The Biggest Religious Movement You Never Heard of: Nine Things You Need to Know About Rick Perry's Prayer Event
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When Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided to stage a Texas-size prayer event — dubbed “The Response” — on Aug. 6, it no doubt seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It received little critical scrutiny when he announced it back in early June, except on websites that track these sorts of things. But after Rachel Maddow, drawing on these sites, did a segment highlighting some of the more bizarre statements made by Perry's high-profile religious endorsers, things cooled considerably — even though the real story is still not remotely well-understood.
“Perry’s endorsers are not just a random group of radical evangelists making outrageous statements,” researcher Rachel Tabachnick subsequently wrote at Alternet.org. “These are the apostles and prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), the biggest international religious movement you never heard of.” Almost simultaneously, investigative reporter Forrest Wilder of the Texas Observer published an extensive article on Perry's prayer event and his endorsers, “Rick Perry's Army of God.”
The NAR's intellectual godfather, C. Peter Wagner, one of Perry's early endorsers, brags that it's the most significant change in how Christianity is practiced since the Protestant Reformation. Like him or not, in a sense he's right: With tens, even hundreds of millions of followers worldwide, the NAR's stress on Godlike prophetic and apostolic powers, its revisions of end-time prophecies, its methodology of “spiritual warfare,” and its agenda of theocratic dominion over all aspects of society are not just threatening to modern secular democracy and the religious pluralism it protects, they have been sharply criticized by other conservative Christians as unbiblical, deviant teachings, even a form of the very demonic practices they obsessively declare war against. Indeed, the Assemblies of God — the largest Pentecostal denomination in America — condemned some of the NAR's teachings and practices as “deviant” in 2000, though Tabachnick told me that many within the denomination have since embraced the movement.
Wilder told me they were going to “tone it down a little bit to make it less overt in terms of the particular set of beliefs and practices that most of the people behind the event hold.” So, probably no talk about taking over government, sex with demons or Oprah Winfrey as a harbinger of the Antichrist — the sort of more alarming tidbits Maddow highlighted.
But if America's mainstream media reporters think this turns Perry's prayer meeting into a nonevent, they couldn't be more mistaken. There might not be any “gotcha!” moments to be had — although anything is possible — but with 15 long months of campaigning ahead and multiple other candidates courting the same, poorly understood religious constituency, there is a wealth of potential insights to be gathered that could prove invaluable down the road. What's more, the failure to explore and understand the multiple intersections of religion and politics has repeatedly exacted a terrible toll over the past 30 years of media consolidation, which has seen more and more talking heads, as frontline reporting has withered on the vine. Failure to understand the politico-religious dynamics of far-off Afghanistan in the 1980s resulted in all sorts of mayhem there — and eventually in the 9/11 attacks.
So what are some of the stories the media ought to be looking at, coming out of The Response, regardless of whether there are any instant YouTube classics or not? Without trying to dictate what others should write, one can glean some helpful tips from those who've ventured in early. Here are nine underreported stories worth considering:
1.“The Response” Is Not a Broadly Representative Christian Event.
There's a heavy concentration of NAR figures among the endorsers, with several other of the most prominent figures joining Wagner, including Mike Bickle, founder of the Kansas City–based International House of Prayer (IHOP), Dr. John Benefiel, head of the Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network of Oklahoma City, and Cindy Jacobs of Generals International. Tabachnick ticked off a list of NAR endorsers, starting with five from IHOP: Luis and Jill Cataldo, IHOP staff members in Kansas City; Randy and Kelsey Bohlender of IHOP and The Call; Apostle Doug Stringer; and Dave Silker of IHOP.
“This is not a random cross-section of conservative Christians,” Wilder told me. “There is such an emphasis and disproportionate number of people that are very closely tied together, affiliated with this strain of neo-pentecostalism or charismatic movement, that it cannot be an accident.”
They aren't the only ones involved, of course. The Texas GOP has been avidly recruiting conservative Christians of all stripes for deep political involvement since the mid-1990s. Former state party vice-chair David Barton, a self-taught revisionist historian, has played a key role in this process. (He, too, is an endorser.) However, with the NAR's keen interest in establishing Christian dominion over politics as part of their “Seven Mountains” strategy (more on this below), it's no coincidence that they are significantly overrepresented.
2. Perry Is Not the Only Potential GOP Nominee Specifically Courting the NAR.
According to Tabachnick, writing about Perry's announcement in June, GOP candidates competing for NAR support “include Sarah Palin, who has an over 20-year relationship with Alaskan Apostle Mary Glazier; Newt Gingrich, who was anointed by Lou Engle on an internationally televised broadcast in 2009; Michelle Bachman; Rick Santorum; and now, apparently, Rick Perry.”
“It's not just the NAR infiltrating government,” Wilder told me. “I think — my observation — they are sought out, often by the politicians themselves.”
“Politicians of any type, want to go where the energy is, they want to go where the votes are.” Wilder continued. “They want to go where there are people who put together a network. These folks put together a tremendous network. For example, you look at the Heartland Apostolic Network — they have a presence in 50 states.”
In addition to cultivating NAR leadership, candidates can publicly identify themselves with the NAR without anyone else being the wiser. Like many other movements, the NAR has its own lingo, which allows politicians to speak directly to NAR members in coded language, directly soliciting their support, telling them "I'm one of you" without anyone else realizing what's being said. This happened repeatedly in 2008, when Palin openly talked about “prayer warriors.”
Another NAR phrase Tabachnick wrote about in September 2010 is “the head and not the tail,” although she points out that others use the phrase quite differently. For the NAR, however, Tabachnick identified the phrase as the “battle cry for the Seven Mountains Campaign.” That's how the NAR conceives of its dominionist agenda: taking control of the “Seven Mountains,” or culture-shaping spheres that dominate human society: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family, and religion.
By becoming “the head and not the tail” of these seven spheres, the NAR aims to establish complete dominance of human society around the world. Speaking like this sends a powerful message about much more than just opposing abortion or gay marriage, yet the words can pass by unnoticed by reporters unfamiliar with the NAR.
3. Perry Is Not the Only State-Level Figure Connected to the NAR.
A key aspect of the NAR is its emphasis on “spiritual warfare,” which grew out of Wagner's decades of earlier work on church growth. Over time, Wagner came to believe that church growth was limited in some places because of demonic power. At first, attention was focused on the process of “spiritual mapping,” a geographical approach to demon-fighting. More recently, this has been presented in terms of “Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare,” described as part of a three-tiered approach, as Talk2action.org explains in its glossary of NAR terms: