5 min read

New Fronts in Theocracy

New Fronts in Theocracy

Headquartered in Greenville, Ohio, is the Church of God (Restoration) (that's actually the name). This church, founded in the 80s by one Danny Layne, is indicative of a growing movement in the United States. This movement, while not expressly tied to The Church of God, is responsible for the thinking of millions of Christians and likely hundreds of US politicians. Among them is the new Speaker of the House and man who thinks mayo is too spicy, Mike Johnson.

The Church of God (Restoration) believes that, among many other things, their leaders are in direct communication with God–that among their numbers are apostles and prophets through whom God is still speaking, today. They believe they are the only true church, and that all other doctrines are misled. They exert a lot of control over their members, dictating what they wear and don't wear, how they cut their hair, and how they punish their kids. It's believed by many to be a cult, and if it's not it's not far from it.

But where (Restoration) and similar churches differ from our subject today is in the methods by which they intend to change the world. While (Restoration) seeks to proselytize and to unify Christians under their roof, today's subject wishes to wrest control of the world primarily through corporeal means.

The New Apostolic Reformation

You may very well have heard of these folks before. The New Apostolic Reformation is a movement that is on the powerful upswing in the United States and has come to represent the beliefs, whether officially or not, of a good number of politicians and effectively every far-right chucklehead you can think of. The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR, from now on) believes in the offices of prophet and apostle, much like the Church of God. That may sound just weird to you, but it's indicative of more than just a little weirdness.

Having prophets in the NAR movement is indicative of a philosophy that goes far beyond offices in a church. And while a lot of modern-day churches are accepting of some of the wonkier aspects of Christian belief, like speaking in tongues and the translation of those messages by the Holy Spirit, I can tell you from firsthand experience that there is a big difference between chiming in on your pastor's sermon and believing that the story of the Bible is not yet finished. That's what adherents to the NAR believe–that the Bible is a living document and the specifics of the battle between good and evil are not yet decided. This may sound a little washed-out and simple, but it's a powerful idea. In this idea is every dorky kid's dream: be a hero. If you've been told that God wants you to work for his cause and be a hero in the holy army, be a part of the story that includes Jesus? Shit. What wouldn't you do to be a part of that?

NAR adherents are also prone to a somewhat-literal interpretation of demons. They believe in spiritual warfare, which is to say that demonic forces are influencing life across the globe. Poverty? Demons. Abortion? Demons. LGBTQIA people? Demons. COVID-19? You guessed it. Thinking of these problems as the result of spiritual forces is not unique to NAR, but NAR weaponizes this, naturally, by suggesting that these demonic forces are to be vanquished by God's army on Earth. And you might already be putting together a major problem with this–one that suggests the possibility of genocide; when you demonize an opponent, literally in this case, you make their punishment, their killing, much more palatable.

But the NAR doesn't end with that idea. Included in their beliefs is the system for claiming dominion over the physical world so that it can be brought to God–and that's what they call it, too. Dominionism. NAR adherents seek to bring the world under God's control through seven avenues of human life: family; government; media; entertainment; religion; education; business. Now call me crazy but I feel like religion should perhaps only have dominion over one of these.

The New Apostolic Reformation in Practice

Having written the above, I feel as though I haven't appropriately couched what I said–that is, the people above kinda sound like goobers and not radical theocrats who will do whatever it takes to bring their vision of the world to everyone on the planet. When I say the above, I mean the latter and not the former. Every obnoxious voice on the right, Trump aside, is in effect if not reality a dominionist. That's everyone from Tucker Carlson to Nick Fuentes, from Boebert to Alex Jones. That's the leaders and peons of the Proud Boys, Patriot Front, Blood Tribe and millions of people beside. Whether they know it or not, they will come to this movement or the movement will come to them.

Among the beside, the third-in-line for the presidency is a follower of the New Apostolic Reformation and a staunch dominionist. Mike Johnson, whom I mentioned a couple weeks ago, was elected Speaker of the House after a comedically drawn out fight. Johnson is basically our nightmare: an intolerant theocrat more than willing to use his position in elected office to bring the United States closer to God (and God is white, of course). And while Johnson maintains the appearance of an exceedingly plain and normal person, he and his beliefs tie him inextricably with people who intend to dismantle the US government.

While Johnson hasn't done much in his new role yet, he has nevertheless held a hard line: he will not admit that Biden won the 2020 election. A flag over his office marks his NAR belief–the "appeal to heaven" flag, which is nowadays directly opposed to its origins and flown as a request to God to install a dictator. He is, currently, seeking to impeach the Homeland Security Secretary for lying to Congress because he's said the border is "secure" (And to be clear I think any Homeland Security can pound sand but).

In Conclusion

Beyond the fact that a religious movement will inevitably reach people that plain old white supremacy does not, a religious movement imbues their cause with a zealotry you are not likely to find anywhere else. This, I think, is the real danger of NAR. It's the kind of danger that is already present in some areas of the far right–like the most devoted of Trump's followers–but it's not yet blanketed the cause generally. I don't know that that will be true forever. As all points of the far right push further out, they will eventually either unite or be destroyed under the strongest banners–and I guarantee you that at least one of those remaining banners will be emblazoned with a cross.

Take a recent anti-fascist victory as an example; we had Proud Boys at the Ohio Statehouse a couple weeks back. They came out supposedly to memorialize Ashli Babbitt on the anniversary of January 6th. Community members got there first, were more numerous, and outlasted the Proud Boys when they did arrive. The Proud Boys milled around for a little while, shook hands with local cops, and went home–chased away by the cold and the anti-fascists. But imagine if this event weren't put together simply in memory of a white woman shot at an insurrection? What if this event were memorializing a saint? Would they have left? Would we have outnumbered them? Would they have been peaceful, or might they have seen it as their mission to break the skulls of the people aligned against them, seeing as they are, in effect, heretics possessed by demons?

NAR, specifically, isn't a today problem. It is a movement that is still gathering its strength and amassing its forces. But taken in context, NAR is a part of an extant Christian nationalist movement in this country that is itself part of the broader white supremacist and fascist movements in this country, and those movements have already drawn blood. Adding NAR to that mix is like dropping fentanyl into the opioid epidemic. It won't hit us immediately, but soon we may be seeing a pretty drastic change in how the other side operates.