I knew which pastors were feuding; whose congregations were mired in scandal; which church softball teams had a deacon playing shortstop, and which ones stacked their lineups with non-tithing ringers.
But FloodGate? I had never heard of FloodGate. And neither had most of the people sitting around me, until recently.
For a decade, Bolin preached to a crowd of about 100 on a typical Sunday.
Then came Easter 2020, when Bolin announced that he would hold indoor worship services in defiance of Michigan’s emergency shutdown orders.
As word got around the conservative suburbs of Detroit, Bolin became a minor celebrity.
Local politicians and activists borrowed his pulpit to promote right-wing interests.
FloodGate’s attendance soared as members of other congregations defected to the small roadside church.
By Easter 2021, FloodGate was hosting 1,500 people every weekend.
On this particular fall Sunday, Bolin riffs on everything from California forcing vaccines on schoolchildren to the IRS proposing more oversight of personal banking accounts.
He promotes a new book that tells of “how the left has done a power grab to systematically dismantle religion and banish God from the lips, minds, and hearts of believers,” prompting the couple in front of me to make a one-click Amazon purchase.
He suggests there is mounting evidence of a stolen election, concluding, “With the information that’s coming out in Arizona and Georgia and other places, I think it’s time for there to be a full audit of all 50 states to find out the level of cheating and the level of manipulation that actually took place.”
The people around me cheer.
At one point, Bolin looks up from his notes.
“We had a visitor this morning who said, ‘You know, it’s really refreshing to hear a pastor talk about issues like this.’”
Basking in the ovation he’s just invited, Bolin adds: “I’m okay talking about these things.”
He asks if he can keep going. The crowd answers with more applause.
Listening to Bolin that morning, I kept thinking about another pastor nearby, one who approached his job very differently: Ken Brown.
Brown leads his own ministry, Community Bible Church, in the Detroit suburb of Trenton.
I got to know him during the 2020 presidential campaign, when I was writing dispatches from around the country and asking readers about the stories and trends they thought weren’t receiving enough attention.
Brown wrote to me explaining the combustible dynamics within the evangelical Church and describing his own efforts—as the conservative pastor of a conservative congregation—to keep his members from being radicalized by the lies of right-wing politicians and media figures.