HELENA — The message was clear despite the muddling acoustics in the statehouse rotunda Sunday; some want Montana legislators to stand up to the federal government and install or, if you prefer, bring Christian strictures back as the guiding principles in civil government.
Despite the clear call for legislative actions, the host of the event, Steve Wagner with Project Liberty Tree and the Covenant Community Church of Whitehall, told the 150 or so gathered that this was “not the place to buttonhole legislators” for lobbying. The only message allowed here, Wagner said, was “our American system was founded on Christian principles,” and that legislators need to defy the unjust and immoral laws and court rulings of the federal government and its courts.
Everyone who spoke made it clear that they wanted to invite God back into the statehouse and the God they meant was the Christian God. The audience seemed in perfect alignment with the hosts and speakers, many expressing their agreement vocally — “amen” — with the speakers when they hit their most strident views.
State Senator Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, one of the host legislators, said this event, the fifth annual Montana Legislature Election Sermon, was a matter of free speech.
“There are those who would say we have no business sharing our beliefs in this building,” she said. “I say they’re wrong.”
Fielder said “we need to remember to do it in the name of Christ,” she said. “I say these things to you today in the name of Jesus Christ.”
As Wagner introduced the featured speaker who delivered the sermon, Pastor Matthew Trewhella of Wisconsin, he made clear his intention to incite and promote debate.
“We need some lightning rods today in America,” Wagner said.
With Trewella, Wagner had a noted lightning rod. In 1993, Trewhella signed a declaration stating that Michael Griffin had committed "justifiable homicide" in the murder of Florida abortion doctor, according to a 1994 Newsweek article. In the article, Trewhella said he removed his name from the declaration, although Newsweek challenged whether he truly advocated against violence.
In 1998, Toronto’s NOW magazine quoted Trewhella as saying, “I don’t condemn people who use force to try to protect babies, because they are human beings.”
Trewhella has also taken a strong stand against homosexuality and gay marriage, condemning in his TV show “In Focus” heterosexual parents who do not protect their children from homosexuals.
His sermon Sunday, The Duty of the Lower Magistrates In the Face of Tryanny, was aimed directly at the legislators, chiding them to place themselves “between the oppressor (the federal courts and government) and the victims (the citizens of Montana).”
“You have the power to defend the people of Montana from the federal tyrants,” he said.
Trewhella is a pastor in Milwaukee for the Mercy Seat Christian Church.
Once in his sermon, Trewhella, discussed the use of the sword versus other less forceful resistance, but he didn’t advocate for or against violence. Several times Trewella, said “God is the ultimate authority, the ultimate law giver.”
“Civil government is not autonomous,” he said. “They do not get to create law out of thin air.”
“Divine laws trump man’s laws … Divine laws are only found in the holy scriptures.”
By taking the Christ’s and God’s laws out of the equation, Trewhella said, “Western civilization has thrown God’s laws under the bus.”
With no objective standards, he said, what the U.S. is left with is a “tyrant state. You are watching Western civilization crumble before your eyes.”