Rachel Tabachnick is a researcher and writer who monitors the religious Right. Recently, she has focused on the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a new strain of Dominionists—Christians who believe, basically, that they ought to be running this country. The NAR helped organize a prayer rally last summer for Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry. Afterward, Tabachnick talked with Point of Inquiry cohost Chris Mooney about the NAR’s goals and how seriously the organizations should be taken. —Eds.
Chris Mooney: Tell us about the New Apostolic Reformation and what it wants.
Rachel Tabachnick: The movement evolved out of the independent charismatic sector of Christianity, which is made up of nondenominational churches and ministries brought together into loose “relational networks.” The NAR has changed the structure of these churches and their ideology. The ideology is “Dominionist”: followers believe that they have to take control over the institutions of society and government before Jesus can return. The change in structure is Apostolic government of the church. American evangelical churches are commonly independent and democratically governed: deacons or elders—members of the church—govern the church and make the decisions about the pastor, for instance. In Apostolic government, this changes to authority under apostles and prophets in the movement. According to the leadership of the movement, God designates who these apostles and prophets will be. They cannot be voted out by a church government.
Mooney: So an apostle is someone who has a “revelation” and thinks God has told him or her to lead one of these groups?
Tabachnick: Yes. apostles and prophets are there because they feel that God has called them to be an apostle and then they become recognized as such by their peers and community.
Apostlolic authority is held to extend not just over the nuclear church, but all areas of society. The movement has the Seven Mountains Campaign, in which seven mountains of society and government have to be conquered or taken—arts, business, education, family, government, media, and religion.
Mooney: They believe that they have to do this because they think that these sectors, these “mountains,” are demonically possessed, isn’t that right?
Tabachnick: Yes. The process through which they believe they will rid the world of rule by these demonic forces and people who are controlled by demonic forces is called “strategic level spiritual warfare” (SLSW). There are three levels of spiritual warfare. The first is exorcising demons from individuals; they believe that even born-again Christians have demons. They’ve opened up demon deliverance centers all over the country and around the world. The second level of SLSW is the occult level. This refers to those demons that they claim are the cause of Eastern religions, witchcraft, and Freemasonry. The third level is strategic level spiritual warfare. The NAR claims that the highest-level demons control entire people groups and entire geographic areas.
Mooney: How many Christians in the United States actually believe such things?
Tabachnick: It’s hard to quantify, because they are drawing primarily from the independent charismatic and Pentecostal sectors. Worldwide there are now supposedly 500 million people who fall into these sectors, with the larger part of that being the independent charismatics. “Pentecostal” used to refer to established Pentecostal denominations like Assemblies of God and so forth. But this is not something where you carry a card that says “I am a member of the New Apostolic Reformation.”
One of the things we can say is that certainly Rick Perry, who is a savvy politician, decided that it was worth taking the risk to have the support of this movement in the United States. The movement has a very well-developed fifty-state network of what they call “prayer warriors.” Perry’s prayer event called “The Response” in Houston on August 6, 2011 was organized and led by people from this movement. Apostle after apostle was seen on the stage.
Mooney: What are the other strains of Dominionism, and how is the NAR different?
Tabachnick: There is Christian Reconstructionism, and the founder of that is considered to be Rusas John Rushdoony. Rushdoony’s Dominionism was based on an extensive study of biblical law and was very draconian; he talked about stoning those who break biblical law. Although he was tremendously influential in the religious Right, people tended to disown Rushdoony because of this draconian application of biblical law.
The NAR has taken the same idea of taking control of government and society but wrapped it in a much more attractive, less frightening package. A lot of NAR activities are packaged in the idea of charity and racial reconciliation. They are much more successful in drawing large numbers.
This movement is also different from, say, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority or Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition of America. Look at the Christian Coalition’s creation of a voter guide, which would go out to churches all over the country and list politicians by their positions on certain hot-button issues. The voter was to look at that and then make his or her decision. What you see with the NAR is that the apostles and prophets are supposedly getting their directions from God. They can give the instruction that God has selected a candidate.
Mooney: The NAR apostles care about the standard religious Right–type issues like abortion and homosexuality, but also Tea Party–type things like not having big government. How does that fit into their framework?
Tabachnick: They are extremely antigovernment and supportive of very small government. This they have in common with Rushdoony, who believed that government should be limited to functions like defense and policing and that everything else should be handled according to biblical law.
But they also have draconian ideas. For instance, Apostle Alice Patterson, who was standing with Rick Perry when he spoke at The Response, has written that widows should not receive any assistance from the church until they are sixty years old and that widows who have never been part of the church should not receive any assistance whatsoever.
Another type of ceremony that’s going on is called “identificational repentance and reconciliation.” At first this looks very good and altruistic; these are ceremonies in which there is reconciliation between groups: white Americans and Native Americans, for instance, or white Americans and African Americans. But this is another spiritual warfare methodology where supposedly generational curses are removed from a population so that they can be evangelized. They have connected the treatment of Native Americans with demons taking control over both Native Americans and white Americans and allowing abortion to be legalized in the United States decades later.
Mooney: I don’t think you are saying that Rick Perry actually believes in any of this stuff.
Tabachnick: It’s impossible for me or anybody else to say what Perry personally believes. What we can say is that he has made a decision to very publicly partner with these Apostles and apparently feels that they can deliver something for him politically. Now what they would get out of that if he became president is hard to say. Certainly he has helped to empower the movement by doing this.
Mooney: What do we need to do, besides simply educating ourselves?
Tabachnick: One of the most important things is to recognize that this is not about secular versus religious. That’s a trap that these movements are all too happy for us to fall into. Most evangelicals are not Dominionists. A lot of observant Christians and people of other religions believe very strongly in separation of church and state and don’t support Dominionism.