Conservatives are fleeing California in droves. Last year so many left for red states like Idaho, Texas and Florida that that Golden State lost a congressional seat. But Ceres pastor Chris Henry thinks it would be a mistake for evangelicals who dislike the direction of the state and its politics to join the exodus and head to the Bible belt. That’s why he wrote “The 8th Church: The Shining Church of California” which was released last month on Amazon.
Henry’s message is that Christians should not give up on one of the most beautiful states in the USA but how they can change hearts with the timely message of salvation and redemption found in Scriptures.
“I didn’t write it to become an author – I want it to be revolutionary,” said Henry, 46, the pastor of Valley Christian Church in downtown Ceres since 2019.
Henry’s book is aimed at Christians, churches, pastors and “even those who just have a casual belief in God” in California to realize “politics isn’t going to save us – the only thing that can change California for the better is when we change the heart of the people. That’s never going to happen politically. All you have to say is ‘I’m Republican’ or ‘I’m Democrat’ and you’ve already lost half the room. And in California it may be two-thirds of the room depending.”
Henry said one lifelong Turlock resident he knows recently moved to Missouri to get out of a state hostile to his values, which led him to rhetorically ask: “So we’re going to take our light and we’re going to go to a place where there’s plenty of light and shine our lights there? What you’re doing is effectively retiring your evangelism, effectively retiring the mission and commission that Jesus gave. He didn’t say, ‘Okay, get saved, keep it to yourself and live a good fruitful life.’ No, He said go to the whole world and make disciples.”
The book was the result of a sermon series he started last fall on the seven churches in the book of Revelation.
“About five weeks into it I start thinking what’s next for my church and I kind of felt like God telling me, ‘There’s one more message. There’s one more church you need to preach on.’”
Knowing that only seven churches are mentioned in the last book of the Bible, Henry felt that God was instructing him to “deliver a message to the church here in California.” After the thought came that it would be a good message for his church to hear, God nudged him to spread the message to broader dimensions.
“It really came from the fact that so many people I know are leaving the state … because there’s zero hope politically for a conservative in this state,” said Henry. He cited how a wildly unpopular Gov. Newsom managed to survive a recall election and how the state is on the verge of passaging AB 2223, a bill that some say will open the door to infanticide. While he detests many of the policies streaming from Sacramento, Pastor Henry feels Christians and conservatives “have allowed the governors to become the gods that rule our lives; that because we don’t want to ‘worship’ Gavin Newsom we’re going to Florida where we want to worship Gov. DeSantis and they’ve become idols in our lives.”
While he understands why conservatives want to leave California – he has resisted chances to move to other states himself – but he feels they should “stay and change a heart.”
As the state has grown more liberal, it’s easy to forget, said Henry, that California was settled by those with religious convictions. He cited Father Junipero Serra who established Catholic missions up and down the state “to change the lifestyle of people who were worshiping pagan gods, doing what he could to change the culture of the Native Americans.” Henry also cited Christian radio launching in California with Charles Fuller starting at a Biola radio station. Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) originated in Ontario, Calif., at a failing radio station to reach the entire country. And closer to home, Billy Graham established the guidelines to ensure his ministry would remain free from scandal as the Modesto Manifesto. That policy was outlined in a motel on South Ninth Street just outside of Ceres and at Cliff Barrow’s parents’ home on Faith Home Road. When California William Randolph Heart instructed his chain of papers to “puff” Graham during his 1949 Los Angeles crusade, the ministry took off and Billy Graham because an evangelical superstar.
“It started in California. There’s so much religious history. Today we are buried. ‘We’ don’t want people to know that California had a Christian history. ‘We’ want to be known as this very secularized state. That’s not who we are.”
One of his acquaintances from college read his book and changed their mind about moving from their home on the Monterey Peninsula to a red state. The couple, he said, concluded that they need to be in California “shining a light.”
For being a self-published print-on-demand work, Henry’s book is an easy read, professionally edited and generously sprinkled with humor and anecdotes. He commissioned an artist to produce the book cover, which depicts a coastal lighthouse positioned off to the coast of the outline of the state.
Henry’s softcover book sells for $14.99 on Amazon or $7.99 for Kindle version. The book is also available at Valley Christian Center, at 2745 Second Street.
Henry said his church has grown since he became pastor, growing from about 25 in attendance to an average of 91, 155 on Easter. He has intentionally made his church a welcoming place.
“It’s growing because I encourage the people to come in and let God change their lives in the church and then go tell somebody that you know who doesn’t come to church, somebody who doesn’t know what God is all about other than He’s just this distant figure. That’s who He is to most people. That’s the reason Jesus came is to say God isn’t distant.
Henry still performs as a musician with his musical pastor father Herb Henry.