At the Fathers’ House International church in Henderson, Kentucky, Pastor Lisa Bourland is seated on the prayer room floor washing the feet of speakers for that evening’s Women, Weapons of Warfare (WWW) conference. Behind her is a blank movie screen (a reminder that the building once housed the six-theater Old Orchard Cinema) and a panoramic photograph of Bethlehem, flanked by both the Israeli and American flags. The stars of this Stars and Stripes, however, have been replaced with the Ten Commandments.
A young woman gently strums a guitar. The dozen or so people in the room are alternately rapt, singing, and speaking in tongues; their concentration unbroken by a persistently ringing cell phone left in a purse at the back of the room. One by one, the speakers lower themselves into a chair facing Bethlehem (where Bourland also runs a house of prayer on Manger Street), and rest their feet in a disposable aluminum pan now half full of murky water. As Bourland washes their feet, one by one, about a dozen people watch, pray, and lay on hands. As she finishes each one, Bourland, a cheerful, chatty, 49-year-old real estate broker and grandmother, wipes the feet dry and kisses them.
At the heart of this women’s conference is the concept of “spiritual warfare,” the idea that God has anointed his “generals” to defeat Satan and bring the world to Christ. During this pre-conference prayer session, the group prays for a “mega-breakthrough” and for God to “take down the enemy.” It’s not a war of flesh and blood, conference speakers are quick to point out, but against the evil evident everywhere around us: in the “total moral decay” of America; in the nearby “liberal” Indiana University; in the unexpected frog in the throat of a speaker from Georgia; in the angry outburst of a woman whose husband had left her; and in the fear of failure recounted by speaker after speaker—until they found Jesus, that is. It becomes evident, as the speakers give testimony about their relationship with Jesus, that for many he is not only their savior, but someone they converse with to obtain instructions for most details of their lives. Many call him “daddy.”
Bourland introduces special guest from Zimbabwe, Pastor Vicky Mpofu, her “spiritual mother” whom she likens to Moses, a figure “God has anointed” to “deal with an affliction on her people.” Mpofu is, says Bourland, “an oracle of God to bring a warning to our country.” She predicts that people, “will wake up and listen,” then she prays for there to be “more than enough to take care of all the children of Zimbabwe.”
When Bourland is finished, Mpofu, a tall woman with a regal bearing, stands and approaches me. “Sarah, you came,” she exclaims softly, almost in disbelief. She grasps me in a tight, protracted embrace, and tells me that during our telephone interview from Harare a few weeks earlier, she felt a “strong connection” with me. For Pentecostals who believe in signs, wonders, and miracles, no human encounter is devoid of a divine hand. As Bourland likes to say, in describing the way many of her life’s events have transpired: “it was so God.”
Pat Robertson’s Woman Warrior in Zimbabwe
Mpofu, who co-founded the WWW conference with Bourland, is the executive director of the African Centre for Law and Justice, a branch of the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Pat Robertson in 1990 as a “Christian” answer to the American Civil Liberties Union. Although Robertson remains the organization’s president, its day-to-day operations are run by litigator, activist, and radio and television host Jay Sekulow. The ALCJ portrays itself as the voice of God-fearing, America-loving Christians battling secularism, radical Islam, and what it claims is hostility to religious expression in the public square.
In the political oppression and economic chaos that has defined Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe’s brutal rule (and that has continued since the formation of a “unity government” in 2008) the African Centre for Law and Justice is injecting itself into the political process of drafting a new Constitution that will supposedly pave the way for new elections. The African Centre for Law and Justice is aiming to do in Zimbabwe precisely what the religious right seeks to accomplish in the United States: declare the country a “Christian nation” guided by biblical principles, outlaw abortion, and ostracize and criminalize LGBT people.
In the ACLJ, Bourland and Mpofu have powerful allies. Sekulow, who has been named one of the most influential evangelicals and prominent lawyers in America, has argued key cases in the religious right’s jurisprudential arsenal before the Supreme Court, vetted and promoted George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees, and was an early endorser of and advisor to Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. Sekulow is a media mogul as well; his daily radio program is heard on hundreds of stations, and he is a co-founder and board member of inspirational programming company Cross Bridge Media, whose parent, BN Media, recently purchased the religion Web site Beliefnet from Rupert Murdoch.
A 2005 Legal Times exposé—which documented, among other things, the Sekulow family’s use of non-profit funds to support their lavish lifestyle, and Sekulow’s use of an ACLJ jet to transport Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to a speaking engagement at Robertson’s Regent University—did little to derail the trajectory of his career and ambitions. With his son Jordan as Director of International Operations, Sekulow has expanded the international reach of the ACLJ, which already had European outposts, into Israel and Africa.
The younger Sekulow, like his father, is both a political activist and a media personality. He was the National Youth Director for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign and a consultant to the Romney campaign in 2008. He is a frequent guest on Fox News and has been a panelist for the Washington Post’s On Faith section, where he sought to “expose” the imam behind the Park51 mosque (formerly The Cordoba House), piling on a right-wing campaign to portray the effort as anti-American and supportive of terrorism.
Bourland was the point person in the establishment of the African Centre for Law and Justice in Harare, which she calls a “footprint” for other ACLJ efforts on the continent. The sequence of events that led Bourland to ask Jordan Sekulow to travel with her to Zimbabwe and ultimately set up the African Centre for Law and Justice was, said Bourland, “totally God’s timing.”
In 2006, following what she said was God’s request, she traveled to Zimbabwe and submitted to Mpofu “as a mentor in prayer.” As she recounts it on the WWW Web site:
[God] revealed to me that if I would submit myself and these women under the spiritual leadership of Pastor Vicky that He would raise up an international army of mighty warriors, and together we would enter into a realm of intercession that would change nations.
The following year, seeking to assist the family of Rami Ayyad, a Christian bookstore owner who was killed in Gaza, she traveled to the Ukraine and visited with Henry Madava, a pastor there who is Zimbabwean by birth. Bourland says that God had already given Madava the information that Bourland was going to tell him about a martyr. When she told him of her efforts to assist Ayyad’s family, she said, Madava was ready to hand her “a huge stack of American cash.”
A year later, after she had enlisted the ACLJ’s help to rescue the Ayyad family, Bourland told me, “The Holy Spirit said, ‘ask Jordan to come with you to Zimbabwe.’” What followed was meetings with government officials from both Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change Party and Mugabe’s Zanu Party, and the formation of the African Centre for Law and Justice. “God brought it full circle,” said Bourland—meaning that Madava’s gift had triggered a series of events, orchestrated by God, that led to an effort to help his native Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe outpost of the ACLJ isn’t Robertson’s first foray into Africa. Earlier this year, prosecutors in the war crime trial of former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor alleged that the televangelist had lobbied the Bush White House on his behalf in exchange for lucrative gold mining contracts—a claim Robertson denied. And in the late 1990s, Robertson was forced to reimburse his Operation Blessing charity after his pilots divulged that its planes were being used to support Robertson’s personal diamond mining business instead of relief work in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Robertson had befriended Zairian strongman Mobutu Sese Seku and pled on the 700 Club for the United States to lift sanctions on his murderous regime.
Zimbabwe as “Christian Nation”
Together with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the African Centre for Law and Justice is working to garner the support of religious leaders and activists for constitutional provisions that would “affirm that Zimbabwe is a predominantly Christian nation founded on biblical principles,” and require application of “the Laws of God in order to prosper and avoid chaos and destruction,” according to a pamphlet prepared by the EFZ and supported by the ALCJ.
Backed by the ACLJ, Mpofu has been traveling Zimbabwe to rally religious support for the EFZ’s constitutional proposals. “We’ve had a lot of support from ACLJ in America because for me to be able to go around the country to visit the ten provinces we’ve received some help financially and also we’ve received some help from the teams from America visiting and working with us,” Mpofu said. “The support has been tremendous.”
Zimbabwe is between 60% and 70% Christian; a blend of mainline Protestants, Catholics, and evangelicals, many of whom still adhere to some traditional religious practices Mpofu considers witchcraft, but Pentecostalism is growing. Although the population is only 1% Muslim, both Sekulow and Mpofu express fear that the West’s sanctions—which are targeted at Mugabe and his close associates—have led his government to seek alliances and financial partnerships with Muslim countries like Iran. (The U.S. does provide humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe.)
Bourland said the ACLJ had asked the Obama Administration to lift those sanctions but, like the Bush Administration before it, the administration has refused because of Mugabe’s ongoing human rights abuses, including controlling the country’s diamond wealth by military force and violence, and repression of political opposition and free press.
Legalizing Homosexuality Could “Bring a Curse”
The EFZ/ACLJ pamphlet also calls for constitutional prohibitions on both abortion, by defining life as “beginning at conception,” and on attempts to reform the country’s laws criminalizing homosexuality. It calls for defining marriage “as being between a man and a woman” and for “any and all definitions of a family or marriages or relationships or legal unions that seek to include or permit same-sex unions to be prohibited,” as well as for “sexual relations between partners of the same-sex, bestiality, and other perversions to remain a criminal activity.”
Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai agree that homosexuality should remain illegal. Mugabe has, for example, called LGBT people “worse than dogs and pigs” and his regime has harassed, censored, and interfered with members of the nation’s only LGBT rights organization, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe. According to the 2009 Human Rights Report published by the State Department, the government amended the criminal code in 2006, “broadening the definition of sodomy to include ‘any act involving physical contact between males that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act,’” subjecting “offenders” to up to a one-year prison term and a $5,000 fine. Although there are no known prosecutions, societal discrimination has led to “corrective” rape of lesbians and forced marriages to create an appearance of heterosexuality. Many LGBT people are reluctant to seek medical care for sexually transmitted diseases and they experience higher rates of homelessness an unemployment.
Mpofu said homosexuality “is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. As Christians, we feel that if we take a route that legalizes anything that God says is an abomination, it will bring a curse onto our nation.”
“I Can Speak as God”
Mpofu’s spiritual story is a case study in how American evangelicalism, and particularly different strands of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, have been exported to Africa, through direct evangelism and televangelism. Mpofu grew up in the Anglican Church, she said, but learned, from watching the Trinity Broadcasting Network, that she was “just dying” and had not truly understood the meaning of the bible. Now, she says, she is an admirer of televangelists like the “Prophetess” Juanita Bynum and Joyce Meyer, who has claimed to have preached to over half a million Zimbabweans this year.
But it was a book by Kenneth Hagin—credited by many with being the father of the Word of Faith, or “name it and claim it” movement—that most influenced her. “[T]he more I began to dig in the Bible, I began to discover that God created man and gave us the power to act on his behalf,” she said, echoing one of the movement’s most controversial tenets, so controversial that critics call it heretical; that believers are “little gods.”
Mpofu added, “for me that was the most exciting thing that I could discover about myself because then it means [that] as a son of God I have been given the power to stand in the feet of God and I can speak as God.”
Women Warriors and Sarah Palin
Henderson, a town of about 27,000 people, appears to have been hit hard by the economic crisis. The mile-long stretch of State Route 41, where The Father’s House sits, is packed with check-cashing and rent-to-own stores, manufactured home retailers, and fast food restaurants. But the economy and politics are barely mentioned during the conference. Not once are religious right buzzwords or hot-button issues like abortion or homosexuality brought up; instead, the focus is on being down “on your face,” seeking repentance for yourself and direction from God for the spiritual battle.
Yet the political motivation of these women is clear. Tunie Lang, WWW’s US director, who wears an American flag as a scarf, preached about how America needs to repent for its “moral decay.” She believes she is an intercessor for America, placed by God to fight a “war” that is “getting worse [while] the darkness is getting darker.” The two dozen women in the room, she added, “have more power than buff military men.”
Women, Mpofu predicts, are “God’s secret weapon to destroy the machinations of the enemy” and will be “very influential” in “these last days.” Sitting on the couch in the back of the prayer room, she told me that on a recent trip to England she saw Sarah Palin on television. “I’m looking at it and I’m thinking in my head, before I even heard what they were talking about, I’m looking at it and I’m thinking, ooh, she is presidential material,” said Mpofu.
“Oh yeah,” echoes Bourland.
“In my heart, I just begin to pray, God, let this woman rise to this place that you want her to go,” said Mpofu. “Number one, she’s a Christian. Number two, she’s a woman.”
Watch a short video montage of the conference here. —Ed.