The day after the Capitol riot, a prominent charismatic prophet named Jeremiah Johnson repented for prophesying that President Donald Trump would be re-elected in 2020. The response was immediate and devastating, according to a Facebook post from Johnson:
“Over the last 72 hours, I have received multiple death threats and thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things I have ever heard toward my family and ministry. I have been labeled a coward, sellout, a traitor to the Holy Spirit, and cussed out at least 500 times. We have lost ministry partners every hour and counting.”
In the following days, a few other popular charismatic prophets repented for inaccurately prophesying Trump’s re-election, including Loren Sandford, Shawn Bolz, and Kris Vallotton of famed Bethel Church in Redding, California. (Vallotton’s repentance was a little fuzzier: He repented shortly after the election in November, then withdrew his repentance—my guess is he got pressured by his other Trump-supporting prophet buddies to wait to see if the election results would get overturned—then posted the same repentance video after the Capitol riot.)
When a brother repents, we receive him. All of these men appear to have produced good fruit in the Kingdom of God, and I dare not label them “false prophets” because they messed up in a big way this time. There is a qualitative difference between prophecy in the Old and New Testaments, with prophets in the Old speaking as oracles of the Lord who were thereby held to a standard of 100 percent accuracy. The spiritual gift of prophecy in the New Testament, however, is subject to disclaimers, such as a word of prophecy requiring discernment by other prophets (1 Corinthians 14:29). The clear implication to anyone but those seeking to disqualify prophecy altogether is that these “words” are not always accurate, filtered as they are through “vessels of clay” (i.e., human beings).
So I cautiously accept these prophets’ public repentance—but it is important to note that their words of remorse came very late. They kicked the can down the road for two months after the presidential election, waiting to see if their prophecies might turn out to be right, and only recanted when several people died in the most appalling of circumstances.
These prophets’ false predictions also helped fuel the proliferation of conspiracy theories that the election was stolen. Only time will tell what really happened behind the scenes among the rioters, as well as their circle of instigators and enablers. I doubt many of them were regular churchgoers—there were too many F-bombs flying around—but they obviously believed the conspiracy theories to the point that they acted upon them with violent intent.
The Primal Scream
I do want to highlight a few of the repentant prophets’ public statements, because while they’ve recanted the obvious falsehood that Trump would be re-elected, they still don’t get it. Just because you’ve repented doesn’t mean you now judge the situation correctly—especially if you’ve failed to see the elephant in the room all your life.
Here’s what Loren Sandford said in his apology:
“The hard reality is that lots of us with sterling records of past accuracy got it wrong. I see this as a rebuke from the Lord for an imbalance the majority of us fell into, and I will take it to heart.”
I contend that the “imbalance” Brother Sandford speaks of, as well as the elephant in question, is racism, which is woven deep into white evangelicalism. There are major evangelical denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Assemblies of God, whose origins are directly tied to racism. That’s established history, and both of those denominations have taken steps to own up to their past.
But even our “diverse” charismatic churches of today are largely led by white men and built on white forms and preferences for worship, preaching, governance, and pastoral care, with few exceptions. There’s nothing wrong with being white, of course, but leading a diverse congregation requires a level of awareness, education, sacrifice, and commitment to protecting those Christians of color in your midst that white leadership has only begun to recognize. The deficits in understanding were laid bare in this election season, though I assure you that Christians of color saw them all along. The Trump-signaling from the pulpit continued for weeks after the election, and each instance wounded people in our churches who deal every day with the assault against the image of God that is racism.
I don’t position myself as a national prophet, but I do prophesy and was not deceived by the chorus of white pro-Trump prophets, and neither was an African-American close friend of mine, Audrey Wyatt, who also prophesies. Audrey, in fact, has been spot on throughout this election season.
What we have in common, besides being friends, is that we are both in continual contact with and proximity to Black Christian voices, who overwhelmingly spoke out against President Trump’s racism and watched as his years in office inflamed the racial divisions in this country.
After four years, I’ve come to view Trumpism as a primal scream directed at the people and places white America fears—African-Americans, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims, urban areas, Mexico, and so on. White people are retreating into their bunkers, hoarding ammunition, and fortifying the walls because we perceive these people and places as threats to our historical place of privilege.
All of these fears are bizarrely intermingled with theologically conservative Christianity, though we claim to worship a Christ who says “Be not afraid” more than any other command in Scripture. The repercussions of this mix of holy and profane, as Audrey has often warned me, will haunt the Church for years.
Pro-Trump Prophecy = White Prophet
Amidst the barrage of pro-Trump prophecies, Audrey and I saw the near-total absence of African-American voices prophesying Trump’s re-election. That alone should have given us pause. How did all the people who preached, wrote about, and shared the Trump prophecies not notice this? My friend and I saw right away that virtually all of these Trump prophets were white, worshiped in a white church context, and didn’t take racism seriously as a national moral issue.
How did they account for the fact that many Bible-believing Black Christians view Trump as the Racist-in-Chief? The answer is, they didn’t. They never bothered to inquire of their Black brothers and sisters in Christ. And I don’t mean consult the one Black Christian friend you have, who might not even trust you enough to have an honest conversation about race. But, just as white charismatics collected a portfolio of pro-Trump prophecies from white prophets, we should have sought the prophetic input of the folks conspicuously missing from our conferences and conclaves—Black Pentecostals.
J. Gordon Melton, an American religious studies professor at Baylor University, has compiled a list of the prophets who declared that Trump would be re-elected. He made an ironic observation in a revealing ReligionUnplugged.com piece on the Trump wars in charismatic circles:
“Only a handful [of prophets] got it right on the 2016 election,” said Melton, “so they all jumped into this election and with one exception,” a Black prophet from North Carolina whose name he did not recall, “they were wrong.”
Wow. A Black prophet from North Carolina whose name he did not recall. How telling. How sad.
Very few Black prophets have a national media platform to begin with. But evidently this one guy prophesied truth, and, as usual, few white charismatics heard, and none heeded.
Invisible Black Churches
Now hardly any white Christians I know have a clue what goes on in Black churches. That’s why they did ridiculous things after the murder of George Floyd such as post Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words about peaceful resistance, as if they needed to coach Black Christians how to behave. Do they somehow presume that no Biblical preaching and teaching goes on in Black churches?
Whatever was going on—and, for the record, I attend a predominantly white charismatic church but belonged to an African-American church for many years—I can assure you of this: Black Pentecostals, partakers of the same Holy Spirit as you and me, were not prophesying that Trump would be re-elected. Nor did they view him as Christianity’s last hope.
(There might be some outlier African-American prophet I’m not aware of, but that only proves the rule.)
It is frustrating, then, to watch the repentant prophets—as well as the few charismatic voices who called them to accountability, such as writer and revivalist Michael Brown—flounder about now, trying to grope for meaning after their mistakes. They’re still thrashing blindly, unable or unwilling to acknowledge the stomping, snorting pachyderm right in front of them.
The repentant prophets have latched onto a significant truth, which is white evangelicals’ idolatry of Donald Trump. Jeremiah Johnson confesses:
“I could have never dreamed in my wildest imagination that so much satanic attack and witchcraft would come from charismatic/prophetic people. I have been flabbergasted at the barrage of continued conspiracy theories being sent every minute our way and the pure hatred being unleashed.
“To my great heartache, I’m convinced parts of the prophetic/charismatic movement are far SICKER than I could have ever dreamed of. I truthfully never realized how absolutely triggered and ballistic thousands and thousands of saints get about Donald Trump. It’s terrifying! It’s full of idolatry!”
That last statement—“It’s full of idolatry!”—is heart-wrenching and irritating simultaneously, because many of us have been saying this for a long time. It wasn’t some mystery, hidden from the average believer. All we had to do was casually peruse the Facebook accounts of our Trump-fanatic, COVID-denying friends.
And it’s way too late. Lives have been lost. The racial divisions in the Church are not only deeper than ever before, but the division is consummated—it’s a done deal for the foreseeable future. When the lights go back on after COVID-19, I’m afraid we will see fewer African-Americans in our “diverse” churches. We danced around that Trump idol way too many times.
Now we must confront the other hard truth, which is the racism embedded in white evangelicalism, and specifically in the charismatic brand.
I pray that men and women of conviction and courage will rise up in the charismatic churches and face the elephant in the sanctuary. It definitely won’t be easy; for one, we’ve got a significant quotient of conspiracy theorists—and possibly a few domestic terrorists in the making—right alongside us in our linked, padded chairs. They will present a difficult pastoral issue, because Trump idolatry should have been addressed earlier, and it’s not always easy to follow the trail of fear, internalized racism, and faulty theology among his disciples.
Remember, there are African-Americans right in our churches whom we will need to guide us down the path of righteousness, reformation, and, we pray, revival.
For those brave ones of all tribes, hold onto this: Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Julie Lyons is an evangelical Christian from the Pentecostal-charismatic branch of the faith. She is a wife and a mom, a freelance editor and writer, and a part-time seminary student at The King’s University. She believes the Renewal theology perspective is conspicuously lacking in evangelical media, and hopes to do something to right the balance. Visit her blog at: www.julielyons.com.