The conservative Christian base of the Republican Party has never been as monolithic as it sometimes seems. This has recently been on vivid display in Pennsylvania, where rifts among conservative evangelical Christians are spreading like cracked glass.
New cracks appeared before and since the election in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which is located in the south central part of the state, on the Maryland border. The county is a microcosm of some significant trends towards deepening disunity in evangelicalism. There, Christian Reconstructionists who see themselves in the tradition of 20th century American theologian R.J. Rushdoony, have denounced the charismatic revivalists of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), who played leading roles in the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and other political leaders as “evildoers who claim to serve Jesus.”
And as it turned out, the feeling was mutual.
The flashpoint was a full page essay by Chris Hume, the managing editor of The Lancaster Patriot, a weekly newspaper which is not available online (but Hume’s essay is posted here) in which he denounced neo-charismatics generally, and prophet Julie Green—who had appeared at a number of Doug Mastriano campaign and ReAwaken America events—in particular.
Hume took specific exception to Green’s prophecies at a Mastriano event in Spooky Nook, where she casually equated Trump with Jesus. “God said ‘You can’t stop my son. Who is the rightful president. He is on his way back,” she prophesied, “and how he takes his position back on center stage, you will never see that coming because you won’t see me coming. And I am with him.”
Hume calls her a “false prophet” and a “false teacher.” He repeated his charges in a November podcast just before the election, in conversation with Joel Saint, a regional Christian Reconstructionist leader and Pastor of Independence Reformed Bible Church in Morgantown. In their view, Christianity is being used as a “political prop” by ReAwaken America and the MAGA movement.
Hume writes that “carelessness,” “excesses,” “sensationally false claims,” and “new prophecies” have marked charismatics since the early days of the church. What’s more, he declares, “Anti-intellectualism and emotionalism have given us modern day evangelicalism, which is a mile wide and an inch deep. And,” he adds, “we are exporting this garbage to the nations.”
And, he claims,
“Green’s shenanigans are just one example of how the co-opting of certain conservatives is creating a mass of duped people, ignorant of what God’s Law-Word actually says regarding salvation, revelation, and civil government.”
Hume and Saint are unabashed Christian Reconstructionists and directors of the Mid-Atlantic Reformation Society (MARS), a regional Reconstructionist hub which has close relationships with the paper, and with the Independence Reformed Bible Church. MARS hosts an annual conference called The Future of Christendom, which has featured such leading figures as the late Gary North, Rev. Joseph Morecraft of Georgia, Col. John Eidsmoe of Alabama, and Rev. Matt Trewhella of Wisconsin.
Trewhella came to national attention in the 1990s as one of three dozen signatories to a statement that declared that the murder of abortion providers is “justifiable homicide,” and later for his advocacy for the formation of church-based militias. Trewhella is currently best known for his advocacy of the insurrectionist “doctrine of the lesser magistrate,” about which he spoke in 2022.
Hume’s use of the term “Law-word” is straight out of Rushdoony, whose vision of God’s laws, as revealed in the Bible, should be universally applied. Briefly, Christian Reconstructionism, is a theological movement founded by 20th century theologian R.J. Rushdoony that advances the idea that Christians must not only exercise dominion over society, but eventually institute and enforce the laws from the Hebrew Bible.
Unlike the creeds developed within specific denominations, Christian Reconstructionism is a movement of ideas that transcends denominations and has influenced far more people than those who ever adopted the label. One of the movement’s main achievements has been to provide a biblical rationale for political action for the Christian Right and a theory of government and public policy development.
From Russia with love
Even as The Lancaster Patriot is challenging the authenticity and ethics of the charismatics, its owners are facing some questions themselves.
In fact, there’s a disturbing story of the origins of the paper. According to reporting by Michael Edison Hayden at Hatewatch (a publication of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), among others, the paper’s site was part of a group of Russian-backed websites that promoted Nazism, antisemitism, and anti-Black racism for an American audience, though this one stood out as a site that specifically sought to play a disruptive role going into the 2020 elections.
The paper began as a Pennsylvania politics blog in April 2020. It was, according to Hatewatch, “mirrored online by a Russian website… affiliated with creators of the pro-Kremlin propaganda website Russia Insider.”
Three days after Hatewatch reached out to Russia Insider editor Charles Bausman for a comment on this story, someone took both Lancaster Patriot and oc.binaria.ru offline. Local news outlet Lancaster Online reported on Sept. 26 that Lancaster Patriot was edited by Trey Garrison, a 51-year-old Holocaust-mocking Twitter troll who for years embodied the online persona “Spectre,” while podcasting for the white nationalist organization The Right Stuff.
Even as the paper denounced fellow evangelicals and conservatives whom they deemed compromised in November of 2022, Dave Stoltzfus, the CEO of The Lancaster Patriot had to try to explain his way out of apparent compromises of his own [1:15-4:30] during the same month. Addressing “The Future of Christendom” conference, Stoltzfus’s story is as spooky as it sounds.
“In 2018,” he recounts, “I was introduced to a gentleman who wanted to start an online news site.” After months of conversation, he and his wife, Jen Stoltzfus, “decided it would be best not to get involved with this group of people.” He doesn’t say why, but what subsequently came out about this “group” may have had something to do with it. Nevertheless, after launching in April, by “mid-2020,” “the group” approached them again, “saying they were going to close shop” and wanted to know if the Stoltzfuses “were interested in carrying this on.”
Stoltzfus claims that “we didn’t know what we were getting into,” but that by September of 2020 they were “ready to start a conservative print newspaper.” At the time of the launch they were still “mirroring the site of this other group,” and shut down within a month in the face of wide ranging controversy.
“The gentleman we were working with,” Stoltzfus says, “was going to be our editor.” The mystery gentleman, presumably Trey Garrison, the sole writer at the site, would be “accused of everything under the sun.” Stolzfus says that “maybe” some of what was written about their editor was true, but that “it was not true about us.” Charles Bausmann, the leader of “the group” (who lived in Lancaster), shot video from inside the Capitol on January 6th, 2021, and soon thereafter fled to Russia.
Stolzfus complains about media coverage and the SPLC, and that they were accused of “being Russian agents.” Taking a page out of the Trump playbook, he shrugs, denies everything, and doesn’t explain his relationship with Russian agents.
The Stoltzfuses relaunched the paper in March of 2021, stating, “The Lancaster Patriot is leading a Movement to restore truthful and ethical media in Lancaster County.”
As we previously reported here at RD, Joseph Mattera, the Convening Apostle of the US Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, endorses the Coalition on Revival’s 17 Worldview Documents. These documents were created in the 1980s after years of dialogue among hundreds of evangelical leaders (including C. Peter Wagner, who named and organized the NAR in the 1990s), Rushdoony and other leading Christian Reconstructionists, and charismatic movement leaders, to arrive at a roughly shared “biblical worldview.” This unity allowed for the subsequent political successes of the Christian Right. But that unity may be unraveling.
Some NAR and Christian Reconstructionist leaders now recognize that they have a problem with rogue prophets whose words and activities they see as neither biblical nor as coming from a Christian worldview, but as a series of false claims of God-given pronouncements in the service of political and other opportunities. (Hume and others think that this is more grift than the gift of prophecy.)
Hume’s purist approach is not only intolerant of charismatics, but much of what passes for modern conservatism. He writes that “these movements and personalities,” including ReAwaken America, MAGA, Julie Green, and Sean Feucht, “present an extremely shallow understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
He further complains that they promote a biblically unlawful view of the role of government by supporting such things as taxation “at gunpoint,” and “government education.” This, he believes, is consistent with “what got us here: setting up man’s standards as supreme,” and that we may ultimately “find ourselves unable to recognize good from evil.”
For his part, Pastor Joel Saint said the ReAwaken America Tour failed to explain how we got here and what to do about it, except to reelect Trump and create a Red wave. He also complains that the Republican Party has “already accepted homo-sex marriage” and “is playing footsie-wootsie now with transgenderism.” This, he says, “is completely offensive to God.”
Understandably, some in the charismatic community have not taken all this well.
The great unraveling
The Lancaster Reconstructionists aren’t the only ones taking aim at the NAR’s approach to theology and politics, as the efforts at evangelical unity continue to unravel. National leaders in the Reconstructionist camp have also taken notice.
In one podcast, longtime Christian Reconstructionist think tanker Gary DeMar chided NAR leader Michael Brown’s view of Christian involvement in politics, stating that being a Christian is more than just “preaching the gospel.” DeMar also recently criticized Joseph Mattera for confusing the “dominion mandate” with the “domination of Christians.”
But Mattera (and Brown) have their own concerns about the Charismatic view of dominion, some of whose proponents use the language of spiritual warfare and conquest to gain political power. These include proponents of the 7 Mountain Mandate, a strategy aimed at capturing, or “taking dominion,” over leading aspects of society, namely religion, family, government, education, business, arts & entertainment and media.
DeMar’s Reconstructionist view of dominion is that of “sphere jurisdictions,” which is to say that the Church functions in its own sphere and does not rule over the State—at least that’s what he claims in his podcast.
Mattera, like the Reconstructionists, agrees that a “top-down” approach to dominion simply won’t work. “I don’t necessarily subscribe to the top-down approach strategy for the church,” Mattera wrote in his latest book, “I don’t believe the best and quickest way for the church to demonstrate power is by leading in the political arena.” That’s why they’re concerned that placing Christianity at the service of hard-charging political forces may actually set back the advance of authentic Christian dominion. Indeed this, as we reported here at RD, is part of what they were trying to address in their statements on Prophetic Standards and NAR and Christian Nationalism.
As we previously reported, those who say they oppose a “top down” approach to dominion, are also asking us to ignore that it is in fact dominion that they seek. We wrote:
It’s true that the Dominionism of Rushdoony, and later Wagner, doesn’t call for the armed seizure of the citadels of power and influence, including the Seven Mountains. It is, however, unambiguous about the need for biblical Christians of the right sort to take power in a bottom-up fashion to ultimately govern society in general and all of its parts.
Of course, some are more impatient than others on bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth and engage against what they see as the demonic forces impeding them.
So the issue seems to be much more a matter of means than ends.
Trouble in paradise
Ordinary Charismatic followers saw some of the same things that Reconstructionist intellectuals and worried NAR leaders have called out. After Julie Green’s prophecies concerning the midterm elections missed the mark, some followers on her Facebook page questioned whether she had really heard from God. One commenter wrote:
“I do not question [that] you hear prophecies from HIM. However, when the words do not happen, I really question if God is speaking to the prophets or if they just think they hear what they so desperately want to be true… my faith in self declared ‘God told me this’ messages has been SHAKEN.”
To which, someone in the discussion thread replied:
“This is exactly what Julie Green is doing! Her biggest prophecies failed! Trump will not be reinstated. Pelosi did not die before the midterms. Merrick Garland is still alive. Charles is King. Arizona did not decertify the 2020 elections and many more did not follow, Mastriano lost the PA Governor race!… This does nothing to edify the church. Please test the prophets. If they are wrong God does not speak through them. Please don’t get fooled.”
To which, another person added:
“You are not listening to everything Julie says. Herschel won, but they cheated again. She also said that God would remove people who got their seats illegally. She said, don’t believe what you see and keep your eyes on Jesus.”
Confrontations also broke out between Reconstructionists and some prophetic figures elsewhere on Facebook in November:
“Sad the direction the Lancaster Patriot is taking. The ‘editorial’ attack on Mastriano and now this podcast is really making me rethink supporting this paper.”
The opposing factions are now pointing fingers and hurling biblical passages at one another online.
“Wow and these men are Patriots as well as Christians? What ever happened to if you have a ought [sic] [probably means an issue] with a brother or sister you talk to them. This is so very sad! Are we not supposed to work together? I’d also like to leave with this… 1Chronicles 16:22 Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”
To which Chris Hume replied:
“Mr. Fosdick, would you be willing to come into the studio and defend the assertion that Julie Green and Bo Polny should not be judged by the standard of Scripture?”
The Fosdicks appealed to Matthew 18:15, which instructs Christians to deal privately with a brother or sister believed to be wrong.
The second biblical reference is often used by those who wish to shut down any criticism against the prophets. Pennsylvania Facebookers Ernie Springer and Rachel Moyer’s opposition to the rogue prophets, for example, draws inspiration from John MacArthur’s 1993 book, Charismatic Chaos. Springer posts from another Facebook account this famous MacArthur quote:
“Charismatic theology has turned the evangelical church into a cesspool of error and a breeding ground for false teachers.”
This is an understandable and perennial go-to source, since MacArthur, a prolific and influential author and pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, has vehemently opposed the modern resurgence of spiritual gifts, the Kansas City Prophets, the Third Wave, the Prosperity Gospel, etc.
MacArthur epitomizes the fact that evangelicalism—and for that matter all of Protestantism—has always been divided. We’ve seen many schisms and many transformations in all of Christianity throughout history. While such changes are in some sense normal, this history doesn’t diminish the significance of the theological and organizational factions of modern evangelicalism currently underway, and in ways that are of great consequence. So much so, that it can be difficult at this turbulent time, to get a handle on and keep track of such things.
Nevertheless, we’ve already learned so much about the roles of some NAR figures in the January 6th insurrection—that the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol ignored. And yet, in the wake of the January 6th insurrection, it still matters that Dominionist factions are contending for power and influence, even as the movement is fracturing, and that foreign political interests continue to seek to influence U.S. religion and politics.