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“Come on out on June 20th. 9am – 3:30pm General Boykin of “Black Hawk Down” fame, and a founding member of Delta Force will be our morning speaker,” reads Calvary Chapel Sonora’s event page (archive) for its annual ‘Tent Days in the Last Days,’ a festival that combines sermons and sharpshooting competitions.
The event garnered local controversy because Boykin is a top administrator in an SPLC-designated hate group called the Family Research Council, has spent years campaigning against LGBTQ+ rights and an even longer time vilifying Muslims. Boykin is also likely guilty of war crimes–he had a long career with the U.S. military including being Deputy Undersecretary of Defense during the illegal U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.
A coalition of local activists is organizing a counter-protest.
“It’s hard to see a church and the Family Research Council out here. I’m really against conversion therapy and this guy (Boykin) is responsible for thousands of LGBTQ suicides,” Julie Gorgas, Vice President of Tuolumne County Indivisible told LCRW. “I just think it’s really disappointing that a Christian church would invite someone like that to speak–as if he’s a good moral leader.”
“We expect to be under protest by some associated with the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement and its ancillaries of gender, diversity and other such issues,” Senior Pastor Miles McMahon wrote on his Facebook page Sunday. “Our security team is aware and prepared as are the Sheriff and other law enforcement officials.”
McMahon added that they “are buying extra water, fruits and snacks for them on that day as it may be hot down at the bottom of the driveway,” and that they “are not expecting violence or problems such as blocking of the driveway or them coming onto the property.”
“Come full of the Holy Spirit and ready to love and curse not,” he concluded.
Associate Pastor David Atkins also addressed the matter of the planned counter-demonstration in his sermon on Sunday.
“The goal of this group is to quench our platform, diminish our influence as they see Pastor Miles and myself as men who hide behind our Bibles spreading hate. They’re not happy that General Boykin is scheduled during their Pride Month. Our intent was never to cause offence to our friends in the LGBT community.”
“I mean, we would be mad about it at any point. I mean–yes, this is an extra slap in the face that this is happening in Pride Month, but if this was happening in October, this would still be a problem,” Gorgas said. “At no point in time are we going to be okay with him coming to preach hate.”
Gorgas said that the ‘Tent Days’ event is also incredibly irresponsible because of COVID19.
“We have community spread in Tuolumne County,” Gorgas said, meaning spread of a disease without known sources. While Indivisible and other local groups have made sure to follow social distancing and sanitation protocols, the church isn’t taking them seriously.
“We don’t want to make you feel guilty or ashamed if you wear a mask or don’t wear a mask, so please respect your brother or sister in Christ in their conviction to wear or not wear a mask,” Atkins told his congregation Sunday.
Atkins said “Boykin has made some comments in the past that are currently being used against him. One was an off-handed comment about a problem having transgenders using girls’ bathrooms and another regarding the clash of Sharia Law with the First Amendment.”
LCRW didn’t bother tracking down the specific quotes Atkins is talking about because his statement is in obvious bad faith. Boykin has a long and well-documented history of bigoted statements against Muslims and is complicit in mass murders in a Muslim-majority nation.
“Our government is so infiltrated and the Muslim Brotherhood has so much influence in this country, it is incredible,” Boykin told WND Radio America in 2012, repeating a common and baseless right wing conspiracy.
Boykin is also is in a leadership position in a hate group that uses bunk science and ‘homosexual agenda’ conspiracy theories to demonize queer and trans people. One such example was in 2017 when he compared LGBTQ+ groups pushing for anti-discrimination laws to Nazis.
“They’re trying to put us in a situation where we’re going to lose our businesses, where we’re going to be forced to accept what Adolf Hitler forced the church to accept in Germany in 1937,” he said.
Atkins implored men not to “come with a chip on your shoulder knowing there could be a protest. Do not come to pick a fight. Do not invite friends on the basis that there will be a protest. Do not rant on Facebook on behalf of CCS.”
“I feel like that’s kind of a cover-your-bases statement. So if people do something, they can say ‘look, we told them not to!’ I doubt that they’re happy we want to protest them.” Gorgas said.
Gorgas said she does feel there’s a possibility they will be attacked while protesting. “It just takes one person to cause great violence and hurt,” she said. “I hope that won’t happen. I don’t think the church, as horrible as it may be, would condone that kind of violence.” But, Gorgas said, “the fact that they have to make that statement says a lot.”
Atkins also used some “All Lives Matter”-style rhetoric in his address to deflect from addressing race. “Since the beginning, the problem hasn’t been a skin issue–it’s been a sin issue,” he said.
Atkins then denounced looting before saying “Come to our men’s day this weekend. God bless you guys.” He then wiped his nose on his collar and walked off stage.
“The problem is that type of people who go there are susceptible to [violent rhetoric.] They’re going to listen to Boykin say things that have been disproven and are clearly wrong,” Gorgas said. “They’re going to hear “[LGBTQ+ people and Muslims] are horrible people, but we must love them” so many times that they’ll eventually stop hearing the ‘but.’”
Lt. General William G. “Jerry” Boykin (now retired) has been involved with and said a lot of violent things.
Boykin, a Major at the time, lead men in prayer the morning of April 25th, 1980, the day of the U.S. military’s disastrous rescue attempt during the Iran Hostage Crisis. He recounted the biblical story of David and Goliath in his sermon to them. The mission was aborted and on the way back, a helicopter and tanker plane that was refueling it crashed, killing eight servicemen and wounding several more.
“Two things that came out of that. Number one, it brought down Jimmy Carter and that was a real positive. Number two, it brought in Ronald Reagan. So even in that kind of tragic situation, there is something positive, God uses those things for good,” Boykin told an interviewer in 2016.
Boykin was also a commanding officer during the 1993 ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident in Mogadishu. That battle’s events were preceded by U.S. forces massacring over 200 civilians after they mistook a peace summit for a gathering by an insurgent leader.
That same year, Boykin advised Janet Reno on the botched ATF siege of the Branch Davidian cult in Waco. 82 Branch Davidians including 25 children as well as four ATF agents were killed in the botched raid and siege.
In 2003, Boykin was Deputy Undersecretary for Defense. The Bush administration had to publicly distance themselves from him after he repeatedly gave speeches at churches in full-dress uniform where he demonized Muslims and characterized the ‘War on Terror’ as a Christian war against Islam. Boykin has a long history of such statements.
The Family Research Council (FRC) is perhaps most relevant to Boykin’s upcoming visit to Calvary Chapel Sonora (CCR.) The FRC is an SPLC-designated anti-LGBTQ hate group. They’re highly influential on Capitol Hill, frequently testifying before congress and staffed for decades by Beltway insiders. They were formed in 1983 initially as an arm of Focus on the Family, itself a prominent Christian supremacist and anti-LGBTQ hate group. Gerald Regnier, a former top Health and Human Services official, was its first director and Reagan adviser Gary Bauer took over in 1988. In 1992 the group became a separate entity from Focus on the Family so the latter wouldn’t lose its tax-exempt status. Boykin is the FRC’s current Executive Vice President.
The FRC has spent decades peddling bunk science to vilify queer people and perpetuate the ‘homosexual agenda’ conspiracy that queer people are all just trying to prey on children. This continues to this day, particularly in the broad right-wing attack on trans people.
“If we don’t take a stand here, it’s only a matter of time before biological men will be able to share showers and locker rooms with women and girls all across America!” Boykin wrote in a 2017 FRC fundraising plea. He was of course talking about the American right wing’s obsessive campaign to deny trans people the right to use the restroom.
If your religion’s messiah said “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” inviting someone like Boykin who demonizes LGBTQ+ and Muslim people doesn’t really make sense. But Calvary Chapel isn’t a normal church. They belong to a massive cross-denominational movement in Christianity called Evangelicalism. Its worldwide adherents in 2016 numbered 619 million–meaning about one in four Christians are Evangelicals.
Evangelicalism does not have a completely uniform belief system or central organizational structure like the Catholic Church, but it is spread across the world through intricate networks of churches, megachurches, televangelists and media empires.
Many American Evangelical leaders subscribe to a doctrine called the 7 Mountains or 7M. The doctrine calls for Evangelical control of seven broad aspects of society: the family, the church, schools, media, arts, entertainment and sports–which are collectively referred to as ‘celebration,’ business and finally government.
Most Evangelicals also subscribe to fundamentalism–the idea that the Bible should be interpreted literally. Fundamentalists often have an apocalyptic view of the world and believe we’re living in the ‘End Times.’ They view everything they do as for the singular purpose of making sure they’re ready when Christ comes back and the world ends.
“We believe in a literal Heaven and a literal Hell and that all those who place their faith, hope and trust in Jesus Christ will spend eternity in Heaven with the Lord, while those who reject Jesus’ free gift of salvation will spend eternity separated from the Lord,” CCR’s about page reads.
CCR also declares a specific belief about the end of the world–that they and all good Christians are going to heaven before things get bad.
“We believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church where all believers will meet the Lord in the air and be taken out of this world prior to the Tribulation that will come upon the earth,” CCR’s about page says.
Evangelical churches like CCR often preach uncritical support for the apartheid regime in Israel as well. This is part of Christian Zionism–an anti-Semitic interpretation of the Bible that says the Jews have to control the ‘Holy Land’ before Christ can return to earth. One guess as to what happens to the Jews when he comes back. CCR often takes members of the congregation on trips to Israel.
In addition, most Evangelicals support rigid definitions for gender roles and ostracize LGBTQ+ members of their congregations. Children are often sent to gay conversion therapy where they’re abused into conforming to heterosexual norms. The Human Rights Campaign said that conversion therapy is based on dubious psychological research and that there’s a strong body of evidence showing it harms children. There are legal protections against conversion therapy in 20 states as well as in Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.
LCRW spoke at length to a person who grew up attending Calvary Chapel Sonora in the early 2000s and was traumatized by their experience. They will not be named here. Their account, particularly of the hate speech of Senior Pastor Miles McMahon, paints a picture of a Church that rigidly disciplines and controls its followers’ gender and sexuality, peddles racism and cares more about ‘one world government’ conspiracy theories than Christ’s teachings.
“I remember being young–in college. There was bombing going on in Gaza and at the church there was always praying, praying, praying for the State of Israel.” But when it came time to address the other occupants of the Middle East, the source recalls McMahon saying “Every Muslim is a potential terrorist.”
McMahon, who has done missionary expeditions in Africa, had particularly patronizing attitudes towards black people, according to the source. They recall McMahon talked about how Africa would be in a much worse state if it weren’t for white Christian missionaries. The source remembers him saying new age mysticism and yoga leads people down the path to “jungle philosophies.”
The source told LCRW about McMahon’s obsession with defining gender by rigid hierarchies. Activities in the church–such as the men-only ‘Tent Days’ where they have shooting and archery competitions–are deeply segregated by gender. Prizes apparently include knives and chainsaws.
“I know that the women that go there are viewed as less than. I know some people that have left that church for that reason,” Julie Gorgas from Tuolumne County Indivisible said.
McMahon, it should come as no surprise, is deeply queerphobic. The source recalls McMahon blamed wildfires in California on gay marriage being legalized.
“[McMahon] would say all these horrible things about gay people. It was striking,” they said. “You know what the biggest parade in this country is? It’s that stinking gay pride parade in San Francisco!” they recalled McMahon saying.
CCR leaders and members, the source said, encourage people to homeschool their children “so they don’t have to go to the same bathroom as a trans kid.”
“They do have a reputation in town,” Gorgas said. “They are definitely not friendly to LGBTQ people. I know people who were in that church and were treated badly when they came out. When you talk about Christianity, the basis is love and that gets lost pretty easily at that church.”
“It seems their whole mission is to spread these conspiracies about queer people,” the source said. “It’s totally fucking disgusting to me.”
The source says that McMahon rants from the pulpit about New World Order conspiracies and it grew worse during the first months of the COVID19 crisis. After BLM protests erupted in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, McMahon refused to address issues of racial inequality head-on and his rhetoric became even more paranoid. The source says McMahon likes to ask a rhetorical question about why his speech about trans people and Muslims is violent but the looting after Floyd’s murder is fine.
“I’ve heard him do that a couple times in sermons. It’s this classic thing–they paint themselves as victims–that it’s Christians who are being persecuted and everyone else is being violent,” the source recounted.
“It disgusts me that they get to hide behind this rhetoric,” the source said. “They say they don’t teach politics; they just teach the bible and don’t address social issues. [McMahon will say] he doesn’t tell people what to think. And in my mind that’s all he does is tell people what to think.”
“[McMahon and the church] feel attacked and that they’re being persecuted because they can’t just say any bullshit they want about gay people and Muslims without it being labeled hate speech. And he’s mad about that–he’s getting riled up about it,” the source told LCRW.
The source said that criticism of their hosting Boykin would validate CCR’s beliefs.
“They’ve been taught that people are going to say these things about them. I think it’s just going to feed into their identity,” the source said.
“I feel like a lot of people at the church would read the SPLC statement and be like ‘Yes, that’s why we invited him,” they continued. “We invited him because he threatened to do violence to trans people who use the correct bathroom.’”
“I think the most disgusting part of this is he’s a fucking pastor and he has all this power over people,” the source reflected. They said that the church attracts a lot of people who are new to the community and traps them in by offering a social outlet in exchange for strict obedience to their bigoted worldview. They said that a lot of vulnerable people get caught up and children get raised in this toxic environment. But both the source and Gorgas believe things are changing.
“With everything that’s happened since George Floyd was murdered, I feel like a lot of people are paying more attention to what organizations like churches are doing–so we can see who to support and who not to,” Gorgas said. “Now we know those churches and businesses are opposed to civil rights.”
“In my mind there’s nothing in common between [CCR] and the Christians who led the Civil Rights Movement and the Abolitionist Movement,” the source told LCRW. “When I was younger it was so normalized to me. This church is not seen as some far-out-there cult. It is one of the biggest churches in the community. I know so many people who go to this church–my teachers and doctors. I knew it was fucked up but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Oh yeah, these are right wing extremists.’”
The source continued, “But as the country’s started to shift and I’ve noticed how [McMahon’s] rhetoric has been responding to these things. It’s clear to me that there’s an underlying racial ideology to all this. There’s certainly gender and sexuality ideologies to it.”
“When I was a kid, Bush was president. It was pre-Prop 8. I just thought ‘Yeah these people suck but this is America,’” the source said. “I can’t tolerate it anymore. I want these type of Christians to be exposed for who they are.”