This piece was written for a class in which we were to examine a cultural phenomenon and identify possible narratives and identities being created.
A New Kind of Revival: Red Stripes in the Let Us Worship Movement
COM 363: Media and Society
October 31, 2020
Toccoa Falls College
In the late 1960s the Jesus Movement swept across America and refigured the evangelical landscape. Larry Norman, called the Elvis Presley of Christian rock, wrote the soundtrack to a revival movement focused on personal, spiritual transformation and saving souls for eternity (Thornbury, 2018). Fifty years later, Sean Feucht emerged as a new long-haired, guitar wielding harbinger of revival. His Let Us Worship movement has organized events in cities across the United States, building momentum to its final gathering in Washington DC days before the presidential election. These two movements make use of many of the same symbols (male leader, worship music, baptism, etc.), but the narratives constructed in the call for revival are quite different. This paper will analytically juxtapose the two, noting key identities being constructed by Sean Feucht and the Let Us Worship movement. Using the circuit of culture as an investigative methodology, this paper seeks to understand the meaning of the revival called for in the Let Us Worship movement.
Let Us Worship: Production of a Narrative
In 2020, Sean Feucht launched a national movement organizing events in major cities across the United States in the days leading up to the 2020 presidential election. Feucht is a 37-year-old artist, politician, and author based in Redding, California. Let Us Worship comes after his successful stint as recording artist and worship leader with Bethel in California, and it’s just one of many movements begun by Feucht. Another of Feucht’s recently launched movements is called “Hold the Line.” This movement states its purpose as such, “Hold the Line is a political activist movement. Our goal is to engage with the church and with millennials in a way that charges them to become more politically active” (Feucht, 2020).
Feucht made a run for political office in the house of representatives as a republican candidate in the spring of 2020. In an interview he stated, “I believe the God-given mandate on the nation of America is still alive” (Tabatt, 2020). He was defeated in March in the primaries in California’s 3rd district after receiving 13.5% of the popular vote (BallotPedia, 2020). In the summer of 2020, Feucht launched the Let Us Worship movement. Implicit in the name is a victimized position – Christians are being oppressed. It’s a call for Christians to be able to continue meeting together in churches during the Coronavirus Pandemic despite opposition presented by governing authorities.
Feucht has been outspoken that believers must not be banned from attending services or singing, and began a petition against the “hypocrisy,” claiming governing officials had acted unjustly. Feucht’s video in July, 2020 titled “Let Us Worship,” encouraged supporters to be “obnoxiously patriotic” and rallied them to continue the fight against “big tech censorship.” He stated, “For the last several weeks, tens of thousands of people have been gathering outdoors in cities all across California, and they have been screaming and chanting and protesting. And all the while the state officials are encouraging them as they do this. And then now as the church wants to gather…they bring the hammer down against us…Can you see the hypocrisy?”(Feucht, 2020).
In a video aired by TBN and posted on Feucht’s YouTube account, Feucht says, “It’s the height of hypocrisy right now that they’re letting these cities succumb to rioting and burning and pillaging, and yet they’re targeting Christians. We have to rise up. We need bold and courageous pastors that are not only going to stand on our constitutional rights to worship, but that are going to stand up against the insanity of these laws that are targeting the church” (Feucht, 2020). Feucht has faced criticism from local pastors in the cities where he does events. After Let Us Worship made its Nashville stop, pastor Russ Ramsey and worship leader Carlos Whittaker expressed their frustration. Whittaker tweeted at Feucht, “Nobody is silencing the church is Nashville. Our church met today and had thousands show up for baptism in a nice socially distanced/masked way…I think it’s irresponsible to claim being silenced. Cause that’s not the cause (sic) in Nashville.” (Whittaker, 2020). Feucht received more volatile pushback after holding an event at the memorial for George Floyd and tweeting, “I HAVE NO WORDS FOR WHAT GOD IS DOING TONIGHT IN MINNEAPOLIS [19 crying-face emojis]” (Feucht, 2020) According to a news article by Melissa Turtinen, Feucht was playing fifty feet from the memorial which many claim he was “co-opting” (Turtinen, 2020).
The Mythic Narrative: What is the “Revival?”
At each worship event, Feucht and those he brings on stage call for revival. At an event held in Sacramento in September, pastor Jodie Kim stood on the stage beside Feucht, California’s capitol building looming over the stage behind them. Kim directed the crowd to raise their arms to the north, south, west, and then east over the capitol and give a “mighty roar by the name of Jesus.” Kim prophesied, “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is about to reclaim this state as his inheritance.” The final “roar” was over the capital building. “And now over the capitol, over our legislators, over the offices right now in Jesus’ name, we declare a holy shift…that there’s a great reversal taking place, what the enemy meant for evil God meant for good” (Feucht, 2020).
The revival spoken of at Let Us Worship events has obvious political implications. In an interview, Feucht said, “The inability for the church to engage has led to the overrun of our cities by these horrendous, godless leaders that are releasing laws and really going against the constitution even of America, and our children are growing up under it.” (Feucht, 2020). The revival which Feucht and those at the events are crying out for seems to envision Christ as a savior who empowers the church to rise up and overtake its opposition in society. Therefore, the identity of the Christ follower being articulated is the Christian who is empowered to enter society and politics and realize the changes the Let Us Worship movement envisions. These changes seem to largely align with Republican party values, which Feucht associates himself with and ran for office under. At the concert in Sacramento, a man called “Pastor Andrew from Fresno” said, “God I thank you that that bill that’s sitting in on that table, you’re so serious about your children, that you came down to earth in a bodily form, to stomp on the devil. So, Devil we prophecy right now – you lost with Pharaoh, you lost with Herod, and you’re going to lose on (sic) November. And Lord we just declare, let your bride rise in the name of Jesus” (Feucht, 2020).
This rising, seen as a “third great awakening” is outward focused and entails very political consequences as it envisions the church regaining the power it once enjoyed (Feucht, 2020). Time and again Feucht, others on stage, and those in attendance prophecy and cry out for revival. At first glance, the implications are vague – proclaiming “Jesus” in all directions doesn’t reveal the ethos of the movement. However, when we examine the will of the “Jesus” articulated by Feucht, it becomes clear the savior is affiliated strongly with a political party. The movement’s identity, negotiated through its values, seems in harmony with Feucht’s own strong Republican affiliation.
Taking the Church to Town
2020 saw a large number of protests take place in the streets of cities across the U.S. Even while a highly contagious virus infects citizens across the country, protesters and demonstrators calling for change and social justice continue to march and gather in public. The Let Us Worship events have been referred to as “worship protests.” Like protests, these events are organic – there is no admission fee, and participants are free to come and go as they please. While Feucht’s events do resemble outdoor concerts, the lines between performer and audience are less clear. Those who come out are encouraged to get baptized, sing, pray, and voice their political concerns. In this way, the participant is given agency. This is critical to the success of the movement which seeks to see heightened involvement of Christians in the political sphere, which will lead to Christian values being made into public law. It is no accident that Feucht’s events are held in public squares and on the steps of capitol buildings rather than church lawns or auditoriums. He is taking the church to town, imposing the sacred upon the secular in an attempt to bring revival. This speaks to the regulation present. The proper use of the movement’s values is the imposition of Christianity upon political power structures.
The Jesus Movement
Fifty years before Feucht took to stages and streets throughout the country, there was another music-based revival movement sweeping across America. This movement had a long haired, guitar wielding frontman of its own. In an article titled, The Elvis Presley of Christian Rock, How Larry Norman Wrote the Soundtrack to the Jesus Movement, Gregory Alan Thornbury writes, “The Jesus Movement soon became a national phenomenon, and Norman was its poet laureate. Instead of violent protests, massive “Marches for Jesus” were held. Standing on the state capitol steps in Sacramento with his guitar strapped to his back, Norman addressed the thousands assembled before him: “Peace is not the absence of war; it’s the presence of happiness. You radicals want an all-out revolution? You’ve got it!” (Thornbury, 2018, p. 50)
The “revival” proclaimed by Larry Norman and the leaders of the Jesus Movement had very personal implications and focused on the promise of eternal life. In an article for the Trinity Journal, James Patterson writes, “The Jesus of the Jesus Revolution was…one who with power and authority rescues from bondage, drug addiction, meaningless sexual quests, acute personal dilemmas, anomie. He promises and delivers new life, meaning, purpose, joy, and ultimately eternal life in heaven” (Patterson, 2005, p. 273). Patterson claims most of the “Jesus Freaks” did not share the prominent evangelical passion for social action. “They emphasize individual conversion to the almost total neglect of the social dimension of the gospel…the revolutionary Liberator…was viewed as the soon-returning Lord.” (Paterson, 2005, p. 274). The narrative of the Jesus Movement was centered on the Lord’s return, and it focused on the liberation of souls before judgement – largely out of a pretribulation eschatology.
Both movements are centered on calls for the presence of Jesus, but the Jesus Movement envisioned this presence as the return of Christ which would save the remnant out of this world. The Let Us Worship movement sees the presence of Christ as a coronation in America, penetrating the darkness and all its political outgrowths. The Jesus Movement folks feared no one had time to go to college, for the return and judgement were nigh. The Let Us Worship movement’s own leader recently came off an unsuccessful run at political office in California. Sean Feucht articulates the saving presence of Jesus as having very tangible, positive effects for American Christians who are under siege in a dark culture. The power of the Jesus movement was envisioned as Christ recusing his bride out of the world as well as empowering them to overcome personal vices (drug abuse, meaningless sex, etc.).
Shared Iconography of the Movements
Much of the symbolic inventory is shared between these two movements. Larry Norman and Sean Feucht are both recognizable musicians, both use an acoustic guitar on stage, and have long blonde hair. Baptism is a hallmark feature of both movements. Both movements also focus on speaking to young people through popular media. In the 1960s, the Jesus Movement launched coffee shops, newspapers, and campus organizations. (Reid, 1995). In 2020, the Let Us Worship movement capitalizes on digital communication technology – short films are produced after events, and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are used to promote events and as a way for supporters to voice their approval.
Identities Constructed Through Visions of Christ
Larry Norman’s song “Outlaw” states five different ways Christ is envisioned: outlaw, sorcerer, poet, politician, and the son of God. He rejects the vision of Jesus as anything other than the son of God. In his song, “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus,” Norman suggests the answer to personal ills is Jesus. He implores those who sip whiskey from paper cups, have fingers yellowed from cigarettes, have gonorrhea on Valentine’s Day, or shoot needles into their purple veins, saying “Why don’t you look into Jesus?” (Norman, 1974). For Norman and many in the Jesus Movement, Christ is identified as the savior who rescues persons from bondage and eventually saves all his people up out of the world. For Feucht and the Let Us Worship movement, Christ is identified as the answer to society’s political ills and the one who eventually gives Christians political power in America.
Fifty years after the Jesus Movement we find a second poet with long blonde hair standing under the California state capitol while violent protests go on throughout the country. This time though, the revival envisioned is not personal salvation which will set one right with God for eternity and grant freedom from the bondage of drugs and sex. This time Jesus is being called on to win power in the legislator; an image of Jesus as politician Norman rejected. The image of revival being produced by the Let Us Worship movement fits well within a conservative Republican schema. As such, it’s hard to see how this doesn’t make the hero of revival, Christ, a Republican too.
According to an article by NPR Music, Mike Pence gave his life to Christ at the 1978 Ichthus Music Festival in Wilmore, Kentucky where none other than Larry Norman was the headliner (Mccammon et. al, 2018). In 2020, Mike Pence is the Vice President of the United States, and there’s another man taking America’s stages and calling for revival. This time though the preacher isn’t calling Mike Pence to repent – he’s advocating on his behalf. The revival this worship leader calls for has attendees focused on legislators, court houses, and the Oval Office. Sean Feucht is calling on Jesus and proclaiming revival. Upon examination, it seems clear to me this revival is outward focused and concerned with gaining ground for conservatives in a culture war. The symbols employed and images constructed make sense from a conservative, Republican flavor of Christianity. This movement makes a red cocktail of the kingdom of heaven and right-wing values. There is a red stripe running through the center of the Let Us Worship movement.
The Jesus Larry Norman sang about was accessible through any perspective in which there was personal bondage. The Jesus Sean Feucht sings about only makes sense from a conservative, Republican standpoint. In this way, Feucht joins the throngs of those who wanted to make Jesus king in Rome, to subvert pagan rule by imposing Christian law. Feucht is a voice advocating Christian nationalism. The Let Us Worship movement pollutes the authentic power of the true gospel of Christ by encouraging believers to cast their lot with a political party in lieu of the kingdom of the heavens.
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Whittaker, C. [loswhit]. (2020, October 11). Hey buddy. Nobody is silencing the church in Nashville. Our church met today and had thousands show up for baptism in a nice socially distanced/masked way…Cause we are in a pandemic. I think it’s irresponsible to claim being silenced. Cause that’s not the cause in Nashville (black heart) [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/loswhit/status/1315500378801266691.