More on charismatic Catholicism

In our continuing efforts to make sense of Amy Coney Barrett’s religious community, here is my friend Matthew Schmalz, professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross, on the charismatic Catholicism that informs People of Praise.

Catholic charismatics practice forms of Pentecostalism that embrace the belief that individuals can receive gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Modern Pentecostalism in the United States began on Azuza Street in Los Angeles.

Starting in 1909, African American pastor William J. Seymour led a congregation in the city that claimed to have received miraculous gifts from God, such as prophecy and the power to heal. The movement came to be known as Azuza Street revival.

Members of the Azuza Street congregation believed that they had been given the same blessings as those received by the disciples of Jesus. According to the Bible’s Acts of the Apostles, on the Pentecost – the Jewish Shavuot harvest festival 50 days after Passover – the Holy Spirit came down in the form of flames over the disciples’ heads. Afterward, it is believed, the disciples were able to speak in languages they did not know in order to proclaim “the wonders of God.”

In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and is associated with God’s action in the world.

Read the rest of Schmalz’s piece at The Conversation.

Local coverage of the South Bend People of Praise community, 1977

Sun, Aug 7, 1977 – 30 · The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) · Newspapers.com

Later today Trump is expected to announce his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. There has been a lot of discussion about Barrett’s religious community, the People of Praise in South Bend, Indiana. I wrote about it earlier today.

If you want to dig a little deeper into the history of the South Bend People of Praise group, the August 7, 1977 issue of The South Bend Tribune devoted several articles to it. I have copied two of them below:

Here is Whitney Smith’s piece: “Charismatics: United or hell-bent for schism?”:

To some, the Charismatic Renewal has “the best potential for uniting Christians in and out of the major denominations. To others, certain practices destine the movement hell-bent for schism.

Such is the conflict facing many Christians who are concerned for the future of their faith.

Critics have raised some of the most ardent questions about a religious movement since Rev. Sun Myung Moons Unification Church. They are concerned not only because the renewal has revitalized religion for millions of Christians, but because serious conflicts have arisen out of the Charismatic communities.

“There is definitely the potential for a very serious factionalism within the movement, said Rev. Dan Danielson, C.S.C., vicar for Catholic Charismatics for the Diocese of Oakland, Calif. This is even more legitimate a concern than it was a few years ago when criticisms were first made.

At first, hard-line Catholics balked at accepting the movement

Traditionalists said the swaying bodies, waving hands and verbal outbursts of praise from worshippers seem more of an emotional response to Cod than an internal one, and therefore seem more Charismatic than Catholic.

But as Catholics are becoming more familiar with the movement, gradually they are accepting it. Pope Raul VI himself and many bishops have adopted an attitude of what Rev. Danielson called cautious optimism.

Indeed, the focus of criticism has changed.

Most criticism today is aimed at residential Charismatic communities, rather than the worldwide movement from which the communities have emerged.

Former community members claim “authoritarianism in communities such as South Bend’s 800-member People of Praise is in some ways unhealthy for its members.

Catholics attack community prayer practices as unacceptable replacements for time-honored traditions such as the private confessional.

Still others attack as unsound a fundamentalist attitude toward women, which they said results from a “too-literal interpretation” of male and female roles defined in Scripture.

Community members claim much criticism of the Charismatics stems from unfamiliarity with what the community is and what their lives are like. South Bends People of Praise community, for example, has been a puzzle to many local residents.

That’s unusual, considering People of Praise has been used as a model for other communities like it across the country, and that South Bend is communications headquarters for the worldwide Charismatic movement.

Few know about the community because the members are content to “live and let live.” When they do talk about the community to outsiders, its like listening to attorneys plead a case before a judge. They weigh every word.

They’re careful to the point of being defensive and tight-lipped to the point of convincing you they have something to hide. Even if they don’t.

Charismatics have been lambasted for everything from getting excited about God to exorcising evil spirits–a practice they call “deliverance.” So strong has been the onslaught of criticism that the Charismatics have become calloused, almost unresponsive to it.

Asked why they have remained so aloof, Tom Noe. community member, responded they are only interested in fulfilling their commitment as a community: to put the Christian tenets a lot of persons talk about into -practice in their daily lives.

According to Charismatic Conference Coordinator Tony Rowland, critics take potshots at the People of Praise out of ignorance of what it is really like. Still, some of the most ardent critics were once Charismatics themselves.

An example is Brad (not his real name), who left a People of Praise household after living there for nearly a year. 

Brad, 20, quit the community because, among other reasons, “it restricted my lifestyle.”

When Brad wasn’t working, community prayer sessions, recruitment meetings and other activities crowded his free time. Brad and the rest of the Charismastic family pooled their paychecks in the household fund for food and lodging expenses, but received only $8 each week for outside expenses.

The evil spirit of pride” was exorcised from Brad, he said, in a required “deliverance” session before a room full of others at the LaSalle Hotel.

For a year, he was not permitted to date anyone outside the community, he said. If he chose to date inside the community, it had to be “with the intention of looking for a wife,” and he had to receive permission from his “head” (spiritual advisor.)

“They wanted me to quit my job, which I really enjoy, to come to work for them in the LaSalle building. I think I should decide things about my career and marriage. In a sense, they tried to control my life.”

Such practices have been called “authoritarian” by Dr. William G. Storey, a Notre Dame theology professor who left the movement in 1970.

Another Notre Dame faculty member, Dr. Josephine M. Ford, has written more than 30 articles and books explaining and criticizing the Charismatics. Her most outspoken objections concern the treatment of women in the communities.

Dr. Ford, an associate professor of theology who is now on sabbatical in California, was expelled from the movement six years ago for being disruptive. There is an incredible subordination of women in the communities,” said Dr. Ford.

“There are male and female roles which community members interpret too literally from New Testament scripture, particularly Paul.

“You would think that Adam and Eve are more fundamental to their faith than Jesus Christ Himself.”

Rowland admitted that “a lot of our beliefs go contrary to what is going on (with women’s liberation) today. Scripture says the man is the head of the household, and that women are to support their husbands. A lot of people are apt to take this loosely.

Besides, Rowland added, a relationship in which the wife supports the husband in work does not mean she is inferior. But Dr. Ford insists that the People of Praise and Word of God (Ann Arbor) communities do treat women as inferiors.

She cited as an example a community practice that women may not step outside the traditional female roles when seeking jobs. A South Bend woman I know of wanted to become a doctor, but it was recommended instead that she become a nurse,” she added. 

Rev. Danielson and other critics of the Charismatics stress they have “a very positive attitude about the potential of the movement,” but “maintain significant differences with current leadership.” 

Communities in South Bend, Ann Arbor and elsewhere often leave discordant voices no choice but leaving the movement.

Considering that the current leadership an eight-member National Service Committee fills its own vacancies, there seems little chance for a change in philosophy that would overcome current conflicts.

Rev. Danielson and others say the only hope is for the Charismatics to work more closely within the church structure, and for the (ad hoc) committee of bishops and local diocesan bishops to become familiar enough with the communities to help overcome conflicts.

“Otherwise, the potential for a very serious factionalism is very great,” he said. I, for one, and many of the Charismatics are dissatisfied with many of the decisions that have been made, and feel it is time for a new voice to bo heard.”

Here is Kathleen Harsh’s piece, “Charismatics live together, sharing faith, good times”:

Dinners over. While that’s the time most American families clear away the dishes and tune in Walter Cronkite, the family at 1304 Hillcrest moves to the living room and tunes in the Lord.

This is not your ordinary American household.

The home on Hillcrest is one of more than 30 households in the 800-member People of Praise Community, an extension of the Charismatic Renewal.

Outside’ the spacious brick house are clusters of shade trees. Inside, 18 persons put to practice the Christian principles a lot of other people just talk about.

“You came at a very bad time,” said Mrs. Colette Rowland, the wife of the head of the household, as she bustled through the dining room in a bright yellow caftan.

Everyone in the household and that includes her family of eight, four Notre Dame students and a second grade teacher rushed about as they prepared to leave for the Charismatic Renewal Conference in Kansas City. Mrs. Rowland’s husband and a few other residents were on their way to the conference.

As if that wasn’t enough to disrupt the unusually routine household, the Rowland family is preparing to move to Belgium, where they will help organize international Charismatic prayer groups.

Despite empty chairs and the sense of change that pervaded the atmosphere of the household, life continued as if everything were normal.

Most days, the family follows a rigid schedule: prayer at 6 a m. and breakfast at 7. During the day, they separate for work or household chores. Residents are “encouraged” to spend their free time together.  They are given only one free night each week, according to household head Tony Rowland. They meet every night for the evening meal.

In the minutes before dinner started, Chris Meehan, a senior at Notre Dame, explained why he moved into the household over a year ago.

“I like the environment a lot better here than at Notre Dame,” he said, .leaning comfortably on a piece of furniture in the dining room. “Drinking is a big thing at Notre Dame, and you’re nowhere if you don’t have a girlfriend. Here, there’s  more of a family-type atmosphere.”

Chris handles all finances in the household. Although members are not all related, they pool their pay-checks each week and are given personal allotments based on need. Chris then pays the rent, utility, and food bills for the family.

Finances in households in the People of Praise Community vary, depending on the consensus reached by the members. But, usually finances are handled in a manner similar to the Rowland household. When the paychecks are pooled, a certain percentage is set aside in a fund to be used if the individual decides to leave.

The family type atmosphere Chris finds so appealing was apparent as the unusual assortment of people gathered round the dining room table. Before the household sat down to dinner, the air was filled with the whispering of 13 simultaneous conversations with the Lord. Then together they broke into a prayer, spoken almost routinely.

At dinner, Mrs. Rowland apologized because it was not served punctually at 5:30, as is household custom. Chicken, rice, green beans and peaches were served on unmatching plates and saucers–the everyday set was on its way to Belgium.

After dinner the household moved from the dining room to the air-conditioned living room to pray. The living room was even more sparsely furnished than the dining room. All that remaimed was a piano and one red sofa, on which Mrs. Rowland seated herself. The rest of the members formed a circle on the floor.

Chris, the 18-year-old son of the Rowlands, took his guitar out of the case and began tuning it. They sang from worn prayer books strewn on the floor. Some members lifted their hands up and swayed back and forth, as if in a trance, while others just closed their eyes and praised the Lord.

Alleluia, Lord Jesus,” and “we give you praise and glory,” and “I love you Lord” hummed through the air on that hot summer night as the members chanted their individual prayers.

Next they selected passages from scripture, relating what they read to problems and experiences in their everyday lives. The prayer session ended with a spirited singing of “Alleluia” complete with maracas.

One by one, they left the room.

Seated alone on the carpet was Mrs. Rowland, who with her soft French accent, told of how she came to be a Charismatic. She said the first time she attended a prayer meeting, five years ago, she felt a “very genuine authenticity of the presence of God.

“I’ve heard scripture all my life, but before it was just words. Now it has come alive.”

Mrs. Rowland said it was not a hard decision choosing to live a life in common with other people. “Once you give your life and your heart to the Lord, you naturally live according to the scripture.”

Although the role of women in the Charismatics life is something most members are reluctant to talk about, Mrs. Rowland discussed It, but not without carefully choosing each word. She added that it was a very touchy subject.

The women in the Charismatic household are given charge of cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children. Tony Rowland said they follow literally the roles for men and women set forth in the scripture.

“What my husband and I do is talk things over and make a decision together. Nevertheless, the father has the responsibility of raising the family,” Mrs. Rowland said.

Although critics have attacked Charismatics for requiring women to submit to their husbands and heads of household, Mrs. Rowland said there is a lot of misunderstanding about the word “submission.”

“The key to it is unity,” she said slowly. “My husband and I are of the same mind and heart to serve the Lord. I know his mind so well that I can make a decision without his presence.” Mrs. Rowland explained that this is submission.

Betty Raven, another household member, also discussed her views concerning the roles of men and women. Betty, a Notre Dame graduate student who has an electrical engineering job at Bendix Corp., said she thinks a lot of the women’s liberation movement–specifically their stance on abortion–is “crazy. She added she did not think a person should pursue a career just for the sake of pursuing a career, saying she would quit work if she got married.

After prayers at the Charismatic household, all was quiet. The dishes were done and some members were outside in the backyard trying to make the heat bearable by talking, laughing and enjoying each others company.

Glancing over her shoulder at the joyful household, Mrs. Rowland said, They really do have a good time.” 

Amy Coney Barrett and the People of Praise

It looks like Trump will nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court later today. Over the next several weeks, Senators and pundits will want to know more about People of Praise, a Catholic charismatic group in which the Barrett family are members.

So far the best short introduction to the People of Praise is Michael O’Loughlin’s piece at the Jesuit magazine America. Here is a taste:

People of Praise is a South Bend, Ind.–based charismatic community that attracts members from a number of Christian churches, though the vast majority of its members are Catholic. The group was founded in 1971, part of a Catholic charismatic renewal that emerged from the Second Vatican Council. Charismatic communities emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in the daily lives of believers. Some of their practices appear to have more in common with Pentecostal communities than with traditional Catholicism, such as speaking in tongues, healing services and prophecy.

Charismatic communities became increasingly popular through the 1970s and ’80s. The University of Notre Dame once hosted an annual conference devoted to these groups, which attracted tens of thousands of participants. Many groups have been active near college campuses. In some charismatic communities, single members share homes with families who are also part of the group. Other communities purchase multiple homes in a single neighborhood, creating a feeling of a large extended family living on the same block. Members of People of Praise pledge to donate 5 percent of their income to the group, though some give more.

Craig Lent, the leader of People of Praise, told Slate in 2018 that the community pledges “to care for each other physically, financially, materially, and spiritually.” Today, about 350 people belong to the People of Praise in South Bend, with a few thousand more in branches spread throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. Their membership lists are not public.

Read the rest here.

People of Praise sounds like a movement of traditional Catholics influenced by evangelicalism, Pentecostalism (with its emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit), and complementarianism. It doesn’t sound like it is outside the mainstream of American Christianity. Critics will not like People of Praise for the same reasons they will not like Pentecostals for their faith healing and tongues-speaking, Southern Baptists for their complementarianism, and Catholics for their sexual ethics.

The former members of the group who claim People of Praise is a cult sound a lot like ex-evangelicals and ex-Catholics who levy criticisms against religious communities that make claims on the lives of their members. People of Praise is not the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like and you are free to leave.

I think we can also expect Barrett’s use of the phrase “Kingdom of God” in a 2006 commencement address will come-up again. I addressed that here.

But the issue here is not Barrett’s faith, but how and if that faith will influence the way she interprets the law. Questions about her Catholicism and People of Praise are absolutely fair game. Barrett should answer them.

Peggy Noonan has a good column on Peoples of Praise at the right-leaning The Wall Street Journal and Stephanie Mencimer has an informative piece from the left-leaning Mother Jones.

On Israel, Great Awakenings, and absurdly bad court evangelical “history”

Is Bob Mathias’s 1948 Gold Medal linked in some way to Israeli statehood?

Mike Evans is one of the lesser known court evangelicals. One of America’s leading Christian Zionists, Evans recently founded the Friends of Zion Heritage Center and the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem to celebrate the “everlasting bond between the Jewish and Christian peoples.” When Donald Trump announced that he was moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, Evans enthusiastically told the Christian Broadcasting Network that when he next saw Trump in the Oval Office he would say to him: “Cyrus, you’re Cyrus. Because you’ve done something historic and prophetic.”

Evans believes that Trump was a modern-day Cyrus who has made possible the restoration of Jerusalem and the further confirmation of Israel’s future role in biblical prophecy. Because of Trump’s actions, Evans affirms, the blessing of God will come upon America. This decision made America great in the eyes of God. It also made Trump great in the eyes of the court evangelicals.

Evans also believes that American support for Israel will result in a spiritual revival in evangelical churches. He knows such a revival is coming because, as he says in a recent article at the Christian Broadcasting Network website, it has apparently happened before. Evans says:

  1. When America supported Israeli independence and statehood in 1948, Billy Graham came on the scene.
  2. When the United States supported Israel in the Six-Day War (1967), the “Jesus People” “revival” broke-out in Southern California, thousands of college students gathered in Dallas in 1972 for an event described as the “Christian Woodstock,” and the Catholic Charismatic Movement began.
  3. Now, with the so-called “Abraham Accord” between Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed, Evans says we can expect another revival.

I don’t know if we will see another spiritual revival, but Evans’s theory seems to suggest that the emergence of Billy Graham, the rise of the Jesus People, the Catholic Charismatic Movement, and Explo ’72 all had something to do with U.S. Middle East policy. But Evans doesn’t go far enough. Doesn’t he know that Bob Mathias’s victory in the decathlon at the 1948 Summer Olympics and the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike were also connected to U.S. support of Israel? 🙂

Moreover, one could argue that none of these aforementioned movements or events (Graham, Jesus People, Charismatics, Explo ’72) were “great awakenings.”

I am continually intrigued by evangelicals’ recent fascination with “great awakenings.”

Read Evans’s piece at CBN here.

Court Evangelical Steven Strang Takes a Shot at Romney and Says Impeachment Was From the “Pit of Hell.”

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Most Americans have never heard of Steven Strang.  I’ve written about him here and in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Strang is the editor of Charisma Magazinea magazine and website that represents Pentecostal and charismatic Christians in the United States.  Many of the court evangelical “prophets” who think Trump is the new King Cyrus are regularly featured in Charisma.  In 2005, Time named Strang one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”  According to WikipediaCharisma had a circulation of 250,000 in 1997.  I don’t know if the circulation has grown or declined since then.

Here is a post we published in January 2018:

I have read Strang’s God and Donald Trump.  I think it provides the best (primary source) introduction to the Independent Network Charismatic (INC) wing of the court evangelical coalition.  Strang and many of the folks who read Charisma believe that God anointed Trump for such a time as this.  These spiritual leaders claim that God spoke to them and told them that Trump is a new King Cyrus, an unbelieving pagan monarch chosen by God to lead His people out of bondage and into the new promised land of a Christian nation.  When Christians get control of the culture, Jesus will return.

God and Donald Trump is endorsed by court evangelicals within and without the INC movement, including Michelle Bachman, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Jeffress, and Mike Huckabee. In telling the story of the campaign from the INC perspective, Strang claims Trump is a Christian because he opposes abortion, reads the Bible, prays every day, stands up to liberals, defends religious freedom, and believes in the “American Dream.”  Strang relishes in the anger displayed by anti-Trumpers in the wake of the election.  His book reads like a Trump victory lap.  Strang accepts Trump’s claims of election fraud, attacks Trump’s critics for their “divisiveness,” labels Trump’s opponents “demonic,” defends Fox News, and proclaims Trump a “spiritual remedy for America.”

Strang recently weighed-in on the Trump impeachment trial:

Here are his thoughts on Mitt Romney:

The only surprise and huge disappointment to me was Mitt Romney, who rejected what all of his Republican counterparts thought was right and sided with the Democrats. I regret that I ever endorsed him for president in 2012. We knew then he was not a strong leader and that he had flip-flopped his entire political career, and he has done it again. He will live to regret his decision.

And here is Strang on Trump’s opponents and the supports of impeachment and removal:

In my book, I wrote that dishonesty on the other side was one reason why he actually might win. Let me reemphasize what I’ve said in the past. The impeachment was not about what Donald Trump may have said in a phone call with the Ukrainian president in July. It’s about the fact that this president has been standing for religious liberty and righteousness. He has stood with Israel. He is strong. He can’t be intimidated. The attacks were, in my opinion, from the pit of hell. As a Christian, I believe Satan is behind this. He is trying to steal, kill and destroy. I believe Donald Trump has been raised up by God to stop our nation’s headlong plunge into total depravity. Trump’s presidency has been God’s mercy on America, since we deserve judgment.

I’m amazed at how many sincere Christian friends have been surprised by all these demonic attacks against the president. Why should they be surprised? Satan hates it when America stands with Israel. He hates it when righteousness and religious freedom are championed. No wonder he and his minions have focused their hatred toward Donald Trump.

Read Strang’s entire piece here.  Strang now joins Robert Jeffress as court evangelicals who believe that Satan is behind the impeachment of Donald Trump.

Why a $45.00 Prayer Coin is Actually a Bargain for Trump Followers

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Here is a taste of my piece today at Religion News Service:

For centuries, Catholics have used rosary beads to aid them in the practice of prayer.  Some American Protestants view their Bibles as a kind of talisman or amulet that transmits supernatural power.

And today some American charismatic Christians pray using a coin emblazoned with a picture of Donald Trump.

On Monday (May 13), a charismatic preacher named Lance Wallnau appeared on the program of disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker to hawk a Donald Trump/King Cyrus gold coin.

He claimed that the coin can be used as a “point of contact” between Christians and God as they pray for the re-election of Trump in 2020.

Bakker’s show, which is syndicated daily on his PTL (Praise the Lord) Television Network, is known for selling his viewers products to help them survive the coming apocalypse. With the click of a mouse, a Christian who wants to prepare for the end of the world can buy buckets of freeze-dried food (the “30 Day Fiesta” Bucket appears to be popular), duffel bags that can withstand electromagnetic pulse attacks, flashlights and generators.

Wallnau and Bakker are selling the Trump/Cyrus coin for $45, but charismatic Christian viewers — many of whom identify as evangelical — can also drop $450 on a “13 Trump Cyrus Bundle” that includes 13 sets of the coin, the booklet explaining the connection between Trump and the former Persian king and the DVD of Wallnau conducting a religious service.

Read the rest here.

Evangelical Trump Fans: Don’t Forget to Buy Your King Cyrus-Donald Trump Prayer Coin

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In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I wrote a several pages on the so-called INC (Independent Network Charismatics) prophets.  Lance Wallnau is one of these “prophets.”  Here is what I wrote about him:

Early in the 2016 campaign, Lance Wallnau received a similar word: “Donald Trump is a wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness.”  When Wallnau’s prophecy caught the attention of Trump’s evangelical supporters, he was invited to attend a meeting with the candidate and other evangelical leaders in Trump Tower.  As Wallnau listened to Trump talk about his desire to give evangelicals a more prominent voice in government, he sensed that God was giving him an “assignment”–a “calling related to this guy.”  One day, while he was reading his Facebook page, Wallnau saw a meme predicting that Trump would be the “45 president of the United States.”  God told Wallnau to pick up his Bible and turn to Isaiah 45.  On reading the passage, Wallnau realized that, not only would Trump be a “wrecking ball” to political correctness, but he would be elected president of the United States in the spirit of the ancient Persian king Cyrus.  In the Old Testament, Cyrus  was the secular political leader whom God used to send the exiled kingdom of Judah back to the Promised Land so that they could rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its holy Temple.  Wallnau was shocked by this discovery.  “God was messing with my head,” he told Steven Strang, the editor of Charisma, a magazine that covers INC and other Pentecostal and charismatic movements….From this point forward, Wallnau would become an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump.

Recently Wallnau showed-up on the Jim Bakker television program to hawk his Cyrus-Trump prayer coins.  According to this piece at Esquire magazine, Wallnau said that the coin is the “point of contact” between God and people praying for Trump’s success.  And guess what? This coin can be yours for only $45.00.  Here is Jack Holmes at Esquire:

This truly is the Golden Age of Grifting, and the nation’s Evangelical leaders have not passed up the opportunity. The “White Evangelical Christian” designation has always been a proxy for traditionalists who believe America’s rightful social order is the racial and gender hierarchy of approximately 1956. Donald Trump has merely laid this bare by earning their support despite being the most comically heathen man to ever step foot in the White House. What principles of Jesus Christ does the president embody? The better question might be which of the Seven Deadly Sins—pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth—does he not  represent? It’s all part of the Great Unvarnishing, as the acidity of Trump’s public persona has worn on the top coat of paint many people have applied to themselves, gradually exposing what lies beneath. It’s not about Christian Values, it’s about money and power. Unless it’s about something else.

And for those Trump evangelical supporters with deeper pockets, you can get an entire “Cyrus Trump Bundle.”  It includes the Cyrus-Trump coin, a booklet by Wallnau describing his prophecy, and DVD of Wallnau conducting a religious service.  It’s yours for $450.

As I argued in Believe Me, the Independent Network Charismatics are a very large, growing, and largely overlooked segment of American evangelicalism.  Wallnau is one of their leaders.

In 1989, a Future Court Evangelical Tried to Convince Another Future Court Evangelical that “Jesus Was Not Poor”

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In 2005, Time named Stephen Strang one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”  He is the founding editor of Charisma Magazinea Christian magazine that represents Pentecostals and charismatics in the United States.  Strang is also one of Donald Trump’s leading court evangelicals.  He is the author of God and Donald Trump, a 2017 pro-Trump book that gives credence to the idea that several Pentecostal and Charismatic leaders prophesied Trump’s election.

Here is some of what I wrote about Strang in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Strang’s book on the 2016 campaign, God and Donald Trump, provides the best introduction to this wing of court evangelicalism and its apostles who prophesied Trump’s election.  The book is endorsed by evangelicals on the Christian Right inside and outside the Independent Network Charismatic (INC) movement, including Michelle Bachman, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Jeffress, and Mike Huckabee.  In telling the story of the campaign from the INC perspective, Strang claims Trump is a Christian because he opposes abortion, reads the Bible and prays every day, stands up to liberals, defends religious freedom, and believe in the “American Dream.”  Strang seems to relish the anger displayed by anti-Trumpers in the wake of the election, and his book reads like a Trump victory lap.  He accepts Trump’s claims of election fraud, attacks Trump’s critics for their “divisiveness,” labels Trump’s opponents “demonic,” defends Fox News, and proclaims Trump a “spiritual remedy for America.”

Jay Sekulow is another court evangelical.  He is a Messianic Jew and a lawyer who has become famous in evangelical circles for representing pro-life and conservative clients in religious liberty cases.  He has made a lot of money defending the religious freedom of ordinary evangelicals and he is not afraid to flaunt it.  He is currently a member of Trump’s legal team.

In 1989, Steven Strang was editing Charisma.  Jay Sekulow was a thirty-two-year old lawyer coming out of bankruptcy.  Somewhere around May 1, Strang gave Sekulow a copy of Oral Roberts’s latest book, How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor.  Roberts, of course, was the controversial Pentecostal televangelist and president of Oral Roberts University.  Here is a taste of the dustjacket of How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor:

Christians today commonly believe that Jesus was poor.  And they believe that God wants them to be poor, too. Oral Roberts says nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus was not poor, and He wants Christians to prosper in every way, including financially.

Strang wrote a short message to Sekulow on the first blank page of Roberts’s book.  It read:

May 1, 1989

To: Jay Sekulow

This book is a little different in its approach.  But after you read it, I’m sure you’ll agree he has some unique insights into what the Bible says about this important subject.

Steve Strang

As I argued in Believe Me, many prosperity gospel preachers and proponents support Donald Trump because they believe his wealth is a sign of God’s blessing.  It should not surprise us that both Strang (Charisma is a voice for the prosperity gospel movement) and Sekulow (a graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University) found their way to Trump.  It appears they have been part of the same network for a long time.  I don’t know if Sekulow agreed with Strang’s thoughts about the book, but the inscription is definitely interesting.

By this point in the post you may be wondering how I know about these connections between Strang and Sekulow.  Last week while speaking about Believe Me in Northwest Arkansas, a married couple who are longtime readers of this blog (he is a former history professor and she is a prolific reader of American religious history) drove three hours from Edmond, Oklahoma to attend the event.  They bought a used copy of Roberts’s book online as part of their research into the prosperity gospel and shared with me what they found:

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Thirty years later both Strang and Sekulow are two of President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters and defenders.  I wonder if they knew this would be the case in 1989? 🙂

Court Evangelical Steven Strang’s New Book

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Steven Strang

Some of you are familiar with Steven Strang’s book God and Donald Trump. (See this Religion News Service piece).  Strang is editor of Charisma, a magazine that covers the Independent Network Charismatic movement (INC) and other Pentecostal and Charismatic movements (and claims a circulation of 275,000).

I wrote about Strang and his book in my own Trump book, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Here is part of what I wrote:

Strang’s book on the 2016 campaign, God and Donald Trump, provides the best introduction to this wing of court evangelicalism and its apostles who prophesied Trump’s election.  The book is endorsed by evangelicals on the Christian Right inside and outside the INC movement, including Michelle Bachman, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Jeffress, and Mike Huckabee.  In telling the story of the campaign from the INC perspective, Strang claims Trump is a Christian because he opposes abortion, defends religious freedom, and believes in the “American Dream.”  Strang seems to relish the anger displayed by anti-Trumpers in the wake of the election, and his book reads like a Trump victory lap.  He accepts Trump’s claims of election fraud, attacks Trump’s critics for their “divisiveness,” labels Trump’s opponents “demonic,” defends Fox News, and proclaims Trump a “spiritual remedy for America.”

Over at Right Wing Watch, Peter Montgomery calls our attention to Strang’s new and forthcoming book, Trump Aftershock: The President’s Seismic Impact on Faith and Culture in America.  Here is a taste of his piece:

“Trump Aftershock” will be out on Election Day, November 6, but the promotional campaign for the book is well underway. Strang’s public relations firm says the book “will uncover the unreported facts while objectively helping readers understand what the nation’s most unlikely and unconventional president has accomplished, including 500 accomplishments in the first 500 days of the Trump presidency.”

Strang is also using his section of Charisma’s website to promote the book. In an August 23 post, he tells readers that the book “is no puff piece.” But if the introduction and first three chapters are any indication—they’re available now to readers who pre-order the book—the tome goes well beyond puffery in its portrayal of Trump as God’s instrument, doing battle against the evil forces of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros—as well as “fake news” from the secular media, swamp-dwellers, and deep state.

Indeed, the available sections suggest that the book will be an unabashed love letter to Trump. “I believe Donald Trump was raised up by God at this pivotal time in our history,” Strang writes. “There were political expressions of the changing mood of the country. But I believe spiritually something was happening. Christians were praying for things to change, and the New York real estate tycoon was actually an answer to prayer.”

In a second post from Montgomery, we learn that Trump Aftershock is endorsed by Robert Jeffress, Mike Huckabee, and Alveda King.

Here is part of Jefffress’s endorsement:

We need more voices like Stephen’s who are unafraid to speak the truth. Don’t believe the lies of the mainstream media. Get the facts from trusted Christian sources like Stephen Strang, Charisma News and books like this. Our president is shaking things up. He needs our support. It’s time for all of us to become informed, stand united, and call for an end to the witch-hunt investigations, fake news and hateful rhetoric of those whose agenda is to bring an end to this president and turn our great nation away from God.

Click here to learn about another evangelical view of Trump.

I wonder what theologian Roger Olson thinks about this?

Court Prophet: Jim Acosta of CNN is a “Demon”

Acosta

I write a bit about Lance Wallnau in my forthcoming book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  He is the guy who said God told him that Donald Trump is a new King Cyrus.  He represents the INC wing of the court evangelicals.

In this video, Wallnau says that Trump is not afraid of “demonic” journalists like Jim Acosta of CNN because the POTUS has a special anointing to resist the devil and his minions.

Want to learn more about the connection between these “prophets” and the Trump White House?  Pre-order a copy of Believe Me.

Here is a description of the book:

A historian’s acute take on current American politics 

“Believe me” may be the most commonly used phrase in Donald Trump’s lexicon. Whether about building a wall or protecting the Christian heritage, the refrain is constant. And to the surprise of many, about eighty percent of white evangelicals have believed Trump—at least enough to help propel him into the White House.

Historian John Fea is not surprised—and in Believe Me he explains how we have arrived at this unprecedented moment in American politics. An evangelical Christian himself, Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past. In the process, Fea challenges his fellow believers to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.

Believe Me JPEG

 

 

Former Editor of *Charisma* Magazine Speaks Out Against Trump’s Immigration Policies

APTOPIX IMMIGRATION PROTESTSAs part of my research for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpI read a lot about the so-called Independent Network Charismatic (INC) movement.  I have written about it here and here and here.  Many of the so-called INC “prophets” and “disciples” prophesied that Donald Trump would be POTUS.  According to sociologists Brad Christerson and Richard Flory, INC is the fastest-growing segment of Christianity in the world.  Charisma magazine, with its hundreds of thousands of subscribers, is the primary voice of the movement.

I am still learning about this wing of evangelical Christianity, but it was interesting to see that Lee Grady, the former editor of Charisma, has published a piece at the magazine critical of Trump’s “s—hole” comments.

Here is a taste:

Should the United States close our doors to certain countries just because they are poor, or because they have social or economic problems?

Many leaders in today’s conservative political movement say yes. They believe we would spare the United States a lot of grief if we allowed more immigrants from, say, Norway (Trump suggested this in the DACA meeting)—since Norwegians supposedly wouldn’t bring any problems with them.

But that position in itself is selfish, cold-hearted and racist, whether any racist slurs or vulgar terms are attached. And it is 100 percent opposite to the values of Christianity—which calls us to love foreigners and to show compassion to the poor.

Many Christians say they support President Trump not because he always exhibits Christian character (he is certainly not a pastor) or because his speech is G-rated (we have examples to prove it isn’t) but because he stands for biblical policies. But in this case, I can’t be a faithful prophetic voice for God if I don’t wave a red flag and question President Trump’s ideals.

Having a closed-door policy toward poor foreigners is blatantly anti-Christian. So is showing favoritism toward the privileged. Let’s remember the principle of compassion that is so clearly outlined in Scripture:

Deuteronomy 10:19 says: “Therefore, love the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” We should love others less fortunate than us because we were once in their shoes. Americans, of all people, should understand this—because we are a nation of immigrants. It was only a few generations ago when immigrants from Italy, Ireland and Poland were treated shamefully in this country. Today, the suspicion is aimed at those with darker skin or Muslim backgrounds. We should love them regardless.

Leviticus 19:34a says: “The foreigner who dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Notice, God did not provide a list of “approved” nations that should be protected by Israel. He simply said “the stranger.” God does not make a differentiation between “good nations” and “[expletive] countries.” He tells us to love them all.

Jesus Himself said in Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry, and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in.” We can defend our protectionist immigration policies in the name of “security,” but Jesus will have the last word when He asks us what we did with the people He wanted to send to us to protect. On the day of Christ’s return, we will not be allowed to make lame excuses, such as, “But Lord, those people are filthy, and we didn’t want them to drag down the economy.”

Our compassionate immigration policy is the reason the United States is a blessed nation. We have been a welcoming people. Our own Statue of Liberty is a sign to the world that we have, at least in the past, invited strangers to find freedom and opportunity within our borders—whether they were fleeing war, disasters, religious repression, violence or hunger.

How dare we tell Jesus that we don’t want “those people” to become our neighbors. This whole world was a filthy, forsaken place when Jesus left heaven to come here and save us. Compassion for the poor is at the heart of the gospel. Please don’t let your politics turn your heart cold.

Read the entire piece here.  Grady connects a generous immigration policy to the idea that America is a “blessed nation.”

And don’t forget to pre-order Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The good folks at Eerdmans Publishing tell me that pre-orders are essential to get the message of the book out there.  I cover INC Christianity in chapter 4: “The Court Evangelicals.”

The Other Wing of the Court Evangelical Coalition

Republican Presidential Candidates Speak At Values Voter Summit

In a recent Washington Post piece, I connected the court evangelicals to the rise of the Christian Right in the 1980s.  But there is another faction among the evangelical leaders who frequent the White House regularly.  Some of the other faith leaders who make up the court evangelicals are part of a largely understudied wing of American evangelicalism.  In this piece at Christianity Today, Robert Smietana calls our attention to the “network Christianity” associated with the “Independent Network Charismatic” (INC) movement.

Here is a taste of his interview with Brad Christerson and Richard Flory, authors of The Rise of Network Christianity: How Independent Leaders Are Changing the Religious Landscape:

Let’s talk about the “7 mountains” theology, which is popular in these circles. On some levels, it sounds like theocracy. Christians are in charge of every part of life: the “mountains” of business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family, and religion. On the other hand, it sounds like there’s no actual plan—aside from putting these Christians in charge. So what’s going on?

Christerson: They really believe that God is behind it all, that he is appointing people into these high positions, and that they will know what to do when they get there. They will be listening to God, and he will use them to supernaturally make America or the world into the kingdom of God. Some of the people that they claim are in these high position—like Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, and Rick Perry—are part of the Trump administration. But they are not Pentecostals, and they have nothing to do with these groups. The movement just latches on to them and claims God is using Trump to bring in the kingdom.

Some INC people describe Trump as a King Cyrus figure—he’s not one of us, but God is using him to defeat our enemies and restore our nation. If Trump collapses or gets impeached, they will not look very good. Some of them have staked their reputation on Trump’s performance, but not all of them.

They don’t have policy goals, other than anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage sentiments. They don’t have an idea of what it takes to reduce poverty or curb international conflict. None of that is even on their radar.

It’s a very different approach than other religious groups take. If it’s the Catholic Church, the religious right, or the religious left, they actually have a strategy. They have think-tanks and organizations, and they’re involved at different levels with political parties. This is nothing like that.

Flory: In some ways, it’s a really romantic vision. For most of the 20th century, most Pentecostals and evangelicals were pre-millennial—they imagined that God’s reign would appear in full only after the second coming of Christ. But the INC movement is explicitly post-millennial. In their minds, God’s kingdom can come to earth before Christ returns—and, by the way, it will be in America. There is this interesting combination of America first, Americans as God’s chosen people, and a romantic vision of God working it out through the people he chooses.

Do INC leaders engage in any self-reflection about the dangers of holding major power without oversight?

Christerson: I haven’t seen a lot of self-awareness on their part. They think they are an instrument of God—and that’s all they need. There’s a suspicion of any kind of accountability structures, because these limit the power of God working through individuals. When you have a church board and an elder board that hires a pastor, then that pastor can’t do the things that God is telling him to do—because he has to go to the board to get everything approved. The real danger, they would say, is when institutions become more powerful than the individuals that God calls.

This interview helped me connect the court evangelicals to what I wrote last year about Ted Cruz and David Barton, particularly as it relates to their belief in Seven Mountain Dominionism.

Most of the INC leaders easily fall under the court evangelical umbrella, although I am not sure how many of them have “unprecedented access” to Trump.

For example:

Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California and the founder of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, supports Trump.  In an article in which he explains why he voted for the President, Johnson concludes by saying “And finally I pray that each of us would have a life of realizing the fulfillment of dreams, with great health and blessing in every area of life.”  Johnson’s weekly service is viewed by 30,000 people.

Cindy Jacobs, Mike Bickle, Chuck Pierce, and Che Ahn are also part of this movement. Just Google their names and “Donald Trump” and see what you find.

I am also learning about a whole host of prophecies concerning the rise of Trump.

I know that there are many of you out there who read this blog and know the INC world a lot better than I do.  How many INC ministers have been to the White House to see Trump or spent time with him during the campaign?  Is Paula White part of the INC movement?

“Court Evangelicals” and Daniel, Joseph, and Cyrus

Cyrus

Cyrus, King of Persia

As I posted earlier today, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council criticized my recent Washington Post piece.  In the course of the critique, he made his own biblical argument against my “court evangelical” idea.

Perkins wrote:

John Fea, a professor at Messiah College, took aim at the president in a Washington Post column earlier this week called “Trump Threatens to Change the Course of American Christianity.” He starts by labeling the White House’s religious base as “court evangelicals,” his term for “a Christian who, like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seeks influence through regular visits to the White House.” When I hear the phrase “court evangelicals,” I think of Scripture’s Daniel, Joseph, and others who brought their faith into the presence of the king — people who God strategically placed to influence leaders for the benefit of an entire nation. But Fea doesn’t mean it as a compliment. 

I am getting some nice feedback on Perkins’s use of these Bible characters.

Here is one comment I received:

I find it fascinating that Perkins references Daniel, a captive in a hostile government’s court and Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers as forerunners to today’s evangelical sycophants. Neither chose to live in the court of the king but rather had the experience thrust on them. Daniel didn’t kowtow to the norms of the kingdom but rather and put his life on the line for what he believed was right before his God. Daniel spoke truth to power with words and actions.

Here is another:

…Daniel and Joseph didn’t set out to gain power or turn the government to make Egypt/Persia worship Jehovah. And neither Daniel nor Joseph (or Moses, Nehemiah, etc.) gave their bosses the impression that they were blessed. No sycophantic praises sung in those courts.

And another:

Daniel also offers the single most important prayer of repentance found in Exilic literature, then counseled non-resistance to imperial violence; bizarre, though I guess it fits for their Babylonian sensibilities which led many of these CE’s to describe DT as Cyrus

The Cyrus comparison is interesting.  Richard Mouw referenced it in his recent post at Religion News Service titled “Comparing Trump to two biblical kings.”

And even if we discount Trump’s professions of religious faith,  we still have the Cyrus example to consider. The Persian ruler was one of the few pagan rulers in the Bible to get high praise. The Bible even refers to him as God’s “anointed” servant….

And what we know about King Cyrus is that he purposely undid the brutal policies that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, instituted against the captive Jewish people, a minority group in his kingdom. The prophet Daniel had given clear instructions to Nebuchadnezzar about what God required of a pagan ruler: “Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you. Break away from your sins by doing what is right, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged” (Daniel 4: 27).

But Nebuchadnezzar refused to listen, and instead he engaged in some self-aggrandizing boasting: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” (Daniel 4: 30).  So, as the biblical story goes, God punished Nebuchadnezzar and later raised up Cyrus. And Cyrus got it right.

Mouw also writes: “… is [Trump] living up to the standards set by the pagan King Cyrus?… The time is ripe now for evangelicals to conduct a job performance review in this regard. I have my Bible handy whenever Mr. Trump’s evangelical supporters are ready to get started!”

The Cyrus example was also brought to my attention recently by a pastor of a church affiliated with the Charismatic Movement.  Apparently the prophecies of a man named Kim Clement (he died on November 23, 2016) is getting a lot of traction among charismatics and, according to this pastor, may be behind some of Trump’s support in this community.  As the story goes, Clement predicted a Trump presidency in 2007. Read all about it here.  (Bill Gates is also part of Clement’s prophetic message).

Another charismatic leader, Lance Wallnau, has made direct references to Trump as Cyrus.  Glenn Beck’s new website The Blaze covered Wallnau’s views here.  Wallnau posted this video to his Facebook page in October 2015.  Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network also covered Wallnau.

Many of these charismatic court evangelicals follow a Facebook page called “The Elijah List.”

We need to do more work here, but I wonder how much these prophecies have influenced some of the Court Evangelicals.  I am sure there are scholars out there who are working on this community.  I would love to hear from them.