The connection between US president Donald Trump and the Religious or Christian Right is puzzling. How can Christians show strong support for a leader who has demonstrated such significant and public moral weaknesses?
More than three quarters of white evangelicals voted for Trump last November. “They didn’t win Trump another four years in power, but not for lack of effort. While most of America tired of the president’s impieties, the born-again found in themselves a higher tolerance for sin.”1
The “We’re voting for a president, not hiring a pastor!” defence doesn’t work. And particularly so when the same group argued strongly against voting for Bill Clinton because he didn’t have the “character” to be worthy of people’s vote.2
Some did criticise Trump for his “lax morals and clearly unrepentant attitude and encouraged evangelical Christians to withhold their support.”3 However, he maintained a 69 per cent approval rate among evangelical Protestants and, in 2016, 81 per cent of white evangelicals voted for him.4
Research has found that “religious support for Trump is driven by Christian nationalism, which is not so much about moral purity as it is about power—the kind of power to defend and to deliver the Christian nation that never was.”5
However, Trump governed “by whim and tweet, deepened the nation’s racial and cultural divides and undermined faith in its institutions. His legacy: a tumultuous four years that were marked by his impeachment, failures during the worst pandemic in a century and his refusal to accept defeat.”6
Then there are Trump’s 26,000 or so “false or misleading statements.”7 Lies? In his book, The Art of the Deal, Trump said, “I play to people’s fantasies. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration, a very effective form of promotion.”8
The New Apostolic Reformation connection
The New Apostolic Reformation aims for Christian nationalism. In a Christianity Today interview, Brad Christerson and Richard Flory, authors of The Rise of Network Christianity, talked about the NAR. They describe how congregations—several are megachurches—are led by self-proclaimed apostles and prophets, with the assumed authority of biblical apostles (such as Paul and John) and prophets (like Elijah and Daniel).
While similar to the prosperity gospel movement, the interviewer, explains, “They’ve combined multi-level marketing, Pentecostal signs and wonders, and postmillennial optimism to connect directly with millions of spiritual customers.” This brings in millions of dollars and “because these [NAR] apostles claim to get direction straight from God, they operate with almost no oversight.”9
NAR is currently the fastest-growing force within Christianity and is expanding rapidly into Africa, Asia and Latin America and claims “to usher in the most significant changes in Protestantism since Martin Luther.” Their goal is “to eradicate denominations and form a unified church that will be victorious against evil.”10 [pullquote]
The University of California’s latest quarterly Nuvo Religio calls those within NAR, “prophecy voters looking forward to the creation of the Kingdom of God on earth by citizens acting on divine instructions delivered through the leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation.”11
This is a “theological reformation.” “While the Protestant Reformation emphasised Sola Scriptura [Scripture Alone] the NAR claims a second apostolic age, returning the church to the days of extra-biblical authority.”12
C Peter Wagner, a leading voice in the Church Growth Movement from the 1980s, became a leader in NAR in the 2000s, until his death in 2016.13 He explained NAR’s purpose: “God has sent us out to restore things to see His kingdom come, His will done on earth, as it is in heaven. And then when that happens enough, Jesus will return, and He will return to a very strong world, reflecting the kingdom of God, and not to a miserable world like much of our world today” (italics added).14
This thinking makes Jesus dependent on us for His return.
Added to this, Brian Simmons’ The Passion Translation—a Bible “translation” that, at best, is a paraphrase because it’s high on passion (attempting to create emotional feelings and connections), but short on accuracy—is being popularised and endorsed by several NAR leaders.15
Andrew G Shead, head of Old Testament and Hebrew at Sydney’s Moore College was scathing in his review of the Psalms in Simmons’ Bible. While recognising the aim to “re-introduce the passion and fire of the Bible to the English reader,” this is achieved, “by abandoning all interest in textual accuracy, playing fast and loose with the original languages, and inserting so much new material into the text that it is at least 50 per cent longer than the original.”
This “no longer counts as Scripture” and “by masquerading as a Bible it threatens to bind entire churches in thrall to a false god.” Further, it is “an offence against God.”16
So, the NAR claims extra-biblical authority through its apostles and prophets. Then, if a Bible is used, there’s an endorsement of one “masquerading as a Bible.” This New Apostolic Reformation, unlike the Protestant Reformation with its Sola Scriptura approach, has no solid, agreed upon guidelines or guard rails.
Preparing the earth for Jesus’ return
To prepare the earth for Jesus, NAR is following a Seven Mountains Mandate. These “mountains” are business; government (politics); media; arts and entertainment; education; the family; and religion. They believe God is appointing people into high positions in these areas to fulfil His will and bring God’s dominion in these areas.
“These leaders will be listening to God,” explains Christerson, “and He will use them to supernaturally make America or the world into the kingdom of God.” As for Trump, NAR says, “He’s not one of us, but God is using him to defeat our enemies and restore our nation.”17
Lance Wallnau, an NAR leader, described Trump as “the confrontational leader God had raised him up to be.” He’s a “kamikaze candidate,” a “wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness.”
He says God led him to Isaiah 45:1 to “find out who this man is.” The verse tells of God anointing King Cyrus. The fact that, at the time, Trump could be the 45th president and the text was in Isaiah 45 seemed to seal the deal for Wallnau. Trump had a “Cyrus anointing.”18
Support for Trump was much broader than the NAR. He maintained a strong base particularly among white evangelicals—a “convenient bargain with an immoral leader whose inclinations are dictatorial, not religious.”19
In return, writes Tim Alberta in American Carnage, Trump believed that if he gave them “the policies and the access to authority that they longed for,” then “they would stand behind him unwaveringly.”20
A win-win situation?
For Australia, in 2000 Wagner gave a “prophetic word” that, “Australia has the potential to become the first nation in the world to model, as a nation, the new wineskins that I [God] am shaping for My church.”21
For now, it impacts mainly on Australian Assembly of God churches. There’s some online debate and condemnation of Hillsong being an NAR church, but the Bible Society’s Eternity magazine says they fail the NAR test.22 What we do know is that NAR plans to impact every nation on earth and bring them under God’s dominion.
In January 2020, Trump launched “Evangelicals for Trump” as part of his re-election campaign at El Rey Jesus, an NAR megachurch in Miami, Florida. The pastor, Apostle Guillermo Maldonado and his wife, Prophet Ana Maldonado, hosted the event.
Trump, the NAR and the majority of the Religious Right were still in lockstep coming up to the 2020 election. Christian nationalism, “which is not so much about moral purity as it is about power,” was at stake.
Trump lost the election, but this is not about Donald Trump. The New Apostolic Reformation continues with its plan to impact on politics and the other six “mountains” within society—all societies—to build a planet worthy of Jesus’ return.
Unfortunately, their use of Trump to help achieve their goals makes it seem that the NAR is willing to use whatever means it takes—to the point of going against Christian principles. History shows that this becomes dangerous if force is added to gain the desired results.
The NAR can also be criticised for not using a firm biblical base in its approach and failing to follow the teachings and example of Jesus in its political endeavours.
Pastor Bruce Manners is a retired pastor and former editor of Adventist Record.