‘America belongs to you’: These dominionist prayer warriors are convincing Trump that God put him in power
In the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, God told Frank Amedia that with Donald Trump having been elected president, Amedia and his fellow Trump-supporting “apostles” and “prophets” had a new mission. Thus was born POTUS Shield, a network of Pentecostal leaders devoted to helping Trump bring about the reign of God in America and the world.Amedia described the divine origins of POTUS Shield during a gathering that spread over three days in March 2017 at the northeastern Ohio church he pastors. Interspersed with Pentecostal worship, liturgical dancing, speaking in tongues, shofar blowing, and Israeli flag waving, Amedia and other POTUS Shield leaders put forth their vision for a Christian America and their plans to bring it to fruition through prayer, political engagement and organizing in all 50 states. Among the many decrees made at the event was that Islam must be “completely broken down.”
POTUS Shield’s leaders view politics as spiritual warfare, part of a great struggle between good and evil that is taking place continuously in “the heavenlies” and here on earth, where the righteous contend with demonic spirits that control people, institutions and geographic regions. They believe that Trump’s election has given the church in America an opportunity to spark a spiritual Great Awakening that will engulf the nation and world. And they believe that a triumphant church establishing the kingdom of God on earth will set the stage for Christ’s return. Amedia says that the “POTUS” in the group’s name does not refer only to the president of the United States, but also to a new “prophetic order of the United States” that God is establishing.
Conservative Christian leaders are nursing a more-than-half-century grudge against the federal courts for rulings on school desegregation, separation of church and state, abortion, equality for LGBT people and more. Amedia has spoken repeatedly about a vision God gave him of a giant broom sweeping up and down the Supreme Court building. God, he said, is going to sweep the entire federal court system of unrighteous judges and “change the laws of the land.”
POTUS Shield members are, like other Religious Right figures, ecstatic about the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and they are sure—because God has told them—that Trump will have at least one more Supreme Court vacancy to fill in the near future. Amedia also insists that Justice Sonia Sotomayor is going to have “an encounter with the living God” that will transform her outlook on the law.
In an appearance on Jim Bakker’s television show the week of July 4, Amedia said that he is telling activists to bring cases into the lower courts now, because by the time they get to the Supreme Court, its membership will have changed and it will be more favorable to their causes. “We are going to re-establish the Judeo-Christian doctrines of this country,” he declared. “It’s coming and can’t be stopped.”
Amedia, along with fellow prophet Lance Wallnau, had declared Trump’s divine anointing in 2015. Amedia served the Trump campaign as a volunteer “liaison for Christian policy,” making him part of the early “amen corner” of prosperity gospel preachers—like Trump’s “spiritual adviser” Paula White—and Christian dominionists who rallied around Trump at a time when most institutional Religious Right figures were still trying to make Ted Cruz the Republican nominee. Amedia, Wallnau and others talked about Trump as a modern-day version of King Cyrus, an ancient Persian king who was not a believer but was used by God to help the Jewish people. While many conservative hearts sank when Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” tape was revealed, Amedia and Wallnau rejoiced that God was humbling Trump to prepare him for the greatness ahead.
In January, shortly before Trump’s inauguration, POTUS Shield gathered in D.C. to pray for Trump’s family and administration and to “discern, declare and decree the strategies of the Lord for our nation.” Among their concrete goals: get rid of federal judges whose rulings are not to their liking; end legal abortion; stop same-sex couples from getting married; bring “official” prayer and Bible reading into the nation’s public schools; and make America the Christian nation they believe it was meant to be.
During the opening session of Amedia’s March gathering, POTUS Shield council member Mark Gonzales, head of the Hispanic Action Network and David Barton’s National Black Robe Regiment project, made the group’s Christian-nation goal explicit:
You’re gathering us here, in this place, as your leaders, God, to declare your words and to release your power, even more so, God, upon this nation. We’re declaring that America belongs to you. We’re turning it back to you. … God, we’re refusing to allow Satan have his way with this nation. … God, we’re here to shift the nation. God we’re here to put it back on track by your spirit and by your power. … America belongs to you. America belongs to you. America belongs to you. … God, you founded us on a Judeo-Christian ethos, and we’re declaring that yes, America is and will be a Christian nation, like never before.
POTUS Shield has planned an ambitious schedule of gatherings between now and the 2018 midterm elections, with some of the host cities chosen to correspond to a prophecy in which a Gulliver-like figure stretched out on a map of the United States indicates places that will play a role in bringing about the Third Great Awakening that every Religious Right gathering hopes to spark.
Who Are These People?
The prophets and apostles taking part in POTUS Shield are not, for the most part, household names to people outside their spheres of influence. Many of them are part of what religion scholars call the fastest-growing form of Christianity in the U.S. and maybe the world—a nondenominational, network-oriented Pentecostal Christianity, a strain of Protestantism that emphasizes direct supernatural experience through “the gifts of the spirit,” which are manifested in ways such as speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, and prophecy. Pentecostal Christians in the U.S. are more diverse racially and ethnically than evangelicals overall—reflected in POTUS Shield lobbying Trump for a more compassionate immigration policy—but their political profile is about the same, according to Dan Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute.Many of the “prophets” associated with POTUS Shield are part of an “apostolic” movement within Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). The Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders (ACPE), meant “to build positive and ongoing personal relationships among nationally recognized prophetic voices,” was birthed at a January 1999 meeting in Colorado Springs called by C. Peter Wagner and attended by 18 people, including Rick Joyner, Cindy Jacobs, Dutch Sheets, Chuck Pierce and Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer. The ACPE, which functions as a leadership group within NAR, releases annually its “Word of the Lord,” a sort of consensus document of prophecies for the year ahead. Some NAR leaders are also part of a global network, the by-invitation-only International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders.
I believe [Trump] receives downloads that now he’s beginning to understand come from God.
FRANK AMEDIA, FOUNDER OF POTUS SHIELD
The movement’s theology is grounded in a verse from the biblical book of Ephesians, in which the apostle Paul describes five kinds of leadership callings that Christ granted to people in Christianity’s founding era in order to build up the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. NAR believes that for centuries the church had abandoned the first two. But, they believe, God has moved in our time to re-establish the ancient roles for apostles and prophets who will transform Christianity and bring about the kingdom of God on earth.
Hector Torres, a participant in that founding ACPE meeting, wrote in his 2001 book “The Restoration of the Apostles and Prophets” that God had sent a fresh anointing of teaching to the church in the 1970s, raised up prophets in the 1980s, and restored the apostolic ministry in the 1990s. The ACPE and POTUS Shield are U.S.-focused, but the movement they are part of is global, as are some of the ministries carried out by individual members.
NAR is meant to be disruptive to the rest of the Christian Church. It views “denominationalism” as a sin and views established denominations and leaders as resistant to the reestablishment of the offices of prophet and apostle. Wagner, who died last year, believed that today’s apostles and prophets would bring about the most radical changes to Christianity since the Reformation in the 16th century, changes that were meant to allow the church to fulfill its true mission. A triumphant, dominion-taking church, Wagner’s disciples believe, will establish the kingdom of God on earth and set the stage for the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Ohio plays a key role in their understanding of the divine plan, as revealed in the “revival man” prophecy, the one featuring Gulliver laying across a map of the U.S.: Gulliver’s head is in Cleveland, his heart in Columbus and his loins in Cincinnati. Amedia relocated to Ohio from Florida several years ago, he says, in response to God’s call.
In July, POTUS Shield promoted a two-day prayer gathering at the Q sports arena in Cleveland hosted by dominionist preacher Lou Engle. Engle believes it is the church’s vocation to “rule history with God.” Here’s an excerpt from his teaching guide, “Keys to Dominion”:
The same authority that has been given to Christ Jesus for overwhelming conquering and dominion has been given to the saints of the most high. … We’re God’s rulers upon the earth. … We will govern over kings and judges will have to submit. … We’re called to rule! To change history! To be co-regents with God!
Engle has made a name for himself with giant prayer rallies in stadiums and sports arenas under the banner of “The Call.” They are designed to mobilize nation-changing spiritual warfare, sometimes specifically targeting elections. A 2008 rally in California focused on the gay-marriage-banning Proposition 8.
At the March POTUS Shield gathering, Engle prayed for God to “sweep away” Supreme Court justices and federal judges who uphold Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for Trump to nominate their replacements. Engle suggested that God could either kill or convert the judges in question, and he had some words for people who might be squeamish about praying for God to “remove” bad judges:
I tell you, the church can’t be humanistic right now. I feel this in my spirit. We’re so concerned about these Hamans [Haman is the evil adviser to the king in the biblical book of Esther] that we’re not concerned about the millions of babies! I say that we believe that Donald Trump, President Trump, is a Jehu as well as a Cyrus. And I’ve been praying, ‘remove the house of Ahab.’
Who’s Jehu? In the Bible, God used Jehu to enact His judgment on the sinful house of Ahab, which Jehu accomplished by overseeing the slaughter of Ahab’s family, supporters and priests. “We need to begin to pray to sweep away the House of Ahab,” Engle said.
Among the other leaders joining Amedia, Wallnau, Engle and Gonzales in POTUS Shield:
- Cindy Jacobs, a “prophet” who with her husband Mike runs a ministry called Generals International, is often the person who releases to the public messages from God received by a council of “prophetic elders”; Jacobs has said that the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was responsible for a rash of bird deaths, and warned that marriage equality would lead to civil war;
- Dutch Sheets, an author and speaker who declares that Christians are “God’s governing force on earth” and says he is trying to “raise up an army” of “kingdom warriors that are ready to do whatever it takes” to bring forth God’s “kingdom rule in the earth.”
- Rick Joyner, a South-Carolina-based “prophet” who runs the Oak Initiative and MorningStar Ministries, where last November, he opened the Bob Jones Vision Center, “a place for prayer, praise, and prophecy,” named for the man who spoke the Gulliver, or revival man, prophecy in 2005;
- Bishop Harry Jackson, an African-American pastor based in Maryland near Washington, D.C., a longtime anti-gay activist, and co-author with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins of “Personal Faith, Public Policy,” a book that calls the Supreme Court’s church-state rulings an “assault” on Christianity;
- Jerry Boykin, a vice president at the Family Research Council who has called Islam a “totalitarian way of life” and said American Muslims are not protected by the First Amendment’s religious liberty guarantees;
- Jennifer LeClaire, senior editor at Charisma, part of the Pentecostal media empire run by Steve Strang, wholives in a world of constant spiritual warfare against myriad demons and last summer posed the memorable question, “Is Hillary Clinton the Antichrist or an Illuminati Witch?”;
- Alveda King, an anti-choice activist andthe niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., who once dismissed his late widow Coretta Scott King’s support for LGBT equality, saying, “I’ve got his DNA. She doesn’t”;
- Herman Martir, a Texas-based pastor who runs the Emerging Leaders Network International and the Asian Action Network.
Trump and the Prophets: Made For The Era of Social Media?
In March, Oxford University Press published “The Rise of Network Christianity: How Independent Leaders are Changing the Religious Landscape,” by scholars Brad Christerson and Richard Flory. Christerson and Flory use the term Independent Network Charismatic Christianity (INC Christianity) to describe a network of charismatic leaders who are not simply focused on saving individual souls but on transforming whole societies. Many of the people associated with POTUS Shield fit into this category.The product that INC Christianity is promoting, write Christerson and Flory, “is not primarily the ability to access supernatural power to gain converts and build congregations, but, more important, to participate in the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth in the here and now.”Christerson and Flory argue that the network model allows charismatic leaders to broaden their influence while remaining free of the bureaucracies and oversight that would come from trying to build a large organization. An individual places him or herself under the spiritual authority or “covering” of an established prophet—getting a spiritual imprimatur in return for showing up at their conferences and sending money up the chain. INC leaders have expanded their “market share” within American Christianity by offering powerful supernatural experiences and leveraging the power of digital media tools to promote their brands as well as their beliefs and practices. Chuck Pierce, whose Glory of Zion Ministries runs a Global Spheres Center in Texas, has about 60,000 people sending him money, more than even the biggest megachurch congregation.
In some ways, Trump’s relationship to traditional political structures mimics these network leaders’ relationship to traditional church and Religious Right institutions: he relies on his charismatic personality; operates his own media; and believes old structures need to be swept away. Trump speaks to his followers “like a televangelist,” says University of Pennsylvania religion scholar Anthea Butler. And, if Amedia is right, Trump also sees his election victory as the result of divine intervention and his presidency as a mission from God. Butler notes that apostolic leaders defend Trump in the same way that religious leaders often defend themselves against their own critics, citing a scriptural admonition to “touch not God’s anointed.”
Christerson and Flory postulate that while INC leaders have a broad ability to spread their beliefs with followers, their political impact could be limited by the fact that they focus more on spiritual warfare and intercessory prayer than on setting up structures to engage in the nitty-gritty work of political organizing.
But POTUS Shield reflects the fact that during the past decade, the lines separating what we think of as the Religious Right—advocacy groups mobilizing conservative evangelical Christians into political action—and the apostolic crowd have been blurred significantly. Opposition to President Barack Obama “united them all,” says Butler.
Both the traditional Religious Right and the apostolic Right are interested in bringing policy, politics and society in line with their “biblical worldview.” And despite what may be significant theological differences—many Religious Right activists may not see their political engagement as necessary to speed Christ’s return—they work together on political goals such as electing Donald Trump. INC leaders get their supporters fired up to see politics as spiritual warfare, and more established Religious Right groups give them a concrete way to get involved that goes beyond prayer and fasting. POTUS Shield is committed to doing all of the above.Christerson says he has seen evidence of this kind of “symbiotic” relationship: “The Religious Right gets followers, support and energy from INC, and INC gets visible examples of ‘kingdom-minded’ believers they can support and pray for in government.” He said he has seen “prophecies” that God is using Trump to transform society by appointing “kingdom-minded” people—like Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson—to top levels of government, even though they may be associated with different strains of Christianity.POTUS Shield councilmember and anti-Muslim activist Jerry Boykin is a vice president at the Family Research Council, one of the largest and most influential Religious Right political groups. At an event that FRC organized in 2009 to mobilize prayer against the passage of the Affordable Care Act, POTUS Shield Council member Lou Engle introduced then-Rep. Michele Bachmann. That same year, traditional Religious Right groups embraced Jacobs’ General International and Joyner’s Morningstar Ministries as well as the Koch brothers’ more material-minded Americans for Prosperity as part of an anti-Obama coalition called the Freedom Federation, whose declaration of principles was a social conservative wish list with an added call for an end to progressive taxation.
In 2012, FRC worked with Cindy Jacobs and Dutch Sheets to rally conservative evangelicals in prayer against Obama’s reelection. At the partnership’s kick-off event in a Washington, D.C., church, Sheets described the church—the ekklesia—as a legislative body, God’s government on earth. He said he wasn’t looking for “little sheepies” who are focused on pastoral work; he was looking to “raise up an army” of “kingdom warriors that are ready to do whatever it takes” to bring forth God’s “kingdom rule in the earth.” At the same event, FRC’s chaplain and national prayer director Pierre Bynum spokewistfully of a time when “you couldn’t hold public office in America unless you believed in Jesus Christ.”
Anti-gay and anti-abortion activists Harry Jackson and Alveda King, both members of the POTUS Shield council, are regulars at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit and other stops on the Religious Right speaking circuit. Boykin, Jacobs and Wallnau are board members of Rick Joyner’s dominionist Oak Initiative, whose purpose is to “unite, mobilize, equip and activate Christians to be the salt and light they are called to be by engaging in the great issues of our time from a sound biblical worldview.”
These organizational overlaps are also reflected in the broad adoption of NAR’s “Seven Mountains” rhetorical framework. The term “dominionist” is contested and disavowed by some people to whom it has been applied, but it means what it sounds like: Dominionists believe that the right kind of Christians are meant to take dominion over the earth. Many dominionists use the rhetoric of the Seven Mountains–religion, family, education, government, media, arts and entertainment, business and government. These spheres of societal influence have, they believe, been dominated by Satan, but when led instead by Christians with a biblical worldview, will transform society.
Seven Mountains rhetoric has become a lingua franca among Christian conservatives who may or may not be Pentecostal or affiliated with the prophetic networks. Among the traditional Religious Right leaders who use Seven Mountains rhetoric are Republican Party operative and self-proclaimed historian David Barton and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins.
Wallnau, who charges $7.77 per month for access to material on his “7mUnderground” site, told Pentecostal media magnate Steve Strang in the summer of 2016 that Trump would be a wrecking ball against political correctness and thereby help Christians take control of cultural institutions now occupied by Satan.
In the fall, shortly before the election, Wallnau published the book “God’s Chaos Candidate,” in which he warned that the decline of America was being engineered by the “shadow Cabinet”—a cabal of billionaires, politicians, academics and activists—and that if this situation were allowed to continue for one more presidential cycle, “America as we know it will cease to exist.” But, Wallnau said, God had anointed Trump as a Churchillian figure who could lead America through troubled times. He quoted Trump saying at a church campaign stop, “Now, in these hard times for our country, let us turn again to our Christian heritage to lift up the soul of our nation.”
Wallnau’s cheerleading has not slowed down since Trump took office. He declared recently that Trump is fulfilling a contemporary prophecy that one day there would be a burning bush in the White House, saying “I think the burning bush has got golden hair.”
God’s Own Party?
The connections that the spiritual-warfare-minded apostolic crowd have with the more traditionally political arms of the Religious Right make them more than a curiosity; they are a part of the coalition that generated overwhelming support for Trump from conservative white Christians and helped put him in the White House—a coalition that expected, and is getting, political payback from President Trump.Amedia organized a May 2016 meeting between Trump and Hispanic evangelicals at which Trump convinced them that he had a genuine concern for undocumented immigrants, in spite of his anti-immigrant rhetoric and his pro-deportation policies. A few weeks later, Trump met with about 1,000 Religious Right leaders and promised that if he were elected he would push their agenda and make them more politically powerful.As the Republican nominee, Trump attended one of the “Pastors and Pews” events organized by Christian nationalist David Lane. Lane has worked with members of NAR to organize a series of political prayer rallies with Republican governors, branded as “The Response.” The first Response rally, modeled on Engle’s “The Call” events, served as the unofficial launch for Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential bid. Subsequent rallies attended by then-Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Pat McCrory of North Carolina were emceed by NAR apostle Doug Stringer, who also hosted one of Lane’s Response rallies in Cleveland last summer on the Saturday before the Republican convention.
As president and vice president, Trump and Mike Pence have continued to court conservative Christians from across the spectrum. Trump invited Religious Right leaders to the White House to celebrate the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. He gathered dozens for dinner in the White House and a Rose Garden signing ceremony—emceed by Paula White—for an executive order on religious liberty; among those in attendance was POTUS Shield member Cindy Jacobs.
The Religious Right’s investment in Trump has already paid off handsomely: Gorsuch sits at the far right end of the Supreme Court, with hundreds of judicial vacancies ahead; Religious Right activists lead multiple Cabinet agencies; Trump has reinstated and dramatically expanded the “global gag rule,” sacrificing poor women’s health to anti-choice ideology; issued an executive order on “religious liberty” that has begun to undermine separation of church and state, with Trump promising more to come; declared via Twitter that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the armed forces in any capacity; and publicly committed himself to working with congressional Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood, a goal his Religious Right allies will continue to press in spite of the recent failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
POTUS Trump and the Prophetic Order of the United States
It may seem somewhat counterintuitive that religious leaders would remain unfazed by a stream of obvious lies and evidence of potential law-breaking from Trump and his associates, but that doesn’t particularly bother them because they have already accepted that Trump is, as Sen. David Perdue of Georgia told activists at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference, “nobody’s choir boy.” King David had his flaws too, they say, but he, like Trump, was a man of action, the kind of leader God can use to break down the strongholds of the enemy.Religious Right activists, including POTUS Shield’s leaders, continue to vouch for Trump. Religious Right activist and Texas GOP operative David Barton, appearing on an Intercessors for America broadcast over the Fourth of July weekend, praised the “spiritual atmosphere” in the White House and said that people close to the president assure him that Trump “has a hunger for the word of God.” That same week, Amedia appeared a few days in a row on televangelist Jim Bakker’s broadcast, where he told viewers that God had given Trump “a breaker anointing” that had been “designed from the beginning of time.”At POTUS Shield’s Ohio gathering in March, Amedia twice had the cameras turned off so he could talk off-the-record about what he said were sensitive issues involving the group’s influence in the White House and actions on behalf of the Trump family and administration. Amedia also said that POTUS Shield’s “war prayers” had brought down former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who he said had been giving Trump bad advice on Israel. (POTUS Shield leaders believe the idea of a two-state solution is contrary to the word of God.) POTUS Shield continues to pray about the White House staff, asking God to remove any “Benedict Arnolds” who are standing in the way of Trump carrying out the will of God.
The promotion of Trump to conservative Christians proceeds apace. A new “spiritual biography” of Trump is being written by Christian Broadcasting Network personality David Brody. Brody’s boss, televangelist Pat Robertson, recently conducted his own fawning interview with Trump. Over the years, Brody has acted as a virtual press agent for Christian nationalist David Lane, promoting his activities in return for “exclusive” access to and speaking slots at Lane’s events. Brody’s co-author is Scott Lamb, who in 2015 launched a “Jesus in the Public Square” section for the right-wing Washington Times newspaper, a project that Brody reported at the time was the result of a “seed” that Lane planted with the Washington Times’ management.
Brody and Lamb’s book, “The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography” is scheduled for publication in January 2018, but it won’t be the first. It will face competition from “God and Trump” by Stephen Strang, who heads the Pentecostal media empire Charisma. During the campaign, Strang gave a media megaphone to Trump-boosting prophets like Wallnau. Strang’s book, which promises to explore “what is God doing, now not only in Donald Trump’s life, but also in the life of the nation,” is scheduled for release in November.
Meanwhile, POTUS Shield leaders continue to personally assure Trump that God Himself put Trump in power, something Amedia told attendees at the March POTUS Shield gathering that Trump understands:
I said to the man’s own face, ‘If you didn’t see God got you elected, with all the mistakes you made, and how you should have lost this election 50 times, then you will never see God.’ And he said, ‘I know it was God.’
Amedia, who like other “prophets” seems to get “prophetic words” from God all the time, says Trump is also beginning to receive divine downloads: “I believe he receives downloads that now he’s beginning to understand come from God.”
For many Religious Right leaders, support for Trump is transactional: Trump promised them the Supreme Court, attacks on legal abortion and Planned Parenthood, and legal changes to make conservative Christians more politically powerful. But POTUS Shield members believe that something even greater than the Supreme Court is at stake: the future of the church and the reign of God on earth. They give Trump assurance that he’s on a divine path, and they give their followers a sense of playing an important role on the world stage, warring with the devil to take political and culture power away from liberals and secularists and establish the kingdom of God in the United States and around the world.