The editor of a conservative publication based in Mountville and a Berks County pastor are planning to hold an event next week exploring whether Pennsylvania should be an “explicitly Christian state.”
The event, at Tied House in Lititz on June 23, features Joel Saint, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Reformation Society, and Chris Hume, managing editor of The Lancaster Patriot, and is billed as a discussion of “the wisdom of Pennsylvania’s original constitution.”
“Come hear about how Pennsylvania’s original Constitution called for an explicitly Christian state and what that looks like,” a Facebook ad for the event reads. “Can it be accomplished today? If so, should it be attempted?”
But the discussion, and the venue, are facing pushback and denunciations from some in the community who say Hume and Saint are promoting an extreme view of the role of Christianity in public life.
The collaboration by Hume and Saint on the discussion is not by chance.
Hume published a book last year, titled “Vote Christian: Biblical Principles for Voting,” in which he sought to make “the biblical case for why we should elect men who fear God to be civil magistrates.” In a promotional video for the book, he said, “God has instituted government, and he has instituted government to execute his wrath on Earth.”
The book received an endorsement from John Bingaman, an elder at Independence Reformed Bible Church in Morgantown, where Saint is the pastor.
Hume and Saint have been social media friends since at least 2017, and in February 2021 Saint wrote a review for another one of Hume’s books.
Dave Stoltzfus, who owns The Lancaster Patriot along with his wife, Jennifer, is a board member of Saint’s organization, the Mid-Atlantic Reformation Society.
In Oct. 2020, Charles Bausman, the publisher of Russia Insider who hosted a white nationalist rally at his Lancaster Township property two months earlier, told LNP | LancasterOnline that he met the Stoltzfuses at conference put on by Saint’s organization at the Lancaster convention center and that he later put them in touch with Trey Garrison.
Before he was exposed as a white nationalist writer and podcaster, Garrison was the editor of The Lancaster Patriot. The Stoltzfuses announced they were delaying plans for The Patriot after Garrison’s identity was revealed and said they did not condone his views.
Saint, like Bausman, participated in protests outside Rep. Bryan Cutler’s Quarryville office and Peach Bottom home on Dec. 30, 2020, where protesters urged Cutler to illegally overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state.
Hume did not respond to a call seeking comment. When reached by phone on Wednesday, Saint said, “I have no comment.”
Pa.’s constitution and Christian nationalism
The June 23 event at Tied House is advertised as a discussion about Pennsylvania’s original constitution and the role religion played during the early years of the commonwealth.
The oath of office in the original constitution required elected officials to pledge, “I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.”
Eight of the thirteen other colonies had similar provisions, but these provisions were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 50 years ago. Pennsylvania’s constitution was amended to remove the provision in 1968.
But Hume, Saint and others believe Christianity should be returned to the forefront of government and civic life, a view sometimes referred to as “Christian nationalism.”
Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, defines it as “a political ideology and cultural framework that merges American and Christian identities.”
She has called it the “single biggest threat” to religious freedom in America, and her organization leads a Christians Against Christian Nationalism project.
“This framework is dangerous both to American democracy and to Christianity,” she said. “Christian nationalism attacks the foundational idea that one’s belonging in the United States is not at all predicated on one’s religious affiliation, one’s theological beliefs or lack thereof.”
She pointed out that the U.S. Constitution makes no reference to Christianity, and in fact Article VI states “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
“This is directly relevant to the conversation at this event,” she said. “So when (the founders) were deciding if they wanted to set up a Christian nation, they said, ‘No, we cannot have religious tests for public office.’ ”
What concerns her, she said, is the effort to advance the narrative that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.
“I think this ideology attacks the foundational values of religious freedom for all in this country,” she said “Christian nationalism sends a signal that to belong in the United States you have to be Christian. That sentiment is un-American.”
Tied House is owned by St. Boniface Craft Brewing Co. of Ephrata. People angry about the June 23 event have posted multiple comments to the social media accounts of the restaurant and the brewery.
Several commenters objected to Hume’s views on homosexuality. Writing in The Patriot, Hume has criticized local communities for holding Pride Month events; he called homosexuality “evil” and equated Pride with “pagan posturing.”
One commenter, identified on Facebook as Matthew Kabik, wrote: “Hi, I’m a Jew – would I still be safe to come to your place, given that you host white nationalists and Christian nationalists at your venue?”
In a post to his own account, Ismail Smith-Wade-El, president of Lancaster City Council and the Democratic nominee for the 49th Legislative District, questioned why Tied House was “elevating racists, conspiracy theorists, and people who publish content with anti-LGBTQ slurs.”
Kevin Brown, owner of The Fridge in Lancaster, responded that he would be removing St. Boniface beers from his bar’s selection.
On Wednesday, St. Boniface responded to the comments in a Facebook post that has since been removed. The unsigned message defended the decision to rent space at Tied House for the event and noted that many Christians live and work in Pennsylvania and Lancaster County.
Dain Shirey, a co-owner of Tied House, did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
On Thursday morning, Shirey said he could no longer comment on matters relating to Tied House or St. Boniface because as of 8 a.m. Tuesday he was no longer with the company, though he declined to say why he left.
Michael Price, co-owner with Shirey and Jon Northup, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday. An accurate number for Northup could not immediately be located.
“Our company believes in inclusivity for everyone, including Christians,” it said. “We reject all forms of white nationalism, racism, bigotry and homophobia.”
Duncan Hopkins, a Lancaster city resident who works for the progressive advocacy group Lancaster Stands Up, said he reached out to Tied House on social media to ask about the event.
Tied House, he noted, was quick to point out the “should” portion of the event’s title, implying it was meant to be an open debate.
“Asking a question sometimes gives the answer away,” he said. “These are two individuals (Hume and Saint) who have a vision for Lancaster and the rest of the country which does not include people who don’t look like them or think like them in places of power.”
The June 23 event, Hopkins said, “should not be construed as an open debate or forum. We should not want an ‘explicitly Christian state’ because that excludes so many people.”
This reporter’s work is funded by the Lancaster County Local Journalism Fund. For more information, or to make a contribution, please visit lanc.news/supportlocaljournalism.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misspelled the co-owner’s name. It is Dain Shirey.