Book Bannings Are Bad Enough, But Where Those Involved Are Considered Demonic, the Stakes Could Get Much Higher

Christian pastor Greg Locke burns a copy of Andrew Seidel's "The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American." Image: FFRF/YouTube

Calls for, or at least predictions of, revolution or civil war have been common on the religious and political Right for decades. This has been particularly so among leaders of the Christian revivalist movement, the New Apostolic Reformation, in recent years. They appear to be openly preparing their people for the struggle to come by invoking biblical warriors such as Joshua, Gideon, David, Jehu, Esther, and Rahab as role models for transforming society’s religious, social and political differences into battlegrounds in an End Times religious war. Some assert that God intends to purge the world of ungodly people and things—probably through his anointed warriors. 

In this, they are not alone. The religious aspects of the January 6th insurrection, for example, are fair warning. The attacks on synagogues are fair warning. The decades of bombings, arsons and assassinations of abortion providers have also been fair warning. However, the recent wave of book bannings in public schools and libraries may also be reasonably taken as harbingers of more troubling times.

PEN America reported in April 2022 that there had been 1,586 book bans and restrictions in 86 school districts across 26 states, targeting some 1,145 unique book titles in the preceding nine months. Of the banned books studied, 41% contained main or secondary characters of color; 22% addressed racism; and 33% contained LGBTQ+ themes. For those keeping score at home, that accounts for roughly 96% of the books targeted for banning.

Many book bans are the result of Christian Right political organizing and the election of their activists to local school boards. This is bad enough. But where books, authors, teachers and librarians are deemed demonic, and part of an ultimate war between good and evil, the stakes could get much higher.

German playwright Heinrich Heine famously observed in his 1821 play Almansor, “Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.” The play is set during the time of the Spanish Inquisition when Muslims and Jews were forced to convert, or else be killed or expelled. It’s a tragic love story between an Arab man and a Moroccan woman who’s forced to convert from Islam to Christianity in Granada, Spain in 1492.

Significantly less well known than Heine’s famous quote is the fact that the play centers around the burning of a Qur’an. That act prompts the famous sentence that’s now engraved on a plaque in Berlin’s Opera Square where, in 1933, some 40,000 people gathered to watch the Nazis burn about 25,000 books—mostly taken from public and university libraries—and to hear Joseph Goebbels declare “No to decadence and moral corruption!”

Book burnings, American style

There have been many religiously motivated burnings of the Qur’an and many other books in the US so far this century. Anti-abortion leader Rev. Flip Benham, for example, staged burnings of the Qur’an, the Rainbow flag, and the Roe v. Wade decision in at least two cities. (Fortunately, those provocative acts didn’t become a trend). In 2019, Tennessee tent revivalist Greg Locke burned a copy of RD senior correspondent Andrew L. Seidel’s The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American. But Locke did not stop there. 

NBC News reported that in February 2022 Locke staged a massive book burning in which he called on parishioners to hurl “demonic” materials like Harry Potter and Twilight books and films into the inferno, along with other “evil garbage” (that he apparently presumed his congregants had) like voodoo dolls, crystals, young adult fantasy books, and tarot cards.

“We have a constitutional right and a Biblical right to do what we’re going to do tonight,” Locke declared. He also claimed “… a church has a religious right to burn occultic materials that they deem are a threat to their religious rights and freedoms and belief systems.”

The Guardian reported that Locke also said, 

“…he was fighting the “Free Mason devils” and that… “I ain’t messing with witches no more, I ain’t messing with witchcraft… I ain’t messing with demons… I’ll call all of them out in the name of Jesus Christ,” said Locke, as crowds of attendees cheered and applauded in response.”

None of this has made Locke too toxic for some religious and political leaders as he’s currently featured on the ReAwaken America Tour—some 16 rallies led by Michael Flynn, Roger Stone and other January 6th insurrectionists. 

Harbingers of a sacred purge?

The tour is exclusively sponsored by the Charisma Media empire of NAR Apostle Steven Strang. This is no small thing since the founding convener of NAR, the late Apostle C. Peter Wagner, was a fan of the 15th century Italian Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola, who staged what came to be known as the “bonfire of the vanities.” 

Wagner wrote in his 2008 book Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, that “after Savonarola prayed and prophesied”:

“The wicked city government [of Florence] was overthrown, and Savonarola taught the people to set up a democratic form of government. The revival brought tremendous moral change. The people stopped reading vile and worldly books. Merchants made restitution to the people for the excessive profits they had been making. Hoodlums and street urchins stopped singing sinful songs and began to sing hymns in the streets. Carnivals were forbidden and forsaken.

Huge bonfires were made of worldly books and obscene pictures, masks, and wigs. A great octagonal pyramid of worldly objects was erected in the public square in Florence. It towered in seven stages sixty feet high and 240 feet in circumference. While bells tolled, the people sang hymns and the fire burned.”

Wagner’s books remain influential in the NAR, a dynamic organizational revamping and politicization of much of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity. The movement is still not well known, despite major coverage in, among others,  The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Salon, and The New Republic. The rise of the NAR, and the growth of the wider charismatic movement, has come largely at the expense of traditional mainline Protestant and evangelical denominations, as well as Roman Catholicism, in favor of non-denominational churches and prayer networks.

Andre Gagne and I recently reported on RD: 

These prayer networks are led by what is known as the “fivefold ministry” as mentioned in the biblical book of Ephesians: Apostle, prophet, teacher, pastor and evangelist. The networks comprise both physical churches and prayer groups of various sizes, which aim to take control of what they call the “Seven Mountains” of society in order to achieve Christian dominion. These metaphorical mountains are religion, family, government, business, education, arts & entertainment and media.

NAR figures prominently in book bannings across the country. In one recent example, Patriot Mobile—a NAR 7 Mountains Dominionism-inspired phone company in Texas—bankrolled the campaigns of 11 candidates for school board in the suburbs of Ft. Worth in May 2022. They all won, and they subsequently took control of four school boards. In one school district (but probably not the last) 40 books were soon pulled from the shelves for “review.” 

It remains to be seen whether book burnings will become more a part of the current frenzy of book bannings. But as NAR’s End Times army begins to move to engage the perceived enemies of God, it’s certainly not unreasonable to think we might see Wagnerian style bonfires lighting up the night skies.