Kansans will be glad to see the last of Gov. Sam Brownback, whose disastrous supply-side economic policies have turned the state into a dysfunctional “Brownbackistan” with spiraling deficits and public services in tatters.
But Brownback, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, brings to the office a religious résumé that is bizarre to say the least.
A practicing Catholic himself, Brownback is closely linked with the New Apostolic Reformation. He has appeared at numerous NAR events, including The Response, the huge 2011 prayer vigil hosted by then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry (Brownback was the only other governor to attend); the “Kettle Tour,” a national series of events meant to link prayers to those of past generations; and four iterations of The Call, prayer rallies organized by NAR leader Lou Engle. Brownback was once even roommates with Engle for several months after his Washington, D.C., condominium burned down.
Brownback was pressured to denounce the movement, which many Pentecostal Christians believe to be a cult, in the 2010 gubernatorial election. He refused to do so, though he said Engle has “said things I don’t agree with” and that they only worked together on “human rights and helping people live better.”
When Brownback won, NAR leader Chuck Pierce boasted that his prayers had gotten Brownback elected.
Modern Day Prophets
It’s easy to see why Brownback wants to distance himself from the NAR as soon as you start learning about the NAR.
NAR founder C. Peter Wagner, Engle, Pierce, and other NAR leaders believe themselves be modern day prophets who will establish dominion over all aspects of American society to prepare it for the Kingdom of God.
For the NAR, the restoration of the Kingdom of God will be the result of active efforts on the part of these new prophets, including the dominion of Christians over the “seven mountains” of culture and the mass conversion of Jews to Christianity. “When apostles hear the word of God clearly and when they decree His will, history can change,” Wagner said in 2001.
“The church’s vocation is to rule history with God,” said Engle.
Because the NAR derives its authority not just from the Bible but also from present day prophecies, the results can be bizarre. For example, NAR leaders have ascribed the problems of cities—liberalism in general, but also specific disasters like earthquakes and terrorist attacks—to the cities being controlled by demons. The demon Baal controls the Freemasons; the demon Jezebel controls the Democratic Party.
As The Daily Beast reported two years ago, Wagner said in 2011 that the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima was a result of the Japanese emperor having had sex with the sun goddess, that there is “a lot of demonic control” in Congress, that it is important to cast spells to protect politicians from witchcraft, and that non-Christian religions “are part of the kingdom of darkness.”
His successor, Pierce, said in 2011 that God told him in 2005 that a black man would be elected president; that, in 2008, God said President Obama would cause the United States to split into two nations by abandoning Israel; and that the resulting civil war would “tear down, raise up, overthrow, [and] rebuild” our society. He added that Obama’s 2011 speech about Israel had caused tornadoes in Missouri and that his own prayers can cause earthquakes (as well as electoral results).
Dominion Over United States Politics
Among all the various sects of the American fundamentalist right, the NAR is the most overt about seeking “dominion” over politics, culture, and all other aspects of daily life. As Pierce’s comments indicate, the NAR sees no distinction between secular and religious. It is uniquely unapologetic about obliterating the church-state line in order to bring about the End Times.
And, paradoxically, it is open about working in secret, holding that deceptive tactics are necessary to do God’s work.
In 2009, for example, two NAR “prophets” told Rick Perry that God had anointed Texas to lead the United States into revival and that Perry himself would play a central role. Perry, in turn, organized the “Christians-only” prayer rally the Response, which drew 30,000 people and which, Perry said, was based on a prophecy from the Book of Joel, which NAR leaders often cite.
Perry’s 2012 and 2016 runs for president may have been a sideshow for most people, but for the NAR, they were the hoped-for culmination of dominion over United States politics. Sen. Ted Cruz’s candidacy was also framed in explicitly messianic, dominionist terms by his father, Rafael Cruz, a well-known dominionist pastor not affiliated with the NAR.
‘It Is Time to Cause a Revolution’
In this context, seemingly innocuous statements begin to take on a sinister resonance.
For example, at a Washington gathering of the “Kettle Tour,” Brownback said, “We’ve made it up the mountain a long way, but we have to make that final assault on the peak. We can make that final leap to the top, if we stay on our knees.”
Innocent metaphor? Or reference to “Seven Mountains” dominionism, which refers to government and other institutions as “mountains” that must be conquered by believers?
Later, after becoming governor, Brownback declared several statewide “Days of Restoration.” Does “restoration” simply mean restoring Christianity to the center of American religious life, or does it refer to the NAR doctrine of restoration of Christian rule over the Earth?
In 2014, Brownback spoke at a Topeka prayer gathering whose organizer said, “We need revival, we need a Great Awakening, but it is time to cause a revolution. We need to get some freedom fighters up and going to take this country back.”
Typical Christian right rhetoric? Or something more literal and more ominous?
Or, as is more likely the case, something in between, with meanings elastic enough to mean different things to different people?
Even the “human rights” work that Brownback said he did with Engle, including staged apologies to Native Americans and African Americans, were part of the NAR policy of “Identificational [sic] Repentance and Reconciliation,” aimed at removing barriers that prevent non-white people from becoming evangelical Christians.
According to Wagner, these barriers are actually demons such as Baal, Leviathan, and the Queen of Heaven, fed by the sins committed against these groups. Brownback’s apology to Native Americans was literally an exorcism.
Redefining ‘Religious Freedom’ for the World
Once again, the trouble with people like Brownback isn’t the beliefs—it’s the actions.
As governor, Brownback delivered on his dominionist promises. He convened multiple prayer gatherings and campaigns. He regularly consulted with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. And he issued a wild executive order in 2015 decrying “the recent imposition of same sex marriage by the United States Supreme Court” and specifically exempting all religiously affiliated organizations from having to recognize legal same-sex marriages or accommodate them in any way.
As the United States’ new point man on religious freedom, Brownback will surely take his expansive redefinition of “religious freedom” onto the international stage. Programs that empower women violate the “religious freedom” of religious conservatives. LGBT equality is against “religious freedom.” Promoting anything other than the so-called natural family is against religious freedom as well.
Indeed, it’s an easy step from the dominionist notion that religion must be all-pervasive in all aspects of society to the redefinition of religious freedom to allow discrimination in the workplace, discrimination on the part of public employees, and nullification of legal marriages. There is no place for the secular in this understanding of religion.
Brownback and his allies in the NAR already have a built-in international network of religious extremists. The sponsors of Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” law, for example, were trained by Kansas City’s International House of Prayer, affiliated with Lou Engle, and Engle frequently exhorted his followers to support the backers of the bill.
We don’t know, thanks to Brownback’s equivocation, how much of the dominionist theology of the NAR he believes and how it might impact his actions in his new international role.
Does Brownback see his role as a secular one promoting the value of religious freedom for people of all faiths? Or does he, like his partners in numerous religious events and political initiatives, see it as a divinely ordained mission? Or, once again, somewhere in between? Does the United States’ chief international representative for religious freedom believe that he must “rule history with God”?