Faith-based

The Street Corner Where George Floyd Was Killed Has Become a Christian Revivalist Site

And it’s attracting a bunch of enterprising evangelists who have traveled there from outside the state.

Visitors have flocked to 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis to pay their respects.
Sean Feucht

In the month since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, the scene of his death has become a sprawling unofficial gathering place and mourning site. The city has blocked off the intersection to traffic, and visitors flock to 38th Street and Chicago Avenue to pay their respects with flowers, signs, and murals. Volunteers hand out food and water, and musicians and speakers provide a raucous soundtrack for the strolling crowds. One visitor to the site told a reporter a few weeks ago that it was “sacred ground.”

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For some Christian pastors and evangelists, the site is also becoming literal sacred ground: the heart of what they describe as a spiritual movement sprawling far beyond Minnesota. “I would describe this as revival and awakening,” said Joshua Giles, a local pastor who has been coming to the site to pray and preach for several weeks. Giles, who is Black, said he has taken part in conversions and spontaneous baptisms there, and that at least one woman had been miraculously healed of persistent pain in her arm. Other evangelists have shared similar accounts online. “The spiritual climate has completely shifted,” local evangelist Joshua Lindquist, who is white, said in a video posted to Facebook. “We believe that this location is going to turn into an epicenter of revival.”

A local Christian DJ has been providing music at the site. Another regular is Curtis Farrar, a Black pastor from the Worldwide Outreach for Christ, a storefront church located at the intersection. Most of the evangelists and pastors on the scene come from charismatic ministries, a notably multiracial tradition that emphasizes miracles and dramatic conversions. Suburban Minneapolis pastor Charles Karuku and his wife, Lindsey, operate an active Facebook page sharing “unity revival” updates followed by more than 2,000 people. The Christian Broadcasting Network called Karuku “the man proclaiming Jesus at the George Floyd memorial site where a supernatural awakening has begun.”

But the area has also attracted enterprising evangelists who have traveled from outside Minneapolis—to minister to a spiritual crisis with national ramifications and, perhaps, to find the spotlight and show their audiences online that they are at the heart of a nascent movement. “We’re at the intersection of pain in America,” said a white evangelist with a California-based traveling evangelist organization called the Circuit Riders, who sent a team to the site. Christophe Ulysse, a Black evangelist based in Hawaii, said his organization built the simple wood stage that has been serving as a base for the rotating preachers and musicians who have come to the scene. For Ulysse, who is now back in Hawaii, being there was an opportunity to bring authentic healing. “We’ve seen these beautiful moments of reconciliation and forgiveness,” Ulysse told me. “This isn’t some Instagram corny photo-op.”

Andrew Chalmers, a white filmmaker in Georgia, traveled to Minneapolis to film a short documentary “about what God is doing in the midst of all the pain and turmoil,” as he described it on Facebook. “We Hear You” features Farrar, the local pastor, whom many evangelists I spoke to named as their connection to the revival. The documentary also features Jonathan Tremaine Thomas, a Black evangelist who moved to Ferguson, Missouri, from Indiana after the killing of Michael Brown in 2014. Chalmers recently told the evangelical talk show The 700 Club that God told him to go see Thomas in Missouri, and then the two men traveled together to Minnesota for a kind of listening tour at the site. “So many people are coming together in this place,” Chalmers said on the show. “A lot of bad was going on, but churches have landed here in the heart of this and are really demonstrating the love of Christ.”

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Evangelical media outlets have reported eagerly on the revival, portraying it as a sign that spiritual energy is replacing the supposed anarchy and “division” of the protests and scattered riots. “The area was once flooded with riots and chaos but has now seen an outpouring of God’s power,” the Christian Broadcasting Network reported. “At the ‘epicenter of pain and darkness,’ a message of hope through Christ is taking hold and spreading,” according to a Christian radio station.

Some politically conservative Christian celebrities have been attracted to the area, too. Alveda King, a conservative activist and niece of Martin Luther King Jr., called in and shared a message and a song over the loudspeaker at one point. Sean Feucht, a popular California worship-music leader who ran a failed campaign for Congress as a Republican this spring, performed with a band at the scene on June 13. Feucht, who is white, told me he was invited to Minneapolis by student musicians at North Central University, a nearby college associated with the charismatic Assemblies of God denomination. (A representative for North Central did not respond to requests for comment.) When the expected crowd numbers grew beyond North Central’s capacity to host, Feucht said, he canceled the campus show and decided to perform an unannounced set at the memorial site, where students had told him “there’s this revival happening.” Feucht is a volunteer worship leader at Bethel Church, a charismatic megachurch in northern California, and was previously signed to the Bethel Music label. He now heads several independent ministries.

Some evangelists have boasted of “reaching” thousands of people at the memorial site. Feucht said in an Instagram video that his performance at the scene was “one of the most powerful times of worship and ministry and revival I ever had in America.” Feucht posted clips and monologues about the “HOPE RALLY” to social media, including his Instagram account, where he has 136,000 followers. He later referred to it as the “Minneapolis miracle.” “The trauma happened right here. The injustice happened right here,” Feucht narrates as the camera pans around the intersection in one video. “And now, right here on this corner, the move of the Holy Spirit is happening.”

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Like many of the white evangelists who have gathered in Minneapolis, Feucht is assiduously vague about what he means by the “trauma.” He seems to lump police brutality and the city’s relatively brief riots together under the umbrella of unrest and then offer revival as the path to peace. Feucht has called Black Lives Matter a “dark movement with hidden agendas” and “shady” online in recent weeks. (He was among a group of pastors and worship leaders who met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in December.) “The statement [“Black Lives Matter”] is amazing. The statement is true,” he told me. “The issue I have is with the organization itself.” For Feucht, one of the most powerful sights at the scene was observing what he called “racial reconciliation moments,” where someone onstage would encourage people in the crowd to find “someone of a different race,” hold hands, and ask for forgiveness. Chalmers, the filmmaker, mentioned both racism and riots in his interview with The 700 Club, and “racial injustice and unrest” in a teaser for the film.

Farrar, who has been pastor of Worldwide Outreach for Christ at the intersection for 38 years, told me he welcomes anyone who wants to share the Christian faith there. “For me, whoever is going to come in town and remind us all we need to change and that change is impossible without God is good,” he said. In the 1970s, Farrar said, he was handcuffed and slammed to the ground by Minneapolis police while approaching a friend’s house. He was angry at the police, and white people generally, for a long time. Now, he says, he feels grateful to everyone—even white people from out of town—who want to join the protests, and be a part of what he sees happening at the intersection in front of his church. “It was the white folk that really made everybody take note,” he said. “It’s been happening a long time, but when they join in, [others] can’t say, ‘Well, it’s only Black folk.’ ”

For some other Black pastors who have been serving Minneapolis for years, the arrival of outsiders like Feucht is cause for wariness. “Especially with some of our white evangelical communities, there is a sense that ‘We need to go and be present in this,’ ” said Richard Coleman, pastor at Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church and head of a related community development nonprofit. “The sense that the [local] folks have is, ‘Where were you when we were dealing with the culture that allowed the police to feel so free that they could engage in murder without interruption? Where are you preaching to people to undo their own racism and bias? Where are you opposing white supremacy in your own context?’ ”

For Coleman, the mere presence of “the church” at the scene is not enough to fix deep injustices, especially when Christianity is offered as an apolitical balm whose role is simply to soothe tensions rather than change systems. “The church to some extent has been a custodian of some of these bad ideologies,” he said. “Police officers go to church, Ku Klux Klan members go to church, people who redline neighborhoods go to church.” Meanwhile, outside ministries without deep local ties take money and attention from the pastors and nonprofits that have been doing the hard work for years and in many cases are in desperate need of financial support.

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Emma Ripley, who lives a mile from the memorial and describes herself as a former evangelical, said that when she first approached, she thought “a local church was playing music, which is cool.” But the worship music sounded unusually loud to her, she said, and was drowning out the other sounds on the scene. As she got closer, she recognized Feucht, with his long mane of curly blond hair. Ripley, who is white and once worked as a missionary in Italy, said, “When you’re a believer who believes the word of Jesus needs to be spread, it’s like you’re automatically the best thing that can be in any space. By default you should be there, and you don’t pause to think, ‘Should we be here?’ ” Even those who see some role for evangelism at the site are skeptical of the way Feucht has promoted his own role in the gatherings to his audience online. “It’s a little like going to the Vietnam memorial and leading worship there and then saying, ‘There were a lot of people in tears, old people and young people all in tears because God is at work,’ ” said Andy Rowell, a professor at nearby Bethel Seminary, who has paid his respects at the memorial site. “Well, it’s also because it’s the Vietnam memorial.” (Bethel Seminary is not affiliated with Feucht’s Bethel Church.)

That’s not to say there’s no need for spiritual resources at a scene of communal pain. “People are really there for faith and hope and peace,” Coleman, the Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church pastor, said. “And after things have settled down, these [local] churches and pastors will still be here.” George Floyd himself, as it turns out, was a devout Christian who participated in spontaneous outdoor baptisms in his neighborhood in Houston, where he lived for most of his life before moving to Minneapolis. He encouraged Christian ministries to come to Houston’s historically Black Third Ward, where he served as “a de-facto community leader and elder statesmen,” Kate Shellnutt reported in Christianity Today. One friend told NPR that Floyd was often the one to drag the heavy baptismal tubs onto a local basketball court for informal church services. Now, there’s a new rumor going around in Minneapolis: The baptismal pools at the memorial scene once belonged to Floyd.


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