Rising Christian Right Movement, New Apostolic Reformation, Emerged as a Mid-20th Century Splinter of White Supremacy

NAR Apostle Dutch Sheets waves Christian nationalist 'Appeal to Heaven' flag to the frenzied cheers of the Murfreesboro, TN attendees. Image: YouTube/MRTV

In the days leading up to January 6, 2021, a New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) group known as Jericho March organized groups of Christians to pray, fast, and march around government buildings in Washington DC, in protest of the election results. Among the NAR apostles who called on their millions of followers to reject the results of the 2020 election are Lance Wallnau, Dutch Sheets, and Cindy Jacobs. Paula White—a popular televangelist, spiritual advisor to Donald Trump, and NAR apostle—led the actual mob in prayer just before the attack on the US Capitol. As was widely reported, evangelicals carrying crosses and the “Appeal to Heaven” flag, marched next to Oath Keepers, Klansmen, and neo-Nazis, with a gallows in the background. Why were prominent leaders and lay people in the NAR, a movement that has become the face of the Christian Right, openly colluding with White skinheads in an effort to overthrow the US government? As we seek to understand this alliance it may help to keep in mind that, while the 1980s Christian nationalism of Jerry Falwell and his movement was tangentially connected to the Ku Klux Klan, the New Apostolic Reformation actually emerged as a splinter from it.

To be clear, the differences between the NAR and White supremacist groups—such as the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters—are now, on some points at least, so stark as to be irreconcilable. The Identity theology (sometimes referred to as “Christian Identity”) that animates much of White supremacism teaches a rabid antisemitism and insists that Jews are pulling the strings of power in a conspiracy called Zionist Occupied Government (often abbreviated as ZOG). Meanwhile, the NAR is a racially and culturally diverse coalition that promotes Christian Zionism as fervently as it promotes Christian nationalism in the US. And while the NAR’s philosemitism can itself be deeply problematic, it certainly isn’t as threatening as White supremacy’s conspiracy-laden antisemitism.

However, as recently as the mid-twentieth century, the movements actually were the same. William Branham (1909-1965) was a revivalist and faith healer who served as a prominent figure in a post-World War II restorationist movement known as the Latter Rain Revival. Much of what was taught in the Latter Rain Revival stems from a pseudohistorical, apocalyptic belief known as British Israelism—or, as it was more commonly referred to in the United States, Anglo Israelism. British Israelism asserts that the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel aren’t really lost but rather migrated through Europe, with some settling in the British Isles; as such, the British people are, in fact, the Israel of the Bible and heirs to all the promises that God gave that nation.

While the Latter Rain Revivals didn’t fixate on spreading British Israelism, rogue elements that were, at the time, clearly identifiable as British Israelist found their way into Latter Rain teachings. These elements included the “Manifest Sons of God” teaching, which claims that some Christians will attain glorified bodies on Earth so as to take dominion for God’s Kingdom. Additionally, Branham taught pyramidology—to this day, a significant feature of British Israelism.

In fact, the movement was called the “Latter Rain” because it began in 1948, the same year that Israel was recognized as an independent state; British Israelists drew direct parallels between the recognition of Israel and the beginning of what they saw as the prophesied “latter-rain” outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Western church. The NAR continues to draw direct parallels between events in Israel and events in the “Christian” West—hence the similarities seen in both NAR Christian Zionism and NAR Christian nationalism.

British Israelism had begun to take a different, much more radical direction by the time of the Latter Rain Revival. It became the core of Identity theology, which has been foundational to the beliefs of many White supremacists since the mid-twentieth century. But, while British Israelism teaches that both the British/European and the Jewish people are the Israel of the Bible, Identity theology teaches that the White race is the true Israel and that Jews are literal descendants of Satan, born through a cursed sexual union between Eve and the serpent (a story that, of course, doesn’t actually appear in the Bible). This approach to race is known as two-seed theory, and it was promoted by none other than William Branham, the Latter Rain leader. In fact, Branham was ordained into ministry by Roy Davis, the National Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Today’s NAR leaders seem untroubled by Branham’s associations with White supremacism and laud him as an early prophet of their movement. One former elder at Bethel Church, a NAR powerhouse in Redding, California, said that during the three years he served in ministry there, Bill Johnson required all staff to read three books about Branham. Paul Cain, Branham’s associate during the 1950s, became one of the Kansas City prophets who, with leader Mike Bickle, founded the International House of Prayer in 1999. Branham’s influence on the NAR cannot be underestimated.

Yet the story goes back further than Branham, Latter Rain, or the NAR and includes one of the most significant figures in American Pentecostalism: Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944) and her Los Angeles megachurch, Angelus Temple. “Sister Aimee” began her ministry through traveling revivals during which she claimed to heal people of their illnesses through the Holy Spirit. She became one of the most influential people in the country during the public years of her ministry, and when Angelus Temple opened in 1923, it was America’s first megachurch. 

Notably, Pentecostalism has, since its founding in the early 1900s, been a racially diverse movement; the leader of the Azusa Street Revival, William Seymour, was the son of emancipated slaves in Louisiana. However, this racial diversity belies a dark theological heritage that is anything but kind to non-Whites (or, for that matter, to most White people).

One of the ministers at Angelus Temple was a man named Wesley Swift, who attended the church’s LIFE College in the 1930s before joining its staff. Swift first encountered British Israelism at Angelus Temple through a guest speaker, the traveling revivalist Gerald Burton Winrod. While working at Angelus Temple, he immersed himself in the British-Israelist tradition and worked the more extreme racial elements into two-seed theory. Today, Swift is regarded as the chief organizer of Identity theology.

Going back even further, the father of American Pentecostalism, Charles Fox Parham, was a British Israelist. It’s important to note that Pentecostal churches today generally reject British Israelism, and most have never even heard of the doctrine, but its teachings became baked into the more rogue elements of Pentecostalism, especially the Latter Rain Revival (which many Pentecostal denominations formally denounced, even while churchgoers flocked to the revival services).

The NAR today seems to have left behind the overtly pseudohistorical belief that claims people of British/European descent are the true Israel of the Bible. But the leaders have held on to many other beliefs that emerged from British Israelism, including that God has called them to rule over the rest of creation and the embrace of a political messianism that justifies insurrection in America and an unprecedented brutality inflicted on the people of Gaza. In fact, Mike Bickle, one of the foremost NAR leaders prior to his downfall in 2023, taught that Christians will pray the plagues of Revelation down onto unbelievers during the End Times—a teaching that looks eerily similar, not merely to British Israelism, but to the Identity theology of White supremacism. 

January 6 was not an aberration for the NAR. Rather, NAR apostles participating with avowed White supremacists in a deadly attack on American democracy reveals what the NAR truly is: a far-right movement that splintered off the Ku Klux Klan and still strives to create an authoritarian state.