Georgia prosecutors have charged Stephen Cliffgard Lee with five felonies, alleging he was one of 18 co-conspirators who worked with Donald Trump to overturn Trump’s poor election results in the state.
But a handful of churches, conservative Christian media and a pro-family group claim Lee is a devoted Christian, dedicated pastor and chaplain and “American hero” who was an innocent victim of an “armed” anti-Trump justice system, and they We pray and raise funds for his defense.
Lee, a 71-year-old retired pastor of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, serves at Living Word Lutheran Church in Orland Park, Illinois.
His Colorado connections include providing security consulting for Focus on the Family during the 1996 hostage crisis and founding the Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Monument, Colorado.
He played all his life of good deeds, including serving as a volunteer chaplain at tragic sites such as 9/11 Ground Zero, Columbine High School and Hurricane Katrina. In 1996, he founded Peace Officer Ministries, a national and international nonprofit law enforcement ministry organization.
Four of Lee’s co-defendants have pleaded guilty in Georgia, but Lee remains defiant, saying a prison sentence would be “a death sentence.”
“I will not cooperate with evil,” he told the crowd at a fundraiser held Nov. 11 at a Chicago-area church. “I will not do anything that would eat up or destroy our First.” Amendment Rights. … This is the Lord’s battle, and we must fight it.”
His lawyer says Lee never met or talked to Trump. But on December 15, 2020, Lee played a small role in one of Trump’s many legal dramas when he traveled from Chicago to Atlanta to meet with a woman at the center of election lies spread by Trump and his indicted lawyer Rudy Giuliani .
Ruby Freeman was an unknown poll worker in Fulton County until Trump claimed that she and her daughter Shaye Moss, another poll worker, used a suitcase full of fake ballots and USB drives to win the state’s votes for Joe Biden.
The women, who are Black, became the focus of mobs on social media who repeated Trump’s false claims, threatened to kill them and called them racial slurs, forcing Freeman to close their homes for weeks leave.
The two women were later cleared of any wrongdoing, but Trump continued his attacks.
Ruby Freeman took center stage from a storm of threats and harassment in December 2020 when Lee traveled from Chicago to Atlanta to visit her, knocking on her door twice and calling her twice.
When she didn’t answer, Lee assumed it was because he was a white man and called two black backups, including a man who led a group called Black Voices for Trump. Both were charged along with Lee.
Why was Lee so anxious to meet Ruby Freeman?
That’s what a police officer is Lee asked. Body camera footage shows Lee, dressed in a clergy collar, explaining: “I’m a pastor and I’m also with some people trying to help Ruby, okay? …And also find out what’s really going on.”
Lee’s conservative Christian supporters insist that the man they call “America’s chaplain” was simply trying to offer her spiritual support. Prosecutors say he tried to influence her testimony to bolster Trump’s claims of election fraud.
Lee also receives financial support from the Illinois Family Institute, a nonprofit organization that works with the American Family Association, Liberty Counsel, the Thomas More Society and two groups affiliated with Focus on the Family: Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom.
Lee received enthusiastic coverage from veteran conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza and lesser-known hosts including Sam Sorbo, Zach Drew and Gary Franchi.
Franchi spoke at a family home in Illinois Institute for Lee fundraiser at Families of Faith Ministries in Channahon, Illinois. The institute, which claims to be nonpartisan, operates a politically oriented nonprofit, Illinois Family Action, and an associated PAC.
“We will support ‘America’s Chaplain’ and religious freedom here tonight,” Franchi said, according to an article about Lee’s evangelical supporters in the New York Times. “We’re going to talk about the government’s weaponization of religion.”
Christianity Today reported on a unique fundraiser the Institute is using to support Lee:
The Christian group has partnered with a company called Make Honey Great Again, which has agreed to donate a portion of sales. His honey comes in bottles shaped like Trump’s head.
“You may or may not like the bottle design, but it is filled with wholesome, pure, raw honey and we hope the uniqueness of the packaging will raise awareness, prayers and donations for Chaplain Lee,” the Illinois Family Institute wrote.
Lee’s attorney, David Shestokas, In his fundraising appeal on the GiveSendGo platform, which began as a Christian fundraising site before becoming a haven for anti-Semitic campaigns and “patriots” found guilty in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, he referred to the Case as a test of basic American freedoms:
The First Amendment contains five rights: religion, speech, press, assembly, and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. The exercise of each of these rights is under attack in Georgia. This fight is not just Chaplain Lee’s. Your rights as Americans are also under attack.
Pastor Lee is an American hero, not a criminal, for his pastoral door-knocking, as District Attorney Fani Willis charges. It’s time we put an end to this political persecution and stand up for him.
Lee’s lawyer also claims that his client is apolitical. “While the attacks on Chaplain Lee appear to be politically motivated, he himself is not,” said attorney David Shestokas.
But Lee supported Trump and other candidates, expressing a growing need to do something to “save” the country he loves. “We are facing the extinction of America,” he said in 2021.
The Illinois Family Institute has raised about $20,000 for Lee.
“I think it’s pretty obvious to people that the government is being used as a weapon,” David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, told Christianity Today. “It seems to me that Rev. Lee’s only mistake was knocking on a door. … This is a precedent that cannot be allowed to stand.”
Lee’s GiveSendGo campaign wants to raise $100,000 and has raised more than $14,000 so far.
“Thank you for your courage in the face of evil!” wrote John Richardson, who donated $50. “God protect you!”
“May GOD bless you and give you the strength and resources you need to stand up for TRUTH and JUSTICE!” wrote an anonymous $50 donor.
Faithful America, an alliance by Christians who are “tired of sitting silently by while the good news of Jesus is hijacked by the religious right” has more than 20,000 signatures on a petition calling on the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to revoke Lee’s ordination .
“There is absolutely no reason for any denomination to retain in a position of moral or spiritual leadership someone who has been credibly accused of illegally subverting our democracy,” the petition states.
The denomination has not responded to the petition.
This article originally appeared on Baptist News Global.