DENVER (RNS) — In 2021, Andrew Wommack told his followers to “take over” Woodland Park, a mountain town of 8,000 near Colorado Springs. The televangelist and Charis Bible College founder had been saying for years that “the time has come” for Christians to stop focusing only on their faith and start working to gain political influence.
“We have enough people here in this school we could elect anybody we want,” he said at a meeting of the Citizen’s Academy, an event held at Charis by the Truth & Liberty Coalition, a nonprofit organization also founded by Wommack. “This county ought to be totally dominated by believers.”
In recent months, Wommack has been making the same argument to Christians across Colorado. He’s also provided candidates who fit the bill. When voters in 30 school districts go to the polls Tuesday (Nov. 7), they will find ballots primed with candidates recruited and trained by Transform Colorado, a movement, launched by Truth & Liberty, “that unites Christian leaders to restore biblical values in the public square,” according to its website.
The group is promoting its picks in local churches and through voter guides that include candidate answers to five questions about hot-button topics common to conservative Christian campaigns nationally: transgenderism, “boys in girls’ sports,” sex education, parental rights, and social studies and history curriculums.
The effort spans from Colorado Springs, the state’s second largest city, to remote rural districts such as Holyoke, on the border with Nebraska, and Burlington, both of which have seen spikes in the number of candidates this year.
As in Woodland Park, where Wommack succeeded in getting his chosen candidates elected to City Council and gaining a majority on the school board, the goal, in the words of one victor, is to oppose “the teachers’ union and their psycho agenda.”
Wommack, who was mentored by the prosperity gospel preacher Kenneth Copeland, did not attend college himself, nor seminary, and is not formally ordained. After launching a small Texas radio ministry in 1976, he took to television and moved his headquarters to Colorado in the 1990s, making steady appeals for donations to fund his rise. He is briefly featured in “American Gospel: Christ Alone,” a documentary claiming the prosperity gospel movement distorts Christ’s gospel in the U.S. and around the world.
In 2019, the last year it released financial information, Andrew Wommack Ministries had revenue of $68 million. Its CEO, Billy Epperhart, told the Colorado Springs Gazette in 2021 that revenue had since topped $100 million.
Truth & Liberty, founded in 2019, has its own livestreamed programs featuring guests such as Christian nationalist author David Barton, who is also a board member. It took in $1.2 million in 2020. Spokesman Michael Perini declined to provide any information for this article.
In September of last year, the organization held a weekend-long conference where the speakers included U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Pastor Lance Wallnau, another board member, who promoted his Seven Mountain Mandate, a vision for Christian dominion in seven key areas of national life, including education.
Truth & Liberty has lately served as Wommack’s main tool in reversing Colorado’s shift from red to blue, a tragedy he blames on “demonic” liberals. As proof, Wommack has claimed his “spies” in the local school system had found hundreds of obscene books. He warned that public schools taught fourth graders how to have anal sex and that they placed litter boxes in classrooms for students who identified as dogs or cats.
Wommack is harsh in his opposition to LGBTQ rights. The day after five people were killed and 18 injured in a Nov. 19, 2022, shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Wommack said he was “not endorsing” violence against LGBTQ people but complained they received too much sympathy, calling homosexuality “one of the major threats of the devil.”
Critics complain that his efforts to protect public education are political stunts that transform normally quiet local elections into hyperpartisan battles funded by outside groups and money.
In Woodland Park, Carol Greenstreet, a former school board president, said the district already reflected the town’s largely conservative and Christian values long before Wommack began his campaign.
Wommack and his followers have “created a war that didn’t have a reason to be fought,” said Greenstreet, whose husband, Kirk, is senior pastor of the evangelical Woodland Park Community Church.
But once elected, Woodland Park’s new conservative majority worked quickly — sometimes meeting in private, she alleged, in violation of state law — to turn the district upside down.
The district became the first and, so far, only locality in the U.S. to adopt the controversial American Birthright social studies curriculum, which has been rejected by Colorado’s State Board of Education. Since it was adopted, some students have been required to perform make-up work to qualify for college admission.
(The Civics Alliance, the group behind American Birthright, did not respond to a request for comment.)
The district let go of its mental health workers, social workers and therapists. “We are not the Department of Health and Human Services,” said new district Superintendent Ken Witt, who led a conservative takeover of the Castle Rock school district before being recalled in 2015.
The school board also put a gag order on faculty and staff who disagreed with the changes, firing some who aired their concerns anyway. Recently, more than 80 teachers and staff signed a letter condemning the new “culture of fear and silence” and calling for solutions that “prioritize our children’s futures over politics.”
Around 40% of the district’s workforce did not return for the 2023-2024 school year, and many families in the district have become “refugees” who transferred their children to different schools miles away.
The district now budgets more than $200,000 a year for legal fees, more than 10 times its legal budget five years ago.
Despite the controversy, Wommack has given the new board his full support. Charis bused nearly 100 students to a May meeting where a vote was being held to elect a new superintendent, displacing hundreds of parents and teachers who were barred by capacity regulations. Some citizens now gather as much as five hours early at board meetings to make sure they can speak and vote.
Students from Charis, which operates a Practical Government school, also often sign up for many of the limited public speaking slots, using their allotted time to criticize “violent, extreme radicals, communists and socialists taking over our schools.”
The test for Wommack in Tuesday’s election will be whether his machinations have alienated voters who broadly share his principles. Sharon Roshek, a longtime local Realtor who calls herself an “extremely conservative evangelical Republican,” voted for Wommack’s school board candidates in 2021 and “never thought much of it.”
But after hearing horror stories from district teachers and staff who are members of her evangelical church, she came to regret her vote and is voting for opponents to Wommack’s agenda this time around.
“It is sad, sad, sad that people in this community now hate Christians” because Wommack and his followers have tried to move the city “so far to the right,” Roshek said.
“They appear to be battling a national agenda that does not exist in Woodland Park. This is a conservative community. What could be a good thing has turned into divisive positions among neighbors.”
(This story was was reported with support from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.)