Category Archives: Religion

How a growing Christian movement is seeking to take control of the top sectors of American society

Last week, from Oct. 6 to 9, the National Mall in Washington, D.C. was filled with tents, worship music and prayer for the “Awaken the Dawn” rally. The purpose of the event, according to organizer Lou Engle, was to “gather around Jesus,” to pray for the nation and its government. It ended with a day of prayer by Christian women.

This wasn’t the first such event. On April 9, 2016, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, tens of thousands of people gathered to pray for the supernatural transformation of America.

Five years earlier, in August of 2011, more than 30,000 people cheered wildly as the then U.S. presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry – now secretary of energy in the Trump administration – came to the center stage at “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis” at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

These three events and the leaders who organized them are central players in a movement that we call “Independent Network Charismatic,” or INC, Christianity in our recently released book, “The Rise of Network Christianity.”

Based on our research, we believe that INC Christianity is significantly changing the religious landscape in America – and its politics.

Here is what we found about INC

INC Christianity is led by a network of popular independent religious entrepreneurs, often referred to as “apostles.” They have close ties, we found, to conservative U.S. politicians, including Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and more recently President Donald Trump.

Charismatic Christians emphasize supernatural miracles and divine interventions. But INC Christianity is different from other charismatics – and other Christian denominations in general – in the following ways:

  • It is not focused primarily on building congregations but rather on spreading beliefs and practices through media, conferences and ministry schools.
  • It is not so much about proselytizing to unbelievers as it is about transforming society through placing Christian believers in powerful positions in all sectors of society.
  • It is organized as a network of independent leaders rather than as formally organized denominations.

INC Christianity is the fastest-growing Christian group in America and possibly around the world. Over the 40 years from 1970 to 2010, the number of regular attenders of Protestant churches as a whole shrunk by an average of .05 percent per year, which is a striking decline when one considers that the U.S. population grew an average of 1 percent per year during those years. At the same time, independent neo-charismatic congregations (a category in which INC groups reside) grew by an average of 3.24 percent per year.

Its impact, however, is much greater than can be measured in church attendance. This is because INC Christianity is not centrally concerned with building congregations, but spreading beliefs and practices.

The influence of INC Christianity can be seen in the millions of hits on many of theirweb-based media sites, large turnouts at stadium rallies and conferences, and millions of dollars in media sales. In our interviews with leaders, we found that Bethel, an INC ministry based in Redding, California, for example, in 2013 had an income of US$8.4 million in sales of music, books, DVDs and web-based content as well as $7 million in tuition to their Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.

Appeal of INC

As part of our research, we conducted in-depth interviews with senior leaders, staff and current and former participants in INC Christian ministries. We also conducted supplementary interviews with Christian leaders and scholars with knowledge of the changing religious landscape and attended conferences, numerous church services, ministry school sessions, healing sessions and exorcisms. In all, we conducted 41 in-depth interviews.

Our primary conclusion is that the growth of these groups is largely the result of their network governance structure. When compared to the oversight and accountability of formal congregations and denominations, these structures allow for more experimentation. This includes “extreme” experiences of the supernatural, unorthodox beliefs and practices, and financing as well as marketing techniques that leverage the power of the internet.

In our research, we witnessed the appeal of INC Christianity, particularly among young people. We saw the thrill of holding impromptu supernatural healing sessions in the emergency room of a large public hospital, the intrigue of ministry school class sessions devoted to the techniques of casting out demonic spirits and the adventure of teams of young people going out into public places, seeking direct guidance from God as to whom to heal or to relay specific divine messages.

‘Seven mountains of culture’

In addition to the growth numbers, the importance of INC Christianity lies in the fact that its proponents have a fundamentally different view of the relationship between the Christian faith and society than most Christian groups throughout American history.

Most Christian groups in America have seen the role of the Church as connecting individuals to God through the saving grace of Jesus and building congregations that provide communities of meaning and belonging through worship services. They also believe in serving and providing for the needs their local communities. Such traditional Christian groups believe that although the world can be improved, it will not be restored to God’s original plan until Jesus comes back again to rule the Earth.

INC beliefs, however, are different – their leaders are not content simply to connect individuals to God and grow congregations. Most INC Christian groups we studied seek 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.

INC leaders have labeled them the “seven mountains of culture.”

These include business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family and religion. In this form of “trickle-down Christianity,” they believe if Christians rise to the top of all seven “mountains,” society will be completely transformed.

One INC leader we interviewed summed it up this way:

“The goal of this new movement is transforming social units like cities, ethnic groups, nations rather than individuals…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.”

We heard these ideas repeatedly in most of our interviews, at events we attended and in INC media materials.

Most significantly, since the 2016 presidential election, some INC leaders have released public statements claiming that the Trump presidency is part of fulfilling God’s plan to “bring heaven to Earth” by placing believers in top posts, including Rick Perry; Betsy DeVos directing the Department of Education; and Ben Carson leading the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Changing the landscape

INC Christianity is a movement to watch because we think it will continue to draw adherents in large numbers in the future. It will produce a growing number of Christians who see their goal not just as saving souls but as transforming society by taking control over its institutions.

We see the likelihood of INC Christians taking over the “seven mountains of culture” as slim. However, we also believe that this movement is sure to shake up the religious and political landscape for generations to come.

By Brad Christerson, Richard Flory/RawStory

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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The Real Reason Evangelicals Have Made Trump Their New Messiah

An apostate believes the church is bent on overturning a landmark court decision.

Evangelical Christians have drawn ire since overwhelmingly supporting President Donald Trump during the 2016 election. But one former evangelical, who left the church, suggests they made a deal with the devil so they could get the legislation they’ve always wanted.

According to Guardian writer Josiah Hesse, Trump has “bragged about his sins and built a career on casinos and half-naked women,” but evangelicals saw him as an opportunity and agreed to mobilize their voting bloc in the churches to elect him.

“Evangelicals know he’s not a real Christian,” Hesse explained. “But they’re pragmatic about overturning Roe v. Wade, and generally agree with his economic plan of deregulation, lowering taxes and keeping undocumented immigrants out.”

It’s a philosophy rumored to have inspired congressional Republicans in making a deal with Trump.

“Many Republican members of Congress have made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump,” wrote David Brooks for The New York Times shortly after Trump took office. “They don’t particularly admire him as a man, they don’t trust him as an administrator, they don’t agree with him on major issues, but they respect the grip he has on their voters, they hope he’ll sign their legislation and they certainly don’t want to be seen siding with the inflamed progressives or the hyperventilating media.”

Republicans saw the rare opportunity to have every single branch of government controlled by a single party — their party. Though, as Trump has begun attacking members of his own party, they’re starting to have buyer’s remorse. The evangelical community, however, is still hanging on, as Trump’s board of faith-based advisors has remained intact.

“I don’t think that he’s a believer, but he cares about evangelicals,” evangelical Christian and Trump supporter Jay Eike told Hesse. “The tweeting drives me crazy. But evangelicals think his policies are more important [than his behavior].”

The same story was true for former President Ronald Reagan, who became a messiah for evangelicals. Being the “reformed” sinner who came back to God also helped George W. Bush secure the image of a prodigal son the community should align themselves with.

Hesse argues that evangelicals like that Trump wants to “shake things up.” Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University president, told ABC News he liked Trump because the president doesn’t cave to “political correctness.”

“For evangelicals, pissing off liberals and defending unpopular opinions makes him appear more like one of them,” Hesse explained. “What seems like an imploding presidency to some, appears as a heroic martyr against liberalism to others.”

He went on to quote Jesus, claiming, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”

The more hated a person is, the nearer a Christian can be to God. Given his approval rating, Trump is getting closer and closer.

 By Sarah K. Burris/RawStory
Posted by The NON-Conformist

Houston Megachurch: We ‘Never Closed Our Doors’ To Those Displaced By Harvey

The Lakewood Church in Houston, a megachurch with a 16,800-seat arena where Joel Osteen serves as pastor, on Monday denied that it closed its doors to residents displaced by massive flooding after Hurricane Harvey made landfall last week.

“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need,” church spokesman Donald Iloff told CNN. “We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity.”

The church provided CNN with photographs of standing water in hallways and a parking lot.

BUT….

Image: Twitter

Iloff, who is televangelist pastor Joel Osteen’s father-in-law, said the church is scheduled to open around noon and will also serve as a donation center.

The church on Sunday posted on Facebook that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding” and included a list of “safe shelters” in Houston as well as the National Guard rescue hotline.

More from Talking Points Memo

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Republicans Condemn ‘Hate and Bigotry’ But Don’t Mention President Trump

Image: Time Magazine

One after another, the nation’s most powerful Republicans responded to President Donald Trump’s extraordinary remarks about white supremacists. Yet few mentioned the president.

The Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, condemned “hate and bigotry.” House Speaker Paul Ryan charged that, “White supremacy is repulsive.” Neither criticized the president’s insistence that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a violent weekend clash between white supremacists and counterdemonstrators.

The nuanced statements reflect the party establishment’s delicate dance. Few top Republican officeholders defended the president in the midst of an escalating political crisis. Yet they are unwilling to declare all-out war against Trump and risk alienating his loyalists. And as the 2018 elections begin to take shape, the debate over Trump’s words appears to be taking hold in GOP primaries.

Trump on Thursday attacked some of the Republicans who have directly criticized him.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who doesn’t face re-election until 2020, said the president “took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally” and the people demonstrating against them.

“Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world,” Graham added, referring to the former Ku Klux Klan leader.

Trump shot back on Thursday on Twitter: “Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists and people like Ms. Heyer.” He was referring to Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed when she was struck by a car driven into the crowd.

“Such a disgusting lie,” Trump said of Graham’s remarks. “He just can’t forget his election trouncing. The people of South Carolina will remember.”

More from Time Magazine

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Most Of America’s Terrorists Are White, And Not Muslim

Right-wing terror is real, and it’s a problem.

When it comes to domestic terrorism in America, the numbers don’t lie: Far-right extremists are behind far more plots and attacks than Islamist extremists.

There were almost twice as many terrorist incidents by right-wing extremists as by Islamist extremists in the U.S. from 2008 to 2016, according to a new report from The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal.

Looking at both plots and attacks carried out, the group tracked 201 terrorist incidents on U.S. soil from January 2008 to the end of 2016. The database shows 115 cases by right-wing extremists ― from white supremacists to militias to “sovereign citizens” ― compared to 63 cases by Islamist extremists. Incidents from left-wing extremists, which include ecoterrorists and animal rights militants, were comparatively rare, with 19 incidents.

When it comes to right-wing extremism, attackers are also ‘mostly men’ and ‘almost purely white.’Reporter David Neiwert

While the database makes a point of distinguishing between different groups within right-wing extremism, lead reporter David Neiwert told HuffPost that “those are all gradations of white supremacy, variations on the same thing.” When it comes to right-wing extremism, attackers are also “mostly men” and “almost purely white,” Neiwert said.

Attacks by right-wing extremists were also more often deadly, with nearly a third of right-wing extremist incidents resulting in deaths compared with 13 percent of Islamist extremist cases resulting in deaths. However, the sheer number of people killed by Islamist extremists ― a total of 90 people killed ― was higher than the death toll at the hands of right-wing extremists ― 79 people killed.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has focused his rhetoric and policies almost entirely on countering Islamist extremism, and not white supremacist extremism.

“As with a lot of things related to Trump and the Islamophobic right, the reality is viewed through an upside-down looking glass,” Neiwert said. The reality is the most significant domestic terror threat we have is right-wing extremism.

The Investigative Fund’s findings reflect those of previous studies of domestic terrorism. The New America Foundation, for instance, which has been tracking deadly terror incidents on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11 attacks, also finds an almost two-to-one ratio of attacks by far-right extremists to Islamist extremists, with 21 deadly attacks by far-right extremists, compared to 11 by Islamist extremists.

Despite the facts, many Americans still associate terror attacks with Islamist extremistsrather than far-right extremists, Neiwart noted.

“I think the larger perception in the public ― and this includes many progressives and liberals ― is the inversion of the reality: that the greatest threat we face is Islamist radicals,” Neiwert said. “And it’s reflected in the way the press report upon various kinds of domestic terror attacks: When it’s a white domestic terrorist, they underplay it, write it off to mental illness.”

The reality is the most significant domestic terror threat we have is right-wing extremism.Reporter David Neiwert

The media has a long history of double standards when it comes to covering terrorism ― starting with how slow mainstream media is to label attacks by white perpetrators as “terrorism,” and quick to label them as such when attackers are perceived as nonwhite or “other” ― and specifically, Muslim.

Part of problem is the complex nature of how officials choose to categorize attacks as terrorism. The FBI has specific criteria its uses to classify terrorist incidents ― but the public doesn’t always agree with officials’ labels. For instance, many people condemned the government for not labeling Dylann Roof a terrorist after he killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, even though he specifically said he was there “to shoot black people,” according to witnesses.

“There’s actually a debate over whether what Dylann Roof did was domestic terrorism, when it so plainly is domestic terrorism,” Neiwert told HuffPost. “A lot of this has to do with embedded judgements about where these threats come from ― and that has to do with fear-mongering around Islamophobia.”

Investigative Fund’s interactive map showing terrorism incidents by ideology since 2008. 

The solution, according to Neiwert, lies with the government first acknowledging the scale of the problem of far-right extremism, and then dedicating resources to fighting it.

So far Trump has shown a clear double standard in his response to terrorism: After Islamist extremists attacked London on June 3, for instance, Trump condemned the violence on Twitter the same day ― but after an attack in Portland, Oregon, by a white supremacist on May 26, Trump waited more than two days before tweeting about it. After the London attack, Trump also called on the courts to reinstate his travel ban on certain Muslim-majority countries ― which was roundly criticized. After the Portland attack, Trump made no calls to change policy to prevent future attacks.

The Trump administration also reportedly just dropped funding for nonprofit Life After Hate, a group that helps people leave the white supremacist movement.

Trump administration has dropped funding for a group dedicated to de-radicalizing neo-Nazis and stopping white extremism. via @playbookplus

But it’s not just Trump that’s the problem. The Fund’s database goes back to 2008 and shows clearly how government resources have been disproportionately dedicated to tackling Islamist extremism over right-wing extremism. The government succeeded in interrupting the vast majority of Islamist extremist terror cases since 2008, for instance: 76 percent of incidents tracked were “foiled plots,” which the group noted showed “a significant investment of law enforcement resources.” When it came to right-wing extremism, only about a third of incidents were interrupted ― 35 percent ― and the majority of the cases included acts of violence that led to deaths, injuries or damaged property.

At the end of the day, it’s not only on the government to acknowledge the reality of the growing threat of far-right extremism, according to Neiwert, it’s on everyone from members of the media to average Americans.

“First thing we need to do is recognize that it’s there, it’s a problem, it’s a threat ― as great a threat as Islamists,” Neiwert said. “And it needs to be taken seriously.”

By Sarah Ruiz-Grossman/HuffPost

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?

The lack of a coherent anti-terrorism strategy in Washington and by extension the West, as emergency services deal with the devastating aftermath of yet another terrorist atrocity in Europe – this time a suicide bomb attack at a concert in Manchester, England – has been thrown into sharp relief during President Trump’s tour of the Middle East.

Specifically, on what planet can Iran be credibly accused of funding and supporting terrorism while Saudi Arabia is considered a viable partner in the fight against terrorism? This is precisely the narrative we are being invited to embrace by President Trump in what counts as a retreat from reality into the realms of fantasy, undertaken in service not to security but commerce.

Indeed those still struggling to understand why countries such as the US, UK, and France consistently seek to legitimise a Saudi regime that is underpinned by the medieval religious doctrine of Wahhabism, which is near indistinguishable from the medieval religious extremism and fanaticism of Daesh and Nusra in Syria – those people need look no further than the economic relations each of those countries enjoy with Riyadh.

The announcement that Washington has just sealed a mammoth deal with its Saudi ally on arms sales – worth $110 billion immediately and $350 billion over 10 years – is all the incentive the US political and media establishment requires to look the other way when it comes to the public beheadings, crucifixionseye gouging, and other cruel and barbaric punishments meted out in the Kingdom on a regular basis.

The sheer unreality of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, as he stood shoulder to shoulder with President Trump during the latter’s state visit to the country recently, lamenting the chaos and carnage in Syria, which he described as having been “one of the most advanced countries” prior to a conflict that has wrought so much death and destruction, the sheer unreality of this is off the scale – and especially so considering the role the Saudis have played in providing material, financial, and ideological and religious support to groups engaged in the very carnage in Syria as has just been unleashed in Manchester.

There are times when the truth is not enough, when only the unvarnished truth will do, and in the wake of the Manchester attack – in which at time of writing 22 people have been killed and 60 injured – we cannot avoid the conclusion that neither principle nor rationality is driving Western foreign policy in the Middle East, or as it pertains to terrorism.

Instead it is being driven by unalloyed hypocrisy, to the extent that when such carnage occurs in Syria, as it has unremittingly over the past 6 years, the perpetrators are still described in some quarters as rebels and freedom fighters, yet when it takes place in Manchester or Paris or Brussels, etc., they are depicted as terrorists. Neither is it credible to continue to demonize governments that are in the front line against this terrorist menace – i.e. Iran, Russia, Syria – while courting and genuflecting at the feet of governments that are exacerbating it – i.e. Saudi Arabia, previously mentioned, along with Qatar, Kuwait, and Turkey. Here, too, mention must be made of the brutal and ongoing injustice meted out to the Palestinians by an Israeli government that shares with the Saudis a doctrine of religious exceptionalism and supremacy, one that is inimical to peace or the security of its own people.

Ultimately a choice has to be made between security and stability or economic and geopolitical advantage, with the flag of democracy and human rights losing its lustre in recent years precisely because the wrong choice has been made – in other words a Faustian pact with opportunism.

As the smoke clears, both literally and figuratively, from yet another terrorist atrocity, we are forced to consider how we arrived at this point. And when we do we cannot but understand the role of Western extremism in giving birth to and nourishing Salafi-jihadi extremism. Moreover, in the midst of the understandable and eminently justifiable grief we feel at events in Manchester, it behooves us not to forget the salient fact that Muslims have and continue to be the biggest victims of this terrorist menace, unleashed in the name of religious purity andsectarianism, and that it is Muslims who are also doing most to confront and fight it, whether in Syria, Iraq, Libya, or Afghanistan. It should not escape our rendering of the issue either that what each of those countries have in common is that they have all been victims of the Western extremism mentioned earlier.

It bears repeating: you cannot continue to invade, occupy, and subvert Muslim and Arab countries and not expect consequences. And when those consequences amount to the slaughter and maiming of your own citizens, the same tired and shallow platitudes we are ritually regaled with by politicians and leaders intent on bolstering their anti-terrorism and security credentials achieve little except induce nausea.

Enough is enough.

By John Wight/Projectcensored

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Man Arrested Over Threats To Jewish Centers In Texas, Across Nation

Image: CBS Dallas/Fortworth

A jilted ex-boyfriend is behind at least eight of the scores of threats made against Jewish Community Centers nationwide, plus a bomb threat to New York’s Anti-Defamation League, in an effort to harass and vilify his former girlfriend, federal officials said Friday.

Juan Thompson, 31, was arrested in St. Louis and will appear in federal court in Missouri on Friday afternoon on a charge of cyberstalking, authorities said. There was no information on an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

Federal officials have been investigating 122 bomb threats called in to nearly 100 Jewish Community College schools, child care and other similar facilities in three dozen states. The first wave of calls started January 9. Thompson made threats in his name and in the woman’s name, and his first one was Jan. 28 to the Jewish History Museum in Manhattan, authorities said. Federal authorities say Thompson made up an email address to make it seem like the woman was sending threats in his name. He made threats this way to Jewish schools in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and Manhattan and to a JCC in Manhattan, authorities said.

He also made threats in the woman’s name, authorities said. An email sent February 21 to the Anti-Defamation League said the woman was behind threats made against “jews,” authorities said.

“She lives in nyc and is making more bomb threats tomorrow,” the email said, according to federal authorities.

More from CBS Dallas

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