Rage, denial and remorse: When prophecy fails

Image credit: White House

Comment by Andrew Brown

“I rebuke the news in the name of Jesus,” Pastor Tim Remington said in his Sunday sermon. It was a fairly typical reaction among the charismatic evangelicals who had confidently prophesied for months that Donald Trump would win the election, and, after he didn’t, that he had won anyway.

Pastor Remington, though, is not entirely typical of the movement. He runs a drug and alcohol addiction centre and in 2016 survived being shot six times in his church’s parking lot by a schizophrenic former Marine who believed Remington was an alien trying to enslave the human race. The pastor is an extreme anti-mask campaigner and an appointed Republican representative in Idaho, where armed protesters broke into the state capitol in August to protest against measures taken to control the Covid pandemic.

In remarks apparently aimed at the way in which Twitter and Facebook threw Trump off their platforms after the riot at the national Capitol last week, he said: “For them to suppress another person’s opinion — it’s wrong, it’s unconstitutional.”

Rebuking the news in the name of Jesus could mean either that what happened did not really happen, or that the media are, in Pastor Remington’s words, peddling “lies, communism, socialism” when they reported on the riot.

Pastor Paula White-Cain, probably the most influential woman religious leader in the United States, was briefly famous even in the UK for her performance as the results rolled in on election night. In a livestreamed performance described by the Bishop of Worcester, John Inge, as “shamanic”, she claimed to see armies of angels flying up from South America to bring Trump the votes that he needed. This attracted so much ridicule that it was removed from her website some days later.

On Sunday she claimed instead: “My hope is never rested in any person, any man. My hope is in Jesus Christ.”

This ambiguity was well judged: 40 or more self-proclaimed prophets in the US, who claim to speak with the direct inspiration of God, predicted that Trump would win the election. Some have reacted to the news that he did not with rage, and some with denial. Trump himself managed both when he tweeted after the riot but before his account was shut down that a “sacred landslide victory [has been] unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long”.

The very few “prophets” who have dared admit that they were wrong have faced extraordinary pressure from their own side. Pastor Kris Valloton from a megachurch in California was the earliest to admit that he had prophesied wrongly. In an Instagram post two days after the election he said he had made a “major major mistake”, but the video provoked such a shocked and angry reaction from his constituency that it was shortly afterwards withdrawn.

One of those who criticised Valloton at the time was Pastor Jeremiah Johnson, of North Carolina. Last week, he too admitted that he had been wrong, and that Trump had not won the election. Among the excuses he gave for this mistake was that he had had in 2018 a prophetic dream in which Trump had run the Boston Marathon.

But he concluded fair and square that Trump had lost the election not because too few people had prayed for him — a popular excuse — but because too few people had voted for him: “God Himself anointed Donald Trump in 2016 and then removed him from office in 2020 because of his own pride and arrogance. Joe Biden’s becoming the 46th President of the United States is meant to humble not only Donald Trump but all those who worshipped him more than they kept their focus on Jesus Christ.”

Three days later, he posted: “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 labelled a coward, sellout, a traitor to the Holy Spirit, and cussed out at least 500 times.”

He has refused, however, to discuss any of this with the secular media, since he supposes they will twist the story to reflect badly on charismatic evangelicals.

Most liberals think that the supply of craziness in support of Trump is the problem, even if they argue what to do about it. But the violent reaction against the “prophets” who dare to acknowledge reality, suggests that the problem is not so much the supply of crazy as the demand for it.