I’ve been trying to wrap my head around a conservative Christian movement called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). It’s an outgrowth of the Pentecostal movement, and like the other Charismatics its focus on spiritualism and experience over creed and tradition make it seem very odd to mainstream Christians. And like the rest of American Pentecostalism, NAR seems a very diverse and loosely organized movement that has its own communities but also crops up in the thinking of existing communities.
In America, NAR’s most famous member is Sarah Palin, and you may remember the famous youtube clip where Palin is blessed by the Kenyan preacher Rev. Thomas Muthee. Muthee asked God to “keep her safe from every form of witchcraft.” While this was just considered wacky by most of us, it’s important to realize that Muthee is an international star in the NAR movement. He has preached before large audiences in Sweden, England and Australia, and he’s starred in a series of movies that are shown in churches around the world.
Round the World
Pullquote: “Imagine a religious movement that makes geographic maps of where demons reside and claims among its adherents the Republican Party’s most recent vice presidential nominee and whose leaders have presided over prayer sessions (one aimed at putting the kibosh on health-care reform) with a host of leading GOP figures.”
Muthee and Palin’s roles point to something else; the NAR movement is international, pan-ethic and surprisingly egalitarian for women. In this it’s like the early Pentecostal movement in America, which was able to cross racial lines even at the turn on the 19th century. Time will tell if NAR will be able to maintain this, or if it will fracture the way Pentecostalism did.
NAR also plays a large role in providing charity and social services to those in need. But the flip side of NAR is that it is usually dominionist; that is, its members usually believe that Christians should be in control of society and that societies should be run along Christian lines. It’s not surprising that the Ugandan wing of the NAR movement was involved in that country’s draconian law against homosexuals. In America, NAR shows up in odd places of the conservative movement. One of the most prominent members is C. Peter Wagner, the man who seems to have named the movement. Wagner served as a mentor to Rick Warren and worked with Ted Haggard.
NAR members are encouraged to take over more than government. One of the goals of the movement is to take control of the “Seven Mountains of Culture,” which includes education, media and business. The “7 Mountains” or “7-M” is a catchphrase for the movement, and Muthee was speaking about the “7-M campaign” at Palin’s church before the famous anointing. Some members are asked to be “market apostles” and merge evangelism with their business, a process that involves going to their places of employment and connecting with other movement members, evangelism and prayer.
Pullquote: “I think we can expect to see more of this type of vigilante behavior now that spiritual mapping and spiritual warfare are spreading throughout our communities.”
This is prayer of an odd sort, even for modern Christians. Charismatic movements believe that the Holy Spirit is still active and dispensing spiritual gifts, and so they’re inclined to place more emphasis on the supernatural than most mainstream Christians. One of the resulting practices in NAR is called “spirit mapping,” where believers literally map out a community and decide where demons and other evil powers are located. Members then enter into prayer to force out the demons (making them “prayer warriors,” another catch phrase.)
Once the demons have been cast out, the area is supposedly claimed for God. Most believe that this will lead to the conversion of the people in the area. Some claim that the areas become mini-utopias, where poverty, corruption and disease are reduced. There are even claims that AIDS has been cured in some of these area.
“Spirit mapping” takes different forms. The organization Repent Amarillo, which we wrote about before, is affiliated with the movement. “Repent” seems to tie “spirit mapping” with vigilantism, targeting sex businesses, other religious centers and liberal churches as places of evil that must be cleansed through prayer and pressure. This is the NAR movement when it turns ugly.
Under our Noses
Pullquote: The leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation are not interested in democracy. They view themselves as spiritual royalty, and believe they have a mandate from God to rule. I’ve heard this preached from the pulpit, taught in conferences. I trust this article because, well, none of it sounds weird or over the top to me.
For a variety of reasons, the NAR movement runs under the radar for most of the mainstream media. One of the few journalists watching it is Rachel Tabachnick. She suggests that the lack of a central leadership hampers the ability of journalists to get access or information. NAR can also unintentionally hide in plain sight; the Wasilla Assemblies of God Church, where Palin was raised, has strayed from the AOG denomination and embraced NAR ideas, a fact which most journalists reporting on Palin missed.
Right now, Tabachnick and her colleague Bill Berkowitz have an article up at Alternet, Head’s Up: Prayer Warriors and Sarah Palin Are Organizing Spiritual Warfare To Take Over America, in what Berkowitz suggests is “probably the most extensive article/interview yet published on this movement.”
Former NAR member turned atheist blogger The Woeful Budgie gives it a thumbs-up: “This article sums up pretty much everything I’ve wanted to explain about the NAR: the ubiquity, the subtlety, the militaristic structure, the aim to infiltrate and manipulate society from within as “rulers”…and the way it disguises itself in more innocuous forms to garner support from more moderate Christians (and even non-Christians).”
But the article seems over the top to me. That may be just my ignorance – in fact, that’s surely part of it. But the authors seem to be making up for the lack of media attention by hitting the notes hard:
It’s a movement whose followers played a significant role in the battle over Proposition 8, California’s anti-same-sex marriage initiative, and Uganda’s infamous proposed Anti-Homosexuality Law, more commonly associated with the Family, a religious network of elites drawn from the ranks of business and government throughout the world. But the movement we’re imagining encompasses the humble and the elite alike, supporting a network of “prayer warriors” in all 50 states, within the ranks of the U.S. military, and at the far reaches of the globe — all guided by an entire genre of books, texts, videos and other media.
Still, the basic point is sound: the NAR movement is a powerful and connected conservative movement that has grown while under the radar of the media. So let’s let Tabachnick have the last word:
I believe this movement’s threat to separation of church and state is greater than some of the more overtly theocratic movements of the religious right. The inclusion of women and all races in leadership roles, and their enthusiastic sponsorship of social services conflicts with a popular notion about religious fundamentalism. Despite their radical strategies, leaders in the movement have been labeled in the press as moderate, including Apostle Samuel Rodriguez — president of the Sacramento, Calif.-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference — who has been described as a “new evangelical.”