‘We’re not trying to build any wall’ says pastor leading Cotton Bowl evangelical revival
Thousands of people are expected to attend a religious revival at the Cotton Bowl this weekend that aims to replicate the famous 1972 “Christian Woodstock” in Dallas led by evangelist Billy Graham.
The event, Together 2022, takes place at the Cotton Bowl this Friday and Saturday, 50 years after Graham’s Explo ‘72 revival. The Dallas Morning News spoke with event organizer Nick Hall, the founder of Pulse, a Christian evangelical group that holds religious meetings and gatherings around the world. Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend the free event in Dallas.
Hall spoke about his formative experiences with religion and how mainstream American Christianity today resembles nothing about lessons espoused by Jesus Christ.
The following interview has been edited for space and clarity.
The last major event Pulse held was in Washington, D.C. What’s the idea behind this year’s gathering, and why was Dallas the choice?
So, we do events all over the world regularly. Our first Together gathering was in 2016, and the purpose of that gathering was really to see unity. We just see so much division, and we really just believe that Jesus is the only one who welcomes everyone. He’s the only one who calls rich and poor, citizens and immigrants — people from all backgrounds. Literally the only one who welcomes all of us, sinners and saints alike.
In the midst of leadership that often is not trusted, or questioned, with people angry on all sides, we just think he offers an example of life and leadership and friendship. And we just want to see a generation follow him.
From 2016 until today, there’s been hundreds of gatherings that have happened around the world, but all of those roads have led to this one at the Cotton Bowl, because a lot of our story is really inspired by what happened there in 1972. In 1972, there was a gathering that Billy Graham and Bill Bright led, and Johnny Cash showed up along with some of the biggest names in Christian music at the time — just a bunch of amazing men and women of God and young people came from all 50 states.
It was a time of unrest. It was a time of division. It was a time of war and riots, and kids were leaving the churches. It was just a wild time, and yet, out of this moment came the Jesus People Movement. They just said, “We want to follow Jesus. We want to follow his example.” And those kids changed the landscape of the nation.
Moments of historic change are marked by historic gatherings. I think we need to remember our past and we need to honor what happened before while pressing forward for a new future. We just really see young people today are hurting, and people are hurting for many reasons — whether racism, or division, or arguments at home over politics or social issues. We just think it’s time for a new generation to rise up and look to Jesus.
The 2016 event was held only a few months before the presidential election, but it seems like you and Pulse made a very deliberate effort to avoid politics or supporting any one candidate. Is it still possible to separate religion and politics?
One of the things we’re really battling against is a Christianity that allows people to be loud about many things and silent about the good news of Jesus. There’s a religion that has started in our country that looks nothing like the Christianity of the Bible. Our desire is to point to Jesus, and to rally people to Jesus, knowing that people on both sides of the political spectrum and different backgrounds all need Jesus.
We just don’t think there’s a political party that owns the Christian faith. We have had many politicians — even presidents — wanting to be on our stage, wanting to speak to our groups. And we really believe that this message has to be pure. Because we’re not trying to build any wall, beyond just encouraging people to turn to Jesus, to turn away from whatever sin and struggle in their life and realize that, in his death and resurrection, there’s hope no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from. Jesus welcomes you.
Polls show that in America, every generation is less religious than the previous one. What’s the cause, and what do religious institutions need to change to attract young believers?
I think there’s a generation that is wanting the real thing, and I think they want something that is worthy of their passion, that’s worthy of their dreams. People say to me all the time that kids are leaving the church, and I’ll tell them I think they’re leaving an institution that has lost its power, but they’re not leaving Jesus.
I find young men and women willing to be more radical. They want to give more money than their parents and grandparents and they want to go around the world, to the hard places. I think Country Club Christianity is dead. I don’t think young men and women want anything to do with a Christianity that claims to follow Jesus while everything in your life looks like you’re living for yourself.
What is Country Club Christianity?
I mean a club of insiders and outsiders. I mean a club that has really nice things for its members, while everyone on the outside looks in with disgust or jealousy. Christianity was supposed to be a life-saving station. Jesus modeled this — he helped the orphan, the widow, the prostitute. Yes, he spoke to religious leaders and political leaders, but he welcomed everybody.
You know, today, Christianity has become known as a voting bloc. And I guess I would just ask, how did we get here?
Do you have an answer?
I think we’ve walked away from our first love. I think we have a Christianity today that often looks nothing like Jesus. We’ve built a system where it’s possible to be considered a good Christian, never share your faith, and never build relationships with those that are hurting. We’ve built a Christianity that looks nothing like our leader.
Let’s talk about the role of Christian nationalism in America today. Studies have linked the belief that America is inherently a Christian nation to anti-immigrant attitudes. Christian symbols featured prominently in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Does that concern you, and what’s the responsibility of faith institutions to call out extremist ideas?
I think the way you can tell a counterfeit is by looking at the real thing. And I think it’s really easy to see a counterfeit if you look at Jesus and what he did. And there’s a lot of people that want to hijack that message for their own aims and for their own ends, and it’s become popular to do that.
It’s way easier to get people to rally and get something than it is to get people to love those that are hurting. It’s way easier to get people afraid of the enemy than it is to get people to welcome the enemy to eat at their table.
That’s not a Christian problem — that’s a human condition problem. We all judge and label people who are not like us, and somehow it makes us feel better if we can see people as less than we are. But again, I just think Jesus is the example.
I think there’s a lot of things that are wrong in the things you mentioned. I do think our Founding Fathers, many of them came here and really had a heart for religious purity and there were a lot of beautiful things that happened there. But there’s also a lot of parts of our story that are broken. People who are messed up do silly things because we are not God.