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“God is raising up the Charlie Kirks and the Candace Owenses and the David Harris Jr’s and the Steve Bannons, he’s raising up these voices,” preached Jurgen Matthesius.
He was standing on the stage of Awaken Church’s San Marcos campus’s main auditorium. The massive screens behind him read “Mortal Kombat”. The large, predominantly white congregation hung on his every word while regularly raising their hands in the air. “Amen” , “Speak on it” and “come on” can be heard from the audience throughout the nearly 45-minute performance.
He continued, “what are we doing in Boise Idaho? We are going to change the script over Boise Idaho. What are we doing in Salt Lake City? We are changing the script over that city, with that city its religion is dead, no life—we’re going to bring life and live more abundantly. John 10:10. What are we doing in San Diego, what are we doing with people?”
Welcome to Jurgen’s world—Awaken “church.” Formerly C3 San Diego, Awaken was born in early 2020 as Jurgen’s preaching became more radical. The franchise has 6 locations—5 In San Diego County: Balboa, Bressi Ranch, El Cajon, Eastlake, San Marcos and one in Salt Lake City in Utah. Jurgen plans to open 3 more locations in the next six months.
Awaken has become a hotbed for San Diego’s Christofascist scene. It’s a regular stop for some of America’s biggest right wing mouthpieces including Tucker Carlson, Candace Owens, Sean Feucht and Clay Clark’s “Reawaken America” tour featuring Michael Flynn, Roger Stone and Eric Trump. The church is also in bed with Charlie Kirk and TPUSA Faith. They recently launched a partnership headed up by Awaken’s very own Louis Uridel, who was at TPUSA’s America Fest last December in Arizona. Their preoccupation with politics and culture wars has been building since their re-branding in Jan 2020. Their culture war push has seen founders, pastors and congregants involved in actions at San Diego city council meetings, School Boards, anti LGBTQ protests—and at the January 6th, 2021 Capitol Riot.
Awaken squarely follows the playbook of other megachurch chains like Hillsong and C3 with their flashy, social media-tailored presence. They target Christian hipsters, young families and youth to join the fold and engage in their programs. These young people are then encouraged to seek out others to join the church.
Awaken centers itself as a leader in the new wave of evangelical churches involved in the “spiritual war” driven by the likes of Flynn and Kirk. Awaken’s goal, although they don’t say this directly, is to have Christianity dominate U.S. and eventually global society.
JURGEN & LEANNE MATTHESIUS
Pastors Jurgen and Leanne Matthesius oversee the entirety of Awaken Church. They moved from Australia in July 2005 to plant a church in San Diego under direction from C3 Founder Phil Pringle. Here, “planting” is the process where a new church is founded with the intent to establish a new local congregation.
According to his wife Leanne’s social media, she and Jurgen met when Jurgen was a youth minister at her church in Sydney, Australia. Leanne was 16. Jurgen was 23. They were engaged a year later at 17 and 24, and had their first child at 19 and 26.
According to Jurgen’s own words, he was 22.
Jurgen was born in Germany 1967 to non-religious parents. In 1969 the family moved to Australia and settled permanently. Jurgen didn’t grow up in the church. It wasn’t until age 18 that religion became a part of his life when he had an “encounter with Christ on a beach” in Sydney. As Jurgen tells it, he met a couple that took him under their wing and invited Jurgen to live with them. The couple would talk to him daily about the bible, life and the “end of times”.
After Jurgen attended Sydney’s Hillsong college he moved to New Zealand as part of a Hillsong plant. Leanne joined him after they were married and Jurgen went on to serve for 7 years as youth pastor of South City Christian Church, Auckland. In 1998 Jurgen and Leanne “felt a strong call from god” to return to Australia and in 2001 they were appointed as pastors of C3 church Oxford Falls, Sydney. In 2005 Jurgen and Leanne moved to San Diego and C3 SD was born.
In 2014 Phil Pringle appointed both Jurgen and Leanne to oversee C3 America., That saw them involved in growing the national footprint of the megachurch brand while continuing to grow the presence locally in San Diego. According to an October 2014 article by C3 Churchwatch, an organization that monitors churches that fall under the C3 banner, Jurgen is “C3 Church America’s Overseer.” It’s hard to pinpoint the date Jurgen went his own way from C3, but he was no longer in this role as of 2020.
Jurgen’s preaching became more radical as the 2020 election drew near. Jurgen’s love for Trump and all things MAGA was getting more intense. This made some members of C3 past and present raise concern to C3 leadership. There was no public statement by either party regarding this feedback, but in Jan 2020, Awaken was launched and C3 San Diego was no more. However, as we’ll see, Jurgen and Awaken are still running the megachurch’s playbook.
WHO ARE JURGEN’S MENTORS?
On his instagram, Jurgen called C3’s Phil Pringe and Hillsong’s Brian Houston his mentors. Both men and their churches are riddled with controversy.
According to their website, C3 is a “global family of 500+ churches.” It was founded in 1980 when Phil and his wife Chris Pringle moved to Sydney, Australia from Christchurch, New Zealand.
“Following the voice of God, and fuelled by prayer, they planted the first Christian City Church,” the C3 website reads.
From there, the church franchise spread to 550 locations in 64 countries on 6 continents.
Hope City, A C3 church in the UK, engaged in homophobic discrimination openly. Hope City’s lead pastor Dave Gilpin engaged in “pray the gay away”-style preaching at the church. The church also discriminated against women in their government-funded charity. Said charity, called “City Hearts,” is intended to support, house and counsel women who experienced trafficking and abuse. Dozens of women spoke out about untrained staff unfit for the level of care they needed as well as one individual who was told she “had a devil in her and she had to change that” when the charity discovered she was in a same-sex relationship.
The City Harvest Church in Singapore (under C3 global) misappropriated $50 million dollars of church funds . Church founder and Pastor Kong Hee, with the help of 5 key church leaders, were found to have invested $24 million in sham bonds that helped bankroll Hee’s wife, Ho Yeow Sun’s, pop-music career.
C3 Pastor Nicholas Dimitris in North Carolina, along with 5 other business partners, was convicted in a conspiracy to defraud the US government through a complicated financial scheme involving fraudulent loans for their failing building endeavors .
Phil Pringle is founder and Leader of C3 Church Global (formerly City Church International.) Under his reign, C3 extorted their pastorship by pressuring excessive tithing and a pay-for-miracles scheme that saw pastors pretend to heal health issues for money. Parishioners said they were told to attend exorcisms to “remove the devil from inside of them” and in some cases were told to come off mental health medications.
C3 also engaged in homophobic abuse. In one incident, a parishioner alleged they were subjected to an exorcism to end a same-sex relationship. A C3 pastor later called the parishioner’s partner to accuse them of being “of the devil”. The Cult Education Institutes even ran an article in 2019 about how C3 “brainwashed” parishioners into donating thousands of dollars. Ex members spoke out about exorcisms and churchgoers being promised miracles for donations.
From the CEI website:
“Go make millions and give it to the House of God … Amen!” Phil Pringle preached at one conference, recorded and published online. In another clip, then leader of C3 Americas Jurgen Matthesius is also captured giving the hard sell to parishioners.
The Cult Education Institute names Jurgen in its report on ex-members—some of whom state churchgoers are brainwashed into donating large sums.
“God is brilliant with ledgers. God is the most perfect accountant, he knows everything you give and he makes sure it comes back to you with interest,” Jurgen said.
Jurgen’s other mentor is the Founding Pastor and Founding President of Hillsong, Brian Houston. Following a years-long investigation, Houston was charged with concealing his late father, Frank’s child sex abuse. The trial was underway in Sydney, Australia and closing arguments are expected in June. Jurgen recently talked about serial pedophile Frank Houston on their podcast, referring to Frank as “a man of god”
Houston himself stepped down from Hillsong earlier this year amid sexual abuse scandals after behaving inappropriately toward two women. Houston is currently trying to rehabilitate his name. On the day his trial dates were announced he released a video statement saying he will fight the charges while denying accusations of inappropriate behavior.
Under Houston’s leadership, Hillsong has been in crisis for several years. Carl Lentz, one of Hillsong’s most popular and successful pastors, made headlines when news of his extramarital affairs broke—as well as allegations of inappropriate behavior with women.
In April last year the Christian Post released an independent investigation following Lentz’s termination in 2020. The report alleges that Lentz “caused mental illness in several staff and volunteers…and fostered a culture of abuse and financial misappropriation.”
This led to Hillsong losing footing in America, with more than half of their US-based churches closing in a span of a few weeks.
Despite Hillsong’s numerous financial and sexual abuse scandals, Jurgen Matthesius still invites their pastors to speak at his church. Houston spoke at Awaken September 9th last year.
According to their website, “[t]he Mission of Awaken Church (the “Church”) is to glorify God by building a city-influencing church. Our church desires to build healthy marriages, families, businesses and communities bringing people into a fresh, real, and powerful encounter with our savior Jesus Christ”
Jurgen’s preaching has two flavors: prosperity gospel and hand-picking Bible verses to justify culture war grievances. Prosperity gospel is an umbrella term for a group of ideas that link Christian faith with material, and particularly financial, success. Parishioners at Awaken are encouraged to tithe 10% of their income as an offering to the church with the promise that “the Lord” will bless them with health and wealth. It’s a popular ongoing grift in evangelical Christianity. Some of the most famous examples are televangelists Joel Ostein and Kenneth Copeland, who both made themselves millionaires off donations from their congregations.
The Awaken website has a “giving” page where you are encouraged to give online and offers the suggestion to set up recurring payments via your checking account or credit card. They also provide the option to give via phone and app, options for Crypto, Stocks and Asset transfers as well as the option to give in service.
Jurgen has a talent for grifting his parishioners. In one of many examples he declares tithing/giving “a sacred thing, a holy thing,” and that “the holy spirit is your helper.” He says that large donations/tithing should still be given, even though you may not be able to afford it, as it gives God an opportunity to save you.
“Your arm won’t be able to sustain you but you release the right arm of god to be able to elevate you,” Jurgen said about giving beyond one’s means.
But the prosperity grift isn’t Jurgen’s only routine. As Jacob Mcwhinny wrote for The Voice of San Diego this past May:
“Vaccine denialism and political diatribes aren’t a bug of Matthesuis’ sermons, but an integral feature. Talk of rampant election fraud, globalist cabals and genocidal elites are increasingly common in his sermons and in his social media posts”
Jurgen has been consistent in his vitriol about the COVID-19 vaccines, former COVID czar Anthony Fauci and “the pandemic of the vaccinated”. It sits back into the coded antisemitism of his overall message: “the globalists”, “WEF” (World Economic Forum), “the demonic Left” and “Soros” are evil and instructed by Satan to usher in the “new world order”.
He regularly spews his hatred on Gettr as he has been banned from Instagram and Twitter.
“Biden is NOT running America. These are NOT his policies. The WEF are in power. They deployed DOMINION voting systems to overthrow democracies in America & around the world to USHER in their ‘dystopian’ Great reset!,” Jurgen said in one rant.
It isn’t just talk—Jurgen regularly invites influential far-right figures to speak to his flock.
Awaken’s guest speaker lineup includes a lot of high-profile far-right figures. Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host who pushes the white supremacist “great replacement theory,” was a guest speaker in April last year. Tickets were priced from $30.00 to $5,000. VIP tickets included front row seating and a meet-and-greet. Candace Owens, who became a TPUSA staple and right-wing media darling for being Black and saying racism doesn’t exist, spoke at Awaken in June of 2021. Dennis Prager of PragerU fame, was there in June of 2021. David Harris Jr spoke at Awaken itself but was also a speaker at Flynn’s Reawaken America Tour’s San Diego stop at the San Marcos campus last march.
Dinesh D’souza, who authored books for evangelical publisher Tyndale House, spoke prior to the 2020 election. D’souza returned earlier this year to screen his election denial conspiracy film “2000 Mules” at the Awaken Salt Lake City campus.
Jim Garlow, former Skyline megachurch pastor who was involved in “seize the power”MAGA prayer meeting prior to J6 has spoken on more than one occasion. Eric Metaxas, Evangelical radio host and author who is being sued by Dominion for spreading voter fraud claims spoke in March last year. Sean Feucht, the singing preacher who gained infamy for early-lockdown mass (and maskless) gatherings is a regular and has a long association with the church.
The recent focus on SoCal from the likes of Charlie Kirk and Sean Feucht may seem confusing to some, as it’s a traditionally Blue stronghold. However, California’s history tells us a different story. Christian Nationalism and organized religious action groups have a long history in the state.
“It’s completely intentional,” Brad Onishi of the Straight White American Jesus podcast told LCRW. “there is a long history and there are already built up networks of massive churches in Southern California that they can tap into and mobilize.”
Onishi explained that several areas in Southern California are epicenters for Christian extremism. Orange county is the main cluster with San Diego close behind and Ventura a notable third. Historically these areas have been a playground for conservative and fundamental movements. The John Birch Society, founded in 1958, which spent decades radicalizing people into thinking there was a communist under every rock had a strong engine, particularly in California, throughout the 60s and 70s.
James Dobson founded the SPLC-designated hate group Focus on the Family, in 1977 in California. The “Los Angeles Crusade” of 1949 was Billy Graham’s first evangelical campaign. Graham’s campaign was initially supposed to last for 3 weeks but went on for 8. The L.A. Times called it the “greatest revival since the time of Billy Sunday” in the early 1900’s. It launched Graham into the nationwide spotlight
Southern California is often overlooked as the epicenter of white conservative christianity,
One in 8 Americans live in California. The sheer numbers right wingers can activate through this network of churches and Kirk’s national political network make keeping inroads into Evangelical and other religious networks absolutely essential.
While building and maintaining their base, Kirk and Feucht can also use California’s reputation as a liberal haven to say they’re fighting “the demonic left.” Having the Democrat majority and governors like Newsom to rally against lets the right push more people in the most populous state in the country further right. It also gives them something they don’t have in red states—an out if and when they lose politically.
The Church launched a collaboration with TPUSA Faith officially last October with a newly created Instagram account. TPUSA ambassador and Awaken Church prayer leader Louis Uridel leads the effort. Uridel, who has a Three Percenter tattoo, was the guest speaker for the launch event. He posted a one-minute reel afterwards.
“learn how you can make a difference in OUR COUNTRY and help infuse community and political activism with faith. It’s time for christians to rise up! We need to fight for the moral integrity of our country and it starts here,” Uridel’s post read.
“What we are seeing in Awaken is the playbook for Kirk and TPUSA,” Onishi said of Uridel and the church’s partnership with TPUSA Faith. “Charlie [Kirk] has positioned himself as the person if you want to tap into anyone 35 or younger in this movement.”
Uridel lost a Mayoral race in Oceanside, but gained a following for his far-right positions and tough guy act. Onishi says Uridel’s “warrior of god” act is part of Kirk’s “genius strategy”. Both Awaken and TPUSA get access to each other’s networks through Uridel as a conduit.
“Charlie is building the network that everyone wants to be a part of if they want clout and influence and in reverse Charlie is now the one that has everyone’s ear in these churches,” Onishi said.
The insidious thing about Kirk’s network is that churches are eventually forced to decide whether to ally with them or not. Allying with Kirk means getting access to a wealthy, powerful network that purports to attract the under-35 parishioners. But the cost is falling in line with his message. Those that don’t fall in line with Kirk risk being shut out of the network.
One recent example of Awaken’s partnership with other Christian nationalists is Patriot Academy. Kirk and TPUSA faith, along with Rick Green and David Barton of the Patriot Academy announced in January that they will be holding “biblical citizenship in modern America” training with Awaken as part of Awaken’s “connect groups” program and ongoing Awaken and TPUSA Faith partnership.
Patriot Academy says they want to “restore our Constitutional Republic and the Biblical principles that cause a Nation to thrive.” The program initially began in 2003 as a youth program for people 16-25. It taught about the U.S.’s founding documents at a summer camp. Roughly 30 students would spend a week in the Texas capitol building, with guest speeches and activist training from notable local Republicans with constant affirmation that the U.S. is a Christian country. That program’s grown to other states’ capitol buildings. They also have leadership programs for Veterans, “Constitutional Defense,” a handgun training course, as well as the “Biblical Citizenship’ and “Constitution Alive” trainings they take on the road—including to Awaken with Kirk. Their message, like the evangelical right at large, is that we are in holy war against godless authoritarian communism and only god fearing conservative patriots keen to rewrite the constitution can save it.
Awaken itself started numerous groups and ministries with an overt political slant. Prior to the official launch of the TPUSA Faith and Awaken church collaboration, Kirk spoke at the church as well as the “Emerge Men” conference. Kirk then mentored “Emerge Men’s Ministry” attendees via Zoom calls. These split groups allow the church to reinforce its direct messaging on “traditional family values” and role-setting for the families of the congregation.
In the traditional/fundamentalist scene Awaken would be viewed as progressive as it allows women to preach. In reality, they’re just pink-washing their misogyny by having women preach it. The church is passionately anti-abortion and is known to preach about the evils of the “LGBTQ+ mafia”.
Leanne Matthesius hosts “Cherish,” Awaken’s women’s ministry. The Cherish conference was at Harrah’s resort SoCal over the weekend of October 6th-9th last year. They claimed over 2,000 women were in attendance at $259 a ticket plus food and accommodation. Guest speakers for the event included Aubrey Matthesius, Jurgen and Leanne’s daughter, pastors from their campuses and Jurgen and Leanne themselves.
Jurgen’s message to his female flock was “we can have healthy, strong women when secure men lead.”
It’s worth noting that men such as Jurgen speak at the women’s “Cherish” events, but women do not speak at the “Emerge” men’s conferences.
The church also has its own burgeoning media empire that includes their app, podcast, “Awaken Worship,” their music outlet, “Awaken Film” and their own theater production group who in December held a “Night of Christmas” at the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park to a sold out crowd.
While keeping their parishioners entertained, Awaken also keeps them busy with their many “connect groups” which are broken down by age, focus and traditional family role. There is the men’s prayer group and the women’s prayer group who meet weekly while also holding the annual “Emerge Men” and “Cherish Women” conferences.
Awaken has a strong youth focus within the “connect”/mission groups, “Awaken Kidz” ages 0-11, “Awaken Youth” ages 11-18 and “Awaken Young Adults” ages 18-29. From age 30 you have an endless selection of options of “connect” groups at each location. They include titles like “adults 30+ Spiritual warfare group”, “young professionals and Married couples,” “military,” “family and marriage,” “Mom’s hangout with Barbies and toddlers,” and “Miracle Thursday’s women’s prayer”. Across the 6 locations they have 130+ connect groups on offer.
Education? No problem. “Awaken Academy” has its own K-12 “hybrid school” which offers a creation-based curriculum and a mix of on-campus classes and homeschooling. In October last year they announced their next venture, “Awaken U’—a “University” where students will pay $225 a month ($2,700 annually). “Awaken Leadership University” is a one year leadership and discipleship program that “exists to activate you in your calling and accelerate the vision of Awaken church”. Other than a few social media posts and a video on their website, there is not much more to the launch itself. There’s a start date of Jan 31st, 2023 and an application form on their website where it lists a “code of conduct”:
- No Excessive drinking or illegal drugs
- No sex or living with a partner outside of marriage
- No swearing or derogatory language
Any further information is scarce, but the model comes straight from the Hillsong/C3 mega-church playbook. Jurgen himself studied at Hillsong ministry College in the 90’s.
The political action group RMNNT (pronounced ‘remnant’) is made up of self-described “warriors of liberty” who partner with Awaken. The group holds its monthly meetings at Awaken’s Balboa campus in downtown San Diego. According to their website, “The RMNNT mission is to raise up a bold and passionate army to effectively influence politics. Any time a revolution happened within a nation it was because a RMNT of people decided to rise up and make history.”
The group partners with Awaken to tap into the local Christian community much like Charlie Kirk does. They claim their goal is to “hold our elected officials accountable.”
RMNNT had been successful in getting their people included on the ballot last November. Awaken Pastor Andre Johnson ran for the Encinitas Union school board, Rich Truchinski for the Tri-City health care district, Karen Dominguez and Jesse Vigil ran for board seats at Chula Vista Elementary school, Morgan Magil for the Lakeside Community Planning group and Mary Davis ran for the Alpine Community Planning group. RMNNT-trained candidates were unsuccessful, but 78 candidates they endorsed statewide won, 28 of which were school board candidates.
“We believe Christ has called the church to be thermostats of culture, not mere thermometers,”their website read.
“There is a misconception that the separation of church and state was to stop the church interfering with government, but in fact it was the exact opposite,” Jurgen statesIn a video about the PAC.
According to the IRS’s charities, churches and politics policy, this is illegal. The ban on political campaign activity has been in effect for more than half a century.
The church’s preoccupation with local and nationwide politics did not begin this year. Awaken members and staff featured heavily in local media during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic for defying stay at home orders. Pastors, including Jurgen and Leanne, regularly posted COVID-19 disinformation to their social media platforms. Members and staff like Uridel and Deuth made coordinated efforts to appear at San Diego city council meetings, advocating against abortion, for removal of mandates for masks, and against vaccines and congregation restrictions.
Awaken, under Jurgen’s leadership, received 1.4 Million in PPP loans during the lockdown.
AWAKEN AMONG THE HATEFUL
Three of the church’s pastors were at the nation’s capital on January 6th, 2021. Samuel Deuth, Sterling Pyle and David Chiddick were in one of Deuth’s instagram posts of the event.
Awaken’s election denial is not limited to those three pastors. Last April, Michael Flynn’s “ReAwaken America” tour made a stop at Awaken’s San Marcos campus. The traveling circus of insurrectionists, “Big Lie” pushers, Trump aides, Qanon grifters, anti-vaxxers and general conspiracy theorists were all in attendance. Notable speakers include Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Eric Trump, Thomas Rentz, and Sean Feucht.
Samuel Deuth, one of Awaken’s lead pastors, spoke on stage at TPUSA events and regularly makes lengthy anti-LGBTQ statements on his social media profiles.
Deuth is also a regular at San Diego city council’s public comment dais. When Feucht held an anti-queer hate rally at Disneyland over Disney’s objection to Florida Governor DeSantis’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, Samuel Deuth attended.
Deuth and Uridel also inserted themselves in an anti-drag protest last October. They targeted Ocean Knoll Elementary’s “Boo Bash” block party event, which had a drag show and was sponsored by TransFamily Support Services. Awaken staff and affiliates spread outrage bait about the event as soon as it was announced, which led to school board meetings getting brigaded and board members getting harassed. One of the protesters even went on Tucker Carlson to talk about it. Jurgen went on to preach about the hateful campaign, saying “we can replace woke with Awake.” Leanne claimed that “there is not one, NOT ONE, drag queen who is happy, stable or living with peace.”
Recently, Deuth spoke at an anti-trans event at the Santee YMCA alongside Proud Boys in regalia and a Nazi with a swastika tattoo.
Deuth, Uridel and Leanne Matthesius all shared a call to action on their social media for the Santee city council meeting on February 8th as they continue on their hate-filled campaigns against the LGBTQ+ community and aim to “end the city lease to YMCA”. The Church later used its official text service to push the event under the “Awaken Political Action”arm of their organization.
Awaken are currently working on opening their next 3 locations. Bay Ho and Coronado in Southern California and Boise, Idaho which will be opening on Easter of this year. There is currently a “No Cult In Coronado” campaign being led by locals in the area concerned about Awaken’s growth in their community. This year has seen the church continuing on their war path, becoming less concerned about airing their hate publicly and teaming up with other SoCal PACs like “The Battle Cry” and “Freedom Revival Events”to attack the Santee YMCA and local school boards. Their partnership with Feucht, Kirk and TPUSA Faith continues to grow and with the upcoming “biblical citizenship in modern America.” They are welcoming Patriot Academy into the fold.
Onishi said what we are seeing is the “playbook.” Awaken now have a synthesis of theological and political ideology that they can put into practice.
“People are going to love it. They will attend, they will give and will it end in more celebrity pastors leading the charge of culture wars that influence local and national policies.”