(Columbia) Nov. 18, 2004 – Church and state is the age old debate over how much each should be connected to the other.
One man says he has the answer and his name is Cory Burnell, “The particular reason we’ve looked at this strategy is that we’ve come to the conclusion that across the nation, Christian conservatives really are having trouble getting any voice at the national level.”
Burnell is the leader of “Christian Exodus .” It’s a group of Christian activists who say the nation is so far off the proper path, they will move to a place where many already share their views, set up a Christian government and possibly, split from the other states.
Burnell says that place is South Carolina, “We looked at Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina because they’re all Bible Belt states with Christian conservative electorates. They’re relatively small as far as population goes. And then South Carolina has some additional attractions.”
He says once here, the group would try to elect members of the legislature, “Some of the issues important to us obviously are prayer at the local level in schools. The Ten Commandments in public display in government buildings. Additionally, the right to life for the unborn. And now certainly the protection of marriage.”
Who is Cory Burnell? He is a 28-year-old math teacher and cell-phone salesman. Originally based in Texas, Burnell has temporarily moved to northern California where News 10 spoke to him by satellite. Burnell says he and his family will live there another year or so, then begin moving as many as 12,000 Christian Exodus members to South Carolina, with more to follow.
As you might expect, Burnell’s concept has drawn considerable criticism.
State Senator and church Pastor Darrell Jackson isn’t reticent with his opinion, “It’s like a modern day Jim Jones.” One of his concerns is about the Palmetto State’s image, “That concerns me as a political leader here in the state. It tells me that we have a whole lot of work to do as it relates to our public image outside of the borders of South Carolina.”
The Reverend Brenda Kneece heads the South Carolina Christian Action Council, “It’s sort of bizarre, it’s sort of counter to what those of us who are in leadership in areas of faith and belief would believe needs to be happening.”
South Carolina became identified with the issue of secession with the first shots fired at Fort Sumter. More recently, supporters of something called the “Southern Independence” movement have suggested South Carolina could again lead the way in trying to break from the US.
In fact, Burnell promoted a similar plan as a leader of the neo-Confederate League of the South.
USC history expert Dr. Lacy Ford says secession could never work now, “If you can imagine convincing people to get by without the protection of the United States Army or their Social Security benefits or Medicare or interstate highway system or Food and Drug Administration in the modern post-industrial world of the 21st century, then I think you really don’t understand how complex and sophisticated American society is today.”
Burnell says secession is a last resort and one element of an ambitious plan, “December 31st, ’06 we’d like to have our first group of 12,000 completed and begin the move in ’07 and ’08.”
He admits the group doesn’t have that many members, but he remains convinced of the plan, “Currently we have 600 members in just really two months of being public and so I do think so. I think there are hundreds of thousands of Christian conservatives about fed up with the circumstances in this country. We just need a fraction of the percentage.”
Reverend Kneece says Burnell’s plan reminds her of another Southern experiment: the Hunley, “I think the Christian Exodus might make a big splash initially, but I think they would be underwater a long time.’
It will take time to decide how many people believe Burnell when he says the promised land is in the Palmetto State.