See more of the story

Steve Boyd wants to lead Americans back to God.

Not through church, but through the halls of Congress. The Republican running in deep-red western Minnesota is mounting a campaign that's as religious as it is political. He says the country needs to be steered back to its Christian roots. He's suggested that Democrats have "evil" ideologies, described those prosecuting former President Donald Trump as having a "godless agenda" and said the notion of church-state separation has been misunderstood.

Boyd said some have called him a Christian nationalist. He doesn't outright reject the label.

"I've still yet to have someone tell me what it is, what that actually means," Boyd said in an interview. "Yes, I'm a Christian. Yes, I love my country. If that's what that means, yes."

The businessman from Kensington, Minn., who's the son of a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, has described the country as being in a "spiritual battle." His campaign website states that "[h]is goal is to harness God's power to lead ordinary Americans and their legislators in Washington back towards the Lord."

The Rev. Angela Denker, a Minnesota pastor who studies Christian nationalism and wrote a book about Trump's hold on evangelicals, said Boyd's statements seem to align with that ideology. Christian nationalists say they believe the U.S. is an inherently Christian nation and that its laws should reflect their values.

"It's calls to take over on behalf of God, to be against these 'godless people,'" Denker said. "That kind of rhetoric, maybe it gets some people elected, but what it does is leaves a whole group of people really angry and full of despair and cynicism."

Christian nationalism has been gaining acceptance among conservatives, with firebrand Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene proudly saying, "we should be Christian nationalists." A survey published this year by the Public Religion Research Institute found more than half of Republicans adhere to or sympathize with Christian nationalism.

Boyd has been barnstorming communities across western Minnesota's Seventh District as he campaigns to oust GOP U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach, whom he's criticized as being too "legislation-driven" and not focused enough on cultural change. He blocked Fischbach from winning the Minnesota GOP's endorsement in April and will face her in an August primary election. The winner of the primary will almost certainly be elected to Congress in November to represent the conservative district.

Fischbach said in a statement that her faith and relationship with God are "very important in my life and help guide me everyday."

"I also consider that I represent 750,000 people with a wide variety of faiths and beliefs," Fischbach said. "I have my own moral foundation grounded in my faith, and I respect the different beliefs held by the good people across the district."

David Sturrock, a political science professor at Southwest Minnesota State University who's active in the Republican Party, said Boyd's religious-forward message will likely resonate with people who are concerned about preserving Christian influence. There are many evangelical Christians in the Seventh District, Sturrock said, though nowhere near a majority of the population.

"For a number of devout Christians, that is a powerful message. It's a motivating message," Sturrock said. "Can it broaden?"

Steve Boyd, left, spoke with Rep. Tom Murphy, R-Underwood, before an event at VFW Post 612 in Fergus Falls on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attacks.
Steve Boyd, left, spoke with Rep. Tom Murphy, R-Underwood, before an event at VFW Post 612 in Fergus Falls on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attacks.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

'From conception to our final breath'

In Congress, Boyd said he would "have no desire to try to legislate or force people to believe the way that I do."

But on abortion, Boyd said his "ultimate end goal" would be to enact a federal ban on the procedure, although he acknowledged he doesn't think society is ready to embrace that yet.

Boyd was among several dozen people who gathered at a church in Alexandria in December to hear from Pastor Matt Trewhella, an anti-abortion crusader who once argued that killing abortion providers is "justifiable homicide."

Trewhella was there to discuss his book about "a proper resistance to tyranny and a repudiation of unlimited obedience to civil government." Boyd told the Star Tribune he did not know about Trewhella's previous abortion comments and that his attendance had nothing to do with that.

"He advocates for the decisionmaking being made as local as possible," Boyd said of Trewhella. "So, reducing the size of federal government and getting back to local control when possible."

In campaign statements, Boyd has vowed to defend life "from conception to our final breath." Asked his position on birth control, he said he believes it comes before conception and that he wouldn't try to restrict access to it.

Among the figures Boyd has said he looks up to is David Barton, a national evangelical leader who's argued the separation of church and state is a myth. Barton has also espoused anti-gay views, suggesting the federal government should regulate same-sex relationships.

The First Amendment's establishment clause prohibits the government from establishing a religion or favoring one religion over another, and a number of the nation's founders wrote of their desire to avoid repeating the sectarian strife that had long been common in Europe. President Thomas Jefferson wrote in an 1802 letter that the establishment clause was intended to create a "wall of separation" between church and state.

Boyd previously taught a "Biblical Citizenship" course created by the conservative Patriot Academy, which includes material on "the myth of the separation of church and state," according to the academy's website. He told the Star Tribune he believes the separation of church and state has been misunderstood.

"It's important to keep a separation between the institutions. But we've taken that to mean, as Christians, we shouldn't bring our worldview, our faith, our beliefs into the process of how we interact in politics," Boyd said. "It's OK to live out your beliefs in every sector of society. Everyone else does as well."

On same-sex relationships, Boyd said he believes marriage is defined by God as being between a man and a woman. But he said he does not think the government should tell people who they can marry.

"I don't believe we should get into legislating whether you can be homosexual or not," he said. "When it comes to our schooling … do I want that lifestyle promoted in our schooling? No, I do not."

'Right-wing radicalization'

Boyd has taken a harsher tone on transgender issues. He lashed out at President Joe Biden for declaring March 31 "Transgender Day of Visibility" when Easter fell on the same day, saying, "This is intentional that it is implemented on Resurrection Sunday. They are anti-God, humanist, worshipers of self and they want you to know they despise you for your beliefs."

The Transgender Day of Visibility has been held annually on March 31 for the past 15 years. The date of the Christian holiday Easter changes each year.

Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin called the tone of Boyd's rhetoric "dangerous."

"When he demonizes people who don't agree with him as evil and godless, it's that kind of rhetoric that leads to right-wing radicalization," Martin said. "The rise of Christian nationalism in the Minnesota Republican Party … should alarm every Minnesotan."

State Rep. Tom Murphy, who's attended some of Boyd's campaign events, sees it differently. The Republican from Underwood said he thinks Boyd is giving a voice to conservatives who feel the country has turned away from Christian values.

"There's really a growing movement of people, I would call grassroots … and they're more interested in these things like freedom and family and faith," Murphy said. "One thing that's Steve done a good job is, he's earned the ear of the grassroots. A lot of the grassroots people look at his message and can relate to it, and I think part of that is the Christianity and the patriotism and just making sure we have God mixed in with what we're doing."