During the 1980s, Colorado Springs was jokingly called the “evangelical Vatican” due to the prevalence of Christian megachurches, parachurches, ministries, and nonprofits. The influence of evangelical Christianity in Colorado Springs peaked in the 90s with the passage of Amendment 2, which banned local municipalities from enacting nondiscrimination ordinances to protect LGBTQ people. While the overt influence of groups like Focus on the Family on local and state politics has waned, the congregations in Academy School District 20 represent a sizable voting block. Messages from the Advocates for D20 Kids Discord server show that conservative candidates Derrick Wilburn and Amy Shandy were actively courting local churches for support in their campaigns.
“Advocates, a huge part of our success in November hinges on reaching & activating the D20 body of believers, getting them engaged in the campaigns & getting them to vote!” posted Wilburn in May. “Doing that requires getting in front of senior pastors/church leadership & achieving buy-in from the top. We’re working a 2-pronged approached by networking the already well-networked Latter Day Saints community …being spear-headed by Brian & Kym (other than MikeR I don’t know who else here is LDS)… & the rest of our Christian evangelical churches. Right now we have relationships & buy-in at The Road, CFAN [Church for All Nations], Charis, Radiant, Church at Briargate.”
The churches listed by Wilburn — The Road, CFAN [Church for All Nations], Charis, Radiant, Church at Briargate — all have a history of political activity. Last year, The Road hosted Sean Feucht’s “Hold the Line” event which featured speakers such as election conspiracist Eric Metaxas, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and local leaders, including El Paso County Commissioner and Colorado Senate candidate Stan VanderWerf and current D20 board member Aaron Salt. Hosting the event alongside The Road’s pastor, Steve Holt, was Radiant Church pastor Todd Huddnall.
Church For All Nations, in addition to regularly hosting bipartisan political forums, also hosts conservative speakers in events put on by its Culture Impact Team. Last year, In May, Church For All Nations hosted the former U.S. Representative from Iowa, Steve King, in a panel discussion that included Neal Schuerer, a former Iowa Representative who now lives in Colorado Springs, and America’s Mom herself, Sherronna Bishop. King is best known for his controversial comments that have echoed white supremacist rhetoric and even included support for rape and incest. Church For All Nations’ pastor, Mark Cowart, regularly co-hosts Andrew Wommack’s Truth and Liberty livecast.
Charis Christian Center is the Colorado Springs branch of Wommack’s Christian enterprise, and also hosts candidate forums, as well as a variety of other political events. In 2021 it hosted the Colorado Springs stop for Oklahoma entrepreneur and Eric Coomer defamation suit defendant Clay Clark’s “Re-Awaken America Tour.” The national tour featured a host of election conspiracy speakers and QAnon promoters including Michael Flynn, Mike Lindell, Sydney Powell, Lin Wood, Seth Keshel and Colorado podcast host Joe Oltmann, described as a “far-right hanger on” by the Daily Beast. Powell and Oltmann are already defendants in a separate defamation suit filed by Coomer.
The Church at Briargate is led by pastor and Colorado Rep. Scott Bottoms (R-Colo Springs), whose history of colorful comments about demons, transgender people, and the leadership of the Colorado Republican party has been well documented.
In the Advocates for D20 Kids Discord, Wilburn encouraged members to reach out to even more churches in the school district. “If you attend a church not already listed here, can you get me/us in front of your church leadership (in the next 3-5 weeks) for a meeting??” he wrote. “We especially need; Springs Church, Woodmen Valley Chapel, Academy Christian Church, Mountain Springs Church, + probably a few dozen others I’ve never heard of. Is YOUR home church aboard the ADK quest to kick Satan’s helpers out of our schools? If not one of the biggest things you can do to help us out today is to get us in there! Private message me and/or Kris Garofalo and Brian Moody.”
Wilburn also described his networking activities with local churches. “Jim Robertson has secured us a speaking spot & signup table at tomorrow morning’s men’s breakfast at The Road Church,” he wrote in March. “Now he needs some backup! About 400 guys go to this weekly breakfast, so we can’t have too much manpower..shaking hands, signing people up and generally representing ADK.”
Wilburn also discussed meeting with representatives from Charis and Church For All Nations. “[Bill Sawvel] & I had a great lunch meeting with Lawson Perdue today, Senior Pastor of Charis Christian Center,” he wrote. “Bill has been doing some amazing, off-radar work & has uncovered some game-changing stuff. So now I’m going to begin working with Charis on setting up what is essentially another ministry of helps within the church. Just like there’s greeters, ushers, women’s outreach, etc. — there will be D20 Schools Engagement. Not sure exactly what it’ll look like yet but the point is…. WE NEED ABOUT 25 MORE MEETINGS LIKE TODAY’S. Get us in front of your pastors! The church needs to rise up, wage & win this battle. But we have pews full of people w/no clues, b/c we have pastors who are equally ignorant. They just don’t know. They may think ‘boy its getting bad’, but they truly don’t know. Bill & I are sitting down with Mark Cowart next. Who here can set this up in your house of worship? 8 months will zoom by. We have GOT TO light a fire in the d20 churches.”
The Johnson Amendment is the provision in U.S. tax code which prohibits 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations and churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The IRS does allow churches to engage in political activity over “issues of concern,” but requires that such activity be nonpartisan and not endorse specific political candidates. Rarely enforced, the Johnson Amendment does not prohibit churches or pastors from hosting speakers or meeting with politicians, only explicitly endorsing a specific candidate or party.
Wilburn’s efforts were aided by Joel Sorensen, the spokesperson for D11 Achievement Alliance. “I have a spreadsheet with D-20 churches — it’s got a lot but it’s definitely not comprehensive yet,” he wrote. “I can share the google sheet with anybody who might be interested in filling it in with every D-20 church.”
Last year, Sorensen set up a table for the Advocates for D20 Kids at Wommack’s Truth and Liberty Conference, which featured speakers like Boebert and Lamborn, as well as prominent figures in the Seven Mountain movement like Lance Wallnau.
Sorensen’s LinkedIn lists him as a “project associate” for Cole Communications, the firm owned by Republican political consultant Daniel Cole, who served as director of the GOP’s Senate Majority Fund, an independent expenditure committee that raises funds and shapes strategy for Republican state Senate candidates. Sorensen was listed as the “owner” of the Advocates for D20 Kids Discord Server.
This Saturday, Wilburn and Shandy are taking part in a public safety forum hosted by Colorado Rep. Rose Pugliese (R-El Paso County) and Don Wilson (R-Monument). Among the featured speakers is Daniel Fenlason, a school shooting survivor who has ties to both Truth and Liberty and Victor’s Canvassing, another outfit owned by Cole.
The election is Nov. 7.
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