The flag is white with a simple evergreen tree in the center and the phrase “An Appeal to Heaven” at the top. Rolling Stone has confirmed that this flag, closely associated with the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), hangs outside the district office in the Cannon House Office Building of House Speaker Mike Johnson.
What is the NAR, where did it come from, and why is it an imminent threat to democracy?
The New Apostolic Reformation has “one clear goal in mind—ruling over the United States and, eventually, the world,” The New Republic’s Ellen Hardy wrote in an article titled “The Right-Wing Christian Sect Plotting a Political Takeover: The New Apostolic Reformation doesn’t always admit its own existence, but it’s growing in influence in the Republican Party.” NAR leaders participated in the election campaigns of Donald Trump, and other electoral campaigns, including school board elections.
The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is not an organization. There is no formal membership. It is, however, a shadowy movement whose star megachurch ministries have been called “hotbeds” of innovation. It also has, over the past several years, exercised a growing influence within the Republican Party.
And, just as the mainstream press was slow to understand – and underestimated -- the power of earlier conservative evangelical Christian political operations such as Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, it has been slow to covering the NAR, John Dorhauer, recently retired general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, told Salon’s Paul Rosenberg.
“The trap one must avoid in writing about this subject and reporting on the movement is to do so in a way that comes across as credible without sounding like a conspiracy theorist,” Dornhauer told Rosenberg in an email. “The truth is you are in fact writing about a conspiracy. Because of that, large swaths of the American public are just predisposed to dismiss this as too far-fetched to take seriously.”
The New Republic’s Hardy noted that, “Broadly, it seeks to return church structures to the fivefold ministry of the Bible (defined roles of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher). The key roles in this pecking order are prophets, who have the visions, and apostles, the anointed ones who put ideas and networks into practice and, critically, to whom everyone else must submit” (https://newrepublic.com/article/167499/new-apostolic-reformation-mastriano-christian).
“Emerging out of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, which account for some 600 million Christians worldwide, the New Apostolic Reformation has arguably become the center of gravity in modern American Christianity,” Hardy noted. “It’s hell-bent on energizing believers for the End Times: Church is no longer something you attend on Sunday—it’s a place to orchestrate the radical transformation of society. Now NAR is becoming increasingly influential within the Republican Party.”
According to Theology professor André Gagné, author of the new book, “American Evangelicals for Trump: Dominion, Spiritual Warfare, and the End Times” the movement “is inherently political, it’s in their DNA.” It is, “dominionism in and of itself—bringing about God’s Kingdom in these networks.”
In a recent online discussion, Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates (and Salon contributor), called Gagne’s book “a concise, authoritative primer on one of the most consequential religious and political movements of our time.”
Reporting on the online discussion for Salon, Paul Rosenberg noted that (https://www.salon.com/2024/01/02/meet-the-new-apostolic-reformation-cutting-edge-of-the-christian-right/), “While the NAR may be confusing to outsiders, Gagné shows that it’s knowable, Clarkson said, as the most energetic popular expression of dominionism, defined as ‘the theocratic idea that … Christians are called by God to exercise dominion over every aspect of society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.’”
Rosenberg writes: “[Peter] Wagner never saw himself as the founder of the NAR, but rather coined the term ‘New Apostolic Reformation’ to describe something that he believed already existed,” Gagné told Rosenberg. For example, Wagner cited the ‘African independent church movement’ of the early 20th century and the ‘Chinese rural house church movement that was around in the mid-1970s. And then he talks about the third large component of the NAR, which for him was the grassroots church movement in Latin America,’ also in the 1970s.
According to Salon’s Rosenberg, “Rather than focusing inward on nurturing their local congregations under the guidance of elected church elders, NAR churches focus outward through networks in alignment with other churches, under the guidance of higher-up ‘apostles,’ to engage in ‘spiritual warfare’ against demonic forces, and conquer the ‘seven mountains of culture’ and establish dominion over all the world. As Dorhauer says, it really is a conspiracy aimed at controlling the world — in the name of Jesus, of course, with the self-reinforcing network of apostles and prophets claiming authority in his name.”
While Wagner didn’t claim credit for the idea, he did create NAR networks, “most notably the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders and its U.S. affiliate, USCAL.”
While there may be differences among assorted NAR entities researcher Bruce Wilson told Rosenberg that, “My benchmark or heuristic for figuring that out is: Do they work together, and do they seem to be advancing a common political agenda? In my experience, the NAR is all about networking, and who individual leaders network with, associate with, is everything.”
According to Gagné and Clarkson, “reporting on the NAR has significantly improved from the past years when the movement was completely ignored and when many, sometimes ruthlessly, downplayed its role in American politics and the implications for the future of democratic institutions.”
Nevertheless they write, it’s important “to understand how the NAR’s theology of political power poses a threat to democracy. And in order for democracy and its institutions to appropriately respond, it’s essential that we all work to get the story right. This means acquiring the knowledge that it takes to tell the story, as well as the vocabulary to be able to describe and discuss this, an important feature of the religion and politics of our time.”
Gagné and Clarkson have contributed significantly to understanding NAR with their three-part “reporters guide” to the NAR (https://religiondispatches.org/christian-right-denialism-is-more-dangerous-than-ever-a-reporters-guide-to-the-new-apostolic-reformation/).