It appears we have a direct connection between Seven Mountain Dominionism and the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.

“I’m probably going to lose my job as a pastor after this.”

Here is a guy named Tyler Ethridge at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

For those who cannot access the video, here is the transcript:

I don’t want to say that what we’re doing is right, but if the election is being stolen what is it going to take? Really. It it going to take people just talking about it? I’m probably going to lost my job as a pastor after this but what is it going to take? I don’t see anyone out here that are just teachers. Talk is cheap, and I think we’re to the point where talk is cheap. And if this makes me lose my reputation, I don’t care. I don’t care about my reputation, I care about my nation. I care about it for my daughter and my child. That’s what I care about. It’s more than just talking, it’s doing. There comes a point where you have to “do.”

Ethridge is a high school football star with a troubled past who attended Charis Bible College in Colorado. This school is associated with evangelical Trump supporter and charismatic preacher Andrew Wommack. It is a Christian nationalist Bible college that once housed the David Barton School of Government and continues to run a program in “practical government.” The school is on Barton’s “list of safe colleges and universities.”

I once wrote an open letter to the student body of Charis Bible College after a Barton appearance. Read it here.

Ethridge is a proud graduate of Charis’s practical government program. All of the names listed in the following tweet are Christian nationalists and Trump supporters. Ethridge “studied under” them.

Watch Barton and Wommack discussing their plans for the new Barton School of Government:

It appears that Barton’s name is no longer attached to the school, but he continues to teach in the program and his ideas still shape the curriculum.

Here is a promotional video that is currently on the Charis Bible College website (it includes David and Tim Barton):

Students enrolled in the program choose from a list of courses that include:

“Seven Mountains of Influence”:

Human society is affected by seven primary arenas of influence, one of which is government. Other arenas of influence include the family, education, and the media. In this course, students will learn to identify the various arenas of society, and how they interact and overlap. Particular focus will be given to the importance and influence of Government. The concept developed by this course is a powerful key to unlocking the potential of the Church to fulfill the Great Commission.

(Learn more about Seven Mountains Dominionism here).

“The Miracle of America“:

The founding of the United States of America changed the course and history of the World. In this class, students will learn the historical proof that America was birthed by the miraculous hand of God. We will study, among other things, God’s intervention in events at pivotal moments, the inspiration our founders drew from God’s word and their own relationship with Him, and the analogies between the founding of America for God’s purpose and the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt.

“The Christian Heritage of American Government”:

In this series of courses, students will study the history of American government. In Part 1, we will uncover the amazing truth about the events, ideas and people involved in the formation of the greatest nation in the history of the world. This first installment will cover British roots through the American Revolution, including political philosophy, religious persecution and migration, the revival known as the Great Awakening, the tyranny of King George III, slavery in the colonies, the Black Robe regiment, the Mayflower Compact, an analysis of the Declaration of Independence and many other topics.

“Faith of the Founders”:

In this course, Students will learn how the vast majority of our Founding Fathers were in fact, devoted Christians. We will study their personal and public writings and see how the policies and laws they adopted were inspired by their faith in the God of the Bible.

“The Role of Pastors in Government”:

This very important course will inform students regarding the scriptural mandate and historical role that the Church and Pastors should play in the arena of government. We will address concerns that many may have which are rooted in misconceptions of “separation of church and state” and an overly narrow concept of modern “evangelism.” Students will be challenged and emboldened as they explore the truth about the views of our Founders, the history of the “Black Robe Regiment,” actual Supreme Court case law, concepts and examples from Scripture, U.S. Tax law and other sources.

“How to Run for Office” (Taught by former New Mexico congressman Bill Redmond):

In “How to Run for Office,” we will cover how to plan and execute a basic campaign for an elected public office. Subjects will include how to assemble a team, developing your message, preparing effective printed materials, using direct mail, the internet and print media, voter targeting, fundraising and more.

“United States Constitution” (Taught by David Barton):

Practical Government Students will receive thorough instruction regarding the United States Constitution, the longest serving Constitution of any nation in the world. This first in a series of courses will teach the history of the Constitution, the Christian character of the document, an overview of its framework and provisions, as well as a review of the Amendments other than the Bill of Rights, which is covered in depth in a subsequent class.

See the entire list of courses here. Others include:

Creationism and the Flood:

The principle that mankind was created by God is expressed in America’s founding charter, and is fundamental to a proper understanding of civil rights, the limited role of government and the worth of the individual. In this course, our students will be instructed in scientific and physical evidence supporting the Biblical accounts of creation and the Flood of Noah, and be equipped by this course to defend in the public sector these foundational events as historical facts.

Biblical Free Enterprise:

In Biblical Free Enterprise, students will learn the biblical principles of economics that should be followed by all governments and which have led to the United States becoming the most productive and prosperous nation in the history of the world.

Christian Heritage of American Government II:

In this enlightening course, students will continue to explore the Christian heritage of American government, reviewing materials by David Barton and others, with a particular focus on the period from the American Revolution to the Civil War.

Principles of War

Here, students will learn principles and strategies for success in the “culture war.” They will study lessons learned on the field of actual battle, including the importance of being on “offense”, an accurate understanding of “defense” and many others.

I don’t know how many of these courses Tyler Ethridge took, but it doesn’t surprise me that someone enrolled in this program might be inspired to storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. The course on “Principles of War,” for example, teaches students “the importance of being on ‘offense.'”

Blogger David Bonner has been following Ethridge for a while at his Wondering Eagle blog. He and other sources note that Ethridge was a youth pastor at Christ Centered Church in Tampa, Florida. But it looks like the church fired him before he even started work:

Here Ethridge retweets Independent Network Charismatic prophet Dutch Sheets (one of Eric Metaxas’s favorite prophets). The reference to Cape Henry, Virginia is standard fare for those who argue that the United States was founded as a Christian nation:

Here is Ethridge on July 18, 2020. He seems ready for a fight:

Ethridge is no coward:

Here Ethridge makes reference to what he learned about the “Black Robe Regiment.” The reference to Peter Muhlenberg is a dead give-away. I image he learned about Muhlenberg in his course on “The Role of Pastors in Government”:

John Guandalo teaches a courses at Charis Bible College titled “Understanding the Threat”:

Ethridge is not happy with Ted Cruz in the following tweet, but it says a lot about Cruz’s connections to Christian dominionism. Some of you recall I was making this argument about Cruz back in 2016. Cruz hangs out with these folks and has apparently visited Charis Bible College.

Ethridge embodies the links between Christian nationalist politics and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. I am sure that David Barton, Andrew Wommack, and the folks at Charis Bible College will call him an outlier. But as I see it, Ethridge was just taking his training to its logical conclusion.

Court evangelical tells his congregation not to take COVID-19 vaccine

Some of you may recall Guillermo Maldonado. He is pastor of King Jesus International Ministry in Miami. Maldonado hosted Donald Trump and the rest of the court evangelicals on January 3, 2020 at the “Evangelicals for Trump” kickoff rally. (The above pic was taken at the event). I wrote about this event here under the title “‘Evangelicals for Trump’ was an awful display by supposed citizens of the Kingdom of God.”

Maldonado is in the news again. He is telling his congregation not to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Here is Carol Kuruvilla at Huffington Post:

Guillermo Maldonado, founding pastor of the Miami-based King Jesus International Ministry and a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump, shared already debunked claims from the pulpit on Sunday about the vaccine altering DNA and being used to track people down. 

The Pentecostal preacher imbued those conspiracy theories with religious significance by connecting them to his beliefs about the end of the world. Pointing to verses from the Bible’s Book of Revelation, Maldonado suggested that the coronavirus vaccine would help lay the groundwork for the coming of the Antichrist.

“Do not [take] the vaccine. Believe in the blood of Jesus. Believe in divine immunity,” Maldonado said in a bilingual sermon that was translated live and streamed on Facebook. 

He also claimed God had warned him about a “satanic global agenda” that is trying to establish one worldwide religion and bring the Christian church under governmental control ― an idea that echoes decades-old conspiracy theories about a global elite secretly working to create a “new world order.” 

They want to stop President Trump because he’s against that agenda,” Maldonado said.

Read the entire piece here.

In the days before the Evangelical for Trump rally on January 3, Maldonado had to calm the fears of undocumented members of his congregation who thought Trump would deport them. It appears Maldonado is now playing on those fears, suggesting that the government will use the vaccine to “track people down.”

Thursday night court evangelical roundup

Trump Court Evangelicals 2

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Trump wonder-boy Charlie Kirk, a political pundit and co-founder of the Liberty University Falkirk Center, is upset with the Supreme Court after it ruled Trump could not end the DACA program:

Jenetzen Franklin’s new bookAcres of Diamonds: Discovering God’s Best Right Where You Are, shares a title with Russell Conwell‘s famous prosperity gospel lecture. Here is a quote from Conwell’s sermon: “I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich.”

Jack Graham wants his followers to stay away from current events so they can clear their minds and “focus our thoughts on God’s Word and doing His will.” He implies that focusing one’s life on God’s word and “doing his will” is something different than bringing Christian truth to bear on current events. I am not sure this is the time for Christians to retreat to the prayer closet.

Tony Perkins is retweeting a clip from a speech by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. His comment on the speech is a convoluted mash-up of God and politics that fuses American values with Kingdom values all in service of making America Christian “again.”

If you read through Perkins’s twitter feed you will find him quoting a lot of scripture. But all the verses he cites are meant to be read through the lens of his Christian nationalist political agenda.

Perkins said we should support Trump because he will deliver on conservative Supreme Court justices. His article today at Family Research Council reveals the sense of betrayal he feels after Neil Gorsuch’s opinion in the recent LGBTQ civil rights decision. He blasts the court for being too political. Interesting. For many court evangelicals, the Supreme Court is only “too political” when it makes decisions that the Christian Right does not like.

Eric Metaxas had Pat Boone on his radio show and tried to get Boone to say that he is not in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame because he is an outspoken Christian. Boone thinks he belongs in the Hall of Fame because of his music, but he won’t bite on Metaxas’s suggestion that he faces discrimination because of his faith.

The Eric Metaxas Show is Trumpism disguised as Christian radio.

Until next time.

*Mother Jones* Profiles Court Evangelical Paula White

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Here is a taste of Stephanie Mencimer’s piece “How Do You Get from the Trailer Park to a White House Job?”:

At the Supernatural Ministry School, White deftly offered the audience the secret of her success. “How did I get to the White House from the trailer?” she asked. The answer, of course, was by giving money to God by way of the church—and she’s not talking about tossing the weekly pin money in the offering plate. Securing Paula White, White House-caliber blessings would require students of the supernatural to give a “First Fruits” offering, one that is significant—the first week’s pay, say, or even the first month’s pay—to signify putting God first in everything. White claimed during the sermon that God once told her that in 2009, a particularly bad year, she needed to give her entire annual salary to God—$8 million.

She broke it all down for her congregants, making it simple: If they prioritize their paychecks for more earthly needs, like keeping the lights on, they were treating Florida Power and Light (FPL) like God himself. “Instead of writing [that check] to the house of God as I’m instructed to, then what I’m saying spiritually is, ‘FPL, I have now established a spiritual law that put you first. So, FPL, save my family, FPL, deliver my drug addicted son. FPL, kill this cancer that doctors say is in my body.’”

Over the next half hour, White built to a crescendo, shed many tears, spoke in tongues, and implored people to give. Hundreds of people streamed down the aisles to throw envelopes of money at her feet. “The First Fruits sets the pattern and establishes the destiny for what is left,” she cried. “Many of you need to bring a First Fruit offering right now!” Mostly Latino apostles and prophets from the church brought baskets to the front to collect the offerings. No one from King Jesus responded to questions from Mother Jones about where the donations went.

Read the entire piece here.

Who is Jay Sekulow?

Sekulow

The New York Times is profiling the lawyer who will be leading Trump’s impeachment defense.  Read it here.

Now allow me to add a few things to this profile based on our work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

First, Sekulow has strong court evangelical connections.  He was (and still may be) friends with Steven Strang, the editor of Charisma Magazine, a Christian magazine that represents Pentecostal and charismatic Christians in the United States.  Many of the so-called evangelical “prophets” who think Trump is the new King Cyrus are regularly featured in Charisma. (See our section on Strang and Independent Network Charismatics in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump). In 2005, Time named Strang one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”

In 1989, Strang was editing Charisma and 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: “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.”

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This is exact copy of the book Strang gave to Sekulow

oral-roberts-2

So perhaps you are wondering how I got this book.  Read this post to find out.

Second, Sekulow, who mostly handles religious liberty cases, has done very well for himself.  (Perhaps Oral Roberts and the prosperity gospelers were right).  In a June 28, 2017 post I suggested that “defending religious liberty is good for business.”  According to a 2005 article in Legal Times, Sekulow used over $2.3 million from a nonprofit organization he controlled to buy two homes and lease a private jet.

And here is a taste of a 2017 article on Sekulow from The Guardian:

More than 15,000 Americans were losing their jobs each day in June 2009, as the US struggled to climb out of a painful recession following its worst financial crisis in decades.

But Jay Sekulow, who is now an attorney to Donald Trump, had a private jet to finance. His law firm was expecting a $3m payday. And six-figure contracts for members of his family needed to be taken care of.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a “sacrificial gift”.

“I can certainly understand how that would make it difficult for you to share a gift like that right now,” they told retirees who said they were on fixed incomes and had “no extra money” – before asking if they could spare “even $20 within the next three weeks”.

In addition to using tens of millions of dollars in donations to pay Sekulow, his wife, his sons, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephew and their firms, Case has also been used to provide a series of unusual loans and property deals to the Sekulow family.

Attorneys and other experts specialising in nonprofit law said the Sekulows risked violating a federal law against nonprofits paying excessive benefits to the people responsible for running them. Sekulow declined to detail how he ensured the payments were reasonable.

“This is all highly unusual, and it gives an appearance of conflicts of interest that any nonprofit should want to avoid,” said Daniel Borochoff, the president of CharityWatch, a Chicago-based group that monitors nonprofits.

The Washington Post also covered this story.

Third, Sekulow jams with John Elefante (former of Kansas front man) and John Schlitt (former lead singer of the Christian rock band Petra) in a group called The Jay Sekulow Band.  Watch them cover the Doobie Brothers’s “Jesus is Just Alright”:

 

Trump’s Choice of Church for His “Evangelicals for Trump” Rally Today

King JesusAs we have discussed a few times already here at the blog, Trump will be speaking at a big “Evangelicals for Trump” rally later today in Miami. The event will take place at the King Jesus Ministry Church,  evangelical megachurch.  A few things are worth noting about this church:

  • The King Jesus Ministry Church fits squarely within the Prosperity Gospel branch of American Christianity.  These Christians teach God always blessing his faithful followers with financial wealth and physical health.  Trump staffer and prominent court evangelical Paula White, the woman who claims she led Trump through a born-again experience, is the most important pro-Trump player in this movement.  As I chronicled in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, the president’s support among the prosperity gospelers is strong.  The pastor, Guillermo Maldonado, is from Honduras.  He calls himself “The Apostle.”  His wife, Ana Maldonado, is known as “The Prophetess.” Together, they run the University of the Supernatural Ministry,
  • The King Jesus Ministry Church is also a Hispanic evangelical megachurch.  Many members of the congregation are undocumented immigrants, or, to use the language of the court evangelicals, “illegals.”  Most of the evangelical leaders who will attend this event believe these undocumented workers need to be deported.  Donald Trump also believes that they should be deported.  Many of those in attendance at today’s rally cannot even vote.  As we have already seen, some of these church members fear that if they come to the rally they will be deported.  So let’s remember that two of Trump’s signature issues–the courting of evangelicals and immigration–will be at odds tonight.  (Some of you may recall Paula White’s attempt to use Romans 13 to justify the separation of children from their families at the Mexican border).
  • I don’t know how the program will unfold, but if the rally looks anything like a Pentecostal church service there is bound to be some awkwardness.  Many of the court evangelicals–including Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas–have serious theological disagreements with Pentecostal theology and worship.  And, of course, Trump never looks comfortable in these settings. Let’s see how this unfolds.
  • An atheist group is not happy about this event.  This group wants the IRS to commence an immediate investigation into King Jesus Ministry for violating the clause in the tax code prohibiting 501(c)(3) organizations from participating in and/or intervening in a political campaign.  It certainly seems like this group has a point.  If Pastor Maldonado is promoting Trump from the pulpit and using his authority to urge his people to attend a political rally at the church he may be in violation of the so-called Johnson Amendment.  Trump and many of his evangelical supports think that the president brought an end to the Johnson Amendment through executive order in May 2017 (Maldonado was present for the event).  This is not true.  The clause forbidding churches (and other organizations with tax exempt status) from endorsing political candidates is still on the books.  It can only be changed by Congress.  I can’t think of a more blatant violation of the Johnson Amendment than a pastor urging his congregation to attend a political rally.  I doubt anything will come of this, but it is worth noting.

For more on what to expect tonight, check out my posts here and here.  I will be on NBC News Now (live stream) with Alison Morris around 3:15pm tomorrow (January 3rd) to talk about the rally.

Is Paula White Bringing Her “Ponzi Scheme” to the White House?

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

Many of you recall that court evangelical and prosperity preacher Paula White is now working in the White House.  Learn more here.

Former George W. Bush Administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter suggests that White is using her new position in the White House to make her spiritual “sales pitch” to her television followers.

Here is Newsweek:

Richard W. Painter, who served as the chief ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush’s White House, blasted President Donald Trump’s personal spiritual adviser Paula White, suggesting the religious leader was committing “fraud” and running a “Ponzi scheme.”

The White House recently announced that White, who previously served as the senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, would officially spearhead Trump’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative. Since taking on the official role, the prominent televangelist has continued to sell religious items that she claims will provide spiritual and material benefits to buyers.

“This ‘prosperity gospel’ scam by ⁦@Paula_White⁩ tests the boundaries between ‘religious freedom’ and criminal mail fraud and wire fraud,” Painter argued in a Wednesday morning tweet. “‘Send me money and God will make you rich.’ Now she uses her White House position to make her sales pitch.”

On Tuesday, Painter raised related concerns about White. “Paula White now is running her faith based Ponzi scheme from inside the White House,” he wrote in a tweet, sharing a link to a Newsweekarticle that reported on criticism of Trump’s adviser. ‘”Send me your January paycheck and God will pay you back with interest …. [perhaps out of somebody else’s February paycheck],'” he added.

Read the entire piece here.

Kanye is Coming to See Joel Osteen on Sunday

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We are learning more about the direction that Kanye West‘s newfound Christian faith is taking him.  He will be at prosperity preacher Joel Osteen’s church this Sunday.

Here is the Houston Chronicle:

Kanye West will attend service at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church on Sunday, Donald Iloff, Jr., a representative for the church confirmed.

West is scheduled to have a 15-to-20-minute conversation with Osteen at the 11 a.m. service.

“Joel is still putting his questions together, but he will talk about Kanye’s journey to his faith,” Iloff said.

Kanye will take to the pulpit a second time Sunday, according to Iloff , to perform with his choir at the 7 p.m. service.

We haven’t covered Kanye’s conversion here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and I am not planning on spending too much time on it.  Those interested should start with Curtis Lee’s piece at Christianity Today and the Religion News Service archive of Kanye stories.

More Court Evangelical Fear Mongering from Paula White

Bakker White

Donald Trump’s spiritual adviser Paula White is at it again.  On a recent appearance on the Jim Bakker Show to promote her new book Something Greater: Finding Triumph Over Trials, White said that those who do not support Trump will one day have to answer to God.

Here is a taste of Leonardo Blair’s piece at The Christian Post:

“It is a dividing line unless you have eyes to see,” White told Bakker while discussing how America was being changed through the lower courts. Trump has been working hard to protect religious freedom in a spiritual war between good and evil that is being waged through the courts and that threatens to outlaw the Bible as hate speech, she claimed.

“It’s [warfare] gonna either make you stand and lets you have to look in the Word and say what does God say and where do I line up. Where do I line up on policy? I might not like the personality, I might not understand him. Get my book and you’ll understand the personality and you’ll understand the person, Ok? Not just the persona,” White said.

“Where do I line up? And you’re gonna have to make a decision that won’t be just held accountable here for how things turn out for you, your children, your grandchildren, but you’re gonna have to stand accountable before God one day. Not based on your opinion, your hurt, your wounding, what you think, what you don’t. Educate yourself. Know the issues, know the word of God, and then if you cannot align with the word of God I don’t see it,” White continued.

She explained earlier how since he assumed office, Trump managed to fill 170 lower court vacancies and two Supreme Court justices.

“We now we’ll have a third one, we just need the time. But it is very potential that we could have a fourth or even a fifth,” White said.

“If we can change the Supreme Court like we are already changing it, these are lifetime appointments. You don’t think all hell is trembling right now?” White asked.

Without President Trump’s re-election, White and Bakker agreed, “we’re going to lose the freedom of America soon.”

Read the entire piece here.

Two quick comments:

  1. I don’t think “hell” really cares about Supreme Court nominations. If anything, hell is rejoicing as its minions watch Paula White put her faith in a political strongman to save her.
  2. Let’s not forget that almost every major court evangelical has endorsed White’s book.

Out of the Zoo: “American Gospel”

American GospelAnnie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie reflects on her viewing of a the documentary American Gospel.  –JF

I spent a portion of my Saturday last week watching American Gospel: In Christ Alone in the lounge juxtaposed between Miller, Grantham, and Hess residences. The said lounge is affectionately named “the fishbowl” by Messiah students because of its’ floor-to-ceiling windows. I heard about American Gospel over the summer when my old youth pastor Kenneth Price  shared his admiration of it on Facebook (read more about Kenneth’s impact on my life in one of my previous blog posts). I had been meaning to watch the documentary since then, so when one of my house-mates told me she was planning to watch it one afternoon, I opted to join her.

I could go on and on about all the points American Gospel argues, but I’ll let you watch the two and a half hour documentary on your own time. As for me though, I’m glad I remembered to bring my journal because I ended up with four and a half pages of notes. The film primarily takes a shot at the American prosperity gospel–a movement with figureheads like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn and Todd White who espouse the false doctrine that faith in Jesus will always result in an easy life full of blessings and miraculous healing. It calls such doctrine dangerous and false. If you don’t agree, please take it up with Ray Comfort or Matt Chandler or one of the documentary’s many contributors, not with me.

American Gospel emphasizes the reality that when we come to faith, while we may get to witness miraculous healing or experience prosperity, what we are really called to do is to suffer, endure trials, die to ourselves, and to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.

American Gospel also got me thinking about my future as a history teacher. Christians who expect following Jesus will be easy are like educators who believe their students will never talk back or forget a homework assignment. If teachers decided to start teaching because they thought it would be a painless or affluent undertaking they would have abandoned their posts long ago. Proponents of prosperity gospel are like historians who think they will always be able to construct a perfect, concise narrative every time, confidently tying up every loose end in a neat bow. Instead, the reality is that historians are to dive deep into the messiness of the past and meet challenges as they come–and they will come.

Some people believe that the right path to take is the easiest one, or the one that will fetch the most earthly wealth or happiness. They think one’s choices should be contingent on their own wants and desires. If I thought like this I wouldn’t have gone to college for a history degree, and I certainly wouldn’t be working towards a career in education. If David wanted to take the easy route he would have never faced Goliath. If the Apostle Paul shared this view his name would probably still be Saul. If Jesus decided to live an easy life he certainly wouldn’t have sacrificed himself for us on the cross. So instead of taking the easy way out, we are called to follow Christ’s example, keeping our eyes on him through every tragedy and every triumph.

Benny Hinn’s Nephew on the Prosperity Gospel

Copeland

In the wake of the Inside Edition interview with Kenneth Copeland, Religion News Service is running a piece by Costi W. Hinn, the nephew faith-healer and prosperity preacher Benny Hinn.  Costi Hinn is currently pastor of Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona.

Here is a taste of his piece:

For whatever money can’t give, and power can’t satisfy, there is the prominence and notoriety that come from being a global force. The prosperity gospel put us on the map and that felt really good. From poverty-stricken immigrants to having kings and presidents requesting the presence of the Hinn family at their home, the prosperity gospel does something to the ego that little else on the earth can do. It does an excellent job of selling the lie that you are “somebody” when in reality you are nothing more than another con artist who’s found a way to sell your scheme to desperate bidders.

There is another puzzle to the prosperity gospel, however. You might assume that any individual can spot the theatrical ruse and greedy schemes of a prosperity preacher like Copeland from a mile away. Yet hundreds of millions of people loyally commit their account savings (and possibly their souls) to prosperity preachers every single year around the world hoping that by doing so God will give them health and wealth. All of this exploitation leads us to one very troubling question:

Why would someone believe the prosperity gospel?

Read the rest here.

Episode 51: Temples of the Marketplace

PodcastWhen people think of the melding of faith and business, companies like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A usually come to mind. However, like all things, the history of this type of partnership has a deeper history. Host John Fea reaches into early America to discuss the complicated integration of faith and business among Philadelphia’s Quakers. They are joined by historian Nicole Kirk (@Prof_in_Chicago), author of Wanamaker’s Temple: The Business of Religion in an Iconic Department Store.

Sponsored by the Lyndhurst Group (lyndhurstgroup.org) and Jennings College Consulting (drj4college.com).

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:

Oral Roberts 2

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? 🙂

Laura Turner: The Backlash Against Joel Osteen is Part of a Larger Anti-Evangelical Spirit in the Age of Trump

Lakewood

I think it is probably fair to say that Joel Osteen could have done a better job in responding to Hurricane Harvey.  Because of his prosperity preaching and wealthy lifestyle he gets hammered by just about everyone other than his Lakewood Church parishioners and his television audience.  When a disaster like Harvey hits Houston, and Osteen fumbles the ball, he is going to get nailed.  I am glad to see that he has finally mobilized Lakewood Church.

As Laura Turner writes at BuzzFeed News, a lot of the criticism of Osteen is part of a larger criticism of evangelicals in the Age of Trump.  I don’t count Osteen as one of the so-called court evangelicals.  As far as I know, he has stayed out of politics.  But his prosperity preaching certainly makes him an honorary court evangelical in the minds of most critics.  For many, Osteen represents the spirit behind the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.  They care about the Supreme Court and the culture wars, but they won’t open their churches to flood victims.

Here is a taste of Turner’s piece:

The backlash against Lakewood Church, and the resentment fueling it, ties into a larger national narrative around the hypocrisy of politically involved evangelical leaders who helped put Donald Trump in office. American evangelicalism in the last four decades has been an increasingly politicized movement, rooted in many ways in the establishment of the Moral Majority, a political action group whose very name declared its concern with rectitude and character. Yet evangelicals are more often known for what they are against — abortion, same-sex marriage — than what they are for. More and more, prominent evangelicals seem to be folding conservative politics into their belief system.

Evangelical leaders like Dinesh D’Souza and Eric Metaxas have devolved into self-parody under the Trump administration. Metaxas, who wrote a best-selling biography of the theologian and World War II martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, now tweets about hosting Sebastian Gorka on his radio show and wrote an op-ed about why Christians must vote for Trump. Dinesh D’Souza was a policy adviser for Ronald Reagan and wrote a well-regarded book on Christian apologetics before he launched his career as a pundit railing against Barack Obama, and eventually spent time in jail for making illegal campaign contributions under other peoples’ names. D’Souza tried to return to relevance with a 2013 infomercial for his friend’s artificial Christmas tree, and just this week was retweeted by Donald Trump when he shared a Washington Post article claiming that left-wing demonstrators were the true source of violence at a Berkeley rally.

Criticism of white evangelicals has reached a fever pitch with the Trump administration, and not without reason. A recent PRRI/Brookings poll asked whether a politician can behave ethically in office even if he has committed immoral acts in his personal life; the results showed that “no group has shifted their position more dramatically than white evangelical Protestants,” who went from 30% affirmation in 2011 to 72% in 2016. This practice of changing the rules in service of political expediency drives others — Christians and non-Christians alike — to censurewhite evangelicals, especially those who espouse virtues like chastity out of one side of their mouths and use the other side to support the policies of a groping, thrice-married opportunist who once claimed he has never needed to ask God for forgiveness.

It is also true that there can be a kind of glee with which some people rush to assume the worst about evangelicals and prosperity gospel Christians. “Joel Osteen gets it from both sides,” says Kate Shellnutt, associate editor at the flagship evangelical magazine Christianity Today. “Plenty of Christians criticize him for offering what they see as shallow, self-help faith, for not preaching enough on sin. Then non-Christians or former Christians will see him as a prime example of their concerns about the church: that it’s too flashy, money-focused, selfish.”

Kate Bowler, an associate professor at Duke Divinity School and the author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, has observed similar attacks on Osteen and argues that he is misunderstood: “Joel Osteen is not the flashy money-grubber that people imagine when they think of a prosperity preacher,” she says. He is an encouraging pastor, Bowler says, but people want to believe that his enthusiastic persona must be a cover for underlying greed and evil.

A storm as severe as Harvey, with all the pain and desperation it brings, puts any pre-existing criticisms of Osteen and his brand of religion into even sharper relief. Bowler says, “In the face of a natural disaster, the prosperity gospel lacks a language with which to account for problems that cannot be remedied by individual faith.”

Read the rest here.

Of course there is another, more accurate, way to understand evangelicals and Hurricane Harvey.  From what I have seen and heard, evangelical churches and ministries have mobilized to bring relief to the suffering and the displaced.  Many of these churches do not associate with Osteen’s brand of prosperity Christianity.  I am confident that stories will emerge showing evangelical Christians at their best, living out the Gospel in the midst of Harvey.  And some of these evangelicals may have even voted for Donald Trump.

Making Sense of Joel Osteen

61470-osteen

Joel Osteen, the prosperity preacher who is the leader of the 38,000 member Lakewood Church in Houston, has been taking a lot of heat for apparently not opening his church to flood victims.

I really don’t have enough information to judge what is happening with Lakewood Church.  Those who don’t like Osteen are taking some pretty hard shots at him on social media.

In the last forty-eight hours I have found two piece sto be helpful.

The first piece is Kate Bowler‘s “Here’s why people hate Joel Osteen.”  She writes:

With his yachts and jets and endlessly-smiling mouth offering promises of “Your Best Life Now” (that’s the name of his best-selling book), Osteen was already a subject of contempt among Americans, in general.

But in the past few days he has been lambasted as being, at best, sluggish in providing emergency aid to those suffering from the disaster and, at worst, a hypocrite who cares more about people’s wealth than welfare. In fairness, the city of Houston has more megachurches than any other metropolitan area in the country, with dozens of big-church celebrities to thrust into the spotlight at a time like this. So what is it about America’s grinning preacher that everyone hates so much?

I’ve been studying the American prosperity gospel for more than a decade, and I have come to the stunning conclusion that Joel Osteen seems to be a pretty nice guy. He is the cheery advertisement for the 606,000-square-foot Lakewood Church and, with the gorgeous Victoria by his side, tours the country in packed-out arenas to bring “A Night of Hope” — a religion-lite, inspirational speech set to music. And, for those who don’t mind waiting a few minutes after the service, he will shake your hand and tolerate your comment about how his hair looks even better in real life. It does.

But there are three main reasons long after this controversy passes, Joel Osteen will still be the preacher America loves to hate — and perhaps for Christians more than others.

Read the rest at the Washington Post.

The other piece is by Wheaton College professor Ed Stetzer and is titled “Some Christians Hate Joel Osteen More Than They Love The Truth. And That’s Wrong.”

Stetzer writes:

Apparently, Osteen had canceled church on Sunday and the church indicated (perhaps inarticulately) that the church was impassable. (They did not say it was flooded, though who needs to worry about facts when we hate someone, right?) The church directed their people, and presumably others, to take shelter with friends, family, or at the George Brown Convention Center.

As the waters rose in Houston, social media spread the word that Lakewood Church, housed in a 16,800 seat arena, was turning people away who were seeking shelter.

Nope. They said that is not what happened.

You can see more facts herehere, and here.

Christians Joining in Spreading a False Narrative

Fast forward twelve hours and the facts began to surface that the church itself was flooded in a few sections. And Lakewood responded that only three people came for shelter, and they had all been helped.

So, well, maybe we might see that facts are our friends.

And just because you hate (or just have theological concerns with him) Osteen does not entitle you to your own set of facts.

I’m not saying they did not bungle their first statement. I am saying that a lot of Christians spread false statements. Let’s let the world spread lies as we stand for truth.

Read the entire piece here.

“Trump plays him like a piano”

RobertsonIf you have not seen it yet, VOX is running Tara Isabella Burton‘s revealing interview with Terry Heaton, the former producer of Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club.   Heaton is the author of a new book on his experience with Robertson and his Christian Broadcasting Network titled The Gospel of the Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP.

Here is a taste:

Tara Isabella Burton:

In today’s political climate, it seems like there’s an even stronger relationship than ever between CBN and the current administration. Pat Robertson’s been landing exclusive sit-down interviews with Trump, and CBN’s new shows like Faith Nation are further blurring the line between news and opinion. What do you make of that?

Terry Heaton:

First of all, regarding Pat and his relationship with Donald Trump — I think that’s very, very scary. As smart as Pat Robertson is, and as good as he is at marketing, he is also highly susceptible to his own hype. In that way, Trump plays him like a piano. If you watch his most recent interview, some of the things that Trump says to Pat are really way out there in terms of manipulating Pat. He builds him up like a salesman would, and Pat is susceptible to that, I think. But he wouldn’t be susceptible if Trump didn’t speak the language that Pat wants.

There is such fear on the right about the Supreme Court. I remember one show that we were taping in which Pat prayed that God would kill the Supreme Court justices. We had to stop the tape and advise him that he couldn’t say that on TV. But that’s the way he felt. Trump really sings Pat’s tune when it comes to the Supreme Court, also on the issue of religious liberty. When Trump starts talking about how Christianity is going to be “great again,” people like Pat sit up at listen. And they’ll support him whenever necessary — even if it means blowing up North Korea!

Read the entire interview here.

 

The Author’s Corner with Phillip Luke Sinitiere

salvationwithasmilePhillip Luke Sinitiere is Professor of History at the College of Biblical Studies, a multiethnic school located in Houston’s Mahatma Gandhi District. This interview is based on his book Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity (NYU Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Salvation with a Smile?

PLS: I wrote Salvation with a Smile out of a long-standing interest in the history of American evangelicalism. After completing a chapter on Joel Osteen in my first book Holy Mavericks (NYU Press, 2009), I wanted to write a larger story on the smiling preacher that considered his place in American religious history. As a life-long Houston resident, I also wanted to explore Osteen and Lakewood Church in relationship to Texas, and to the Sunbelt.

In my research, I found that everyone I spoke with had an opinion about the smiling preacher; folks either loved him or hated him. I wanted to investigate Osteen and Lakewood Church beyond the binary responses I was hearing. After all, there’s a reason why 40,000 people attend Lakewood weekly, millions of people read his New York Times best-selling books, and millions of people tune into his television broadcast. I wrote Salvation with a Smile to figure out why.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Salvation with a Smile?

PLS: Salvation with a Smile argues that Joel Osteen, and by extension Lakewood Church, is America’s most powerful twenty-first century evangelical minister; it explains how Lakewood became America’s largest megachurch and Joel Osteen became Joel Osteen. While neither represents the sum total of American evangelicalism, the history of Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen explains significant developments that illuminate connections between neopentecostalism, the prosperity gospel, televangelism, and religion in the American South.

JF: Why do we need to read Salvation with a Smile?

PLS: Salvation with a Smile shows that Joel Osteen’s father, John Osteen, along with post-World War II neopentecostalism and the prosperity gospel movement helped to make the smiling preacher. In this regard, I hope the book adds another chapter to the broader history of the prosperity gospel that scholars such as Kate Bowler, Gerardo Marti, and Arlene Sánchez-Walsh, among others, have brilliantly documented. Furthermore, Osteen’s nearly two decades of religious television production and broadcasting experience before he became Lakewood’s full-time pastor in 1999 helps to contextualize how in the early 2000s Joel harnessed emerging social media platforms in the service of propagating his prosperity message. In this sense, Osteen and Lakewood’s story connects to the history of American televangelism. Finally, Osteen’s ascendance in American evangelicalism during the Internet Age—and his presence on television and social media—has generated a flurry of criticism, much of it from American evangelicals. Thus, Salvation with a Smile historicizes New Calvinist critiques of the smiling preacher as both an index of his notoriety and as a way to understand the fractures and fissures within contemporary U. S. evangelicalism; in other words, the account of Osteen and his detractors reflects the “crisis of authority” about which historian Molly Worthen has beautifully written.

 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PLS: While I had designs on pursuing a career in professional golf—I was a student-athlete on the golf team at the University of Houston, and later at Sam Houston State University—in college several professors brought history to life and I found that my passions shifted. The late Terry Bilhartz, one of my mentors at Sam Houston State, was one of the most engaging lecturers I’ve ever seen. At the University of Houston, James Kirby Martin always emphasized the importance of writing clearly and accessibly, Kairn Klieman helped me to understand the power of history beyond the classroom, and Gerald Horne modeled the centrality of archival research for academic scholarship. Reconstructing the past at its best tells a story and the ways that my professors and mentors conveyed history in lively, compelling, and comprehensible ways drew me in. Additionally, I found, and still find, archival research both enjoyable and exciting. Sure, the work at times gets tedious, but the detective sleuthing so vital to the art of reconstructing history is great fun. Connecting the dots between past and present is both challenging and exhilarating whether it is in the classroom with students or in moments of solitude when I’m writing. While I may be a professional historian according to industry standards, I remain very much a student of history with many questions for which I continuously seek answers.

JF: What is your next project?

PLS: For Rowman and Littlefield, I’m completing a short biography of 20th century writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin. I am also editor of and contributor to two essay collections on the twilight years of W. E. B. Du Bois between the 1930s and 1960s. One volume, under contract with Northwestern University Press, examines Du Bois’s career in global perspective; the second volume, which the University Press of Mississippi will publish, explores concepts of American freedom in Du Bois’s intellectual and political work.

JF: Thanks, Phil!

The Prayer of Pastor Mark Burns

He prays for God to defeat the “liberal democrats.”

He states the GOP is the “conservative party under God.”

He prays that God will protect the GOP “against any attack that comes against us.”

And he prays it all “in Jesus name.”

Prosperity gospel preacher Mark Burns.  He is making a mockery of Christianity and a mockery of Trump’s GOP.