David G. Bromley

Christian Exodus


1976:  Cory Burnell was born

2004 (March):  Christian Exodus was launched.

2007 (Fall):  Christian Exodus announced that some supporters would resettle in Gem County Idaho.

2007:  Cory Burnell resigned as head of Christian Exodus and was replaced by Keith Humphrey.


Communities of various types founded around religious or spiritual principles have been commonplace through American history. Several of the early colonies were organized around religious principles, and the American landscape has continuously been dotted with self-contained communes. At present, there are numerous religious and spiritual enclaves scattered through the contemporary U.S.: Spiritualism camps; New Age centers; Mormon polygamous and conservative Jewish communities; and Amish and Hutterite settlements. Contemporary organized resettling of populations for a combination of religious and political reasons, as is the case with Christian Exodus, is somewhat more distinctive. The Free State project to resettle conservative Christian populations in New Hampshire and New Jersey are other examples (Ross 2006).

The key figure in the creation and development of Christian Exodus was Cory Burnell. Prior to establishing Christian Exodus, Burnell had directed a Texas branch of the League of the South, one of the nation’s largest secessionist organizations. He recognized that the U.S. was much more tightly integrated that in had been prior to the Civil War era: “We must realize that demographic changes of 140 years make it impossible to reclaim the entire geography once controlled by our Confederacy.” As a result, a different strategy was necessary (Morrison 2005):

These circumstances demand that we sift through the populace of all 50 states and call our people out. We must separate the wheat from the chaff and then concentrate our numbers geographically so we’re no longer dispersed and diluted among the enemy.

As a cofounder and early leader of Christian Exodus, Cory Burnell, along with his wife and three children, lived for a time in Texas, teaching mathematics in a local Christian school, managing the “Jitters” local coffee shop, and selling cell phones. He subsequently moved to Lodi in northern California (Kuenzie 2004). At the time Cory Burnell was living in Texas in the early 2000s, he began to formulate a plan for resettling conservative Christians in large numbers to create political jurisdictions where they could control the social, cultural and political environment. Broadly, the objective was to encourage the migration to political/territorial jurisdictions that offered favorable environments and work to assume control over local and then state administrative offices based on their interpretation of the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (The Tenth Amendment states that powers not constitutionally delegated to the federal government or not prohibited by the Constitution are granted to the states or the people.)

The movement was established by Cory Burnell and Jim Taylor in 2003 in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v Texas (a decision that overturned a Texas law that criminalized same sex sexual relations) and the decision by the Alabama Judicial Ethics panel to remove judge Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for defying court orders to remove a Ten Commandments monument from rotunda of the courthouse (Sweet and Lee 2010). These, and other federal government decisions (criminalization of prayer in public schools, decriminalization of abortion, appropriation of federal funds for education and for the Department of Education, a national retirement system [Social Security] and medical coverage [Medicare], and the creation of a national currency, were regarded as intrusions on states’ rights. As Burnell put the matter, “Ultimately, it’s up to the people of each State to choose whether to place themselves under God s authority or maintain their humanist and statist ways” (Sweet and Lee 2010:9).

Burnell reported that he had explored several destination state possibilities in the Bible Belt (such as Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina) but settled on South Carolina, which includes 750,000 Southern Baptists and fundamentalist Bob Jones University, a conservative Christian population base upon which to draw, and ocean access that would prevent an independent state from being landlocked. The initial plan was to relocate supportive populations from around the country to South Carolina. The first Phase involved 100 families to Anderson, South Carolina. Combined with existing supportive residents, the movement would elect Christian Constitutional majorities to city and county councils,  elected judgeships and law enforcement positions by 2009. This model would then be replicated in other parts of the state until the entire state was under the control of Christian Constitutionalists by 2014. Larger resettlements of 12,000 each were envisioned. Political control would then be translated into state constitutional control by 2018 (Sweet and Lee 2010). The plan was unsuccessful, however, and the movement was able to claim only fifteen resettled families in 2007. The movement then announced a shift in plans, with a new resettlement destination in Gem County, Idaho where several supportive families already resided. Some members even considered moving outside of the U.S. entirely. Further, in the spring of 2007, Cory Burnell stepped down as head of the organization, citing his inability to find work in South Carolina, and subsequently Keith Humphrey became the Executive Director of the organization.

Idaho offered an inviting alternative. It has been one of the nation’s fastest growing states for some time (Vos 2022). The state, and the northern part of the state in particular, has been a magnet for a variety of population groups: white supremacist and militia groups, “prepper” families, and residents of California seeking lower taxes and home prices or more conservative surroundings. In addition, the state is home to a number of Christian nationalist churches that have posted impressive membership gains, such as Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. Idaho is also the center of the “American Redoubt” movement, whose title is attributed to James Wesley Rawles. Rawles identified several states and portions of states to create the redoubt safe haven (Kustra 2023; Jenkins 2023).

I strongly recommend this amalgamation, and that it be formalized. I’m calling it The American Redoubt. I further recommend Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, eastern Oregon, and eastern Washington for the réduit.

There are no reliable numerical estimates of the size of the Christian national population in Georgia and Idaho. However, it is clear that the numbers are substantial, that there are a number of related movements involved, and that there are some openly separatist churches and militia groups that together form a loose coalition.


In his early formulation of Christian Exodus doctrine, Burnell did not invoke a God’s chosen nation perspective. As he put it, “there’s nothing special about the United States as a nation or government in biblical prophecy” and to assert that the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired is “absolute nonsense.” What he did assert was that America was central to God’s lager mission as God “put Christians here to establish a beacon of light to the rest of the world in an evangelist way” and used the U.S as a base to send missionaries to other parts of the globe (Sweet and Lee 2010:10). It appears that only a handful of families actually moved to South Carolina, which did not include Burnell and his family, and that, combined with supporters already state residents, Christian Exodus could count just over 1,000 members in South Carolina.

As the resettlement plan did not meet movement expectations, Burnell began to stress that personally separating from a sinful society was the core principle of the movement. As he put it, “We have learned, however, that the chains of our slavery and dependence upon godless government have more of a hold on us than can be broken by simply moving to another State (Sweet and Lee 2010:12) :

It is not important that they live apart from them, so much as that the BE apart from them. We are not to participate in evil, sinful behaviors nor give our approval to such activity. Sharing a government that promotes evil, and being complicit in the evil by refusing to arrest it should not be tolerated by Christians.

An early version of the Christian Exodus website spelled out details (Christian Exodus website 2013):

As many like-minded Christian activists pursue independent Christian living without relocating, the scope has expanded to promote “personal secession” though many and various tracks, wherever they can be implemented. The long process of disentanglement from idolatrous dependencies includes such practices of moving towards a home-centered economy, with intentional community, home-schooling, home-gardening, house churches, health-cost sharing, private exchange, unlicenced ministry, and any other way in which we might live free and godly lives in Christ Jesus, without prostrating ourselves to eat from the hand of the imperial magistrate.

At a national level, Christian Exodus supports the repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment (legitimating the federal income tax) and the seventeenth Amendment (permitting the direct election of U.S. senators).


Christian Exodus has always had more network than formal organization qualities. While Christian Exodus was launched as an organization in 2004, it made little progress toward achieving its political goals. Indeed, the movement shifted its focus from South Carolina to Idaho within three years and the movement leader resigned his position. The movement then consisted of loosely connected branches, and each consisted of a combination of already resident supporters and a small number of resettlers.


Through its history Christian Exodus has stood as more of a symbolic protest network than an actual, organized political force. It has faced and continues to face two problems: internal organization and continued external opposition.

Christian Exodus began as a vision for reclaiming a conservative Christian America. While there was substantial rhetorical support for the group, there never has been organizational cohesion. Cory Burnell did not personally undertake the resettlement he urged on others, and he resigned his position in just three years. His successor has never shown much vision or initiative. The movement fragmented and has thus became parallel branches when the primary resettlement location shifted from South Carolina to Idaho. There is little evidence of an organizational resurgence.

The movement also has been resolute and uncompromising in its positions. A number of these positions were part of the League of the South’s agenda in support of the Confederacy following the Civil War and combined them with contemporary conservative Christian positions. These positions would translate conservative Christian moral preferences into law, seek dominant political control at the state and federal levels, and retain the right of secession if lesser initiatives failed. These positions raised red flags with mainstream religious organizations that fit into the denominational model of religious organization.  For example, In a recent editorial, Episcopal Bishop Gretchen Rehberg decried Christian nationalism as “heresy for Christians and dangerous rhetoric for all Americans” and stated that “To state that is not a denial of Christianity, or a denigration of patriotism, rather the call to a proper relationship between church and state” (Jenkins 2023). Reverend Carlisle Driggers, Executive Director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention commented on Christian Exodus’ openness to secession: “South Carolina is a patriotic state, with a real love of family and a clear commitment to this country in the past century,” Driggers said. “I can’t imagine this plan being received well at all in this state” (“Group Promotes Secession” (2004). A South Carolina state senator, Pastor Darrell Jackson referred to Christian Exodus as a “modern day Jim Jones” and added that “ 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” (Kuenzie 2004).

The future of Christian Exodus as an organized movement appears to be fragile at best. However, there are other movements and churches that share elements of the Christian Exodus agenda. Across America population resorting and resettling continues. These trends bear watching as indicators of the extent of polarization in the contemporary U.S.


Christian Exodus About Us.” Accessed from Christianexodus.org on 21 August 2013.

Group promotes secession from U.S.2004. Religion News Blog, June 15. Accessed from https://www.religionnewsblog.com/7556/group-promotes-secession-from-us on 5 March 2024.

Jenkins, Jack. 2023. “In North Idaho, religious and secular activists work to fight Christian nationalism.” Religion News, March 8. Accessed from https://religionnews.com/2023/03/08/in-north-idaho-fighting-christian-nationalism-can-be-exhausting-and-dangerous/ on 5 March 2024.

Jenkins, Jack. 2023. “’Christian patriots’ are flocking from blue states to Idaho.” Washington Post, February 24.

Kuenzie, Jack. 2004. “Christian group plans mass exodus to SC.” WS10, November 19. Accessed from https://www.wistv.com/story/2587218/christian-group-plans-mass-exodus-to-sc/ on 29 February 2024.

Kustra, Bob. 2023. “OPINION: Idaho at the epicenter of American Redoubt, white Christian nationalism movement.” Coeur d’Alene Press, April 14. Accessed from OPINION: Idaho at the epicenter of American Redoubt, white Christian nationalism movement | Coeur d’Alene Press (cdapress.com) on 5 March 2024.

Morrison, Alexander. 2005. “Christian Exodus leader has a history.” GoUpstate, October 13. Accessed from https://www.bing.com/ck/a?!&&p=c6984ca8bdd80e0aJmltdHM9MTcwOTMzNzYwMCZpZ3VpZD0xY2ZjOTAyYy04MGY2LTY3MzAtM2ViYi05ZmIwODEwYjY2YzQmaW5zaWQ9NTIxMA&ptn=3&ver=2&hsh=3&fclid=1cfc902c-80f6-6730-3ebb- on 2 March 2024.

Rawles, James. 2011. “The American Redoubt – Move to the Mountain States”. Survivalblog. Accessed from https://survivalblog.com/redoubt/ on 5 March 2024.

Ross, Bobby. 2006. “Exodus New Jersey: Journey of a lifetime.” Christian Chronicle, June1. Accessed from https://christianchronicle.org/exodus-new-jersey-journey-of-a-lifetime/ on 5 March 2024.

Sweet, Joanna and Martha Lee. 2010. “Christian Exodus: A Modern American Millenarian Movement.” Journal for the Study of Radicalism 4:1-23.

Vos, Japp. 2022. “Idaho’s Demographics Changing at Unprecedented Rates, U of I Analysis Finds.” Uidaho news, August 18. Accessed from https://www.uidaho.edu/news/news-articles/news-releases/2022/081822-demographics on 5 March 2024.

Publication Date:
7 March 2024