Why Are So Many Democrats Backing an Accused Christian Nationalist?
“I’m not a Christian nationalist,” Derrick Peterson, a leading school board candidate in Portland, Oregon, tells Rolling Stone.
It’s an unusual declaration. But Peterson is an unusual politician.
In the biography he touts, Peterson is a career law enforcement officer — a Black man who spent 35 years rising through the ranks of the local sheriff’s department, before making an unsuccessful election bid for sheriff in 2022.
But Peterson has other credentials that he does not trumpet. He’s a commissioned “apostle” in the church of a Christian-nationalist preacher who rejects the separation of church and state as a myth “from the pit of hell,” and who traveled to Washington, D.C., to back President Trump on Jan. 6, 2021.
In 2020, Peterson was also named to the board of that church’s anti-abortion activist organization, 1Race4Life, whose members pledge to always “vote pro-life” and to “defend the sacred covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.” (Peterson now disputes this affiliation.)
This second set of bona fides present Peterson as an uneasy fit in uber-progressive Portland, where abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights are politically sacrosanct. But on the strength of his public credentials, Peterson has been endorsed by a wide swath of the city’s center-left establishment, including by The Oregonian, the Willamette Week alt weekly, as well as by a gay city commissioner, the progressive county DA, prominent local Black politicians, and the Willamette Women Democrats.
Is Peterson a stealth candidate — poised to secure a victory for the religious right in the beating heart of blue-state liberalism? He disputes this notion, telling Rolling Stone: “I have no hidden agendas.” But a leading scholar of the charismatic Christian movement that holds up Peterson as one of its own calls the candidate’s explanations “hard to square.”
Nationally, school boards have emerged as a front line in America’s culture wars — with high stakes for the hearts and minds of young Americans. Right wingers are pushing into school governance in an effort to stymie evolving social norms on gender and sexuality as well as to block a factual accounting of America’s dark history of enslavement and genocide. School boards can set local standards on everything from banning books to forcing trans students to use the wrong pronouns or the wrong bathrooms to muzzling teachers from discussing their own racial and gender identities with students.
This cultural fight goes hand-in-glove with a rising tide of Christian nationalism that seeks to remake America according to fundamentalist biblical standards, in hopes of hastening the second coming of Christ. Christian nationalists have raised alarm at the “grooming” of a younger generation in public schools — a move away from God’s truth orchestrated by what they perceive as “demonic” forces.
For his part, Peterson — a registered Democrat — claims he’s been the victim of a misunderstanding. He hotly contests that he was, in fact, on the board of the anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion 1Race4Life — and that his name and likeness were misappropriated. “I am not affiliated with this group, nor does it reflect my views on marriage equality and reproductive health,” he said in written answers to Rolling Stone’s questions. “My view is that everyone has the right to make their individual personal choice about what they do with their own body. I have also been an active advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.”
Despite appearing on 1Race4Life’s website since 2020, Peterson claims he only became aware of his disputed board membership last week and “took action to have my picture, name, and information removed immediately.” 1Race4Life did not return Rolling Stone’s inquiries about Peterson. (The entire website is currently down at press time, though its social channels are still active.)
1Race4Life is a project of the ministry of Ché Ahn, a leading Christian nationalist, affiliated with the New Apostolic Reformation. NAR preachers come out of the Charismatic or Pentecostal tradition that believes in “gifts of the spirit” — including speaking in tongues and the performance of miracles. NAR ministries also hold that prophecy is not a bygone biblical artifact, rather that we live in a new age of “prophets” and “apostles” who receive direct messages from God and help exert His authority here on Earth. Many adherents believe that it is the job of Christians to seize control of government and culture to bring the world into biblical alignment so that Christ can return and reign over the Earth.
1Race4Life was Ahn’s response to the uprisings after the George Floyd murder — seeking to channel the emotions around the value of life into protecting the unborn. 1Race4Life describes itself as “an apostolic network of ethnically and culturally diverse, pro-life Evangelical leaders committed to seeing the end of abortion on a local, state, and national level.”
Along with Peterson, the 1Race4Life board included top Christian nationalist figures including Lance Wallnau. Wallnau is a chief promoter of the Seven Mountains Mandate, which calls on Christians to attempt a national takeover by capturing the seven pinnacles of culture — including religion, entertainment, government, and education.
“It’s implausible to me that Derrick Peterson had no idea that he was getting placed on this board with all these brand-name people in that independent charismatic world,” says Matthew Taylor, Protestant Scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies who is writing a book on the role of religion in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Ahn has long been explicit in his quest to have Christians conquer the mountains of influence — to become the “head not the tail” in directing government and culture. “Once we do get to the head, then all of a sudden we can make decrees and declarations,” he explained in a 2010 interview. “When you get to the top, you can start doing some radical things for the Lord.”
Ahn was a based Trump supporter who insisted that the 2020 election was stolen through “egregious fraud.” He spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 5, 2021, insisting that Trump was going to stay in the White House and that America would be a “red nation in perpetuity.” Ahn told the faithful that Trump’s victory would be their victory: “We’re going to rule and reign through President Trump and under the lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Peterson now says, “I do not support the political agenda of Ché Ahn.” He insists: “I do not follow his appearances or have contact with him. This is the first time I heard about his appearance in D.C. I do not condone the acts that happened that day. I support democracy.”
Peterson did confirm to Rolling Stone, however, that he was commissioned in 2020 as an “apostle” in Ahn’s Harvest International Ministry (HIM). Today, Peterson downplays the position as if it were a service award: “I was honored for my community work as an apostle, an honorary title.” He adds, “I was being recognized for the authority I carried based on my position at work, the community, and as a long time DEI instructor. This included my ability to network, galvanize, and bring people together.”
Taylor, the expert in NAR theology, finds this explanation far-fetched. “I can’t speak for Peterson’s perception of it, but HIM does not [commission apostles] ad hoc or willy-nilly. They want to invest in these people as leaders in their network.” Peterson was named a “marketplace apostle,” which in the NAR context, Taylor says, is someone who “advances the Kingdom of God outside of church.” It is a designation, Taylor adds, that “puts you in the upper tier of religious leaders.”
Peterson claims his intersection with Ahn was fleeting: “I attended one meeting and have not been involved with that church since.” Yet Peterson has since traded on his “apostle” credential, preaching at churches in the Pacific Northwest directly linked to Ahn, including the New Harvest Church outside of Tacoma, Washington.
That church’s “Statement of Faith” refers to Christians being “empowered to influence” the seven “cultural mountains,” touts “our mission to subdue the enemy and bring the Kingdom of God to the Earth,” and compares gay marriage to incest and pedophilia.
During a guest sermon in September 2020, Peterson gently corrected the church pastor who said Peterson was “not an official ordained minister” by touting that he’d been “officially commissioned as a marketplace apostle.”
Peterson’s sermon that day called on Christians to assert their power: ”It’s time to rise up and take your place — take your authority — walk in the majesty of Jesus Christ, of God, what He has given you.” He called on Christians to “get out of your seat” and begin “knocking” on the doors of power.
The service — held at the height of the George Floyd protests in Portland — closed with the church’s official pastor taking the stage with Peterson and leading a prayer to call on God to “cancel” what the pastor called “the demonic power inspiring those riots.”
Peterson’s name has also been scrubbed from the web page for Ché Ahn’s church that announced his commissioning as an apostle. “Who is he calling to get those pages pulled down, if he really doesn’t know what is going on?” asks Taylor. “The whole thing just doesn’t track.”
Following the money, Peterson’s political ambitions have been funded with donations from a pair of preachers: a fellow apostle in Ahn’s network, and a Wichita, Kansas, minister who is the lead translator of a controversial version of the New Testament that Ahn touts as “the Bible of choice for the next Jesus people movement.”
For his part, Peterson tells Rolling Stone that his only objective in running is “to represent diversity in its purest form,” adding that “as a school board member, I will be committed to further helping my community, schools, and youth.”
Oh-So-Mature Trump Aides Want Him to Focus on DeSantis’ Penis
Ariana Madix Releases 'F-ck Me in This T-Shirt' Merch After Tom Sandoval’s ‘Sick’ Reunion Comment
He Spent a Decade Trying to Prove His Parents Killed His Teen Sister
‘Vanderpump Rules’ Reunion Twist: Was Raquel’s Confession Worth the Wait?
Peterson does have competition in the vote-by-mail race, which wraps up May 16. He faces longtime school teacher Patte Sullivan, who — ironically — threw her hat into the ring before Peterson declared for the race, aiming to prevent Portland from becoming part of the national trend.
“I signed up sort of the last minute,” she said in an endorsement interview with Willamette Week last week, before Peterson’s unusual affiliations became public. “I heard on the radio that there were school board positions opening, and the back of my mind I said, ‘Oh, school board — that’s where the right wing sneaks in.’ ”