“God told me” is the most dangerous way to start a sentence. That is especially true when what the Almighty supposedly spoke was about a presidential election where faith was not a requirement to see who won. Enter the QAnon Shaman who thanked “Our Heavenly Father” for the opportunity to kill 5 people, injure many more and disenfranchise millions of voters of color. The fur-draped, horn bearing man identified as Jacob Chansley also known as Jake Angeli might be the most memorable person from the attempted coup, but that is by design. Before this conspiracy theorist invoked Jesus on the House Floor, many men and women dressed in business casual prepared an entire population to see him as victorious, not absurd.
Down the far-right rabbit holes on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter is a vast network of self-proclaimed Christian pastors, prophets, and prayer warriors. They preached, prayed, and militarized their followers in every corner of the country by saying some version of God told them Trump would be the next president of the United States. Folks like Kent Christmas and Jeremiah Johnson are lesser known “court evangelicals” (as scholar John Fea calls them); but they are no less important than Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., or Eric Metaxas and no less responsible for what happened on January 6 than Donald Trump.
Before thousands of radicalized Trump supporters assembled to storm the Capitol on January 6, God supposedly met a team of prophets led by Tim Sheets to a “secure site” in Washington DC to hear special revelation and pray at 20 monuments and landmarks for a metaphorical “Pearl-harboring” the week before. That is a reference to the spiritual strike they believed was about to take place. Sheets cites Gina Gholston, another self-professed prophet whose “vision from God” aligned with a takeover of the US Capitol and the removal of “black smoke.” These words together implicated a God-ordained, divinely-inspired violence. To date, close to 500K people watched this prophecy on YouTube, and according to him over 1 million views accompany his team’s live streamed intercession in states where the election was contested. This is in line with fellow prophet of this constant culture war, Dutch Sheets who posts daily 15 minute reflections watched by millions of people.
In the wake of the armed insurrection on January 6th, neither Tim nor Dutch Sheets have backtracked on their comments. Instead, a divine doubling down on calls for violence by Tim Sheets occurred though he would never say he endorsed an armed revolt. His messages follow a pattern of divine revelation, confirmed in this community, some passage of scripture to affirm it and a declaration to people waiting to receive holy direction. These apostles profit off of an anxiety they helped create and then use Caleb and Joshua from the Hebrew scriptures to liken the overwhelmingly white Christian conservatives in the United State to the oppressed Jewish people of Israel. This is no different than what Abu Bakr-Albaghdadi did with those who took up arms with ISIS or Joseph Kony in Northern Uganda in the name of their god.
The difference here is that the late Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham —as well as their children Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., along with Eric Metaxas, Paula White, John Hagee— look more “American” than those in Central Africa or Afghanistan. They are white, wealthy, well-connected, and aligned with the 400-year old myth that America was to be a city on a hill dedicated to the God of Israel. Thus these ambassadors of their god’s victory are more trustworthy than those descendants of the godless, enslaved, and colonized. These ministers of insurrection primed the millions downstream of their ministries for this moment offering three things.
The spiritual generals of America’s culture wars gave steady doses of American Exceptionalism, which is a bad theology that kills as author Jesse Wheeler notes in “Keeping the Faith: Reflections on Politics and Christianity in the Era of Trump and Beyond.” They provided explicit theological alignment with the ideology of the Republican Party via Jerry Falwell’s political manifesto “Listen, America!” along with his formation of the Moral Majority in 1979 around racism and patriarchy. It was not abortion or preserving the family, as Professor Randall Balmer explains. Lastly, they swiftly and rigorously confront any person or group that resists this God-ordained, race, class, gender-based hierarchy that places white, male, wealthy, ideologically aligned individuals and institutions at its apex. These three things then enter social institutions that include radio, television, and print media along with book publishing that elevate and center this false doctrine.
It is clear with the mounting arrests and sprawling investigation that United States has a problem with an armed insurgency rooted in a religion that claims to be non-violent; but I am not talking about Islam. America has a problem with false Christian teachers who are actually prophets of White American Folk Religion stoking violence; and they are not going to stop because they have twisted scripture to convince a multitude that any opposition is proof that they are doing the will of God.
The Gospel of Matthew ends with the Great Commission; and no matter how much you twist those scriptures there is no amount of theological gymnastics that can get you to a Cross and a “Jesus Saves” sign at the Capitol on January 6. Jesus said to go and make disciples, yet many churches are churning out terrorists called “patriots” instead. A vast web of pastors, prayer warriors, professors, and preachers are exchanging the Jesus of Nazareth for a Christ who looks much more like Barrabas–the Jewish insurrectionist who religious leaders of the day saved from crucifixion and offered up Jesus instead.
Their message was clear and so it is today. God said there is biblical justification for an armed takeover of the government and the forceful establishment of the nation to which they are entitled.