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Church Growth Movement Goes Wildly Political: New Apostolic Reformation
Growth guru C. Peter Wagner has become the presiding apostle in spiritual warfare dedicated to taking over the country with Rick Warren and Sarah Palin as spokespersons.
By Bill Berkowitz
Imagine a religious movement that makes geographic maps of where demons reside and claims among its adherents the Republican Party's most recent vice presidential nominee and whose leaders have presided over prayer sessions (one aimed at putting the kibosh on health-care reform) with a host of leading GOP figures.
It's a movement whose followers played a significant role in the battle over Proposition 8, California's anti-same-sex marriage initiative, and Uganda's infamous proposed Anti-Homosexuality Law, more commonly associated with the Family, a religious network of elites drawn from the ranks of business and government throughout the world. But the movement we're imagining encompasses the humble and the elite alike, supporting a network of "prayer warriors” in all 50 states, within the ranks of the U.S. military, and at the far reaches of the globe -- all guided by an entire genre of books, texts, videos and other media.
Imagine that, and you've just dreamed up the New Apostolic Reformation, the largest religious movement you've never heard of.
NAR's videos, according to researcher Rachel Tabachnick, "demonstrate the taking control of communities and nations through large networks of 'prayer warriors' whose spiritual warfare is used to expel and destroy the demons that cause societal ills. Once the territorial demons, witches, and generational curses are removed, the 'born-again' Christians in the videos take control of society."
The movement's notion of "spiritual warfare" has spread from the California suburbs to an East-Coast inner city, and has impacted policy decisions in the developing world. Movement operatives are well-connected enough to have testified before Congress and to have received millions of dollars in government abstinence-only sex-education grants, and bizarre enough to maintain that in its prototype communities, the movement has healed AIDS, purified polluted streams and even grown huge vegetables. Leaders in the NAR movement refer to themselves as "apostles."
In the days leading up to the historic vote on health-care reform in the Senate, Apostle Lou Engle led the Family Research Council's "Prayercast” against health-care reform, a Webcast featuring Republican Senators Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Sam Brownback (Kans.), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.). Earlier in the year, Engle, who leads the group TheCall, prayed over Newt Gingrich at a Virginia event called Rediscovering God in America. In 2008, Engle, at an event he staged at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, advocated acts of Christian martyrdom to end abortion and same-sex marriage. This "apostle" claims LGBT people are possessed by demons. And Engle is not the only NAR apostle with political connections.
Presidential campaign watchers got their first taste of the New Apostolic Reformation when it was revealed that Sarah Palin, while mayor of Wasilla, had been prayed over in a laying-on-of-hands by Rev. Thomas Muthee of Kenya, director of the NAR East Africa Spiritual Warfare Network, in a ceremony designed to protect Palin from witches and demons. Muthee, it turns out, is famous in his native land for driving out of town a woman he deemed a witch, a charge that had her neighbors calling for her stoning.
Palin, according to Alaskan Apostle Mary Glazier, became part of her prayer network at the age of 24. Wasilla is no stranger to wandering NAR leaders. Last June, Apostle Lance Wallnau stopped through in the course of his world travels, promoting the movement's Reclaiming the Seven Mountains of Culture campaign at Wasilla Alaska Assembly of God Church -- the very church at which Muthee laid hands on Palin. (The "seven mountains" are the realms of business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion.) Other NAR luminaries dropping by Wasilla last year include leading international Apostles Naomi Dowdy and Dutch Sheets.
Apostle Samuel Rodriguez heads an organization of 15 millions Hispanic evangelicals (the Sacramento, Calif.-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference) and was courted by both Democratic and Republican candidates during the 2008 presidential election.
In 2006, former Senator Rick Santorum, R-Penn., who appears to be positioning himself for a run at the presidency, took the stage with Apostle Alistair Petrie at a NAR "Transformation Summit" in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.
The International Transformations Network conferences led by Apostle Ed Silvoso have featured Hawaii's Republican Lt. Gov. James "Duke” Aiona (who is currently running for governor) and Uganda First Lady Janet Museveni. Silvoso has been hosted abroad by heads of state, including Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni and Gloria Arroyo, president of the Philippines.
Apostle Julius Oyet was recognized by the Ugandan Parliament for the draconian anti-gay bill recently introduced in that country, and is a star in one of the movement's Transformation movies. An influential Guatemalan pastor, Apostle Harold Caballeros, made a quixotic run for the presidency of that country in 2007.
Christian publishing magnate Stephen Strang is an apostle, as well as a director for John Hagee's Christians United for Israel, while Apostle Tom Hess hosts the annual Christian Government Leaders Conference in the Israeli Knesset.
Outside the realm of politics, Apostle Jim Ammerman, as head of a pentecostal chaplains' organization, accounts for more than 270 chaplains, including U.S. military and civilian chaplains. "Ammerman is a former military chaplain whose Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches was approved in 1984 by the Department of Defense as an endorsing agency to place chaplains in the United States Military," writes Rachel Tabachnick.
Apostle Bernard Wilks, in conjunction with Apostle Ed Silvoso's International Transformation Network, has assigned a "prayer warrior" to almost every single street in Newark, New Jersey, to pray for "transformation” of the city.
The movement has emerged from the largest single block of Protestant Christianity on the globe -- sometimes called charismatic, neo-charismatic or neo-Pentecostal -- one often overlooked since its adherents do not comprise a single denomination, and often belong to churches characterized as "non-denominational."
Charismatic Christians are born-again believers who have a secondary conversion experience, one they claim gives them supernatural gifts, such as speaking in tongues, casting out demons, faith healing, and other "signs and wonders" they believe will help to evangelize the world in preparation for the end times. Charismatics are typically Protestant, but there is also a movement of charismatic Catholics.
At the top of the New Apostolic Reformation authority structure is Presiding Apostle C. Peter Wagner, a longtime Christian educator (who recently enjoyed a brief blip of fame when he was revealed as the graduate school mentor of Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Church in California). Wagner partnered with Ted Haggard, then pastor of the New Life Christian Church in Colorado Springs, to build the initial nerve center of the movement in that town. (Haggard went on to become president of the National Association of Evangelicals, but resigned both that post and pastorship of his megachurch in 2006 when he was famously disgraced by revelations of a gay affair and drug use.)
AlterNet turned to Rachel Tabachnick for insight on the New Apostolic Reformation and its political impact. Tabachnick is a nationally recognized researcher and writer on the religious right and its "end-times" narratives.
Bill Berkowitz: Most people are unaware of the New Apostolic Reformation. Tell us what we should know.
Rachel Tabachnick: Imagine for a moment that a large block of the evangelical world decided to re-organize themselves in a hierarchy somewhat resembling the Roman Catholic Church, with leaders in authority over each nation and region. And additionally imagine that every person -- from the individual congregants to the top leaders -- would have someone to whom they are accountable. It seems unthinkable, but this is exactly what the "apostles" and "prophets" [of the New Apostolic Reformation] are doing.
C. Peter Wagner streamlined the ideology and named it the New Apostolic Reformation. Wagner serves as the presiding apostle of the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA) which includes several hundred apostles across the U.S. and about 40 nations, international training centers and prayer warrior communication networks in all 50 states and worldwide. Those in the top tier of Wagner's network each have apostolic authority over other ministries, sometimes hundreds or even thousands. (See Talk2Action's Resource Directory for the New Apostolic Reformation.)
This is not just a church movement. [Those called] market apostles work in business, finance, communications, media and also lead the Reclaiming the Seven Mountains of Culture mandate. Bruce Wilson [a co-founder of Talk2Action] and I have both written about this campaign encouraging Christians to take dominion over seven spheres of government and society.
Enterprises known as "kingdom businesses" play an important role: A Toronto apostle's ministry includes an oil and gas company; two ICA apostles head Markets Unlocked, a business matchmaking system that connects kingdom business customers and suppliers, and claims exclusive agreements for over a half billion dollars of products and services. Trained intercessors are now paid to pray for businesses, and ICA apostles work closely with the International Christian Chamber of Commerce.
Apostles are also active providing social services, which Wagner describes as a method for accessing government and society. Apostle Doug Stringer, who is a former fitness instructor, is now listed as a policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, and claims to have distributed $30 million of gifts and donations during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He has expanded operations to Fiji, Poland and Southeast Asia.
Wagner teachers that there will soon be a "great transfer of wealth" from the ungodly to the godly and has set up structures in preparation. The Wagner Leadership Institute teaches courses in prophecy as well as foreign currency exchange.
BB: How is the movement structured, and how has it grown so rapidly?
RT: Church growth is the key concept. Other Christian dominionist movements propose austere biblical law but Wagner explained in his 2008 book that he believes rapid growth of the movement will allow Christians to take dominion inside a democratic framework.
Wagner, who will be 80 this year, was a professor of church growth for 30 years at Fuller Theological Seminary, and promoted explosive mega-church growth. He has mainstreamed the concept of cell church structures, a strategy which began in Asia and South America and has resulted in congregations of tens of thousands. Cell churches are organized like a pyramid marketing scheme with small groups, usually with no more than 12, tasked with spinning off new cell groups and growing the church. This also resembles a military structure: Each cell group has a leader and lower level leaders answer to and are accountable to their superiors, on up the chain.
Such "spiritual accountability" schemes used to be called shepherding, but because of bad press and reports of coercive and abusive practices, it has been rebranded as "discipling." Lay people in cell groups perform many of the functions that would normally be carried out by pastors, and pastors become like corporate CEOs. This is how many of today's megachurches function. In his role as a church growth specialist, Wagner was able to repackage radical shepherding and cell structures as mainstream concepts for church growth.
These authoritarian strategies were further sanitized by Wagner's most famous student, Saddleback Church 's Rick Warren. Recently, while commenting about Uganda's proposed draconian anti-gay legislation, Warren denied that Wagner was his dissertation adviser. However, I have a copy of the dissertation which lists Wagner as "mentor,” and also explains Warren's desire to rid churches of voting, boards, and democratic structure. In Wagner's 1999 book Churchquake: How the New Apostolic Reformation is Shaking up the Church as We Know It, Wagner describes this radical re-structuring: "The traditional concept is that the congregation owns the church and that they hire the pastor to do their ministry for them. New apostolic churches, like Rick Warren's, turn this around 180 degrees…”
The New Apostolics are now trying to apply shepherding to entire communities and even nations. Sara Diamond, a pioneer in the field of dominion theology, warned in 1989 that charismatic shepherding was becoming a "masterpiece of political strategy." Some of the very same religious right strategists that Diamond wrote about in 1989 are now apostles in the ICA.
BB: What do the terms 'spiritual mapping' and 'spiritual warfare' mean and how do they function?
RT: Spiritual warfare is not a new concept; it can mean something as benign as a person's internal struggle to resist evil. These days, the New Apostolics have co-opted the term.
During the 1990s, in a frenzied effort to evangelize the world before 2000, Wagner proposed that instead of winning souls one by one, entire geographic areas and "people groups" could be targeted, therefore speeding up the process.
These new strategies include "Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare" and "spiritual mapping," designed to win territory. This is accomplished by doing battle with demons or principalities that they believe cause entire ethnicities, religions, and geographic areas to resist conversion. After expelling the demons, the evangelized population can take "dominion" over local government and culture. Then the community supposedly experiences a foretaste of "God's Kingdom on earth." These mini-utopias are advertised as having reduced poverty, corruption, disease, and even healing the environment. This is the ultimate faith-based initiative: remove the demons and society will be healed.
Spiritual mapping is the reconnaissance mission for spiritual warfare and involves the literal mapping of neighborhoods and cities to determine where the demons are. This includes generational curses, or those things in a city's history that allowed demons to take hold of the entire populis. Spiritual mapping is the ideological foundation for the now popular "prayer walking" and the formation of many city-wide prayer groups.
Wagner, George Otis, Jr., Ed Silvoso, Ted Haggard, John Dawson of Youth With a Mission, and others created an entire genre of books, texts, videos and other media teaching spiritual mapping and strategic level spiritual warfare. Their access to the interdenominational world missions' movement in the 1990s helped them spread these techniques rapidly around the globe.
The Transformations movies produced by Otis, Jr. are promotional "documentaries" showing prototypes of this process in which supernatural transformation of a community takes place including the healing of AIDS, instantaneous purifying of polluted streams, and even growth of huge vegetables. These movies have been shown to millions globally, and Transformations organizations worldwide are attempting to replicate these prototypes in their local communities.
Uganda is featured in several of the series of Transformations movies, which include top political, military and religious leaders. Bruce Wilson's recent video, Transforming Uganda, documents Silvoso's claim that his International Transformation Network is "discipling" every region of Uganda and 14,000 churches across th at country.
It is important to note, however, that this supernatural warfare isn't limited to faraway places and underdeveloped countries. The Transformations ideology originated from Western evangelicals -- witch-hunting and all -- and the prototypes have included cities like Hemet, California. Ugandan Julius Oyet, who starred in one of the Transformations movies is a key figure in the recent proposed draconian anti-gay legislation in that country.
BB: How are these strategies put into practice? Where have they been tried successfully? Where have they failed?
RT: Although many of the claims made in the Transformations movie can be easily disproved, the movement's advancement appears to be partially due to the promotion of the Transformations prototypes.
Supernatural healings of AIDS, spontaneous destruction of property of other belief systems, and even claims that the prayers of the movement have killed other humans are featured in films shown worldwide, including to mainline Protestant churches and renewal groups which have subsequently broken from their parent denominations.
For instance, the Transformations movies claim there have been thousands of cases of miraculous curing of AIDS in Uganda. Conversely, medical leaders are warning that claims of miraculous healing are interfering with the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Since altering their AIDS programs to abstinence-only programming promoted by U.S. evangelicals, Uganda has had an increase, not decrease of new AIDS cases.
To give you an idea of how deeply entrenched the New Apostolics are in this policy consider this example of one of the most celebrated abstinence-only programs in the U.S. Recapturing the Vision and Vessels of Honor are names for abstinence-only programs headed by Jacqueline del Rosario, who testified for renewal of Title V abstinence-based funding in Congressional hearings in 2002. Since 2001, her Miami organizations have been the recipient of $3,147,589 of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant money, and significant sums from other public sources, despite the fact that her organization was one of four in a long-term federally funded study which show ed no measurable results.
Del Rosario was a speaker, along with Wagner and other top apostles, at a conference in January, where she was described as an apostle in the promotional literature. Her relationship with the apostles is not new, however. She incorporated her organizations in the mid 1990s with leading Florida apostle Diane Buker, head of Battle Axe ministries, and Cindy Trimm, described as a "general in the art of strategic warfare." Buker is the author of God's Power to Multiply for Wealth and her Battle Axe Brigade ministry Web site features virulent attacks on Catholicism and other faiths. It certainly makes you question what is being taught in faith-based programming [financed] with millions of our tax dollars.
Another political area in which New Apostolics are deeply entrenched is John Hagee's Christians United for Israel. Hagee is still teaching that the Rapture may happen any moment, but many of his directors and leadership are New Apostolics who teach that they must take "dominion" over the earth, including Israel, before Jesus can return. These include ICA Apostle Stephen Strang who heads the Strang charismatic publishing empire, and regional director Robert Stearns, who publishes another leading New Apostolic journal titled Kairos. Stearns also leads the largest single international Christian Zionist event, which involves 200,000 churches worldwide -- and his ministry has been endorsed by the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
BB: Are there politicians involved with NAR?
RT: The Transformations movies show access to many political figures from Fiji to South America to Africa. Uganda is a prime example and the movies are corroborated in this respect by active participation of political leaders in Transformation organizations.Transformation Hawaii has the full participation of Lt. Governor James “Duke” Aiona, who has spoken at conferences and even written for the movement. Lou Engle, a prophet in Wagner"s inner circle, has recently been on the news leading an anti-health care reform Prayercast with Republican Senators Jim DeMint and Sam Brownback, and Rep. Michelle Bachmann, among others. In May, Engle led another televised event in which he prayed over Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee.
The New Apostolic movement more closely resembles a political campaign than a denomination. PrayforNewark is a citywide prayer project in which every precinct has been mapped out and every street assigned to a volunteer. PrayforNewark is part of Ed Silvoso's International Transformation Network (ITN), the same operation that is "transforming" Uganda, and promoting the belief that homosexuals are possessed by literal demons. Silvoso's ITN is also active in numerous other locations in the U.S. and worldwide.
BB: Where does Sarah Palin fit into all this?
RT: The movement made early inroads in Alaska through an ICA apostle named Mary Glazier, who claims that a 24-year-old Palin joined her spiritual warfare network. These communication networks allow apostles to disseminate new prophecy to their "prayer warriors." During the presidential election this included prophecies about Palin, including one in which Glazier described a vision that Palin would take the "mantle" of leadership after a period of national mourning, apparently following John McCain's demise.
The first Transformation film so impressed pastors in Wasilla, Alaska, that they contacted some of the religious leaders featured in the movie including Thomas Muthee, who was shown driving a witch out of Kiambu, Kenya. Wasilla Assembly of God developed an ongoing relationship with Muthee and a 2005 church video shows him anointing Palin. Unfortunately the press picked up on the witch part of the story, and not the more important fact that Palin has ties to top leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation.
BB: Why should the American people be concerned about the New Apostolic Reformation?
RT: I believe this movement's threat to separation of church and state is greater than some of the more overtly theocratic movements of the religious right. The inclusion of women and all races in leadership roles, and their enthusiastic sponsorship of social services conflicts with a popular notion about religious fundamentalism. Despite their radical strategies, leaders in the movement have been labeled in the press as moderate, including Apostle Samuel Rodriguez -- president of the Sacramento, Calif.-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference -- who has been described as a "new evangelical."
Unsuspecting people are certainly becoming involved in New Apostolic activities without understanding its agenda. For example, the Global Day of Prayer sounds benign but was founded by Graham Power, head of the Africa division of Silvoso's International Transformation Network. Numerous citywide prayer efforts and pastors' networks are under the auspices of Wagner's apostles. Charities, social services, and "reconciliation" events appear to welcome all, but are designed as stealth evangelism to advance the "Kingdom."
In June, Lance Wallnau, an ICA apostle and motivational speaker for the Seven Mountain campaign, spoke on stealth evangelism at Wasilla Assembly of God. In Guatemalan jails, according to Wallnau, New Apostolics teach prisoners a secularized version of "Kingdom" worldview for a full year before making any attempt to convert them to "born-again" Christianity. Wallnau encouraged the congregation to follow this example for infiltrating the seven spheres of society.
Peter Wagner's ideas have spread widely into mainstream of evangelicalism, to little public notice. Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, partnered with Wagner in founding the New Apostolic Reformation and building its early headquarters, the World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs. Despite the fact that Haggard has written books on New Apostolic strategies, his participation in promoting this radical reformation of both church and society is so little known, it could be described as "Haggard's other secret."
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering right-wing groups and movements. Rachel Tabachnick has provided research on the religious right to political campaigns and regularly contributes to Talk2action.org, Political Research Associates' The Public Eye, and the Jewish Daily Forward's Zeek. © 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved. This article appeared at Alternet.
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