingly grounded its mission in “the theology of Christian nationalism” and religious fundamentalism.
Kirk pushes Christian churches to spread bigotry by separating them into three groups: The cowardly, the courageous, and the complicit
Since co-founding TPUSA Faith with far-right pastor Rob McCoy, who reportedly played a key role in Kirk’s rejection of the principle of the separation between church and state, Kirk has traveled to churches across the country and attacked pastors he deems inadequately political.
At self-described “Christian extremist” Kenneth Copeland’s FlashPoint Live event in 2022, Kirk described what he sees as the three kinds of Christian churches: the “cowardly,” the “courageous,” and the “complicit.” He explained a simple litmus test for a “cowardly pastor” and church: “They didn't say a word after Roe vs. Wade was overturned. … They should resign from the ministry or find some courage because we just overturned one of the worst demonic decisions in the history of our country.” Kirk elaborated that “We should try to bring the cowardly pastors into the courageous category. We should challenge them.”
During the event, Kirk described Copeland’s audience and church as “the good type of ministry” and “the courageous church that stands boldly and speaks with moral truth.” Kirk downplayed and mocked criticisms of Christian nationalism, telling the audience that critiques of this ideology “means you're starting to care and they're getting scared.” Kirk also suggested that the only true faith that will lead to salvation is Christianity, and he baselessly fearmongered that “young people are being preyed on by government school predators and groomers.”
Kirk described “complicit” churches as going “out of their way for the seal of approval of the world,” ridiculing churches that put the “gay flag outside of their church or the Black Lives Matter flag." Earlier in the speech, he questioned whether the U.S. is a “conquered country” due to the presence of these flags.
Kirk's TPUSA Faith has partnered with groups associated with Christian nationalists
According to TPUSA’s 2021 Investor Prospectus, its TPUSA Faith initiative had a $6.4 million budget, making it one of the largest line items in the organization’s operating budget. TPUSA Faith's budget has seemingly funded a variety of events and programs, often in partnership with groups associated with Christian nationalists.
- TPUSA Faith recently announced a partnership with Christian nationalist pastor and musician Sean Feucht for a “revival” tour in 2023 and 2024 called “Kingdom to the Capitol.” The tour has the intention of “visiting every single state capitol in America.” Feucht, TPUSA's new partner, built a profile during the COVID-19 pandemic with his fierce opposition to public health measures that temporarily closed churches, holding events in defiance that “often fused Christian nationalism with conspiracy theories about coronavirus vaccines and globalism.” Feucht recently embraced Christian nationalism overtly, declaring that Christians must “be the ones writing the laws” and that “we want God to be in control of everything.”
- In 2021, Kirk launched TPUSA Faith’s “Saving America Tour” at megachurches around the country. At events, Kirk “melds the political with the spiritual” and frames political issues “as not just earthly policy differences, but part of the spiritual war between good and evil,” as described by The Arizona Republic. At one Saving America event in 2022, Kirk called on men in the audience to confront and physically prevent trans student athletes from competing in sports.
- TPUSA Faith also holds annual pastors summits with right-wing pastors and figures. David Barton, a Christian nationalist activist who has worked for decades to end the separation between church and state, is listed as a speaker at this May’s annual gathering. Last year’s summit featured Mat Staver, who runs the anti-LGBTQ extremist group Liberty Counsel; right-wing pastor Jack Hibbs; and Chad Connelly, the former RNC faith director who worked with Barton during the 2022 midterm elections to activate right-wing Christian voters by spreading debunked talking points about the Bible.
- Starting in 2021, TPUSA Faith partnered with Patriot Academy on courses to teach “biblical citizenship” and other programming denying the separation of church and state. Patriot Academy is an initiative of Barton’s anti-LGBTQ group Wallbuilders that seeks to “train citizens to understand and influence government policy with a Biblical worldview.” TPUSA and Patriot Academy collaborated on “biblical citizenship” courses and a workbook that denies the existence of the separation between church and state. The website also notes that the “biblical citizenship” is critical as “we fulfill the Great Commission and ‘make disciples of all nations.’”
- Through TPUSA Faith, Kirk holds monthly “Freedom Night in America” events at Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona, in an “effort to continue fighting America’s culture war … with the intent to call the faith community to action.” The watchdog Right Wing Watch has tracked and sometimes debunked Kirk when he has pushed popular Christian nationalist talking points at Freedom Night events, including claiming that the church is supposed to be the “counselor” to the government. Kirk recently held a Freedom Night event with TPUSA advisory council member and former Rep. Bob McEwen (R-OH), who is the current executive director of the Council for National Policy, a shadowy but influential right-wing networking group that serves as a political nerve center for the religious right. (Kirk is also reportedly a member of the Council for National Policy).
- To further expand its influence in recent years, TPUSA Faith launched Freedom Life Church, a network of TPUSA-aligned congregations. TPUSA Faith also reportedly hired a network of over 30 full-time “faith representatives” to launch faith groups across the country.
Kirk has praised extremist figures in the Christian nationalist movement and endorsed the “Seven Mountain Mandate”
Kirk has closely associated with high-profile members of the Christian nationalist “dominionist” movement, which asserts that Christians have been called to exert God’s will on society. Lance Wallnau, a self-proclaimed “prophet” and “Christian nationalist” who has been dubbed the “father of American Dominionism,” popularized the “quasi-biblical blueprint for theocracy” that is at the heart of dominionism called the “Seven Mountain Mandate.”
The Seven Mountain Mandate demands that Christians impose fundamentalist values on American society by conquering the “seven mountains” of cultural influence in U.S. life: government, education, media, religion, family, business, and entertainment. Wallnau has an extensively documented history of extreme and violent rhetoric. Recently, he called Biden the “antichrist,” referred to LGBTQ people as the “trans taliban,” and warned that God may soon start killing those who are “persecuting” Trump.
In addition to endorsing the Seven Mountain Mandate himself in a 2020 speech, Kirk has interviewed Wallnau multiple times since 2020, including at TPUSA’s 2022 Young Women’s Leadership Summit. In an interview, Kirk lavished praise on Wallnau, calling him “one of my all time favorite people.” Kirk has also repeatedly appeared alongside Wallnau in interviews and at in-person events for Kenneth Copeland’s right-wing Christian network The Victory Channel, where Wallnau serves as a “regular” for its panel show FlashPoint.
Kirk has also aligned TPUSA with the right-wing cellphone company Patriot Mobile. The company is closely associated with the dominionist movement, explicitly defends Christian nationalism on its website, and has become a force in Texas school board politics against LGBTQ inclusion and curriculums that teach about diversity. Patriot Mobile has sponsored a TPUSA Faith event, Kirk’s podcast, and other TPUSA events; held special events with him; and sent a senior leader to speak at a TPUSA conference.
TPUSA’s increasing Christian fundamentalism has led to an increased focus on young kids
TPUSA announced last summer that it would open its first brick and mortar school, Turning Point Academy, in collaboration with Dream City Christian School in Arizona, a K-12 private school that claims the “current political and spiritual climate in the country is in turmoil.” Kirk has said that the “Christian, Classical, conservative, church-based” school is just "the first in a growing network of schools that will launch across the country in the coming years.”
As Media Matters previously reported, Turning Point Academy attempts to undermine what right-wing figures have labeled as threats to kids, assuring parents that “CRT, postmodernism, ‘Wokeism,’ deconstructionism, queer theory, radical LGBT agendas, and anti-American ideas such as the 1619 project will have no place at our institution."
TPUSA’s expansion into K-12 education also aligns the organization with a long-term goal of the Christian nationalist movement: teaching kids Christian fundamentalist curriculums under the guise of simply “patriotic” and “Christian education.”