Nearly 140 years after the South lost the Civil War, a new secessionist movement has arisen that hopes to pull South Carolina out of the union and create an officially “Christian” homeland within the borders of the United States.
Although it may sound far-fetched, the movement, Christian Exodus, takes itself seriously. Its leader, Cory Burnell, a 28-year-old Christian school teacher and mobile phone salesman formerly of Tyler, Texas, says he is angered over increasing acceptance of gays, legal abortion and the teaching of evolution in public schools.
The only solution, according to Burnell, is for fundamentalist Christians to flood one state, pull it out of the union and create their own officially Christian nation.
“It is evident that the U.S. Constitution has been abandoned under our current federal system, and the efforts of Christian activism to restore our Godly republic have proven futile over the past three decades,” reads a statement on the group’s website, www.christianexodus.org. “The time has come for Christians to withdraw our consent from the current federal government and re-introduce the Christian principles once so predominant in America to a sovereign State like South Carolina.”
Burnell says he picked South Carolina because it is a small state that already has a large conservative Christian population. His plan calls for 12,000 supporters to move to South Carolina by Dec. 31, 2006. Additional waves of 12,000 will move to the state over the next 10 years. Once they are a majority, the fundamentalists will, according to the website, “Request constitutional reforms returning proper autonomy to the state” and if that is not forthcoming will “call for a convention of the people and seek independence by 2016.”
Currently a resident of northern California, Burnell says he plans to be among the first 12,000 to move in 2006. Once independence is established, he said, all Christians and even non-Christians and unbelievers would be free to settle in the officially Christian nation, as long as they were willing to live under the legal code, which will be based on the Ten Commandments.
Recruits are slowly signing up. A July 28 message from Burnell posted on the group’s website reported that membership “consists of approximately 600 members at this time.”
A number of South Carolina political and religious leaders interviewed by The State newspaper in Columbia were not impressed by the proposal.
“Doesn’t South Carolina have enough problems already?” asked the Rev. Joe Darby of Morris Brown African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. “Groups with strange opinions and strange beliefs pop up every once in a while…. I would tell these people to re-evaluate their faith and get a life.”
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a Montgomery, Ala.-based group that monitors racist and other extremist groups, said Burnell has been working with an organization called the League of the South. Potok said the SPLC considers the neo-Confederate League to be a hate group.
Potok also said he believes Burnell’s ideas grew out of Christian Reconstructionism, a fringe philosophy held by some of the most extreme elements of the Religious Right.