The "Toronto Blessing" and Monday's elections in Canada. Are They Related?
Joan Bokaer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jan 24, 2006 at 08:54:03 PM EST
As Canada's Conservative Party came into power on Monday -- marking a striking shift from four consecutive Liberal national election victories in the last thirteen years -- I am reminded of something I witnessed about three years ago at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF). As its name says, the Fellowship is located near the Toronto Airport.

I went for a purely selfish reason. I love to laugh. I  was there to experience the "Toronto Blessing"

From TACF's website:

The Toronto Blessing is a  transferable anointing.  In its most visible form it overcomes worshippers with outbreaks of laughter,  weeping, groaning, shaking, falling,  "drunkenness," and even behaviours that have been described as a "cross between a jungle and a farmyard." Of greater significance, however, are the changed lives.

Let me be clear. I did not go to mock the Toronto Blessing; I went to take part in it. I believe in the healing power of laughter and other forms of emotional release.  I was in for a big surprise, but not the one I had hoped to find.

Before I tell you about the surprise, let me describe the service itself. When I arrived, the parking lot was full of SUVs and minivans, so my first impression was that this was a fairly middle-class group. Lots and lots of casually but well-dressed people (right out of a Land's End or LL Bean catalogue) were walking toward the Church. The crowd was ethnically diverse with a fairly large number of members who looked as if they might come from India or Pakistan.

As with so many megachurches, the outside of the one-floor building was functionally modern and not very attractive, but the inside was huge and very comfortable.  And full. The  carpeted floor was great for dancing, and the first-rate sound system carried the music of a live band.  

I was enjoying the dancing when speakers came onto the stage. The first was a man from Poland who cried about how his country has treated Jews. He said that the Bible tells us to love the Jews. Then came a woman who was about to get raptured. She kept talking about the "winds of change," and suddenly her body moved forcefully across the stage as if a big wind had just struck her. The pastor agreed that Christ was going to come any day and take His people out. "Winds of change" became the theme of the morning. He said repeatedly, "You can feel it in the air. He's coming any day now."

The Suprise

Testimonies went on for a couple of hours and I was waiting eagerly for the "Toronto Blessing" to begin. Finally it was time. I sat up in my chair, eager, perched, ready, when a woman climbed  onto the stage, took the microphone, and said, "This is the time we usually worship." Did she say "usually?"  

Then everything happened like a slow-motion movie. "This is the time we usually worship," she said. "And I know that you all are great worshippers. But something so important has come up, that we're not going to worship in our usual way today, and we're going to write letters to members of parliament instead."  

At the back of the room was a long row of tables filled with letter-writing materials. Parliament was getting ready to vote on a gay marriage amendment, and they were told that this bill was unbiblical.

I watched thousands of people line up obediently to write their letters and wondered if the Conservative Party would form a coalition with the Religious Right. None of the reporting I have read on the Canadian elections have mentioned anything about political organizing through the megachurches. But then I rarely read an account of the Republican coup of 1994 -- when Republicans won majoritites in both houses of the U.S. Congress for the first time in forty years -- I rarely see this event linked to the activities of the Christian Coalition.

To be fair, the new Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, came across as a moderate conservative, studiously avoiding discussion of social issues during the campaign, but then so did Bush in 2000. I hope that our Canadian friends wake up in time to stop their Religious Right from winning a strong majority in Parliament. May the "Toronto Blessing" remain a healing force and not become the dominant political force in Canada.

what I believe happened in Ohio. I quit attending church when I was a teen because most of the churches in this area preach hatred--they enjoy pontificating about the "devil" and "evil" everywhere.
  Somehow, my fellow brainwashed citizens are convinced there is a "gay" or "liberal" agenda. It was really bad before the election.  A janitor told me the only reason he voted for Bush is because he "didn't wanna see two men kissing at his son's baseball games"
  I tried to explain how ridiculous that was, but it fell on empty ears. In my wildest dreams, I did not think pastors could influence people this way.
  I thought to myself, surely people remember the Swaggert, Bakker, etc. scandals and see through this. Obviously not.
 That is why I went to church Sunday--to hear what in the world was turning my fellow Americans into non-thinking zombies.
  I have stopped trying to convince people most of the MSM is propaganda. They do not listen. Instead, I write down website addresses such as KOS  Media Matters, TalkToAction and others.  

by concerned ohioan on Tue Jan 24, 2006 at 11:00:23 PM EST

This particular branch of pentecostalism--the "third wave" movement (of which the "Toronto Blessing" group is one of the best well known, as well as the "Brownsville Revival" group, even though the movement is far older)--is actually not only the group that is most strongly associated with dominionism, but in fact dominion theology and in particular the "spiritual warfare" ideology promoted is a core component of the theology of "third wave" pentecostalism.

(Full disclosure here--I am a walkaway from, and a survivor of, an Assemblies of God church which was an early embracer of "Third Wave" teachings (several decades pre-Brownsville, in fact) and as such most of my experience with dominionism and the theology used to justify dominionism has been within the context of dominion theology as practiced within the AoG and other pentecostal groups, and in particular the variations promoted within "word-faith" and "third-wave" theology.  As both part of my recovery from the spiritual abuse I suffered, and to educate others about dominionism as promoted by these groups, I've done quite a bit of research.)

Anyways, as I've noted in an informal history I've done on dominion theology within pentecostalism, "Third Wave" theology (as promoted by the Toronto Airport church, and later Brownsville, and 30 years previously at churches in Louisville, and 50 years previously at Yoido Full Gospel in Korea) is actually a descendant theology of the very "dominion theology" that dominionism itself is named after.  In fact, "Third Wavers" are probably some of the hardest-line dominionists in the pentecostal movement (because dominionism is part of the core theology--they are expressly taught they are part of Joel's Army, an "overcomer army" that is to win the planet for Christ before his return, and that the "signs and manifestations" in "Third Wave" churches are explicit signs of God's blessing and approval).

Incidentially, no, the "Third Wave" stuff didn't start with Toronto.  It didn't even start with the guy who brought it to Toronto (an Assemblies of God preacher named Rodney Howard-Browne, who also spread it to Brownsville and who originally based his North American operations out of Louisville--and may have had links with the very church I walked away from).  It's actually part of a theological movement that has a history of some fifty years or more within the Assemblies of God and its descendant denominations (International Foursquare, Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, Calvary Chapel, and Vineyard--Vineyard itself is essentially the "great-grandchild" of the AoG).

The Assemblies itself (and in particular the very "dominion theology" movements, including the "word-faith" movements, etc. that it spawned) has also been at the heart of dominionist movements in practically every country it has ever had serious numbers in, including not only the US (the AoG, and in particular a front-group called the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International, essentially started the dominionist movement in the US as early as the 50's), Australia (the Family First party), South Korea (a burgeoning dominionist movement), multiple countries in Central and South America (particularly Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala; there is also quite a bit of evidence that the FGBMFI has explicitly attempted to interfere in the internal politics of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guyana), etc.

Again, this is because dominionism is core to the theology of these groups--literally, it is ingratiated to the point that to strip it out would be to strip out a core section of the theology of those groups.

I should also note that the "Third Wave" groups in particular are widely regarded as coercive religious groups--"cults", in common parlance--by exit counselors and other professionals dealing with spiritually abusive groups.  Entire websites exist detailing the spiritually abusive tactics that exist in these groups; one particularly good source (both in terms of detailing abusive tactics and from an "apologetics" end) is Deception In The Church.  Rick Ross has classified the Brownsville Revival (a related "Third Wave" movement) as coercive, as have others; Toronto itself has been mentioned in a general archive of articles on Ross' website on spiritual abuse in general.

by dogemperor on Wed Jan 25, 2006 at 11:22:44 AM EST

From the reams of stuff I have read about the "Toronto Blessing" and its offshoots, you should consider yourself very fortunate that they did not engage in their 'usual worship'. You might have ended up caught in their wicked little psychological trap.

This isn't the place to comment in detail about what the Toronto Blessing really is- but suffice it to say that it is something to steer well clear of. If you desire a good laugh, it's far better to go to a comedy club. Trust me on this.

Your commentary on the gay rights thing did inspire me to post about the escalation of hate speech in religious right circles.

by Lorie Johnson on Wed Jan 25, 2006 at 11:32:10 AM EST

When fundamentalists and dominionists took over the Southern Baptist Convention, many moderates left the denomination and formed a new organization.  The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship became a refuge and haven for people trying to get away from fundamentalists.

I've been advising worried gays that it might be wise to start thinking about leaving the U.S. and moving to Canada to get away from the threat posed to them by the advance of Dominionism and Reconstructionism.

Now it doesn't look like moving to Canada will help.

by Mainstream Baptist on Wed Jan 25, 2006 at 01:02:41 PM EST

As someone who may well be in the crosshairs three ways if a dominionist takeover of the US succeeds (both as a) an LGBT person, b) a pagan, and b) a walkaway from a dominionist pente group who has been outspoken regarding the abuses re same, I would probably count out most English-speaking countries as--sadly--dominionist movements have taken root in all of them.  (I actually counted Canada out a long time ago, as well as Oz.  The UK may actually be the best shot, but it too has dominionism problems.)

Interestingly, the EU may be a good shot for people who may have to become political refugees due to a dominionist government:

a) Laws in most EU nations explicitly protect LGBT people under hate laws statutes (which generally are stricter than in the US) and religious groups are specifically not exempted from hate crimes statutes.

b) Laws in a number of EU countries (most notably Belgium, France and Germany) specifically restrict activities of coercive religious groups in general, which tend to restrict activities of dominionist groups by extension (as several dominionist groups are either coercive religious groups themselves or associated with them, this has the effect of restricting activities of dominionist groups).

One example of European laws in action having an effect at restricting dominionist activity is the case of  several dominionist preachers in Sweden being investigated for hate crimes violations for anti-gay sermons; Fred Phelps threatened to assault the king of Sweden as a result, and it is likely if he ever enters Sweden he could be arrested for treason.

Also, European Community asylum laws generally do treat people fleeing their countries due to grounds of being oppressed due to sexual orientation or transgender condition as a legit grounds for asylum; those countries with official registries of coercive religious groups also count threats of being forced to join those groups as legit grounds for asylum (so yes, people fleeing a dominionist government could likely get asylum on those grounds).

Belgium and Sweden, of note, would be particularly attractive to LGBT individuals (as same-sex marriage is legal in both countries, both countries have strong hate crimes laws that include LGBT individuals explicitly, and Belgium does have an official ministry department monitoring coercive religious groups (specifically using guidelines agreed to by exit counselors of what constitutes coercion).  As I have noted, a good deal of the "core" of the dominionist movement would meet the definition of a coercive group, so it's actually fairly unlikely Europe is going to be "dominionised".

As far as English-speaking countries go, the most likely prospects for asylum (in the event of a dominionist hijacking) are probably the UK and Ireland.  (Australia, much like Canada and the US, have problems with dominionists; the same is, sadly, true of South Africa.  New Zealand also has some problems with AoG-supported dominionist parties attempting to take root.)  The UK in particular is gaining an increasing awareness of dominionism, in part due to some rather infamous child abuse cases coming to press as of late involving "deliverance ministry" groups imported from Africa (which in turn were "converted" by American dominionist pentecostal groups).

by dogemperor on Wed Jan 25, 2006 at 02:40:50 PM EST

I never advise fleeing.

This is our country, and we have every right to be here.

The responsibility to ourselves and to our country, is to learn the skills it takes to fight back effectively so that democracy and pluralism can survive and even thrive in our time.

Of course we all need to find sources of strength and community.  Many of us seek out only the people who are just like us, when what we need is to find, ally with and learn to relate to the people with whom we are actually in the same boat.

While Baptists, and pagans, and LGBTs and more need to caucus with one another, we all have to learn to align ourselves in much smarter ways than we have in the past.

Talk to Action is one place where we see this realigning playing out. And it is very heartening.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Jan 25, 2006 at 03:02:53 PM EST

I believe that many people are starting to awaken to what is happening.

The series of sermons I found on this site (scroll to bottom) by Rev. Rich Lang are some of the most profound warnings and wakeup calls I've read in a while.

I will not flee. I will stand up for this country, as my ancestors did, and will not back down without a fight. We will take our country back from the edge.

I am a 'targeted' person, too- being an independent female and non-Christian puts me square in the reticule. They're already working hard to take away my right to reproductive self-determination. What else will they get away with?

by Lorie Johnson on Wed Jan 25, 2006 at 03:24:52 PM EST

I tend to think of the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (formerly a Vineyard) as one of the experimental labs where certain methods of expectation generation and creation of a novel, contrived group experience were tested; others would include Brownsville (Pensacola) and  the "revivals" of Rodney Howard-Browne. It is a particular foothold of prominence of this movement, but there are and have been offshore "revivalists," also present in South America and Africa, that both seek to spread a particular form of Christianity and to implement and test methods of what they would call "evangelism" and I would call marketing.

That said, I tend to think there are some analogies to be made between the rise of the Conservatives and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, which also coincided with a rise in Christian activity with politically "dominionist" goals in this country, that would include the "Washington for Jesus" series of events in which many Christian leaders that have since come to prominence were involved. Whether this political shift signifies a real change in the wind in Canada or is just a momentary hiccup remains to be seen.

I would point out a few trends. Christian television broadcasting has only recently been authorized in Canada. One of the networks, "The Miracle Channel," is an outgrowth of the first Christian television station, based in Lethbridge, Alberta. This station's program schedule includes a number of U.S. preachers of concern, including Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Jim Bakker (yes, he's back), James Robison, Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer.

What's interesting about this channel is its close relationship with the self-described "prophetic" crowd exemplified by the individuals featured on the Elijah List (a website and e-mailing list). A number of these people are of Canadian origin; others are part of the "house of prayer" movement exemplified by the so-called "Justice House of Prayer" in Washington, DC whose leader has a very close relationship with Sam Brownback and has anti-abortion activism (the red tape over their mouths people) as a central part of its mission. It also connects with politically active church leaders such as Harry Jackson, originator of the so-called "Black Contract with America."

I wrote a diary over on Kos reporting on a Miracle Channel broadcast a day and a half before the election in which the station's founder and president explicitly directed viewers to consult a website that contains a list of candidates endorsed by an anti-gay-marriage group. He concluded his pitch with, "We are going to have a pro-marriage, pro-moral, pro-righteous Parliament, in this coming year."

Also of note: the former president of Promise Keepers Canada and Conservative party member, David Sweet, was elected to Parliament. Meanwhile the former head of Focus on the Family Canada also ran as a Conservative in British Columbia and was defeated.

There are Canadian branches of many U.S. based Christian advocacy organizations, though of much smaller size. It's not clear to me to what degree their U.S. origin stigmatizes them in Canada (if at all among their target audiences). Examples include Campus Crusade for Christ, the aformentioned Focus on the Family, and Youth for Christ, that all have offices  within a block of each other in Langley, BC.
Acquire the Evidence: on Ron Luce, Teen Mania Ministries and the "BattleCry" campaign.

by Mike Doughney on Thu Jan 26, 2006 at 11:15:22 PM EST

I applaud this Church for practicing as the unofficial opposition to the Government of Canada, it is their duty.  Religion must act as the unofficial opposition to Government.  The fact that they oppose gay marriages is their right, as we still have freedom of religion.  Joan Bokaer obviously disagrees with freedom of religion, as this includes making it beliefs known to the community and Government.  I find no problem with legal Gay Marriages. Pepole who do, are either saying that to be Gay is disentitlement as a Canadian citizen, or they are saying that God made a mistake making some people Gay.  That Church would of course deny that anyone is really born Gay, otherwise they would have to admit that God make a mistake.  I got news for those people - God is not human, nor does God not make  mistakes.  Facilitator Peter

by Facilitator Peter on Sun May 28, 2006 at 04:43:07 PM EST

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