Slate is alarmed that some Pentecostals mix politics and prophecy

Pentecostal Christians who believe in modern-day prophecy and support President Donald Trump gathered more than a year ago in Washington, D.C. That should be enough to frighten anyone braced for battle against theocracy.

Worse still, they gathered at the Trump International Hotel, so you know that here is something deeply menacing to the future of America.

Ruth Graham ofSlate wrote about “The Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven,” drawing in part from an on-site report filed Jan. 18, 2018, by Peter Montgomery of People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch.

Here’s the strange twist. Montgomery’s report for the activist group surpasses Graham’s report for the more journalism-oriented web daily.

The key difference is that Montgomery’s report conveys a more nuanced picture of this melodramatic gathering, whose leaders are clearly outliers in the evangelical subculture.

Montgomery writes:

Joining [Dutch] Sheets at the conference — called “The Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven” — were Chuck PierceCindy JacobsLou Engle and other leaders of the “intercessory prayer” movement, along with 1,300 attendees who filled the Trump hotel’s presidential ballroom to capacity for hours of music, prayer, speaking in tongues, and prophetic decrees. Many of the conference leaders have been working together and supporting one another’s ministries for decades, and they joked and teased each other on stage. But they were utterly serious about their mission in Washington, D.C.

Right Wing Watch’s video shows a small rock outfit in the background, including a saxophonist, so we can at least presume that the music was engaging.

Montgomery clearly knows the gold to be mined when a writer can sit in on a gathering of like-minded people and listen carefully to what they say:

Another speaker was a U.S. military officer who Sheets describes as one of his “spiritual sons” — he was not introduced by name — and who described himself as an “unashamed awakening revivalist” who strives to model Christian love to the people who serve under him while engaging in warfare in the spiritual realm. He described speaking to a meeting of an association of Christian colleges and universities and presenting its leader with an Appeal to Heaven flag. But after he spoke, he said, “a law professor from somewhere in the Midwest came up and gave a talk about pluralism, and how America is no longer a Christian nation, and that we just have to learn how to coexist peacefully with Islam, with secular humanism.”  Nothing could be further from the truth, the officer said. “America was not founded as Babylon. America was founded to be a new Israel, to be a light and a glory for the promulgation of the gospel, to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to every nation.” He said the spiritual warriors participating in the conference were like the 300 Spartans who held off two million Persians. He urged people to embrace “the nature of the Lord as a man of war” and apply it to their lives so that we don’t have “weak, limp-wristed, cowardly Christianity anymore.” He said that 3 million “awakened Christians” would be enough to turn the tide.

Graham’s report takes the snark factor up a notch by suggesting that the conference participants treat President Trump as a messianic figure.

This is long, but let the snark sink in.

The Trump International Hotel in Washington brought in just over $40 million last year, almost 10 percent of the revenue earned by the president’s company. It has become a favorite stop for Republicans and lobbyists, not to mention foreign officials. But to a subset of President Donald Trump’s most fervent followers, the hotel has become more than just a posh place to sleep and mingle; it’s something approaching a sacred space.

Lance Wallnau, an author and self-styled prophet, is the latest to announce a spiritual event at the hotel. Wallnau announced this month that he is headlining an “Extreme Dream Trip” over Labor Day. The motivational weekend promises a “Destiny Blueprint” for fulfillment and success, and Wallnau is promoting the setting as an auspicious one. “God chose THIS LOCATION at THIS TIME for a reason!” he writes on his website. He felt called to hold the event there, he says, because it is the “perfect place for this spiritual transaction and impartation.” He hosted a similar event at the hotel last year. …

Small objects like coins associated with prayer rituals are not unique to this wing of charismatic Christianity. But televangelists have also found them particularly useful as fundraising tools. Wallnau described the Cyrus coin as a “point of contact” between God and people praying for Trump. Paula White, a televangelist and favorite pastor of Trump’s, once offered her followers an anointed prayer cloth in exchange for an $1,144 donation; she, too, described the cloth as a “point of contact.” That religious tradition may help explain why being physically present in a Trump Hotel is significant to this portion of the president’s base. For this loose cohort of prayer warriors, the hotel seems to offer the opportunity not just to hobnob or celebrity-watch, but to touch the hem of Trump’s garment—to bask for a few days in his presence, in a building bearing his name.

The problem here is a common one in reports having anything to do with the president: the temptation to take Trump and his followers literally but not seriously. There is an interesting discussion to be had about whether the church relies on prophecy anymore. People on both the right and the left often apply the label of prophet to anyone who speaks a tribal truth with some degree of charisma.

Instead, we are left with the equivalent of driving out to a zoo to gawk at exotic animals.

Photo of the Trump International Hotel by James McNellis/Flickr

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