PA Family Institute’s ‘City on the Hill’ Camp Is Training the Next Generation of Christian Nationalist Lawmakers

The group’s week-long Youth Leadership and Worldview Conference trains high school students to argue for legislation that promotes conservative Christian values.
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The Pennsylvania Family Institute, a state branch of the Family Research Council, is teaching high school students how to advocate for legislation that inserts Biblical “worldview” principles and conservative Christian values into law. The group’s annual City on the Hill Youth Leadership and Worldview Conference, which takes place this week (July 23-29), is a one-week program “with a vision of training and raising up the next generation of leaders.” 

According to the website, City on the Hill uses “the political process” to “cultivate leadership skills” and challenge attendees to “defend their viewpoints in the public square.” The conference includes a series of 12 training sessions that discuss “topics like The Case for Life, Christians in the Public Square and Why Religious Freedom Matters,” a trip to the State Capitol building to debate legislation on the Senate floor, and guest speakers like anti-abortion activist Dr. William Lile

READ: How The Right Is Grooming Kids To Become Republican Voters

The Pennsylvania Family Institute is one of the groups behind the push to ban school library books and implement anti-LGBTQ policies in Central Bucks School District, using their legal arm the Independence Law Center, and has previously called on parents, students, and teachers to report on any school incidents of “political, sexual, or racist ideological indoctrination.”

While a promotional ad for the summer conference emphasizes young people being “future leaders” in law and government, the content that is discussed during the program contains mature and extreme themes. In a blog post published earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Family Institute claims that City on the Hill will give 15 to 18 year olds, who they describe as young adults, the foundation and tools “they need to be a light in our culture.” 

The post also asserts that the conference will help them answer “heavy questions” regarding human sexuality, abortion, and LGBTQ rights, like: “How should they view human sexuality when 1 in 5 Gen Zers identify as ‘queer?’ How should they understand the issue of abortion when Planned Parenthood spends millions of dollars to frame it as a compassionate women’s healthcare issue? What should they do when faced with the very real possibility of losing sex-based spaces, like women’s sports or bathrooms?”

READ: Why Americans Shouldn’t Dismiss Shiny Happy People’s Warning Of A Christian-Controlled Nation

A video obtained by the Bucks County Beacon titled “City on the Hill for Everyone” provides some insight into how some of these issues are handled and framed during the week-long conference. In the video, which was uploaded to YouTube in April 2020, Pennsylvania Family Institute’s president Michael Geer and church ambassador network director Kurt Weaver talk with Joseph Backholm, the executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington and senior fellow for biblical worldview at the Family Research Council, about his work, which addresses the types of questions posed and answered at City on the Hill. Backholm was scheduled to speak at City on the Hill that year and was among the program’s featured speakers in 2021 and 2022

Backholm spends the 58-minute video going over a slideshow of talking points from a video series he makes called “What Would You Say?” where he describes “worldview” as a set of assumptions, one of which is based on the Bible and the other is not, using the 9/6 perspective as an analogy for how people interpret the same thing in different ways. 

According to Backholm, the Christian worldview, unlike a secular worldview, views a phrase like “my body, my choice” as incorrect because “your body does not belong to you, therefore, you do not have the authority to determine in every way what happens to you because God, who has a purpose for you, has laid out what’s going to make things work better” or worse. 

He then connects the phrase to same-sex marriage and gender identity, which he claims are not separate issues from abortion because the human body belongs to God, not to one’s self. As a result, Backholm concludes that agency and bodily autonomy leads to “pain,” adding that the more “these ideas are embraced, the more carnage that they create.”

“This is why worldview matters in public policies, in issues that are debated in political arenas that are super, super relevant to elected officials,” he says. 

READ: Resisting Christian Nationalism’s Ominous Next Stage

Taking a step back, Backholm says that it’s important to look at worldview in context, claiming that Christians should strive to do the right thing in a way that “honors God,” but that there are “external forces” that shape or pressure them into believing things that aren’t true. At the same time, “internal forces” like following one’s heart also deceive people and lead them astray, adding that the phrase “just follow your heart” makes people think that being themselves and living authentically will lead to happiness, which he claims is false. 

“We have all sorts of evidence that your heart is not the key to happiness because, as scripture tells us, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,’” Backholm says. It is this Bible verse, Jeremiah 17:9, where he insists lies the crux of the Christian worldview, which is “that humans are fallen” and “broken” and “have to surrender our desires in our hearts to the gospel.”

“Therefore, when we desire something, that’s not necessarily the key to happiness,” he continues. “In many, many cases, frankly in most cases, that’s the path to hell.”

However, Backholm says that it’s not merely enough to have a Biblical worldview, but that it also must be applied to the world around us, which is why he provides answers to questions about abortion, evolution, gender identity, and sexual orientation, among other issues, to parents and students so that they can counter ideas and laws that go against their beliefs. 

READ: Pennsylvania’s Prayer Warrior: Abby Abildness And Her Dominionist Crusade In The Commonwealth

“The most helpful thing for Christian kids to understand as they navigate the world is to really see it as a difference of opinion about worldview and not about gay marriage or gender,” he says.

Instead of having a conversation about the complexity of gender, he says they should ask questions about how humans were put on earth and for what purpose, and use the Bible to point out what God says about those issues. According to Backholm, this is how young people can argue against LGBTQ rights and abortion rights and effectively insert their Christian worldview into both the culture and the law, all while professing to “love their neighbor.”

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Catherine Caruso

Catherine Caruso is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer with a focus on culture, politics, education, and LGBTQ rights.

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