BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
As many of the pre-Reagan era Religious Right leaders retire and/or die off, beware of the new breed. Lou Engle is one of the new breed. Although Engle has been kicking around for more than a decade, it is only in the past few years that he and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), the charismatic evangelical political and religious movement that he has come to personify, has made such a splash that it threatens to drown out the more traditional voices of the Christian Right.
In 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that George W. Bush would be president, Lou Engle saw it as the answer to his prayers. A few months before the election, Engle had held an all-day prayer event in Washington, D.C., that drew approximately 400,000. Although Engle's prayer rally wasn't as magnetic or media buzz-worthy as when the Promise Keepers drew nearly one million to the nation's capital three years earlier, it could be seen as Engle's coming out party.
(The Promise Keepers is a still extant conservative Christian men's organization whose membership and attendance at its stadium and arena events soared in the 1990s, and, due to internal squabbles, subsequently plummeted to earth in the first decade of this century.)
"The prayers of the faithful were answered when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Bush v. Gore decision, giving the election to George W. Bush," Rachel Tabachnick wrote in a long essay titled "The Christian Right, Reborn: The New Apostolic Reformation Goes to War," in the Spring 2013 issue of Political Research Associates' The Public Eye. For the NAR, the DC rally was just the beginning of a more public political journey that has allowed it to become one of the most important and yet least understood religious/political movements in the country.
Since that first rally, "Engle has staged more than 20 similar rallies, and each has attracted tens of thousands of participants to stadiums across the United States. He and his organization have also become deeply involved in U.S. politics, especially in anti choice and antigay organizing," Tabachnick, a PRA research fellow who has over the past several years become one of the nation's leading experts on the New Apostolic Reformation, reported.
None other than the venerable Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, one of the Christian Right's flagship entities, and a long-time culture warrior, credited Engle with bringing out the troops for a rally at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego one week before Election Day in 2008, and making a huge difference in helping pass Proposition 8, California's anti-same-sex marriage initiative. According to Tabachnick, "Engle's organization mounted a radio campaign and sent out email and phone blasts in support of Proposition 8, and he urged attendees to be martyrs for the cause."
Journalist and Talk2Action co-founder, Bruce Wilson described Engle as "the unofficial prayer leader of the Republican Party." He has been called a "radical theocrat," and the Southern Poverty Law Center has said that he says he can occasionally "venture into bloodlust."
Engle, a New Apostolic Reformation leader, has helped build a movement that has veered away from what we have come to know as the "traditional" Christian Right. It "is rooted in Charismatic Christianity, a cross-denominational belief in modern-day miracles and the supernatural." It emerged from neo-Pentecostal movement of the 1980s and "spread to Roman Catholics and mainline and evangelical Protestant churches in the United States and worldwide."
According to Tabachnick, the NAR embraces women and minorities, and is particularly focused on youth, "sponsoring youth events that look more like rock concerts than traditional church services." Its "stylish leaders dress in casual clothes, encourage fasting and repetitive chanting as a means of inducing altered mental states, and use sophisticated media strategies and techniques to deliver their message."
It's not all style over substance as the NAR's "most prominent leaders and prolific authors claim to be creating the 'greatest change in church since the Protestant Reformation,' and they describe themselves as modern-day prophets and apostles."
What the movement is really after is "to unify evangelical and all Protestant Christianity into a postdenominational structure, bringing about a reformation in the way that churches relate to one other, and in individual churches' internal governance."
Engle calls for massive "spiritual warfare" that will result in a complete worldwide "political and social transformation": "The revolution begins, they believe, with the casting out of demons, Tabachnick states. "NAR training materials claim that communities around the world are healed of their problems — experiencing a sudden and supernatural decline in poverty, crime, corruption, and even environmental degradation — once demonic influences are mapped and then purged from society through NAR's particular brand of 'spiritual warfare,' which is sometimes referred to as 'power evangelism.'"
Demonic activity has caused the downfall of society, both at home and abroad. "The sources of demonic activity can include homosexuality, abortion, non-Christian religions, and even sins from the past." According to NAR leaders, "strategic prayer can literally alter circumstances in the temporal world: the spontaneous burning and destruction of religious icons and structures," Tabachnick noted.
To achieve its goals, the NAR aims to have its apostles seize control over every important aspect of society, including, the government, military, entertainment industry and education."
If the NAR falls short of world denomination, it intends, as a minimum, to "turn America back to God."
Why pay any attention to what thus far appears to be a marginally effective political movement?
Tabachnick argues that, "The movement is bringing about profound changes in the character of conservative Christianity and the Christian Right, both in the United States and around the globe." It is not only "building new institutions, but [it is] creating new networks and alliances among long-established institutions. The NAR's leaders are methodically transforming the nature of the relationship between congregations and their leaders, creating a much more authoritarian leadership style than has traditionally been true of evangelical Christianity. That shift is central to the movement's political potential.
"The NAR's charismatic, authoritarian leaders are well-positioned to reinvent the Christian Right, infusing it with a new wave of energy, expanding its base of support, conducting sophisticated political campaigns, and doubling down on right-wing social and economic agendas — all while giving the Christian Right a new gloss of openness and diversity."
The "leading theorist" and the NAR's "most important organizing force" is C. Peter Wagner, a professor of "church growth" for three decades at Fuller Theological Seminary, a nondenominational evangelical seminary in Pasadena, CA. In the 1990's, Wagner headed up the International Coalition of Apostles, a networking group that "presided over an association of apostles — many of which, in turn, claimed hundreds or thousands of ministries under their leadership." He "also formed networks of faith-healing ministries, 'deliverance ministries' that claim to free people from demon possession, and an inner-circle of leading prophets, in addition to the Wagner Leadership Institute (WLI), a network of training programs in locations across the United States, Canada, and several Asian nations."
Tabachnick pointed out that the New Apostolic Reformation's influence does not end at America's shores: "Engle was featured extensively in God Loves Uganda, a documentary about U.S. evangelical conservatives' antigay influence in Uganda, where the infamous Anti-Homosexuality 'Kill the Gays' Bill was first introduced in 2009."
The NAR might have reached its pinnacle in the summer of 2011 when 30,000 people attended a prayer rally in Houston, Texas. Promoted heavily of Texas Governor Rick Perry, then a leading contender for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, the rally featured several NAR leaders, "apostles and prophets who had for years remained under the radar were suddenly subjected to scrutiny from the media."
"Exposed to this scrutiny, NAR's leaders publicly distanced themselves from some of their more radical ideology. Webpages were removed and websites were amended to explain that the NAR's apostles are either not Dominionists, or that the term simply means to gain influence in society."
This increased scrutiny may have led to a retreat of sorts, but certainly not to surrender.
(Photo: Dustin Johnson)