Election turmoil splits West Virginia city's evangelicals

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Travis Lowe, second from right, pastor of Crossroads Church in Bluefield, W.Va., raises his arm during services Sunday Jan. 23, 2021. Lowe, who has expressed concern over the divisiveness of American politics, believes collaboration by churches will help heal his town and the country. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. – If you’re Christian in Bluefield — and most everyone is, in this small city tucked into the Appalachian Mountains — you have your choice.

You can follow Pastor Doyle Bradford of Father’s House International Church, who has forcefully backed Donald Trump — doubting Trump's defeat in November and joining some congregants at the Jan. 6 “Save America” rally that degenerated into the Capitol riot.

Or you can go less than 3 miles away next to the rail yard, to Faith Center Church, where Pastor Frederick Brown regards Bradford as a brother — but says he's seriously mistaken. Or you can venture up East River Mountain to Crossroads Church, where Pastor Travis Lowe eschews Bradford’s fiery political rhetoric, seeking paths to Christian unity.

The three churches have much in common. All of them condemn the desecration of the Capitol and pray for a way to find common ground.

But they diverge on a central issue: What is the role of evangelical Christianity in America’s divisive politics?

Bradford and his flock defend his actions as expressions of freedom of speech and religious freedom, and say they should be allowed to voice their views against what they feel is an assault on democracy and Christian values. But his fellow pastors fear that fiery rhetoric and baseless claims made online and from the pulpit could stoke more tensions, rancor and divisiveness.

Though AP VoteCast found that about 8 in 10 evangelical voters supported Donald Trump in November — and though broadly, they have backed the political efforts of church leaders — they are not monolithic.

As is evident in this Appalachian town of just more than 10,000.