How a growing Christian movement of self-proclaimed 'prophets' gave religious motivation for the US Capitol riot

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Brad Christerson, Biola University

In addition to symbols of white supremacy, many of the rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6 carried signs bearing religious messages, such as “Jesus Saves" and “In God We Trust" while others chanted “Jesus is my savior and Trump is my president." In a video interview, one of those who breached the Senate floor describes holding a prayer to “consecrate it to Jesus" soon after entering.

Many white evangelical leaders have provided religious justification and undying support for Trump's presidency, including his most racially incendiary rhetoric and policies. But as a scholar of religion, I argue that a particular segment of white evangelicalism that my colleague Richard Flory and I call Independent Network Charismatic, or INC, has played a unique role in providing a spiritual justification for the movement to overturn the election which resulted in the storming of the Capitol.

INC Christianity is a group of high-profile independent leaders who are detached from any formal denomination and cooperate with one another in loose networks.

Prayer marches

In the days and hours leading up to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 the group Jericho March organized marches around the Capitol and Supreme Court building praying for God to defeat the “dark and corrupt" forces that they claimed, without evidence, had stolen the election from God's anointed president – Donald Trump.

Jericho March is a loose coalition of Christian nationalists formed after the 2020 presidential election with the goal of overturning its results. Leading up to and following the Capitol violence, their website stated: “We are proud of the American system of governance established by our Founding Fathers and we will not let globalists, socialists, and communists destroy our beautiful nation by sidestepping our laws and suppressing the will of the American people through their fraudulent and illegal activities in this election." This statement as well as others were removed some time after the Capitol riot.

Jericho March's main activity has been organizing prayer marches around Capitol buildings around the nation after the election, imitating the “battle of Jericho" in the Bible. In this biblical battle God commanded the army of his chosen people, the nation of Israel, to blow trumpets and then march around the city walls until God brought the walls down and allowed Israel to invade and conquer the city. According to the Bible, this was the first battle that the nation won in its conquest of Canaan, the “promised land" that it occupied afterward.

Jericho March's activities culminated in a large prayer rally on Dec. 12 in Washington, D.C., that included prayer marches and speeches on the mall by convicted and pardoned former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Trump-supporting founder of MyPillow Mike Lindell and far-right Oathkeepers militia founder Stewart Rhodes.

Michael Flynn among other speakers at a Jericho March rally.

They also held prayer marches and vigils around the Supreme Court and Capitol surrounding the Jan. 6 election certification. Jericho March members believe that their prayer marches will help defeat the corrupt forces they claim, without the basis of any evidence, “stole" the election and that God will install Trump in his rightful place as president on Jan. 20.

Their strategy is peaceful prayer marches, however. After the Capitol violence they released this statement: “Jericho March denounces any and all acts of violence and destruction, including any that took place at the U.S. Capitol."

There is no evidence that anyone affiliated with the Jericho March organization took part in the Capitol breach. However, their leaders, I argue, are providing the religious motivation for the fight to overturn the election. Here's why.

'Prophets' and Charismatic Christianity

A key part of the Jericho March events has been a group of INC Christians who claim to be modern-day “prophets," including Lance Wallnau, Cindy Jacobs and Jonathan Cahn.
Charismatic Christianity, similar to Pentecostal Christianity, emphasizes the “gifts of the Holy Spirit," which include healing, exorcism, speaking in spiritual languages, and prophecy – defined as hearing direct words from God that reveal his plans for the future and directions for his people to follow.

Scholars use the term Charismatic to describe Christians in mainline or independent churches that emphasize the gifts of the spirit as opposed to Pentecostal Christians, who are affiliated with official Pentecostal denominations. Independent Charismatic Christians tend to be more unorthodox in their practices, as they are less tied to formal organizations.

In our research, we found that in most Charismatic churches, those who receive visions or direct words from God that make predictions that later correspond to events or have uncanny insights into people's lives are seen to have the “gift of prophecy." Some particularly gifted “prophets" are seen as being able to predict world events and get directions from God regarding entire nations.

While most Charismatic churches do not engage in this world-event predicting type of prophecy, some independent, high-profile leaders that do have become increasingly important in INC Christianity.

'Seven mountains of culture'

Before the 2016 election a group of INC “prophets" proclaimed Trump to be God's chosen candidate, similar to King Cyrus in the Bible, whom God used to restore the nation of Israel. After their prophesies of Trump's winning the election came true, these “prophets" became enormously popular in INC Christianity.

In our book, we showed that INC Christianity is significantly changing the religious landscape in America – and the nation's politics – by providing an unorthodox theology to promote conservative Christians rising to power in all realms of society. It is the fastest-growing Christian group in America.

Between 1970 to 2010, the number of regular attenders of U.S. Protestant churches as a whole shrank by an average of .05% per year. At the same time, independent Charismatic churches, a category in which INC groups reside, grew in attendance by an average of 3.24% per year. According to the World Christian Database there are over 36 million people attending U.S. independent Charismatic churches – that is, those not affiliated with denominations.

INC beliefs are different from those of most traditional Christian groups, including those affiliated with official Pentecostal denominations. INC promotes a form of Christian nationalism the primary goal of which is not to build congregations or to convert individuals, but to bring heaven or God's intended perfect society to Earth by placing “kingdom-minded people" in powerful positions at the top of all sectors of society, the so-called “seven mountains of culture" comprising government, business, family, religion, media, education and arts/entertainment.

One INC leader we interviewed in 2015 explained, “If Christians permeate each mountain and rise to the top of all seven mountains … society would have biblical morality, people would live in harmony, there would be peace and not war, there would be no poverty." They see Trump as fulfilling God's plan to place “kingdom-minded" leaders in top government positions, including Cabinet members and Supreme Court appointments.

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Trump as God's chosen president

Many of those referred to as prophets in INC Christianity predicted another Trump victory in 2020. After his Nov. 3 loss, many we have studied have not recanted their prophecies, and have adopted Trump's conspiratorial rhetoric that the election was fraudulent. Many believe that the demonic forces that have stolen the election can still be defeated through prayer.

For INC Christianity's “prophets," Trump is God's chosen candidate to advance the kingdom of God in America, so any other candidate, no matter what the vote totals show, is illegitimate.The Conversation

Brad Christerson, Professor of Sociology, Biola University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center is so embarrassing that even conservative student evangelicals want it shut down: graduate

At Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, the Falkirk Center has been devoted to all things Trump—including the president's debunked conspiracy theories involving the 2020 presidential election. And according to Liberty University graduate Calem Best, the Falkirk Center is such an embarrassment that even right-wing evangelical students want it gone from the campus.

The Falkirk Center was founded by former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. and far-right Republican activist Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA. Together, Falwell and Kirk promoted President Donald Trump relentlessly, which is ironic in light of the fact that Liberty University embodies a severe form of evangelical fundamentalist Christianity and Trump — according to his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and many others — had extramarital affairs with porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal and paid them hush money to keep quiet.

In an article for the conservative website The Bulwark, Best explains, "If you're already thinking that a Fal–Kirk partnership sounds like the opposite of a good idea, you're correct. Liberty University is the Center's institutional home, providing it with funding, staff, office space, camera equipment, and tax-exempt status for receiving donations. In return, Falkirk churns out a steady stream of propaganda aimed at convincing Christian conservatives they are oppressed victims in society, church, politics, culture, child-rearing, and every other dimension of life."

Falwell, Jr. was recently forced out of Liberty University, which was founded by his late father — the Moral Majority's Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr. — and the younger Falwell, according to Best, "is presumably now uninvolved with the Falkirk Center."

"As one might expect, the Falkirk Center integrates its co-founders' specialties," Best explains. "From Falwell, a constant mixing of politics and religion and a nonchalant self-confidence. From Charlie Kirk, well, just memes and social media savvy. If you don't have the time or desire to engage with Falkirk's content, just imagine the Turning Point USA, #BigGovSucks style of graphics, but with less design acumen. Or PragerU, but with less sophistry and more naked appeals to religious nationalism."

The Falkirk Center has repeatedly promoted the debunked conspiracy theory that Trump really won the 2020 presidential election and was the victim of widespread voter fraud. In fact, President-elect Joe Biden enjoyed a decisive victory, winning 306 electoral votes and defeating Trump by more than 7 million in the popular vote.

"Much of Falkirk's content is facially ridiculous, deceptive, or easily debunked," Best observes. "But that's because Falkirk is not selling truth. Like any propaganda outlet, Falkirk melds partial truths with distortions to create a coherent worldview — one that comforts the audience while misleading it. There is no other way to explain the debunked claims of election fraud that Falkirk treats seriously, or the consistently shoddy interpretations of the Bible and history that would be considered sophomoric in Liberty's own undergraduate classes. The Falkirk Center doesn't even do a good job at creating alternate realities."

Best adds that Falkirk "engages in revisionist mythmaking, implying that Jerry Falwell, Sr. started the Moral Majority to restore the morality of our nation, when in reality a power-hungry Falwell did it out of fury that he and his televangelist friends had lost tax-exempt status for their segregationist schools."

Falwell, Sr. was a major segregationist during the 1950s and 1960s, aggressively defending Jim Crow laws from the pulpit and insisting that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was unchristian for opposing them.

"The Falkirk Center is just another right-wing slime factory that undermines any good-faith conservative movement, and it's a slime factory that uses my alma mater and my faith as stamps of legitimacy," Best argues. " Like the hundreds of Liberty University students who recently signed a petition calling for Falkirk's dissolution, I've had to explain to countless people that I am not one of those Liberty University grads, not one of those Christians."

Best, now a high school math teacher in Memphis, graduated from Liberty University in May 2020—and he founded an organization called Save71, described by The Bulwark as "an organization devoted to bringing reform to" the college he attended.

"I don't put much stock in Liberty's board any longer, and it's disappointing that the former board chairman, who failed the school by letting Falwell run free for years, is now Liberty's acting president," Best explains. "But I remember when people told me that Falwell would be president forever, and they were wrong, so I have hope. The Falkirk Center should be excised like a tumor from Liberty University."

Franklin Graham slammed for 'inciting violence' after comparing Republicans who voted to impeach to 'Judas'

Evangelical leader and top Trump religion advisor Franklin Graham is under fire Thursday after attacking Republican Members of Congress who voted to impeach President Donald Trump, to "Judas," the biblical times apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ.

"Shame, shame on the ten Republicans who joined with @SpeakerPelosi & the House Democrats in impeaching President Trump yesterday," Graham said on Twitter. "After all that he has done for our country, you would turn your back & betray him so quickly? What was done yesterday only further divides our nation."

Graham also suggested they were paid off to vote against Trump, a dangerous allegation especially just one week after MAGA domestic terrorists and insurgents committed murder and sedition.

"House Democrats impeached him because they hate him and want to do as much damage as they can," Graham also charged on Facebook. "And these ten, from his own party, joined in the feeding frenzy. It makes you wonder what the thirty pieces of silver were that Speaker Pelosi promised for this betrayal."

Pushback was strong, and some of it coming from those who clearly identify as Christian.

Some also noted that these Republican lawmakers are now getting death threats, and Graham targeting them on social media is akin to Trump's incitement of violence itself. Graham is one of the most followed and well-known religious leaders in the country. He has 2.3 million followers on Twitter, and 9.5 million on Facebook, where he also shared his dangerous condemnation.

The Trump administration’s final push to make it easier for religious employers to discriminate

It was the hectic week before Thanksgiving, and Amrith Kaur — the legal director of an advocacy group called the Sikh Coalition — was not prepared for a surprise update from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that could have dramatic consequences for her clients.

With little warning, the EEOC published a 112-page overhaul of its guidance on religious discrimination in the workplace. The feedback period was proceeding with no time to spare — she would have to file any comments by Dec. 17.

“To my knowledge, that was the first time that pretty much everybody heard about it," said Kaur, who was busy handling home schooling for her children, ages 8 and 10, when the announcement popped up. “There's so much happening, and I think it's very strategic the way this was brought out."

The guidance is among scores of last-minute actions that ProPublica is tracking on their way through the approval process, many of them accelerating as it became clear that President Donald Trump's time in office would end on Jan. 20.

The EEOC's guidance explains the complicated statutes and legal precedent that govern how employers must deal with religious freedom issues in the workplace. It doesn't have the force of law, but it can be cited in lawsuits, and it serves as a manual for managers navigating thorny situations.

As she dug into the document's dense language and footnotes, Kaur was particularly distressed because of what she found to be a slant toward large Christian employers like colleges and social service agencies, rather than smaller religions like Sikhism, which face widespread prejudice. For example, in recent days, she's had to focus on advising health care workers who keep long beards as part of their religious practice. Some hospitals and nursing homes ban facial hair to ensure a proper fit for face masks, but Kaur has been able to work out accommodations that are both COVID-19-safe and allow medical staff to observe their faith — which the new guidance doesn't address.

As the comment period ended, dozens of other civil rights groups and Democratic leaders filed letters appealing for more time and agreeing that the new guidance could allow for more discrimination under the guise of religious freedom, rather than less.

Unlike many midnight regulations that President-elect Joe Biden could roll back, the EEOC commissioners have multiyear terms, so the Biden administration won't be able to change the board's composition until 2022. Meanwhile, Kaur fears that adverse case law could accumulate. “It is our belief that these proposed changes in the manual, and what I think is a clear bias towards Christian viewpoints at the expense of all others, it's just going to have profound negative effects for years to come," she said.

Most administrations kick rule-making into high gear once they know their party is leaving the White House, and Trump's is no exception. A flood of new entries in the Federal Register includes several rules and guidance documents that widen lanes for religious institutions to exclude those who do not share their faith, or narrow the options for beneficiaries of federal programs who feel uncomfortable receiving services in a religious context.

Some of the freshly finalized rules codify an executive order that Trump issued in 2018 declaring that faith-based organizations should have full access to government grant programs without having to modify their operations. They deliver on the promises that Trump made to evangelical Christians during his presidential run, and which he and Vice President Mike Pence campaigned on again in 2020 — the White House's website contains 228 mentions of “religious freedom," in posted speeches, press releases and other official statements.

Earlier in the term, Trump's religious freedom agenda focused on the Department of Health and Human Services, which adopted a rule that protects health care providers who object to certain procedures — namely abortion — on religious grounds, among a host of other actions. Even now, HHS is witholding funds from states that require their insurance plans to cover abortion.

Later, Trump moved on to further integrating religious organizations into the operations of government itself.

In an October interview with the Religion News Service, Trump touted his administration's work to install religious freedom liaisons in every Cabinet agency. “Led by Pastor Paula White, this Initiative is working to remove barriers which have unfairly prevented faith based organizations from working with or receiving funding from the federal government," Trump said in a written Q&A.

On that front, the first big change finalized Dec. 7 was at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, an agency within the Labor Department that enforces compliance with civil rights laws among recipients of federal dollars. The new rule clarifies that private companies can qualify as “religious employers" under certain conditions, and that religious employers may deny positions to people who do not subscribe and adhere to their faith. That could include not hiring people in same-sex relationships or someone of a different religion.

Advocates for marginalized communities say that the rules open the door for religious institutions to use faith as a pretext for firing or simply declining to hire people whom they would prefer not to employ because of other factors — such as sexual orientation or medical disability — even though discriminating on those bases is still illegal.

“If that employer just throws up their hands and says 'RFRA!' it's like a get out of jail free card," said Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow, referring to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that strengthened the test for what can be considered a burden on the free exercise of religion.

Religious employers say that situation likely won't occur often, but they still supported the change. Jamison Coppola, legislative director of the American Association of Christian Schools, said that most people who work for his member institutions accept that abiding by faith-based principles is part of the deal.

“It's a rare occurrence where people enter an employment decision and then realize, 'Oh, I guess we have some difference of opinion about this,'" Coppola said. “I just think that we don't run into it that often, because of how we approach the totality of what we're trying to do as an assembly of believers."

Among the largest supporters of the rule was Catholic Charities, which, according to, received approximately $189 million in federal contracts and grants in 2020 across all of its affiliated organizations.

The second change, finalized a few days later after a lightning-fast trip through the Office of Management and Budget, was a joint effort of nine agencies that elaborated on the religious freedom exemptions for recipients of their own spending. It gets rid of the earlier requirement that religious providers of federally funded social services, from food banks to job training, provide referrals to secular alternatives. In the case of “indirect" aid that travels with the beneficiary, like child care and housing vouchers, it eliminates the requirement that there must be a secular option available.

The concerns with those rules center around the possible exclusion of people who may feel uncomfortable getting aid in an explicitly religious setting, even if providers are not allowed to proselytize as part of the programming.

“They are really putting what they believe are the interests of these large social service providers ahead of the people who receive the service," said Maggie Garrett, vice president of public policy at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Their priority is not the LGBTQ youth who is seeking services because they were kicked out of their home."

Not all religious organizations — or even Christian organizations — support the changes. Some have recommended that the requirements for secular alternatives be kept because of the delicate political balancing that has gone into these rules over the years.

“It eased peoples' conscience or concerns about having more faith-based groups be involved in these services," said Stanley Carlson-Thies, founder and senior director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, which represents Christian employers. Now, he fears a backlash.

“I personally don't know of anybody who was asking for this change, but there it is, and I don't think it's a good change," Carlson-Thies said. “And I think that one thing that's going to happen is that the next administration is going to go through a regulatory process and take those out, and they'll do other things too that to my mind won't be so positive."

Finally, the Trump administration is moving forward with its guidance for all employers, whether they contract with the federal government or not, through the EEOC.

The last time the agency updated its religious freedom guidance, in 2008, it went through an expansive, yearslong process that incorporated feedback from a panoply of groups that represent faith communities and those impacted by them, such as advocates for LGBTQ people and women's reproductive rights.

Trump's EEOC has shifted its emphasis toward supporting the rights of religious employers and employees. For example, it took up the case of two Kroger employees who were fired after they objected to wearing a rainbow heart emblem on their uniforms, which they interpreted as a symbol of support for gay rights.

In a November online forum hosted by the conservative Federalist Society, EEOC General Counsel Sharon Fast Gustafson articulated the new focus. “The EEOC has an interest in the courts getting all aspects of employment discrimination right, whether getting it right helps the employee, or whether getting it right helps the employer," she said. “Religious liberty has been a high priority for the current administration, where everyone I have spoken with has been unequivocally supportive of religious liberty for all."

However, many religious groups felt left out of the process that led to the EEOC's new guidance.

The updates were put together in the wake of a landmark Supreme Court decision in June that declared gender identity and sexual orientation to be protected classes in an employment context, making it much more difficult to discriminate against gay, lesbian or transgender people in the workplace. EEOC spokeswoman Christine Nazer said the new guidance was drafted by the agency's office of legal counsel, with no input from external stakeholders.

Many groups that closely track religious freedom issues found out about the updates during a three-day listening session convened by the commission's Religious Freedom Work Group, which is led by Assistant General Counsel Christine Lambrou Johnson. According to her LinkedIn profile, Lambrou Johnson is a member of the Christian Legal Society, which describes itself as “a fellowship of Christians dedicated to serving Jesus Christ through the practice and study of law, the defense of religious freedom and life, and the provision of legal aid to the needy."

Nazer said the Religious Freedom Work Group's duties are separate from the development of the guidance, and that the commission voted to publish the guidance for public comment on Nov. 9, giving additional time for discussion. But at that meeting, the body's two Democratic commissioners said that they hadn't had enough time to provide input or that it was rejected by the commission's Republican members. The Democratic commissioners also raised questions about the legal soundness of some of the guidance's interpretations and pleaded for the vote to be delayed. It wasn't.

In addition to liberally interpreting exemptions from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for religious employers to hire and fire on religious grounds, the guidance also raises the bar for intervention when one employee might be harassing another on religious grounds. And it says little about some of the common questions raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the Sikh nurses that Kaur has been helping negotiate accommodations with hospitals, which would be easier if the EEOC had set out a clear position.

In response to these concerns, Nazer said that the commission is “carefully considering all of the comments provided to us by our stakeholders as we finalize the guidance."

Kaur is not comforted.

“Manuals like this, that are sort of taken as law even though they're not, are what our government is going to rely on to make a decision on whether discrimination took place," Kaur said. “We have the Title VII protections in the Civil Rights Act for a reason, and to try and decimate it in a way that's not supported by the law is a sad and disappointing attempt at getting around having to be fair to everybody."

Far-right white evangelicals will miss Trump dearly — even though he knows next to nothing about the Bible

The Christian Right is in mourning over President Donald Trump being voted out of office. Pat Robertson, the far-right evangelical who founded the Christian Broadcasting Network, has declared that the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on January 20, 2021 must be prevented, saying, "We will not give up this great country. And Satan, you cannot have it." But the irony is that the incoming president is much more religious than Trump, who has demonstrated how little he knows about Christianity and the Bible.

Although Trump was raised Presbyterian, religion was never a high priority in his life. But when he ran for president in 2016, Trump realized that the Christian Right was a prominent voting bloc in the GOP and went out of his way to pander to the far-right White evangelicals he had no connection to in the past. The Trump of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s was more of a Blue Dog Democrat than a GOP culture warrior, and he spent a lot more time in casinos than in churches.

Journalist Ed Kilgore, in an article published by New York Magazine on December 17, notes Trump's history of butchering Biblical references during his speeches.

Kilgore explains, "Before Donald Trump became the very favorite politician of White conservative evangelicals, he was regularly a figure of sport for displaying exceptional ignorance in all matters religious. A particularly rich example of his clumsiness occurred when he was campaigning at evangelical stronghold Liberty University early in 2016 and tried to quote a Bible verse that was very familiar to the audience, since it's etched on several buildings there."

Kilgore adds that there were many other "religious gaffes Trump committed while stumping for votes" in 2016.

"On another occasion along the campaign trail," Kilgore recalls, "Trump was asked about his favorite line of scripture. He delivered a word salad for a while and finally tried to recall 'an eye for an eye,' not the sort of thing Christians of any variety consider normative for the faith of the Prince of Peace…... Just prior to the Iowa caucuses, Trump was in a Council Bluffs church when a plate came down the pews with communion bread on it. The billionaire misidentified it as a collection plate and put a couple of bills on it."

Kilgore also notes that in 2017, Trump met with two Presbyterian minsters and was surprised to learn that they didn't consider themselves evangelicals but rather, described themselves as "Mainline Protestants."

Of course, anyone with even a basic knowledge of Christianity realizes that Presbyterians aren't evangelicals any more than Episcopalians or Lutherans — two other examples of Mainline Protestants — are evangelicals. And there's no way that either Biden, a devout Catholic, or former President Barack Obama, a Mainline Protestant, would have made that mistake or confused a communion plate with a collection plate. Unlike Trump, Biden and Obama both have a long history of being churchgoing Christians and obviously have an extensive knowledge of the Bible.

If Pat Robertson were to sit down with Biden or Obama, they could have an in-depth conversation about scripture. Yet Robertson, like much of the Christian Right, adores Trump while hating Biden and Obama — which underscores the deeply tribalist nature of the Christian Right.

The Christian Right has long been a hate movement, and it is as much about White nationalism and far-right identity politics as it is about Protestant fundamentalism. The late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr., founder of Liberty University and co-founder of the Moral Majority, was a notorious segregationist during the 1950s and 1960s, when he vigorously defended Jim Crow laws in the pulpit and argued that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a not a true Christian because of his anti-segregation views. During the 1980s, Falwell defended the racist apartheid regime in South African and encouraged Christians to buy krugerrands to support it.

The late Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater, known for being an arch-conservative in his day, was vehemently critical of Falwell and the Christian Right during the 1980s — describing them as dangerous fanatics and warning that the GOP was making a huge mistake by allying itself with that movement. But many Republicans ignored Goldwater, much to the GOP's detriment.

To the Christian Right and far-right White evangelicals, the fact that Biden and Obama are more religious than Trump is irrelevant. Robertson, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, James Dobson (founder of Focus on the Family) and other evangelical Trump supporters are extreme tribalists, and they view Trump as part of their tribe — which is why Trump got a pass when, according to his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, he had extramarital affairs with a porn star (Stormy Daniels) and a Playboy model (Karen McDougal) and paid them hush money to keep quiet.

Trump repeatedly attacked Biden as anti-Christian during his 2020 presidential campaign. But in 2017, Trump didn't even know the difference between Presbyterians and evangelicals.

The Christian Right will miss Trump dearly when he leaves off on January 20, 2021. And no matter how much Biden goes to church or accurately quotes the Bible, it won't matter to the far-right evangelical extremists who value White identity politics above all else.

North Carolina church's Christmas musical leads to 75 people and counting contracting COVID-19

A North Carolina church's Christmas caroling event has been identified as a super spreader event with 75 individuals testing positive for COVID-19 just days after attending the holiday event. That number could increase in the coming days.

According to The Daily Beast, contact tracing efforts have led the Henderson County Health Department to link a growing number of COVID cases to First Baptist Church of Hendersonville.

On Thursday, Dec. 17, the health department released a statement about the Dec. 5 church service. While the statement did confirm 75 individuals linked to the service had tested positive, it still remains unclear whether or not they all attended the service or were exposed to someone else who did.

"To date, the Health Department has identified 75 individuals who have tested positive as a result of the event," the statement reads. "The Health Department is working to identify any additional close contacts of these individuals."

The COVID announcement was also added to the church's Facebook page. The publication reports that the alarming post quickly caught the attention of social media users as others began announcing cancellations of other events in the area.

Weekend Worship // December 6th, 2020

With a small-town population of only 14,000, the latest super spreader event has alarmed local officials. The public health department also expressed concern about other events that have potentially contributed to increases in cases in the area as they warned against holiday gatherings.

"Henderson County continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases generated from social gatherings such as parties, family, and neighborhood get-togethers," the statement added. "To help reduce the spread of COVID-19 at private social gatherings the Health Department urges residents to avoid large get-togethers and to continue practice of the 3Ws: Wear a face covering, Wait six feet apart and Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer."

As of Friday, Dec. 18, the United States has reported more than 17.6 million coronavirus cases. The COVID-related death toll has now surpassed 300,000.

Here's how the Bible contradicts itself over key details about Jesus' birth

by Rodolfo Galvan Estrada III, Fuller Theological Seminary

Every Christmas, a relatively small town in the Palestinian West Bank comes center stage: Bethlehem. Jesus, according to some biblical sources, was born in this town some two millennia ago.

Yet the New Testament Gospels do not agree about the details of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. Some do not mention Bethlehem or Jesus' birth at all.

The Gospels' different views might be hard to reconcile. But as a scholar of the New Testament, what I argue is that the Gospels offer an important insight into the Greco-Roman views of ethnic identity, including genealogies.

Today, genealogies may bring more awareness of one's family medical history or help uncover lost family members. In the Greco-Roman era, birth stories and genealogical claims were used to establish rights to rule and link individuals with purported ancestral grandeur.

Gospel of Matthew

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the first Gospel in the canon of the New Testament, Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. The story begins with wise men who come to the city of Jerusalem after seeing a star that they interpreted as signaling the birth of a new king.

It goes on to describe their meeting with the local Jewish king named Herod, of whom they inquire about the location of Jesus' birth. The Gospel says that the star of Bethlehem subsequently leads them to a house – not a manger – where Jesus has been born to Joseph and Mary. Overjoyed, they worship Jesus and present gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These were valuable gifts, especially frankincense and myrrh, which were costly fragrances that had medicinal use.

The Gospel explains that after their visit, Joseph has a dream where he is warned of Herod's attempt to kill baby Jesus. When the wise men went to Herod with the news that a child had been born to be the king of the Jews, he made a plan to kill all young children to remove the threat to his throne. It then mentions how Joseph, Mary and infant Jesus leave for Egypt to escape King Herod's attempt to assassinate all young children.

Matthew also says that after Herod dies from an illness, Joseph, Mary and Jesus do not return to Bethlehem. Instead, they travel north to Nazareth in Galilee, which is modern-day Nazareth in Israel.

Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke, an account of Jesus' life which was written during the same period as the Gospel of Matthew, has a different version of Jesus' birth. The Gospel of Luke starts with Joseph and a pregnant Mary in Galilee. They journey to Bethlehem in response to a census that the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus required for all the Jewish people. Since Joseph was a descendant of King David, Bethlehem was the hometown where he was required to register.

The Gospel of Luke includes no flight to Egypt, no paranoid King Herod, no murder of children and no wise men visiting baby Jesus. Jesus is born in a manger because all the travelers overcrowded the guest rooms. After the birth, Joseph and Mary are visited not by wise men but shepherds, who were also overjoyed at Jesus' birth.

Luke says these shepherds were notified about Jesus' location in Bethlehem by angels. There is no guiding star in Luke's story, nor do the shepherds bring gifts to baby Jesus. Luke also mentions that Joseph, Mary and Jesus leave Bethlehem eight days after his birth and travel to Jerusalem and then to Nazareth.

The differences between Matthew and Luke are nearly impossible to reconcile, although they do share some similarities. John Meier, a scholar on the historical Jesus, explains that Jesus' “birth at Bethlehem is to be taken not as a historical fact" but as a “theological affirmation put into the form of an apparently historical narrative." In other words, the belief that Jesus was a descendant of King David led to the development of a story about Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.

Raymond Brown, another scholar on the Gospels, also states that “the two narratives are not only different – they are contrary to each other in a number of details."

Mark's and John's Gospels

What makes it more difficult is that neither the other Gospels, that of Mark and John, mentions Jesus' birth or his connection to Bethlehem.

The Gospel of Mark is the earliest account of Jesus' life, written around A.D. 60. The opening chapter of Mark says that Jesus is from “Nazareth of Galilee." This is repeated throughout the Gospel on several occasions, and Bethlehem is never mentioned.

A blind beggar in the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus as both from Nazareth and the son of David, the second king of Israel and Judah during 1010-970 B.C. But King David was not born in Nazareth, nor associated with that city. He was from Bethlehem. Yet Mark doesn't identify Jesus with the city Bethlehem.

The Gospel of John, written approximately 15 to 20 years after that of Mark, also does not associate Jesus with Bethlehem. Galilee is Jesus' hometown. Jesus finds his first disciples, does several miracles and has brothers in Galilee.

This is not to say that John was unaware of Bethlehem's significance. John mentions a debate where some Jewish people referred to the prophecy which claimed that the messiah would be a descendant of David and come from Bethlehem. But Jesus according to John's Gospel is never associated with Bethlehem, but with Galilee, and more specifically, Nazareth.

The Gospels of Mark and John reveal that they either had trouble linking Bethlehem with Jesus, did not know his birthplace, or were not concerned with this city.

These were not the only ones. Apostle Paul, who wrote the earliest documents of the New Testament, considered Jesus a descendant of David but does not associate him with Bethlehem. The Book of Revelation also affirms that Jesus was a descendant of David but does not mention Bethlehem.

An ethnic identity

During the period of Jesus' life, there were multiple perspectives on the Messiah. In one stream of Jewish thought, the Messiah was expected to be an everlasting ruler from the lineage of David. Other Jewish texts, such as the book 4 Ezra, written in the same century as the Gospels, and the Jewish sectarian Qumran literature, which is written two centuries earlier, also echo this belief.

But within the Hebrew Bible, a prophetic book called Micah, thought to be written around B.C. 722, prophesies that the messiah would come from David's hometown, Bethlehem. This text is repeated in Matthew's version. Luke mentions that Jesus is not only genealogically connected to King David, but also born in Bethlehem, “the city of David."

Genealogical claims were made for important ancient founders and political leaders. For example, Ion, the founder of the Greek colonies in Asia, was considered to be a descendant of Apollo. Alexander the Great, whose empire reached from Macedonia to India, was claimed to be a son of Hercules. Caesar Augustus, who was the first Roman emperor, was proclaimed as a descendant of Apollo. And a Jewish writer named Philo who lived in the first century wrote that Abraham and the Jewish priest and prophets were born of God.

Regardless of whether these claims were accepted at the time to be true, they shaped a person's ethnic identity, political status and claims to honor. As the Greek historian Polybius explains, the renown deeds of ancestors are “part of the heritage of posterity."

Matthew and Luke's inclusion of the city of Bethlehem contributed to the claim that Jesus was the Messiah from a Davidic lineage. They made sure that readers were aware of Jesus' genealogical connection to King David with the mention of this city. Birth stories in Bethlehem solidified the claim that Jesus was a rightful descendant of King David.

So today, when the importance of Bethlehem is heard in Christmas carols or displayed in Nativity scenes, the name of the town connects Jesus to an ancestral lineage and the prophetic hope for a new leader like King David.

Fuller Theological Seminary is a member of the Association of Theological Schools.The Conversation

The ATS is a funding partner of The Conversation US.

Rodolfo Galvan Estrada III, Adjunct Assistant Professor of the New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the Virgin of Guadalupe is more than a religious icon to Catholics in Mexico

Each year, as many as 10 million people travel to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, in what is believed to be the largest Catholic pilgrimage in the Americas. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the pilgrimage, which is due to take place on Dec. 12, will instead be held online this year.

Normally, multiple pilgrimages take place around this time of the year throughout the country that end at the basilica – a church building specially recognized by the Catholic pope – of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an apparition of the Virgin Mary in Mexico.

In fact, images and statues of her are everywhere in Mexico. She is on altars in people's homes, altars on street corners, posters in mechanic shops and restaurants. Even in the U.S., many Catholic churches with parishioners who have ties to Mexico include a small chapel to her.

The first time I went to Mexico City in 2011 as a Ph.D. student, I visited the shrine to the Virgin. Later, I wrote about her importance in novels, short stories and movies – beyond a religious icon.

This pilgrimage is only one part of Mexican people's connection to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Apparition of the Virgin

During the pilgrimage in Mexico, people visit the shrine on a hill near where Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to an Aztec man named Juan Diego who had converted to Christianity in 1531.

The legend goes that when Juan Diego told the bishop about it, he demanded proof. Juan Diego then went back to the shrine and the Virgin told him about a place he could pick some roses.

Juan Diego went back to the bishop, with his cloak full of roses. But when the bishop looked at the roses, it is said that an image of the Virgin appeared. In the belief that this was a miraculous occurrence, a shrine to the Virgin was built in Tepeyac in the northern part of Mexico City.

Today, this shrine is part of a large complex which includes several church buildings, a larger-than-life group of statues that portray the Virgin's apparition to Juan Diego and a large space for outdoor Mass, a Catholic worship service.

Over the years, the shrine has undergone changes. A new basilica constructed in 1974 is now used for most services, although the older church constructed in 1709 still stands.

The most important object in the shrine is the miraculous image of the Virgin that appeared on Juan Diego's cloak, which is displayed in front of a moving sidewalk in the new construction.

Combining faith

The story about how the Virgin appeared in Mexico has resemblance to reports of her apparitions in Spain. In the 14th century, the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to a peasant near the river of Guadalupe in western Spain. The Virgin is believed to have told him to dig up an image of her that had allegedly been buried for several centuries.

Some of those involved in the Spanish conquest, such as Christopher Columbus and Hernán Cortés, reportedly prayed at her shrine in Spain before setting off for the Americas.

When Spaniards colonized the Americas, which included the Aztec empire in central Mexico, in the early 16th century, they brought the image and story of Our Lady of Guadalupe with them.

What is noteworthy is that she is said to have appeared to Juan Diego in the same place where the Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs had worshiped the goddess Tonantzin.

The Spanish colonial administration, together with church officials, encouraged people to replace worshiping Tonantzin in Tepeyac with worshiping the Virgin of Guadalupe in Tepeyac. In this way, they could appear to replace Indigenous beliefs with Catholic ones.

While a church was built on the site in 1556, the Virgin of Guadalupe did not attract a large following until the mid-17th century, when church leaders collected sworn statements regarding miracles she is said to have performed. Her feast day was moved at the time from September to December.

Larger pilgrimages to Tepeyac began in the late 17th century, one of many such pilgrimages in the larger Catholic tradition of thanking a saint or apparition of the Virgin for answering their prayers.

Symbolic use

The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe has been used in various ways to create a sense of community.

Ricardo Castelan Cruz / Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Over the centuries, her image has been used in various ways to create a sense of community or to advance specific political goals. For example, during Mexico's 19th-century independence movement, Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo used her image on his banners. In this way, he successfully united many Mexicans in their fight against Spain. Mexicans commemorate this in their Independence Day celebrations each September.

About 40 years later, Catholic Church leaders would use her image to attract Mexican people to their cause, as they fought against the 1857 liberal reforms that encouraged increasing separation of church and state.

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Similarly, in the early 20th century, Mexico's government enacted such strict secularism laws that Catholic bishops suspended Mass for three years. Catholic leaders again used images of the Virgin of Guadalupe on their banners to encourage the soldiers fighting against the anti-Catholic laws.

Today, her image is as varied as the Mexican experience. One of these is the light-skinned child-like “Virgencita plis" on everything from small statues to face masks. It was designed in 2003 by a gift and toy company, Distroller corporation. In this image, the Virgin does not look Mexican and plays to very traditional and often outdated ideas of femininity: innocent, nonthreatening, almost like children. The statue of the Virgin at the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is dark-skinned, physically imposing and has Mexican features.

For each, she has her own meaning and a way of worship. And even if many people are not able to travel to her sanctuary, they will find other ways to honor the Lady of Guadalupe this year.The Conversation

Rebecca Janzen, Assistant Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature, University of South Carolina

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why do so few clergy serve in Congress?

While campaigning for Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins – a former pastor – attacked her opponent, Democrat Reverend Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, for his views on abortion rights.

“There is no such thing as a pro-choice pastor," Collins said of Warnock. “What you have is a lie from the bed of hell."

Their differing views on abortion reflect a range of views on controversial political issues among American clergy. Yet what made the sparring so notable is the infrequency with which two pastor politicians are even in a position to confront one another.

If Warnock were to win, he would join Republican Sen. James Lankford as one of two ordained ministers in the Senate chamber. Only about 2% of members of the U.S. House of Representatives are ordained ministers.

Their numbers are scarce despite the fact that members of the clergy often possess speaking skills, have an impulse to serve and boast strong ties to their communities – all qualities that are useful in politics. Furthermore, Americans are among the most religious people in the Western world.

So why do so few clergy serve in Congress? And what kind of effect might this have on the priorities and policies that emerge from Washington, D.C.?

Lawyers, business people lead the pack

In the “Congress and the Presidency" course that I teach, I discuss the prior professional careers of members of Congress and the way those backgrounds can influence lawmaking.

Almost half of U.S. senators worked as attorneys prior to their political careers, and 160 current members of the U.S. House of Representatives have law degrees. Other than politics, law is the most common former profession of Democrats in Congress, while business is the most common former profession of Republicans.

Lawyers in Congress can write legislation using language that can guide administrative agencies and judges, with an eye toward shielding laws from potential legal challenges. The downside of this practice is that legislative text can be weighed down in legal jargon that only other lawyers can understand.

Meanwhile, the growing ranks of Republican members of Congress with business backgrounds reflect the party's ideological opposition to government regulation of the private sector.

Each party's recent presidents reflect their orientation: The last three Republican presidents – Donald Trump, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush – all worked in business prior to entering politics. Once Joe Biden becomes president in January, he'll join Democratic predecessors Barack Obama and Bill Clinton as having graduated from law school.

From the outside looking in

Members of the clergy, however, are far down the list of congressional occupations – behind agriculture, engineering, journalism, labor, medicine, real estate and the military.

Only one former U.S. president, James Garfield, has ties to a previous life at the pulpit – and even those are tenuous. While he's sometimes described as an ordained minister with the Disciples of Christ – and he did preach to congregations as a young man – there don't appear to be any clear ordination records. His primary professions before entering politics were as a Civil War general, teacher and attorney.

It's possible that the lack of clergy members in Congress may bring less attention to spiritual issues in Washington. Morality may be deemed less important, while crafting public policies that help the less fortunate get short shrift.

At the same time, the clergy has long played an active role in American politics outside of elective office, usually working to influence policy and politicians.

Prominent evangelical preachers Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, James Dobson and Kenneth Copeland all spoke out in favor of Donald Trump's reelection this year.

A woman brushes makeup on Franklin Graham's forehead as he stands at a podium during the 2020 Republican National Convention.

Evangelist Franklin Graham has been a vocal supporter of President Trump.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Reverend Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton have each run for the Democratic nomination for president, while Rev. William Barber has garnered attention in recent years for leading “Moral Mondays" protests to advocate for civil rights and progressive causes in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Legal and papal pushback

In the past, there have been legal and doctrinal restrictions on clergy members serving in government.

Up until the 1970s, several states had constitutional restrictions against clergy members serving in the state legislatures, which often serve as a stepping stone for candidates to run for national office.

But in an 8-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that such state restrictions violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The decision allowed Rev. Paul McDaniel, a Baptist minister, to run to be a delegate to a Tennessee state constitutional convention.

Church policy can also discourage clergy running for office. Two Catholic priests who had served in the House of Representatives ended their candidacies in 1980 when Pope John Paul II declared that he would begin strictly enforcing a canon law that priests should not serve in public office.

One of them was Father Robert Drinan, who had served five terms as a U.S. representative from Massachusetts. Drinan was known nationally as a prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and he had introduced the first impeachment resolution against President Richard Nixon. Drinan's support of abortion rights was especially controversial among Catholic church leaders.

Rep. Robert Drinan, wearing his clerical collar, poses in front of the U.S. Capitol.

After Pope John Paul II demanded all priests withdraw from electoral politics, Rep. Robert Drinan decided not to seek reelection.

Bettmann via Getty Images

Separation of church and state a core value

Another reason for low numbers of clergy in national elected office may be tied to the country's longstanding tradition of separating religion from government. In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that the language of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution indicated “a wall of separation between Church & State."

Religion and government are more closely intertwined in many other Western countries. For example, in the United Kingdom, 26 bishops who are leaders in the Church of England are members of the House of Lords.

While most Americans remain religious, the fundamental belief that religion and politics should operate in separate spheres remains strong in the United States. A 2019 Pew Research Forum survey found that 63% of Americans thought that houses of worship should stay out of politics, while 76% of Americans agreed that houses of worship should not openly support political candidates.

Finally, clergy may be at a financial disadvantage when seeking a national political office. The majority of current members of Congress are millionaires.

With the possible exception of some megachurch leaders, most members of the clergy do not enter their profession for financial reasons, and you won't see many with the means to self-finance their campaigns.

Yet if Rev. Warnock were to win his election in January, it may signal a new trend. The U.S. House of Representatives currently has more ordained ministers than at any other time since occupational statistics began to be compiled in Congress in the 1950s. And if Rev. Warnock becomes a senator, it would be the first time in at least 55 years that the U.S. Senate has had two ordained ministers serving at the same time.

In the midst of a recession, a global pandemic, political polarization and climate change, perhaps more voters are looking for spiritual and moral leadership in Washington, D.C.The Conversation

Robert Speel, Associate Professor of Political Science, Erie Campus, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conservative slams evangelicals descending on DC for last gasp march to 'pray' for God to intercede on Trump's behalf

In his column for the Daily Beast, conservative commentator Matt Lewis expressed exasperation with evangelical leaders who are set to lead what has been dubbed the "Jericho March" in Washington D.C. on Saturday under the belief they can pray God into helping Donald Trump remain in the Oval Office for four more years.

Lewis, who wears his faith on his sleeve, has long condemned members of the Christian community who have attached them to the president who, by his actions and his deeds, has never exemplified any Christian values other than giving them occasional lip service.

As the Daily Beast columnist sees it, the group scheduled to appear are a motley crew who do not exemplify the best the evangelical community has to offer.

Writing that "some prominent members of the Christian church are undermining the church's witness," Lewis added, "For evidence, look no further than this Saturday, when former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn (who recently shared a message calling on Trump to declare 'limited martial law' and hold a new election) will give his first post-pardon speech at something called the Jericho March in Washington, D.C. Aside from Flynn, the roster includes other prominent MAGA names like Mike Lindell (the MyPillow guy), Eric Metaxas (a radio host who punched a protester and recently said, 'I'd be happy to die in this fight'), Ali Alexander (formerly Ali Akbar), and C.J. Pearson. Afterwards, the crowd will converge on the National Mall for the 'ROAR' prayer rally."

While conceding they have every right to voice their opinions of the state of the nation, Lewis suggested the message they are sending is damaging to people of faith.

"Christians have every right to be involved in politics, but this is not people of faith gathering to defend the right to life or to support civil rights but, rather, Christians gathering in support of overturning a free and fair election," he wrote. "I am thankful that they promise these marches will be done 'peacefully,' but consider the imagery and the implications. They are clearly saying that to be on the side of Trump is to be on the side of God. Likewise, they are saying that the political institutions that want to follow the Constitution and the rule of law are tantamount to the wicked city of Jericho—whose walls came tumbling down. (That part wasn't so peaceful.)"

Lewis added that Saturday's march is part of a "disturbing trend" that has damaged the reputation of Christians during the Trump years which is turning off possible converts to the religion -- particularly among the young.

"If a young person rejects conservatism because Trump has tainted what was once a serious and legitimate worldview, that's a shame, and it could have serious ramifications for our nation. But if a young person chooses to reject Christianity because its association with Trump has made it seem ridiculous—well, the stakes (if you believe as Christians do) are eternal," he warned.

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'There's no pandemic!' Tennessee pastor explodes at CNN reporter asking if he'll take COVID vaccine

In conversation with CNN's Ellie Reed broadcast on Thursday, Pastor Greg Locke of Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee exploded when asked his position on the COVID-19 vaccine, denying that there even was a pandemic at all.

"Faith over fear. I ain't worried about some fake pandemic," said Locke, a pro-Trump preacher who has previously drawn controversy for claiming that history classes in public schools are part of an "Islamic invasion." "I'm not saying the sickness isn't real. I'm saying the pandemic is not."

"I don't understand what you mean when you say the pandemic is not real," said Reed. "What do you think a pandemic is?"

"Not COVID-19," said Locke, who has defied social distancing guidelines and refused to restrict attendance at his church.

"But what do you think a pandemic is?" asked Reed. "Why can't you answer it?"

"There's no pandemic. COVID-19 is not a pandemic," he shot back heatedly.

"But what is a pandemic then?" repeated Reed.

"Not what we're experiencing," said Locke. "I'm 44 years old. We've not had one in my lifetime so I don't know. This is not it." (In fact, there have been several other pandemics besides COVID-19 in Locke's lifetime.)

Watch below: