I’ve been complaining for years that journalists aren’t schooling themselves adequately on the prophetic movement (among charismatics) that some call the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Since the Jan. 6 uprising, they’ve started writing about it.
But be careful what you wish for. Not all that glitters is gold. I’ve read more than a few stories that sound like something out of a horror flick: An ominous theocratic movement involving millions of people, under uber-controlling leaders with a few White Christian nationalists thrown in.
The two pieces I’ll be addressing is Elle Hardy’s Aug. 23 story in The New Republic: “The Right-Wing Christian Sect Plotting a Political Takeover,” and Rolling Stone’s July 11 story on Sean Feucht. Both typify current Christian trends as scary movements with an end game of sending Donald Trump to the White House in 2024 and sending America back to the Middle Ages.
Hardy’s story had ambitious goals. It began with a summation of this movement starting from 1994 with a revival at a church once known as the Toronto Airport Vineyard. Also known as a “laughing revival” for the odd laughing fits folks had, it made major changes in North American Christianity and swept across the English-speaking world. (Three years later, I was interviewing folks in Iceland who said they were dramatically influenced by Canadian missionaries spreading its benefits.)
All this grew into the NAR, the author says, and (drum roll):
And they have one clear goal in mind — ruling over the United States and, eventually, the world.
NAR, as it’s often called, is a shadowy movement, rather than an organization; many who are considered a part of it deny that it even exists. Broadly, it seeks to return church structures to the fivefold ministry of the Bible (defined roles of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher). The key roles in this pecking order are prophets, who have the visions, and apostles, the anointed ones who put ideas and networks into practice and, critically, to whom everyone else must submit.
OK. I did my first master’s thesis (in 1992) on authority and submission practices in the charismatic communities that were so popular among evangelicals in the 1960s and 1970s, plus I wrote a 2009 book that deals substantially with this issue. And I can tell you that the NAR folks did learn a thing or two about the mess caused by the 1970s “discipleship movement” which was deeply into one submitting oneself to an elder who was himself (usually this person was male) submitted to a higher elder in a hierarchical line reaching up to a small group of people.
They’re not going that same route today. There have been efforts at establishing networks, but they keep on fragmenting or its leaders keep on imploding (ithink Jeff Jansen, a founder of the Tennessee-based Global Fire Ministries network who left in disgrace last year and mysteriously died this summer).
Now to the crux of the piece:
Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano might currently be the movement’s best-known political proponent. A January 6 insurrectionist, he has campaigned with Prophet Julie Green, who promotes conspiracies — including one rather grotesque story alleging that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi regularly drinks children’s blood. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and his Secretary of State Michael Watson have attended prayer events with NAR figures, while Ron DeSantis, the Catholic Florida governor, has been employing rhetoric popular with the movement to “put on the full armor of God.”
This is the first time I’d heard of Julie Green. She is not a major movement figure. She wasn’t mentioned in this 2021 New Yorker profile of Mastriano, so she may be a recent arrival.
About the Mississippi event, that was a National Day of Prayer event in Jackson, Miss. One tends to share the stage with lots of folks on that day. As for the DeSantis, just because he quotes a specific and very popular (with many kinds of Christians) passage from Ephesians, that doesn’t make him an NAR advocate.
If there are legitimate connections, I’m all for reporters making them. Two out of three of the connections in the above paragraph were not legit. That’s not a good batting average.
They’re joined by a coterie of well-known political extremists aligning with these modern-day apostles to subvert democratic rule, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, and Turning Point USA leader Charlie Kirk. Sure, they form the usual list of media tarts who regularly push the boundaries of anything offensive to liberal sensibilities, but their relationship to NAR is no mere flirtation.
I’m not convinced that Greene, Boebert, et al have a clue what the NAR is.
Behind them, the leaders of this modern Reformation are deadly serious. A quick scan of recent political violence is telling. Two of the most influential modern apostles, Che Ahn and Lance Wallnau, helped rile up the crowds at pro-Trump, anti-democratic “Jericho marches” and prayer rallies before the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
OK, we’re mixing up church history here. This is not a “modern Reformation” where a totally new religion is birthed out of the old due to problems with the latter. Call this an expansion or a renewal, but reformation it is not.
The article then swings into a history of the NAR leading back to 1947 (which I think is totally incorrect; the Latter-day Rain movement of that time period had nothing to do with taking over political structures).
Throughout the piece, she quotes just one expert — a Canadian university professor who writes about this movement for Religion Dispatches. I’m glad she threw in a link to Holly Pivec, who has literally written the book on the NAR (and is coming out with two more), but rather than quote the Canadian multiple times, she should have interviewed Pivec. Or James Beverley, another Canadian who has a much longer track record (and multiple books) on the movement. Or Craig Keener of Asbury Seminary, Erica Ramirez of Auburn Seminary, Leah Payne of George Fox to name a few.
Here is a rather basic journalism question: Did the reporter try to get any quotes from NAR leaders themselves? I see no sign of it. It is hard to get ahold of these folks, especially since so many Pentecostals in prophetic circles claim no affiliation with NAR concepts, but it’s worth a try. I found the piece to be one long diatribe against these folks with no balancing viewpoint.
There are critics within the movement, ie James Goll of Nashville, who could have provided context. She mentions Michael Brown –—who is both part of the prophetic movement but also a critic of its excesses -– but apparently didn’t interview him.
A shame, as his comments would have helped this piece. Brown once sent me a piece he wrote for the Christian Post about how the NAR has been inaccurately made the bogeyman for every bad theological concept out there. It’s a must-read to understand this movement.
In other words, the NAR is not this conspiratorial, worldwide, monolithic, demonic movement. As part of the mix, she does mention Sean Feucht, the musician/politician out of Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., and it’s to him I’ll turn next, as his new film “Superspreader” just came out. Feucht is many things both good and bad, but he’s not NAR.
In July, Rolling Stone came out with this lengthy piece on him. It’s much better than its dreadful 2020 “Jesus Christ, Superspreader” article on Feucht.
AS THE SUPREME Court was handing down its decision to end a constitutional right to abortion, worship leader Sean Feucht was on Twitter exalting his twin heroes: “VICTORY IN JESUS!!!!” he declared, soon adding, “THANK YOU PRESIDENT TRUMP!!!!!”
Actually, the Supreme Court argued that there *is* no constitutional right to an abortion. Yes, details, details.
But even in this moment of conservative triumph, the 38-year-old praise singer flashed menace, torching, as satanists, the Americans who would soon be protesting Roe’s reversal: “When the devil’s sacrifice is no longer protected by our Supreme Court, watch how his people rage.” By the following morning, Feucht appeared to advocate vengeance against Roe’s backers as well: “Goliath is dead!!!” he tweeted. “Time to chase down the Philistines!!!”
With a flowing mane of golden curls and an American-flag guitar signed by the 45th president, John Christopher “Sean” Feucht stands at the intersection of far-right Christianity and the MAGA movement. On stage, Feucht is a holy roller, leading rapt crowds in worship music. His services feature weeping penitents, minor “miracles,” and new followers of Jesus plunging into baptismal tubs. Online, Feucht is a holy troller, flaming his foes and bashing “woke” culture to delight his followers.
Reporting on Feucht is quite different than the NAR.
Feucht doesn’t like the media and is dismissive when you try to interview him (believe me, I know from personal experience) and when I wrote about him in late 2020 for Politico, his tax records were several years out of date. Someone must have told him to update his 990s, because when Rolling Stone went after him, they found a lot of new stuff (that I didn’t have access to).
Feucht’s fusion of own-the-libs rhetoric and Christian zealotry is resonating. Newly released IRS records reveal that the once-humble praise singer is not only raising his national profile, he’s raking in enormous amounts of cash. Capitalizing on the notoriety of his 2020 Covid-lockdown protests, Sean Feucht Ministry Inc. ballooned in revenue from $280,000 in 2019 to more than $5.3 million in 2020, ending the year $4 million richer than it started. (The accounting for this surge is curious: The ministry claims to have received zero dollars in contributions, despite Feucht avidly soliciting such gifts.)
Feucht — who, according to tax filings, is the sole employee of the ministry — also appears to have experienced a surge in personal wealth, raising eyebrows from ministry watchdogs. The preacher recently bought a pair of extravagant homes, one in a glitzy gated community in Southern California and another on five acres in Montana, valued together at well over $2 million, according to property records reviewed by Rolling Stone.
So that’s why Feucht’s Instagram accounts show so many photos from Montana.
This piece is far meatier than The New Republic piece in that there’s some real reporting on Feucht’s financial assets that never saw the light of day before. We learn further down the piece that Rolling Stone got substantial help from a Chico State history professor, Shawn Schwaller who published his own findings on Feucht’s finances a week before the Rolling Stone story hit. It’s not clear whether the magazine did its own homework on Feucht or used some of Schwaller’s research.
I do credit the magazine with at least trying to gain more access to Feucht by showing up at an open house at his Washington, D.C., row house. Curiously, the writers never seemed to attend one of his concerts, which is necessary to really understand the man.
The reporters also had substantial material from Feucht’s memoir “Brazen” to add to the piece. And they also quoted from a broader spectrum of people.
However, I do take issue with them latching onto one source whose qualification is being “a religion writer who also grew up in a charismatic church” and quoting her extensively. That’s like nabbing someone who grew up Jewish and anointing them as an instant expert on Judaism. You can do better than that, Rolling Stone. Stick with the academic sources.
The article repeated many of the old complaints about Feucht (for example, that one member of his security detail in last year’s Portland concert was part of the Proud Boys) without adding that Portland is basically a police-free zone these days and that the day before the concert, the Antifa folks rampaged through a Christian worship service held at the same spot where Feucht would be performing 24 hours later.
Anyway, the article makes the same old tired connections to a coming theocracy ruled by the likes of former Vice President Mike Pence (who has nothing to do with actual theocracy if the reporters bothered to get to know the man) and aided by cheerleaders like Feucht.
Feucht is a relative newcomer on the national scene, and it’s possible these past few months will be his zenith. But if he finds staying power, he represents the potential next phase of MAGA evolution: one that combines Trump’s combative authoritarianism with Mike Pence’s hankering for theocracy — and a zealotry that could keep the movement going long after Trump is gone.
Well, Feucht does have staying power and, as I wrote for Newsweek a year ago, Feucht has lasted well beyond his original COVID-era mission to allow churches to stay open and people to worship. He’s also latching onto every conservative political cause imaginable and is making lots of money doing it.
That’s a valid subject for hard-news reporting. Then again, he doesn’t claim to be a pastor who’s expected to take a quasi-vow of property; he’s a rock musician who does what other entertainers do: Haul in the cash. He just happens to have put a Christian veneer on it all, and he’s doing for conservatives what liberal Hollywood elites have done for the Left for years.
If you look at Feucht in that light — as an astute entertainer who wisely grasped peoples’ anger at church shut-downs in 2020 and exploited it in a series of concerts — his wealth doesn’t seem as unusual.
Feucht’s bread and butter is still his concerts around the country, not his showy appearances in front of DisneyWorld or the Supreme Court. The man is a political hanger-on, I admit, but the bulk of his time seems to be toward encouraging revival. He’s not NAR. He’s not a white nationalist. The bulk of his public sentiments are shared by his Christian listeners.
Write about Feucht more as a representative of what Christian millennials are thinking (and there are plenty of them at his concerts) and you’ll get closer to what he’s truly about.
FIRST IMAGE: Photo of Sean Feucht by Julia Duin.