According to the Bible a false prophet is one who pretends to speak for God but in reality, speaks for himself and is moved by his own intentions, emotions and political commitments. (Jeremiah 14:13–15; Jeremiah 23:30-33; Ezekiel 13:2, 3, 10, 11).
Unlike Prophet Jeremiah, who had at least two false prophet antagonists —Ahab (Jeremiah 29:21), and Hananiah (Jeremiah 28:15)— Prophet Muhammad had lots of enemies in Makkah, but none of them were false prophets claiming to speak from the one and only God. (But see what happened later in the Madinah period.) One might think false prophets are no longer around. Americans, and all those who watch American politics, do not have far to look to find false prophets at work.
False Prophets Enable Violence in the Name of God
Yet today’s False Prophets are gaining more acceptance and have had a religious hand in motivating the terrible events at the United States Capitol building recently, according to Brad Christerson, a professor of sociology, at Biola University —a nationally ranked private Christian university in Southern California USA— and a member of the Council for Christian Colleges.
Professor Christerson has written a very perceptive article (in The Conversation, 12 January 2021) about the self-proclaimed ‘prophets’ from a small but growing movement among some Evangelical Christians, providing religious motivation for the January 6 events at the U.S. Capitol. Since they had been led to think that Donald Trump is God’s chosen candidate, they believed that any other candidate is illegitimate, no matter what the vote counts show.
Many white Evangelical leaders have provided religious justification and undying support for Trump’s presidency, including his most racially incendiary rhetoric and policies. But Professor Christerson argues that a small segment of white Evangelicalism —which he and his colleague Richard Flory call ‘Independent Network Charismatic’ Christianity— played a unique role in providing a spiritual justification for the movement to overturn the election which resulted in the storming of the Capitol.
Independent Network Charismatic Christianity is a group of high-profile independent leaders detached from any formal denomination of Christianity, yet cooperating with one another in loose networks.
In the days and hours leading up to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 the group Jericho March organized marches around the Capitol building and Supreme Court building, praying for God to defeat the “dark and corrupt” forces that, they claimed, had stolen the election from God’s anointed president – Donald Trump.
Jericho March is a loose coalition of Christian nationalists formed after the 2020 presidential election with the goal of overturning the election’s actual results. Jericho March’s main activity is organizing prayer marches around state capitol buildings throughout the country since the election.
They were imitating the ‘Battle of Jericho’ in the Bible (Joshua, chapter 6) —when God commanded the army of his chosen people, the nation of Israel, to blow rams’ horn trumpets and then march around the city walls of Jerico until God brought the walls down —so that Israel could conquer the city. Jericho March members believe that their prayer marches will help defeat the corrupt forces which they claim “stole” the U.S. election. It was a coordination of “Stop the Steal” people, carrying ‘Trump’ flags, who attacked the U.S. Capitol building, seeking to capture and harm U.S. lawmakers with the intent of overturning the election. Some also carried religious signs such as ‘Jesus saves’ and ‘In God We Trust.’
Some of the Jericho March-ers, copying the original Jewish marchers, even carried rams’ horns 10-18 inches long, or the much more distinctive 3-4 foot long spiral Kudu horn, Yemenite-type Shofar. These marchers are generally Independent Network Charismatic Christians and are very rarely Jews.
Professor Christerson argues that the Jericho March’s strategy is peaceful prayer marches, and after the Capitol violence they released this statement:
“Jericho March denounces any and all acts of violence and destruction, including any that took place at the U.S. Capitol.”
There is indeed no evidence that anyone affiliated with the Jericho March organization took part in the attack inside the National Capitol building, though they were part of the Pro-Trump,’ Stop the Steal’ march.
In most Charismatic churches, those who receive visions or direct words from God —making predictions that later correspond to events or having uncanny insights into people’s lives— are seen to have the ‘gift of prophecy.’ Some particularly gifted ‘prophets’ are seen as being able to predict world events and get directions from God regarding entire nations.
Before the 2016 election a group of Independent Network Charismatic ‘prophets’ proclaimed Trump to be God’s chosen candidate, similar to King Cyrus in the Bible, whom God used to restore the People of Israel to the Land of Israel. After their ‘prophesies’ of Trump’s winning the 2016 election unexpectedly came true, these ‘prophets’ became enormously popular in Independent Network Charismatic Christianity.
According to the World Christian Database there are now over 36 million people attending U.S. independent Charismatic churches – that is, those not affiliated with denominations. The population of the United States is currently about 332 million.
Independent Network Charismatic Christianity promotes a form of Christian nationalism, the primary goal of which is not to build congregations or to convert individuals, but to bring heaven —God’s intended perfect society— to Earth by placing ‘kingdom-minded people’ in powerful positions at the top of all sectors of society.
Professor Christerson writes that many of those referred to as ‘prophets’ in Independent Network Charismatic Christianity predicted another Trump victory in 2020. After Trump lost the election, they did not recant their prophecies, but adopted Trump’s conspiratorial rhetoric that the election was fraudulent. Many believe that demonic forces have stolen the election but can still be defeated through prayer.
Complicity in Chaos
My view is that these False Prophets are providing the theological motivation and rationalization for a Theology of Incitement to Insurrection energizing the fight to overturn the legitimate democratically-conducted election; and much more sinister elements are using Joshua Marches for their own Incitement to Insurrection political purposes.
Andrew Whitehead, co-author of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, argued that “Christian nationalism really tends to draw on kind of an Old Testament narrative, a kind of blood purity and violence where the Christian nation needs to be defended against the outsiders.”
The number of extremist factions gathered under one banner on January 6, echoed the deadly 2017 ‘Unite the Right Rally‘ in Charlottesville, Virginia, which brought together neo-Nazi, white supremacist Islamophobes and other extremist groups —including the far-right, anti-government Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, a loose anti-government network that’s part of the militia movement.
Independent Network Charismatic Christians should remind themselves that Prophet Jesus warned his followers in their own Scriptures:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are hungry wolves.” (Gospel of Matthew 7:15)
“And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many [believers].” (Gospel of Matthew 24:11)
“For there shall arise false Messiahs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Gospel of Matthew 24:24)
And it will all end in destruction according to Christian scriptures:
“But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1)
It is good for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to be forewarned and to pay heed to the words of the Biblical Prophet Jeremiah regarding false prophets and their standing before God:
“‘See, therefore, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, “who steal my words from one another.”
“See, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, “who use their own tongues and say, ‘Says the Lord.’ “
“See, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams,” says the Lord, “and who tell them, and who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; so they do not profit this people at all,” says the Lord.
“When this people, or a prophet, or a priest asks you [O Jeremiah] , ‘What is the burden [message] of the Lord?’ you shall say to them, ‘You are the burden, and I will cast you off, says the Lord.’ “ (Jeremiah 23:30-33)