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The Biggest Religious Movement You Never Heard of: Nine Things You Need to Know About Rick Perry's Prayer Event

Perry's endorsers are not just a random group of radical evangelists but part of a large and little-understood international religious movement.

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    Ground-level spiritual warfare is casting out demons from individuals. Occult-level spiritual warfare is confrontations with demons operating through witchcraft and esoteric philosophies (examples are Freemasonry and Tibetan Buddhism). Strategic-level spiritual warfare is the highest level, dealing with confrontation of territorial principalities that control entire communities, ethnic groups, religions and nations.

Given this deep-seated orientation, it's not surprising that geographical organization has been key to the NAR. Establishing geographic dominion over cities and states makes perfect sense on the way to controlling whole nations and eventually the world. And so it's not surprising to note several examples where NAR-related individuals have gained state-level power.

Most famously, of course, Sarah Palin, was governor of Alaska. While her deep involvement with the NAR was glossed over at the time, it's now clear that she first joined a statewide “prayer warrior” network under Apostle Mary Glazier when she was 24 years old. When she first ran for Wasilla City Council in the 1990s on an explicitly religious platform, it was unprecedented for the town but perfectly normal by NAR standards. Banning books from the public library when she became mayor was similarly unsurprising once you understand the dominionist ideology she embraced.

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas doesn't have anything close to Palin's longtime involvement as a prayer-warrior footsoldier, but he has played a highly visible role as a general while serving in the Senate before becoming governor. While in the Senate, Brownback spent years supporting the NAR's “reconciliation” strategy with Native Americans, both sponsoring legislation and appearing at NAR events. Brownback is the only sitting governor to accept Perry's invitation to attend The Response.

In Hawaii in 2010, before now-governor Ambecrombie joined the race, both the leading Republican and Democratic candidates for governor were deeply involved with NAR. They had almost achieved their goal of making the election irrelevant for their purposes. In April 2010, Tabachnick's colleague at Talk2action, Bruce Wilson, wrote a blog post,  Christian Right Claims Both 2010 Hawaii Gubernatorial Candidates. It began with a quote from Ed Silvoso, a global NAR leader who is intimately involved with promoting the Ugandan "Kill the gays" law. The quote reads, "It doesn't matter if the Republican or the Democratic candidate wins the governorship [of Hawaii]. Either one is already in the kingdom".

The Democrat, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, is a Mormon, despite the fact that the NAR regards the Mormon church as being under demonic control — the same as the Catholic Church. NAR groups even go so far as to burn the Book of Mormon. They're a pretty tolerant lot — at least the Mormons among them like Hannemann are. The Republican. Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, is positively Palin-like in his NAR enthusiasms. Fortunately, longtime Democratic Congressman Neil Abercrombie entered the race and won. But there's no doubt the NAR will try again in Hawaii.

4. State-Level Prayer Warrior Networks Are Important.

As Wilder pointed out above, John Benefiel's Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network has a presence in all 50 states. Some states have other organizations as well. Collectively, these organizations, based on “spiritual mapping,” create a strong foundation for campaign organizing. “Prayer warriors” have already been mobilized in significant elections, such as the 2008 initiative banning gay marriage in California, and given their geographic foundations, their potential is considerable.

Wilder went on to say, “In Texas, for example, they've got one guy who's in charge of the whole state. He oversees 15 regions. Each has its own director. Below that, there's counties and even churches and precincts. So it's this beautifully put-together network that's both broad and deep, and these are committed, disciplined people.”

“These are not people living in caves,” Wilder added. “They function just fine in the secular world.”

Needless to say, their ideology of taking dominion over the government provides a strong motivational framework for keeping them dedicated, whereas most of the population's political interest fluctuates considerably over time. Particularly in light of widespread state-level GOP attacks on public worker unions, which normally provide a great deal of grass-roots organizational support for Democrats, these GOP-supporting networks could provide a crucial boost for GOP candidates, as well as helping to select who those general election candidates might be.

5. A “Rainbow Right” Could Play a Decisive Role in 2012.

Running against America's first black president, the GOP is going to need any edge it can find to gain minority inroads. The NAR is especially aggressive in recruiting minority leaders, and this could be disproportionately important in 2012.

“If Perry runs for president, success may depend on minority voters. The inclusion of minorities is an area where the NAR is strikingly different from old-school fundamentalists and Jerry Falwell's Religious Right,” Tabachnick said. “The NAR is trying to form what Bruce Wilson refers to as a 'Rainbow Coalition' in the Religious Right. Success could dramatically change voter patterns in this country.”

“It's surprisingly multiracial, that is, surprising if you you don't understand why,” Wilder said. Consequently, people should not expect The Response to be "this white bread crowd that people would expect Rick Perry, this white conservative male would be putting on. In fact, it's a pretty racially diverse movement of people, in part reflecting its deep involvement in overseas evangelizing."

“There's this interesting kind of veneer of racial reconciliation,” Wilder continued. “I wrote about in the article. There's this kind of instrumentality to it, not that it's not sincere, but there's a goal that's attached, trying to overcome racial problems within this community or Christianity or even conservatism, if you want to keep going with it. And that's that, at a base level, you look at what Lou Engel said. He wants a new breed of black prophets to rise up and use their social justice civil rights kind of bona fides to lend authenticity and credibility to the anti-abortion movement.”

“Thus far, they've had trouble getting everybody on the same page and the right wing continues to shoot itself in the foot with racism and radical immigration policies,” Tabachnick added. “But if you look at David Barton and many of the apostles, they are doing everything possible to rewrite history in a way that rebrands conservatives as the champions of Blacks, Latinos, Jews, etc., and liberals as the enemy.”

6. But Don't Take Talk of “Reconciliation” at Face Value.

As both Wilder and Tabachnick indicate, many of those drawn in by the NAR's talk of reconciliation are quite sincere. But what this actually means in practice is another matter altogether. It's not actually about hearing out real past grievances — particularly since Christianity itself often had a major role in legitimizing, even perpetrating those grievances in the first place, such as justifying Southern slavery with biblical arguments, as described by Larry E. Tise in his 1987 book,  Proslavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701-1840 Christianity played an equally important role in justifying the genocide of Native American peoples from the early colonial period onward, with Native Americans themselves often portrayed as demons.

Setting aside their revisionist history for the moment, there's the more immediate question of how to square the rhetoric of reconciliation with the reality of a  de facto  culture war. In a  guide to Talk2Action's articles on the NAR, put together last October, Tabachnick wrote that "they literally demonize religions outside of evangelicalism, including burning of Mormon, Catholic and Native American artifacts, and excursions in which they claim their 'spiritual warfare' supernaturally damages icons and infrastructure of other faiths."

A report from the Trinity Apostolic Prayer Network website describes one such ceremony — held in Olney, Texas, on April 21, 2007 — in which Native American artifacts were destroyed. The report has since been scrubbed but was saved by Talk2Action researchers. Central to this reconciliation ritual was the destruction of Native American artifacts, which had to be carried out by NAR-designated “representatives” of the Native American people. These were Jay Swallow, a prominent Native American “apostle” and Mark Wauahdooah, an NAR-affiliated Comanche. Picking up in the midst of a detailed description, we are told, “Jay then proceeded to lead Mark in the smashing of vessels. One vessel depicted the snakelike features of Leviathan, and the other depicted the Sun god, Baal. They were placed in trash bags, and Mark used a dogwood rod presented to Jay by Chuck Pierce to destroy the pottery. It shattered into many pieces at the joyous shouts of the body of Christ. Tom Schlueter, as an apostolic leader of the region, was invited by Jay and John to lead the group through the Divorce Decree. Then judgment was declared. The divorce was finalized. A crystal gavel (presented to Tom by Chuck Pierce) was used to declare the judgment...”

Finally, to round things off, the report noted, “A spirit of reconciliation was released as we embraced each other. There was a representation of Native American, Hispanic, Asian, African American and Anglo. What an awesome day!”

Not one Anglo-American artifact was destroyed, of course. What would the NAR leaders endorsing Perry's prayer event say to Native Americans who see such acts of cultural destruction as a continuation of past hostility, even genocide, rather than of reconciliation? Would they say that such Native Americans were possessed by demons? Would their answer be to smash still more artifacts? “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Is that the logic?

Surely, there are important questions here for intelligent reporters to ask.

7. The NAR's “Factual” Claims Don't Always Stand Up.

It's often said that  extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. NAR propaganda has plenty of extraordinary claims. But proof? Not so much. For example, consider the case of Kenyan witch-hunter Thomas Muthee. A video of Muthee anointing Sarah Palin came to light during the 2008 campaign, but little of the background involved made it into the corporate media. Far from being an obscure backwoods figure, Muthee was one of the stars of a 1999 video, the first in the Transformations series, a pseudo-documentary series advancing strategic-level spiritual warfare that is advertised as having been seen by 200 million people in 70 languages. Muthee's reputation was reputedly established by vanquishing a Kenyan “witch” around 1990, as recounted in that video. This then lead to a spiritual, moral and cultural revival, with plummeting crime rates and joy for all. There's just one problem: It's not true.

First off, the vanquished “witch” is actually a rival preacher, and she never went anywhere. On Oct. 15, 2008, a leading British newpaper,  The Telegraph , ran a story datelined Nairobi by Nick Wadhams,  "False claims exposed of Kenyan pastor who protected Sarah Palin from witches".

“In fact, Mama Jane never left. She is a pastor just down the road from Muthee's Word of Faith Church,” Wadhams reported. “'Muthee was saying that this was a place of witch doctors. Where do you see the witch?' said Mama Jane, whose real name is Jane Njenga.”

Further down, Wadham wrote, “Rival pastors in Kiambu now denounce Muthee for his treatment of Mama Jane. 'You cannot make personal gain on crucifying a woman,' said an ally of Mama Jane, Pastor Gideon Maina. 'As a man of God, you don't make your name by stepping on other people's names.'”

Nor were Muthee's claims of dramatic quality-of-life improvements backed up by facts, either. Indeed, a nine-page  2002 letter from Dutch Christian work group "Back to the Bible" found numerous factual problems in the various segments of the first two “Transformations” videos that had been released at the time. Regarding Muthee's claims, they wrote, “We are told in the video that this area had the worst reputation in the land and was full of violence and rape. But this is not backed up by police reports, authorities of justice or any other official source. There are also no official reports of reform because of the “revival.” We do realize that often things work differently in an African land, so we consulted the magazine “Internationale Samenwerking” (International Co-operation) of the Dutch Ministry of development aid. In this paper, there is no report of a decline in crime during the last years in Kenya.”

Not everything in the videos is false, of course. But when it comes to matters that routinely are documented by authorities, the NAR's record for truthfulness does not warrant any reporter treating them as a reliable source.

8. NAR-Related “History” Often Stands Real History on Its Head.

Blaming liberals and Democrats for America's racist past is par for the course in NAR circles. They are hardly alone in this, however. They heavily rely on self-trained “historian” David Barton, along with many others, not just on the religious right, but among conservatives and Republicans more generally. Barton is also quite popular for his “historical” arguments that America was established as a Christian nation — a claim that professional historians reject with mountains of evidence to the contrary, not least the  1797 Treaty of Tripoli, which explicitly states, "The Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

Barton's argument blaming liberals and Democrats for America's racism depends on a double deception: First, Barton focuses on pre-1960s history, the time period when the national Democratic Party decisively broke with its racist past — and set in motion the long-term decline of its support among Southern whites, which Republicans immediately took advantage of with Barry Goldwater's candidacy in 1964, when his home state of Arizona was the only non-Southern state the GOP carried — a complete reversal of the 1956 election.

This minor detail — later cemented into the long-term electoral “Southern Strategy” under Richard Nixon — is completely missing from Barton's account. A second deception is that Barton presents the impression that racist Democrats — who predominated most heavily in the South — were synonymous with liberals, while anti-racist Republicans were conservatives. Both impressions are historically false. Indeed, anti-racist Republicans in the 1960s were the much-maligned “Rockefeller Republicans,” who movement conservatives worked very hard to drive out of the party.

Yet, the NAR goes much further than Barton in creating its own alternative history. In her book  Bridging the Racial and Political Divide: How Godly Politics Can Transform A Nation , Texas apostle Alice Peterson not only ignores the mass exodus of racist whites from the Democratic Party, she asserts a continuity over time based on an “invisible network of evil comprising an  unholy structure, ” which she then identifies with the biblical figure Jezebel, interpreted not as the human figure she actually is in the Bible, but instead as a demon, a typical example of how the NAR reinvents the Bible for their own political purposes. Since the same demon has been associated with the Democrats at least since the 1860s, mere matters like LBJ's heroic arm-twisting passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — and Nixon's race-based “Southern Strategy” to lock up Southern whites for the GOP — are without any historical significance so far as Peterson is concerned. Lest anyone question her too closely, Peterson assures us that she has actually  seen the demon Jezebel with her own two eyes — and not only Jezebel, but a few smaller demons underneath her skirt.

9. Be Skeptical About NAR's Self-Proclaimed “Christianity.”

Like many conservative Christians, members of the NAR are often quick to dismiss other Christians they don't agree with, so it's probably not a good idea to do the same with them.

Yet, it would not be good, thorough reporting to ignore the fact that, mentioned above, other conservative Christians have been highly critical of NAR doctrines and practices, often labeling them “unbiblical.” I've already cited the Assembly of God's warnings from 2000. Additionally, the letter from the Dutch Christian work group "Back to the Bible" mentioned above, criticized NAR's unbiblical teachings as well at the factual errors in the Transformations videos. Another extensive critique can be found in the 2002 book  Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare: A Modern Mythology? by Bishop Michael Reid, who has three degrees from Oral Roberts University, including an honorary Doctorate of Divinity, and a gay sex scandal just licked Wagner's long-time close associate, Ted Haggard. Other critical voices from conservative Christians can be easily found online, repeating many of the same criticisms.

As stated earlier, Wagner brags that the NAR is the most significant change in how Christianity is practiced since the Protestant Reformation, and all these critics agree — except, they say, it's changed so much that it's no longer consistent with the Bible.

A Call to Question

This is hardly an exhaustive list of potential stories that in no way depend on fireworks at The Response this coming Saturday. But they are certainly enough to show that there's no shortage of explosive material lurking just beneath the surface, waiting to be more fully explored.

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