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First, two veteran CNN journalists admitted that they had never heard of such major terms as dominionism, Christian Reconstructionism or the New Apostolic Reformation until reading an article by Michelle Goldberg on The Daily Beast.   Now comes religion writer Lisa Miller of The Washington Post with a column in which she describes the New Apostolic Reformation as "a previously unknown Christian group."   One could say many things about the NAR. Low profile, perhaps. Publicity shy, maybe.  But the NAR is far from unknown, except perhaps to Lisa Miller.  

Megachurch pastor Ted Haggard wrote about the NAR in a book published in 1998. By 2003, he was elected president of the National Association of Evangelicals and was one of the best known and most visible figures in evangelicalism.  Bruce Wilson reported on this in the prominent online magazine Religion Dispatches in 2009.  Haggard worked closely with NAR founder C.Peter Wagner in promoting the movement, which was rooted in the Pentecostal/Charismatic "Third Wave" of the 1980s and 90s. Wagner himself writes about NAR in a book in 2002.

Of course, neither Wagner nor Haggard were marginal or obscure figures. Wagner is a widely published author who was for 30 years (among other things) a professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary.  As Wilson reported, Wagner was busy doing high profile teaching and publishing and working with vast networks of apostles and prophets, worldwide from his World Prayer Center, and the Wagner Leadership Institute.  Wagner's views have been controversial among many evangelicals, even as they have been widely influential among others.  

The NAR splashed dramatically on the national radar screen in 2008 when Sarah Palin's involvement was widely reported. Bill Berkowitz summarized in a retrospective article last year on AlterNet:  

Presidential campaign watchers got their first taste of the New Apostolic Reformation when it was revealed that Sarah Palin, while mayor of Wasilla, had been prayed over in a laying-on-of-hands by Rev. Thomas Muthee of Kenya, director of the NAR East Africa Spiritual Warfare Network, in a ceremony designed to protect Palin from witches and demons. Muthee, it turns out, is famous in his native land for driving out of town a woman he deemed a witch, a charge that had her neighbors calling for her stoning.

Palin, according to Alaskan Apostle Mary Glazier, became part of her prayer network at the age of 24. Wasilla is no stranger to wandering NAR leaders. Last June, Apostle Lance Wallnau stopped through in the course of his world travels, promoting the movement's Reclaiming the Seven Mountains of Culture campaign at Wasilla Alaska Assembly of God Church -- the very church at which Muthee laid hands on Palin. (The "seven mountains" are the realms of business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion.) Other NAR luminaries dropping by Wasilla last year include leading international Apostles Naomi Dowdy and Dutch Sheets.

There were a number of videos documenting Palin's involvement in NAR, made during the 2008 elections.  These were widely discussed and footage of Palin appearing at NAR ceremonies was even shown on national television.  Here is one by Bruce Wilson.

Its bad enough that Miller hasn't heard of such a major movement in evangelicalism and so presumes that no one else could have either.  What's worse is that she writes that the recent stories in The New Yorker,The Texas Observer and The Daily Beast "raise real concerns about the world views of two prospective Republican nominees"  -- and then spends the rest of the piece telling us why we should not be concerned.  Her main point is that not all evangelicals think like that.  True.  But no one said that they do.

She says that the "echo-chamber effect" of the articles "reignites old anxieties among liberals about evangelical Christians."  This might be an interesting point, but she does not bother to provide any evidence that this might be so, and if it was, what the consequences might be.  And while we might not be surprised to find liberals who make broad brush generalizations about evangelicals, what is astounding is that Miller would try to make her point by making broad brush generalizations about liberals.  

The very next sentence is similarly revealing.  "Some on the left" she claims, "seem suspicious that a firm belief in Jesus equals a desire to take over the world."   That may be. But she does not say who, or how many, the extent that such views might exist  and of what consequence they might be.  

The whole column is like this.

"'Dominionism'", she declares, "is the paranoid mot du jour."  Unfortunately, she does not say who exactly is being paranoid or what exactly they are paranoid about.  

If the knocking down of straw men is remarkable in this piece, so is the use of false equivalence.

"Certain journalists" she claims, "use 'dominionist' the way some folks on Fox News use the word 'sharia.'"  She does not name any journalists who do this. She offers no examples of scary misuse of the term dominionist. She makes no effort to show how her unsubstantiated charge against  unnamed journalists is in anyway like what happens on Fox News.  

Finally, there is her stated reason for this column. "It’s a plea," she writes, "given the acrimonious tone of our political discourse, for a certain amount of dispassionate care in the coverage of religion."  

I hope Miller will take her own plea to heart.

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Sun Aug 21, 2011 at 05:11 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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